Monday, August 31, 2009

Night Rider

Almost every evening during the summer just before sunset, I take off on my city bike for a spin around Florence. It's so great to be able to ride a bike at night, I would never have imagined it to be so possible....everything is so lit up that you don't need lights, and the cars are so aware of cyclists because there are so many of us. What a delight! It always makes me feel as high as kite, as free as a bird.

I visit my favorite places and things, beginning with my favorite, very powerful Giambologna statue at Piazza Signoria, where I circle around a few times, gazing at my town hall, the Palazzo Vecchio, still not believing it. Usually there are musicians playing in the piazza, where there's such a profound feeling of life emanating from the tourists whose amazement you can feel in your bones, all of them taking photos in front of the loggia or palazzo or fontana, or the replica of David. Sometimes I even stop my bike when I see a couple taking photos of each other, and I ask them if they would like me to take the photo of the both of them. It feels so good to do that. It makes me reflect on the times when I was a visitor here. I feel so lucky to be able to observe all this as a person who belongs here, rather than as a visitor. But I know that they are probably happy just to be visitors.

Then I take a few laps around the Arno, watching the sun slowly dip behind the river and the Ponte Vecchio. For the last 2 weeks, the sunsets have been spectacular, with brilliant explosions of hot reds and oranges bursting from the horizon and turning the entire river into a rainbow of bright reflections. And the moon is almost full. So, on one side, the sun is setting over the Ponte Vecchio, and on the other side, the moon is rising over the western bridges, the Piazzale Michelangelo and Piazza Poggi. If this isn't heaven, with all this history, with all this art, with all this natural beauty, then I don't know what is.

After the sun goes down, I head up to Borgo Ognissanti and San Frediano. Then I walk my bike across the Ponte Vecchio because it is too small and crowded to burst through on a bike. I often stop in the middle of the bridge to listen to the guitarist who entertains the crowds there every summer night, and again, I think how lucky I am. Then I ride back home through Piazza Repubblica, going past the Duomo and back to my Piazza Sangemini, where I park my bike, and then walk past the lively cafe's to my apartment, where,I again thank God for bringing me here.

After my spin I met Leif for dinner at a trattoria in San Frediano and we talked alot about how we both ended up pursuing our dreams in Florence.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Weekend Riding in Chianti With my Team

Please don't ever let me take this for granted.

I enjoyed a full weekend of riding with the team, yesterday an 80K ride to Piazza and San Casciano, and today a 130k ride to San Gimignano, where this photo was taken just outside the city wall.

Great people and 2 gorgeous days of riding through towns that are destinations for cyclists from all over the world. But no big deal to the guys in the team who were raised here and consider this just another ride. To me, it is a dream come true. All mine, in my own backyard.

All the guys in the club are super fun to be with, they accept me although it is rare for a woman to ride a bike, so I am lucky. I really enjoy observing the tight friendship they have...and I get a kick out of how they chit-chat together during the ride. It's a true honor to be accepted into this group and to have the opportunity to build team friendships over time.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Opera in Verona Via Train And Bike

It took 3 trains, 6 hours and one flat tire to take my bike with me on the train from Florence to Verona yesterday. But it was worth it, and the advantage of having my bike in Verona for the day made it a snap to get around and re-visit this sparkling, compact city in the few free hours that I had before attending the opera, Tosca in the Arena di Verona.

Pictured left, is my ugly old city bike (even so, there's something very cute about it) being repaired right outside the train station in Bologna, where I was making a tight train connection to Verona.

I could have opted to take one simple, speedy, direct EuroStar train from Florence to Verona in less than 2 hours, but bikes are only permitted on the local trains. Which meant that I had to take the slow, circuitous route and 3 trains instead of one. But I planned it out very well, had my tickets beforehand, and took along plenty of reading (although the scenery became the main distraction) to entertain me on the train. I knew it would be difficult to drag this big heavy bike on and off the train, but as expected, the other passengers were very helpful in assisting me.

