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Red Deer

Todayville Travel: Spring in Italy Part 2

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Second in the two-part series ‘Spring in Italy’.

“My head was down, focused on my churning bicycle pedals and the relentless climb up a twisting cobblestone road. What was I doing here? I’m not even fond of biking.”

The Most Serene Republic of San Marino is located smack dab in the middle of Italy. At 62 sq. km. it is one of the smallest nations in the world. Although only a few dozen kilometers from Italy’s Adriatic Coast, San Marino’s summit is almost 800 meters above sea level. And crowning this mountainous micro-state is the medieval Fortress of Guaita. My destination.

But I wasn’t looking up. My head was down, focused on my churning bicycle pedals and the relentless climb up a twisting cobblestone road. What was I doing here? I’m not even fond of biking.

I needed the exercise. We had been in Italy for almost two weeks and had yet to actually earn any of the fabulous meals we had devoured.

It was a tough three-hour slog to San Marino’s pinnacle – but an easy glide back down to the coastal town of Riccione, and the Belvedere Hotel where we were ensconced for four nights. The Belvedere is a “biker’s” hotel. Marina Pasquini, the proprietress, is a dynamic effervescent woman. Marina exudes the qualities of both caring mother and astute businesswoman. Her staff love her – and feed off her magnetism. This osmotic energy carries through to the guests – who are treated like family.

Marina is a wonderful cook. So after a gruelling 70-kilometre ride, I felt justified in accepting a second helping of her traditional Friday night paella. Marina is also an observant woman (I wouldn’t try stealing any silverware from the Belvedere). When we checked in she noted I was toting a ukulele:

“Would you like to play at lunch this afternoon? You’ll be biking up to a farmhouse and winery in the hills.”

“I can’t carry the ukulele on my bicycle,” I replied.

“Don’t worry, we can bring it up for you,” she said happily. “It will be wonderful.”

How could I say no?

Marina and her Friday night paella

“…I enjoyed driving in Italy. Despite their crazy reputation, I found Italian drivers really get it (unlike some folks piloting cars on Alberta’s highways)…”

On the ride up my wife Florence had bike problems. Her chain kept falling off. Our guide Dani-boy was nonchalant and pleasantly attended to each messy repair. When we arrived at the farmhouse his hands were black with grease.

Thanks Dani!

During lunch I scoured my brain for an appropriate tune to entertain a group of bicycle aficionados in the Rimini hills of Italy. After a four-course meal, a sweet dolce and plenty of vino di casa, the group was rambunctious. I tentatively plinked the ukulele.

An exhausted Gerry enjoys the view from the summit of San Marino

My truncated version of Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” went over well.

Then I recounted Florence’s bike chain maladies by singing (with apologies to the Beatles):

“Chain, my baby’s got a tangled-up chain,

And it ain’t the kind, that you can cl-e-e-e-an,

But Dani-boy, fixed her chain for me. Yeah.”

The crowd went wild. Bike enthusiasts can be real nerds.

Dani-boy had a genuine tear in his eye. Despite their hot-blooded temperament, Italians can be surprisingly sentimental.

On our last Belvedere morning, as we checked out, the skies opened up. Disheartened cyclists, decked out in jerseys from around the world, sat and scanned the dreary sky. The ride was off for the day. Rain, steep narrow roads, zany Italian drivers and over-enthusiastic bicyclists do not mix well.

Marina was in the foyer to bid us arrivederci, offering a genuine hug – and a request that we soon return.

We were off to Tuscany, the final leg of our month-long stay in Italia. The GPS indicated that our AirBnb in Lucca was three hours away. But as per our usual modus operandi we took the road less travelled and turned what should have been a short jaunt into a seven-hour odyssey through the twisting narrow country roads and unsurpassable beauty of Tuscany.

The road less traveled

I enjoyed driving in Italy. Despite their crazy reputation, I found Italian drivers really get it (unlike some folks piloting cars on Alberta’s highways). I survived a month driving in Italy without incident: no fender-benders on narrow cobblestone streets, no roundabout collisions – and not one Italian offered a gesticulation as to where I might go and procreate.

However… it will be a miracle if the post office doesn’t eventually deliver a slew of photo-radar tickets and one-way street infractions. It is not an understatement to suggest that compliance with Italian driving laws is impossible. And Italian roads require super-human navigating skills. Florence (and our GPS) performed admirably – we were lost fewer than a dozen times.

When we arrived in Lucca our hostess met us outside the town walls, helped us park and escorted us to her lovely apartment in the heart of the Old City. (Our AirBnb experience throughout Italy was amazing. Our hosts were uniformly friendly, helpful – and available. Many even stocked the fridge with Italian delights for our arrival.)

Lucca

One fine afternoon we signed up for a wine-tasting tour in the famous Brunello region of Montalcino, near Sienna. En route we passed vineyard after vineyard, interrupted only by ancient olive groves. And it seemed every Tuscan hill was topped by an alluring fairytale-like village – with stone spires guarding the verdant fields of Italian spring.

“Mario loves making vino, his passion for sixty years. He has a certain – pardon my French – joie de vivre.”

Mario Ciacci is the octogenarian who founded and still oversees Abbadia Ardenga winery – although these days Mario’s role seems limited to entertaining customers, dancing with the lady guests – and sipping a little of his own beautifully-aged Brunello. He proudly walked us through the vintner’s process – and his priceless cellar – before serving us a simple lunch coupled with a multitude of his Abbadia vintages.

Mario Ciacci woos the ladies – when not making wine

Mario loves making vino, his passion for sixty years. He has a certain – pardon my French – joie de vivre. Mario is also a seasoned salesman; in addition to my traffic tickets, any day now we’re expecting an overseas shipment of Brunello wine.

