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ITALY TRIP REPORT

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The bicycle is the most efficient form of transportation. We gathered with a group of friends to celebrate that fact and cycle through Tuscany hill towns and coastal roads last week. In the movie, Rocky Balboa, Rocky comes out of retirement to fight an exhibition match. How can he do that at his age, he is asked. He replies, “I still got somethin’ left in the basement.” Let’s see what we have there. Let’s go on a challenging ride.

I know that Italy totters on the brink of a Grecian style economic collapse. I know that the social programs are unsustainable. I know there is no scenario whereby Italy will even be able to  service the interest on its debt. I know these things, yet the experience of being in Italy contradicted the gruesome news. It is a happy place.

We arrived in Florence Wednesday afternoon. Two couples who arrived a day earlier called us for a walk. From our hotel by the train station we walked to the Ponte Vecchio. Mark and Lorna wanted to look at leather coats. I watched the sculls on the river while they tried on coats. The store owner complained that the Euro had ruined the leather business in Italy. When Italy had its own currency, the Lira was weak and Americans lined up to buy. He said that he’d only give an American ten minutes to make up his mind, since there were so many customers.

Mark ended up buying coats for Lorna and himself, but only the next day, and he got substantial discounts on the coats. The Euro is strong, and that is a mixed blessing. The coats are costly and the retailer had to give a discount to make the sale.

Walking across the bridge we looked at the gold jewelry, out of our budget with gold flirting with $1800 or $1900 an ounce. Bad news for Italian goldsmiths. We walked up the hill to the plaza celebrating Michelangelo and posed in front of the bronze reproduction of the David sculpture.

The next day we took a walking art tour, saw the actual David and other famous sculptures and walked through charming narrow stone streets. My wife bought purses for our daughter and herself. I bought a fine Italian yogurt. Friday we began our riding.

The riding was pleasant and exciting. A new country. I hadn’t been in Italy since I traveled Europe as a student forty years ago. Olive groves and grape vineyards lined our paths. Fig trees siren-like beckoned to us. I grew up eating figs from a tree in my parents’ yard, but most had never seen a fresh fig. One of our group, when I offered her a purple fig, said, “This doesn’t even look edible!” But, bless her, she tried it and pronounced it ambrosia.

Each day we rode around thirty or forty miles over many hills. Challenging! Vermont Bicycle Tours (http://www.vbt.com) organized our tour so there is a van that circulates along the bike route. If anyone is tired, they can ride in the van. Our group named our support vehicle, “The Van of Shame” and  no one rode in it.

On the fifth day, there was a fifty-four mile ride, up over the mountains and through Etruscan towns built on the tops of hills. The Etruscans felt that a good defense made good neighbors. Hence the Macaulay poems, Lays of Ancient Rome, glorifying Etruscan and Roman battles. I had studied Horatius at the Gate, and even had a copy I read at night. It was thrilling to run across towns and areas mentioned in the poem.

A group of folks from Maryland had joined our group. They were strong bikers, and if they passed me on the road, I would feign outrage, crying out “The shame! Mountain people being passed by flatlanders!” They laughed, so my joke worked.

At night I told the group a daily joke and recited some poetry. Randy would express disgust at my poetry and jokes, adding to the fun. But he did laugh at some jokes, which caused the whole group to hoot, “Randy laughed at a joke!”

Each place we stayed at seemed to have a goal to overfeed us. The food was delicious. It was abundant. Antipasti were a complete meal, yet only appetizers. Desserts were constantly offered, clever and original, delighting the eye and the tongue.

We are told that money itself is a very weak contributor to happiness. While most people assume this would not apply in their own case, the fact is that we are all part of a whole, and the experience of the whole is that money doesn’t bring much happiness.

But there are at least two exceptions. People who use their money to help others are happy with their efforts. People who use their money to experience memorable times are happy with their memories. I am happy with my memories.

Daily challenges of biking. We are happier when we challenge ourselves and achieve goals. Group cohesion, laughter, shared exploring, solidifying friendships. We are happier with broader and deeper relationships. Daily adventures in eating. A modest amount of pleasure contributes to happiness. Admiring how our guides anticipated problems, helped us to not get lost, took care of mechanical problems with the bikes added to our happiness. Admiring the David in Florence, admiring the endless Tuscan arches and stonework and cobblestone streets, admiring the beauty and gentleness of the land. Beauty makes us happy.

On the long, fifty-four mile over-the-mountains day, I pushed my wife’s bike on some of the steeper uphill sections. That was fun, we’d speed up and she laughed. I pushed Liz’s bike sometimes, and she thought that was fun. At Sassetta we rested, snacked and admired the mountain top town, then across the mountains and slightly downhill. After lunch I rode with Paris, a flatlander who was perhaps the strongest rider of the group. We had a headwind, and I had offered to my wife to ride ahead and let her draft me, but she didn’t have the confidence to do that, so I sprinted ahead and caught Karl and Paris. Reading our maps, we stopped at tricky intersections to make sure the group made the turn. Then on the flat, we pushed ahead. I asked Paris if he minded leading so I could draft, and we took off. I stayed about eight inches behind his rear tire, and he’d look back and was surprised to see me there. For about eight miles we flew across the plains, stopping only to check our maps at intersections. “I think we go straight.” “I agree.” Off we’d go.

