Saturday, June 30, 2012

Senza Squadra - Panzano, etc.

The email said to meet at Tavernuzze at 7:30, the same as last week.  Well, I was there, early of course, but no one else showed up.  This wasn't that big a surprise, as the numbers have been dwindling and it is getting quite hot, and many people are at the sea or in the mountains.  I just checked a facebook post and two of the riders from last week are at a race in the Dolomiti this weekend.  Well, the temperature was still cool, and I just did a tour alone, which was great.  I went from Tavernuzze to Greve on the valley roads, then climbed to Panzano.  This is a very nice, gradual climb with great views of the heart of the Chianti wine region.  I descended from Panzano and turned off to climb to La Piazza, the continue climbing to San Donato a Poggio.  I got water in Greve, then Panzano, and turned into the old centro of San Donato to find water there.  I found two sources, but the best part was seeing the beautiful old town center.  I had ridden by here many times in the past and had never turned in.  Turns out it is a very nice old town.

From San Donato i contoured over to Tavernelle, where I picked up the road toward San Casciano, then turned off on one of my favorites which runs along a ridge through Romita, San Pancrazio, San Quirico, then Montagna.  Between Romita and San Pancrazio, I pulled over to take a picture and must have hit a thorn or something, as the rear tire was quickly flat.  I walked a little ways to some shade and a reasonable  place to pull off the road to fix the flat.  The road itself is basically one lane, but used for both directions.  With the tire repaired, the ride from San Pancrazio to Montagnana is mostly downhill, and a really fun screamer.  After Montagnana, you join the road which descends steeply to Cerbia.  More water in Cerbia, then climb to Chiesa Nuova, where I checked the water and it was ice cold.  Nice!  I ran my head under the water and refilled the bottle.  Back to Firenze from Chiesa Nuova through Galluzzo, then Cascine del Rocco, Cinque Vie, then back to the Viale at Piazza Ferrucci.  The route from Galluzzo is really quiet, relatively scenic, and right on the edge of town.  It is a relatively new connection for me, as I had ridden all the parts before, but not connected it in this way.  110 kilometers in around 4 and 3/4 hours of riding time.

Vineyards on the climb from Greve to Panzano.

The start of the climb to La Piazza.  I realize these roads start 
to look similar, but I think they are just so beautiful and fun to ride.

The old town of San Donato a Poggio.

Vineyards and villa on the road from Romita to San Pancrazio.
This is where the rear tire flatted.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Boo Hoo.  No ride today, as I had a required Italian civics class to attend as part of my keeping my recently acquired residence permit (permesso de soggorno).  It was a particularly bizarre experience, as around 24 of us were at a middle school not in session and basically checked in, sat at computers that showed 4 lessons, had one break in the middle, then were excused (after signing out).  I think Emily and I were truly the only people paying attention to the videos, as most people used the computers to access facebook (I could see from my spot 5 people using 5 different languages on facebook) or playing games.  The lessons were informative, but the first two involved pieces that had to be done to get the permesso de soggorno, which you had to have already done to be signed up for the class.  Whatever.  The Italian system is certainly interesting.  By the time we were home, it was 2:30 and around 96 degrees, so even a short ride would be foolish.  Ride with the club / team tomorrow.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Today, I was off for a ride around 10, as it is hot here and getting hotter.  I had a certain route in mind when I left, but was ready to change if the heat got to be too much for me.  I rode out the Viales from the apartment to Viale Michangelo, then up and over to Poggio Imperiale.  I really like this way to the South from town, as it gives you a pretty good warm up before tackling the real hills.  From Poggio Imperiale, I went over and down to Galluzzo, then did a second ride up Via Vecchio Pozzolatico to Pozzolatico.  Again, as last time, a strong hill, narrow road, good views, and virtually no cars.  Up from Pozzolatico through Mezzomonte, then Monte Oriolo to the turn off to Baruffi.  This is the second time I took this road, and followed it over, up, then down to Tavernuzze.  From Tavernuzze, I rode the main road to the turn off for Luiano, then up through Luiano to the Mercatale road, but turned off on a new road for me over to Montefiridolfi.

