Tuscany on Two Wheels

Last time, I promised to tell you all about our Ciclismo Classico bicycle tour in Italy, besides just the amazing food and guides and lodging and cappuccinos.


Here’s the bike garage at Il Mollinello, our guide Sandro’s home / B&B / 14th-century gristmill. First, let me say up front that this jaw-dropping wonder world of bikes absolutely could beat up the bike garage at our house.

I think I saw Brent taking notes.

 

 

The rides started out pretty easy–at a casual pace, too. Here, Brent is uncharacteristically taking time to stop and get a photo.

That’s as opposed to his usual technique of taking them one-handed, on the fly, with sometimes less-than-graceful results.

 

 

Some of our routes coincided with the route of L’Eroica, the gravel ride that was to be the pinnacle of the tour. Area road signs include permanent route markers.
Every hour or so, whichever guide was driving the van would pull over and set up a rest stop. Snacks, baby!

The next day, we rode to a town called Montalcino. Please note: when riding to a place in Italy whose name starts with the letters “Mont-,” don’t expect the road there to be flat. As you can see from my elevation reading (below left), this wasn’t exactly a Rocky-Mountain level peak. I mean, there was air at the top, and all. But talk about steep!

Our reward for that climb was getting to see this old castle (right), which our guide Marcello knew all about.

After the castle, we rode downhill (yaaay!) to a unique vineyard for a tour and lunch. Here’s what happens when a family of artists are turned loose in a vineyard…

The day before L’Eroica, the group took a practice ride on their retro bikes. If you notice the third-person pronoun, yeah. I didn’t participate. By this time I’d decided that gravel roads are just not for me. No worries, that left me free to take photos and do a little shopping around the village of Radda in Chianti. Gelato may have been involved.

Next morning started waaaay early. Brent bravely chose to do the long route, about 80 miles. Here he is with the other hardy souls before they rode down to Gaiole for the start. He’s the one in the middle, whose light, um, didn’t work.

As for me, I rode my nice new Bianchi to Gaiole–after sunrise, thank you–and enjoyed the village all morning. Best of all were the participants dressed in period costume. Plenty of them wore retro jerseys, but some folks went all out…
The guy in the middle photo was giving people old-school beard trims or, in this case, fixing up some mutton-chop sideburns.

 

And here’s my hero of the day, looking remarkably perky after the finish:

 

This was the greatest vacation ever. I challenged myself, rode up hills I had no idea I could climb, ate gallons of gelato, learned a lot about Italy, and made friends with some of the most charming and fun people around.
 

Thanks for reading!
Tailwinds,
Jan

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Time Traveling

Greetings, friends!

So, our big adventure this fall was our first-ever trip to Europe. Call us ambitious, but we’d booked an 8-day bicycle tour for the first week of October… then our older son got stationed in Germany and moved his family there over the summer.

“As long as we’re flying across the ocean anyway…….”

I’ll tell you, going from North Texas where everything was built between the 1870s and last week, to Europe, was like traveling through time.

First stop, Florence (Firenza): Our hotel was a 17th-century building renovated into a hotel, with original art still on the ceilings. I kid you not, we had baby angels on the ceiling in our room. Favorite thing: Breakfast was included. They even offered “American” coffee, which was strong enough to carry our suitcases for us. They also offered cappuccinos. Even non-coffee-drinker Brent accepted one, both mornings.

Asciano: We stayed in a 14th-century gristmill, owned by one of our guides and now operating as a B&B named Il Molinello, meaning “Little Mill.” The cottages aren’t new, but still appear much younger than even the “modern” 18th-century addition to the original mill… not to mention the remnants of an Etruscan irrigation pipe dating from the 7th century BC.

I felt silly, fussing because I had trouble connecting to WiFi…..

Each morning at breakfast, our hostess offered cappuccinos. I had one… or two… -ish. Brent had one each morning.

Siena: Oooh, a modern hotel. We didn’t know how to act. But at breakfast, we both made ourselves at home in front of the self-serve cappuccino machine.

Radda in Chianti: We stayed in an 18th-century palace renovated into a hotel. It charmed me with original-looking beams in the ceiling and old brick trim around the windows. Oddly out of place was the modern bathroom with a weird “sink” so shallow it only served to splash water out whenever we washed our hands. And forget about washing out any clothes in there.
Breakfast? Delicious. And, mmmmm… cappuccinos…

After all the cycling and wine-tasting and olive-oil drizzling and overstuffing ourselves at dinner every night, we parted ways with our guides and fellow tour participants and flew to Munich.

Guess what? They have old buildings in Germany, too.

