Nineteen Souls And A Bottle (or so) of Wine….Oh, Gelato Too!

How is it that every so often the stars align to create magic?  When we meticulously plan, trying to create something special, it just doesn’t happen.  But maybe that’s the problem; you can’t plan for magic.

Nineteen of us got together a few weeks ago, meeting up in Sicily (as in Italy).  Most came from Georgia but some from the Midwest and one as far away as the Pacific Northwest.  Some knew each other, others met for the first time, but we were all there for the same reason; a week of cycling through the countryside and small towns and villages on this southern Italian island.  All the planning can’t guarantee a successful tour; the weather alone could destroy what would otherwise be a great week.  But the weather cooperated, so thus was born the magic that can’t be planned. 

We pedaled from town to town, stopping often for a croissant and a coffee, or just to gawk at the ancient architecture, outdoor markets and small town life.  We mingled with the locals, sometimes using sign language to communicate….never a problem.  We traipsed through grand cathedrals and churches, tapping away in our cycling shoes.  We’d stop for lunch, invading small cafes, scarfing down paninis and pizza and beer and gelato…cyclists are always ravenous.  After checking into our hotel (and one agriturismo) we’d head into town to mingle with locals and scope out where we’d have our evening meal.  Nineteen of us would pile into tiny restaurants, seated at long tables soon covered in plates and forks and knives and glasses and bottle after bottle of red wine.  Then the platters of olives and bread would appear to be followed by bowls of pasta and every type of fish and seafood you could imagine.  And don’t forget the gelato, there to fill in all the crevices and nooks and crannies left in your belly.  We’d stumble back to our lodging only to fall asleep and start the entire process again the next morning.

But the food and wine and quaint villages were only the backdrop to the friendships and camaraderie that developed over the week.  It’s the shared experience in a foreign land that can transform a vacation into a journey. When stepping away from our everyday lives to share something special there’s a bond that develops between those involved that others can’t see or understand.  We come home, family and friends ask about the trip and you try to explain how great it was, but it’s like trying to describe a great painting to a blind person; the essence can’t be seen or touched or felt if you weren’t part of the experience, just like the blind person understanding a masterpiece.

To top off the trip (literally) we climbed, by bike, to the top of an active volcano, Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe.  As we climbed the eleven and a half miles on the smooth road, we passed black rock, once molten but now solid.  We saw the devastation that a volcano can reap on the landscape as we passed old buildings buried to the roof line, now encased in solid rock.  But this didn’t dampen our spirits as our eye was on the prize of finishing this epic climb, topping off a great shared travel experience!


Footnote about travel: Margaret and I continued on after our week in Sicily, traveling by auto for another two weeks in Portugal.  We have lots of stories to tell about that part of our holiday but will save it for another time.  What I do want to to talk about is my continued amazement of the travelers we encounter when traveling in Europe.  There were Jerry and Jane from the Pacific northwest traveling for six weeks. Having started in Paris they were driving wherever the inspiration took them.  There was Cat from California, a sixty-four year old semi-retired, divorced attorney traveling solo through Europe by public transportation.  Cat had an open ended plane ticket with no plans to return home anytime soon. There was Doug, a young retiree from Canada traveling solo for six months, following his instincts through Europe. And there was the grandmotherly woman we met on a boat ride up the Douro Valley whose passion in life was travel.  You’d swear by looking at her she wouldn’t leave her front yard, but we were amazed to hear the places she’d been, some we hadn’t even heard of.

There were others we met along the way, one more amazing than the last.  I’m awed by the traveling spirit, especially by those you least expect to have it.  And that’s the essence of why we keep traveling.


“The Hamster Wheel States of America”

Margaret and I are big fans of European travel writer Rick Steves.  If you’re not familiar with Rick, he has been traveling to and writing about European travel for many many years.  His philosophy is to explore travel destinations as if you were a local; stay at mom-and-pop lodgings, eat where the locals eat, take public transportation to experience life as if you lived in the city, town or village you’re visiting.  In other words have an authentic experience in your travels.

When we travel to Europe we use the Rick Steves travel guides as our bible.  Before our trip we consult the guide for lodging suggestions (no chain hotels suggested here!) and tips on transportation between destinations.  Once we arrive at our destination the travel guides are great for dining suggestions, short cuts for avoiding long lines at tourist sites plus suggestions on entertainment that is authentic to the region.  Rick takes great care to enhance your travel experience while saving you money.

If you love to travel or just like to read about interesting places subscribe to the Rick Steves on-line newsletter that features stories from Europe and other destinations.  His website is full of great information about European travel and includes a great readers forum to answer questions on every country in Europe by travelers with first hand knowledge.  And even though Rick Steves has become an industry with his guidebooks, tours, DVD’s, travel products, PBS broadcasts, webinars and seminars, he has kept true to his core value which is providing travelers with the tools to have a great experience while traveling in Europe.

So why is this Blog’s titled “The Hamster Wheel States of America“?  This is reference to an article-travel-news-02-15-corporate-hamster-wheelarticle in Rick Steves’ most recent newsletter.  What struck me about this article is Rick’s perspective on the world and America’s place in it.  As he states in the article “There’s no question that, economically, we are firmly established on top of the world. Yet, we are never reminded that half of humanity is struggling to live on $2 a day.”  Here’s a link to the entire article…..let me know what you think about it;