Ciao Ciao

Today was going to be a long day. I already had the traveller’s blues thinking about leaving this magical place and ending such a wonderful trip. I have met some incredible people, seen both the untouched beauty of Cilento and the stunning colours of the Amalfi by bike and I have laughed, eaten, drank and sang until my heart’s content. I know home is where the heart is but there’s something quite special about travelling, especially by bike and I am not quite ready to go home. But we still had a few hours until I had to face that reality…the thought did cross my mind to stowaway in Alessandro’s bags and sneak my way into the next bike tour but then I remembered they would be doing 100km and 2000m elevation per day. Canada it is.

This morning we decided to see the Amalfi Coast by boat. There were a few reasons for this. Our legs were desperate for a rest day and we needed to beat the heat. We rented a boat for the five of us, Dom and Beckie included, and were on a mission to find some quiet swimming spots and see our bike route from the water.

It’s pretty easy to find a boat to rent. Not a bad spot to spend a few of our last hours. I have made it this entire trip without a sunburn…finger’s crossed my luck continues. Off we went.

Dom and Beckie at our first stop.

Is that a bat cave?

It was incredible to see what we had conquered by bike, from the water.

Our one goal on the boat was a stop at Furore. It was surprising to find that it had the coldest water we had swam in yet but t was pretty neat to be swimming in the spot we had spotted from above just two days ago.

From above

From below!

We did swing by Positano to see the chaos from the sea but didn’t wander ashore.

Such a different perspective from the bike versus the sea.

Our boat ride complete, now it was time to leave. There was no delaying the inevitable.

Ferry – Train – Train -Train – Taxi – hotel nap – plane – plane. That’s what we had to look forward to.

It was difficult to avoid the sun on the ferry without looking like a pilgrim.

It was also hard to not just disembark and decide to call Italy home when this man is who greets the ferries and helps them dock. Alessandro has told me he does this winter and summer…it may be a fib but I love the idea of this gem greeting boats year round like this.

Ferry and one train and we were in Naples for a few hours before we made our way to Rome. Our goal was to get Naples pizza…because why not?

Oh right. Because Naples is a giant, dirty city and it would prove to be a massively unwelcome culture shock from Cilento and amalfi. We just wanted Fierenzo (hopefully I got the spelling right this time) and his cute roadside restaurant serving us chilled red wine and anchovies.

We were not gonna find that here. But maybe we could check out Da Michele? The pizza spot we’ve heard about since Rome?

The best pizza in Naples…over an hour wait just to place an order and you’d have to fight your way through the massive crowd at the door to get there first. No thanks.

We set out for a good glass of wine to rethink our pizza plan. We ordered Bianco and Rosso. We were used to not having to pick the wine because every spot we have eaten (courtesy of Alessandro) has served incredible house wine. It should be the same in Naples right? Wrong. So very wrong. Our wine arrived in suspicious bottles and we were to use the Dixie cups to choke it down. Pam said it reminded her of communion wine. I couldn’t do it.

Everything else In Naples seemed to be closed until 7 pm. People eat dinner so late here! We finally found a spot with a good looking pizza oven…even though there was a very large man in a lawn chair in the middle of the restaurant, watching TV with only 70% of his stomach being covered by last year’s shirt…we were staying here. When more customers started coming in, he finally got out of his chair and an employee came out to mop where he’d been sitting. Ew. More importantly, the pizza. It was amazing.

Even if we didn’t have the incredible scenery or company that we’ve had the last few days…it was darn good. Bellies full of pizza and probably too much wine we boarded a train to Rome where we met a group of Italian girls who would soon become my train karaoke partners.

We got to Rome where we would sleep for 6 hours then fly all day Sunday. The blues were real.

We arrived in Gatwick and I cautiously offered a macchiato. Would they do italy justice ?

No. No they would not.

And with that, my blog for this trip is complete. I look forward to one day looking back at all these posts to hopefully be reminded of the small moments when I would think to myself “this is incredible”. I find those can be so easily forgotten. The picking fruit from the trees while wandering through small towns, of cooling down on a descent after earning my turns climbing along the coast, and of meeting and laughing with new friends over the small things. It’s these times I hope this blog will help me remember from my time on this trip. From Canada to Finland To Russia to Italy and back. It’s hard to pick the highlights but reflecting back I am so thankful for:

Swimming in the Baltic Sea after my first Finnish sauna

Suomenlinna island with the family that eventually led to this ridiculousness

Watching my old man and the Holm boys play hockey

Visiting the summer palace of Peterhof

The feeling of conquering our first big climb

Delicious macchiatos that cost 1euro, everywhere I turned in Italy

Trying to catch Alessandro on the quiet roads of CilentoTrying to keep an eye on both the stunning scenery and the chaos of the cars, in AmalfiBike touring with these amazing ladies Making new friends with people who share a love for exploring the world on two wheels and not taking life too seriously

Eating a modified Mediterranean diet All the belly laughs Learning the Italian ways

Simultaneously swimming in the sea while washing my helmet. Even if I wasn’t even supposed to be swimming.

The scenery and having a guide to teach us about the history of the scenery. Context is everything.

Last but not least, family and health. I feel quite lucky that I was able to do this trip with my family and that I have the health to do so.

Ciao ciao.

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Growlers

Well our trip is almost done and it’s pretty sad to realize that. Today was our second to last day in Italy and our last day with the group. Time to recover. The perfect way to do it…walk from Minori to Ravello to Amalfi via stairs. All the stairs.

We picked a good day for an Italian style grouse grind. Not a cloud in the sky. We all showed up in our runners and athletic gear and there was a Alessandro in his dress shoes. Maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as we thought. Wrong. We were soon disgusting sweaty messes. That were a lot of stairs but it sure felt good to move our legs using different muscles.

Up and up we went until we got our view.

If the Italian is sweating…it is hot.

Looking down on Minori. Full of lemon trees.. scurvy cures for all. Why is that North Americans used oranges, brits used limes and Italians used lemons?

Once in Ravello we stopped first at the opera house. A structure built by someone who had never been to Ravello but a stunning piece of work nonetheless. Beckie pondering whether or not the building fits inA bizarre building to come across in this quaint town but a masterpiece inside. Megan and I offered to sing our Disney tunes on the opera stage but we were quickly denied.