I met another American cyclist in Montefiridolfi, who I gave information to for future tours.  It is quite unusual to see another cyclist in a place like this, and he was adventuresome to have found it.  He was staying in a town called Montanagna, and had some good maps.  I offered a reduced rate day for him if it works while he is still here.  I can help people get around easier without needing to consult the maps all the time.  I think in particular for people who are explorers, I can help them find roads they would have a difficult time finding otherwise.  Anyway, back to the ride.  From Montefiridolfi I descended through Bibbione to the valley floor and SR2.  I took SR2 up to San Casciano, then went over through Spedellato, Chiesa Nuova, then took the second, rarely used turn to Scandicci.  A really fun descent - thanks for finding it, Don and Kay.  From Scandicci, back home through Porta San Frediano.  74 kilometers in 3 and 1/2 hours.  Another fun ride.  Remember for booking a tour.

Ahead and going to the left is Via Vecchia Pozzolatico.

Beautiful flowers on the road to Tavernuzze from Baruffi.

Vineyards and Strada Bianca on the road above Luiano.

Just another beautiful road in Tuscany - Above Luiano before Mercatale.

Day at the beach in Forte dei Marmi

Yesterday, Emily and I went to see Kate and the kids at the house they are renting / sharing in Forte dei Marmi, a beach town on the water, about a half hour from Pisa by train.  Em and I were on the train at 7 am, and Kate picked us up at the station in Forte dei Marmi around 8:45, a pretty easy travel.  We went to their house, basically just got on the bicycles they have rented, and rode to the beach.  They belong to a beach club, as different clubs have different areas they control, and each member has a cabana, changing area, etc.  There is also a good restaurant at the beach club, where we had lunch, then at the end of the day a glass of wine before we left.

We had a great day at the beach!  We spent most of our time in the water, it is still quite hot here, and the water felt great.  Viola continues to make great strides in the water with us, and Vittorio is relatively fearless as long as every so often someone throws him up in the air - one, two, three.  By the end of the day Viola was quite happy with herself as she walked / bounced in the water with the waves coming up to her chin or occasionally higher.  We played games in the water, built sand castles, a bath tub in the sand, buried Ludovico (Viola and Vittorio's cousin) in the sand, ran around and generally just had a great time.  We left the beach after a glass of wine around 7, and rode back to the house, then Kate took us to the train station where we took the 7:49 train back to Firenze.  We had a really fun day - thanks Kate!  Sometimes you have these moments when generational changes meet, and there were times yesterday when that happened for me.  Viola and Vittorio were so much like Kate and Ben at the beach when they were young, and to see Kate giving them that same experience brought tears to my eyes.  Happy tears.

Kate and Vittorio at lunch.

Emily, Viola, and I at lunch.  This picture is the same as one we took 3 years ago with Viola as a baby.

The old man (me) playing ping pong with Ludovico.  Kate and Viola are officiating.

The whloe gang at the end of the day.
Kate, Vittorio, Ludovico, Novella, Viola, Emily, and I.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Old favorites

I have been visiting Kate and family here for around 11 years now, and over time learned the roads and riding in the area.  In particular when here for a couple of weeks, I always rode my "favorites".  I haven't been doing them as much lately, as with the new location in the city, new favorites are being established, and riding with the club and Paolo means going with someone elses flow.  Today I put together 3 favorite pieces of rides and a really fun 65 kilometer ride in around 2 hours and 45 minutes.  I would guess it involved around 2300 vertical feet of climbing as well.  From the apartment, I can hop on Via Faentina, take a sotto passegata under railroad tracks, then navigate a couple of roundabouts and be on the basic road to Fiesole.  From Fiesole, I climb the very gradual route to the turn off for Monteloro.  After a short, but kind of nasty climb to the top, you have a truly beautiful, long descent back to the Arno valley.  Last winter I rode up this a number of times, but did not descend.  For years, it was my first ride when I got here, as the descent is really special.

