Sunday, November 30, 2014

Passo della Futa con Luca Lacalamita.

Really nice ride today, as Luca L SMS'd me late yesterday, and we decided on an alternative tour from what the team had planned.  We were simply planning on the Mugello, but when we met, Luca said he really wanted to go to Passo della Futa.  I said, sure, and we were off.  We went the most direct route on Via Bolognese all the way to Futa.  Great ride, excellent road and a good challenge.  At the top, one is around 45 kilometers into the ride with 1275 meters of climbing already complete.  Nice stop at the bar at the top, and the former pro whose family has owned and operated the bar / restaurant there was serving us cafe and pastries.  I would guess he is around 75, and there are many pictures of him on the walls with the likes of Bartali and Coppi, in the golden age of Italian cycling.  Pretty cool.

We returned on my route choice and went back down Via Bolognese to Santa Lucia, where we turned to descend with a little climbing through Panna, where the water comes from, the to the turn off to Bosco ai Frati.  Finished with the climb to Vetta le Croci, then back home through Fiesole.  New Italian word of the day is Vetta, which means top, used in describing a pass or mountain.  I had been using sopra for this, which is also top, but used when you are placing something on top of a table for instance.  Thanks for the help Luca.  98 kilometers in 4:15 for an average speed of 23.0 kph with 1767 (5797 feet) meters climbed.  After today, only 1464 kilometers to go for my goal of 20,000.  261,112 meters climbed for the year or 856,667 vertical feet.  I should easily make 900,000 vertical feet, but will not come close to 1,000,000 vertical feet.  Maybe next year?

Lago Bilancino and the hills beyond on the start of the ride up to 
Passo della Futa.

It really was pretty green on the way up to Futa.  Obviously my 
use of the smartphone camera is a work in progress.  I tried using
the brightness and touch up options today and they are not very successful.  

Fog in the valley below on the climb to Passo della Futa.
What a classic climb and tour.  Thanks for the suggestion
and getting me out, Luca.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

3 busy days with rides, Thanksgiving dinner, and more fun.

It's been a few days, but I have been kind of busy and part of the busyness involved buying (finally) a smart phone.  At least for this old man, it is a learning curve to figure out how to use much of what is available on it.  I am using it for my camera now on rides, and part of the learning is how to tell when I take a picture, then the best way to download to my laptop, which I use to post on Facebook and write the blog.  Well, I am getting there, but it has eaten up much of my spare time, which with it being Thanksgiving weekend, there has not been much of.  That's all of the excuses.

I managed to ride on Thanksgiving between helping prep cook and helping to set up for the party.  Emily and I co-hosted a party with Kate at Kate's apartment, and it was great.  Emily did much of the cooking, but Kate did quite a bit, and I helped when allowed.  It was a very nice meal and party.  Being in Italy, Thanksgiving is one of the times of year when you really feel the difference.  In the US, it is such a big, nice holiday, but here, no one really knows it is happening, or what the meaning and purpose of the holiday is.  At least there is no Black Friday with big box stores here, but I do miss the wonderful spirit of Thanksgiving that permeates the US.  Oh well, we had a nice day with mostly Americans at the dinner, which was super good.  Even the Italian men - 3 husbands, 1 boyfriend - got into the dinner and were happy doing two plates with everything on the plate.  It seems to be anathema here to mix foods on the same plate - hence the operative / primi / secondi / contorni / dolce, all on separate plates.  So, seeing the Italian men get into the meal was fun.

All three rides were great, but none real long.  Only a little over an hour on Thanksgiving, then a little over 2 hours on Friday, then 3 and one half this morning with the team.  After today's ride, I have 18,438 kilometers in for the year, leaving me with 1562 for my goal.  On the team ride this morning, almost everyone was asking how many kilometers so they all seem to be following my goal and progress, which is fun.  The bad news is I was not selected for the Maratona di Dolomitis in July, so I may check into the granfondo Stelvio, on an iconic pass in the dolomites, which does not have a limit on participants.  The Maratona is such a big deal that over 60,000 people pre-registered for an available 12,000 places.  Well, one of these days.  I just hope I still have the energy to attempt the long course when I am selected.  I will keep trying, at least that is the plan for now.  Ciao.

Jean Lu has been visiting Rebecca for the last 3 weeks.  We have
ridden together 4 times, and he had been borrowing Rebecca's cold
weather riding gear.  He did some shopping and now the have
matching booties, gloves, and neck warmers.  

The squadra this morning, minus a couple not in the picture
at the cafe break in Montelupo.  Great ride.

The final climb of the ride yesterday, Montefanna.