Post opera house, we stopped for the mandatory espresso then we made our way to the Villa Cambrione. Abandoned by some rich Italian families and later, in 1904, rebuilt by Sir Beckett (also known as Lord Grimthorpe. Glad he stuck with the former) who was mourning the loss of his wife and struggling with a deep depression. Hard to imagine being depressed here in this peaceful piece of land but the quiet benches around the property were depicting a story of deep sadness.

(Homo sum,) humani nihil a me alienum puto”, with translation…”I am human, and I think that nothing of that which is human is alien to me”. A saying that refers to ownership of conflicting human emotions such as jealousy, sadness or grief. In the end his remains were buried below the God of Wine so I think things got better over time. View from the Villa. Not seen: Pam side shuffle stepping to get to the ledge. You’d think she was going out on the plank. But she overcame her fear of heights and sacrificed herself for this photo. Who wore it better. Top or bottom. Happy group to not be in our nappies. Now to walk back down for whence we came. I didn’t know geckos hid in trees!Not bad. Not bad at all. We rode up that road yesterday!Just us and the hot Italian sun. Mulberry snack to quench our thirst. Why the heck not?Lots of pictures of stairs. Because there were lots and lots of stairs. All the stairs finally done, we still had a bit of walk to get to Amalfi. We were earning our pasta and pizza. Now. This corner. Looked like a good place to stop for a break and apparently that’s what all the locals think…except they tend to stop to also water the walls. So what do they do to combat this? Put up a picture of a saint in these watering holes to prevent these stops. Apparently it works! Nobody will pee on a saint.

Another delicious lunch in amalfi and we headed to for a city bus siesta on our way back to Minori. To the beach! Finally we got our afternoon on the beach that we had been daydreaming about while cycling our butts off. Literally. The beach was all we hoped it would be. Sea was plastic free. Drinks were delivered. Chairs were free. Even if they intermittently gave way when you tried to sit on them. Felt this injury right in my thoracic spine. this was closely followed by a street photo shoot that Pam had her camera ready for.

Enough of that tomfoolery. Our last group dinner is tonight and I’m feeling Quite sad about it. I don’t do well with goodbyes. But we do have one last day in Italy tomorrow so it’s not all bad news.

I would like to say this has been a trip of a lifetime but I know that we’ll be doing more of these so I’ll just say that this has been incredible trip that I will never forget. I’ve learned so many things that I hope to not soon forget. For instance:

– it is possible for adults to get diaper rashes

– In England, a “growler” refers to female private parts. As you know, in Canada it refers to a beer container. Imagine the confusion at the table when taking about Vancouver and how you can just grab a growler and hop on a bike to get it filled at the nearest spot.

– there is always one more hill

– be thankful for family and even more thankful for health

– all Italian dogs have fleas and some Italian cats bite

– there is such thing as too much cheese…unless it’s freshly made or on pizza

– Italy is a place that should be seen by bike, alongside wonderful people. No pasta guilt and all the friends to share meals with!

– lock your hotel room door. You never know who may bust in

– in order to learn the Italian language, you must master the eye roll, the hand gestures and the proper cheek to kiss first

– Cilento is where dreams are made of

And with that, our biking trip is done. We have a day on the boat and transiting tomorrow but this is it.

Goodbye to a fantastic group of people and thank you for all the wonderful laughs.

With love from Italy.

Hakuna Matata

Hakuna Matata, it means no worries. It also was our motto for the day.

We had a reasonably early start to the day and knew what we were in for as Alessandro had warned us it would be a long and hard day. We would be doing a 75 km out and back along the Amalfi Coast. However, as Alessandro was doing our pre brief, he was looking a bit nervous and I knew this wasn’t good. Turns out we would be doing around 2500m of elevation, give or take a few meters. Hakuna Matata. Okay maybe there were a few worries but our main man assured us we could do this. We did 1200 meters the first day, what was several hundred more?

Last night, while trading cultural hand gestures, John had taught us about what he thought was a universal sign for d**khead. I think he might be busting this out today.

It was hot as heck at 815. It was only supposed to be 30 degrees today…but where was that breeze? It wasn’t long before we set into our first real experience of the Amalfi Coast. Holy stinkballs. This place is a madhouse. Busses narrowly going past each other, and when there isn’t enough room, lines of cars having to back up the mountain, while mopeds pass on the inside and somehow two lanes of traffic are attempting to move through enough space for a single North American car. Not having more than a few inches on either end of your handle bars while being passed by a bus that decides to honk mid corner and make Dom almost jump out of his seat? Hakuna Matata.

Dom before the honk jump.

It wasn’t long before we were due for our first coffee. I could really get used this routine of breakfast, exercise, coffee, exercise, wine/nap then dinner followed closely by sleep.

Look at the width of that road in Praiano, our coffee stop.

Dom celebrating another climb conquered.

We had one more climb until we started our descent into Sorrento. Hakuna Matata. Along the way, Megan and I made poor Alessandro suffer through some of our limited Disney songs Karaoke style, one of which was hakuna Matata. I don’t know if he’ll ever accept Canadians on a tour again but man it was fun to belt out some Disney classics. We weaved our way in and out of cars, singing and sweating our pretty little faces off. Then we spotted a mirage at the top of our climb…lemon ice. Could it be real?

It was. And it was one of the most necessary things I’ve consumed…since the fresh buffalo mozzarella yesterday.

At one point, I rode by a man who was taking up valuable roadside space while trimming hedges and therefore creating massive mobile clouds of grass and leaves. That provoked one of the worst allergic reactions I’ve had in a while, Hakuna Matata. One allergy pills, one hundred sneezes and six hours later I had mostly recovered.

We made it to the descent. We were officially half way through our day. Megan and I both refused to move off the wall as we weren’t sure we could trust our legs, so Pam came to us. Beckie was simultaneously posing with her wee one, for Dom.

