Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bright idea, bad placement

Such a good idea in the Milan, Italy, airport. Too bad they put it right at the gate, AFTER people might have spent at Duty Free or cashed in their Euro already. Just an FYI if you plan on traveling international...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Thank you to my Italian Host Family!

Host family, Claudia and Mario

A wonderful meal with my host family, Claudia and Mario (pictured above), and their son Lorenzo. They totally adopted and spoiled me in my last three days in Italy.

Claudia took me out one evening to a festival with Italian music, food and culture. She went out of her way to plunge me into the local art scene and she helped me make a very spiritual pilgrimage within 24 hours of flying home.

Wonderful new friends are a perfect way to put a "bow" on a fabulous tour!

PHOTO GALLERY: Final Days in Italy - Exploring the Spiritual Mountainside

On my final day of touring I'm exploring the Sacred Mountain of Varese (Sacro Monte di Varese).

It's a very spiritual place that features a pilgrimage of castles and statues that depict the life of Jesus Christ and ends with a black Madonna in the Saint Mary Sanctuary of Monte Varese.

The cobblestone walkway led to 13 buildings that featured life-sized statues depicting the life of Christ.

Random reminiscing

Here's a compilation of some of the things I experienced in Varese while out geocaching for a bike box.....

I found an outdoor velodrome.
The velodrome looked to be a 250-meter track. I managed to work my way inside and onto the track. It had very high banks and I could not even reach a solid speed to stay up in the straightaways, as those have a bit of a pitch, too.

There are wonderful color posters for some of the art exhibits on display.

I went back to a local park where the manicured bushes were two stories high and mazes were cut into the trees.

Monday, June 22, 2015

VIDEO: Sunday night concert in downtown Varese

Italian version of West Bend's Music on Main

Build-A-Box 101

More than an interesting day in search of the ever-important bike box.

First, the box is a necessity to get the bike home. Research confirmed the airline would be of little help. Most stores in Italy are closed Monday, or they open after 2:30 p.m. Claudia said the store operators need a rest day. I decide to ask how they make money to stay in business. "This is why Americans are crazy," she said, "You work yourself to death."

Managed to find an auto repair shop that also said "bicycle" on the sign. I located a door ajar in back and went in.

I found a man at a desk, and he wasn't grouchy at all. I showed him my note written in Italian that said I was looking for a bike box.  He shrugged, said "no bikes," and then snapped his fingers, leading me to a corner collection of large cardboard. He found two large weighty pieces.

I cheered. It was my best option so far. The man came running out with a fresh roll of tape and I managed to get across that I'd be back on Tuesday.

'Plan B' on the bike is coming together with a bit of MacGyver ingenuity.

If I have to, I can make this work. "Build-A-Box 101" could be around the corner.

While I could cobble together a box, I was still set on trying to find the real thing. 

The sporting goods store in the mall was my next target and I managed to strike gold fairly quickly. Now the issue was getting the box back to my host's house.....
I took a page out of my TV show application for Survivor and used a pair of bungee cords and wrapped them around the box. I slipped an arm through and slung the box over my shoulder like a backpack. With a little "Wallenda" balance and some prayer, I took off for the two-mild ride home. Although I had zero visibility to my left, there was not a lot of traffic and I was lucky there was no wind. It actually went easier than I anticipated.  I'm sure I gave people something to talk about when they got back to the office as my route took me straight through downtown Varese.

As I pulled up the driveway, I was met by my host's 16-year-old son, Lorenzo. He had just finished clipping flowers. Apparently it was a strenuous job because he was sans shirt.

What a wonderful way to return to my Italian home!

Lorenzo, with flowers

Claudia lends hospitality in a big way

It's been an interesting 48 hours as I work my way through my final days in Italy.  Most challenging was Saturday evening when I spent four hours trying to find a place to stay for the evening.

I thought as I pedaled closer to Milan the traffic was just getting busier because it was a big city. Little did I know I was pedaling right into an outdoor concert similar to the size and scope of Woodstock.

The campground gate closed in front of me and thousands of others wearing dreadlocks as the site was full. There was zero hotel space and even the sanctuaries and monasteries were full.

I backtracked and could not get out of town fast enough.

Finally, with darkness closing in, I found the small, two-star San Carlo Hotel. A friend asked me if it was everything I had imagined.....

Well, it was a clean room with a bathroom and only one bullet hole in the wall; it was perfect.

Thankfully, the clerk at the desk provided me with an electric fan. It helped circulate the stagnant air and it drowned out the tense shouting (I'm assuming, and hoping, that's just an Italian thing) going on in the next room.

At this point, I was too tired to care.

On Sunday morning I hit the road early and was headed to Malpensa to see if I could arrange a box to fly my bike home.

Took a break about 35 miles down the road in Saranno and toured a flea market. By the third vendor table, all the "fleas" were buzzing about the solo American with the bike.

I was given a chair in the shade. Some woman pushed a big dish of pistachio and chocolate gelato into my hands, then I was bombarded with questions about the tour, all in Italian, of course.

There was a moderate translator, i.e., "How old are you?" and "How does a husband let you go on these trips?" One man, Antonio, managed to get across, "Are you married? Would you like to be?"

That's when Claudia came to my rescue; she was a small woman with fiery red hair and perfect English.

Claudia phoned her husband, Mario, to bring him into the plan. Laughingly, she told me he said, "I leave you along for 10 minutes and you find a stray to bring home." Claudio furthers, "He always told me I could talk to a crack in the sidewalk."

Claudia lived in Varese, a mere 40 kilometers away. "I give you direction and, if you get lost, you ask. We'll see you for dinner." With that, I was off to find my accommodations for the night.

It took me three hours to get there. I had little doubt along the way, but I was biking in bad could this turn out?

I tell ya, not bad at all! Claudia and her husband live in a brick home previously owned by his grandfather. I had the loft to myself with my own bathroom until Wednesday when I leave.

Claudia is a wonderful hostess. We toured the city center at night with excellent food and music. She made me try things. :-)

Today we hunt for a bike box.

PHOTO GALLERY (flea market)
Caciocavallo cheese

Filled risotto croquettes