Little did I plan on discovering that my front tire would be flat upon arriving in Bologna with only 40 minutes to make my connecting train. But fortunately, my apparent dismay attracted the attention of a very friendly and kind Bolognese man who escorted me directly to the local bike shop. I told him that I was on my way to see Tosca in Verona, and he immediately broke out in song, passionately reciting Tosca's highlight aria, Recondita Armonia. I started singing with him, and here we were, singing together as we crossed the main trafficked street with my handicapped bike, in front of the train station in Bologna.

It just made me think how unlikely it would be for anyone in America to know those lyrics, and underscored one of the endless reasons why I so belong here in Italy.
Upon arriving in Verona, I checked into the hotel and enjoyed the freedom of riding through this very navigable town on my bike with such ease, saw everything that I wanted to see and even had time for a little bit of shopping, a shower and an aperitivo before entering the grand arena for a very memorable performance of Tosca.

The opera itself was as stunning as the spectacular ambience of the arena which echoes with so much nostalgia for me, some very special and thrilling memories of moments attending some of my favorite operas here in summers gone by.
In the morning I revisted some of the shops and then took another 3 trains back home....this time feeling like a seasoned pro. Now that I know just how to travel with my bike on the train, I have some more day-trip destinations in mind that I can't wait to plan!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Touring Along the Road to Scarperia

Today's 100k tour took us up to the Mugello region, following a route along the Sieve River. Leif joined me and Clare today, and knowing this region well, led the way to Scarperia, known for its famous international autodrome, where we refueled with a caffe' and panino in this very warm and cozy diminuitive town.

As we entered the main piazza, I was struck by the imposing medieval Palazzo dei Vicari, whose facade is decorated with coats of arms of the Vicars, some of which were finished in glazed terracotta. The style of these looked familiar to me, and I wondered if they might have been the work of the della Robbia family. When I got home, I looked it up, and found out that
I was correct! It made me feel good to know that I am starting to get a "feel" for certain aspects of Florentine art. I also learned that this building had been damaged by 5 earthquakes in the past 500 years, and restored each time.

I'm packing a day bag and getting ready to go to Verona for the next 2 days for an opera break. It's been several years since I've seen an opera in the Verona arena, and made last minute plans to see Tosca, one of my all-time favorites.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Firenze is Coming Alive Again !

The instant that I opened my front door to go to the market this morning, I could tell immediately from the energy and number of people on the street, the chatter, the welcoming noise, that everyone is returning from le ferie, (their vacations)....All of a sudden Florence is starting once again to BUZZ !

Little by little the stores are starting to re-open. On the way to the market I passed by dozens of people who were greeting each other with big smiles, embracing and welcoming each other back from their vacations. Everyone is soooo tan! The market was filled with chatter about how everyone spent their vacations. Merchants and customers, neighbors and friends. Children filling the piazzas again. Mothers busy at the market once again. The tourist population has diminished. People wearing suits going to work on their bikes and motorcycles. It was one big reunion today.

I spent much of the day walking and riding my city bike around town observing with glee this feeling that my beautiful city is coming alive again. What a welcoming day! It was a good feeling to look into the shops and to see the familiar faces of merchants and shopkeepers who are all smiling and talking today. I'm happy that everyone is back. But it really makes me wonder, how does a country continue to function (or does it?) when the entire population disappears for a full month? There's a decidedly different feel here now. Back to normal. I am so glad that I didn't take the month off, because I really got to see what happens when a country closes down and what it feels like when it opens up again!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Another Great Tour With Clare

Clare and I had a sensational ride up to Convento Monte Senario, one of my favorite destinations and Polcanto with lots of climbing, and ended our ride going south across the Arno with a grand finale descent into Firenze from Piazzale Michelangelo. Even as we left at 7:30 in the morning, Florence was engulfed by a thick, heavy, hazy hot blanket of humidity. But as we gained elevation beyond Fiesole, the thick stiky air began to lift, the refreshing smell of pine refreshed and welcomed us, offereing us shade, invigorating breezes and shelter from the heat. Clare and I have spent so many hours on our bikes this past week getting to know each other, I feel like I have made a new friend.

I am very thankful to Leif for referring me for this private bike tour, because it was an opportunity to use my creativity in planning and choosing the best route to suit a number of different factors, including her preferences, abilities, the weather, the traffic patterns, relative interest of the destinations, as well as Clare's athletic ability, endurance and skill level. I feel like I "got it right" all four times. This gave me the experience also in testing my own knowledge and strengths, as well as to determine what I can do to be better. The icing on the cake, was that Clare has a similar riding style as me, so our pace, spinning techniques and climbing style were really in "sync" with each other.