I join the road by the river in Sieci, then go out that road a couple of kilometers to a favorite from last winter, the road from Sieci to the Molin de Vento (Windmill).  This is just a great climb, incredibly scenic, with little or no traffic.  I had not ridden this climb since I returned in early April.  Last time I rode it, the switchbacks in the trees had a little ice on them, today, it was around 90 and climbing.  From Molin de Vento, I took an old favorite descent past Grignano down to Pontesieve.  This is another simply beautiful descent on small roads with many, many switchbacks and again, little or no traffic.  I remember the first time I rode it with Don and Kay, and Kay saying it was her new "best so far" for the area.  From Pontesieve, I rode the river road back into town.  I passed a couple of Italian riders on the way in, who were in matching team outfits, and was hoping to draft my way back.  They were chatting, so I passed them, then the chatting was over and they hopped on.  I lead for a couple of kilometers, then ended up drafting the remainder of the way in.  The Italian riders are very into road riding and passionate about it and take it quite seriously in a very friendly manner.  Anyway, the return trip was easier due to everyone's ability to ride a paceline well.

The final climb before the descent into Monteloro and Sieci.

The view from a break spot at the top of the climb before descending to Monteloro.

A view of vineyards on the climb from Sieci to Molin de Vento.

The beautiful road from Sieci to Molin de Vento.

The famous Chiantini white cattle in an olive orchard on the climb from Sieci to Molin de Vento.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

June 24 - Bivigliano, Calcio Storico, Fireworks

Today should be quite a day.  I started the day with a "quick" ride up Via Bolognese through Montorsoli to the turn off in Pratolino, where I refilled my water and doused my head.  After yesterday's long and fast ride, I was a little slow today.  Although I was out by 10 or so, it was already in the mid 80's and for me, relatively humid.  From Pratolino, I climbed to the turn off for Caselline, then Viliano, then the climb up the church road to Bivigliano.  I took a little break, as I had climbed around 1500 to 1800 vertical, and the climbing was basically over.  From Bivigliano, you take a gradual descent / contour road over the the Alberaccio junction, then descend through L'Olmo, Caldine, Pian de Mugnone, then return to the apartment in Firenze.  Around 38 kilometers in an hour and 42 minutes - not as slow as I thought.  

Flowers at the roadside park at the water station in Pratolino.

The beautiful road above Pratolino.

Yes, the sign does say 18% downhill.  A spur off the road above Pratolino.

The beginning of the contour / descent from Bivigliano.

Today at 5 the finals of this years Calcio Storico takes place in the Piazza Santa Croce.  It is San Giovanni day, who is one of the patron saints of Florence.  Last weekend the four teams representing the ancient 4 quarters of the city played the preliminary rounds, and the final is today.  I watched some last week on TV, and it appears to be a blend of Rugby, Soccer, and a semi-organized brawl.  I have read since that the games have been going on annually since the 1600's.  Emily and I have seats to watch, and I will bring the camera and hopefully have some pictures.  After the match, we return home and at 10 or so, there is the biggest fireworks display of the year, which should be great to see from the balcony of our apartment.

OK - Calcio Storico is totally crazy.  Ben  had told me it was a brawl with a game of sorts involved, and he was pretty much correct.  Basically, two teams take the field, after a good hour of medieval parade, horns and drums, flag throwers, etc, and guys square off and fight.  A lot of swinging with not that much connection, but then someone will come on a guy fighting and blindside him with a flying tackle in the back.  Really, truly, nuts.  Eventually they all wear down, and the teams run with the ball and try to put it in the opponents net, which runs the whole length of the end of each side of the field.  The fans for both teams were quite into it, and our seats were by the Azzuro end or the Santa Croce quarter.  Well, they got their butts kicked pretty good, and by the end, water bottles, blue smoke bombs, and other things were pouring onto the field.  Actually, it was fun to watch and it appeared no one really got hurt.  I checked into the game further, and they believe it may have started in 59 AD and was called Florentine Soccer, and may have been the root of both modern soccer and rugby.  Either way, it was quite a spectacle.  Back home and doing this post, so the pictures will follow.  Hopefully, I will get a picture of the fireworks that are scheduled to start at 10 and post it as well.

The Azurra (blue) fans with a big banner before the start of the game.

The field with all the people from the parade, teams, etc. that preceded the game.

During the game.  Notice guys squaring off, guys on the ground on top of each other, and somewhere, someone has the ball and is waiting for an opening to try to run it to the other teams end and throw it in a net that runs the width of the field.  INSANE!

