Monday, September 29, 2008

Update from London Airport

As I sit here in Heathrow Airport waiting for my flight home I thought I would take a couple of moments and put together some thoughts about the trip since this is the first time I have had a good internet connection in four days. I do not know how long I will be able to maintain writing this as I am limited by my computer’s batteries’ life and my bladder’s ability to hold the pint of bitter I just drank in O’Neill’s Pub. I apologize in advance for any disjointed flows in thought, but as my friends will attest, my thoughts do not ever travel in a straight line but wander to and fro like a dog sniffing at every bush and pole searching for the best spot to leave its mark. Hmmm. Maybe comparing my thought process to a urinating dog is not a great metaphor…Well; I’ll try to start from where I last left off.

We left Turin in sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s with the decision that we would try to hit Bavaria that night. The traffic was not too bad leaving the city, but it still took 30 minutes to get from the hotel to the Autostrada. I followed the traffic signs instead of listening to the GPS and that added a few minutes. Turin is not an unbeautiful city, but it is very industrial looking in many places. The young people here, however, are some of the most beautiful that I have ever seen. I heard that the Italian women were the most beautiful in the world (Sophia Loren…sigh) and I am now not inclined to disagree. But the men, too, were beautiful. I looked like a manatee in a sea of dolphins. But I felt better knowing that very few of them had the class and grace to sport a three fingered hand.

After I got onto the Autostrada I was hoping that I would enjoy the freedom to go what ever speed I desired. But, alas, the regulatory police of the European Union have decreed within their 10 Commandments of No Fun that “Thou shalt not pass beyond 130 kilometers per hour (80 mph) lest thou displease thy bureaucracy who is thy new god.” Fortunately, the Italians, who are the head priests of the Church of Bureaucracy, pay no attention to the rules and I knew I was going to have fun when I followed a UPS truck at over 95 mph.

After a couple of hours of driving we reached Verona and Lago Di Garda (a beautiful lake) and turned towards the Tyrol and the Brenner Pass which is the modern border between Italy and Austria. Arlette really wanted to stop at Riva del Garda which is at the northern end of Lago di Garda. To get there one drives through a small valley and then drops down a windy road into one of the most spectacular views possible. The cliffs of the mountains reach soar up from the lake. Absolutely stunning. Riva is a wonderful small town which has a running/cycling/walking path which follows the shoreline. I wish I had not forgotten my running shoes in St Roman. I also promised myself I would return to cycle the area. Riva is a cycling mecca and there were plenty of cyclists who had made their hadj to the area.

We ate outside at a small café overlooking the lake. The only disharmonious note to the lunch was the sound of a large group of German Harley riders leaving another café and Arlette complaining that she didn’t get mustard with her sausages and fries (I can't say which was louder). The café had only mayo or ketchup. Oh, the humanity! Quel scandale! Finally the waiter managed to dig up some mustard and quieted the loud, old lady wearing the strange Bavarian shirt and vest.

I will make an aside here and explain that Arlette was so excited to be going to Bavaria, which to her is the center of the universe, she wore some old Bavarian styled clothes that she bought in the fifties so she would fit in. In today’s era it looks a little weird. If she still had my grandfather’s lederhosen, I am sure she would have tried to convince me to wear them. Arlette also has a habit of talking loudly about whoever is sitting nearby and discussing their nationality. If they are American she will stop speaking French break out into English and exclaim loudly, “They are Americain?” She forgets that Americans will understand her perfectly. But she does the same for all nationalities. I do not know which the other people think is funnier, the crazy old lady in the puffy sleeved shirt under a red vest, or the three fingered guy who is as red as the vest.

After a decent lunch (I had risotto and mushrooms and a beer), we hit the road and headed back up towards the Brenner Pass and Austria. The town we planned to spend the night in, Oberaudorf, is in Germany but very close to the Austrian border and about 30 miles from Salzburg. I am very impressed with the Italian freeways. There was construction everywhere but we never dropped below 60 miles per hour. Everyone stayed in the right lanes unless to pass and so traffic flowed freely. I just wish all the schmucks who drive 75.5 mph in the left lane on I-10 south of Phoenix would follow this simple, yet effective rule. I took the picture below after slowing down (I was in a line of cars and work vans)!

