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Delicious cycle

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Emara Angus talks us through our tea and chocolate options at Silk Road, part of The Pedaler's Beans and Bites bike tour.

With caffeine already coursing through our veins, Emara Angus talks us through our tea and chocolate options at Silk Road, part of The Pedaler’s Beans and Bites bike tour in Victoria.

It started as a compromise. With a few hours to see Victoria, the idea of a bike tour came up. According to Stats Canada, Victoria is the cycling capital of Canada. Any beer drinker knows it’s also the craft-brewing capital of Canada. The Pedaler, a new bicycle tour-company in town, offers Hoppy Hour, a three-hour guided tour of Victoria’s best breweries and brew pubs with some tasting thrown in.

“What about the kids?” my wife asks.

Ryan and Emma are teenagers, I point out. This doesn’t seem to answer my wife’s question.

“When my parents stopped at a pub, I got a packet of crisps, my brothers and the car radio for company,” I explain. “Sometimes there was a pub garden to play in.”

Apparently times have changed.

Cafe machiatto at Tre Fantastico, part of Victoria's burgeoning coffee scene.

Cafe machiatto at Tre Fantastico, part of Victoria’s burgeoning coffee scene.

So we end up on The Pedaler’s Beans and Bites tour, a leisurely three-hour ride punctuated by frequent stops for great coffee, indulgent baked goods and a tea-and-chocolate tasting. As compromises go, this one turned out to be great.

We’re staying at The Parkside on Humboldt Street and walk just a few blocks to The Pedaler on Douglas. Within a few minutes of being fitted for bikes and helmets, and meeting our co-riders, we cycle right back to The Parkside. Tre Fantastico is on the ground floor of the hotel and it’s our first stop.

Coffee is very much integral to the ‘Tre’ part of the name – the other drinks being ale and wine. With floor-to-ceiling windows and salvaged wood tabletops, the décor is simple, rustic, but elegant – much like the menu, which features fresh pastas, a charcuterie board and a Red Devil ale sausage for which I’d really like to return.

I’m served a caffe macchiato and I photograph the pretty leaf design in the foam. Sitting across from me is Jazelin Maskos, a coffee aficionado and Pedaler-guide-in-training who will soon be leading the very tour we’re on. I tell her that coffee never seems to be quite hot enough for me. Pretty soon she’s taking me into uncharted coffee territory.

“Ordering an extra hot latte, along with the milk and the sugar, changes the chemical breakdown of the coffee,” she says. That can border on sacrilege if the beans happen to be Ethiopian Tchembe, which apparently has a red wine and blueberry pie aroma, or Guatemalan with its hints of chocolate and raisin.

Cycling through Victoria's Beacon Hill Park on the Beans and Bites Tour.

Cycling through Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park on the Beans and Bites Tour.

A trained barista, Jazelin is part of Victoria’s burgeoning coffee scene. That scene includes ‘barista throwdowns’ in which contestants must prepare espresso, latte/cappuccino art and original drinks in timed performances and be judged on everything from their knowledge and creativity to the taste of their drink.

“Victoria is the best coffee city in Canada,” says Jazelin, without hesitation. For a place with such great beer, that’s fitting, I think to myself. I wolf down some of Tre Fantastico’s excellent banana bread and soon we’re back on the road, cycling through Beacon Hill Park. We briefly ride along Dallas Road and enjoy the ocean breeze before heading inland again to Fernwood. Maybe it’s the cool graffiti or the piercings and tattoos per square foot, but Fernwood feels a bit like East Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, and like Commercial Drive, excellent coffee is here.

The Fernwood Coffee Company is a small roastery and café, serving great locally-sourced food and coffees fine-tuned over numerous samplings. With bikes locked and helmets in hand, we troop into the back of the café with resident barista, Rek Feldman. Surrounded by sacks of beans from Rwanda, Ethiopia, Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica, Rek serves us some of Fernwood’s Cold Brew. It takes eight hours to brew with ice water through a drip in a glass tower that looks like a science experiment. It tastes unlike any iced coffee I’ve had because it’s not really iced coffee – just cold. As Rek explains, most iced coffee is brewed hot first then left to cool and chilled with ice – diluting the coffee’s flavour and altering its chemical makeup.

Fernwood Coffee's Rek Feldman.

Fernwood Coffee’s Rek Feldman.

Fernwood’s Cold Brew tastes sweet even without sugar. For those who like a little bitterness, Rek adds tonic water, which completely alters the flavour and the aroma. It actually smells like lemon or green tea. We finish our visit with an espresso and now, three coffees into the tour, I feel ready to cycle to Nanaimo. Instead we head back downtown to Silk Road, a tea store on Government Street.