Fireworks from the balcony.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Squadra giro

Today, I was up early and left the apartment before 7 to get to Tavernuzze before 7:30, the time and meeting place for the team ride today.  I did not know the meeting location, but it is a small town, and I found 3 others with the right jersey and joined them.  We rode out to Ferrone, then climbed to Strada, which I amazed myself by doing in the big ring.  I really have to work to keep up with the groups, but today there was one person slower than me.   Thank you Laura, but by the end of the ride, I was being slightly left behind by her.  Anyway, from Strada, we descended, then climbed to San Polo, then climbed to the pass at Poggio alla Croce.  From there we descended to Figline, then climbed Passo de Sugame, which is a great climb from the Figline side.  I know we passed Sting's property and palazzo either on the way down from Poggio all Croce or the climb to Passo de Sugame, but there are no signs and people have told me it is there.  From Passo de Sugame, we descended to Greve, quickly refilled water bottles, and off through Passo de Pecorai, through Ferrone, then turned off for the climb to Luiano.  We joined the more main road above Luiano, then went through San Casciano, Spedeletto, Chiesa Nuova, then did the descent into Scandicci.  We took a different road out of Scandicci, which went toward Lucca's apartment, and the others left on the way to their apartments.  From there, I joined the Viales and made it home.  I am enjoying riding with the squadra, but it does push me.  We did 118 kilometers in around 4 and one half hours, which is a good pace for this old man.  No pictures, as we only took 2 very short breaks which only allowed a quick handful of gorp.  Nap and a movie this afternoon. Starting early gets you out before the heat, but I swore that I would give up arising before 6, but words are made to be eaten.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Swimming at the 4 seasons, ride to Vincigliata

Yesterday, Thursday, Emily spent the day babysitting, and I did some marketing work for Riding With Cosimo, then picked up Viola at school, taking her home on the bus.  Last day of school for the year for Viola and she and the family are off to Forte de Marmi tomorrow.  Emily stayed with the kids while I did some errands during nap / quiet time, then off for a big adventure.  Kate was invited with the kids for swimming at the 4 Seasons, a beautiful hotel in the center of Florence.  Kate was working, so Emily and I were cleared to go instead.  After nap, Vittorio had his first bus ride, and all 4 of us were there.  The wife of the owner had invited us, and we had a beautiful, though energetic and tiring afternoon.  After getting used to the water (the kids had not been swimming since last August), which only took about 5 minutes, both were happy and insisting to be in the water all the time we were there.  Vittorio and I swam and I threw him up with him dunking his head all the way under water when he came down.  After shaking it off, he just laughed and asked for more, which he does by holding up one finger and saying moooor.  Viola was just as happy there, and we were dragging them away around 6:45 when they were setting up for a very fancy party.  A stage, instruments for music, floating flower arrangements, bars, etc.  We got everyone home, again on the bus, and then Kate was home quite quickly after us.  Emily and I were on our way home by 8:15, then happily just hanging out here the remainder of the evening.  I did not take any pictures, sorry.

This morning, after breakfast, I went for one of my standard quick rides.  From the apartment, out Via Faentina, under the train tracks in the sotto passegiata, then finding the way through Piazza della Cure, then back to Via Faentina.  It climbs gradually to Pian de Mugnone, where I turn off to climb to Fiesole.  This piece is quite steep in places, and as it is part of the world championship course a year from this fall, I have been assured that parts are over 15%.  The steep parts are not long, and it is really a reasonable climb to Fiesole.  You climb out of Fiesole for a kilometer or two, then continue climbing toward the turn off to Vincigliata.  There the road drops, narrows and the real fun begins.  Just for kicks, I counted 12 full 180 degree switchbacks on the way down.  This is a really fun descent.  Towards the bottom and Coverciano, I turn off and follow / climb some back roads toward Miano, then finish the descent to Firenze and home.  Total distance of around 24k in a little over an hour.  Fun  ride.

The start of Via Faentina along the Mugnone after Piazza della Cure.

Flowering tree along the steep road from Pian de Mugnone to Fiesole.

Looking down into the Etruscan and Roman ruins almost to Fiesole.

The incredibly beautiful, narrow road down to Vincigliata, then Firenze.

