Monday, 30 April 2012

The Most Famous Rock

Yesterday as we were heading out for the east coast of Italy to visit the beaches and the coastal towns, we found a real treasure. Passing through the village of Chiusi della Verna, 10 km away from our villa, we found that this was the village where Michelangelo spent time as he was growing up.

Our Tuscan Flickr

La Verna is famous as a Franciscan sanctuary. The mountain was given to St. Francis in 1213 by Count Orlando Cattani Casentino. It was the site of the miracle of the stigmata in 1224 were Francis sees a vision of an angel being crucified and afterwards receives the marks of the crucifixion on his body.  The mountain has a lovely forest of maples, ashes, elms and beeches.
The father of Michelangelo had a house in this village and the young Michelangelo spent much time here when he was growing up. We saw the actual rock that inspired him when he painted the Creation of Adam on the roof of the Sistine Chapel and the views that he used as backdrops in some of his other famous paintings. For sheer unexpectedness, this has to rank as the coolest surprise moment of our trip to date! The birthplace of Michelangelo is Caprese Michelangelo (more about that in another blog).

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Popping Up in Poppi

Wednesday we went for a walkabout-driveabout from the villa over to the nearby town of Poppi, set up on a hill overlooking the surroundings plains. I was getting nervous twitches from seeing all the cyclists out on the roads but mostly managed to keep it together. Poppi is in the province of Arezzo approximately 40km east of Florence. It is set on the top of a hill that overlooks the Casentino valley.

There is a small hexagonal shaped church in the center of town called the Church of the Madonna del Morbo. It is very small but contains several important paintings.  Walking down the street towards the other main church, Church of Saints Marco and Lorenzo, you pass under elegant arches with very narrow alleyways turning off the main street.
It wouldn't be Italy without beautiful towns/villages and steep alleys throughout the old city. Quite a different look here compared to what we've become accustomed to in Greek towns.
Little Fiats are everywhere, and the one one the left made our Fiat Punto in Greece seem like a semi-truck in comparison! Lots of narrow alleyways that we couldn't figure out whether they were pedestrian only or if cars actually try to drive through them - likely the latter!
The most important structure is the Castello dei Conti Guidi built in 1191. 

Thursday, 26 April 2012


A little while ago we learned from youtube that the Tomtom GPS company had Star Wars voices. here is the link to the add on youtube which is using the Darth Vader and here is Master Yoda! Tomtom also have Han Solo and C3PO but those aren't as cool. We have a Garmin GPS so we started looking on their website and found that they have Darth Vader and Yoda too. Here is the Garmin website Anyway, now Daddy is very spooked driving around Italy with Darth commanding his directions and saying things like, "Recalculating - do NOT fail me again!"

The Cutting-Edge Cycling Canadian Book Tour

So the whole purpose of heading back to Canada, aside from getting my fill of all-you-can-eat sushi (thanks Glenn!) was to promote Cutting-Edge Cycling and get the copies out to cyclists. It was a busy but fun time, as I had arranged a stash of book events for the week back. Spent most of the weekend at Paris-Ancaster, a big 1500 rider mass road/dirt/mud 60 km ride that I've done a number of times.
Saturday evening (April 14), I also booted over to London and the Forest City Velodrome, currently one of only two covered cycling tracks in Canada (the other one being in my hometown of Burnaby, BC, but well after I had left). I've only ridden on the track once, and that was in 2005 down in Dunedin in my last sabbatical.
One of the greatest things about cycling are the people you meet through the sport. It's even cooler when there's a scientific connection, as I've had the chance to ride with fellow cyclist-scientists all around the world and network that way. I've known Geoff Power (right) since 2005 or so, when he was in his late B.Sc. stages back at his home in St. John's, NL and Memorial U, when we've done some nice rides and breakfasts out to Cape Spear. Geoff is now finishing his Ph.D. at U. Western Ontario, and it's great to see his development. Besides becoming a super-fast cyclist, it's great to see his cool research development as a scientist.
FCV is awesome for the community, and track is a great place to learn racing. The group does a great job of getting riders of all levels involved, and the track is dizzyingly short at only 138 m, meaning that a lap is about 15 s or less! It was especially cool seeing all the young teenaged cyclists really getting into the sport. Thanks to the 2015 PanAm Games being in Toronto, a new track will be built in Milton, so that might be my next big thing?