Last night, I received a note from Claudio, my friend who owns La Dolce Vita Wine Tours , asking me if I could do a bike or preferably a hiking tour for him in San Gimignano in October, and knowing that Leif is also a hiking guide, referred the business to him.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Do All Roads Lead to Greve?

It seems like they do, but I'm still learning! Today again, Clare and I met for a private tour and we headed south through San Casciano and on to Mercatale, where we took a peaceful, exceptionally beautiful, backroad to Ferrone. Then we cut south again and on the way bumped into Leif who was heading in the opposite direction as well a few professional cycling teams that were out training, followed by their team support car. Then we went on to Passo dei Pecorai and Greve, where we stopped to refuel.

Greve is a central cycling crossroads, located in a position that makes it a logical rest stop for many cycling itineraries in this part of Tuscany and you always encounter many other traveling cyclists in the piazza. You can tell the cyclotourists from the local cyclists, based on whether they go to a bar for a quick espresso, or whether they actually sit down to eat. For me, it's unthinkable to sit down and eat during a ride, but with clients, it's a totally different experience. You do it because you want to talk to them more and learn more about them, and it is a bonding experience and a time to promote your business and yourself.

I remember the first time I was in Greve about 20 years ago, it was a sleepy bucolic town that has since become very commercialized. It still remains welcoming, yet in a different way than it used to be. Personally, I would rather stop in smaller towns like Mercatale that aren't as popular with travelers, that only have one bar, but where you're the only passer-by. So, as I develop my own favorite cycling itineraries, I will seek out the less popular places to stop. Although places like Greve are usually more interesting to tour clients, so I'll need to make that distinction.

We arrived back in Florence slightly after noon and I showed Clare one of my favorite restaurants, Osteria da Giovanni, which became my favorite last year when I dined there with my friends Lori and Fred from California. Then Clare and I decided to meet again on Sunday for another tour, but this time we'll head up north.

I was pretty pooped from the last few days of riding in the heat, and wanted to take a nap when I got home, but got busy doing some shopping and writing. Last night I was so tired that I decided not to go out, but to do some catching up on the phone with friends from California and family in New Jersey. It's always hard to coordinate the timing of phone calls to the States, so I have to set a schedule to do it once a week.

I was hoping to be able to ride with my team tomorrow, because I haven't rode with them in ages, because of Ferragosto and because I've been working. But tomorrow I need to recover from the past few days of riding in the heat, so that I can be ready to take Clare on another tour on Sunday. Hopefuly I can ride with the team next Saturday, since most of them will probably be back from their vacations, and I don't think I will be working that day.

Also, today I heard from my friend Rebecca, who is hiking 500 miles along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgramage trail in Spain. She's been walking for weeks, and has a couple of weeks to go, before she arrives in Santiago. It's hard enough cycling in this heat, I can't imagine walking 500 miles, day after day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

From New York Harbor to Greve in Chianti

I met Clare again today for another private bike tour. We headed south into Chianti territory, stopping briefly at Impruneta for an art & history break, and then on to Panzano to rehydrate before the descent into Greve where we swapped career stories over uno spuntino, (a snack). A senior exec at Nike, and an accomplished athlete, Clare was one of the original R&D brains of the company, where she has enjoyed a 28 year fascinating, still-going-strong career. We toured the piazza and Clare took some photos of the monument of Giovanni da Verrazzano which dominates the center of the piazza.

Giovanni da Verrazzano was born here in 1485 and lived in the Castello di Verrazzano which is now the largest winery in Greve. Because of Verrazzano's history in Greve, the town has a particular significance to me. The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge which connects Brooklyn with Staten Island is named after Giovanni da Verrazzano, who in 1524 discovered New York Harbor where I lived most of my life. Telling my little story to tour clients seems to make the town of Greve come alive to them from a unique perspective.