As the road climbed up towards the Austrian border the traffic signs started to be in both Italian and German. This portion of Italy has been historically part of the Tyrol section of Austria and the town’s names are posted in both Italian and their original German version. As we climbed further up the road the high Alps appeared again. I thought the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado were spectacular and I also thought the nothing could match the northern Rockies in Montana and Idaho but I was wrong. Photos and films of the Alps do no justice to the beauty and awesomeness of these mountains.

When I was leaving Grenoble a few days ago, the Alps were covered by clouds and as we climbed past Bourg D’Oisans towards Briancon the mountain tops were covered, As the sun burnt away the low lying cloud cover and the actual peaks started show, I was nearly brought to tears by the beauty of these peaks (and also by the odor of Arletee’s old vest which may have never been washed since the time she bought it in the 50’s). They rise in almost shear faces from the valleys below and the roads cling to their sides.

Oops...they're calling the flight. I will finish this update later. Ciao.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What a Trip...

I am finally in Paris getting ready to fly home tomorrow. I have not updated this blog since there has been no internet available for updates until tonight. I will update later with pics and a full description, including pictures with circles and arrows on the back of each one as soon as I get a chance, describing the thrills , chills, and 3 Fingered Moments of this trip. But, i have got to get something to eat....

But here are a few pics:

No wonder Italian men are happy; they have Happy Nuts.

The church in Oberaudorf, Bavaria.

Climbers heading up the Aiguille de Midi. About 12k in altitude.

A view of Chamonix, France from 12,000 feet up on the Aiguille de Midi, next to Mont Blanc.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Some Three Fingered Travel Advise

Some travel advise from Francois Trois Doigts.... Never, ever buy suntan lotion that comes in a toothpaste like tube......But, hey, my teeth now have a nice, even tan.

When the Ego Landed it Went Splat

Well, I woke up in Grenoble with a head cold. Since I have used all my PTO days it makes sense to get sick during vacation. So, I will not waste my time looking for new running shoes since I do not have the energy to run. I also have an Alpine drive ahead to get to Turin for the night so it makes sense not to push it. The fact that it is rainy, cold and gray does not help my whiney attitude. It was supposed to be sunny.

Leaving Grenoble:

We stopped in Bourg D'Oisans at 11:00 for something to drink to warm us up.

Searching for a warm drink at the Cafe de Paris:

Arlette took the Leffe Blonde and I the Leffe Brune.

Views along the road:

We took a short detour to climb up the Col de Galibier which is a very famous pass used in the Tour de France, including this year. It looked steep on TV but in reality it is even steeper. Over 12% grade in places.

Here are some sheep along the road. I understand they are bred to have one legs shorter on one side so they don't fall off the mountain.

At the summit:
A storm rolling in across the valley. It was about 42 DegF here. If you look closely you can see a car coming up the road we just climbed.

Welcome to Italy: 36 DegF and raining. Wha.......?

Of course, I had to hit Turin at rush hour......Not bad compared to Phoenix.

I found a hotel (constructed in the old Fiat factory) The Fiat test track is on the roof and was used in the original Italian Job movie. It is now used for the hotel's running path. If I had only remembered my shoes and weren't sick. Sigh. Not everything was smooth however, the room keys would not open the doors and the internet would not work. When I asked for a new key for Arlette, they promised to send one up right away. Two hours later we were still waiting. Hey, it's Italy. They did not care much that the internet didn't work either. But in a true Three Fingered Moment I decided I should have turned the comm port off and then back on. And "Voila," everything started working.

Si, era un momento dalle dita tre. Ciao!

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Ego Has Landed

I arrived in France on Sunday on my semi-annual trip to visit my maternal homeland and my wonderful aunt, Arlette. I flew into Nice and then drove 95 kilometers to a small town called Draguignan to spend the night. I chose Draguignan for several reasons rather than spending the first night in Nice. Nice may be uber-hip and suave, but it sucks. And no amount of magnificent bare boobies on the beach is going to change that. Not that I ever looked. Needless to say I was a bit tired since I had been on the road almost 29 hours. The flights for once were uneventful and actually quite pleasant. No real disasters or adventures to speak of. Well, there was one Three Fingered Moment when my backpack's strap got caught on a seat handle while boarding and I almost went over backwards, feet in the air... You get the picture...