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

La Dolce Vita - Tuscany!

After a nightmare travel that I doubt we'll laugh about one day, we're all reunited together here at La Tornaia, the villa we've rented for two weeks near the village of Chitignano in Tuscany. It's up in the midst of endless valleys and hills, and quite remote from anywhere big or built up - that's the point! We rented it through Olaf's sister, and Olaf has joined us to renew our adventures, sans canoe though...
On the left is the view from our front door, with valleys down below. The flowering vine over the fence is really pretty, and leads to a trail that climbs up to Chitignano.
The morning dawned with pouring rain, but cleared up after noon. We went for a walk up to Chitignano in the afternoon up the same trail. Just before then, Olaf took me on another crazy adventure, namely the longest run (75 min) of my life up and down every single valley, with not even 10 m of flat roads. Luckily no canoe this time, but the fierce Viking was broiling and jumped into the 10oC pool.
More views from and around the villa. Lots of hills and valleys all around
 The boys seem to be living la dolce vita!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Greece Top Ten

Top 10 Things I'll Miss about Greece (not in order)
Seeing shepherds along the road with their sheep and goats
Being able to bike everywhere
Seeing the mountains from our apartment windows
Loukoumades and Loukoumies
Walking to the Bakery in the morning for bread
Greek lessons with Nick
Flopodopolous - our stray dog at the cafeteria
Having school at the university computer lab with more computers than we can use
Our friends from the university and church

Friday, 20 April 2012

Mount Olympus - Home of the gods

Monday we took a drive to Mount Olympus which is the highest mountain in Greece.  It is a multi-peaked mountain with the highest points being Mytikas, Skolio and Stefani at heights of 2918m, 2912m and 2909m, respectively.  It is also the second highest mountain in the Balkans. The diameter is approximately  25km and it is an independent massif (not part of any mountain chain) covering an area of 500 km2. It is located in the north - east corner of Thessaly.

In ancient times, Mount Olympus was considered to by the home of the twelve ancient Greek gods. Homer describes them as living in "the mysterious folds of Olympus." Mytikas was called the Pantheon or meeting place. The throne of Zeus was on the north-east face of Stefani. Artefacts have been found near Olympus dating back to the Iron Age. One of the small towns nearby, Dion, has archeological sites where artefacts  from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. have been   found representing Macedonian, Greek and Roman eras.
In more recent history, the armatoli hid here during the War of Greek Independence.  In 1941, battles were fought here between the Germans and Greeks, New Zealanders and Australians and the Greek Resistance had outposts here. Since the 1950's it has been the site of mountain adventures and some tragedies.
In 1981m Mount Olympus was declared a "Biosphere Reserve" and over 150,000 people visit it annually (although likely much higher since there is only one information check point and different points to enter) and approximately 10,000 people climb to the summit; 70% of them are international visitors.
We drove approximately 1/3 of the way up the mountain and hiked on a nice forested trail from elevation 1050m to 1450m. We had a few glimpses to the top of the mountain but not as many as we hoped for. Then we drove to Prioni, which is a trailhead are with a small restaurant at the end of the mountain road. You can hike 11km from the town of Litochoro or you can drive to Prioni and start from there.

On the way back down we stopped at the Old Monastery of Saint Dionysis. It was built in the 1500's and suffered many things but the worst was when it was completely destroyed in WWII. It is slowly being rebuild now.
On our drive back we stopped at Platemon castle which is one of the best preserved castles in Greece but it was closed. We also stopped at the Theater of Tempi which had a historical sign but was actually a modern theater. It is nestled between Mount Olympus and Mount Kissavos and is a 600 seat outdoor theater with amazing views. It was built to show the plays of Aeschylus (ca 525B.C.) who is considered the "father of ancient Greek tragedy." It is believed that he wrote over 50 - 90 plays but only 7 of them still exist.