Yesterday afternoon's ride, here on the way to Monteloro.

On Thanksgiving, we co-hosted a big dinner at Kate's apartment.
Here is a shot of the kid's table - not much eating going on,
but lots of fun and playing, which is what being a kid is all about.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A rainy ride and a sunny day trip to Rome.

Nice ride today after a field trip with Emily's art history class to Rome yesterday.  The weather was not ideal, but with my goal of 20,000 km, I have to ride in some bad weather.  Actually, it has not rained in Florence today, but when I left it was wet and threatening.  Mostly the weather was simply cloudy and humid, but I did pass through 3 real live downpours, and 4 areas of dense fog.  Kind of fun having it change all the time.  It was nice that it did not really settle in and just rain, for I probably would have returned earlier.  Enjoyed my route to the North and East today.  Nice cafe and really excellent strudel in Rufina, and great water from the spring on the way to Diacetto.  73.8 km in 3:45 for an average speed of 20.2 kph with 1330 meters of climbing.  18,291 km for the year leaving 1709 for my 20k goal.  

Cloudy, rainy, foggy day, but a nice ride anyway.  This is 
approaching Olmo.

Here are some photos of a great day yesterday with Emily and her art history class on a field trip to Rome.  This is an extra for the class, and I really enjoying joining these trips.  Elaine, the leader / teacher, is really great and does an excellent job of organizing the whole day with lots of interesting and fun things to see and a great lunch in the middle of the day.  Fast train to and from Rome make it a very reasonable day trip.  We emphasized Baroque, which I would not have said was my favorite era, but she made it come alive and showed me many things I really liked.  We managed to find time for a stop at the Pantheon, which is just the best for me.  I really just get chocked up when I go into the building and experience perhaps the best piece of Architectural perfection ever.  Wow!!!   Thanks Emily for inviting me and thanks Elaine for such a wonderful day.  Here are some photos of my highlights.

I liked this little dragon / griffon on a church were we first stopped.

The truly amazing ceiling / oval rotunda in Boromini's San Carlino.
One of the highlights of my day.

 An obelisk in a piazza before heading down toward the Pantheon.

I liked this elephant holding up another obelisk.

This Bernini sculpture of Apollo and Daphne was the piece 
I had never seen before that just blew me away.  Incredible 
craft and amazing composition.  Another Wow! at the Villa Borghese.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Guiding Randy to the West in and out of the Sun / Fog.

I had a nice ride guiding Randy today on our 3rd of 4 days.  He is relatively new to the area, and I am guiding him for 4 days, one day in each direction.  Today was to the west and we made it to Pinone through Carmignano, which is my favorite way.  The descent through Castra was great as always, then in Montelupo, we decided to do the short of my planned routes home.  A pinch flat and some extra time fixing it, as Randy did not have his little repair bag on the bike to his surprise, which left us with what I had.  I had everything needed, but his wheels need a high profile tube and the one I had was a mid profile tube.  After a little wrestling, we were able to make it work, but it took at least 20 minutes to do the repair.

I chose to return using the little road on the east side of the highway up to Vigliano, then over and up to Santa Maria a Marciano.  Randy was pretty beat by the time we were up there, and we took a break and had some food to avoid a bonk.  All was good, and we returned to Florence via Scandicci.  He was around 1/2 hour late home, but the flat and extra rest accounted to the tardiness.  Anyway, he was not upset and enjoyed the ride, which is what a client ride is all about.

79.6 k (48.8 miles) in 3:45 rolling time for an average speed of 20.8 kph (13.0 mph) with 932 meters climbed (3058 vertical feet).  Only 1782 km left for my 20,000 goal.  It is looking good unless the weather really turns, and if it does, we will see how important the goal is.  Hopefully, the weather will cooperate.  Ciao.

A brief respite from the fog just before Carmignano.

Just coming out of the fog above Carmignano.

Spooky fog and sun ahead.

Randy climbing toward Pinone and into the sun.

I don't really like the power lines, but the picture really shows the fog and sun that was what today's ride had for weather.  Nice to see a villa with a tower in the picture as well.  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Excellent Sunday ride through San Polo.

Absolutely perfect weather today, which was something of a relief.  The forecasts lately have not been very accurate, and cold weather with fog and small amounts of drizzle have been staying in the valleys, in particular in the Arno valley where Florence site.  Anyway, today at the start of the first climb, I took off the long fingered gloves, changed from a skull cap to a head band, and was totally warm for the whole ride.  One of those days where it is just a pleasure to be alive and out riding in Tuscany.  I loved my route today, and it was simply a variation of many semi close in Chianti routes connected in a slightly different way.  The road from Brollo over to the road that climbs to Dudda was particularly nice, a tiny road with almost no traffic, beautiful views, and a reasonable surface.

