Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Well, some pictures.  Here are some of them, I'll work on getting a narrative together with pics and everything, but that'll be lots of work.  For now, enjoy.

And I'm home

Well not "home" per se at the moment, but in Austin.  I managed to get home last night and a few hours' sleep and reveling in the differences between my life here and my life in Europe:

- I just ate a large super-tasty breakfast (they don't believe in breakfast in Spain, France, or Italy)
- I am drinking coffee.  Real, good, Tanzania peaberry coffee.  Not just espresso (which can and is extremely tasty, but sometimes coffee is just better)
- I am on my laptop at this breakfast place.  My laptop, with a keyboard whose keys I know intimately.
- I am text messaging with friends.  Quite a bit different from 2 weeks being totally disconnected except for your occasional runs into a 1 euro/15 min internet point and too scared to actually deal with trying to figure out one of the payphones there.

So great.  I can snoop on all the conversations around because they're all speaking my language...  It was such a relief landing in JFK and trying to find my bike knowing that any of the employees I talked to would be able to understand my questions.  They may or may not be helpful, but I knew we'd be able to communicate.

Anyway, though, about the trip back.  I woke up at like 7am and commenced building my bike box.  I'd found a big box that had been used to ship something very large and flat (probably close to a 4'x8' flat box, and I figured I'd just convert that into a bike box.  Cool.  I wound up doing that and it wound up fine-ish, but I was a little worried about the cardboard's sturdiness (it wasn't).  I got it all packed and taped I thought securely, and cut a couple of holes in it for handles and was ready to go.  I was going to walk this box down to some tram station, then take the train to Rome Fumenico airport.  Piece of cake.

Well fortunately, Jack was leaving to go to the train station to pick someone up the same time that we figured I needed to be there so he was able to guide me on this adventure.  We get to the door and I grab the box by the handy-dandy handles I'd cut (and even reinforced with a bit of packing tape, and he was like, "Well, it looks like you've done this before."  I assure you, it looked very professional.

"Yup I replied and we started off."  About 10 steps down the road one of the handles I'd cut failed spectacularly.  That hole enlarged by a factor of about 2.  Ugh.  Plan B.  I tried to git a handle on carrying the box and finally agreed to let Jack carry half of it, so we transported it easily to the tram station, and took the tram to the train station.  I bought a ticket and we said goodbye and I boarded the train.  I got to the airport and disembarked and was started to be very worried about this transportation issue.  The bike is titanium, and so I wasn't terribly worried about *it* per se, and really most of everything else in it was dirty laundry, so I really just wanted to get the bike into Delta's hands and let them deal with it.  I had my baggage insured well through having bought the ticket through AmEx, so yes.  Just get it to Delta, and then I'll not have to worry about it until Austin, where who knows what'll come out, but at least the frame will almost certainly be intact.

Rome's airport is pretty funny.  To me it seems that they built a really convenient and state-of-the-art airport and did a great job - typical Italian.  Then, however, they did something decidedly un-Italian and try to append another terminal to this airport.  Originally they'd had terminals A, B, C, D and recently they've added a terminal.  Terminal 5.  I swear, A-D and then 5.  So you get off the train station, and instead of boarding the little tram to terminals A-D, you go outside to get on a little shuttle bus that takes you to Terminal 5.  So this was another mile or so walk with a rapidly-deteriorating bike box.  Owwie.

Terminal 5 is a big warehouse that they've added to house American carriers, it seems.  Delta, American Airlines, US Airways, and maybe some others were there, and so that was interesting.  Whatever.  I get my box through the first long line - probably 30 minutes - as someone security checks something about me, and then I take my box with me to the next room, where there is a very short line for actually checking the bike.  The woman blanched when she saw the box and after about 5 minutes of research and phone-talking, told me that since it was oversized it was going to be an extra $100.  I told her no, I'd talked to the people at Delta, and though their policies were terribly confusing, it seemed that it was possible you could interpret it that the bike was free if packed properly on an international flight.  At least that's what the person I'd talked to had told me, and had kind of been my experience on the way out.  She was irritated and continued to call and talk to different people, and then finally asks me if I've let the air out of the tires and taken the pedals off (yes), and then tells me that ok, then good.  That's proper, and I need to pay $150.

