7/17/16

La dolce vita....riding bikes in Italy...and gravel riding in Italy...

Fresh back from our 3 week journey to the beautiful country of Italy - or rather Italia - I wanted to jot down some thoughts while providing a report on our trip for my blog - or at least what I consider to be my e-journal.

GrandTourDellaValDiMerse

International travel always provides a few challenges on nearly every trip. However, I've reached the point of being enough of a savvy traveler in Europe that getting around is not as daunting as it once was for me 30 years ago. Train schedules, bus schedules, booking tickets, booking rooms/tours/dining, making reservations, reading maps, driving - all in various languages - means we can get around okay. Not to say there were not challenges this time (there always are), but it went rather smoothly.

We flew on an American Airlines jet from Chicago O'Hare to Düsseldorf and then caught an Air Berlin flight direct to Florence (Firenze). Jet lagged and all, we hopped into our rental car that we would use for the first week of our three week journey.

We had reserved a nice Audi, but this is what they gave us - a Citroen C4 Picasso...

CitroenC4PicassoRental

Yes, I had my sights set on tooling around Italy in a Audi sports car that we had reserved. Those thoughts were quickly dashed with having to drive a French minivan substitute. I don't know how the clause "...or similar type of vehicle" related an Audi A4 to a Citroen C4 Picasso minivan that sat 7. Go figure, but welcome to the car rental industry in Europe.

Actually, the Picasso was loaded with some nice technology and drove fine for our needs during the week. The first travel challenge of the trip was attempting to pay the toll on the Autostrada (Autobahn) as we left Florence. I am so used to inserting my credit card and removing it quickly, that I couldn't get any card to work as I was exiting the Autostrada toll portion with a line of cars and trucks behind me honking and getting impatient as I blocked my lane trying to get my card to work. After numerous attempts with every card I had, I finally decided to leave the card in the reader a bit longer and it worked as the light turned green. Lesson learned - bone up on instructions in Italian for toll booths next time I drive in Italy. Being in the EU I was surprised all the instructions at the toll booth were in Italian only with no other languages represented as usually you'll see French, German, and English as well. Oh well, small crisis averted, and off we went on the country roads to our Tuscan Farm House rental just outside of Impruneta. Impruneta is the official start or northern edge of the region known as Chianti.

Jet lagged and in need of a shave and shower - not to mention afternoon nap.

TuscanFarmHouseStay

The view from the house...

FarmHouseView

The owner of the house, Mattia, was great. He greeted us, showed us our 2 story portion of the house, gave us some of his honey (he keeps bees as one of his sources of income), and got us all situated in a very charming Tuscan house. It was actually a converted horse stable and has taken off as a new source of income for his family thanks to the internet and sites like airbnb.com. Thanks to Tara for finding this gem of a place to stay. We went to the local COOP grocery store to stock up on some supplies for the kitchen, get some fresh bread, cheese, meat, and wine for dinner, and managed to stay up long enough to blend in with our new time zone.

Staying out in the country was peaceful, but required the rental car to get around as there was not local public transportation near us. Siena, Greve, Firenze, Radda, etc... were all destinations we wanted to hit with the car during our first week in Italy. Zack was in Greve rehearsing for La Boheme and Don Giovanni (the reason we were Italy to begin with was to see him perform in these two operas). The week and a half between the two operas - La Boheme was first to be performed - we had planned on using the time to ride bikes for a week in the Chianti Region, and then take the train down to Napoli and Sorrento for 5 days before returning to Greve to catch Don Giovanni.

We went to Siena on two separate days - one by ourselves, and one on a rehearsal day off for Zack.

Sienna

SiennaDuomo

When we went with Zack, they were getting ready to have the annual horse race - the Palio di Siena - which has a storied history. They had loaded the dirt into the piazza in preparation for the horse racing, and we were able to eat lunch on the track before they closed it to the public...

LunchWithZackInSienna

It's a beautiful city and the rich competitive history - as well as wars between Firenze and Siena - is an integral part of the culture to study during one's visit to this area.