Now we got the bad news. The descent we were about to do, would be our post lunch climb. Alessandro informed us that one of the many Italian hand gestures he taught us last night, may be used today when we have to climb this beast, which he promised, would be the hardest climb of the tour. Hakuna Matata. What was this hand gesture that we may be practicing on this climb, you ask? It’s a gesture that really replaces the saying “did you shit”. Yes. That’s right, they have a hand gesture for this, and it is most aptly used when you’ve done something scary or strenuous where you may have pooped yourself. It looks a little bit like this:

Down we went. Not a speck of shade to be seen, and a pretty constant and steep (ish) grade. Lunch in Sorrento was a quiet and we all ate pretty minimally, likely the combination of heat and fear. Back up we went. Hakuna Matata.

Sorrento: where quads go to die

Raphaellos Sorrento Nap

What a beast that climb was. When we got to the top, Megan said if she were dropped back at the bottom and given the choice of “do or die”…she would choose die. I felt quite simultaneously accomplished and wrecked and I did in fact bust out that hand gesture on that climb. I rather like it . We sat there recovering for a few minutes then Alessandro arrived with fresh picked cherries and Raphaello started topping up our water. I tell ya, supported tours are the way to go.

Happy and colourful crew with Raphaello.

The worst of the climbing was out of the way and we got to enjoy one of the most beautifully scenic rides I’ve been on. The Amalfi Coast on our right with no tour busses to obscure our view. Hakuna Matata.

Furore.

We did make a stop in Positano and while it was worthwhile to see, it was best seen for only an hour. There were tourists everywhere. It was almost as bad as the Sistine chapel and we had even avoided the beach. Happy to have seen this beautiful spot, we’re even happier to continue on our way.

We made our way back to our favourite spot for lemon ice.

Upon leaving this spot, Alessandro told us we now had a 6 km descent, the last two of which were a climb 🤔. Even though we give him a hard time, Alessandro was so great on the rides. He’d always loop around to all the riders to let them know how much of a climb everyone has left and was always cheering us on with a gentle “go go”. I should record him so I can replay it to stay motivated on my rides back in Canada.

It was not long before we were back at the hotel. I had very mixed feelings about being done. Excited to give my legs a break but sad that this incredible journey was over. I honestly could spend another week biking in this country…although I would definitely head back to Cilento if I had my way.

And we’re done! 5 days of biking, endless laughs, all the carbohydrates and a little bit of sweat.

Tomorrow we have a day off the bike and we’re gonna join Alessandro on a walk from Minori to Ravello to Amalfi. An appropriate day as we were still carb loading this evening (the food just never stops coming) so we need some excuse tomorrow.

With a belly full of lemon pasta and a bittersweet feeling of being done, I will say goodnight from the Amalfi Coast.

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

One night in Villa Rita and we were off. I would have loved to stay here for a few more nights…if it weren’t for the mandatory awkward swim caps. They made for great poolside entertainment but man that was unnecessary. Now. You’ll be glad to know I officially have an Italian translator for this blog so I can hopefully stop the butchering of the Italian words. I mean, the girl who who makes up lyrics for songs should not be in charge of relaying Italian history without someone crosschecking things. I have some editing of previous posts to do but not before I regale you more stories of my Love for Italy.

We had the morning off to explore Paestum but recovery was also on the agenda so Megan and I opted for a short walk to the Paestum ruins to check out the temples of worship. We spotted the temple for Poseidon, which the Romans then renamed and rededicated to Poseidon (tomatoe tomato) but it regardless of the it’s true name, it’s a remarkable piece of history still standing.

We arrived back at the hotel after only an hour walk, incredibly overheated. I promptly disposed of my overheated articles of clothing and relaxed on the bed, to enjoy the blissful air conditioning. One might have likened my position to that of a starfish. It wasn’t long before two lovely Italian cleaning ladies opened my door, without knocking, to find me in such a position. A small scream followed by lots of fast-paced Italian talking ensued…my tired body had yet to even react. I don’t know who was more scared. Pam and Megan were left wondering what the commotion was outside their room and they were not surprised to hear that I had once again found myself in a socially awkward situation.

Before long, we were off to walk to the buffalo farm. Now folks, I need to be very honest here. I have eaten buffalo mozzarella and I have loved every bite of it, but I never knew that it came from a buffalo’s milk. I figured it was in the same category as Stilton blue cheese and Rathrevor Cheddar and had just been assuming it was a region. I was wrong.

We arrived at a buffalo farm that the queen herself orders mozzarella from. Everything here is done within 100m. The food that buffalos eat, the buffalos themselves, the free range (obviously this was important for me), the milking, the cheese production and the eating of the cheese. I learned some pretty neat things here:

Buffalo have adorable buck teeth

Mozzarella is best stored at room temperature

Affogatos (sp:Italian proofreading pending courtesy of Alessandro) made with buffalo milk gelato are an absolute delight. Apparently buffalo meat is quite lean but their milk sure is rich.

These sneaky guys have incredibly long tongues

Even the cows are captivated by his speech about their upbringing

Even buffalo love a good head scratch

It’s possible to have too much cheese. I know, I cannot believe I’m saying that. Our whole group is full of self-proclaimed cheese lovers and yet we all left some cheese on our plate after our buffalo farm lunch.

Bufalo (boo – fah – low) farm adventures complete, we were off to the train. We had a 35 minute train ride to Salerno where we would then bike our first bite of the Almafi Coast. First stop: walking tour in Salerno. We wandered to the tomb of Saint Matthew. This stunning spot made me sad that we went through the chaos of crowds at the Vatican. This piece of history was relatively empty, quiet and stunning. As Pam would say, “eff the Vatican”. Okay. We should probably stop saying that. But really, saint Matthews tomb was incredible. Partially because it was underground and offered cool marble to lean against to lower our body temperatures, but also just a peaceful reconnection with a different time and different way of life without any crowds. We could truly enjoy this space.

We were now done in Salerno and we were all excited to get back on the bikes after a half day off. We only had 25 km to our hotel for the next three nights. Make that 25 km of winding roads where in a single corner, you can find two motorcycles passing cars while you try to bike on the non-existent shoulder. It was sketchy road that made us miss the serenity of Cilento immensely but with Alessandro guiding our way, we were in good hands. We almost lost him once but he survived a near clip with a car and was alive to take some action shots of team chicken leg while blasting past us on the hills. Maybe one day I’ll be able to keep up to him.