After returning home, I had a meeting with the activity director at the Palazzo Tornabuoni, which is a 4 Season residence club, basically million dollar plus timeshares.  The meeting was great, and it appears I will be on the agenda for a couple of outings in July and August.  Then over to Kate's to help with the kids while she finished the packing up for 5 weeks at the beach.  We went out to lunch, had some great pizza, then helped take the stuff and the kids to the car and they were off.  We will visit a couple of times while they are there, but basically have some quieter time here, for Emily especially, as she does the bulk of the babysitting.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Greve, Passo de Sugame, Strada

Yesterday, I did a short but really good ride, which is one of my new standards for a short ride.  From home, I ride up Via Bolognese to Montorsoli, basically right before the road hits it's 10% piece for a couple of k, turn off on a very small road up and down, contouring around to Cercina, then down to Firenze, where it comes in around the Carreggi hospital complex.  Yesterday, I followed some signs back to Via Bolognese, and it is a great alternative once you return to the city.  It does climb, but the roads are quite small, mostly walled, and therefore for me, more fun.

Emily did the Viola pick up, and a little babysitting, then we did a quick trip to the COOP for a small amount of groceries, and hung out at the apartment trying to stay as cool as possible.  We have decided not to do anything about air conditioning, and it is really getting hot these days.  I think it hit 98 yesterday and 98 is predicted for today.  So far, the apartment is staying cool enough, and by the end of the summer we will see what we think for next summer.  Emily has been doing some research on a place to escape to in the mountains - either the Italian Alps or the Dolomites.  We have some good options and will make a decision later today.

Paolo was on call this morning and could not ride, so I went off by myself, which is my normal routine.  I had two pieces of road in mind, then planned the route around them.  I was riding by 9:30, and should probably try to get started earlier when a 4 hour ride is on the books.  Anyway, I left town by the Viale, then up Viale Michaelangelo to Poggio Imperiale, then over to Galluzzo.  From Galluzzo, I climbed the switchbacks to the road to Chiesa Nuova where I recharged my water.  Almost all the hill towns have untreated spring water available somewhere near or on the town square.  The water is usually cold and quite tasty.  

Here is the start of the climb on the switchback out of Galluzzo.
From Chiesa Nuova, I rode the slight uphill, actually it goes up and down, but basically gains elevation over around 20k, through Spedalletto, San Casciano, Mercatale, and Quattro Strade.  From there, I did the beautiful descent down past Castello Gabbiano, to Passo dei Peccorai, then up to Greve where I took a short break and again re-charged my water bottle.  At Greve, I was 45k into the ride and around 2 hours out, and it was appearing that I would return in the heat of the day, but I really had something in mind that I wanted to ride, and the two roads started in Greve.  So, after my short break, I rode up to Passo de Sugame, around a 1500 vertical climb from Greve, but very well engineered and no steeper than 6%, which allows a pretty good pace up the hill.  From Passo de Sugame, you descend on some perfect roads with multiple switchbacks for a couple of kilometers before turning off on a very small side road that requires a small climb of around 2 k, then a gradual descent of around 10k to Strada.  I re-charged my water again in Strada, then rode along the ridgeline to the descent into Grassina, which is basically a "suburb" of Florence.  I have found a great way to miss most of the big roads from there and ride through Cinque Vie to Piazza Ferruci, where I pick up the Viale and return home.  Around 85 k in around 3 hours 45 minutes, which is a good pace for me.  

A villa in the distance from the road to San Casciano

The view back toward Greve around 2/3 the way up the pass.  You can see the road if you look hard.

A shot of the road descending toward Strada.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

6-18-12 - ride and more

First day trying a new schedule, as the weather has really turned hot.  I think it was probably around 95 to 100 F today.  I left for my ride by 9:45, and will probably make that earlier as I get used to the routine.  I rode out Porta Romana, up to Poggio Imperiale, and down to Galluzzo.  At Galluzzo, I tried a new route to Pozzolatico, on Via Vecchia Pozzolatico, which was great.  I had found the road exploring to find a way to go around all the typical traffic in Galluzzo a couple of weeks ago.  Anyway, great, new, very small back road with a few 10% climbs, but overall really nice.  From Pozzolatico, I climbed the normal route through Mezzomonte and Monte Oriolo.  After Monte Oriolo, the road starts to flatten out to Impruneta, and I saw a sign for Barufi, and I had seen a sign for the same previously in Tavernuzze.  I tried the road, and again, beautiful, really small (bike path size), curvy country road.  It got a little wild as it dropped into Tavernuzze, with quite steep switchbacks, but the bike brakes are really good, so there was no problem.  From Tavernuzze, I rode a more standard route for me to the turn off for San Andrea, up that road to the more main road to Chiesa Nuova, then back to the switchbacks and down to Galluzzo.  From Galluzzo, I climbed back to Poggio Imperiale, then found a new route through Arcetri to the Viale Michaelangelo, then returned home.  Great, beautiful ride.

