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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Museum Sunday Two

Another museum Sunday was not the plan, but when we woke up this morning to gray skies and wet roads, our original plan to take the train with our road bikes to Lago Bracciano to ride around the lake and enjoy a leisurely Sunday pranzo were scrapped. While the forecast for the rest of the day wasn't dismal, we were not real keen on riding fenderless road bikes on wet roads, even if the sun would come out and dry them eventually.

"Plan B" quickly formed: why not walk over to the Baths of Caracalla? A museum of sorts, but one outside rather than inside, meaning we could enjoy those sunny skies if they appeared while getting some reasonable exercise. As you can see above, they eventually did. The ride around the lake could wait for another sunny Sunday (we hope).

This must have been an amazing complex. The black and white mosaics covered the second floor, which has fallen down but with pieces displayed propped up against the still-standing walls.

Our full-on Sunday pranzo was still in the plans however. We wandered over to the now trendy Testaccio district (think Trastevere a few decades ago) hoping to score a table for two at Flavio Velavevodetta which we found via Osteria d'Italia, the Slowfood "bible".

No tables were open right away, so we put our name in and wandered around this now trendy district. full of run down buildings housing nightclubs and what look like squatter's camps. The whole thing seems just edgy enough to attract hipsters without scaring away anyone with any real danger, at least during the day.

After a lap around Testaccio and a visit to a bike shop specializing in bici d'epoca called Ciclo, we headed back to Flavio and had a table pretty quickly, settling in for a nice Roman pranzo. A vegetable antipasto plate with a very nice caponata flanked by a pair of excellent suppli started us off, followed (again the portions are insanely large) by a shared plate of rigatoni in a sauce made from oxtails. This was good, not great. Second plates were an excellent hunter's style rabbit with lots of tasty olives and a peppery bite and a so-so involtino in tomato sauce. A very fresh mixed salad and some roasted potatoes completed our meal, washed down with Tufaliccio, a red blend from Lazio. Again like last week, we had no room for dessert and wanted to try another gelato place on the way home anyway.

Fior di Luna was suggested by someone here at the Academy as their favorite and after our sad experience last week, we were ready to be happy. We were! THIS was gelato like we remembered, creamy, rich and full of flavor.

Needless to say, another great Sunday in Rome, despite not riding our bicycles.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Museum Sunday

We've enjoyed a fair amount of cycling in the past week so Sunday was museum day. After sleeping in a bit (hey, it WAS Sunday morning after all!) and a stop at Bar Gianicolo (like last Sunday) we wandered down the hill and across Rome, our destination the National Museum of the Baths of Diocletian. Since we'd skipped cycling after riding up Monte Mario (a story for another time) on Saturday morning, we enjoyed the extended walk. The museum was not very crowded and we bought tix to let us into a few more over the next few days.

After this it was on to the museum called Palazzo Massimo, one of our favorites. They have the famous bronze "boxer" sculpture here, one we chased all over Rome years ago, only to find it being restored or on tour. At one time it was housed elsewhere and we finally tracked it down but now it seems to have a permanent home here. Larry likes that one just fine, but his favorite piece in this museum is pictured above. How can you beat a combination of a fantastically carved marble that happens to be of a beautiful young woman, naked and asleep? Does are get any better than this?

But then there's the flip side, as shown above. Not exactly a young woman I guess? Somehow I bet the sculptor had a mischievous grin on his face while carving this. Last time Larry was here, hoping to enjoy seeing this one again, IT was on tour! But she/he/it was here this time and looking as beautiful as always.

The collections of beautiful sculptures can be overwhelming, so two museums this morning was enough, especially as they ran into the afternoon as well. Between them we snacked on suppli and split a birra, hoping to enjoy a full-on Sunday pranzo afterwards.

It started to rain pretty hard once we exited Massimo so we beat a quick path, hoping to find one of our favorite eateries open and with a table for us. But Asino d'Oro is closed on Sundays so we were out of luck. As we walked down the rainy street dodging puddles, we'd spied another place and thought it might be OK as a backup plan. 