Oh ya. Today was the day we busted out the team outfits I found for us before the trip.

We were in good cycling shape and a 5 km climb in the heat felt like a breeze. We arrived at the seaside bar for a beer with smiles, laughter and sweat.

Chris And John reminding us to never take life too seriously and to start making a list of all the places to see by bike. Maybe we’ll catch up to them by the time we retire. What a great duo.

Dom and Beckie. Only one of them gets to have a celebratory beer.

We made it to the hotel and there we met Salvatore, an employee of the hotel. A large man in an even larger suit, with a zany sense of humour and a large presence. I knew within minutes of meeting him that he needed to see my chicken socks. I took my shoe off to show him and forgot that I left that very shoe in the doorway of the restaurant. That shoe was the downfall of not one but two people who managed to trip over it. Salvatore himself, and Raphaello…aka Mr. Fanny Pack. Man, I wasn’t on a role with hotels.

Salvatore serenading Raphaello with tales of the set menu. Swordfish carpaccio, monk fish pasta and sea bass with melted potatoes. I think the melted potatoes bit was lost in translation (as was my attempt at describing what spooning was to Alessandro) but it was a really great meal.

Over dinner we learned that the entire group is musically inept, fearful of the ride tomorrow (75 km of undulating hills) and equally enamoured with alcohol. Man I’m gonna miss this group.

And with that, I wish you a Goodnight from the Amalfi Coast.

Would You Rather

We had one night in the agriturismo and we made the most of it. We had a few hours by the pool resting our legs and then had an incredible dinner on the flower encircled terrace. There was a small hiccup in our situation when our rooms had an air conditioner malfunction. Now when I say malfunction, I mean it. I woke up at 3 am and the reading on the thermostat was 36 degrees. How could that be? It turns out the air conditioner had overheated and was now pumping warm air into my enclosed room. I had a choice. Sweat it out or open the window and my veins to the mosquitos. It’s like the worst game of “would you rather” you can play. The only better “would you rather” I have come across is the question of: would you rather change genders every time you sneeze, or not be able to tell the difference between a muffin and a baby. In my case I chose open the window and so I slept. In the end, I left a part of me back in Casal Velino…probably about a ½ teaspoon of my blood in their mosquitoes.

We woke up to start our third day of cycling and Pam still had a smile on her face. It was already hot at 9 am. It was gonna be a sweaty day…more so than usual. But we had a pretty easy day ahead of us. Only 200 m maximum of elevation and just a few fun climbs, all along the last bit of the Cilento coast.

First stop Pioppi. The town known for Dr. Ancel Keys, physician, epidemiologist and nutritionist. He discovered and coined the term “Mediterranean diet” and was the author of the 7 country study that looked at the link between diet and cardiovascular disease. In the early 1900’s he started promoting the idea that we should not eat red meat or sugar and we should have a diet rich in legumes and vegetables. His ideas were that we should enjoy pasta and rice a few days a week but more importantly that we should be eating not just when we’re hungry, but socially and conscientiously. He really believed in the idea that food should be enjoyed with people, covered in olive oil and sourced from local and seasonal produce. Incredible ideas that took a long time to take hold but given how delicious our Mediterranean meals have been here, we are on board with everything he believes in.

Ride to Pioppi, spotted a Peloton.

After learning about wise Ancel, we made our way to our biggest climb of the day. Smiles all around when we learned we were done the biggest and likely hottest (we were wrong about this) climb.

Awkward arm photo. We’re all too sweaty to touch. It also looks like Pam and I have a ghost child between us.

Whole group shot. Introducing from left to right:

Alessandro: chickpea farmer, extraordinary cyclist and guide and master at English slip-ups. He once commented that Pam looked naked. He meant nackered.

John and Chris: from England (something shire…maybe Lestershire). Retired from the family business, pro bike tourers with a wicked sense of humour and horrifying stories of chicken slaughtering.

Dom and Beckie: from England (a different shire…Gloucestershire?). Air Force employees that are expecting ( yes Beckie is a machine) and have pet quail. Prince of Quails, Victoria Peckham and Bob (a female quail).

Us: three sweaty buffoons from Canada

Beckie at the finish line!

Into Santa Maria to have lunch on the beach. A cute town with a picturesque beach but it was a sad moment when we waded into the sea only to find that we were surrounded by small pieces of plastic. How heart breaking.

After lunch we struggled to find our legs again. The sun was hot, the breeze was missing, and we had too much gelato. Just kidding. No such thing as too much gelato. Playing the game of drafting until the other person notices, we climbed to Propoli, an old Greek town with a fairly preserved ruin. More noticeably to us, well preserved stairs.

Cute town. John asked, Do we really need to walk up those? We were all wondering the same. Alessandro informed us it was compulsory.

I did okay for the first kilometre of stairs, after riding 50 km in the heat already but at one point I actually didn’t think I could do one more stair. unfortunately Megan caught a photo of that.

At another point Megan looked over at me, and I think I had yet to stop sweating, and she commented that I was really, too beautiful. I’m sure Jason would agree.

But we made it to the top! Not a short walk from the sea but worth the view.

A dream worthy downhill and we were at our next hotel, Villa Rita in Paestum (Poseidon). We arrived to the hotel and were greeted with Prosecco. Oh man. I was in love.

Minutes later, we were in suits and at the bar picking our bottle of wine for the pool. Raphaello snuck in for a quick photo, and a milking of the hotel owner.

Okay so there was a small glitch at the pool. For hygiene reasons, we had to wear swim caps. This was gonna be a problem for I have a huge melon. Then came the wine-fuelled journey of fitting this cap on my head.

It took a while but my cap eventually made onto my head. Tight as heck. For 2 euros a piece, you’d think they would make more than one size.

Pam was definitely better at it.

What Pam was not good at, was figuring out where her water was. She asked me to get her a water when I get the wine then proceeded to assume that the water the wine was sitting in, doubled as her drinking water. Note where her actual water bottle is.