I have been trying to get together with some contacts that organize trips for individuals and groups to review the hiking services I am promoting.  We had talked previously about the cycling tours.  The company is One Step Closer ( and I finally got back in touch and it worked to come to their office in Fiesole at 2:30.  Well, on the bike, with a pack for materials and lock, in the heat of the day, and a climb to Fiesole.  We had a good meeting and it appears they will include the hiking as an option for a group they have coming in early October.  Rode back down through Pian De' Mugnone, then home.

Emily and I babysat the kids for a couple of hours then attended a lecture at the Palazzo Tornabuoni with Elaine Ruffalo from the Syracuse program here on Bottecelli.  The Palazzo has been renovated and is a 4 seasons residence resort, and as one can imagine, very nice.  Prosecco, aperativi, and an excellent lecture.

Flowers at a gate on the way to San Andrea
Wow!  What a beautiful road to Baruffi
Via Vecchia Pozzolatico.

The incredible view from Via Vecchia Pozzolatico.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Anniversary ride.

Happy Anniversary Emily!!  34 years of marriage and we are still happy together.  It is a gift to have Emily to share this continuing adventure that our life is.  We had a lovely, slow pastry, cappucino, and tea at Rivoire, an amazing place on Piazza Signoria.  Afterwards, we returned home, and I took off for a ride.  I did not get going until 12 or so, and it was already hot and getting hotter.  My plan was for a 4 hour or so ride, but I shortened it to 3 hours as it was easily 95 F and I want to ride tomorrow.  I took off up Via Bolognese to Pratolino, where there was a nature fair that Kate and the kids were at.  I tried to call Kate when I got to the sign for parking, but the call did not go through.  I turned off, thinking I could see her car and see how they were doing, but, this was a big deal.  At least 300 cars were in various parking areas where I turned off, and there were more parking areas.  I turned around a continued on my ride.  From Pratolino, I climbed to Casseline, the down the wonderful road over to Alberacciao, then descending to the turn off to Santa Brigida.

Franco and Kalliope, who we rented from last winter were at our apartment for aperativi on Monday night, and they mentioned that when I was riding through there, I should stop in.  Well, I did, and they were in the middle of a rather large party.  Around 50 people with food, drink, and grills ready to bar-be-que.  The road into the house is rather steep and downhill, so by the time I saw the party, there was no turning around.  People were looking at me and pointing, so I just continued until I saw Franco.  They were as nice as they could be and genuinely seemed to welcome me.  Francesco and Elisa were there and they also welcomed me warmly.  They were strongly suggesting that I stay, party, and eat, but I had around 35 k minimum after Santa Brigida, so I told them, thank you, but I had to keep moving.  From Santa Brigida I continued on the at times rather steep ups and downs over through Fornello, through Doccia, then turned down at the Molin de Vento toward Ruffino.  I came to what we call the Pope's road, and took it back to Pontesieve, then back on the main road to Firenze.  I had discovered the "Pope's road" years ago, and it is a beautiful, very small road that goes up and down along the Sieve river.  When I first took Don and Kay on the road, Don said, "it was nice of the Pope to put in this road for us with new, perfect pavement".  From then on, it has been the Pope's road for us.  When riding with Don and Kay of this road now, Don always mentions, if we see a car, do they have the decal for the special permit from the Pope to be on our road?

Anyway, great ride, and I did cut off a planned loop through Ruffina and Diacetto, so I returned in a little over 3 hours riding around 68k.

Here is the view from Santa Brigida toward Fornello.
Note the road, which is where I ride in the middle foreground.

This is the view of the convent at Monte Scenario on the way to Santa Brigida.

Beautiful country side with the mountains above Vallambroso in the background.