We were first to arrive at our hotel, an Agrihotel. That is an Italian hotel that grows a certain amount of the food served right there on the property. We were a good thirty minutes ahead of the rest of the group and I felt joyful. I waited at the turnoff for the hotel, finding an occasional ripe yellow fig on the tree next to the road, while Paris rode on down to the facility. I drank my water and felt grateful for the day. The interminable uphill that we conquered. The pleasant snack at Sassetta. The delicious lunch at a trattoria along the road. The sprint to the hotel, ending with another agonizing hill climb. I felt good about the day. Learning is good. I learned about myself.

I’ve still got something left in the basement.

Lorna’s photo blog of our trip: http://lornabrower.blogspot.com/

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33 Responses

  1. Lily
    | Reply

    All of my questonis settled-thanks!

  2. Delia
    | Reply

    Wham bam thank you, ma’am, my qeusitons are answered!

  3. Ann Jepsen
    | Reply

    Lynn –
    It’s great to read your memories and insights on the trip. Many thanks for your encouragement on the (day 2) extra 8 mile loop, and for the drafting lessons so patiently offered until I was smart enough to take you up on it. What a great experience – a beautiful country shared with good friends.
    Ann

    • Maud
      |

      Is that relaly all there is to it because that’d be flabbergasting.

    • Jory
      |

      Holy shnziit, this is so cool thank you.

  4. Liz Smith
    | Reply

    Lynn,
    What a great narrative and description of the trip. I loved reliving it by reading your words. It makes me want to go again tomorrow! It was truly magical, and was made even better by sharing it with friends like you.
    Bravissimo!
    Liz
    Yes, and thanks for the push!

    • Kacy
      |

      Hey, that’s the geartset! So with ll this brain power AWHFY?

    • Eddie
      |

      If you want to get read, this is how you suohld write.

  5. Randy Thornton
    | Reply

    Lynn,

    Great write up! You captured the spirit of the trip! That said, you jokes were still terrible! 🙂 Great being with you on the trip! I look forward to the next one!

    Regards,
    Randy

  6. Vera kay
    | Reply

    I have enjoyed reading about your trip to Italy. I was able to identify some with your experience as I have hiked this summer with a gorup the Mont Blanc area in the Alps. I did learn about myself. I was capable of overcoming challenges and getting to the end. I was not sure before I can do it but once on the road, the choice was to keep going and I did. I felt great joy and happiness especially that I got closer to myself.

  7. Ann Sabino
    | Reply

    Thanks for sharing Lynn,

    Seems like just yesterday you were telling our Ohio seminar group about your international biking plan. Now it’s a positive memory- one to be savored and shared.

    So glad you had a wonderful time and opted to write about it. I thoroughly enjoyed your account and the opportunity it gave me to live a little vicariously through you today. Laughed at your souvineer choice (fine Italian yogurt) knowing I’d have done the same!

    God bless and keep living your dreams. As you know, getting older and living for a long time are two different things.

    • Kylia
      |

      You have shed a ray of sunnsihe into the forum. Thanks!

    • Gina
      |

      Furearlz? That’s marvelously good to know.

  8. Martha
    | Reply

    You were on my dream vacation. Thanks for the reminder that for happiness, money is for giving and doing. This bike trip is definitely on my “doing” list!

    • Jayne
      |

      At last! Somonee who understands! Thanks for posting!

    • Nollie
      |

      Phenomenal breakdown of the topic, you sohlud write for me too!

  9. Shirley Hendricks
    | Reply

    What an amazing trip! Thank you for sharing. It was fun to see Lorna’s photos. Can’t even imagine being able to have such high adventure! It sounds and looks like it was, indeed, a joyful time!

    • Rena
      |

      Super excited to see more of this kind of stuff olnnie.

    • Takeo
      |

      Cheers pal. I do apprceitae the writing.

    • Xaria
      |

      I was seriosluy at DefCon 5 until I saw this post.

    • Genevieve
      |

      Shiver me tbierms, them’s some great information.

  10. Dina Robke
    | Reply

    We have taken 2 bike trips in Italy, one in France, the most recent with VBT. It simply does not get any better. What wonderful memories! Life is good!

    • Jennylee
      |

      BION I’m ipmrseesd! Cool post!

    • Karik
      |

      This is an artilce that makes you think ?never thought of that!?

  11. Lorna Brower
    | Reply

    Lynn, what a wonderful description of our trip. Thanks so much for sharing. It was an experience for all of us and I am so happy that you still have “something left” because it would not have been the same without you.

    • Johnette
      |

      Shiver me timbers, them’s some great infortmaion.

    • Jaclyn
      |

      Well maacdmaia nuts, how about that.

    • Jady
      |

      Shoot, who would have tohhugt that it was that easy?

    • Cyelii
      |

      Gosh, I wish I would have had that information eraleir!

  12. Dale Hooley
    | Reply

    Dr. Lynn, I enjoyed reading your blog about your time in Italy. It reminds me of when my wife, Diana and I fell in love in Italy and France in 1974. We are planning a trip to France next June! We’ll see if we have “anything left in the basement”! Thanks for writing. Dale

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      Which came first, the porlbem or the solution? Luckily it doesn’t matter.

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