SiennaViewFromTower

BellTowerZack&Tara

Of course, one must spend at least some time in the city of Firenze (Florence) even though it is always crammed full of tourists making a hot summer day mixing in the crowds trying on one's patience, but we spent about three total days in Florence. Tara had lived there one summer in her college days, but had never seen Michelangelo's marble David. So we stood in line for 2 hours or so (mostly in the shade) to await our turn. And yes, it is totally worth it as this sculpture is and should be on everyone's bucket list to witness live...

David

DavidRear

On our final day at the Tuscan farm house rental, we took Zack with us into Florence to return the rental car, have lunch, walk around, and sit down for dinner. Then Zack took the bus back to Greve while Tara and I took a taxi back to the house.

Our local guide from LifeCycle Adventures was going to pick us up the next day at the farm house, and take us south near Siena to start our week of cycling adventure. You ride the bikes on your own with LifeCycle, but they provide the maps, the routes, the bikes, help book the overnight lodgings, and haul your luggage to each destination. This all leaves you free to ride at your own pace and do a short route, an intermediate route, or an epic route on the bike each day. In other words, 2 hours of riding per day, 4-5 hours per day, or 6-8 hours per day. It's all your choice based on what you want to see, how long you want to spend in the villages you pass through, and how your legs are feeling. Based on the summer heat in Italy, our plan was to stick to the intermediate routes considering all of the climbing, and our desire to enjoy each overnight town.

Our local guide, Marco, was from Siena. During our visit in the van as we were driving to our starting location, I found out that he is one of the organizers of a new gravel race in Tuscany called the 100 Miglia which had just held their first version - or trial - of the race a couple of weeks earlier using the town of Radicondoli as the home base for the event. They called it year Zero and are debating, based on their evaluation of how it went, if the first "official" race will be in 2017, of if they need more time to organize it to begin in 2018. Either way, his enthusiasm and passion were evident and it was great to hear all about it. There was a great write up of the test event posted while we were in Italy on GravelCyclist.com HERE. Marco was telling me about all of the great gravel riding in Tuscany of which I had already heard about - especially considering my favorite gravel tires are the Challenge Strada Bianca tires for my Roubaix. He is interested in coming with a friend to the US and riding the Dirty Kanza next year. And of course, we invited him to stop by our house and stay if that meets his travel plans and I would show him the gravel around Warren County.

Here's Marco and Tara...

Marco&TaraCastle

Marco got us fitted to our rental bikes, gave us each a water bottle, aired up our tires, put our pedals on, and said his good-byes as we wouldn't see him again until Friday (or so we thought) at the end of our day to take us back to Firenze where we would spend the night before taking the train to Sorrento.

The bikes were De Rosa carbon race bikes and were outfitted with the Shimano electronic shifting.

DeRosaBike

Our first day of riding started right at the southern edge of the Chianti region and we quickly adjusted to riding on narrow roads - many without a center line - all without a shoulder as cars whizzed by us. Cycling is a national sport in Italy and Marco had informed us of the strict laws in Italy if one hits a cyclist (2-7 years in jail, 15 year ban on driving a car, etc...). Still, riding bikes on narrow roads without shoulders in a region known for wine tasting took a few hours for us to shake our fears. I think the closest calls were a couple of tour bus or trucks that seemed to come awfully close to my left shoulder (certainly less than 3 feet), but for the most part - we found it to be really safe to ride in this region of Italy. Most of the cars are smaller than your typical US vehicle, so even if cars were meeting each other as they passed us - somehow we always felt safe and had room.

Typical road width. No center line. No shoulder.

NarrowTuscanRoads

Our first stop was in Gaiole. As we rode through the village, Tara spotted La Terrazza (The Terrace). So we parked the bikes and got a table on the terrace. I had pizza in mind, but our waiter and owner of the restaurant, Luigi told me "no pizza during the day". In other words, their wood burning pizza oven was only in operation at night. So I had the daily special which was "drunk chicken" or chicken cooked in Chianti wine. Yum! And I had the best glass - actually two - of wine I had sampled yet in Italy...