Full of wine and Tesoroni…or as I call them “honey I shrunk the bagels”, we were ready for dinner and closely followed by that, bed. Tomorrow we are to the buffalo farm to taste mozzarella, buffalo milk macchiatos and gelato. We have a short jaunt on a train until we are in the heart of the Amalfi coast. I am so sad to be leaving behind this beautiful, seemingly untouched, part of Italy. I feel like it’s a place I could call home. I’ve been warned to be ready for Gucci bags and crammed housing on the Amalfi, but also for stunning scenery. Stay tuned…

honey I shrunk the bagel

Photographic evidence that we do actually make it to the pool and not just to the pool deck to drink wine. Courtesy of Alessandro, from our first night.

Blow Smack

Today was our last day at King’s Residence and while I was sad to be leaving, I was excited to know that today was a “recovery day”. Today we would only have to do 35 km and about 700 m of elevation. The only complicating factor would be the heat and humidity but sunshine and biking…so it was going to be a good day. We weren’t going to start biking until 11 so we decided to spend the morning going for a swim and a 1.5 hour boat ride to one of the more special beaches of Palinuro, one only accessible from our hotel and by boat.

I was not able to eat much breakfast as I think I was still full from dinner last night but all I really needed was an espresso macchiato . Following breakfast, we had a 2 km “mostly” downhill bike to the beach. The echo from the group on the way down this hill was “what goes down must come back up” but we would worry about that later.

We arrived at port Palinuro and I couldn’t wait to get in the water. It was already so hot. The only issue was that, while I managed to wash all my biking clothes, I forgot to wash my helmet and it smelled worse than a Holm hockey bag. Could I kill two birds with one stone?

Yes. Yes I could.

As soon as I had quick swim, I was waved out of the water by Alessandro as it turns out, everyone was waiting to go on the boat ride. Oops. Turns out the swim was planned for a beach we were heading to and I was the buffoon swimming alone with my helmet on while the group waited. You know what they say…In every group there is that one embarrassing/annoying friend, and if you don’t know who it is then it is likely you. Le sigh.

Our boat ride took us around to the other side of our port, where our hotel was located.

Rabbit Rock. Use your imagination.

Our hotel and our soon-to-be beach

After a swim in the sea, we had to get back to start our ride and have enough time for the blue grotto. Named that because of strikingly bright blue colour of that water, even while in a dark cave. It turns out, 50m underwater, there is a tunnel connecting the grotto to the other side of the point. Apparently it’s about 20m long but it manages to somehow perfectly refract the sunlight into the grotto, creating a bright blue appearance in the pitch dark.

Pilgrim on a boat

Still recovering from the embarrassment of going for a combine swim/helmet wash while the group was waiting for me, we had a quiet boat ride back to the port.

Scream face In the rocks!

Now to ride. Off we went from Palinuro to Pisciotta, the old Greek village named after the Pisciottan Olive trees that are are more common than people. A “small climb” to get there. Please note our elevation from sea where we started, and we arrived in this cute old village full of tiny walkways, and infinite steps with the sounds of families gathering to enjoy lunch emanating from windows.

So thankful for Raphaello meeting us at each stop with water, bananas and a wicked sense of humour.

Pisciotta in the background.

After exploring Pisciotta, we had a short jaunt, truly, to get to lunch at Belvedere Restauranto. It turns out, if you just add an “o” to end of everything, it will sound Italian. I promise. Except Belvedere, that means “good view”. And that we had. We arrived at this cute spot, owned by Fierenzo and his family, and had the place to ourselves. We got to stuff our faces with homemade wine and delicious anchovies done multiple ways (a food of this region), overlooking the sea that we just climbed from.

Small climb to get here. Can you feel the heat? My bike shorts could. Make that Megan’s bike shorts that she wonderfully donated to me.

Fierenzo. A happy host, incredible cook and photogenic guy who yells”pecorino” instead of cheese to take a photo.

We slowly made our way to the bikes, bellies full, and while attempting to get going, Dom (a hilarious British chap), proclaimed “my body keeps asking me, is it time for a nap now?”. We couldn’t have agreed more. These massive lunches were incredible, but the food was good and the family that owned them was also so hospitable, it was hard to not eat too much. So far, we had left each one stuffed to the rim, and now we were supposed to be getting back on bikes to ride at Tour de France speeds. Okay. Maybe that’s an exaggeration but it sure felt like the tour d France post massive lunch.

How the Italians rehydrate.

We had another climb before we got to the peak of our day and then got to enjoy a downhill ride, almost 20km, to casal velino, where we were going to be staying at an agriturismo. A farm host.

Before we embarked on the last leg of today, Raphaello, the support van driver, bike mechanic and fanny pack wearer, kept telling us that we would have a surprise at the final 500 m. We knew what this meant. More coastal climbs. We kept waiting for the ballbuster but sure enough, it never came. Raphaello was having quite a time paying me back for making fun of his fanny pack. I declare war.

The agriturismo balcony. Complete with our laundry of the day. Something still stinks in this lot but we couldn’t be bothered to rewash.

I’m sure you’re realizing there’s a bit of theme, but once at the farm house we peeled off our bike shorts and jerseys and made our way to the pool. Beckie and Dom and us three goons had the pool to ourselves, and sat there reading our books, drinking our earned treats and enjoying the sounds of the goats, dogs, and geese, while the swallows dove for bugs on the surface of the pool!

Our dinner spot for tonight. A farm-to-table dinner on the farm terrace.

We are currently on the Cilento coast, a fairly untouched coastline just south of the Amalfi coast. We have been spoiled by quiet roads, restaurants to ourselves and a fair bit of solitude at all our stops. Apparently this won’t be the case once we leave Cilento but that’s a tomorrow issue. Tonight I’m wondering if we’re going to be able to eat some more blow smack fruit. You see, last night we tried this delicious fruit and when we asked Alessandro what it’s called he couldn’t think of the English name. He used his trusty google translate and up came the translation of : loquat, blow, smack. We now refer to it as the blow smack fruit and darn it’s good. Pear meets apricot with some extra fibre in the skin.

So far this trip, has been the trip of a lifetime. I feel so fortunate to be able to be on such an amazing trip, with such lovely group of people and in such an incredible place. The sunny weather, unparalleled espresso and consistently delicious wine are icing on the very very delicious cake.

Good night from Italy.