The thing that struck me on my ride today was the social scene in San Polo where I stopped at a bar / cafe where I almost always go on my way through this tiny town.  It was probably timing, but after I got my cafe and pastry, and set up on the small porch in front, around 20 people came and went, almost all stopping for the typical two sided cheek kisses, hugs, and happy, semi loud conversation.  This is something I really enjoy about Italy, people just seem to embrace life and being social, particularly in small towns like San Polo.  I would think only around 200 people live there, and it appears they all know each other.  It also appears that the bar I have become fond of is a happening meeting spot, at least it is around 11:15 on a Sunday.  Anyway, I really enjoyed checking out, viewing, and in a small way, being part of the scene in San Polo today.  Ciao.

93.5 kilometers in 4:01 for an average speed of 23.1 kph with 1481 meters climbed.  Only 1862 km remaining for my goal of 20,000 k for the year.

Above Antella on the way to Capanuccia.

There are certainly some vineyards still holding their fall colors.

Cruising down toward San Polo.

Midway down from La Panca, just after Cintoia, this beautiful
view opens up.  I was noticing the villa on the hillside for
the first time, as I am usually just going fast here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The mugello with Jean Lu.

I met Jean Lu again this morning, and had planned around 90 kilometers into the Mugello and back.  After Fiesole, on the way to Olmo, Jean Lu asked if we could go to Monte Morello, which makes for a shorter tour.  I was ok to do this, as you never really want to push someone to do more than they want to do.  As it turns out, my energy was pretty low today as well, so it was a great suggestion.  We continue to help each other with language, with Jean Lu trying to communicate with me in English, and Me trying to communicate with him in Italiano.  My new word for the day is fango, which is Italian for mud, and mud is Jean Lu's new word.  The road to Monte Morello is closed due significant road damage in one place, and I was trying to tell Jean we could easily walk around it, but there would be  little mud.  I had it all except mud in my vocabulary.  I also finally have the phrase for wet road or strada bagnata.  I had thought it was strada bagna, but the bagnata makes more sense, making the phrase say bathed road instead of road bath.  Good cafe at the bar in Pratolino around 2/3 the way through today's ride.

Later this afternoon and tonight, Emily and I are taking care of the grandchildren for the night and tomorrow until late afternoon, so no riding tomorrow.  Todays ride was 51.8 km (31.0 miles) in 2:44 for an average speed of 18.7 kph (11/7 mph) with 884 meters of climbing (2900 feet).  After today's ride, only 1956 k for my goal of 20,000 k this year.  Ciao.

Even on a cold, grey day, the landscape is really beautiful.
This is looking Southwest from the contouring road to

A pretty good, over the head, behind me photo of Jean Lu
on the way to Bivigliano.

Jean Lu, excited to be at the top of the climb at
Monte Morello.

I was trying to show the many ridges in the distance in this 
photo, but it did not really come through.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cold sette ponte ride with Jean Lu.

Nice tour with Jean Lu this morning.  I awoke to fog in Firenze, but it burned off by 8:30 or so.  The forecast was for clear skies and mild temperatures, which was probably true in Florence.  We met for our ride around 10, but as we climbed to San Donato in Collina, we entered some fog on Via Carota.  It cleared, but socked back in just after starting the descent from San Donato.  It was really quite cold, and I was very surprised to be a little cold.  Luckily I had long fingered gloves and a coat to wear, which I thought would be off after 1/2 hour of riding, but stayed with me for at least 2 hours.

We had a very nice ride, but Jean Lu wore out a little at the end.  We decided not to do the climb to Tosi, and kept a relaxed pace on the return to Firenze from San Ellero.  Great ride and fun to be out with you while you are back on here on your vacation, Jean Lu.  Perhaps tomorrow Rebecca will join us.  Italian phrase of the day occhiale sole (sunglasses) and taste treat definitely a "pocket coffee", which I keep with me for emergency energy needs.  After Sieci, we stopped for a short bathroom break for the middle aged man (me), and Jean Lu was out of gas.  I remembered my pocket coffee, and got it for him and his eyes totally lit up.  "Grazie mille, Mark - Grazie infinite, quest saro mi salute." (Thanks a lot, Mark - Infinite thanks, this will save my health)

Ciao a tutti!

After a short break in Palazzuolo, Jean Lu was really bundled up
as we got ready to continue.  It really got colder, at least for me,
after we continued from here.  

Looking back toward the valley from strada sette ponte, you 
could really see the fog in the cold valley of the Arno.