BestGlassOfChiantiInGaiole-Riecine

Luigi told me it was from a local vineyard just 4 kilometers from Gaiole called Riecine - and I was hooked on this smooth, round Chianti Classico. I wrote it down in my notes on the phone with the idea of ordering some to have it shipped home. Such was our first day of riding enjoying the views, adjusting to the amount of climbing, and pulling into our first night of two in Radda.

Day one and two we kept criss crossing the route of the famous L'Eroica gravel bike race on the white roads (Strada Bianca) of Italy that will see its 20th year this October. It would be a fun event to do as you have to ride a vintage bike, and thousands enter to race/ride the event (I think 6000 total every year ride it).

L"EroicaKit

Day two was a loop with lots of climbing that would take us to Greve for lunch. We hit up a village fruit stand for some snacks...

FruitStand

Tara scoped out her favorites...

FreshFruitSupply

Great views on this loop ride. According to our LifeCycles information, the most scenic wide open views of Chianti were to be seen on this day of riding...

RidingTuscany

Due to all the climbing in the morning, the descent coming into Greve was steep. I was averaging about 55 - 60 kph, and kept riding the brakes to keep my speed in check with all of the curves. I had to really hit the brakes to slow down for the switchback turns, and evidently overheated my rear rim as I rounded a switchback and took off again "boom" my rear tube exploded giving me about 3 - 4 seconds to slow the bike down as the air escaped the tube. We were only a block outside of Greve, so I decided to walk the bike into town looking for a suitable place to change my rear tube. As luck would have it, there was a bike shop one block away and I just let them change it for me so I would have a spare tube in my saddlebag in case of another flat. A lingering lunch...

Caprese&Chianti

...and we managed to hang out long enough to catch Zack in the town square as he was on his way home from rehearsal. We said our hellos, and then had to take off as we had to get back to Radda for our evening dinner reservation which was a tour and dinner at the Castello di Brolio where the original recipe for Chianti was invented by Bettino Ricasoli. Tara had arranged for a transfer car to take us from Radda to our tour and back, which meant we had 4 hours to finish the day's ride, get showered and changed in time to be picked up for the evening.

Well, the second half of the day had some tough climbing - especially in the heat. 14 km sustained climb out of Greve had us stop at or near the peak of that climb for some fresh water which gave us time to sample the small village culture of retired Italian men meeting for coffee at the local coffee shop. It opened at 3 and we were second in line, but as soon as he opened - all the locals cut in front of us and were served first as we waited our turn.

Stopping to double check our reservations and time for the evening's tour and dinner...

CheckingOurDay'sRoute

Once refreshed, on we went for more climbing and climbed our way back up to Radda in time to shower, change and get ready. Tough day on the bike with all of the climbing, but a really fun day of riding. It made me rethink everything in Iowa that we call a "hill" compared to the long climbs and descents we were doing in Italy. Just gorgeous scenery...

NonStopEyeCandy

We were picked up on time by our chauffeur in a Mercedes, and delivered at the Castello di Brolio in time to use the restroom before the tour. The history of this castle alone and the family that have owned it since the 1100's is amazing. Thinking about the non-stop battles between Firenze and Siena, the fact that anyone was able to hold on to land at all through all of that was amazing. The family certainly had made deals, financed who they needed to finance to retain their land, and passed it on from generation to generation. Here's a section that was shelled during WW II when the Nazi's had taken over the castle for 2 weeks. The tree outside has survived all of this growing from within the trunk to continue - as the family says - as a reminder of the strength and the will of this family to retain this property.

CastelloDiBrolioSymbolOfStrength

The view from the castle overlooking some of their prime real estate and wine making business..

CastelloDiBrolioView

Once the tour and history lesson was completed, we ventured down to the restaurant to sit down just as the sun was setting. Our first course of this wine tasting meal was a wonderful rendition of eggplant and a bottle of rose wine called Albia. Great wine, by the way!!! The rendering of eggplant in this form was a huge hit at our table to say the least.