There was also the carry-on bag moment. I noticed one couple going through security at Sky Harbor with huge carry-on bags. Either the $15 fee for the bag check-in was too expensive or the wait at the baggage claim was too much to deal with but they were determined to get those bags on. I was wondering if flight personnel would prevent them and would enforce the gate check-in rule. So it was with great interest that I saw they were on my flight. His struggle to insert their bags into the storage bin was hilarious but he succeeded and fortunately did not prevent anyone else from storing their bags. So no harm, no foul, so to speak. They did hold us up in trying to pry the bags out upon arrival in Dallas. This was a pain because for some reason (TMI moment here) air travel makes my bladder go into overtime work mode. I was in the midst of performing a selection from Riverdance to the amusement of my fellow passengers when I noticed the wife was wearing an Obama for President button. Aha!!! Everything became clear as i realized that they had attempted and achieved the impossible dream because they had the "audacity to hope". Either that, or they were just plain rude and did not care a whit for their fellow travelers. I leave it up to you to make up your own mind as to which was the true motivation for their actions. The only drag during the trip was a layover of almost 5 hours in London but I found a great bookstore where I immediately bought three books. I had to leave quickly before I blew all my cash on books and over burdened my already overloaded backpack. Even though I wasn't hungry I still ordered a typical English vegetarian breakfast.

In retrospect it really doesn't look that good.

The drive from Draguignan to Saint Roman de Tousque, the small village of about 70 people in the Cevennes ( a mountainous area in the south-central part of the country) where my aunt lives was fun. I followed a group of Ferrais (proof I was near the Riviera) and a puke green Lamborghini on the highway for a while at almost 100mph. They must have had radar since they slowed down at the only speed trap.

Chasing a Ferrari at 100MPH while taking a picture:

I made a quick stop in a small town called Anduze for some of the best pizza around. Thin crust, and the perfect mix of sauce and cheese. After a liesurely repast of the pizza and a beer I drove the final 22 miles to St Roman.

Our house is the tall one.

I gave Arlette the obligatory hug, kiss, tears, and after a glass or two of champagne I casually asked her if she wanted to leave for Italy. It took her less than 15 seconds to say, "Yes!"

I normally relax and hang out and do not much of anything except eat and and and drink. (Of course, since I've become a vegetarian I have not had the opportunity to enjoy the absolutely fabulous local salami. But, the goat's cheese that is made in Le Pompidou, 12 kilometers up the road, is to die for and more than makes up for it. ) Within 30 minutes we were on our way to Grenoble so we'd have a good start to hitting the Alps before spending tomorrow night in Turin, Italy.

So, here I am in Grenoble on a Tuesday morning waiting for a sports store to open since I was in such a rush that I left my running shoes at the house. (I hate 3 Fingered moments). I also left my camera in the car so pictures will be uploaded in another post. Stay tuned for more.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Ghost of Asshole Bob

I was visited by a ghost from the past today on my ride back from swimming. The ghost of Asshole Bob arose from the depths of bad memories and shook his chains at me like Jacob Marley. Asshole Bob was a man of dubious distinction (hence the nickname) who would mysteriously appear at group rides and then as mysteriously disappear. His name was rumored to be Bob, though I do not know if anybody actually knew if this was true. The rectal reference was added during a discussion at a post-ride coffee stop. I cannot remember the exact conversation, but someone was grousing about some guy who showed up to the previous weekend's century ride and complained about lawyers for 3 hours . Three people at the same time said, "That sounds like Asshole Bob!" And then was born the legend and the myth of this mighty man.

A-Bob (The hip-hop version of his name) was never seen by anyone during normal rides but only at organized rides that had free food and support. He was strong enough to not be dropped by all but the best riders, but desperate enough for company to slowdown or stop with any group helplessly trying to escape him Preceded by the squeaking of his beat up Cannondale he would appear suddenly from behind, pass his victim and then make some sort of caustic comment like, "with a bike like that you should be going much faster. If I had that bike I would be with the front pack." He would then emit an aura of profond pity for the pitiful boob, slow down and give helpful hints and riding tips until the poor schmuck was ready to ride into a telephone pole just to end his misery.

