Sunday, May 31, 2009

Roman Holiday: Giro d' Italia Stage Four

Today's adventure takes us with the Giro from Padova to a mountain top finish! Our gracious host Willem, has arranged for Jeff and Mick to ride in team cars with the race. I will be riding in the Santini Car in the parade in front of the race. It is interesting to note, that on this day, Jeff and I will have two very different experiences of the same road and same race. I am quite looking forward to enjoying the back seat of the car all to myself and seeing the sights as we go. 

The race begins in Padova. It is market day in the square, so one side of the square looks like this:

And the other side of the square looks like this (the parade cars are all queued up to preceed the race):

It is incredible that every day the race exposition went up, functioned as a race village, and then came down to travel to the next day's start location. The same for the the finish area, barriers, and everything that has to do with the race. It is quite a study in logistics. Mick and Thomas chatting in the race village:

Padova behind the race start:

The racers start the neutral portion of the stage in town and have a rolling start as they head out of town. Looking out of the starting corral:

I enjoyed how compliant the spectators were with the sponsor's hats. I couldn't bring myself to wear mine!

Paolo Bettini kept turning up everywhere! He is a beloved, famous Italian cyclist. Mick with Paolo Bettini: (Click on the link to learn more about Bettini!)

I loved these little mechanical bicycles. Although the vendor would mysteriously pack up his wares and slip out of sight every so often.

I couldn't get enough of the variety of vibrant fruits and vegetables at the produce stands:

Jeff was so excited to ride along with a team car! There were two teams willing to take Santini guests in their vehicles. Jeff chose a team that he thought was going to make a move for the stage win that day. Mick got the other car. As we dropped Mick off with the Lampre team, we learned he was going to be riding in the number one car! That's the car that goes ahead if one of their riders is in the break-away! Jeff had gotten a seat in his team's van. They were going to be taking a short cut to the top of the mountain to hand out water bottles. Upon learning this, Willem decided we would not tell Jeff about this until later! Bad luck! Willem securing Jeff's spot in the Diquigiovanni van where he would spend the rest of the day bombing through the mountains with two men who didn't speak english:

Danielle's artsy photograph:

The view looking out the rear window of the Santini Car:

Leaving Padova:

The view out the front window of the Santini Car:

Sights along the race route:

(Do you watch the Tour de France on tv? This guy is famous!!! I'm not sure, but it looks as though he's actually secured a sponsor. Has he sold himself "to" the devil if he has actually sold himself "as" the devil?) My favorite photograph of the 600 I took on the trip:

More sights along the route:

Ansel Who?

We make it to the finish line and watch as the race leaders approach the finish:

Legging it out to the finish:

Lance! Lance! Over here! After finishing the riders have to turn around and go back out the finishing stretch:

The peleton and Pink Jersey approach the finish:

My favorite car in the parade:

An amazing and once in a lifetime experience! Our deepest and sincerest thanks to Santini, Willem, Mick, And Thomas for guiding us through these past couple days of the Giro d' Italia. Tomorrow morning we take a train to Rome! Fingers crossed!!! 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Roman Holiday: Valdobbiadene

Have you ever travelled in a foreign country to a destination of which you could not pronounce the name? In our case, we had several factors weighing against us. For one, we don't speak Italian. Secondly, I was not involved in the travel plans. Finally, Jeff had only read the name of the town where Stage Three of the Giro 'd Italia ended and had never actually heard anyone pronounce it. Jeff, therefore decided, we were traveling to a town called Valdo-by-a-dean. 

Step one in our quest to Valdobbiadene (hereafter referred to as V. because it is nearly as hard to spell as it is to pronounce): ask the friendly English speaking hotel guy if he has a Tren Italia map. No luck. Step two: explain to friendly english speaking hotel guy that we are trying to get to V. to see the Giro. V.? Never heard of it. Hmm, this may be a problem. Step three: determine that we will solve this problem at the train station, somehow. Luckily for us, at the help desk in the train station there was a nice woman who is clearly used to dealing with stupid Americans. V.? Oh, you mean Val-dob-be-ad-a-nay! Oh! I guess we do! Sure, you can take a train to Castel Franco and switch to another train to Alano-Fener and catch a bus to V. Great! We'll take two.

We got two panini for the road and and hopped on our train to Castel Franco. The train ride to Castel Franco was lovely, it was great to see some of the Veneto countryside. At the Castel Franco train station, I however, decide that I have to use the restroom. I am a bit hesitant about using a train station bathroom, but I have been drinking espresso (cafe) and diet coke (coke light) like they are going out of style. I hustle into the women's room, only to find what looks to me like a ceramic hole in the ground and an indication of where my feet are supposed to be placed while I dangle myself over the hole attempting to get everything into afore mentioned hole. Hmm, I have, up until this moment, somehow avoided these contraptions, yet here was a defining moment for me. What should I do? (I did not take this picture. I tried to jazz it up with some editing, but I couldn't do a thing to make it look better):

The train station bathroom was actually a lot cleaner and brighter! After a moment of panic I checked all the other doors in the bathroom and thankfully found a handicap facility. That was me, physically challenged and unable to use the ceramic hole in the ground. So, I dangled my feet from the handicapped toilet (hard to do at 5'9"). This experience did however, leave me with some trepidation each and every time I had to use the bathroom again in Italy.