A small section of the "Pope's road"

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Day and Ride on 6-16-12

This morning, Em and I separately went to Kate's to do some baby sitting.  I ride a townie bike, which I purchased here, and turns out to be the most efficient way to get around this city.  It is, however, a little intimidating, as crowds of tourists are here, and in particular, the group tours do not watch what they are doing or where they are going.  I have a bell on my bike, which at times I ring continuously to get people out of the way.  Anyway, some good time with Viola and Vittorio, who grow and change almost every day.  I came home and had time for a relatively quick ride, up Via Faentina, to San Domenico, the Fiesole, then L'Olmo, then down through Caldine, Pian d'Mugnone, and return home through Piazza della Cure.  It is hot, around 90 F, and this 1-1/2 hour ride in the middle of the day is fine for now.  Emily and I are meeting at a church soon to watch a concert of the Zimbabwe Children's Choir, which should be interesting.  Afterwards, we are at Kate and Nicco's for dinner with Nicco's parents, Lapo and Marguerita, who are leaving soon for 3 plus months in South Africa.  Ciao, ciao.  I will learn to post pictures of the ride next time.
Getting to Italy and setting up.

To return legally, which is very important to me, Emily and I had to obtain Visas, which allow us to stay for a longer period of time.  This was our first real interaction with Italian bureaucracy, which is an experience unto itself.  We had to do the application in Chicago, as it is the location that has Colorado in it's area.  We could not make an appointment in Italy, as 800 numbers simply do not work here.  We could download applications and try to figure out which Visa to apply for.  Requirements for the Visa included, evidence of a long term rental to stay, confirmed airline reservations to return, along with many others.  It seemed wrong to me to have to make a number of financial commitments when we did not even have an appointment in Chicago, and did not know really how long it would take to get this effort completed.  Upon my return, I called the number to make an appointment at the Italian Consulate in Chicago, then made airline reservations to go there.  I assembled all the paperwork required, and off we went.  I should note that there is no way to contact the Consulate to ask any questions regarding the application, which was disconcerting.  Anyway, we went to Chicago, visiting some good friends from College, and the application process went smoothly.  While they could not tell us the outcome of the application, the person we spoke with hinted strongly that there would be no problem.  We received our passports back from the Consulate within a week, and they had the visas attached.  I did not note that one of the requirements was to leave your passport with the Consulate, which was again, disconcerting.

Armed with our visa's, we returned to Italy.  I had obtained keys for the apartment we had the lease for before we left, which I had left with our Daughter.  I picked up the keys on the way from the airport, and got into the apartment easily.  Emily was on a different flight, as she was bringing our (her) cat, which took lots of bureaucratic effort.  The apartment was mostly empty, with a couple of wardrobes and a trundle bed.  The next day, we did a major shopping trip to IKEA to buy most of the items we needed for the apartment.  We had done lots of research about which items to purchase, and with Kate's help in the morning (her Italian is perfect, and communicating and setting up delivery needs good language skills) we returned with her car filled with stuff.  We unloaded in a rainstorm, and started taking apart the boxes and setting up.  The delivery pieces were at the apartment the next morning, and we spent the entire day putting together the many pieces.  We had a bed, sofa, chairs, etc. to make the apartment livable now.  Our friends from Crested Butte, Don and Kay, were here for a month's visit, and they help some with the set up.

The next day, I finally got on my bike and had a ride with Don and Kay, who were here basically to ride.  Don, Kay, and I did quite a bit of riding in the next few weeks.  I had to temper my time with the many commitments to babysit, etc., which was the biggest reason we were here.  The grandchildren are a blast, and we want to be a part of their lives growing up.  Don and Kay spent 9 days in a town called Pescia, and I joined for three days and nights of riding.  The riding there is really special.  Kay's facebook page documents the riding well.  I started to use facebook to record my rides and promote the business, which can be accessed at Mark Collins' facebook page.

I enjoy recording my rides, and will start logging in my rides here rather than facebook daily or at least when I ride.  I am taking a camera along most days and will post photos as well.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Getting the blog started - how did I get here?

First, a little background.  I am a 58, almost 59 year old American male living in Italy with my wife, Emily.  Our daughter, Kate, came to Italy to study with the Middlebury program in 1999.  While here, she met the love of her life, Nicco.  After returning to finish school, she moved to Florence, and she and Nicco married in the summer of 2004 in the small Colorado mountain town of Crested Butte, where we lived.  Nicco is in a very old family business, and it appears they will be staying in Florence permanently. They have two children, Viola who is now 3 1/2, and Vittorio who is 1 1/2.