As a child, from the age of 6 – 11, I witnessed the construction of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge from my backyard. You could say that we grew up together. Its emergence had a powerful impact upon the residents of my neighborhood in Bay Ridge Brooklyn but especially to us kids. Experiencing this gargantuan structure materializing right in front of our eyes was mind-boggling for a child, and at times haunting. I remember sometimes being afraid of it, as it looked like a monster growing out of the water. It was so close that the nuns had to keep the classroom windows closed because of the construction noise.

The completion of the bridge was a monumental milestone for New York City, because finally you could actually drive from Brooklyn to Staten Island instead of taking the ferryboat which doesn't even exist anymore. When the bridge finally opened, a significant part of the Brooklyn Italian population (including my family) moved to Staten Island, and even today, the Italians are the largest ethnic group on Staten Island.

So, although most Americans don't know Giovanni da Verrazzano, New Yorkers are very aware of his contribution not only to Italian history, but to American history and the landscape of New York City.

We headed back to Florence, passing through miles and miles of vineyards, noticing that the grapes in the past week are ripening and looking abundant as we approach the harvest, which will take place throughout Tuscany very soon. The summer has gone by so quickly.

Clare and I were glad that we left early in the morning for our ride, because we avoided the afternoon heat which eventually hit a high of 114 degrees Fahrenheit in Florence. We arrived back in Florence by noon and made another appointment to ride on Friday.

Monday, August 17, 2009

How Much Do I Owe You?

Today I led my first "private" bike tour. This means that the rider has requested a private, dedicated personal tour guide all to themselves. The business came through my good friend Leif. My client for the day, Clare, from Portland, Oregon, was alot of fun to ride with. Our skills and energy levels were perfectly matched!

I met her at the Ponte Trinita, and after quickly assessing her riding abilities we headed up Via Faentina to Olmo. She was up for some more climbing, so we headed further up to Bvigliano. As we breezed back down our descent to Fiesole, I could hear her gasping in awe at the sights. There's just no way to express the intoxicating effect of Tuscany's sensual environment. And there's no way to absorb the experience from anything but a bike. As a cyclist you breathe it all into your mind, into your lungs, deep into your whole body.

I topped off our ride by taking Clare for a quick spin around Fiesole and then a caffe. At which point she asked me "How Much Do I Owe You?". I was pretty flabergasted, because I had never even thought of pricing, and feel guilty charging someone, when I'm the one who had such a great time! I felt like I should be paying her! I wasn't prepared with a response, and I don't know how private tours are priced. We only spent 3 hours riding. So, I told her that I had to check with Leif, since the business came through him. She said that she'd like to ride again on Wednesday, and a few days next week. I led her back to her hotel.

Tonight Leif and I caught up over a pizza and I asked him about pricing. He, being one of the most experienced tour guides around, explained the pricing rationale. Again I was shocked, because it's more than I would ever have expected. Not bad for having a good time!

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Today is Ferragosto in Italy, the feast day of Mary's Assumption. It is a major Italian holiday. It is also the day that the Romans honored the gods with a celebration they called Feriae Augusti. Ferragosto is, next to Christmas, Easter and New Years, the most important holiday in Italy. Most of the Italians take the entire month of August off anyway, but today the entire country is in shut-down mode. Similar to our Labor Day, but more significant.

Today I took a ride north again to Monte Senario, which has become my favorite quick ride. It's also the coolest, most shaded and most spiritual ride that I have found. Indeed, the city is deserted and the backroads which are always quiet, were just as quiet as usual. The photo above I took of a pretty farmhouse along the road on my way back from the convent.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Exploring Some New Territory

The streets are getting hotter and emptier. I'm surprised at how well I've adjusted to the heat in Florence. It's easy whenever I think of what it was like living in Brooklyn as a kid, when the only way you could cool off was by taking numerous cold baths, and fanning yourself with the refrigerator door. On some streets the kids would open up the fire hydrants. And the police didn't stop them. Nothing like New York heat where the city streets would burn straight through your soles and you could barely make it to the street corner without passing out. This, in Florence is ever more bearable, although most people here are looking quite uncomfortable.