At any rate, we made our connecting train to Alano-Fener and were on our merry way. The train from Venice had been a large double-decker commuter rail type train. Our connecting train was much older. As we approach our stop we gather our luggage and head for the nearest door. The train stops and we wait for the door to open. It doesn't open. Jeff quickly decides that the door is broken and we should hustle to the door at the other end of the car, that we see that people have exited. As we get to the other door, the train begins to pull out of the station. We look at the train door and the red handle on the door and Jeff reads the sign: Pull the red handle! Pull the red handle?!? When in your life is it ever ok to pull a red handle? Clearly, it is ok to pull the red handle when it is the door handle and not an emergency brake! We have missed our stop! We have no option now, but to hope that the next stop is not far and get off and catch the next train back to Alano-Fener. May I remind you loyal reader, that we are in the country and entering the hills of the Veneto region. It could be a while to the next stop, let alone the next train going back in the other direction! 

I am not feeling anger, I am not feeling fear, I am just hoping that we will be able to get to where we are supposed to meet our friends. Luck is on our side, it is only a few kilometers to the next train station! We get off the train and look around to find ourselves literally, in the middle of nowhere. We are doubly lucky that the train conductor gets off the train and clearly sees that we are totally out of place and asks us where we are going. He leads us around the train and tells us to wait there for the next train going back in the other direction, it should only be about five minutes. He doesn't actually speak any English, but somehow we follow him and do what he tells us. We are thankful to see the train arrive and even more thankful that we are able to get off of it at the correct stop. Now to find that bus...

We walk around the train station to find that we don't seem to be in much of a town. There are a couple of buildings and not much else. There is a man in a minivan that appears as though it might be some sort of shuttle service or taxi. We find that he speaks not a word of english. Through the use of some clever spanish phrases we determine that the roads to V. are closed and he can take us only about a kilometer from the train station before the road is closed to traffic. We also find out that it is about 7k to the town of V. and the finish line of the day's Giro stage. I ask him how we are to get to V. He says on foot. On Foot!?! Yes, on foot. I resign myself to a long walk. I must admit that I am wearing a dress and wedge flip flops and am not exactly dressed for a 7k walk up a mountain to V. I pull my rolling luggage a few hundred meters and am feeling very Kathleen Turner in "Romancing the Stone," until I decide that I must change into shorts and sneakers. Quick-change by the side of the road and we are off, pulling our luggage up to V.

As if it isn't bad enough to be two American idiots pulling our luggage up a mountain road, there are hundreds if not thousands of people standing along the sides of the road waiting to cheer on their favorite bike racers. I guess they had already had a few Proseccos because quite a few cheered for us. It was a tad humiliating. Finally, we determined that our friends were going to be driving in the parade in front of the race, and going up the mountain anyway, there was no reason for us to walk up until they found us, so we parked our rolling luggage by the side of the road and waited for our ride. In fact, we waited 3k from the finish:

In front of us the race course and behind us the famous vineyards:

It was a happy moment when we spotted the Santini car driven by Willem, Thomas, and Mick. We stuffed our luggage into the car and hopped in, glad to be done with that adventure!

We made it to the town of V. and joined the crowd as the peleton approached! 

The peleton is an amazing, colorful, wondrous sight!

Levi! Over here! I'll get him next time!

The peleton passed through town and went out of town and did a loop before they returned to V. for the finish.

We found seats in the stands at the finish line and await the finish. There are jumbo screens around to view the race as it happens. Here are the winners:

A very expressive lady with huge glasses. Lance! Lance! Over here! Susan says "Hi!" 

That is one sweet ride!

The pink jersey goes to... this guy! He's Italian! Exciting!

It takes hours to descend from this town with all the traffic and finally get to Padova. I find that I get car sick riding in the back seat of cars. It has been a loooong and crazy day. I hope tomorrow is more predictable? boring? We'll see...

Roman Holiday: Venice: San Marco and San Giorgio Maggiore

Our last morning in Venice! Our agenda for the morning: visit San Marco and San Giorgio Maggiore, check out of hotel, and figure out how to get to the end of Stage Three of the Giro in Valdobbiadene. Let the adventure begin!

We queued up first thing, to see the amazing Basilica San Marco. It sits in Piazza San Marco adjacent to the Palazzo Ducal. I honestly don't think that words can describe the exterior or interior of St. Mark's Cathedral. The exterior porticos and interior ceilings are decorated with elaborate golden mosaics! It's awe taking!

The Doge's Palace (We didn't go in, I'm sure it's nice inside too):

An interesting spot where St. Mark's and the Doge's Palace meet:

Detail on the corner of the Doge's Palace:

More architectural detail:

As we waited in line I spotted these unusual brown figures. I just noticed that they are described in my Berlitz Pocket Guide to Venice: "...note the four curious dark brown figures of the Tetrarchs (also known as the Four Moors), variously said to represent either Diocletian and associates, or four Saracen robbers who tried to loot the basilica's treasury through the wall behind them." A fortuitous shot indeed!

The portico around the Doge's Palace:

I have been to Venice now twice, and both times I have photographed this hotel on the waterfront. It's one of my favorites:

Approaching San Giorgio Maggiore:

The best way to see Venice, actually see all of the island, is from the Bell Tower at San Giorgio Maggiore. It is unreal. There was a sign in the elevator up to the the top of the Bell Tower that noted that the elevator's capacity was 8 occupants and someone had added (a European no doubt) that it was 8 occupants or 6 Americans. Sad but true.

There is a weird trick of the eye going on that makes it appear that the Vaporetto above the Statue's head is sinking. I am pretty sure it isn't, but I could be wrong.

This bridge was a mob scene, harder to pass than than any canal or church. I am not positive, but I think people are ogling the advertisement?

A courtyard near our hotel:

Goodbye Venice! Goodbye ugly lamp that I have walked by for the last three days! I will miss you, well, maybe not the lamp...

We're off to catch a Vaporetto  to the train station, to take a train to Valdobbiadene, where we're told we can catch a bus into town to see the end of the race...