Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Running in Italy: Hahahaha

We're back!

Italy is a wonderful country to visit.  Italians are both friendly and accommodating.  Even to Canadian tourists who have not really bothered to learn any but the most basic Italian expressions.  In my perverse travelling world (I'm a fireman in that world) I thought that knowing English, French and a smattering of Spanish would suffice to communicate in Italy.  Wrong!  Had I learned German, I would have had no trouble, especially in the the north (Dolomite mountains).  No matter.  After picking up a car at the Florence (Firenze) airport, which was a bad idea of epic proportions, we immediately got lost.  Something to do with not understanding what the signs mean, not being able to read Italian and adjusting to roads that in Canada we call "single track"...  A local in a gas station somewhere west of Florence (we were supposed to be heading south) spent 10 minutes in broken English, providing us with instructions (spoken and written) on how to get to San Gimignano.  No, don't even attempt to pronounce it, unless you are from Tuscany.  Even then, I think Tuscanians go to "Learn to say Gimignano" school for a year or two.

Creemore Vertical Challenge Update

Oh!  Before getting into Italy, I should mention that while we were in Italy, the Creemore Echo had a cute picture of a six foot black bear, which was in someones back yard on August 6, two days before the race.  Apparently, the wasp nests that were strewn across two of the trails was due to a bear.  Those who were stung might take some solace that they were not mauled.

Back to Italy

Scheduling a flight to Europe 4 days after staging a race is not the best idea.  Although I rushed to complete all the post-race tasks, I was not able to complete all of the finances and storing of race gear.  I am still working away at some race related tasks.  Today, I separated the trail flags into same-colour bundles of 100 and put them away.

The flight to Firenze (Florence) was uneventful, but LONG.  I do not sleep on an airplane.  As a firefighter (note:  My travelling world) I need to be ready at a moments notice in case the captain needs me to put out a fire in the cockpit.  So, we were up at about 8:00 AM, went for a run, packed and drove to the airport.  The flight left at 5:30 PM and landed in Amsterdam at 12:35 AM.  After a 3 hour layover, the flight to Firenze took off on time and landed at 6:00 AM.  After a 22 hour day, I found out it was noon in Firenze!  We checked into the hotel at about 3:00 PM (9:00 AM EST) and the rest of the day is a bit hazy.

Florence is an amazing city.  We stayed in the old part, just off the tourist area.  Our hotel was originally a convent built in the 1400's.  It is a strange feeling to walk up a set of stairs and realize that people who died 500 years ago used the very same steps.  Although most of the bridges that spanned the Arno river were blown up during the second world war. We ran across one were Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo had an arguement.  It is hard for Canadians to put Florence history into proper context!

After insufficient sightseeing in Florence (give yourself at least a week, unless you are a Renaissance buff, in which case 4 years should do the trick), we then travelled to the Dolomite mountains in the north.  Note to fellow travellers:  Be careful travelling on Italian holidays.  We tried, on Saturday August 15 (yes, a holiday Saturday...  No, I did not ask why) to get from Florence to La Valle, in the Badia valley.  Quick tip:  All towns in northern Italy have 2 names.  Something to do with the region once being Austrian.  One is German and the other Italian.  The town names (German and Italian) are not always similar in spelling.  This does not include oddities like Florence, which is Firenze in Italian.  It will confuse you, so let's move on.  We had train tickets from Florence to Bolzano (Bozen) but 2 things happened.  1.  Our train left from a different train station than the one we were near (!) so we took a train to the "other" train station.  2.  The buses from Bolzano to Badia (close to where we were going) were not running due to the holiday.  Even the train from Bolzano to Brunico (Bruneck) was not running.   We found all this out after arriving in Bolzano...

The ticket attendant in Bolzano was some sort of genius of the Italian transportation system.  No other way to describe it.  He had us take 2 trains to get to San Lorenzo, then told us which bus to take, to get to Pederoa, which was close enough to the hotel that the owners could pick us up.  So, even on a holiday Saturday, it is possible to get from Florence to La Valle, but you either need to take 4 trains and 2 buses, or hire a helicopter...

The Pider hotel (pronounced like Peter) was fantastic.  If you ever want to hike the Dolomites, book the Pider hotel.  There were 5 - 6 epic hikes starting from the front door, or you can take the bus (that stops at the front door - unless it is a holiday...) to many more.  We stayed at Pider for a week.  The bedroom was spacious and modern, with a beautiful balcony overlooking the Dolomites and the town of La Valle, Wengen.  With accommodations, breakfast, supper, wine, laundry and the odd packed lunch and drink in the bar, our bill for the week was $1400.  Not bad, considering the meals were upscale and the wine was incredible.

We did not run as much in the Dolomites, mainly because 8 - 10 hour hikes up mountains seemed to be a sufficient amount of exercise for each and every day.  The hikes were challenging and the views were breathtaking.  I took 500 pictures, which is extraordinary for me.  I like landscape shots, which typically don't change much during a hike.  Not so in the Dolomites.  Around every corner was something new, or very old.  We took pictures of a church that was built on the side of a mountain by miners in 1389.  The rock striations would change colours every so often.  Pictures don't really do it justice, but 500 photos starts to paint a picture, pardon the pun...

After the Dolomites, and 2 buses and 4 trains, we were back in Florence, where we rented a car at the airport, to travel to San Gimignano, a medieval town south of Florence.  San Gimi is famous as it has 14 of its 70+ towers still standing.  Most medieval towns knocked their towers down throughout the ensuing centuries.  In the 1300's it was de-vogue to erect a tower beside your house, in order to provide a presence, house your army and whatever other reasons medieval people needed to rationalize such a huge endeavour.  Of course the towers had to be higher than their neighbour's tower, so some reached upwards of 230 feet.  I was quietly hoping none of the towers' structural supports would fail while we were there...

Running in Tuscany keeps you on your toes.  The streets are narrow and heaven forbid they put in a curb, sidewalk, ditch, or any other such structure for those who are not hitting mach 3 in their Ferraris...  Although we had a few dicey moments while running beside a rock wall on a left-hand curve, 6 inches from the road surface that was suddenly occupied by a tour bus, the scenery was beautiful and (according to Lee Anne), the grapes, olives, peaches, nectarines, plums and figs were a fantastic natural aid station.  Okay, the olives were not ripe, but you get the picture!

After some wine tasting and touring the town, it was back to Florence for the flight home.  The only excitement on the trip home was when our flight to Amsterdam was slightly delayed, and we figured out we had 45 minutes to disembark, clear security and make it the full length of the airport to reach our connecting flight.  The flight was boarding when we got to our gate!

So, we will certainly be back to Italy at some point in the future.

Next is a trip to Tennessee where Lee Anne will run in the "Race for the Ages".  Our good friend Sharon Zelinksi is also going and we will be travelling together.  Strange concept for a race!  Check out the website:



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