On one very long ride he attached himself like a parasite to our group and could not be shaken. Soon he started to suck the life, joy, and comaradery of our small pack. Where we usually maintained a collective effort to protect the group we soon were accelerating in an effort to drop the weaker members of our herd in a hope that he would stop and feast on them. All to no avail. I thought I could escape by pretending to be weak since he had ignored all the others who had fallen back. But, I had been chosen to be his victim. When I faked a cardiac arrest he offered to do CPR and before he could so, lo, I was miraculously cured and caught back on to the pack. I then faked an asthma attack so I could drop back and get away. But he stopped and offered me some special spray that was sure to heal my wheezing and open up my lungs. One look at his giant, crusted nose and, lo, I was miraculously cured again and got back in the safety of the group. I stopped a third time and pretended I had cramps but he stopped and said he was a certified masseuse. I replied that they were menstrual in nature and got back on my bike and miserably limped to the finish, all emotions sucked out of me as he droned on and on and on and on about....I cannot continue...I am still scarred.

At least one person saw something good within @$$hole Bob (I dislike most hip-hop names so I will replace a portion of the letters in his name with symbols which will hopefully disguise the naughty word enough to get it past the censors and guardians of good taste) and let issue from her loins his progeny, a rather good looking young man who, unfortunately, did inherit some of his father's tendencies. These two were often witnessed at the only other gatherings where Bob was ever seen, the bicycle swap meet. The bicycle swap meet is a place were worn out bikes and components that have been jealously guarded for years in the Sancto Sanctorum of the spare parts bin are finally, though regretfully, allowed to be passed on to other acolytes who will jealously guard them until they are passed on yet again. The fact that most of these parts will never be used and are what one would generously call crap, does not matter.

The son showed up at my spot where I was regretfully parting with years of accumulated treasures (hey, my stuff was never crap) stops and grabbed his radio. "Galactic One to Galactic Leader. Galactic One to Galactic Leader. Mavic bottom bracket at dirty table on west side of parking lot. Repeat, Mavic bottom bracket located on west side." Two minutes later Bob sauntered up in baggy shorts, dirty t-shirt, and, what was and still is possibly, the ugliest ball cap ever produced on this planet. He put down his bucket of goodies, picked up said bottom bracket and sniffed at the price. "$10? I can get these all day long for $5. I'll give you $2 since that is all it is worth." Considering the bottom bracket was brand new and retailed for much, much more, I laughed and told him what he could do with his $2 and all the $5 dollar items he could buy. He sniffed again and disappeared into the crowd, followed by his son, never to be seen by me again. "A*****e", I muttered under my breath.

Imagine my surprise and dismay when after 12 years, as I was riding home from my swim lesson, the ghost of @$$hole Bob arose to haunt me once more. I was cruising along at a very moderate pace when an guy wearing a pro teams' jersey, shorts, and very tall white gym socks passed me. As he went by he did not content himself with only a muttered, "Good afternoon." Oh no, he had to add, "Hey, let me give you a tip. If you want to get faster you need to push yourself." As tired and fragged as my legs were I immediately responded with a quick acceleration. I caught him, passed him, and dropped him. I felt that I had to put to rest the ghost of @$$hole Bob forever. He tried to hang on but as he started to drop I slowed down just to give him hope then pulled away again. He refused to talk to me at the next red light and when it turned green I let him get ahead by a little bit. Again I pulled him in, passed him, let him get on my wheel for a few pedal strokes and then dropped him again. But just before I dropped him for good I said, "Hey, do you feel faster now?" My moment of triumph in excorcizing myself of the ghost of @$$hole Bob was short lived when I saw what his eyes were saying, "You think you're funny, you Three Fingered A*****e." At that moment I realised to my horror that I had become the very monster I hoped to destroy. I had become Bob.

In the future, if anyone like today's, ahem, gentleman ride by and make a snide comment, I will humbly, yet regretfully, make no retaliatory comments, gestures or take action. Now, is the ghost of Bob finally put to rest. Requiescat in pace, Bob.