Archive for May, 2009

Maglia Rosa.

Posted in 1 on May 25, 2009 by bencycles

Italy.  Pretty fucking great, in a nutshell. Well, except for that hostel.

The latest mission was a flight into Bergamo, Italy on Friday after work. Catch the bus for an hour trip into Milan and walk to the hotel I had booked, about 3 miles from the station. The flight and bus went according to plan for the most part. The trip to the hostel, and the hostel itself for that matter were really freecking shady. Like sleep in your clothes and keep your wallet in your pocket shady. Otherwise, Italy delivered the goods.

Got off the bus about 11:30 PM and should have accepted a taxi, but I thought a great way to experience the city would be to walk through it… Turns out my hostel was in the shity part of Milan. But frankly, outside of what truly is a beautiful city center, I get the feeling a lot of Milan is the shity part of town. The streets were all dark and smelled of piss and exhaust. I kept my head down to avoid the hookers and pretended my gps was a cell phone so as not to draw attention to myself. By the way, my Garmin Edge has saved me several times now plus I can walk around a foreign city without obviously staring at a map and it’s shaped a lot like a phone, so it isn’t quite as obvious as some other GPS systems. That’s a handy trait in the dark alleys of Milano at midnight…

I got past the hookers and made the right onto a dark, dank ally and then finally my hostel and then crawl into the scrappy cot. I was wondering if my plans hadn’t gone a bit foul before even getting off the ground.

The morning walk into the city center was much better. Not much worry of trouble at 6 in the AM. Some caffe and pastry was getting me back on track.

“I’m drinking Italian coffee in Italy…”

That was a sweet realization.

There is as much discrepancy in coffee quality in Italy as there is in the states. Shops are usually called “bar” and not “coffee shop” over here and you can get beer or coffee. They are often tucked away in little back alleys and on almost every street corner.  But here’s a quick comparison:

Mind blowing cappuccino and pastry from small store in alley: $3

So-so cappuccino and a water con gas near the Duomo:  $12

There is definitely more flair in Italy compared to the UK, a bit more gloss and flash. Even the cops were stylish. The commuter bikes were nicer than in the UK, too. Most of the commuter bikes I’ve seen in Cambridge look like they’ve been pulled from the river (some have) and are covered in grease and the tires are flat and the colors are drab.

In Italy, the bikes are ornate and lugged and colorful. It’s almost an addition to the wardrobe as much as a tool for transportation.

Hmmm, fantastic cappuccino, friendly people, nice bikes. I think I could live here. Oh yeah, the Alps, too. But that’s next weekend…

This weekend is all about watching a bike race. Even though I like to race personally, I usually consider watching a race to be a bit boring. But this was special. It’s been a bit of a dream to watch a stage of a Grand Tour for a good ten years now, and I think the tour of Italy is probably my top choice out of the three to watch. With the drama, history, and fanfair you’d expect, but just a bit grittier, perhaps than the French example, like it’s still a working man’s way out of hard labor in the mines or something. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to see if my assessment is accurate later this summer.

Even with the riders protest in Milan (which I didn’t even know about until the next day since I was on a different part of the course and the announcements were in Italian), the race absolutely lived up to my expectations. It’s not just about the racing. If it were, I would have stayed home and watched it on TV where I could see every move. No, the goal was to be a participant in the crowed, to be part of the drama that makes the race what it is, a big circus. To be on the sides with the massive crowds, catching the goofy Giro swag that’s thrown, drinking Italian beer in the grass as the riders go by, the smell of the city and the heat of the sun all around you. Everyone sweaty and hot and cheering. Old men, families, shop keepers. Everyone coming out to see the big race. That was what I wanted to experience and the Giro delivered in spades.

That evening, I jumped back on the plane for the UK. I got in bed around 2AM and then work the next morning at 8… dead tired but very satisfied.

Wanna See..?


Hail Storms and Suicidal Sheep in the Lakes District-2nd Installment.

Posted in 1 on May 16, 2009 by bencycles

Part three The rain lets up and it gets hot less than a mile into our hike so we stop to remove some layers. The first mile is pan flat but turns up sharply at the end of the valley. We begin the ascent with a strong wind at our faces, or it seemed strong at the time. It was only a taste of the flavor ahead. Minor Threat going through my head as we climb up into the misty sky. Musta been all the black sheep around. If only there would have been more than one line, over and over. Can one reach a zen state with straight-edge lyrics? “we’re not the first, I hope we’re not the last…” repeat repeat repeat. It starts to rain again as we come to a small tarn. Lakes District weekendSuit up, eat something, start walking at an angle to counter the wind. Part Four All suffering should be this good. Really. Who has romanticized, contrived, and squeezed more beauty from the worst tasting lemon than the Brits? Plague kills millions? That’ll make a nice nursery rhyme for the children. I rest my case. We’re scrambling up the side of a rocky hill in a 70mph wind and being pummeled by hail. We’re arriving to huddle for space with 20 other hikers in the one little spot protected by that monster wind and rain and hail. On Monday, I’m going to walk back into an office like nothing ever happened. And frankly, that’s all part of what made it memorable. So how is that different from fight club? I don’t mean the fighting part, specifically, I mean the idea of it. Doing something outlandish and a little dangerous and maybe even a little dumb. And why is it the parts that don’t go according to plan are the memorable parts you tell your mates about? When everything goes according to plan, the only interesting part is whether you made the goal, and that’s often a short story.  But when things get messy, it’s the whole adventure leading up to that final goal and how you dealt with unexpected issues and how you got along with your companions and how you’ve changed from it that makes the story. The goal itself becomes a mere side note. Lakes District weekend Lakes District weekend Lakes District weekend Lakes District weekend Lakes District weekend I guess that’s my long winded way of saying it was pretty awesome to get out and walk around the Lake district with Malcolm. I didn’t even mention the next day’s hike. I won’t bore you with more clichés, but here are some pics. It delivered all the goodness of the previous day, just with the added bonus of an actual view from the top. Lakes District weekend Lakes District weekend Lakes District weekend Lakes District weekend word.