EggplantDelight

The evening continued with each course being paired with one of the Ricasoli wines. We got to taste the Rose, the Chianti, and a glorious dessert wine as well. We were allowed to have as much wine as we desired - or didn't desire (hence the need for a Chauffeur). The evening finished around 11 and our driver was waiting for us in the parking lot to take us back to Radda. It really was a spectacular evening. We had read some reviews of the private castle tour and dinner that were a bit negative, but most of the reviews had been positive. We would give it a huge thumbs up and suggest adding it to your "must do" list if in the area.

Day three was another climbing day taking us to the Medieval walled in city of San Gimignano. I had been here with the Madrigal Singers on a May Term trip years ago, but we were taken there by tour bus for the evening where the Madrigals performed a concert and we left immediately following the concert. So not much time to see things. Tara and I were also there the prior week with the rental car to see Zack perform his opening performance of La Boheme, and again - drove in just in time to see the performance - and drove out after the opera was over since it was Midnight. So now we had the chance to spend some time, or at least a late afternoon and full evening enjoying the town.

This day was another hit for lunch as we stopped for a nice pizza...

LunchStop

ItalianPizza

It was proving difficult to find a bad meal, a bad glass of wine, and a bad bike ride. It was all good.

The climb into San Gimignano was on a bit busier road with all of the tourists and tour busses whizzing by as the climb was rather steep and it was in the mid 90's temperature wise. Tara was cussing at the climbs - or to the wind - or to whatever would listen, but we kept motoring up the climb to get to the walled in city. We had booked a nice hotel for this evening, and once settled in - naps were in store. I had a developing tooth ache that began during the first week. It started with hot and cold food causing one tooth to scream out in pain, but now had developed to the point I was living on Ibuprofen to keep things at bay. If I didn't take it every 4 hours, I would be miserable. Nothing like Ibuprofen and wine to make one's vacation pleasant, right?

After our naps and a shower, we headed out to see the town...

SanG

A local jeweler earned some of our tourist money as we got Tara a nice trinket and a gift for a friend back home. We also ordered a case of wine from one of the wine shops to have shipped to the US. These were all bottles of things we tasted in the shop, were local, and more economically priced (stuff you would drink right away, and not need to age for a few years). We sat down at an outdoor restaurant in the shade for an afternoon drink and snack as our dinner reservation wasn't until later in the evening. We now know why Italians eat dinner at 9 pm - it's too hot to eat before that and Italy is primarily a non-air conditioned country (thank goodness!!!). The 1 - 4 pm time slot is "down time" where most shops are closed, and then they are open again until about 8 or 9. So we had adjusted to the schedule, eating lunch around 12:30 - 2:30, and dinner around 8:30 - 9:30 at night. The temperatures drop down to around 80 at that point in the evening and it is very pleasant to sit outside and eat.

Brexit and just happened, and our evening restaurant was a beautiful view overlooking the vineyards of San Gimigano. A lot of Brits vacation in Italy (and especially southern Italy). Our restaurant was very busy, and two couples from Great Britain felt their waiter wasn't giving them their proper due time and created a scene. Actually, quite an ugly scene with raised voices and another diner jumped up and told them how inappropriate and out of line they were being. As they continued screaming, the waiter said the meal was on him and to feel free to remain, but the two couples walked out telling us all to enjoy our lousy evening and telling us all loudly what a terrible review they were going to write on Trip Advisor, blah, blah, blah. The rest of us enjoyed our evening, but it was the talk of the rest of the evening for sure. We had a relaxing evening in spite of it and walked back to our hotel to sleep off the day's ride, and of course - wine.

Day four was a lengthy ride into Sovicille where we would again be staying at a B&B farm house on the outskirts of town. This was getting us close to Siena again, and the countryside didn't fail to amaze us with non-stop eye candy. This route took us on a big section of the day where we spent time riding a portion of one of the Giro d'Italia 2016 TT routes used this year. We saw all the names of the famous riders painted on the pavement. Climbs, descents, and beautiful scenery. We passed a field that was dedicated to 238 French soldiers that were killed in WWII in that field. I almost stopped to take a photograph, but hesitated. Instead, we stopped in the town at a local Gelateria to have some fresh water, use the restrooms, and reflect on the last 50 kilometers before we launched into our final big 11 kilometer climb of the day.