Tea expert Emara Angus has our settings arranged at the tasting bar and because there aren’t enough stimulants already coursing through our veins, there’s chocolate paired with each tea. The sight of chocolate almonds, Ecuadorian dark chocolate and Ginger Elizabeth milk chocolate thrills Ryan and Emma, for whom chocolate is an essential ingredient with any hot beverage.

Emara starts us off with Silk Road’s Angel Water tea, a blend of mint, rose, lavender and elderflower. We let it melt the milk chocolate on our tongues and there’s a chorus of “mmmmms”. That’s followed by Japanese sour cherry tea that smells so creamy and is so good with the dark chocolate from Ecuador. We finish with Vanilla Plantation from Sri Lanka, which apparently makes a great chai tea latte and certainly tastes good with chocolate almonds.

Silk Road’s teas are all organic and have won numerous awards. We cycle away with small store bags of tea swinging from our handlebars, but we don’t have far to pedal. Bon Macaron Patisserie on Broad Street is our final stop, which given the level of indulgence on offer here, is probably just as well.

Bon Macaron Patisserie's David Rousseau with some very versatile pastry. Resistance is futile!

Bon Macaron Patisserie’s David Rousseau with some very versatile pastry. Resistance is futile!

David Rousseau is behind the counter and guiding us through an eclectic mix of flavours available in sweet, bite-size macaroons: curried mango chutney, white chocolate-wasabi, bacon-creamcheese and goat cheese-fig catch our eyes. Prior to this I’d only ever eaten my mum’s coconut macaroons, so I’m somewhat in a state of shock. A tiramisu-salted caramel macaroon helps me recover.

“It’s a very versatile piece of pastry,” says David, who makes about 1,000 macaroons a day and clearly enjoys inventing new flavours. (He was busy making a bacon-maple syrup batch for Father’s Day.)

Thankfully it’s a short ride back to The Pedaler and even shorter walk to The Parkside. We agree that Victoria reminds us of one of our other favourite weekend  getaways – Portland, Oregon: cool people doing innovative things with food and drink in stylish settings.

Must get back for that beer tour though!

If you go:

The Beans and Bites tour leaves daily from The Pedaler on 719 Douglas St. at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. It costs $79 per person. Also on offer is the Hoppy Hour guide to Victoria’s brewing scene ($79; leaves daily at 1:30 p.m.) and Castles, Hoods and Legends, a tour of Victoria’s historic neighbourhoods and landmarks. Visit www.thepedaler.ca or call 778-265-RIDE (7433).

Victoria’s Parkside Hotel and Spa is a short walk from the Royal B.C. Museum. It offers a family package from $179 a night, including family admission to the museum, two-hour rental of the hotel’s private movie theatre, plus a snack basket with pop, popcorn and candy. Call 1-866-941-4175 or visit parksidevictoria.com.

B.C. Ferries offers numerous summer package deals to Vancouver Island, including a Victoria Getaway from $109 per person, based on double occupancy. The package comprises one night at the Chateau Victoria Hotel, round-trip ferry from Vancouver for two adults and a car, plus complimentary parking. For more information on this and other deals, visit bcferries.com/vacations or call 1-888-BC FERRY.

For all other matters-Victoria, visit tourismvictoria.com

The Trail Collector

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Creator of sunshine-coast-trails.com Becky Wayte is probably the Sunshine Coast's most avid nature bather.

Creator of sunshine-coast-trails.com Becky Wayte is probably the Sunshine Coast’s most avid nature bather.

You might call Becky Wayte a wanderer. Almost every day for the last 20 years, Becky has hiked or biked a trail somewhere on the Sunshine Coast. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago though, that she became a collector.

Some people collect stamps; others baseball cards. Becky collects trails, maps them with a GPS, and documents them on sunshine-coast-trails.com, a website she created for outdoor enthusiasts. The site lists hundreds of trails, from Langdale to Earl’s Cove, with descriptions, maps, difficulty ratings and useful links. She has her favourites – three of which she describes in her own words in a sidebar to this story.

In 2011, hiking three to four hours a day, almost every day, Becky managed to map almost all of the Sunshine Coast’s trails in six months. She’s been updating her collection ever since. The Coast is home to some prolific trail builders, it seems.

“I actually thought it would take me a couple of years,” she tells me. “But I quickly realized that I’m a little obsessive. When I start something, I need to see it through to the end.”