After three nights in Lucca and four in Sienna we moved on to Orvieto for our final few Italian nights. In each of these towns the itinerary was simple: explore the narrow, confusing streets of the city core for a day, then hop in the car and tour the surrounding countryside for a couple of days.

Ponte Della Madallena near Lucca

“The gold-gilded façade of the Duomo is spectacular at sunset.”

All of these walled cities have their unique character but Orvieto is perhaps the most charming – and interesting. Built atop a flat butte of volcanic tuff, the town has remained impregnable for millennia. Its high walls provide a natural defense that could not be breached. The city was also immune to enemy siege. Water was drawn from the ingeniously designed well of San Patrizio and food literally flew in through the windows: the people farmed pigeons. Thus both food and water were readily available without leaving the protection of the fortress.

Orvieto is home to one of Italy’s most striking Gothic cathedrals. The gold-gilded façade of the Duomo is spectacular at sunset. And beneath the streets an ancient labyrinth of tunnels was carved into the tuff, designed for quick escape. (Perhaps flight from this siege-proof city would have been necessary had Orvieto been infiltrated by stool pigeons?)

Duomo in Orvieto

We’ve been home for some time now and the traffic tickets have yet to arrive – but I take solace in the fact that when they do there will be a hearty glass of Brunello at hand to ease the pain.

If you go: The Belvedere Hotel specializes in hosting bike enthusiasts from around the world.

Gerry Feehan QC practised law in Red Deer for 27 years before starting his second life as a freelance travel writer and photographer. He says that, while being a lawyer is more remunerative than travel writing, it isn’t nearly as much fun. When not on the road, Gerry and his wife Florence live in Red Deer and Kimberley, BC. Todayville is proud to work with Gerry to re-publish some of his most compelling stories from his vast catalogue developed over more than a decade of travel.

Gerry Feehan

THANKS to these great partners for making this series possible.

Read about Gerry’s adventures in Hawaii

Enjoy an excellent adventure in Texas.  Click below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Business

Downtown Business Spotlight: Petrichor Massage Therapy

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This week’s Business Spotlight shines on Petrichor Massage Therapy! This unique business is located within Paris Aesthetic in the Bunn Building (#2-4820 Gaetz ave, Red Deer)

What is your business?

Registered Massage Therapy.

When did your business open?

February 15th, 2021 (brand new, baby!)

What makes your business unique?

I don’t have different “types” of massage that you must choose between for your treatment (relaxation, Swedish, therapeutic, deep tissue, etc), instead I only book by the time slot. This is means every massage session is perfectly tailored to your needs and goals! My favorite thing to do is scalp and neck massage, you’ve got to get on my table and experience it!

 

What are some products/services that you offer?

60/90/120 minute massage therapy services

Why did you choose Downtown Red Deer?

You can’t beat the convenience of the location.

What do you think makes Downtown vibrant?

All of the different kinds of businesses all smashed together in such a small location! I also love all the programs centered around the downtown location, there’s a definite sense of community.

I love Downtown Red Deer because…

It’s got an undeniable “cool” vibe, it feels so fresh to be involved with a part of my community that’s so vibrant and hip.

Facebook: Petrichor Massage Therapy | Facebook

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Alberta

THERE’S A BETTER WAY

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There's a Better Way
Open Letter to Central Albertans
 
February 26, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Red Deer – Mountain View, AB
 
I spoke with an Alberta government official in mid-December 2020 re: the status of the proposed recovery community facility in Red Deer, as originally announced in mid-July 2020. I was informed that the project is bogged down in the bureaucratic process. The official hoped that there would be a public update prior to Christmas but this has yet to occur.
 
With that being said, I wanted to propose a project that I came across that may be beneficial for Red Deer and Central Alberta.
 
To my knowledge, the project originated in Albuquerque, New Mexico and is called “There’s a Better Way”. Please see this YouTube link for a short video on the project.
 

 
In a nutshell, the program aims at providing flexible work opportunities to those experiencing homelessness in order for them to earn some cash and be better connected with services. The ultimate goal of the program is to provide a base for which these individuals can move into permanent housing and full-time employment.
 
I truly feel that giving people the dignity of work makes an immense difference in their life. This is very evident in 2020-21 as many people have lost their jobs, their businesses and ultimately, their sense of purpose in life.
 
I have reached out to representatives from Safe Harbour, Turning Point and the Mustard Seed as I feel their involvement would be crucial. All three organizations expressed interest in pursuing a similar program for Red Deer. The major concerns they expressed in seeing this program get off the ground were twofold:
 
  1. Funding for staff to facilitate the project along with funding to employ individuals through the program.
  2. Partnership with the City of Red Deer to provide opportunities to complete manual labour tasks within the community. (cleaning up garbage, shovelling snow, etc.)
 
I reached out to the City of Red Deer (including the Mayor and all city councilors) along with Red Deer North and South MLAs on February 10, 2021 to discuss the merits of the program in light of the delays to the proposed recovery community facility. I have yet to receive a response.
 
For 2021, Red Deer City Council is recommending funding of $516,974 for Urban Encampment and Debris Cleanup on Public Lands. My initial thoughts were to see if the “There’s a Better Way” program could be funded through an allocation of some of the funds earmarked for the rough sleeper and drug debris cleanup. Additionally, the program could be funded through private sector donations to the previously noted organizations. Amounts donated to these organizations would qualify for a donation tax credit regardless of whether the funds were donated personally or via your corporation.
 
If you, your organization or anyone you know feel that there would be an opportunity for a program such as this to operate within Red Deer, I would love to discuss this further with you.
 
Thank you in advance for your consideration in this matter.
 
Sincerely,
 
Jared Pilon
Libertarian Party Candidate for Red Deer – Mountain View, AB
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march, 2021

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