And cappuccino.

And sausage.

We had a great time visiting the kids. One evening we hiked up to this little 13th-century fixer-upper that used to be a castle. No roof or floors, but the gun slits in the walls were still in fine condition, thank you.

Next time, I’ll tell you about the bicycling, which was originally the whole point of the trip.

Meanwhile, I’m getting my head firmly back into the 21st century. Now, for a cappuccino….

Thanks for reading!
Tailwinds,
Jan

Posted in I Remember When... (my OWN stories), Thoughts on Two Wheels | 6 Comments

Olympic, um, “Athletes”

You walk away from the house and the cantankerous appliances for, like, 30 hours, and what happens?

Portable electronics take up the rebellion, of course.

August 4 was our first time to participate in the “Blazin’ Saddle” bike rally in Granbury, Texas. Brent signed up for the 75-mile route, while I signed up for “Start with the 20-milers and see how it goes.”

We drove part of the route the evening before, taking special note of the infamous “Skulls Crossing” area. It’s pretty much a dry creek bed except when it rains, which it wasn’t going to. The road dips steeply down and even more steeply up, a 16-percent grade. Fortunately, the climb is short, but really. I wasn’t sure either hip or knee joints would survive.

After a decent night’s sleep at the motel, we ate while loading our bikes and stuff in the car. Then we lined up at the junior high school with lots and lots of other people…

Even though I’ve had a Garmin bike computer for several months, I keep forgetting to activate it when rides actually start. Sure enough, I wobbled through the first quarter mile, tryna push the right buttons to START RIDE.

My proudest moment was when I climbed up Skulls Crossing without having to get off and walk.

The ride went smoothly from there. Somehow none of the other climbs seemed very challenging compared to that SIXTEEN PERCENT Skulls Crossing. >shudders<

Even as I approached "The Peaks," a ridge rising abruptly from the rolling hills, I couldn't complain. Then the road turned toward the north and fell away in a long, straight, beautiful downhill. I reached to push the "Lap" button on my computer, so I could easily find the location when I uploaded the map later.

Unfortunately, I accidentally hit "Pause" instead. I quickly realized this and frantically pushed buttons to get the computer recording again before I picked up too much speed.

Okay… 31.4 MPH and a -9% grade. Woohooooo!

It must have been fifteen minutes later when I checked my distance and elapsed time. Then checked again after a few more minutes, only to find the same readings.

Uh-oh.

THE COMPUTER IS STILL PAUSED!

I started it recording again, but that lovely downhill run is now unprovable, as is my total distance.

Meanwhile, on the Super Long Route, Brent was having troubles of his own.

Like me, it started shortly after the ride began, when he hit a bump and one of his water bottles bounced right out of its cage on the frame. One of the good bottles… so he had to retrieve it, losing the pack he’d started out with.

Later, in an especially scenic stretch, he decided to take a picture. Without stopping, of course. So he pulled his new phone out and opened the camera, intending to use the volume button to snap the photo one-handed.

Imagine his surprise when the phone started vibrating and emitting a loud DEFCON 1–type sound. Something popped up on the screen and Brent’s finger brushed it as he was trying to make the noise stop.

Yeah, he’d just found the previously unknown Panic Button and followed up by dialing 9-1-1.

Conceding defeat, he stopped so he could use both hands to throttle silence his phone. At last he managed to tap the Disconnect button.

Whew!

Four seconds later, Hood County Emergency Services called him back.

The dispatcher was understanding but amused at Brent’s predicament. I’m sure that wasn’t the first time something like that had happened.

Between the two of us, we’re unbeatable. I mean, we should be in the Olympics, right? I’m not sure what sport we’d fit under…

…maybe “Synchronized Fumbling?”

Thanks for reading!
Tailwinds,
Jan

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Grandparenting: Not for the Faint of Heart

Greetings! We’ve just had a wonderful, whirlwind visit from our son and his family. I’m catching up on sleep and may be lucid enough to write a blog entry…

The littles were great fun. The older two entertained us in the pool, with crafts, and by generally rocketing around singing and talking and asking questions. And I had plenty of time to snuggle with Baby Brother.

Grandpa took the older boy upstairs and pulled out the mother-lode of Legos, which kept them both busy for hours. Grandson found a flexible Lego hose, probably part of a spaceship kit, and discovered he could blow into it to produce an extremely high-pitched whistling sound.

Unfortunately, there were more hoses, which he shared with his little sister. Between them, I felt like I was in a nightmare where the teakettle is whistling and I can’t… get… to… the… stove… to… turn… it… off.