Florence is suddenly emptying out in a mass exodous for the beach. It is Ferragosto (August vacation) which will climax this Saturday, 15 August, (which is the equivalent of our Labor Day.) Florence will be totally deserted on Saturday. I am looking forward to it in order to more meaningfully connect with la mia bella citta' (my beautiful city) even more intimately. I want to get to know her better. I am her new resident and few people have that priviledge. I am blessed and a day doesn't go by that I don't appreciate this gift.

Rolling out of Florence on my bike has been an amazing adventure. Every moment is filled with endless roads whose beauty is spellbinding. Riding under the cypress trees with the intoxicating smell of pine, seeing the abundant groves of olive trees, the old stone houses, the wildflowers along the road, the green fields dotted with bales of hay and laced with vineyards, is beyond stupendous . After climbing up to Fiesole, a whole new world opens up in the roads beyond. The only human beings to be seen are local cyclists. Many still bucking the helmet idea.

Today I ventured out again to ride at the higher elevations up to Bvigliano, where it's always guaranteed to be at least 15 - 20 degrees cooler than in Florence. A natural choice. Then I headed up to Scarperia in the Mugello area of Tuscany. I stopped to have a quick panino and feeling so strong and motivated, I decided to have a tiny glass of vino rosso. What a mistake! What had seemed like a flat road on the way from Pratolino didn't feel so flat on the way back.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

This Is Where I Live

This is my front door. I live on a prestigious Florentine street (pictured below) called "Borgo degli Albizi", which was named after the noble 14th century Albizi family who were rivals of the Medici and Alberti families. The family still owns many of the palaces on this street. In fact, most of my street consists of palaces, my building being one of the few exceptions. Although the Albizi family owned most of this street in the 14th century, the street has existed since ancient times.

Next door to me is an antique shop and a jewelry shop. The whole block is laced with stylish boutiques as well as the typical alimentari, macellerie, pasticerrie e pizzerie.

This photo on the left is a view of my street. I'm not sure when the drainage system was added to the streets of Florence, but I suspect that given the many times that the Arno river has flooded the city over the centuries, that the drainage system is probably pretty ancient too.

If you look at the top photo, you can see the sewer drain below the curb directly beneath my door. A few nights ago while unlocking my front door, my keys slipped out of my hands. I could not believe when I looked down, that the keys went right into the sewer. I didn't have my phone with me. I was so shocked, that I sat on the curb and started crying. People came from all over the street to try to help. Finally, Giuseppe, a neighbor from across the street, came out of his apartment with a large iron tool and he wrestled with the sewer grate until it came off!! Another neighbor came with a rubber glove. Then Giuseppe started fishing in the sewer until finally........he pulled my keys out! I don't know what I would have otherwise done. Since then, I've permanently attached my keys to my handbag, so that it will never happen again!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Reflections On My Father

Happy Birthday daddy. Today you would have been 80 years old. Although it's been 15 years since you've been gone, I feel you all around me. You are in me, and you live through me. I still miss you the way that I did when I was only 5 years old. Remember that day, when I came with you to get your hair cut in the barber shop? You were only 6 feet away from me, but you were innaccessible, and I couldn't just climb into the barber chair to kiss you, so I cried. Instead, I took your overcoat in my hands, and smelled it, because I couldn't bear having you be even 5 feet away from me, in the barber chair, inaccessible for even a moment.

I still miss you the way I did when Meg, Carol and I went to summer camp and I cried every night until you came to visit us on the weekends with mommy and baby George. I know that you were doing what you thought was the right have us spend the summers with other girls in the countryside rather than on the streets in Brooklyn. But then I didn't understand that. Now I do.

And all my life, you were my greatest inspiration, my greatest motivator, my idol. You inspired me to success. You were always there. Even when I didn't want you to be!

You taught me to love Italy because you did. You taught me to love Italian customs, because that's the way we lived. You taught me to love Napoletano humor (and insanity), you taught me to love la commedia del arte, you taught me to love Italian opera. You taught me to love Italian tradition. I would never be living in Italy if it wasn't for you.

Because living in Italy is as close to being with you, our family, and my past, as I can get. And perhaps, if you hadn't died, I would never have had the reason to search any further. But if I did, you would have been very proud that I found my new life here. Yes, you would have been proud.

Daddy, if it wasn't for you, I would never be the woman I am today. I would never love and appreciate the things that I love. And you are with me all the time, daddy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What's Happening in Florence?