Osteria 16 turned out to be much better than we hoped. It was pouring rain as we stumbled into a packed dining room around 2:30 PM. They told us they could happily feed us but we'd need to wait a bit. We sat down, as where else were we going in this downpour? The wait was not long and soon we were enjoying hand-sliced prosciutto from Amatrice and fried zucchini flowers along with a bottle of Cesanese wine from Lazio.

We wisely split a plate (portions were insanely large) of gnocchi with gorgonzola and radicchio, saving room for coda al vaccinara (oxtail stew) for Heather and roasted maialino (suckling pig) for Larry, along with some artichokes and roasted potatoes. We skipped dessert as we were just too full and thought gelato might be a better option during our walk home.

San Crispino's gelato turned out to be a let-down compared to our fond memories, but overall it was a wonderful Sunday in Rome.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Cycling the old Appian Way

Years ago we rented some junky MTB's on one of Rome's "car free Sundays" and headed off to explore the Appia Antica, the ancient Appian Way out of Rome. Despite the crappy bikes we had a blast bouncing over the old stones and exploring this ancient Roman road.

Heather added an excursion here to a philosophy conference she produced in Rome later and thought the Fellows here at the American Academy might enjoy it as much as her fellow philosophers did.

She booked a tour with Top Bike Rental & Tours for the group this past Sunday.

Sundays the Academy bar is closed, so the first order of business this morning was cappuccino and ciambelle. We're lucky that the Bar Gianicolo is just around the corner and was pretty quiet at 8 AM. We lucked out with sunny, clear skies after some serious rain earlier in the week. The Top Bike folks assured us it wasn't too muddy or wet to enjoy the ride. This time we had our own bikes so off we went down near the Colosseum to meet the rest of the group, about 20 in total.

Above you see Heather with her group. They broke us up into two groups and Larry went with the other, acting as sort of deputy tour guide by riding at the back so our leader could see when everyone had arrived and he or she could then head off again after a stop to describe something along the way.

Here we stopped for drinks and Heather bounced over the stones for a photo. Supposedly these massive blocks once formed a smooth surface with room for two chariots to pass and sidewalks for pedestrians on each side. The stones were pulled up in recent times and not replaced with the same care as the Roman soldiers who built these roads had used, making for a pretty rough surface. Our friend Mauro Mondonico told us the old Giro di Lazio used to run over some of these roads, but these blocks are even tougher than those of the famous Paris-Roubaix classic so eventually the practice was dropped. Now the reborn Roma Maxima event runs only along the more modern (and much smaller) cobblestone streets of central Rome.

This used to be the main entrance to Rome from the Appian Way. Here we're going out and off to that bar in the previous photo. Most ordered cappuccini here, but Larry had already had his this morning and thought this beautiful ride and great weather called for a toast with prosecco! There were a few "geez, why didn't I think of that" looks as he clinked his glass against everyone else' coffee cup. Soon enough we were back on our way.

Most of the Fellows and friends were pretty much novice cyclists. Top Bike provides user-friendly MTB's in good condition though Larry the Mechanic did put a few chains back on and made some adjustments here and there. These bikes take a beating all day from novice riders, we pushed a few up a hill or two when they couldn't seem to find the right gear. We veered off the Appian Way to tour the acqueduct park before looping back to the Top Bike HQ. We started around 9:30 AM and finished around 2:30 PM, almost too late for pranzo!

But never fear... we had reservations! Heather called the folks at LUZZI to tell them we were running late so we didn't wait too long in the mob of folks outside without reservations and were soon enjoying classic Roman dishes, though they were already out of the famous oxtail stew, which brought frowns to a lot of faces. But after mixed antipasti, various plates of pasta followed by sausage, pork chops or grilled chicken, everyone was stuffed and happy!

If you find yourself in Rome and want to see some ancient things very difficult to see any other way while getting a bit of exercise in the process, you'll enjoy this tour. The standard version includes a visit to the catacombs and a wine and cheese tasting, which we skipped to keep the costs low enough for everyone to join us.

This was a Buona Domenica in every way!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cannon shot!

Since we're living here on the Janiculum Hill, it's a 5-minute walk at midday for the ceremonial cannon shot just below Piazza Garibaldi.