Well done me.  I continued to protest, etc, and her supervisor came over and told me that yes, this was the case, and if I'd not been charged in Austin, it was because someone had "pulled his ear" or something.  Must be some Italian idiom.  So I paid the fee and let it go.  I was pretty sure it was overweight, too, and was just glad they'd not thrown it on the scale...  Seriously, they really need to get their baggage-policies well-defined and implemented and known.  It shouldn't be that hard.  I'd at that point spent well over an hour speaking with different Delta employees trying to interpret the policies about this bike and had had several different interpretations.  I'd heard lots of horror stories of people paying > $200 each way to fly their bike, so I was happy to get off with the $150 for the round trip.

So I pay and walk to the next security check (I don't know, I think I showed my passport about 5 times) and and then get on a different bus that takes us back to Terminal C, which is where my gate was.  So "Terminal 5" seems to just be where they check in the Americans, and it's a plain ugly warehouse.  

I get some chocolate bars at the duty free shop and board the plane for the 9hSomething flight back to NYC.  I very nearly bought olive oil, or a handy-dandy 3-pack of wine for gifts, but decided that even with the duty-free-ness, the weakness of the dollar probably doesn't make buying wine in Rome to take back to the States worthwhile.  Lots of signs stated that you didn't need to worry, nothing you bought in the Duty Free shops would give you any problems with security or anything.  It's pretty crazy on these flights to fall asleep for a bit, wake up, eat dinner, watch a movie, and see the screen show that you've still got 5h50m left until landing.  Whew.  This flight was fine and comfortable, though, and I did a lot of sleeping and writing.  

We were about to land and they come on and announce that if you'd just bought anything from the Duty Free shops or the little cart they bring through the plane, and were transferring in NYC, you would need to pack any liquids into your checked luggage when you do the re-claiming your bags, taking them through customs, and then re-checking them and going back through security.  Wow, sounds delightful.  Glad I hadn't bought anything.

So we land and go to baggage claim and I start waiting and waiting and waiting.  I asked a man about it, and he said it'd probably come down the chute, but it would be last, and if not, then it would be in some elevator.  No problem.  I wait and wait and wait and wait and finally it's just me and the other 14 people from that flight from Rome whose baggage hadn't arrived.  Whee.

They told us to just go on and make our connections, and they would get the baggage.  I wanted to check to make sure that it wasn't in the elevator, so asked and the woman said that the elevator lights that indicated something had come down weren't on, but she would send guys to check.  One came back quickly saying that no he'd not seen it, but about 5 minutes later, some guy shows up with my box.  It had apparently not even made it to the elevator, but someone had just randomly stashed it somewhere and he'd found it.  Go Delta. 

And, of course, an entire corner of the box is missing.  A huge corner, was just gaping wide open.  I told the baggage service woman there - well she saw it - that this was obviously not good and that I was almost certainly missing something.  She told me not to worry about it yet, just re-tape it after taking it through customs and when I'm re-checking the box in with Delta.  I do this and really didn't worry about it that much.  My clothes were in the far corner, and the only things I thought would have fallen out I wasn't terribly worried about.  To be honest, the only things that I was really worried about making it home was the new italian underwear in my carry-on bag (and that was pretty much the only thing in that bag) and my frame.  I had much faith in AmEx to be able to make everything else right.

So I get it re-checked in and checked through and taped up and everything was good.  I talked to several people in the NYC airport, and it was lots of fun.  I met some people - one girl who had been on my flight from Rome and a group of 4 older women who were cousins from around TX and now that their kids are gone they travel together regularly.  My flight, however, was not that much fun.  I don't know what happened but at that point I started having issues feeling mildly sick and miserable and tired and hot and cold and ugh.  I just had my iPod in and tried to sleep as much as possible. 

After what seemed like FOREVER, we were landing, and they said something about some medical emergency on board so we should sit in our seats for awhile while they got that woman to medical attention.  I had somehow failed to notice some kind of huge dramatic trauma.  Oops.  The girl I met who had been up front and seen it said she'd almost come to wake me and see if maybe I knew anything - since I was studying Neurobiology, cute - but hadn't.  I'm pretty surprised I missed it all.  What that did mean, though, was that we were on the ground and at the gate in about 10 seconds flat.  I've never been on a plane cornering close to that hard on the ground.  Quite fun.  

We get off and Lindsay finds me and that was wonderful.  I went to the baggage people and tell them that I've got a box coming that's damaged, and he seems shocked that I would have been told to make a claim in Austin, and that it may be too late.  Cute, but yeah, no, that wasn't going to cut it.  I waited until the box came, and wow.  It was DEMOLISHED.  It came out on its side and was completely torn open on one of the large sides.  Like, completely standing wide open.  I let him know that all this was new, and he was very helpful and got me my claim started saying that there wasn't really a huge rush, but to get it inventoried at home and see about damage as soon as possible.  Phew.  So Lindsay and I carry this tattered beyond all recognition box to the car and I got home.  Home.  To Austin.  To my house.  To my shower.  To my bed.  Phew.