Whenever I want to find out what special events, shows, exhibits, concerts and sagres are happening in Florence, all I have to do is to consult one of the many billboards which are strategically placed throughout Florence, found on building walls in or around the major piazzas. This is a custom that I've only seen in Italy, and each comune has laws that govern the use of space, and the amount of time that an advertisement can be attached to the wall. There are public workers called attachini comunale whose job it is to take down and refresh these billboards on an ongoing basis. In fact, the film "Ladri di Biciclette" (The Bicycle Theif) tells the story of an attachino in Rome whose bike gets stolen, and because having a bike is a requirement of the job, he has to recover his bike in order to keep his job as an attachino. If you haven't seen the film, I recommend the 1948 film directed by Vittorio De Sica, who won an Oscar for this outstanding neorealistic film.

Riding With Ellen From San Diego

Today was my first time working with a potential client for Best Tuscan Tours. Much to my surprise, the potential client turned out to be a lady cyclist from San Diego who knows many of the same people that I know in the southern California cycling community. She even knows my good friend Susan from San Clemente. In fact, Ellen was a mentor for Robert Panzara's Death Ride last year, and my girlfriend Susan has just accepted the same job for next year. Ellen and I hit it off from the start.

Ellen, who belongs to the well-known Cyclovets in San Diego, is a professor at San Diego City Community College. She's on an expedition here scouting out the territory for a large student tour that she and her colleague Candice are planning for next summer. The theme of their tour is "art and cycling in Italy". They will be selling this tour to the art, student and cycling community in Southern California and they hope to recruit at least 15 participants for a multi-dimensional tour that will take in the best of Italian art and cycling in Tuscany.

Being the biggest and best cycle touring company in Tuscany, it was only natural that she would have hooked up with our company. So, I will be working for Ellen and Candice, helping them to design parts of the tour which will fulfill some of their particular desires related to cycling, visits to bike factories and cycling museums, on -road guides and support and perhaps even accomodations, transportation, wine tastings and cooking lessons to round out their tour. So I spent a good part of our ride understanding her requirements, giving her some ideas, and telling her what we could do to round out her program to customize her tour to make it a smashing success.

So, I met Ellen this morning at Piazza della Repubblica, and I took her for a ride to Impruneta and Greve-in-Chianti. We spent most of the time talking about her visions of the tour she wants to develop, and I think we will be able to custom design several days of cycling and van support at the very least.

We then passed by her hotel and I met her colleague, Candice, who is a fascinating woman who is a graphic arts designer who also teaches at SDCC. We shared a lively discussion at lunch. They were equally fascinated by the story of how I ended up living in Florence and getting my Italian Citizenship and after lunch I took them to see my apartment, and then brought them to Santa Croce where we said goodbye.

The next step is that Ellen will write out a list of their requirements for my review and I will develop a proposal for her to review.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Where Should I Go??

Today I had a really tough time deciding where to ride on my day off. There are so many choices. Last night I studied several options and maps and Google Earth and must have spent at least 2 hours mapping out some alternatives. It was a tough decision.

When I first joined my bike team I would make sure I was at the ride start location slightly early, so as not to miss the ride. But one of my earliest observations about life in Italy is that nothing starts exactly on time. Not a bike ride, not the opera, not Sunday Mass, not dinner. Life is lived at a more relaxed pace. One of the endless reasons to live here. Although I fully expected and wanted this, it was at first frustrating. Especially when you're pumped to ride, and you just raced 5 miles at breakneck speed to get to the ride on time.

Upon arriving at the ride start, everyone would start socializing. After which, a passionate discussion would ensue on selecting a ride destination. The discussion would then become a sales presentation. Each man would try to sell the team on why their suggested destination is either more beautiful, interesting or challenging. The presentation evolves into a deliberation. The deliberation evolves into a emotional debate, with everyone talking at the same time. The debate becomes a negotiation. A priceless process. I loved it. Each man would describe their suggested route with such love, such adjectives, such passion, such intensity. On one ride, the process took 45 minutes, but it was pure entertainment. Once agreed upon, everyone would depart for the ride with gigantic smiles, feeling like they earned their right to ride.