But the truth is, collecting trails never ends. New trails are always springing up and some remain well-guarded secrets. In a recent interview with pinkbike.com, local mountain-bike phenom, Holly Feniak, describes the Coast’s trails as: “Dreamy. Loamy, mossy, bouncy, incredibly green, and in the secret spots … all that and steep.”

Cliff Gilker Park, Roberts Creek.

Cliff Gilker Park, Roberts Creek.

She might have added ‘never-ending’!

“For heaven’s sake, stop building trails,” Becky laughs, when I ask her about the Coast’s trail builders. “I actually love finding new trails and I admit, there might be the odd one I don’t know about. I’m always trying to keep up!”

For a moment, we think we may have found a new one. It’s an unusually hot day in May and we’re walking through a dusty trail off Field Road in Wilson Creek. We’re accompanied by Cody, a large, lovable dog from the nearby SPCA where Becky volunteers each week as a dog-walker. The path veers past someone’s back yard and into the forest.

“Let’s take a look,” says Becky, in her element. A few minutes later we come to a dead-end. Cody looks at us expectantly and we return the way we came. So what inspired Becky to take on this labour of love?

“I have three dogs and one has issues with other dogs, so I wanted to find new trails to hike where there weren’t so many people,” she says. “There were few websites, but they only featured the most popular hikes, places like Mount Daniel, so I decided I’d do it myself.”

Becky’s well qualified. Not only does she love the outdoors, but she learned to build websites through her work teaching computer courses in the Adult Basic Education Program at Capilano University in Sechelt. With the website established, Ryan Robertson, a Squamish-based app developer, who specializes in creating trail applications for iPhones and Androids, contacted Becky. Becky provided the GPS (Global Positioning System – the satellite navigation application) data and Ryan created the app. Trailmapps: Sunshine Coast costs $10 and is available at the Apple Store and Google Play.

For old-school trail lovers, she’s also created waterproof trail maps that are available in Gibsons at Spin Cycles, and in Sechelt at Source for Sports, the Sechelt Visitors’ Centre, and Off The Edge Adventure Sports.

Outdoors, technology couldn’t be further from Becky’s mind. While she’s always hiked to combat weight gain, she’s also convinced of nature’s therapeutic benefits. The Japanese have a name for it: shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Becky cites Japanese research, which points to the many benefits of simply being in nature – lower blood pressure, higher creative aptitude and boosted immune systems.

“I prefer the term ‘nature-bathing’ because I find just being out in nature makes me feel better. I always come home feeling better than when I left.”

Well, almost always.

Becky sheepishly recalls one particular hike that went awry, much to her husband’s despair. “I was hiking up Elphinstone and I’d let people know where I was going and what time I’d return. It took a lot longer than I’d expected though and my phone died.

“I got back around 7:45 p.m. – not the 5 p.m. I’d told my husband. He was pretty mad.”

The experience didn’t sour Becky’s love of Mount Elphinstone. In fact, the Mount Elphinstone Summit Trail ranks in her three favourite hikes and bikes. (See below.)

 

Kinnikinnick Park, West Sechelt.

Kinnikinnick Park, West Sechelt.

Sidebar

My Three Favourite Hikes & Bikes, by Becky Wayte

Mount Elphinstone Summit Trail (hike only)

This is a long, fairly difficult climb, but the view at the very top is worth it. The trail to the top can be accessed from the top of Sprockids or via some feeder trails off B & K logging road in Roberts Creek. If you take your time and enjoy a picnic and rest at the top, this hike will likely take you five or six hours.  Make lots of noise or wear a bell so the bears hear you coming.

Ruby Klein Traverse – Suncoaster Trail (hike or bike)

Beautiful views of Ruby Lake and a hand carved bench greet you at the highest point along the trail.  Easy to make a whole day trip out of this even though the hike itself will probably only take you a couple of hours. You can visit the Iris Griffiths Centre, take a swim in Klein Lake and there is even a feeder trail down to the Ruby Lake restaurant (Trattoria Italiano).

McNeill Lake Circle Route (hike or bike)

This is one of my favourite destinations in the summer months because I always combine a bike ride with a swim. The lake itself is not that well known so often no one else is there, especially on weekdays.  There are several trails that connect to create a loop around the lake, with access to the lake from a couple of spots. I park on Middlepoint Forest Service Road and take Copper Head, Dry Feet, a logging road, Old Pole Road and back to Copper Head. There is a short trail off the logging road just north of Dry Feet that takes you into the lake. This is an excellent place to ride your mountain bike if you have pre-teen kids or you just want a fairly flat ride (we don’t have many flat rides on the Coast). Hiking it probably takes about 1.5 hours and by bike about an hour, unless you stop to enjoy a swim.