You can read all about it via the links above, but what happens is this:

About 11:45 each morning, an olive-green van drives up with soldiers inside. Crowds gather around, both above on the piazza and down below as the soldiers unlock the door and drag this WWII vintage cannon outside.

There's some standing around and smoking of cigarettes, then the ceremony begins with soldiers flanking the cannon. The call is given to load the big gun and a charge is inserted. Some salutes are made and a countdown starts with 15 seconds to go. By this time the crowds are thick, especially above, where the view of Rome is extraordinary. At exactly 12 noon, BOOOOOOOOOOMMMM!!!! and then the church bells ring all across the Eternal City. Depending on the weather and crowds, the soldiers pose for photos for awhile before wheeling the cannon back inside, piling into their van and heading back to wherever they are based.

We spent the month of January at the Academy a few years ago, back when the gatekeepers went to lunch precisely at noon. We lived across the street and were told that the gates could not be opened for anyone to get in or out while the gatekeeper took his 30 minutes for lunch. This meant if you were inside and wanted to be across the street in your apartment, you'd better get through the gate BEFORE you heard the cannon shot! Both yours truly and Heather lost track of the time now and then and were forced to wait until the gatekeeper returned. These days those living here have special electronic keys to get in and out and there's a backup gatekeeper, just-in-case.

Some detail photos of the monument in the center of Piazza Garibaldi

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Legendary Climbs 2015 - Edizione Speciale

The Dolomites: where God takes His vacations!

Our Legendary Climbs 2015 tour, scheduled for July 5-16, 2015 sold-out in just a few weeks after we began to accept reservations.

Missed out? Don't worry, but do hurry as we've added a second departure July 19-30, 2015. Same itinerary as the original but there are now just THREE places left on this one, so don't miss out if you'd like to join us on a tour selected as one of "15 Trips We Love" by BICYCLING Magazine in 2008.

Contact us right away for reservations on this EDIZIONE SPECIALE.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Cycling along the Tiber

The search for places to ride continues. Sunday's ROAR didn't reveal any place to ride that wouldn't likely cause one to end up a hood ornament on a Roman's Mercedes, so this time it was along the Tiber. After the normal Roman traffic chaos to get down off the Janiculum Hill  tranquility beckons.

Lungotevere they call it here. A bike....well, let's just say "no cars" trail running along the famous river. Above is the pedestrian-only Ponte Sisto, the shortest way for us to walk to the center of Rome.

Cyclists and walkers are not the only ones out here. As you can see above rowers also use the peaceful environs for some exercise.

Within a few kms the trail swings back up to the surface, though the trail is separate from the roadway rather than just a stripe painted on the pavement.

Though you DO have to cross some busy thoroughfares. You make a right turn here - note the bike-specific traffic light.

But soon enough you're back on a peaceful trail with no auto traffic to bother with.

There's even a bike rental yard down here, though most of the machines looked pretty beat-up.

The pavement is generally good, though sometimes tree roots push up the asphalt in spots so you won't be breaking any speed records here.

About 10 kms out the scenery changes to more wide open spaces, including this polo field for the horsey set.

And a driving range for the golfing set.

Plus a nice park with a lake.

But it's not all for the 1% as you see sheep doing their thing out here as well.

The trail ends (at a bike shop!) with our cyclometers showing just over 20 kms from the Academy. If we return the same way and include the short bit in the other direction along the Tiber we can enjoy a 50 km ride more-or-less. May not sound like a lot, but when compared to what we might be doing in freezing Iowa this winter instead, it looks pretty good!

Meanwhile the search for other cycling options continues...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


ROMA - OSTIA Andato e Ritorno or ROAR was held this past Sunday. Larry thought "perche no?" and signed up.....for what was billed as a passagiata. Turns out the "race" required a license and Larry let his lapse years ago. Why this was needed vs l'Eroica or the GF Campagnolo we recently participated in remains a mystery.

The "race" or gara in Italian, was a true out-and-back with closed roads and police escort while the citizen event was just out with a return on the train. With only 33 kms out it seemed barely worth it, but Larry decided to show up and see what developed.