I am just starting to comprehend the endless number of ride destinations, the thousands of different roads that wander through abundant fantasy landscapes, the infinite ride options. I am understanding better why it is so difficult to decide which way to go. How do you choose, when all the options are equally tantalizing, one more beautiful and filled with surprises than the other?

It's like walking into a gelateria and having 100 different tempting flavors to choose from. You want them all. With gelato, you can choose more than one flavor. And you can taste-test them all if you want. But it's almost impossible to decide where to go on a ride.

Well, after much deliberation, today I rode up to Monteloro where I went off the main road and explored some hidden villas and vineyards. Then I rode on to Polcanto and Pratolino. I still cannot believe that after riding just 3K outside of Florence, I am riding on such tranquil country roads with the cypress trees towering above me and the constant visual stimulation of the bucolic Tuscan landscape all around me. What a great day of exploration and fun!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

An Empty City

It is August. The stores are closed and the streets feel deserted. A beautful tranquility has descended upon Florence, and I love it.

Some friends have told me that I should have left the city during August, just like everyone else has. But I'm not ready for that yet. I want to experience Florence when it is empty and see what an August is like. Besides, I want to work the bike tours that everyone else doesn't want to work, because I need and want the experience. I'm the only one who stayed in Florence. But that's okay. I'm enjoying the peace and quiet in the city, with everyone gone.

And why would I want to go "al mare" (to the ocean), when the whole country is there? I would rather go in September when the beach is quiet and all the vacationers are gone. I am thinking of going back to Ischia in September, and maybe make it an annual event. September will be the first anniversary of my finding my roots in Ischia last year. I think I'd like to go back again this year, and reflect on how my life has changed after the discovery that I made there last year. Ischia is beautiful in September. I hope that I can escape there for a few days in September to celebrate the finding of the place that I come from.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Another Terrific Bike Tour!

Another great tour today, working with Dominick and Roberto, (on the right). Our clients, a family of 3 were from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Dominick (the owner and my boss) wanted to come on this tour in order to observe me, but the show was mine. We started in Impruneta where I gave them a little history on the town, and then we climbed to Greve, where we stopped at the outdoor market before begining our climb to Panzano. We enjoyed a lovely lunch outdoors at La Logge and then headed for Castellina and Monteriggioni. Great tour, fun people and a terrific team. Dominick gave me a few more tours for the month, and I'll also be meeting this Tuesday with a prospect from San Diego who is organinzing a tour of 15 people for next June. I've been asked to take her on a demo ride this Tuesday. I'll work to get her business on a commission basis. This is really a dream job.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Me? Take a Nap?

I'm still holding out. I just can't do it. But they all say that it's just a matter of time, and that I must "give in" sooner or later, or else I will burn out.

It's just the way life is lived here. I've been sticking to my American habits and find it hard to adjust my whole lifestyle not to mention my body, to a whole new pattern of sleeping and living.

You see, it really is true that everything shuts down here between the hours of 12:30 and 2:30PM. Everyone goes home to eat and take naps. So it's a time where there's not much for me to do, since everything is closed anyway. Then by 3PM everyone is reinvigorated, and they all work late, eat late, go out late (concerts and performances don't start until 9:30PM).

The reason why they can live such abundant lives and suck everything out of their day, is because they take their afternoon nap.

I am realizing that I will have to try to start doing this. Because after a day of working on my bike, it is hard to commit to going out at night because I am too tired. But, if I take a nap in the afternoon, I should be able to stretch out my day and enjoy the evenings to their fullest.

I'll let you know when I do!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Long Day On The Bike

Today I led a custom bike tour for a recently retired executive couple, Doris and Bill, from New Orleans. After fitting them on their bikes and preparing them for their 3 day tour, they asked the revealing question, "Are there any hills on this tour?"

There were 3 route options and I advised them to take the easiest route from Impruneta to Greve through Ferrone. Then I made sure that the client had the kind of pedals that they want. In both cases, flat, no clips. These are quite heavy hybrid bikes with mountain bike gearing. They were in for a long day on the road

Doing these "Meet and Greets" are a good training opportunity for me. So I offer to ride a little longer and further with the clients, and they implore me to stay with them, because so far as I've seen, they don't have experience navigating maps and route sheets. They appreciate the company, and I enjoy the socializing and practicing my local knowledge.