For the definitive web guide to the Sunshine Coast’s trails, visit http://www.sunshine-coast-trails.com.

Vicious cycle: Biking the Big Apple’s core and beyond

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You try and raise your kids right - Minutes into the Five Boro bike ride and Emma's nabbed by NYPD.

F. Scott Fitzgerald loved Manhattan. In The Great Gatsby, he described its “first wild promise of all the mystery and all the beauty in the world,” when viewed from the Queensboro Bridge.

Chances are Fitzgerald wasn’t crossing the Queensboro on a bike when he wrote those words.

With 30,000 other cyclists.

In the pouring rain.

I looked back at Manhattan over a river of bobbing bike helmets on the Queensboro Bridge and saw imposing shades of grey, the tops of skyscrapers concealed by even greyer clouds.

It was Kilometre 24 of New York’s annual TD Bank Five Boro Bike Tour, a 68-kilometre celebration of car-free cycling through Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. The week before, temperatures hit 32 degrees Celsius. Today, the day of the big ride, the reason we’d trained together as a family, our motivation for flying almost 4,000 kilometres to New York, the mercury was barely nudging 10.

30,000 cyclists brave the rain in New York's Five Boro bike ride.

“This is actually fun,” said my daughter Emma, without even a hint of sarcasm. “Really!” she added, registering my look of disbelief.

Emma was clearly enjoying being the centre of attention as one of the tour’s younger participants. Soon after our 8-a.m. mass start from Battery Park and ride through the concrete canyon of Sixth Avenue, she’d been noticed by three NYPD bike cops as we snaked through Central Park.

“Hey, look at that kid, she’s barely breaking a sweat!” shouted one.

“What’s your name kid?” shouted another. “Well, listen Emma, don’t be thinking of beating us to the finish line, Emma. We can ticket you.”

We seemed destined to bump into the trio throughout the day, despite the numbers of riders involved and the distance covered. Accommodating 30,000 cyclists through New York’s five boroughs and across five major bridges must be a logistical minefield.

The fact that the tour has been staged annually since 1977 surely helps, but it’s only in recent years the city has begun to embrace bike culture on the other 364 days of the year. New York has expanded its urban bicycle network by 320 kilometres since 2006 while the number of New Yorkers commuting by bike has doubled in the last six In one of the busiest cities in the world, home to seven million people and 13,000 honking yellow taxi cabs, where rush hour starts at 5 a.m. and finishes about 15 hours later, riding a bike here is not as intimidating as you might think.

The day before the Five-Boro Bike Tour we had rented bikes from Liberty Bicycles five blocks south of Central Park. With some trepidation we cycled our aluminum hybrids west to the Hudson River Greenway, the longest stretch of a series of bike paths that circle the island of Manhattan. While busy with walkers, joggers and inline skaters, the greenway with its dedicated lanes and traffic signals is a great place to get acclimatized to biking in New York.

And after our first two days spent hopping on and off open-top buses visiting the Big Apple’s more obvious attractions — Empire State Building, for example — we felt a little less like tourists. (You can hardly visit New York and not visit such places, but be prepared for long lineups and short tempers.)

Crossing the Queensboro Bridge, over a century old, much loved by F. Scott Fitzgerald and made famous by Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).

With the eight-lane Joe DiMaggio Highway rumbling just a few metres to our left, it felt good to be setting our own pace, gliding south along the Hudson River past waterfront tennis courts, batting cages and soccer fields, piers and playgrounds. We had little trouble navigating the older, narrower streets of Greenwich Village, where we hooked up with a two-wheeled tour conducted by Levi Zwerling and Bike The Big Apple.

The company takes small groups of cyclists beyond the tourist trail through New York’s diverse neighbourhoods.

Nowhere epitomized that more than the Bedford- Stuyvesant neighbourhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where we cycled empty streets in eerie silence.

Home to a burgeoning population of Satmar, a Hasidic movement of mostly eastern European Jews who survived World War II, this well-kept community of row houses and apartments might just be the quietest place in all of New York’s five boroughs during Saturday sabbath. Conservatively dressed families, distinguished by men wearing oversized fur hats called shtreimel, ambled along the sidewalks ignoring the less modestly clothed cyclists in their midst.

By contrast, we stopped for a noisy lunch and beer-tasting at the Brooklyn Brewery, whose 150-year-old premises have been restored to their original bare brick and timber finery.