Our motto for the trip, shirts courtesy of Megs

Embrace It

We arrived in Palinuro last evening to discover we all had balconies overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. What a wonderful contrast from Rome. I left my balcony doors open all night and awoke to the sounds of the seal-sounding birds and a breeze off the sea.

At breakfast we were given the option for American coffee or espresso. That decision was easy. I had yet to have a bad cup of coffee in Italy. After enjoying some still-warm croissants we had a meeting with the two other couples that we were going to be spending the week with, and Alessandro, our lovely tour guide. He keeps insisting we call him Alex and we are sure it’s because we butcher his name but he will continue to be Alessandro.

Today we were gonna be biking around 60 km with 1200+ meters of elevation. The first half of the ride was going to be a climb, with the worst part being a 10km continuous climb and then we would have a mostly downhill ride. What he forgot to disclose is that the last kilometre would be a straight ball buster up a cobblestone street to get back to our hotel but it’s probably better that he didn’t.

Our first stop was about five kilometres out to see our hotel, the crest of Palinuro.

Our hotel in the distance. Alessandro in the foreground. Not pictured: Alessandro’s cycling legs that somehow enables him to continually cycle between all 7 riders, despite us being kilometres apart. What a beast.

Quick stop for one more espresso before we started the worst climb. This was going to be much needed given the sweat already accumulating thanks to the humidity. My leg was an actual fly trap.

10 Km later and we thought we were done climbing. We would later find out we still had at least a 4 km climb left but he was very good at giving us one climb at a time. He was very sneaky. After the fourth or fifth time of believing that we were done climbing for the day, Beckie informed the group we should just “embrace it”.

Embracing it at the top.

We ended up getting to san Giovanni a Piro early and Alessandro asked if we wanted to see the lookout point. It would be a detour but “only a short climb”. We were in.

From there he said if we wanted another detour, it would only be another short climb. We were catching onto his game. But this time we would see a momentary where a monk used to live…with no crowds. Okay you twisted our arms.

The monestary in the distance. This was a “short climb”. Right. But it was worth it!

Monk’s pizza oven. Seriously.

Candles that were brought as gifts to the monk. One of these is rather suggestive.

View from the Monk’s room.

From here we went to lunch where we had a Salami plate of heaven. We thought this was all we would be having and were very happy with that but the food didn’t stop coming. How do these people stay thin?!

In a food coma we got another surprise climb announcement and left our lunch stop reciting a prayer for our bodies to start shunting blood away from our Italian food filled guts and towards the necessary parts.

After our second-to-last climb, we had 12 km of downhill to an abandoned village. It felt so good to just be able to sightsee and take it all in on the downhill. The sun was still hot as stink but it was much more enjoyable on the downhill.

Abandoned village

After a climb from hell to get to our hotel, we went straight for the water, wine in hand.

View from hotel pool.

The only effort left today is the walk to dinner where home made seafood pasta was awaiting us. This climb, I could do. At dinner we taught Raphaelo what his bag was. Try explaining to someone what fanny pack means. He now wears his fanny pack over his shoulder since hearing what its actually called and what fanny means…but not before giving us some killer poses.

Satiated and exhausted, we are calling it a night.

I have to admit I was skepticabout how I’d feel being on a guided bike tour but it is incredible. We’re in a small group with like-minded people from around the world, with a local tour guide who has mapped all the rural, local spots to eat and visit and you don’t have to plan or think about anything. Except the next hill.

Panem et circenses

From Russia to Finland to Italy we went. By train, plane but no automobile. We arrived in Rome last evening and wasted no time making our way to pizza and wine. We were excited to find English menus, fresh ingredients and flirtatious waiters. More importantly than the flirtations (I mean we didn’t mind those), we were excited to see people smiling again. Russia was such a cold and unwelcoming country. What a beautiful transition for us. From Russia to Italy, with love.

After dinner we decided to wander to the Trevi Fountain. To train for our bike trip, we decided we would practice ten and ones. Typically during marathon training, this means running ten minutes then walking one, but we made an Italian modification. Walk ten minutes, have one glass of wine. Success.

Our waiter made us strawberry roses. I could get used to this.

We arrived at the fountain with rose cheeks (see what I did there) and disbelief at the evening crowd. We were sure to get a cup of gelato to make our welcome evening to Italy complete and even though I was unsuccessful in keeping it off my dress, it was delicious. Bellies full of wine and gelato we went back to our air BnB where one of our single beds obscured half the bathroom doorway and settled into a well earned sleep.

After sleeping in beds that made us feel like we were sleeping on pallets from the Roman Empire, we were off to seize the day. Was it possible to see Rome in less than 24 hours? We were gonna try. First stop: The Colosseum. But not before coffee. I finally found a good coffee. The table decorations were a bit weird but we weren’t complaining.

We wandered to the colosseum only to see a two hour lineup outside. A man approached us and offered us a 45 minute tour with a skip-the-line option for 35 euros. Yes please. That will address both our issues with short attention spans and time constraints.

In only 45 minutes we learned quite a bit. During the Roman Empire, Romans never worked! They had 200 holiday days per year and most of them lived off the taxes from neighbouring provinces. The royalty made close to 250 000 meals per day to feed the Romans and as a result, satisfied 50% of their goal of appeasing the people. ”Panem et circenses”: bread and Circus. The only needs of the people and of met, a way to avoid dissent and rise to power. The colosseum is where the circus comes in. There was no entrance free for the colosseum and the general public were allowed to attend any and all gladiator events. Pretty neat.

The colosseum was in pretty rough shape and we learned a there were a few reasons why. The first reason was that during the building of the Vatican, they actually took material from the colosseum to help build the Vatican. So a lot of the marble floor in the Vatican is actually stolen from the colosseum.

Vatican floor stolen from the colosseum!

The other issue is that following the construction of the colosseum, metal became very difficult to come by. At one point, the horses bit that goes in his mouth was worth more than the horse itself. So people would be caught boring into the marble of the colosseum to steal the pieces of iron and lead that were used to build the colosseum (there was no mortar used, just limestone with LEGO type iron and mead fixtures to fit it together).

Notice all the holes!

After our one hour in there, we were already sick of crowds…the 30 degree heat wasn’t helping. We left before our sweat moustaches collided with our pit sweat and went in search of affogatos and the vatican.