Our evening stay outside of Sovicille.

SovicilleOvernightStop

We thought we had arranged through LifeCycle Adventures an evening meal (which is available at the B&B), but the host had not been informed of this and said there was no time to organize it. He had family and friends visiting for the evening, so it wasn't possible. RATS! But, he said there was a nice restaurant that was a 10 minute walk away. Another couple staying in the same B&B decided to head over to the same restaurant and we all went over there around 8:30 in the evening.

Cool room key, by the way...

RoomKey

Again - another great meal! And surprise, surprise, somebody walked up to the table and said hello to us. It was Marco. He sat down and joined us for some wine. He wanted to know if we would be interested in riding with him the next day for an 80 kilometer ride that would not be the route we had planned, but be a special ride that we would enjoy, and he would be able to get a nice training ride in as well. He would take us by Radicondoli where his 100 Miglia gravel race is based and through a part of the region that is off the beaten path for tourists. Included, he called ahead to somebody he knew that had a B&B and a pig farm to prepare a special lunch for us, and we would tour the pig operation while there. It sounded good to us and the logistics of the day meant that when the ride was over, he would take us to Florence to our hotel. So that was our plan and a nice diversion. It meant I would miss getting to end up in Montalcino on our last day and do some wine tasting of the famous Brunello di Montalcino wines (my favorite red wine from Italy). But, I could get the wine in other locations.

We had a nice visit with our B&B hosts on Friday morning with an excellent breakfast while we waited for Marco to arrive. We loaded up our suitcases in his car, and Marco arranged with our hosts that our bikes could be stored in their backyard overnight as he would pick them up the next day.

We passed by an old arch bridge that leads into a famous off road climb...

Marco&Tara

Radicondoli, the Medieval town, that hosts the 100 Miglia gravel race...

StartingPointOf100Miglia

A quick stop for some water...

SunBikesFunWine

Same picture as above, but our lunch stop was next to this castle owned by a man in Rome who rents it out to all kinds of people with $$$$ - Tony Blair, Kevin Costner, and on and on...

Marco&TaraCastle

Lunch was great! Prosciutto, Salume, Pancetta that melted in your mouth, a bottle of wine, fresh bread, sheep cheese, etc... .

Following lunch we toured the pigs that are raised in the forest and this pig farmer does not use hormones, antibiotics and does not sell his product. He raises pigs only for his B&B, friends, and family. I don't know why I didn't take pictures, but I think everything was so good and beautiful all week long I just stopped taking photos and enjoyed each moment. In the afternoon, we rode by the same field dedicated to the 238 French soldiers who died in that field during a WW II battle - and again, I didn't stop for pictures. I think I didn't take the photo simply due to respect. That, and I have seen similar memorials all over Europe from Normandy, to Poland, to Austria, to Great Britain, to Italy enough that I am well aware of the enormity of death that occurred in WWII (not to mention WWI). Riding by the field on a peaceful day with the memorial, and the thoughts that it provoked were more powerful to me as a remembrance than a photograph would have inspired.

We filled our water bottles up at the town square fountain, and headed up a 14 km different climb than the day before. Boy, it was steep. Grades were 10-15%, then even more severe. I motored on ahead while Marco rode with Tara. We gathered near the top, and then had a long descent followed by a 10 kilometer flatter section back to our starting location to round out the 80 kilometer day (50 miles).

We took the pedals off the bikes, stored the bikes in the backyard, loaded up in the car and headed for Firenze (Florence). Marco was a great tour guide, wonderful man to speak with about the history and culture of the country - and talk about gravel riding, mountain biking, and cycling in general. He has a significant other and a young daughter. Working with LifeCycle Adventures (2nd year this company has had tours in Italy) is only one of his many "gigs" in life. I encouraged him to come up with a gravel road tour of the Chianti region which he said would be no problem. He dropped us off at the train station in Florence, we said our goodbyes, and we walked to our hotel a few blocks away.