Various estimates put the number of community gardens in New York at more than 600, with 10 per cent of those located in the hip East Village and Manhattan’s Lower East Side. We paused to admire one, only for two of its creators to stop by and supplement Levi’s tour with their own version.

“That happens a lot in the East Village,” said Levi with a smile.

The ride back to Manhattan across Brooklyn Bridge’s busy boardwalk proved to be the most hair-raising part of the day. As we weaved in and out of pedestrians, clearly we no longer thought of ourselves as tourists — or at least not the kind of tourists who wander in and out of bike lanes. (Think Stanley Park seawall on any summer weekend.)

The experience helped prepare us for the Five Boro Bike Tour, which required plenty of weaving with almost 30,000 companions jockeying for space. While we passed expensivelooking Cannondales, Cervélos, Konas and Bianchis all requiring various repairs — usually flats — our trusty rentals kept us moving through the Bronx where churchgoers smiled at us in sympathy as the rain intensified.

Oh, the humanity! Bikers take cover under the RFK Bridge in Astoria Park during the TD Bank Five Boro Bike Tour.

In Queens we took refuge from the elements at Astoria Park under the RFK Bridge with thousands of other soaked riders. In the trendy Brooklyn neighbourhood of DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) at Kilometre 43 we fell inside a busy Starbucks for a family meeting to answer the following:

Quit the tour here and shortcut to our hotel for hot showers and hot food, or slog on through the deluge to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and the finish with everyone else at Staten Island?

“We’re going to come last if we stay in here all day,” said Emma, who clearly had decided on behalf of the family, much to her brother Ryan’s irritation.

So it was with some pride the Judd parents watched their kids high-five each other at mid-span of the Verrazano, once the world’s largest suspension bridge and closed to bikes on all but this day of the year.

Close ahead and all downhill was the finish at Staten Island.

Seven hours earlier, back in Manhattan and still half asleep, we’d cycled down Broadway and through Times Square (on a designated bike lane, no less!) to the starting line at Battery Park.

From here on the Verrazano, the city’s said to look spectacular on a clear day. Pelted by torrential rain and surrounded by leaden clouds, the view we got was lousy.

And we didn’t care.

If you go:

Bike New York organizes the annual TD Bank Five Boro Bike Tour and has a wealth of information on its website (www.bikenewyork.org) for anyone planning to cycle in the Big Apple. While the Five Boro tour is the biggest event of its kind in the U.S., Bike New York also stages smaller rides throughout the year, details of which you’ll find on its website.

Otherwise, to plan a twowheeled adventure in New York, visit nyc.gov/dotnews and click on “Bicyclists” on the left-hand side. There you can download or order the comprehensive New York City Cycling Map. Not only does the map illustrate the routes to ride, it also lists dozens of bike rental stores throughout New York’s five boroughs.

We rented reliable adult and children’s bikes from Liberty Bicycles (libertybikesny.com or 212 757-2418) in Midtown Manhattan (9th Avenue and 55th Street).

Bike The Big Apple (bikethebigapple.com or 1 877-865-0078) offers several different guided tours throughout the week and can tailor tours to suit individual requests.

New York offers hundreds of hotel options, but hotels that accommodate bikes are harder to find. The Buckingham Hotel (888 511-1900), two blocks south of Central Park, is well located and bike friendly.

After a long, wet bike ride, nothing aids recovery quite like new sun glasses.

We found New York’s subway system to be safe, reliable and relatively affordable at $2 a trip or $7 for a day-pass.While Manhattan is a great place to walk and browse, with a little planning you can easily navigate via subway between the city’s major sights. Hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus tours operated by CitySights NY (citysightsny.com) hit the highlights for $44 (adults) or $34 (children from five to 11) for a 24-hour period.

In the same vein, New York’s CityPass (citypass.com) at $79 (adults) or $59 (youth, 13-17) will buy you entry to six main attractions, including the Empire State Building observatory. It will also get you to the front of most lineups. For detailed tourism information, including the city’s calendar of events, visit nycgo.com

Written by nevjudd

December 15, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Roman holiday short and sweet

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It's not exactly the stuff of gladiators, but cycling Rome will still get your adrenaline pumping.

You think skydiving is exciting?

Try riding a bike through Rome for four hours: With your kids.
“Roman motorists tend to think of pedestrian crossings as just another hurdle to be navigated,” said Roberto, our guide. “In other words, don’t expect them to stop … for anything.”

