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?
“…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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 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.
“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?)
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.
THANKS to these great partners for making this series possible.
Enjoy an excellent adventure in Texas. Click below.
High Performance Leaders Need Rest and Play
With the change of season, it’s a great time to reflect on how you might want to adjust using your time and energy.
How many of us have forgotten how to REST? How many of us have forgotten how to PLAY?
I am guilty of not being aware of play or creating the rest I needed. I spent YEARS breathing way too fast, racing from task to task and event to event.
I somehow believed that my worth was attached to what was accomplished. Leaving something undone was actually painful.
Rest and play are not just important, they are critical.
Researcher Stuart Brown says that the opposite of play isn’t actually work, it’s depression. Sadly, I know this all too well too.
What happens to us when we don’t rest and play? Creativity suffers. Relationships suffer. Effectiveness suffers. Clarity and purpose suffer. Decision making ability suffers. Our overall capacity for resilience suffers.
Can you relate?
There is one simple metaphor that helps me choose when REST and PLAY are important: an elastic band.
When we work so hard, give and parent, the elastic band is stretched with each new effort. Some elastics have far more “give” and can stretch great distances, much like each persons ability to work.
Be careful to not let pride and ego take over here…. elastics have a breaking point. So do we.
It’s impossible to know when an elastic has reached it’s breaking point. There are clues, but sometimes they surprise us.
What clues are in your life? Are you paying attention to the clues? Have you already learned this lesson, but need to learn it again?
Better than stretching an elastic to breaking point, is a the use of an elastic to stretch and release. Work and rest. Play.
Referring back to the body of research by Dr. Stuart Brown, play is time spent without purpose; time spent when we can lose track of time and self consciousness.
For me, that usually involves being in nature or in water…. and that is where I find hope, rest, creativity and a tonne of joy.
Where do you feel like you lose track of time and self consciousness?
That’s your zone.
Find it and make sure you refuel.
The purpose of an elastic is to stretch. For that it must contract.
Work can be immensely satisfying. For that we must find rest.
We cannot give something that we don’t have.
What do you find restful? Where do you lose track of time?
What resources do you have to employ a period of rest?
Are your holidays restful and playful for you or are they a different form of work?
Do you have any practices in place that allow you to shut off your phone?
Give yourself what you need if you’re feeling stretched and ask yourself what is important. Get curious. Then breathe deep and make some choices.
There may be hard choices at first. As you get better at playing and resting, you’ll become better at it.
You’ll thank yourself.
With more than 25 years serving communities throughout Saskatchewan and Alberta, Alana Peters has a heart for people who take responsibility for people and processes; leaders. Her commitment is to equip leaders with skills and mindsets to improve their capacity and resilience with relevant and individualized coaching and training.
Alana is a teacher, Certified Executive Coach, Certified Daring Way Facilitator and Certified Dare to Lead Facilitator. She’s committed to making a difference in organizations and with individuals who want to make a difference!
St Joseph High School student to represent Alberta at Skills National Competition
From Red Deer Catholic Schools
Students from École Secondaire Notre Dame High School, St. Joseph High School and St. Francis of Assisi Middle School participated in the Skills Alberta Competition on May 8-9 in Edmonton.
“The Skills Alberta competition provides a unique opportunity for students from all over the province to showcase and develop their individual gift and talents. Students train for several months perfecting their skills and have the opportunity to advance from zones to provincials to nationals and then to worlds. While it is nice to win and advance, the ultimate goal is having our students experience growth in their trade area. Many of our students gain lifelong friends and industry connections,” said CTS Department Head, Tracey Millar from Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools.
The students competed from École Secondaire Notre Dame High School were:
- Toni Carlson – Senior Hairstyling – finished in 10th place
- Jayne Evans – Job Skill Demonstration– finished in 6th place
The student competed from St. Joseph High School were:
- Noah Nowochin – Electrical Installations – finished in 1st place
- Andrew Heidebrecht – Electrical Installations– finished in 2nd place
The student competed from St. Francis of Assisi Middle School was:
- Jacob Mudry – Junior Culinary Challenge – finished in 4th place
Noah Nowochin will continue on to compete in the Skills National Competition in Halifax on May 28 and 29.
For the past 12 years, our division has brought home 16 medals and eight of them being gold in the electrical wiring competition.
For more information, please visit https://skillsalberta.com/
St Joseph High School student to represent Alberta at Skills National Competition
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