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.

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