We walked to the Vatican and feeling overwhelmed by tour guides and crowds, we decided to sneak into a small cafe to eat arugula and Parmesan salads and drink some delicious Italian wine. At one point we decided “Eff the Vatican” as Pam and I had both been there and Megan was feeling like she didn’t need to see it so badly that she was willing to face the crowds.

We left the restaurant and realized we still had two and a bit hours to kill. What were we gonna do? It was now too hot to wander and the heat was draining our incentive to do anything so after standing in the street outside the Vatican for ten minutes, in complete indecision and on a journey to swass-land, we decided, hey what the heck. We were gonna see if we could get inside the Vatican for just a wander.

Just a wander. Ha!

We found a skip-the-line voucher and skipped in front of the blocks-long line up to get in. The crowds here made the Colosseum look empty. We were bustled along non-air conditioned corridors for what felt like forever. We got to hear snippets here and there from all the tour guides breathing on our necks and after an hour of us beelining it to the Sistine chapel, we finally arrived. Seven minutes. That’s how long we stayed there. This might be a record.

This was my worst nightmare

Vatican City!

Outside the chapel we saw someone being attended to by the paramedics. No kidding. None of us were feeling very good at this point. We were so excited that in a few short hours we would be heading to the small town of Palinuro to start our bike trip. No more crowds. Just well earned sweat. Very well earned.

We made one small mistake and looked at the route of our first day and noticed that our first leg was a direct climb into the mountains. We were gonna be earning our pasta and wine but man were we excited. A few hiccups with the Italian bus system but we made it! We just sat on the patio of our incredible hotel, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea and carb loaded (drank wine) while we reflected on how happy we were to be outside of the city. Twenty four hours in a big city is all I need. I sit here on the patio listening to the sounds of just the birds and the sea…no distractions from the ride ahead of us tomorrow but will feel good to shed the weight of Russia.

Good night from Pah – Lin – oooh- Row

Touristo

Last day in St. Petersburg! The city of unsmiling people, groups muttering “touristo” when you walk by and a produce system at the grocery store that I just can’t figure out. What I would give for an apple. It’s not all bad. This city is full of beautiful buildings and monuments that tell stories of a sad history that nobody has forgotten.

Today Dad, Liz and I separated from the group to leave the downtown core and see a summer palace outside the city…Liz’s goal in coming to Russia and man am I ever glad we did.

Mrs Boca herself excited about Pererhof.

We arrive in Peterhof, a summer residence and reception area for both Peter the Great and Catherine the great. As a recap…Peter the Great married Catherine I. She was born poor and worked as a servant. She went on to become the mistress of one of Peter’s (we are on a first name basis) ambassadors. These ambassadors were people he sent to other countries to gather information on what was going on politically, architecturally, economically and art…wise. I could have happily done that job. Peter decided he wanted Catherine for himself so of course…one day the ambassador disappears and not long after, Peter and Catherine are wed. They had something close to twenty children and only 2-3 made it out of childhood. “Natural” childbirth. Their daughter Anne went on to have a son named Peter III and he was the one who married a German princess who later became Catherine the Great. Both Peter the Great and Catherine the Great lived here at Peterhof at one time, in the summer. Turns out they were the only two “greats”….although Liz has started introducing herself as Liz the Great so there may now officially be three.

Liz the Great. At the Baltic Sea.

The palace was devastated in World War II but was restored to almost its original state thanks to some crafty Russians. When the Germans occupied St. Petersburg, the palace workers drew designs, took measurements, and documented every room, statue and moulding in impeccable detail. They also went so far as to hide the expensive statues and art work underground. All of this made it possible to rebuild everything almost exactly as it had been, post war. They even had all the plots for gardens and replanted the same plants in the same place and they are to scale and breed even today.

Tulips. Moooore tulips.

The second cascade and the statues they hid underground from the nazis.

The palace church. Their own church for God’s sake!

Their greenhouse where they kept and grew rare species including pine trees!

One of my favourite parts of the tour was learning that Peter the Great had a fantastic sense of humour. He had trick fountains all over the 102 hectare piece of land. He built these trick fountains and very near by, built little houses for the tricksters to hide in, and wait to turn the fountains on when unsuspecting people came within shooting range.

A bench with a little house behind it where someone could sit and wait for lovers trying to sneak off for a tryst and suddenly soak them.

We made our way to see a small palace in the park to see what living like Peter was like. We chose the bath house as it housed their sauna and their kitchen and boy it was incredible.

Catherine’s bath. Notice the chandalier up above…that’s where the water came from.

A make-up table.

Modern day seat heaters!! Warming stools for the garden at night. Servants would put hot coal inside so that when you sat, you got a little snuggly surprise under your toosh.

A fly catcher from 1820. Ha. Not much has changed.

Probably local, organic and sustainable …but likely not ethical.

Their kitchen.

A massage table in a sauna. This would be so wonderful. I don’t think they made the best choice in colour of their sauna clothing.

Bloodletting set.

Post sauna group shower.

The reason for the smile on my face here is I had just learned that my new idol Catherine the great was serious about her coffee. This entire room was dedicated to creating the perfect cup of coffee for her. She liked it dark and strong. I think her and I would’ve gotten along great.

Coffee garden

This site was definitely the highlight of my trip so far. We left Peterhof excited and amazed. Next stop Church of the Savior on spilled blood. The spot where Alexander II was murdered in 1881 and eventually went on to become a morgue during World War II before its restoration. The interesting thing about this Church is that every square inch is covered with tile mosaic inside.

After a quick walk through the tile laden church, we made our way to the subway station. Stalin created elaborate subway stations in both Moscow and St.Petersburg as he said the people and and the workers deserves their own palace and so he built elaborate subway stations which he referred to as the People’s Palace. Built up to 89 metres underground, they would later become a safe place for people during the nazi bombing.

All of these carved statues are of everyday people. Mom’s with children. Steel workers. Chefs.

We arrived back at the hotel exhausted but we had one more event before heading home tomorrow. Hockey! The stixedos played their last game tonight and after some pretty great hockey, they had to walk away with a 2-1 loss but a couple of fun games of hockey with some quick Russian players.