First, he had to find where the start was so off he went on Friday afternoon on the MTB along the Tiber's cycling/running/etc. trail. This ended in just a few kilometers and forced one up to the surface level on a bike trail through some apartment blocks before dumping out onto a major boulevard. This went along for awhile with double-parked cars, buses and trash bins to dodge before turning into a high-speed autostrada-like road to EUR where the start was to be on Sunday.

That road was a little "hair-ball" but with the MTB Larry could hop the curb if needed and while Friday afternoon was probably NOT the best time to check this out, Sunday morning should be much, much quieter?

So Sunday morning yours truly was off after a neighborhood bar stop for cappuccino and a donut. The busy road was quieter around 8 AM on a Sunday, so getting there was far less "hair-ball" and while the start took a bit of riding around to locate, I was there in plenty of time to pay the registration fee and get my "schwag" which consisted of a neon orange scrunchy bag containing an equally neon orange fleece hat/neck gaiter, a tramezzino (those triangular sandwiches you see in bars made from sliced white bread with the crusts cut off) a bottle of water and a banana.

I threw the cords of the bag around my shoulders and wandered over to the starting line. The photo shows the first wave of the gara lining up. I'd entertained the idea of jumping into the race so I could enjoy closed roads both out and back vs having to throw my bike in a stack of others on some train, but these guys looked pretty fit - I'd probably get dropped in no time.

But then the second wave of "racers" lined up. There were some fat guys, some others with just sneakers and flat pedals (though they had modern road bikes and all the rest of the kit) and even a few MTB's with road tires. I saw the participants of the citizen event start to fill the next wave - all kinds of clunky bikes and riders who looked like this might have been their first (or second) bike ride of the season. After being surrounded by MTB's in the GF Campagnolo, I really didn't want to be in this group.

As the second wave of the race went off I jumped in. There were others without numbers visible but I was probably the only one with the tell-tale neon orange scrunchy bag...but it was on my back so by the time the course control folks could yell at me I was already past them. I figured all I had to do was stay ahead of the car with the big "FINE GARA CICLISTICA" sign on top.

I caught onto a small group as the hammer-heads vanished into the distance. This group looked to be controlled by a big guy on a Moser bicycle. I quickly dubbed him "The Sheriff" as they used to call Francesco Moser back-in-the-day. After things settled down a bit I heard The Sheriff tell his friends (many of whom were riding with flat pedals and sneakers and having a trouble holding a straight line, unlike the Sheriff himself) that they had some parasites in their group. I knew he was referring to me, so I asked in my horrible Italian, if his was a private group while remarking that he was sort of the Sheriff, like Moser.  He laughed, then replied that I was welcome and asked my name and where I was from. Turned out they were happy to have an American in their group along with Rodrigo, a guy from the Phillippines. He had a bright red brand-S bike with fancy carbon aero wheels, though this bike made awful noises in most of its gears and he too had trouble holding a straight line.

I've always believed if you are allowed in someone else' group, you make darn sure YOU hold a straight line and take a pull when it's your turn, so on we went down the straight, fairly flat, two-lanes on each side with steel guardrails surrounding us, road. This road seemed to be normally the way Romans blasted off to the beach on a Sunday morning, but today it was closed to everyone except us. I would NEVER ride on this road at any other time (though I'm told some do)as it would be like riding on the freeway back in the USA, but it was fun to zoom along with only a few other riders to be concerned with.

Soon enough the sea came into view and we turned right to cruise along the coast before turning back, making sort of a T before swinging back onto the wide, guardrailed road back to EUR. The Sheriff's group broke up a bit on the slight inclines, even the Sheriff himself dropped off the back for awhile, but I waited for him. Heck, he and his group had pretty much towed me the whole way, despite having to know I was not really in the race. How could I just leave The Sheriff now? The group came back together once The Sheriff caught up.

My plan was to avoid crossing the finish line, but I ended up shunted into the group with no way to avoid it. Just like that we were thrust back into normal auto traffic, which by this time had picked up quite a bit.  After thanking The Sheriff and his deputies for their hospitality and handing him a business card, I was able to find my way back to the start to eat my tramezzino before setting off for "home". 

75 kms in total was just right, and left me with an excellent appetite for a full on Italian Sunday PRANZO in the afternoon followed by a nap!