Roman motorists probably tend to think of cyclists as ‘another hurdle’, which may explain why we saw so few bicycles during the two days we were there. But with less than 48 hours in Rome, a bike tour made sense. Riding plugs you into a city’s arteries and its heartbeat. When those arteries get as clogged as Rome’s, two wheels keep you moving and come with a breeze — more than welcome in 35-degree heat.

We mounted cruiser bikes on Via Ostilia, a back street a couple of blocks from the Colosseum. A minute later we were pedalling past the most iconic symbol of the Roman
Empire. Over the course of six centuries, half a million people are estimated to have lost their lives fighting in the Colosseum. “Sometimes it would be flooded to stage water battles,” Roberto told us.

My mind wandered to Russell Crowe, gladiators, executions and exotic animal hunts.

“Wouldn’t it be great if they converted it into a soccer stadium,” said my son Ryan.

“Vancouver library looks like that,” said my daughter Emma.

Watching the hordes sweat in lineups to enter the Colosseum only made me happier to push on, following closely behind Roberto as he sailed past tour buses and taxis to Circus Maximus.

This used to be the largest man-made venue in the world. Where did everything go?

Considering it was the greatest arena ever built, once accommodating 330,000 people, Circus Maximus today is an anticlimax. Dog walkers and joggers use the greenery where chariots once thundered. The only evidence of the venue’s illustrious past is the spina, a raised median in the middle of what was once the racing track.

“Much of the Rome you see today was built with material looted from Circus Maximus,” said Roberto. “They say parts of Circus Maximus are all over the city.”

The venue between the Aventine and Palatine hills still serves as a useful meeting place for Romans. More than 700,000 of them gathered here to celebrate Italy’s soccer triumph in the 2006 World Cup. And those who weren’t there packed Campo dei Fiori, where we cycle a little later.

“It was chaos in here … anarchy” said Roberto, recalling the night Italy beat France on penalty kicks.

A few market vendors were quietly selling fish and veg in the piazza, which is fronted by bars and cafés. But it was easy to imagine several thousand soccer fans funnelling
through narrow surrounding streets and conquering the piazza for a night. And they didn’t have to go far to gloat. Just around the corner is Palazzo Farnese, 150 feet of
Roman Renaissance splendour and the home of the French embassy.

“There were a few hundred French fans gathered outside,” said Roberto. “They left pretty quietly afterwards.”

Nap time in Roma.

We refilled our water bottles from an antiquated cast-iron water fountain. You’ll find a municipal water fountain on almost every street corner in Rome. They all bear the initials SPQR, ‘Senatus Populas Que Romanus,’ or ‘the Senate and the People of Rome’. That’s if you can see past the graffiti, which taints almost every public space in
Rome. Thankfully graffiti is harder to spot in Piazza Navona, a square so beautiful cyclists tend to spontaneously dismount.

Emma walked off to watch sketch artists at work while the rest of us sat and gazed at the Fountain of the Four Rivers, Gianlorenzo Bernini’s Baroque Roman masterpiece. Four Gods frame the centrepiece of the fountain, the Obelisk of Domitian, which is crowned with a dove. They represent the Nile, Danube, Plate and Ganges, the world’s known major rivers in 1651 when Bernini created the landmark.

What little shade cast by the Obelisk had been taken so we admired the Gods, all sinew and marble menace, while cooling our wrists in the water. Moments later we were back on our bikes slaloming between pedestrians ambling through Piazza Navona. The more we cycled the more comfortable we became navigating traffic. Perhaps it’s the raised saddle of a cruiser bike, but we couldn’t help feeling somehow superior to the other tourists trudging along baked cobblestones.

Water fountains are everywhere in Rome. So is the graffitti.

We had no choice but to join them at the Trevi Fountain where, unable to carve out a cycle path, we parked our bikes with Roberto and walked. It’s probably fitting that
seemingly half the world’s tourists would besiege one of the world’s most famous fountains. An estimated 3,000 euros are thrown in the fountain each day and anyone thinking of diving in to steal ready cash had better be prepared for a slow getaway.

It’s easy to see why so many people come: Almost 26 metres high and 20 metres wide, the Trevi Fountain is hard to ignore, especially with Neptune, God of the sea, taking centre stage on a chariot pulled by rampant horses. But it’s also hard to linger, surrounded by so many people, who probably all feel the same way.

Stopping for another drink might have been sensible thing to do. Roberto had other ideas. Not far from the chaos of the Trevi Fountain is Giolitti. In a city full of gelateries, Giolitti stands out for one simple reason. It has more than 100 flavours to choose from, and some of the recipes are almost a century old. The Coppa Giolitti, which combines chocolate ice cream, custard, chilled zabaione, and is topped with cream and hazelnut shavings, has been responsible for ice cream headaches since 1920.