It was a slow day. I wanted them to feel confident with reading and navigating the route sheets, so I stayed in the back to make sure they were okay. I felt a little bad for them, because they were somewhat timid and they kept going the wrong way.

I was ever the coach, telling them to go piano, piano at their own pace and knowing how much they're going to appreciate the the next caffe and gelato stops, as they slowly cranked up the hot hills in the mid day heat. They called the hills "mountains" and although the highest hill they climbed was only 1,000 feet above sea level, they surprised me, saying that they could feel an "altitude change" since they live at sea level in Louisiana. They also wished that the bike had more gears, (they had a 30/32) or maybe the brakes were stuck!

So, it seems (so far) that the typical client isn't really a cyclist, but more of an adventurist and sightseer. Which means that I need to focus less on the riding part and more on imparting stories and knowledge of the area to keep them entertained as they huff and puff up the hills.

I stuck with them until they got to Greve, where they stopped to have lunch and I departed. Dying to crank up the speed, I continued riding south, up Panzano where I checked out the beautiful church on the top of the hill which offered killer views of the surrounding countryside. Then I rode on to Radda to explore some more roads. On my way back towards Greve (where I left Doris and Bill), I saw two cyclists ahead of me way in the distance, and I thought that if I could catch up with them, maybe I would find some company to ride with back to Firenze. When I caught up to the riders, it was Doris and Bill going the wrong way! They told me that Bill's derailleur fell off when he shifted gears on the Panzano climb. I called Dominick and he immediately put me in touch with his friend's bike shop in Greve, where I led them to get the bike repaired. When we got to the shop, there was a line of customers waiting to be helped. After 2 hours, the problem was resolved and the clients were on their bikes again heading for Radda. It was already 5 PM when I started heading home. So, by the time I got home I had rode 120K in beautiful Chianti country, learned a little more about the typical client who goes on these tours and found the Greve Bike Shop, Ramuzzi,which is good to know for the future.

As I rode back to Florence, I confirmed again the fact that this is the most beautiful place to ride a bike in the world. I feel blessed to have found my place here in Italy, specifically in Tuscany, and more specifically, in Tuscany on my bike. Thanks Great-Grandpa Ciro Mazzella, for never becoming an American citizen. Or I would never have been able to be a citizen and to live in the Italy that I've had a love affair with all of my life. I was meant to be here, in more ways than one.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Short Ride to Olmo

Today it looked like it might rain, so I headed out early to take a quick spin up to Olmo and back. I still can't believe how easy it is to escape the city and be in another world within minutes. Especially during the summer when you don't really want to be in the city because it is very crowded with tourists and the heat doesn't help either. I am lucky to be able to escape. I am thinking of taking my bike on the train one of these days and going to the beach with my bike at Forti di Marmi. Maybe next week.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Raduno da Sola

Today I "participated" (or tried to!) in a raduno. A raduno is a cycling event sponsored by a local bike team or shop, and the small fee is donated to a cause. It's very local, and usually follows a standard route. Today's raduno was sponsored by the Sieci Bike Team. I met 5 team members and we pedaled to the start. There were approximately 100 participants. I only counted one other woman.

I am slowly getting used to the fact that cycling is a man's sport in Italy, covering all age groups. I'm always faced with the decision of participating in rides and events, knowing that there's the possibility that I'll end up getting dropped without any other female support. The only other choice is not to participate. So I must be brave and just show up. Long term, the most productive thing will be to help the team to recruit more women as with the Renegades. It will take much more time to accomplish this here, so, in the meantime, I must bite the bullet, train harder and not allow it to get me down.

So, you can assume the outcome of today's ride. I did end up doing 80K and it was a beautiful course, shaded, flat and cool. I really did have fun, but it's a real shame that I didn't make it back to the start to share in the post-ride fun and to receive my free bottle of wine.

The lesson of the day is that I should have been better prepared, since, had I known the route, (they don't give out route have to know the route beforehand) at least I would have made it back to the start instead of wasting so much time trying to figure out where everyone went. Actually this was my first bad riding experience, but I made the most of it with a positive spirit!