Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cyclocross at Xilinx

I haven't pinned on a race number since sometime last spring, but my racing hiatus came to an end in Longmont today. It was my first race of the cyclocross season and my first race in a new category. Having just come off a long vacation, I wasn't expecting much from the legs. I just wanted to get out there and remind my body what it's like to race. I didn't have any points this season, so I was stuck starting in the 5th or 6th row. It could have been worse, though. We probably had close to 100 racers, so I was starting somewhere the middle of the pack. The normal 1st lap chaos ensued, but I was a little surprised at what gave people trouble. The group got really bunched up as we had to come off the pavement over a curb. I ended up getting off my bike and running because it was just faster. After that, things settled down quite a bit. I mostly just rode within my limits and tried not to go into the red too much. The course was loose in spots, but overall not too technical. It was good practice for me, and I felt like I rode a lot of stuff faster than I would have in the past. I started to fade at the end of the race, which is about what I expected after having a bunch of time off the bike. I found myself on the back of a group of 5 going into the last set of barriers. It was a short distance from there to the uphill finish, and I felt confident that I could out sprint some of those guys. Unfortunately the guy in front of me decided he was done racing, sat up, took a bizarre line into the barriers, and gapped me from that group. Damn. Bummer of a way to end that race, but overall it went pretty well. I finished 19th.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Italy 2011

Italy has been on our list of places to visit for a long time, and a 5 year anniversary seemed like an excellent excuse. There's a ton of stuff we wanted to see there, but we had to force ourselves to trim down the list so we didn't spend our time running around from city to city. Hopefully we'll get back sometime and fill in the gaps. Over the 17 days we were gone we stayed in 5 cities, so that seems like a good way to break up this blog post. I can spend a lot of time writing about the places we went, but I'm going to try my hardest to be brief and just give some highlights with some pictures.