For cyclists young and old, the restorative powers of ice cream cannot be underestimated, especially when it comes in flavours like Nutella, English Trifle, kiwi and Kit Kat.

Being North American we naturally chose to cram three flavours on top, since customers pay by the cone, not by the scoop. The gluttony delayed our progress by a full 15 minutes, but, according to Emma: “This is the best part of the tour.”

Second best might have been us cycling along the Tiber River, past the imposing cylindrical fortress Castel Sant’ Angelo and up Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter’s Square.

So many confining streets, narrow alleyways and busy piazzas only serve to emphasize the vastness of St. Peter’s Square and the basilica. Amid the chaos of the tour buses,
the taxis and countless buzzing scooters, we drank from a water fountain and watched the world go by.

It may have been chaos, but it was beautiful chaos.

Visit http://www.italysegwaytours.com for details about tours of Rome.

Hard to believe 5,000 tourists are two feet from Ryan and I.

Written by nevjudd

December 5, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Posted in Cycling, Italy, Rome

Tagged with , ,

Oregon and on and on …

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On the road again ... Ryan may be tiring of the car.

I can sense a little burnout in the Judd family.

For me it’s a mix of eating out, paying for it and being on the road every other day. For the kids, it’s the threat of having to mount a bike or the prospect of their parents getting them lost on two wheels or four. Leah just misses our cats, Murphy, Holly and Sylvester – the latter who thinks he’s the heavyweight champion of the world and may need the vet when we return.

I could be a beer blogger.

We have one last day and night in Portland. Ryan and I will see the Whitecaps versus Portland Timbers tomorrow night. With the temperature forecast to be 32 Celsius (90F) tomorrow, my nylon, long-sleeve Whitecaps jersey should feel just great now I’ve gained 10 pounds. I just spent 30 minutes on a hotel treadmill (we’re done with camping). My chest was wobbling just walking down the corridor to the fitness room.

We’re at the DoubleTree Hotel in northeast Portland. The hotel is hosting a Beer Bloggers’ Convention. I’m wearing my Beer T-shirt (there’s a picture of a bear with antlers on the front) and I’m sitting in the bar, but so far no one from the convention has asked me to join.

They may be shunning me for using the fitness centre.

Written by nevjudd

August 19, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Posted in Cycling, Portland

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Fat wieners at Fort Stevens

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Ryan skimboarding: Dude's ill.

I get a little excited in new places. (I don’t get out much.)

The moment I saw Cannon Beach I literally ran down Hemlock Street (the main drag), inquiring about places to stay for the night. For those of you familiar with Whistler, BC, it’s a bit like showing up Christmas week and asking if there are any cheap places to stay – ski in/ski out, preferably one night.

Here's one of the 200 photos I took of the Peter Iredale, a century-old wreck on the Fort Stevens shoreline.

So we ended up camping half an hour away in Fort Stevens at the mouth of the Columbia River for $40 a night. The KOA campground here has thought about everything a camper might want and provided it, right down to a free endless pancake breakfast (cue angels singing), a giant, bouncy inflatable pillow (not castle), indoor swimming pool, dog run (kind of a fenced off assault course – Wipeout for canines), mini golf, Internet cafe (hence this blog) and laundromat/games room. (Play ping pong during your rinse cycle.)

We’re in a tent, but there’s a range of cabins available and some of the RVs pulling in are far bigger than their names suggest: Scamper, Prowler and Arctic Fox hardly conjure up 15-wheeled juggernauts but that’s what most of them are. The 20-wheeled Bitch Slap at least lives up to its name.

The calm of Coffenbury Lake, for when the onshore breeze gets a little too bracing at the beach.

Better than the campsite though, is the beach – a bike ride away and every bit as epic as Cannon Beach, but without Haystack Rock. Unlike most of the accommodation options around here during the height of summer, the beach is empty – too vast to be conquered by tourists. It also doesn’t take kindly to ships, wrecking 2,000 of them since 1792. This isn’t the first place to describe itself as the Graveyard of the Pacific, but Fort Stevens’ credentials are impressive. The Columbia River has been forming and reforming pesky sandbars for centuries, creating endless hazards for boats that stray too close to the shoreline; boats like the century-old Peter Iredale, whose remains continue to rust on the shoreline here.

Does the sand make my wiener look fat?

We’re heading back to Portland tonight. The newlyweds camping next to us have awoken me several times. One of them snores louder than the hemmy engine on a 20-wheeled Bitch Slap. I give the marriage 18 months.