Overall, my days went something like

High energy high energy high energy Whee! high energy tweeeeeeet tweeeeeeeeeeeeet high energy Watch this, Grandma! high energy high energy high energy Waaaah, he pushed me! high energy tweeeeeeeeeet high energy high ener–“Okay, kids, Grandma can’t feel her face…”

I wouldn’t trade those few days, though. Seeing their intelligence, creativity, tenderness, determination, humor, and overall cuteness… it doesn’t get any better.

It’ll be our turn to visit them next time. I can’t wait.

You know… once I’ve rested up.

Thanks for reading,
Jan

Posted in I Remember When... (my OWN stories)

Hittin’ the Brakes

How are you at time management? Maybe you can multi-task, but apparently, I can’t. Case in point: blogging twice a week is keeping me from writing my humor series. Also I’m organizing my interview transcripts, preparing to plunge into writing the biography I mentioned earlier. See?

Arranging stories from transcripts in chronological order.
Some assembly required.

Someone recently made me realize that every hour I invest in preparing blog posts is an hour that I’m NOT working on my major projects. I have hometown folks waiting for that East Texas series, people! And more folks waiting for the biography I’m just starting on.

So I’m hitting the brakes on this blog… reluctantly, because it’s so much fun to share my goofy-but-true stories. Gonna see how it goes–hopefully, I can still take time to write a post each month or so. Like if something extra ridiculous happens, or maybe I have a few photos to share. But I won’t stress over it.

I’m off now to set up some project deadlines for myself. I need goals and a hefty dose of focus. Goodbye, multitasking! I’m typing my way toward those two sweet words:

“The End”

Thanks for reading,
Jan

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Pandora FAIL

How do you fail at Pandora?

To be clear, I’m talking about the online-radio app, not the charm bracelets.

Technically, it’s just an app, not an appliance… but I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Sunday evening, we had our Liberian friends and several friends from church at our house for a potluck dinner. I set Pandora on an uplifting worship music station and put it through the speakers. Everyone arrived, we set up the food, and people visited while munching chips and salsa. Then it was time to start eating in earnest.

We bowed our heads for prayer, and Brent thanked the Lord for the friends and food. He had barely started speaking when I heard a feminine voice say, “Uh-ohhh…” Thinking something had spilled, I glanced around to see whether anyone needed a towel or mop.

No, all heads were bowed.

That’s when I heard the voice again. This time I realized it was coming from the speaker above my head.

It was a commercial…

… a commercial for diarrhea medicine.

Could there be a more ominous start to a meal?

We got through the prayer with only a few snickers. Now we’re all thankful, not only for friends and food, but for laughter. And the fact no one needed any medication after dinner.

Thanks for reading,
Jan

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Learn to Relax!

Last week, I went to my first-ever yoga class. Some friends I’ve consulted recommend yoga to correct my posture and ease my chronic knotted-up shoulder, so I thought I’d give it a try.

It went better than you might think, for a somewhat awkward newbie. There were only a few mishaps:

1. The class info said to bring a large towel. I brought a gigantic, cabana-striped beach towel. Everyone else had normal bath-size towels.
2. My toes cramped.
3. My water bottle got knocked over.
4. I lost my balance.
5. The warm room made me sweat.
6. I tripped over my oversize towel.

That wasn’t so bad, was it?


Yeah, but then the class started.

7:30 PM– The instructor had us lie down on our backs for a few moments to collect our focus. I went into a coughing jag.

7:33 PM– We stood and began with some deep, steady breathing. Looking up at the ceiling while inhaling and then looking down for the exhale made me dizzy.

7:45 PM– My balance is normally pretty decent. I mean, I often stand on one foot while doing chores or talking on the phone, simply to challenge myself. But without shoes, I could not hold even the simplest one-footed pose for more than two seconds. I finally moved to where I could touch a wall. Sheesh.

7:50-8:35 PM– I didn’t know what all the instructions meant.

8:15-8:30 PM– As we progressed, I got so focused on trying to follow the multi-step movement instructions that I, um, forgot to breathe.

8:20 PM– Who forgets to breathe??

However, our instructor encouraged us all along. He kept advising us not to fight our bodies or stress out about things we can’t do (or can’t yet do). That reminded me to be thankful for all I can do.

So, even though the beginner class was still a bit over my head, I’m gonna go back and try again. Any progress is a win, right?

At the close of class, we got to stretch and then relax for a few minutes. As a closing, the instructor said “Namaste” and the others replied in kind. This is apparently a yoga thing.

Bonus: While grocery shopping the very next day, I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt that says it all:

“NAMA-STAY … IN BED.”

Thanks for reading,
Jan

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