After we were above the cold and fog, Jean Lu was feeling free
as a bird on the strada sette ponte.

2 helmets, 2 cups, 2 pairs of sunglasses at the cafe / bar in Regello.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Chianti hills with Randy, plus Fiesole with some guys from the shop.

Nice ride today.  The husband of a friend of Emily's is here for 7 months or so, and I did one day with him last Friday, then we discussed the possibility of doing 4 days together as guide and client, as I was guiding him whenever we went out.  We will go a different direction each day which will give him a good basis to expand his riding on his own.  I assume we will continue to ride together occasionally after the guiding, but this way, I don't feel like I am giving away my services, even if it is off season.  Richard strongly suggested to me that I try not to give away routes or services, as it was all worth something, and if I want to do it as a business, I should not do things gratis.  This is my compromise, and Randy, the client / future friend, is fine with the approach.

We did my standard Chianti day today, and did 3/4 of the whole day, only leaving out San Pancrazio. Randy is a good rider, but is working to get back into shape, but he is still pretty strong.  We had a nice ride, and it was great to be out in the sun after 4 days of clouds and rain.  Colorado boys are pretty spoiled regarding sunshine.  Great cafe in Impruneta, and yesterday's sfoglia con crema at Cafe Liberta is a consistent taste treat.  Very slightly crunchy on the outside, excellent pastry in every bite, and when you hit it just right, the creme filling is slightly warm.  Wow, just writing that made me want to go get one.  Ciao a tutti.  Good weather predicted for the next week or so, so I will be riding.

Looking back to Impruneta from the climb through Luiano.

What a gorgeous day.  Here Randy is climbing toward Luiano.

Here comes Randy up the climb to Montefiridolfi.

Randy is almost at the top of the day's most difficult climb
to Montefiridolfi.  Good work!

The old walls in San Casciano, where we took our last break for
Randy to have a snack.  Beautiful day!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Montesenario in the rain with Luca.

Left to myself, I would have probably not gotten out today.  Luca sent me an SMS late last night, twhich I got this morning, asking if I wanted to get out.  I responded that if it stopped raining, sure.  We forged ahead anyway, and met around 10:30 and ended up having a very nice ride.  Emily and I had guests last night for dinner, which she did an awesome job of creating the menu and cooking for. As can happen for me, in particular as it does not take as much drinking as it used to, I had a little too much to drink last night.  So, getting out on the bike was actually perfect.

We decided on Fiesole / Olmo and started from Piazza Liberta.  It was not raining when we started, but within 5 minutes it was and we stopped so I could put on my rain booties.  The rain mostly stopped, then returned for the climb.  It never rained hard, and for me, light rain on a climb is kind of nice.  I had appropriate gear on - thanks GoreTex for the modern gear that really works - and was totally comfortable.  The descent from Montesenario was quite wet, as it rained until around 10 minutes away from Firenze, when the sun came out.  One of those days!  It certainly makes things interesting, and keeps you on your toes.  We descended very slowly, in particular from Montesenario, as the road was wet with wet leaves all over it.  We allowed the speed to increase when we got to Via Bolognese, as most of the moisture was over.  All in all, a great day for a quick ride in some rain.  Thanks Luca for getting me going.  42.9 km (26.4 miles) in 2:01 for and average speed of 20.9 kph (13.0 mph) with 896 meters (2940 feet) of climbing.  With 17,813 km ridden so far this year, only 2,187 left to make my goal of 20,000 km.  Ciao.

Cloudy, but pretty out there.

After the hard part of the climb was over, I took a couple of
shots of Luca continuing our climb.

Luca on the climb to Montesenario.

The bell tower at Montesenario was slightly in the fog by the time
we got up there.

A view to the Southwest - we will have rain on our descent!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Nice Saturday morning ride with the team.

The weather was ok this morning, so I was off to meet up with the team for a ride.  There was only 6 of us, as it was very cloudy and rain is predicted for later in the day.  We decided on an alternate tour to what was posted, based on Paolo's suggestion.  It is a tour I like, and when I said it sounded good to me, the remainder of the team announced, I would be the guide for the day.  We had a mishap just before Pontasieve, and Margherita fell as she and Agnese got a little too close and Margherita hit an oily patch and her back wheel slid out.  She was fine, a little bumped and bruised, but wanted to keep going, which I certainly thought was good to keep the muscles from stiffening up.  We stopped in Pontasieve for a cafe and allowed Margherita to regroup.  Paolo had to return to Firenze by a certain time, so he continued on the tour.  When we stopped I had no idea if I would continue solo or with people, as the weather looked bad and Margherita had just fallen.  After cafe and some pastries, everyone wanted to continue, and if rain came we would turn back to Firenze.