Ah....air conditioning....a nice shower....a nap....and then we went out about 8:30 pm to hunt for a dinner spot. We found a table at a great off the beaten path non-tourist restaurant and chowed down from the epic ride of climbing in the heat. That was the end of our 5 day block of riding Chianti, but we would repeat the Greve to Radda and back climbing loop a week later with rental bikes from the shop in Greve that fixed my flat tire.

Overnight in Florence, then we had the express train to catch to Napoli on Saturday morning, July 2nd. We had 1st Class reserved seats and this train averaged 250 to 300 kilometers per hour zipping us along the Italian countryside to take us south to Naples. Once in Naples, we went to the lower level at the train station and caught the local train to the town of Sorrento. That train was slow, hot, and we had to stand for the hour ride to Sorrento. Once in Sorrento, we walked the 3 blocks to our B&B and settled in. I mentioned to our host my aching tooth, and he made a call to his best friend - a dentist - who agreed to see me on a Saturday night at 6:30 pm.

If you know opera, this dentist visit was an operatic hoot. Our host, Antonio, took me there on his scooter as it was two towns away in Piano di Sorrento. We arrived and the sign on the door of his office read "Dottore Giovanni Belnome" - or Doctor Beautiful Name! That's a very operatic name if you know Italian comic opera. An x-ray (or RX as was translated by my host) revealed no disease, no cavity. But he noticed evidence of me grinding my teeth. That must be a new thing as I have no history of doing that. He recommended grinding down my rear molar as it was bit high, and to continue taking Ibuprofen for a a few days, and to chew on the other side of my mouth. I asked how much I owed him and pulled out a wad of Euros, and he refused to take any money. My host tried to help, but said "no, he doesn't want any money". He was a good friend and doing this as a favor. Back on the scooter we went with the story of the encounter etched in my memory.

I ate softer food (fresh fish) for a few days, chewed on the left side, took my Ibuprofen and - well - didn't feel much better. I didn't want the pain to ruin our vacation, so kept it mostly to myself. We found a pair of great restaurants right on the water two nights in a row. The first restaurant was where Lucio Dalla wrote the famous song Caruso. Here is the famous Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento where the famous tenor, Enrico Caruso stayed every summer when he returned home to Italy by ship during his seasons at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Caruso loved Sorrento and the town is proud to have been his summer home.

Caruso'sFavoriteHotel

We went back the second night and ate at the restaurant right next to the one we had dined the previous night. Again, I opted for fresh. This time it was red snapper (which I got to choose from the day's fresh catch)...

SorrentoDining

Our B&B was delightful, and a perfect central location for us to see this area of Italy. We went to Pompeii and Mont Vesuvio our first day...

PompeiiTheater

The hike up to the crater of this still active volcano was a nice hike that we enjoyed and worked different muscles than we had been using on our bikes. The last eruption at this volcano was in 1944 during WWII.

VesuviusCrater

The walking, hiking, and heat wiped us out for our first day in the area.

Day two required some change in our vacation activity, such as a yacht ride to Capri and back. We booked a ride with a boat that took only 12 people and joined 5 other couples for a glorious day on the Mediterranean.

The "official entrance" into the isle of Capri...

CapriEntrance

We got to swim in the Mediterranean...

SwimmingInTheMed

We passed by, and then parked next to the big boat Larry Ellison of Oracle fame owns...

LarryEllison'sBoat

We walked up and spent a few hours in Capri...

CapriBougainvillea

We saw the villa *now Hotel Punta* that Eisenhower, Churchill. and General Clark used as their home base in WW II. We enjoyed the view...

GreatViewInCapri

Then went back to the boat for more swimming before we departed back to Sorrento...