I am a licensed Architect in Colorado, and was working as a project manager in Crested Butte for the last 3 plus years.  Last June, when we were not awarded a couple of projects that would have kept me working, I found myself with the freedom to try something different.  We had put our house on the market and had a very fast contract, meaning we had to be out of the house by the middle of July.  We went into a whirlwind of activity and packed up the house, rented a small apartment for a year, and set off on a trip to explore living options.  We had been in Crested Butte for 11 years, and while it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, the winters are pretty difficult, to say the least.  I love winter sports, but Emily does not, and we both became ready to try something different.  We toured Northern California and Oregon as possible places to live, but had Italy in mind to be close to the grandchildren.

While in CB, we had the good fortune to visit Florence a couple of times every year, staying for 1 to 3 weeks each time.  I had heard that the road riding there was great, and brought my road bike to give it a try.  Well, transporting a bike was not inexpensive or simple even then.  The next trip, I rented a bike for two weeks, which was fine, but ended up being relatively expensive.  The trip after, I bought a beautiful Italian bike, slightly used, for a great price.  I have been exploring the roads around Florence ever since.

So, we had the idea even while touring California and Oregon of moving to Italy, but wanted to look at options while we had the chance.  Both are great places, and either could have worked out.  After touring there, we went to Italy for 3 weeks to stay with Kate, Nicco, and the grandchildren at an Agriturismo outside of Montalcino.  While there, we discussed the possibilities of moving here.  The decision was to try for a few months, and we rented half of a farm house just outside of Santa Brigida, around 20 kilometers from Florence.  We spent the end of October, November, December, January, and part of February there.  I took intensive Italian language courses for 6 weeks, and got a reasonable foundation to try to communicate.  We decided that we would give living here a real try, and rented an apartment in the city, just outside the old center, with a 4 year renewable lease.  We can get out of the lease with a 6 month notice, but the length of time feels good for making a commitment.

I am sort of retired, but we still have the need for me to bring in a little income.  I have decided to start a business taking people cycling from Florence.  There is a wealth of riding right from the city center, and I like staying in the same place every night, not having to pack up daily to make a pre-set itinerary.  I have spent years exploring the riding around here.  When I first started, I bought some maps, and cautiously explored farther and farther with each ride.  After a couple of years of visits, I had 6 or 8 really good rides going in all the directions from the city center.  Some good friends from Crested  Butte visited who are avid cyclists.  I had been glowing with reports of the road riding here, and they decided to give it another try.  They had been here before, but found the city and getting out of it relatively intimidating.  I took them on my rides, enjoying being able to show them around, as they had helped me explore the incredible mountain biking around Crested Butte for many years.  Since the first trip with Don and Kay here, they eventually pushed me to explore many more areas and really back roads here.  Without their help and encouragement, I would not have the wealth of knowledge of the many, many backroads here.  Since their first trip 6 years ago, they have come once a year, missing only one year.  They love the riding here as I do.

They have taken side trips to different areas while here.  I have joined them occasionally, and had the opportunity to explore the riding around Castegneto Carducci, where their friend Andy Hampsted has a condo.  Andy is the only American to have won the Giro d'Italia.  The last couple of years they have spent some time in a small town a 45 minute train ride from here called Pescia.  There is a wealth of very interesting riding there as well.  The more you ride here, the more you realize the opportunities are virtually endless.

So, I am working on taking people riding from Florence, and am using this blog to promote the business and record and relate the experience of moving here, living here, and riding here.  While we were in Santa Brigida last winter, I had the opportunity to hike a system of trails there centered around a number of small buildings, called "Burriae", which were used in the late 1800's and early 1900's to make and store butter.  As an alternative to cycling, I am offering day hiking trips in the Santa Brigida area.  It is a simple one hour bus ride to get to the trailhead with a number of different options for hiking available from the trailhead.

Anyway, I am now doing what I can to "live the dream".  While working in a more conventional sense, I often dreamed about a profession where making money was not the most important piece, but sharing something I truly love with others was the rationale.  My desire is to give people one of the best days or weeks of their lives and share the love of the riding and country with others.  Florence can be a little overrun with tourists, traffic, and normal city life sometimes, but it is surprisingly easy to escape to the country where the vistas and sounds take you to another world.