Showing posts from May 27, 2007

The Handsomest Man in the NYT Summer Book Review

The Handsomest Man in Cuba has just appeared in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, June 2, 2007 - 'The Summer Reading guide'. It's about about 8 inches of review in a Travel book Section.

My agent Peter McGuigan (pictured below) says it's very unusual for a first time paperback, especially by a fabulous nobody like me to appear in the guide. A friend in NY said, and I quote, "you should expect to get laid by the literati every day for a year now." (He's mortified that I actually wrote that, saying it drags the tone of this blog into the gutter). He'd better not read my book then!

Bike Friday even gets a mention! Thanks to all the folks at Globe-Pequot, Bike Friday, Peter McGuigan, and those who made it happen along the way.

Read the full review on the NYT site or read the text of it below.

Read the blurbs from the first two pages of the book.


Travel books can generally be divided into two categories. First there are the ones in which all t…

Bike Across Italy with Ciclismo Classico

This is a re-post of a trip review written for Bike Friday and Ciclismo Classico.

Ciao tutti! Ready for a truly stellar, fully escorted bicycle tour of Italia? One that comes standard with stupendously good food, spectacular walled cities, a panoramic pedal through the Appenines with several challenging climbs into a luxury 4-star hotel bed? Put another way, if you're over pulling rocks from under your Thermorest, scrubbing congealed oatmeal from your MSR stove, and standing on traffic islands with a fragmented map flapping in your face, welcome to touring the Ciclismo Classico way.

I was privileged to review one of the company's most popular tours: Bike Across Italy.

Spanning 'the mid-calf to the mid-shin' of the boot of Italy over ten days, this moderately challenging tour takes in the regions of La Marche, Umbria, Tuscany and Lazio, starting in Fano on Adriatic sea and ending in Porto Ecole on the Mediterranean. The average mileage is about 50 gradually hilly miles …

Bike Across Italy - Day 0 - Gear and Getting There

Some notes on the gear and getting to/from for Ciclismo Classico's Bike Across Italy trip, as experienced by former Bike Friday Customer Evangelist, Lynette Chiang, who did the trip in the May 2007.

The Ciclismo Classico staff, Erika and Jewel, were able to both arrange all travel and give me detailed advice on the connections. Because Bike Friday folks tend to be independent, I wanted to know if it was necessary to bring the Bike Friday Travel Trailer.

My connections were as follows:

NYC -> (London, 6 hour flight)
-> Rome (4 hour wait, 2 hour flight)
-> Rome Airport Train Station (has elevator)
-> Roma Termini Train Station (30 mins, 11 euro)
-> Overnight in Hotel San Remo, Rome (20 minute walk from station with bags, tired) -> next morning, Roma Termini Train Station (10 min walk with bags, having slept)
-> Train to Fano (4 hours)
-> Fano Hotel (10 euro cab fare).

As you can see from the above set of movements, you could bring the Bik…

Bike Across Italy - Day 1 - Arrival in Rome and Fano

May 12, 2007:

JUST MY LUCK. I haven't landed in Italy in primo health. I've been uncharacteristically under the weather for more than a month after suffering a bout of laryngitis that came down on me like a ton of bricks on Easter Sunday. It took an eternity to pass. Darn damp Oregon weather. I had to cancel my Indianapolis and Chicago talks and head straight for NYC. All the fitness I'd acquired from 3 months in Australia riding three times a week with the BF Club of Sydney over winter and attending Desert Camp in March seemed to go down the tubes. Well that's how it feels.

But rather than complain, we must simply treat life like the weather - there will be sunny days and stormy days and you just, well, weather it.
I got on the plane in 97% condition and, suffered a second setback. Somehow I must have eaten something strange on the BA flight. I nursed a quesy stomach all the way from London to the overnight stay in a Rome Hotel, and then the four ho…

Bike Across Italy - Day 2 - Fano to Urbino (39 miles)

Towns: Fano, Bellochi, Calcinelli, Calmazzo, Fossombrone, Urbino The customary dipping of the rear wheel in the Adriatic sea - the start of the journey west.

MAY 13, 2007:


If Day 1 put a smile on everyone's faces, Day 2 quickly turned it into a grimace. Thank heavens the medieval splendor of our destination town, Urbino, made everyone forget about the climbing immediately before.

"It's not really any harder than any other day, it's just because it's the first day," said Dana.

Things started out chipper with a dipping of our rear tires in the Adriatic, something I've never really bothered to do, but made for a great picture - as long as you don't get sand in your rear hub.

As the week wore on, we all became stronger, but those of us who never train, or treat the first day of any tour as the first day of training, like yours truly, were taken by surprise. I found my legs completely devoid of energy at mile 36, despite the bottomless t…

Bike Across Italy - Day 3 - Urbino to Genga (32 miles)

Towns: Calmazzo, Furlo, Acqualangna, Cagli, Frontone, Serra San Abbondio, Sassoferrato, Genga Stazione The spectaular Gola di Furlo river gorge, in the Le Marche region

May 14, 2007:


NOTHING like a museum visit to start the day. The Duke Federico da Montefeltro, one of the five bigwigs ruling Italy in the 15th century, lived in a 365 room house decorated with stupendous inlay, sculptures, tapestries, and paintings. This old house is now called the Museo Palazzo Ducale, and is considered a relatively small but significant center for the kind of art within. We got to cruise a lot of the rooms thanks to a special guide who came all the way from Fano.