We enjoyed the tour quite a bit.  I was certainly the guide, and the other 4 were enthusiastic about the route.  The soft light as we rode into the fog (nebbia) was really nice and everyone appreciated it.  Also, it was cool, but not at all cold, so really quite a nice time for a tour.  As we returned, I turned off toward home away from the group and decided on a quick Fiesole loop.  Good climb and fun.  I returned before any rain, and as of 2:45, it has not yet started.  The forecast is for "heavy rain" for the next two days, so perhaps some time off is coming.  77.0 km today in 3:13 for an average speed of 23.7 kph with 935 meters climbed.  17,770 km for the year leaving 2230 to reach 20,000.  I should make it.  Hang in there weather!

Here comes the fog and the way out of Donnini.

I love the soft light in the approaching fog just above Donnini.

Margherita and Niccolo on the climb from Donnini to Tosi.

Here is the team in front of me on the final climb to Tosi.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Welcome back to Firenze for a 3 week holiday, Jean Lu.

Sometimes it is really great when plans change.  Perhaps with the right attitude, it is always good.  Today, I checked email this morning first thing, and Jean Lu, a young man who rode with the team for around 9 months who moved to Sardinia in July, had written me he was in town and wanted to ride.  We had some communication, and ended up doing an afternoon ride.  He has taken a position of lots of responsibility in Sardinia with the Carabinieri there, and is here on holiday for a few weeks.  He also has gotten together in a romance with another team member, Rebecca, who is the real reason he is here on holiday.  Anyway, we had a very nice ride, and it was great to see him and catch up.  Rebecca is English, and Jean Lu has worked hard on his English and has improved greatly.  Good job Jean Lu.

Now, I need to try to communicate with him about handling stress, as the amazing, happy attitude he always had before his move is at least partially gone.  At this point, his English is kind of like my Italian, so this is kind of hard to communicate.  He is a young man, I think 28, and I would love to give him what I think is good advice learned from years of hard work and stress, although those days are fading from memory quickly.  Anyway, great to ride with an old friend and welcome back to Firenze, Jean Lu.  Forse siamo andare in bici con squadra domani, se non piove domani mattina. (perhaps we will ride with the team tomorrow if it does not rain in the morning)  I will call that the Italian phrase of the day.  Ciao.

A surprisingly good over the back / behind me photo of 
Jean Lu, who is visiting for a few weeks from Sardinia,
where he moved to in July.  Welcome back, Jean Lu and
thanks for a great ride today.

The river along the road to Ginestra.

A planted grove of trees as you approach Scandicci from above
are all turning yellow.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A surprise window of time for a nice, but short, ride.

We had a nice day and one half with some friends with Denver, who departed this morning.  All day yesterday was tour the Centro, museums, food, a lecture, and more food.  A long, but fun day.  Today, we had electricians scheduled to upgrade our electrical system to what our landlord calls the "latest".  I misunderstood the amount of time it would take, thinking they said 3 or 4 days, when they said 3 or 4 hours.  They were done in 3 hours and I unexpectedly had a little time to get out for a ride.  Yesterday it was quite rainy, but today the roads were dry and the forecast was for better weather until very early Saturday morning.  I decided on a nice ride that I do fairly often up Via Carota to Osteria Nuova, then up and over San Donato in Collina, turning off around 1/3 the way down the other side in Cellai to take the super fun, tiny road over to Bombone.  From there over and down to Rosano, then back to town on the busy road, turning off for the little detour through Nave a Rovezanno, then home.

I had a wonderful meal last night at Trattoria Giovanni in the Oltrarno, close to Piazza Santa Spirito.  Our guests were taking us out, and I had a special crostini to start with a cream / white truffle paste on top.  Really, quite awesome.  Last time I was there a friend had a large piece of veal which he loved, and I was jealous that I had not ordered.  I did not make the same mistake twice, and really enjoyed the quite large and very tasty vitello.  Italian phrases - crostini (small toasted tuscan bread pieces with interesting toppings), vitello (veal), and interrutore (circuit breaker).  Ciao.

Not too many leaves left on the vines behind the olive trees here.

A beautiful little road and some nice color below a villa.

I loved the look of the sky today, as I assumed the storm was going 
away, as tomorrow's forecast is for good weather.  I was surprised
by a downpour later this afternoon as Emily and I were picking
up the grandchildren from school.

Remnants of the storm clouds and sunshine on the hillside below
Saltino from the road to Bombone from Cellai.