EnteringCapriAfterSwimming

It was a much needed relaxing day, and my white skin got a nice royal sunburn. Once back in Sorrento, we ventured to the larger Marina for yet again more off the beaten tourist path restaurants for fresh fish.

A bus tour to the Amalfi coast to see Amalfi, Positano (La Dolce Vita was filmed there) and our favorite - Ravello. Views, shopping, food, wine...all good.

AmalfiCoast

This was bucket list material - all of it. It was a full day tour (9:30 am to about 7 pm). Once back in Sorrento, we went back down to the Marina for fresh fish at the highest rated restaurant and actually had our first bad dining experience in Italy. They were busy and perhaps we just hit it on a bad night and ordered the wrong things. Wine wasn't good. Fish wasn't cooked well. Service was sporadic. And well - it was bound to happen at least once. No harm, we survived.

The next morning we took the train back to Naples and had a few hours to kill in Naples, so we went sight seeing and walked the streets of this very busy 3.1 Million Populated city that seemingly had many folks tense, filled with road rage, and won't be on our list of places to return for a visit. We did sit down for an authentic Neopolitan Pizza at a great place with high recommendations. Delicious and worth the 2 hours of walking around town. Back to the train station we walked, and then a return to Florence where we caught the bus to Greve.

We had another great B&B in Greve and settled in before meeting Zack for dinner. We had a "free day" on his performance day as he needed to rest his voice, so we decided to rent bikes and do the Greve to Radda loop again since it was so beautiful from the previous week and we had the maps/route to follow.

TuscanVineyard

We did the hardest part of the climbing in the morning this time, and even though Tara was tired from the heat, we pounded it out. Taking a breather at the top of the 14 km climb...

14kmClimbRecovery

The second half of the day was easier and we actually had to take a detour on gravel roads due to construction. Our first gravel road riding in Tuscany. Not easy on race bikes with 21mm wide race tires, but it was fun for a couple of miles. Mountain biking skills came in handy for sure.

After the ride, we showered and met Zack at 5 pm for a walk up to his favorite views of Greve above the apartment where he was staying...

TopOfGreve

Bruce&ZackInGreve

We saw the baby olives that will be picked in September/October...

BabyOlives

And the young grapes on the vine...

YoungGrapes

Both are the economic lifeblood of this region.

We had our dinner and went down to the public square to catch the outdoor production of his excellent performance as Don Giovanni (he sang the title role) the next night...

ZackAsDonGiovanni

We had talked a lot about the role and worked on it together for months as that was one of my main roles in my career, so it was natural for me to see him do it, and do it so well. I was really pleased with how it went for him. After the opera, around Midnight again since it started at 9:15 pm, we congratulated him and parted ways. He was off to Salzburg, Austria the next morning for another production of Don Giovanni, and we were off to Florence to catch a flight back home to Chicago.

That was our 3 week vacation in Italy for 2016!

The next two challenges hit once we were in the states. Our luggage did not make it back to the US with us. We got out to the parking lot and our car battery was dead because I had left the lights on when I parked the car. We had arrived in a thunderstorm and I turned the lights on reminding myself to turn them off, but I obviously forgot. Luckily I had jumper cables and flagged down a gentleman in the parking lot who drove over and gave us a jump. So that was easily solved.

The luggage took a bit longer. After 5 days of phone calls to the airlines involved (American Airlines and Air Berlin), we finally got a call that they have located our 2 bags (they were in Düsseldorf) and arrived 6 days after we returned home. That's a good thing as when I read the claim filing form that one is to fill out after 5 days have passed .and your luggage has still not been found, you have to have original receipts for all items that were in your suitcase to be compensated. Suffice it to say, things like shoes, underwear, pants, jeans, bicycle kits, pedals, helmet, gloves, and shirts that I have had for quite some time - I no longer have receipts sitting around for those items.

Will we be back to Italy for another week of bike riding? Count on it!!!! We fell in love with Tuscany and the Chianti - more rural region - of Italy. I would love to do a gravel race in Tuscany, or ride gravel roads there some day. Perhaps that will be in the future - who knows?