PS: As far as I know, there is no RV called a Bitch Slap. I made it up.

Written by nevjudd

August 19, 2011 at 8:45 am

Cannon Beach: Like a great duvet, but with bed bugs

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You’re in an expensive hotel and you throw yourself on top of a snow-white duvet. Cannon Beach is a bit like that. We’d been driving for ages, parked and walked straight to Cannon Beach. On seeing the white sand, Haystack Rock and the Pacific Ocean, we all did the same thing: flopped on the sand and made sand angels.  Then we applied sunscreen, rolled around some more, then watched Ryan and Emma bury each other.

Now I’m sitting by a camp fire in Warrenton, near Astoria, typing almost blind and marvelling at how good it feels to be covered in sand, smoke and stale sunscreen. Of course, my bedfellows may disagree, but they’re in the tent and almost asleep.

I’d write more, but wifi is sketchy in rural Oregon campsites, plus I’ve got to pee so bad my back teeth are floating.

Written by nevjudd

August 17, 2011 at 10:20 pm

You are now entering Vernonia, aka The Twilight Zone

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People are friendly in Vernonia, Oregon.

Within minutes of cycling into town, a woman told Ryan how much she liked his new Nikes; another woman asked me if I needed directions (I must have looked confused); and a motorist braked sharply so as to avoid ruining the photo I was about to take.

Other strangers said hello, and as we cooled our feet in the Nehalem River, kids floated by in inner tubes. No one swore and I couldn’t see any graffiti. Perhaps we’d entered the Twilight Zone.

Under cloudless skies, we’d just cycled 22 miles across wheat fields and through forests on a paved trail from Banks, about half an hour west of Portland. At Mile 12, Leah and Emma decided they’d had enough and cycled back to Banks while Ryan and I rode on the Vernonia. Ironically, that meant the ladies actually cycled farther than we did, and they were nice enough to drive to Vernonia to pick us up.

Tubing down the Nehalem River in Vernonia, Oregon.

Written by nevjudd

August 16, 2011 at 10:33 pm

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Miracle in Portland: 8 bridges, 26 miles, zero coffee shops

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Portland's Providence Bridge Pedal - not a car (or a coffee shop) in sight.

If, like me, you fall asleep thinking about next morning’s coffee, you’ll understand the creeping anxiety of waking up at 6 a.m. to join a mass bike ride through Portland – America’s capital city of coffee – only to discover the entire 26-mile route doesn’t coming within sniffing distance of java. Otherwise Sunday’s annual Province Bridge Pedal was excellent, particularly stopping to enjoy the views from the Fremont Bridge – closed to vehicle traffic just once a year for this event.

Emma sang rap music to help me through the last few miles of the Providence Bridge Pedal.

Written by nevjudd

August 15, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Posted in Cycling

Visit Tacoma. Seriously!

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Tacoma's Stadium High School, as seen in 1999 movie 10 Things I Hate About You.

Tacoma’s a nice place. Who knew?

There’s a decent boardwalk for bikes and pedestrians, with lots of fishing piers and waterfront pubs and restaurants. Downtown is a mix of reclaimed warehouses converted into coffee shops, pubs and funky little fashion outlets. It feels a bit like Seattle in miniature. There’s a pedestrian bridge to Tacoma’s glass museum featuring two glass trees created by Dale Chihuly. Chihuly is to glass blowing what Frank Lloyd Wright is to architecture. Ryan thought the random glass foliage was actually plastic bags, but then he was looking from a distance and hadn’t eaten in 20 minutes.

Dale Chihuly's glass trees on the bridge to Tacoma's glass museum. They can look like plastic bags from a distance.

Best of all, for fans of 1999 movie 10 Things I hate About You, Tacoma is home to Stadium High School, one of the most impressive-looking schools in all of North America. All brick turrets and Gothic spires, Stadium High School stands on a bluff over looking Tacoma and towers over a steep-sided stadium. Ryan and I tried to get in to kick a ball around, but it was all locked up. 10 Things I hate About You features Claire Danes and Heath Ledger (RIP) and was based on Shakespeare’s Taming of The Shrew.

Our accommodation beside the I5 freeway at the La Quinta Inn and Suites would not be noteworthy, but for the fact that it was full of middle-aged rockers wearing wigs and spandex. The lobby looked like a Richard Simmons video gone horribly wrong. Turns out Motley Crue were playing the Tacoma Dome half a mile away. Vince Neil must have worn them out because they were a lot quieter coming back than going out.

Written by nevjudd

August 15, 2011 at 9:54 pm

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