Wednesday, May 30, 2007

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



A duffel, a Bike Friday, and a laptop on your back - the uniform of the professional BF World Traveler 



May 12, 2007:

Day 1 PHOTO GALLERY

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 hour train journey to Fano.

On the train I spotted a giant bike case with a Ciclismo Classico (CC) bag tag, then looked along the seats for a likely suspect - aha! The gent reading a book about cycling. He offered me some two-year old RollAids which I devoured gratefully, anything to stop feeling a whiter shade of pale. Although CC supply a fleet of fine Bianchis, some people still prefer to ride their own, perfectly fitting bike, and he'd brought his own Scott carbon fiber wonder bike - the same animal that the US Cycling Team ride. Me? At 5' nothing, nothing else fits me as well as a Bike Friday, and in this instance I brought a Pocket Rocket Pro Petite with a compact crank (50-34).

On arrival we took a 10 Euro cab to the starting hotel of the tour, the three star Hotel Elisabeth, overlooking the Adriatic sea. It's a pleasant, oldish hotel on a regular kind of European beach, with no surf and presumeably bathtub-like temperatures in high summer. Umbrellas are set out in platoons, something distinctly orderly and, well, European.

As I mentioned, David and I were the only two who'd brought our own bikes. The rest were riding CC's Bianchi's, which really saves you a lot of luggage handline if you decide to go that way. The bikes are set up with Campagnolo so this required a bit of explanation and practice.

Over a light lunch the 18 participants met for the first time. Most were couples, there were 3 singles and a couple of guys with a certified 1-week leave of absence from their wives and families. Most were in the same demographic (to use a somewhat clinical marketing word) as the Bike Friday community - 55 and over and able to state with certainty where their next meal is coming from.

Many asked about the Bike Friday - what is it, is it a tour company? Are you promoting it on this trip? Don't you have to pedal more? And so on. I told them I was reviewing the trip for folks in the Bike Friday Community, who, thanks to a certain travel bicycle, are quite capable of roughing it, but might wish avail themselves to a more cushy tour at some point. Who doesn't like a bit of pampering now and then?

Our guides were Dana, a fit American gal with an Italian schooling and supreme mastery of the language and culture, and Andrea, a local guide who you could well imagine in an ad wearing an Armani suit.

"Italy is full of eye candy!" said Sandra from Chicago.

Both conducted themselves with a relaxed confidence of people who know a country because they've lived in it since childhood. They would alternate riding and crewing each day.

We went on a 9 mile shakedown spin which left some of us a bit confused as to where to make turns, despite clear instructions. Italy's not built on a grid! Although the route cards are good, I suspect it still takes a bit of getting use to a new country to read things right. We stopped at a shady stone table with a view so Dana could describe the adventure that lay ahead over the next 10 days. Wine tastings, 5 course dinners, cooking classes, Italian lessons ... whew!

Andrea told us how his father made the trip from Rome to Fano on a 20 kilo bicycle several times

"One thing you will enjoy is the respect for cyclists here," he said.

And indeed, we saw many cyclists, the Giro kind rather than the baggy shorts and t-shirt kind, in groups on training rides. The traffic would roar right by at top speed yet seemed aware of us, and patient. In countries like Europe and Asia there's a kind of 'flow' where people fluidly let people pass, and duck in when it's their turn - probably because their society centers around the community rather than the individual.

In the afternoon we were treated to a walking tour of Fano by a guide specially hired for the task. Old cobblestones, majestic plazas ... and spunky shoe stores selling the latest Italian footwear trend - sneakers with gold detailing. Fano was just a taste of stylishly medieval Italy to come.

In the evening we sat down to our first multi-course meal, a seafood extravaganza which included fried calamari unequalled in freshness to anything that you might find outside the perimeter of the table, according to Charlie, a physician.

"No dairy or fried stuff for you my dear!" he said, as I looked wistfully at the grilled fillet and chocolate torte that landed in front of me.

All through the trip people have been very forthcoming with Roll-Aids, EmergenC and Tums ...

A church in Fano lies awaiting restoration by its owners


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