Naples and the Amalfi Coast
We landed in Rome in the morning and made our way to Naples for the afternoon to sample some of the best pizza in the world. I love Neopolitan style pizza, and we stepped out of the train station armed with a few places to try. Our first stop (Da Michelle) was super busy with a line out the door and we were hungry. We went to another nearby pizzeria, Trianon. Bliss. Delicious pies, our first food overindulgence of the trip. The crust was great, the toppings were great, the wood-fired oven chars it up just right.
Margherita DOC pizza at Trianon
Pizza at Trianon
With our bellies full and our jet lag dragging us down, we skipped out planned trip to the museum and other pizzerias and caught the train to our hotel in Sorrento. The following morning we went to Pompei and Herculaneum. Both are really amazing. It's crazy to see what the ancient Romans were able to build and see how well preserved it was. For me Herculaneum was the better of the two because it sees far less traffic, and you can really get up close an personal to more of the stuff. I wish we could have spent more time there, but it had already been a long day of walking around in the heat and humidity.
Pompei forum
Pompei Forum
Statue at Herculaneum
With our historical sight seeing taken care of, next we wanted to hit the Amalfi Coast. The bus ride from Sorrento to Amalfi had been described to us as "white-knuckle". It's a twisty cliffy road, but the bus driver seems like he was in pretty good control of the situation. Had I driven similar roads in Corsica, I may have been more impressed with the whole thing. The Amalfi Coast is, of course, beautiful. We spent a couple days there and did a little hiking combined with beach lounging. When I say "hiking" I really mean "stair climbing". Holy crap there are a lot of steps. The beaches aren't the soft sandy beaches that you'll get elsewhere, but the water is great and the surroundings greater.
Lots of stairs
Did someone stay stairs?
Amalfi from above
Walking to Atrani
My beautiful traveling companion
Our next big stop was Venice, but on the way we stopped in Naples again. This time we hit 2 more pizzerias. The first was Gino Sorbillo. Even better than Trianon. Again, the crust was sublime, and the toppings were top notch. We killed some time walking around Naples (and walking off our pizza) while we waited for a couple friends to get into town. We spent some time sitting on the steps of Duomo di Napoli which turned out to be fun people watching. We enjoyed watching a football game break out with several of the neighborhood kids and seeing unsuspecting bystanders and cars get buzzed by the ball. We met our friends later at Da Michelle for more pizza. We ate a bit of it there and took the rest to go with us on the night train to Venice. This place is world famous, but Christine and I both agree that they weren't our favorite pies in Naples. They've got stiff competition though. Our nod goes to Gino Sorbillo.
Our pizzas at Gino Sorbillo
More delicious pizza
Self portrait on the steps of Duomo
The night train got use there shortly before 6AM. Yeah, that's an early start to the day, but so worth it. The city is dead quiet at that hour and we got to see the place slowly wake up as we made our way to the hotel to drop off our bags. The usually packed Piazza San Marco was sparsely populated and the tourist souvenir booth operators hadn't even arrived yet. What a great way to see this city. I didn't expect much from Venice. It never sounded very appealing to me, but it was one of those places you feel like you should see someday. I ended up liking it, and I don't think I would have liked it as much if we had been shuffled in with the tourist masses. But for as nice as it was, I was glad we only spent a day there and I don't really feel like I need to get back any time soon.
Venice in the morning from Ponte Degli Scalzi
Venice in the morning
From the waters of Venice to the base of the Dolomites. It was nice to gain a little altitude and enjoy some cooler temperatures. Bolzano is home to Ötzi the Iceman, a 5000 (as in FIVE THOUSAND) year old man that was found frozen in a nearby glacier. It's mind-blowing that stuff that they found with his well preserved body. He was carrying a bow, pocket knife, food, and medicine. It's like he's an ancient hiker. He even had some shoes that were stuffed with straw insulation to keep his feet warm. That's a must-see sight if you're in the area. We were running out of clean clothes, and Bolzano seemed like a good place to do some laundry. Yay laundry! Right?
Laundry night in Bolzano
Yay laundry
As luck would have it, there was a wine bar next door to the laundromat. We went in there with the intention of enjoying a glass of wine while our clothes tumbled clean. It turned out to be a great place. We had and awesome platter of cheese, cured meats, a bruschetta. We could get enough of the bruschetta. Damn, I'm salivating just thinking about it. We struck up a conversation with the owners and they gave us some great tips on their favorite wines from the area.
Excellent platter
Excellent platter at Trasi waine bar
The next day we rented bikes and rode up to the wine making area near by. The bike trails around Bolzano are amazing. We could get all the way out of the valley and up to some vineyards without ever getting on an actual road. We went to a couple wine makers, stopped at the local "working man's" lunch stop along the train, and rode down into another valley for a swim in a mountain lake. I pretty good (if tiring) day.
Farm along the bike path
A farm along the bike path
The next day we went to Alpe di Siusi, the largest high alpine meadow in Europe. We took a gondola from Siusi up to the village of Compatsch and were a little surprised at how developed and maintained the meadow was. Many of the "trails" were paved paths, and even the singletrack looked really gentle. There are various lifts in the meadow that can take you up (or down), and numerous refuges where you can stay overnight. Many even have a restaurant. It seems like a great place to get away without all the usual overhead of camping. We hiked for around for a few hours, had a picnic, and enjoyed the mountain air.
Alpe di Siusi pano
Alpe di Siusi
Cinque Terre
Back to sea level, heat, and steps. We stayed in a recently renovated room in Manarola with an excellent view of the sea and a big patio. Perfect for lounging at sunset with some wine, cheese, and meat we brought from Bolzano. One of the things on the to-do list for the Cinque Terre is hiking between the towns and our time here was mostly a mix between hiking, eating, and sitting on beaches. The humidity is killer, but that makes the ocean feel all the better. We also totally stuffed ourselves on an awesome seafood and pasta dinner our last night in Manarola. We ordered the seafood appetizer and the chef just kept bringing our plate after plate of small seafood bites. It was awesome. Then, dinner was fresh pasta served in/with a whole crab.
Manarola by day
Manarola at night
Manarola by night
Sunset from our patio
Sunset from our patio
Our hotel from the Via d'Amore
Our hotel location
The last stop on our tour was Rome. I don't know if it was good or bad to end with a big city. Either way, we were both exhausted from a couple weeks of walking, and we'd be doing more in Rome. There's so much to see in Rome, but in our short time there we tried to pick an manageable number of things. The people at our B&B were awesome, and gave us a lot of good info before we went to check things out. They even made some museum reservations for us. If you're ever in Rome, I'd highly recommend the Daphne. The ancient sights are pretty cool. Just like Pompei, I'm amazed at the level of skill they had to create these large (even by today's standards) structures. The Colosseum was pretty cool, but I think I was most impressed by the Pantheon. Unlike the domes we see in churches that are heavily adorned, part of the beauty of the Pantheon is in the lack of bells and whistles inside the dome. It's quite a sight to just sit and appreciate. We're not big museum-goers, but we did decide to go to a couple in Rome. The first was the Borghese Gallery. In a word, amazing. Even after all these years, the sculptures look like they're going to reach out and touch you. To make something as solid and hard as marble look so delicate and soft is an amazing thing. The other museum we visited was the Vatican Museum. Everyone I'd talked to told us how great it was and to be sure we went. So we did. And I couldn't get out of there fast enough. I didn't like how you were essentially in a slow moving crowd wandering your way along the pre-set path through the art. I just couldn't get into it. Then we got to the Sistine Chapel, and I was like "That's it?". I guess I expect it to be grander or something. Artistically, it's a great piece of work both for its size and the techniques used, but hanging out in a stuffy room staring up at the ceiling with a couple hundred other people was not my idea of a great time. On to St. Peters Basilica. Another huge, flashy church. What else can I say that hasn't already been said?
Pantheon dome
St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's basilica dome
Trevi Fountain turned off (pano)
Trevi Fountain
So that's the briefest rundown of the trip I can do. More pictures are on Flickr. Maybe more details and pictures later.