Hail Storms and Suicidal Sheep in the Lakes District

Posted in 1 on May 12, 2009 by bencycles

this one is gonna be in parts ’cause it’s kinda long-winded, like me… I guess you’ll just have to come back to see the rest of it.

Part One

It was another wildly active weekend at the B-Love bachelor pad. Almost too much so, but then, not…

It started with a move. I was moving out from temp housing and into my permanent place on Friday, followed by a train ride Friday night up to Nuneaton where I would meet up with my friend Malcolm who would drive us up for a weekend trip of “walking” in the Lakes District, 6 hours from Cambridge. Sunday night, I’d be home again, ready to hit the trenches come Monday morning as if nothing ever happened.

Of course, this was preceded with a 12 mile time trial Thursday night, with an 8mile ride each way to the start/finish area. Needless to say, I didn’t do much prep or packing the night before my move, or the getaway. Well, that’s just my style, it seems.

Which brings up another random observation about the UK: all the pubs near my house close their kitchen at 9pm, so when a person returns, hungry from a good ride and a time trial, good luck finding some proper bangers and mash…

Friday started by learning I had no internet to finish coordinating the weekend since I was moving out of my temp place. That would have been fine if I’d planned ahead (see above). The move itself was pretty smooth as my final apartment was only two floors down from the temp one. The new apartment was great except for one little hitch. All the furniture was there as I’d expected, but no sheets, dishes, pots, pans, toilet paper…the kind of stuff that comes in handy when you rent a “fully furnished” apartment.

Right. Quick trip to the home furnishing store with a long list. I don’t have a car over here just yet, so I pushed the very full shopping cart back home from the store where it is still sitting with most of the contents, in my living room…

2pm Friday. Malcolm calls to let me know he will be ready to drive up to Nuneaton soon and was I packed and ready. Well, there was a pile of stuff I had loosely thrown in a corner of the new place, does that count as packed and ready?

Managed to get packed, futilely attempt a final call to the states, get in the taxi (which was 20 minutes late) and to the train terminal (geeze, trains are expensive here), narrowly avoided getting on the London train accidentally, and make the 2 hour train ride to meet Malcolm.Lakes District weekend I was only two hours late…


Part two

Packed loaded driving. We were on the way. I was already pretty beat from the move and the thought of driving 4 hours in the dark was not an exciting one. Good thing Malcolm makes good company, plus he always has a good selection of new music to get me back up to date while making the long drive.Lakes District weekend Most of my current playlists still borrow heavily from the music I got from him a few years ago.

As I learned last week, gas isn’t cheap here,  90 quid (about $140) to fill a VW? We get to Langdon around 10:30 pm, just in time to enjoy a couple Pints at the pub before last call. Lakes District weekendThe pub is amok in hikers, dogs, music, and lots of beer. The atmosphere a calm hectic swirl of satisfied hikers and climbers, buzzed with alcohol and content from their day. The air outside was cold.

Lakes District weekendWe set up camp in the dark, finding a spot, not so low as to collect pools of water if it rained and not so flat either because those were all claimed, but not bad, non-the-less. The wind had picked up and would stay that way through the night. I went to sleep with a warm buzz from the pub and full from gas station sandwiches.

Saturdays goal was to hike up to Scafell Pike, Englands highest point at just under 1000 meters. Lakes District weekendNot much height maybe, but starting from near sea level, there would still be a decent amount of altitude gain in the next 6-and-some-change miles.

In the morning we eat bacon sandwiches and pack for the day. Lakes District weekend
Our plans included substantial rain gear and heavy water proof boots with gators as the Lakes District is not well known for its dry, sunny climate. Lakes District weekendAs such, our final preparations are made with a light blustery drizzle and I start walking with the idea it might not let up for the next 13 miles.

A Little Update.

Posted in 1 on May 4, 2009 by bencycles

So much has been going on in the UK and I’ve been rubbish about keeping up with it all. But chin up mate, I’ll throw some pics up and hope for the best. Cheers.

Cambridge University makes up the heart of the city. Kings College is nice enough, though the archetecture appears to be knock off to Yale… or was that the other way around?

Getting around by bike is the key to the city. If you want to drive, well, good luck. Here you can see I’m training hard. It’s a good mile and a half, round trip, to the pub and back.  Pubs are plentiful here and the food so far has been very good, but a bit heavy. mmmm

I live a few blocks from the Cambridge river. Along the river, other than pubs, are boat houses (on the far side) where teams keep there racing boats and train in the evening. Also the housboats on the near side where people live. I am curious to see what they look like on the inside.

I got my first experience driving on the wrong side of the road this weekend. I only almost killed myself a couple times. Roundabouts and left turns seem to be my week points, but overall, it hasn’t been so bad. I was really enjoying zipping around the twisty country roads until I filled up my tiny little car. 40 quid… Thats $60. Well, gas is $6/ gallon here. I better keep those rpm’s lower.

Tea anyone? Tea and biscuits seem as important as…

…The pints. This was a tasty example of local ale. This one actually reminded me of a mellow pale ale from the states. Most of the local ales, even the IPA’s are not nearly as hoppy as what we have in the states. Also the traditional ales tend to be room temp and are not  as carbonated as what we have in the states. It’s quite drinkable, of course.