I marveled at doors and entire walls paneled with intricate inlay, using 47 different kinds of wood. When I say intricate, I'm talking the eyebrows, nosehairs, and various folds of cloth are rendered in different kinds of woods.

Our guide told us how a school party defaced one of the paintings which had to be restored -…

Bike Across Italy - Day 4 - Genga to Gubbio (32 miles)

Towns: Grotto de Frassasi, Sassoferrato, Scheggia, Ponte Calcara, Gubbio

MAY 15, 2007


WE STARTED the day with a visit to one of the most spectacular limestone caves in Europe - the Grotto de Frassasi (10 Euro pp). You enter through a long, damp tunnel with portcullis-like doors that slide open and shut behind you. Like 'Get Smart' meets 'Batman'. This natural wonder is indeed wondrous. A yawning subterranean cavern that could hold the entire Duomo of Milan and then some, with rivers, lakes and ravines, spiked by fantastic butterscotch-colored pillars sprouting from the distant roof and floor.

One's sense of perspective is completely flummoxed in this place. The guide pointed to a stalactite called the Madonna, that looked, oh, about 4 feet tall, and told us it was 24 feet tall. A series of thin, foot-long spaghetti tubes were the newest formations, yet had taken 100 years to form by a slow drip of water. How did they measure that stalactite waaaa…

Bike Across Italy - Day 5 - La Fest dei Ceri or 'Candle Race' - join the stampede!

May 16, 2007:


NO ONE with a personality ever rubbished a rest day on a challenging bike trip.

After much grinding uphill in the unexpectedly toasty May heat, the group rejoiced the opportunity to languish in mystical, medieval Gubbio for two nights. I had every intention of sleeping in and trying to shake the stomach bug that had been dogging me since getting off the plane, but this was not to be.

Starting at 5am, what sounded like a 44 gallon drum being refashioned with a frozen leg of ham reverberated in the street below, reminding me of the STOMP performance I saw recently in NYC. A cacophony of cheering, bell clanging and cornet bleating followed, repeated every fifteen minutes until my alarm sounded.

The centuries-old Festa dei Ceri, or Festival of the Candles, is celebrated every May 15 in many parts of Italy and also in Italian communities around th world. Ciclismo Classico times its May Bike Across Italy tour to coincide with a 2-night stay to witness this …

Bike Across Italy - Day 6 - Gubbio to Spello via Assisi (45 miles)

May 17, 2007: Saints and a heavenly wine tasting


A QUIRKY delight we've become accustomed to is climbing out of a medieval town on cobbled 1-way streets. We have to share it with walkers and cars in both directions, but somehow, everyone squeezes past everyone and all is well.

Today's lunch was a Ciclismo Classico style picnic at a local bar. When I say 'bar' I don't mean some awful sports dive with neon beer signs, odious carpet, a cacophonous TV and a generic rock'n'roll dirges blasting over tinny speakers. A bar in Italia is often a little quaint hole in the wall that might resemble a tiny cafe, serving tiny cups of coffee or beer.

The lunch was provided by a local family, and the simple menu consisted of melon, proscuitto, salad, tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, fresh fruit, bread, grilled eggplant, all doused in a vat of premium olive oil. Then followed vino, beer, and coffee, and these ubiquitous braided shortcakes topped with berry…

Bike Across Italy - Day 7 - Spello to Todi (44 miles)

May 18, 2007: Sunflowers, Olive Groves, Vineyards, and the Todi Challenge


FOR two days Andreas talked about the Todi Challenge and how difficult it was.

"Who's going to do the 17-22% hill?" he crowed.

This had the effect of psyching out all but two contenders - Dave with the carbon fiber Scott, who'd been spending most of his time chasing down lithe Italian stallions whipping past us on their Colnagos, with occasional sidelong glances at the bucolic scenery, and Bob, who, at 60 going on 40, clearly had a secret we all wanted to share.

We had all day to decide ...

The first stop was at a wonderful little town called Bevagna, and a tour of a one-man traditional paper making workshop. We watched as the artisan explained in Italian how he collected old rags, chopped them up, soaked them in lime, used a foot cranked turbine to crush them to a pulp, sieved and laid out moist sheets to harden, then hung them out to dry. The end result was a collection of …

Bike Across Italy - Day 8 - Todi to Orvieto (29 miles)

May 19, 2007: 20,000 caves under the ground and a Duomo to die for


Today felt like riding on the turrets of a medieval castle.

We climbed for a many kilometers and not so many miles, staying high on a ridge with great views of Todi, the hill town gradually receding behind us, and looked forward to glimpses of Orvieto, our next hill town. I could almost fantasize my bike was one of those a bleached blonde horses carrying me and a billowing pointy flag from one medieval town to the other.
I spent a lot of the day trying to get good shots of the riders in action. This is not an easy thing to do when you yourself are riding. If you shoot from your moving bicycle, you tend to get people only from behind, which gets old after a while. When passing them and attempting to shoot, the road is never quite wide enough, and you end up cutting off their head or wheels. Circles, like a head or a wheel, have no flat sides, so it always looks wrong to cut them off. Even a setting s…