Off to bed we go. The team is heading home and I’m off to Italy to start my one week bike tour of the Almafi Coast.

Tour D’Embassy

Well last night the pressure was on. We were told that in order for Dad and LiZ to get into Russia, we were going to have re-fill in Russian visas from the beginning and show up at the Russian embassy at ten am sharp. This would be their fourth embassy visit of this trip. The other issue was our bus was supposed to leave at 11 am to take us to Russia and it had a cancellation policy more strict than massage therapists. If less than three days to departure, no luck. This is only an issue because the train from Helsinki costs more than three months of pet insurance for senior chihuahuas with malingering disorder.

After five hours of filling out Russian online visas the night before , we were remaining skeptical they would accept them. This application made the royal college exam seem easy. Ha. I kid. But it was no joke. Russia wants to know every job you have ever had. Every school you’ve gone to since high school. Every ex-wife. The worse one was every single country you’ve visited in the past ten years. This is an okay task to complete when you have all your old passports in front of you, but quite a difficult feat when filling out the applications on an iPhone, on the island of a sea fortress, with three gin and tonics in lieu of old passports.

Once again, we got lucky. Dimitry from the embassy granted us two Russian visas for Dad. Yet as we sat there, we heard him quoting seven days to all other people inquiring for the same thing. It may have had something to do with gas fumes emanating from our group of three…Helsinki food was not agreeing with one of us but I think it made Dimitry excited to get us out of his embassy to never return. We are also happy with this plan after seeing that the safe behind him, definitely had explosives on it, with a string over the door, attached with putty. We assumed this was a self detonation mechanism but given the security we had to go through to get in there, we are unsure how anyone could ever succeed in getting to that point but we were not gonna ask. At 1042 we got word that everything was a go. All of our bags were back at the hotel but we decided I should at least try and catch this 11 am train to save â…“ of the cost we were going to incur with booking new trains. Unaware of the suspicion I might raise, I ran out of the embassy to find a cab. Flagged a cab down five minutes later and told the driver, wth really aggressive arm motions, that I was in a rush to get to the train. Clearly I need to play more charades as he understood and took off like a bat out of the Russian embassy. I arrived at the station at 10:58 and sat down on the train as it was pulling out of the station.

Within seconds of the train taking off, word got to me that Dad had sent a text to the entire family, informing them that there had been a glitch with the visas after all. Damn. So there I sat on the train thinking that after all of that, I was going to Russia without my Dad, and my luggage for that matter.

An hour later Dad texts me that he was just kidding. Everything was a go. He just wanted to make me sweat. What a turd.

Dad was coming to Russia!

We arrived in St. Petersburg, home of Peter the Great, after several passport checks, a plethorka of unsmiling faces from Russian guards and multiple raised eyebrows when I tried to explain why I had no luggage to people who don’t speak English.

Traveling with a hockey team is not for the light and efficient travellers.

St. Petersburg. Literally created by Peter the Great. He decided to change the capital of this country from Moscow to what used to be a swamp and is now known as SBP. To do this, he mandated everyone who comes to visit must bring a stone and after layering clay, limestone, granite and stone on top of this swamp, he had a ground from which he could build a city to his liking. A city that doesn’t look much like the rest of Russia because he preferred European architects and engineering. Now, the cultural capital of Russia, it is home to 6000 palaces, cheaply priced alcohol and excessive military and police presence.

We arrived at our hotel and had our passports confiscated. Not because they want to control us, but they want to limit the ability of their citizens to gain access to leaving their county. Creepy.

A restful night and we woke to start the day with a walking tour. On this tour we learned about my new idol Catherine the Great. A European princess who married a dud and became the preferred ruler by the Russian people. She changed the law so woman could become rulers, had her husband killed and convince her son that he shouldn’t rightfully take the throne when he was of age, and instead continue to rule Russia until she died. We walked by the Hermitage, also known as the winter palace built for Peter the Great’s daughter, Elizabeth. Wouldn’t you know, she didn’t live to see its completion. A winter palace because its state of the art heating , it was able to keep heated during the cold Russian winter. Now it’s a museum with several palace rooms preserved to see all the different European influences they preferred during their rule.

Holm family takes the city bus

Monument to Peter the Great. One solid piece of granite. No supporting structures. The architect used to walk his dog around the base of it on a windy day, to prove to people that it wouldn’t fall.

Selfie fail but here I am outside the hermitage. I made it!

Rock tree inside the Hermitage courtyard.

The entrance stair case. All I could imagine was women in their beautiful, 1800’S style dresses, bashfully walking down these stairs to the masses awaiting them. It’s hard to capture the detail of even the wall sconces but man oh man the detail!

Peter the Great’s Library. Preserved in its original state. What a cozy place to read.

A drawing room. I wonder what a Vancouver home that could boast one of these would cost ?

Done with the Hermitage, we Walked by a statue that Catherine built to commemorate Peter the Great. The snake under the horse, propping up the tail is supposed to represent enemies and Catherine built this to show how one needs enemies to make them stronger. I guess?

Definitely no enemies here.

Onto St. Isaac cathedral. One of the few cathedrals that survived the Soviet Union. The soviet rulers mandated science as the only belief system and one ruler (I forget which one) went so far as to place a museum of science inside of st isaacs cathedral…quite a way to prove point. Apparently the original structure was built with a novel way of preserving the gold finish!that usually had to be replaced every ten years. They found a way to mix the gold with mercury pour it on the spire, and heat it to seal it. They claim this process didn’t kill it anyone but it was never used again. Right. The gold did have to get covered up with paint during the war as to not act as the equivalent of a tall blonde man in rural Asia.

Back to the hotel for a power nap then off to the arena to watch the stixedos play hockey. It will be the first time I watch my two uncles and my two cousins all play on the same team.

We went for a quick bite at a nearby pub before the game, and it became apparent that Perry the team captain had fallen victim to travellers gastric stalemate and was on a mission to cure this. Yup. Two bowls of steamed broccoli with a side of Guinness. He’s gonna have turbo boost power on the ice for sure.

The stixedos pulled off a 3-3 tie and we headed back to the hotel to rest up for our last day in St. Petersburg. Tomorrow we are off to see Peterhof.