I did the inventory this morning and it seems that the only thing that is missing is one pedal - amazing.  But that still requires buying a new pair, which is fine.  I guess technically my shoes were my baggage when I lost them so I think I'll file the claim with AmEx or whoever for a new pair of pedals and new shoes.  I guess that makes their $150 charge to me for transporting the box a wash - at least to me.  But yes.  Now to get caught up on life.

Today I need to get my driver's license replaced (had lost it shortly before the trip), my lost Visa reported (I lost my spare up somewhere near Baiardo I think - up in the alps - along with my photocopy of my passport and plane ticket and 50 emergency euro, oops), and my pictures and riding data uploaded and shared and all this.  Oh yeah, and get groceries.  And generally get my life back in order.  Phew.  What a blast.

Pictures are coming.  Don't worry.

Monday, June 16, 2008


So tired, but it's my last night in Rome... How amazing. The end of this trip... Tonight I'm staying with this couple I met on the train from Siena to Roma who are FROM Austin and have lived in Rome for 2 years, but are moving back to Austin in 2 weeks. Crazy!

They are amazing and fantastic people and I'll write more about them, but for now, I'm going back out to see the Font de something something. The big one with mermaids.

Rome is ridiculous. I don't know how a èlace like this can exist. Simply amazing...

And I have a new lave for pavement. My body aches after riding Stacy around for hours and hours and hours on these cobblestones. Wowee.

To think, 12h20m from now my plane leaves back to Austin. I miss home a lot, but will certainly miss here. What an amazing trip... I'll spend most of the day Wednesday, I think, updating this blog and writing and recreating the route on Google maps, etc... Wow. I definitely found what I was looking for. And then some.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


I'm here and had an amazing day and am now running out the door. I am at this hostel recommended by some friends I met in Siena (they hadn't been here) and it's literally kids just like crawling off the walls... Funny.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Why am I here?

To experience - not just SEE but really and fully experience - beauty. I have figured out - after much soul and country-searching - the reason for my trip. I've lots more planned to write, but I'm off to see Siena at night with my Roman buddy and a couple of Germans. How fun.

And yes, the region between Lucca and Siena was STUNNING. I think I'll stay in Siena for a full day before heading down to Rome...

On the road again...

So I'm leaving the charming and beautiful and expensive and amazing little town of Lucca today, after 3 nights. Sheesh! Who'd have thought?

I'm going to go through Castelvecchio and down to Siena. I've decided to skip Florence entirely for a number of reasons - maybe next time. But I will, I'm thinking, try to get to Rome on like Sunday afternoon and spend a couple days there.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Want to grab lunch in Pisa?

Phew, I need pizza. Today I rode to Pisa with Mario (my German buddy) then down along the coast to Livorno (beautiful) and we parted ways and I went generally east (I had had a town in mind but promptly forgot the name as I was leaving Livorno...) I rode southeast for awhile and at like 80k out decided it was about time to start making progress again northwards. Phew. So I started heading generally north, and (after a gelato/coke stop) eventually got myself to a point where I could see on my (featureless except my path on a blank slate) Garmin map that Lucca seemed to be on the other side of these mountains I was staring at. Awesome.

I'd wanted to do some leg-breaking, so though I had finally started picking up "Lucca" signs, I headed away from the Lucca signs and up the mountain. I came to this amazing town, Buti, and as I was climbing through, my path merged with another cyclist (like on a sexy bike and in spandex cyclist) and so I asked him (I think) if Lucca was that way. He seemed to affirm that is was, but that path was molto "salida(sp?)". I figured he meant steep and awful, which was perfect for me.

So 10k and 800m of elevation later we got to the top. It was AMAZING. It was apparently the Monte Serra mountains we crossed, and starting the descent, we could look over the side and see all of the eastern Tuscan plain and then a short while later, look to the west and see to the sea. Unbelievable.

After a terrifying descent, I got down and made my way across to Lucca and now am here, showered, and about to go find pizza and somewhere to wash my clothes. Awesome.

But seriously, 115k of flat/rolling, then a leg-eating 10k climb (that was apparently part of the Giro D'Italia 3 or 4 years ago), then a descent and like 20v into Lucca for a total of like 146km. Holymoly.