Our readers share tales of their ramblings around the world.
Who: Michael Lyon (author), his 11-year-old son Joshua, of Falls Church, Va., and their friend, Mike Polacek, of Salt Lake City.
Where, when, why: In August, we rode our bikes, with Joshua and I on a tandem, from Munich to Venice up the Inn River. We traveled across the Alps, down the Adige River to the Po River, and finally arrived in Venice 14 days and 750 kilometers later. I have been cycling along Europe’s rivers for more than 20 years, wrote a book on the subject and have been lucky enough to share this special type of European travel with Joshua for a couple of weeks during the past four summers. There is no better way to see Europe than by bike. It allows just the right pace to cover enough territory while having the time to really enjoy the sites — and stop for a well-deserved pastry or gelato along the way.
Highlights and high points: Our ride took us along mostly flat paved bike paths flanked by majestic mountains and through some of the most historic areas in Italy. Rolling through towns overflowing with Renaissance art and architecture, from Giotto and Tintoretto to Palladio, was certainly a highlight. Most tourists focus on only a few major Italian cities in this region, such as Venice and possibly Verona, but cycling provided us the opportunity to see so many other wonderful cities including Merano, Bolzano, Mantua, Ferrara, Vicenza and Padua, which are off the beaten path for most travelers. We did not meet a single American in any of these cities. The climb over some hills from the Adige to the crest overlooking beautiful Lake Garda, followed by an exhilarating five-minute descent down a wide, carless road to the old quaint town of Torbole and the banks of the Lake, was simply a breathtaking experience.
Cultural connection or disconnect: On a Friday afternoon in Verona, Joshua’s tooth became loose. It was not easy to find a dentist in Italy, as the weekend had already begun for all practical purposes, especially during August vacations, but the hotel manager at the Hotel des Arts called around and found a clinic that would open for us. We arrived at a small townhouse that served as the dentist’s office, and were greeted with smiles by an older dentist and his wife. The couple could not have been nicer, and tried everything to make Joshua feel comfortable. However, there was one problem — they spoke no English. Google Translate on my phone turned out to be the solution, with each of us speaking into the phone, which did the translating and allowed us to agree on a procedure: pulling one of Joshua’s baby teeth before an infection could take hold. Soon, Joshua was smiling — the procedure was a success. We were grateful for technology that could bridge the language disconnect and for Italian hosts, who made Joshua feel so at ease.
Biggest laugh or cry: We had just left Trento, heading south along the river trail, when we saw a large factory with giant letters spelling out Ferrari on the side. “Wow,” we thought, “this must be one of the Ferrari car factories, maybe we can take a tour!” We pedaled up to the facility, parked the bikes and walked in — only to find that it was the Ferrari Grappa liquor factory. No matter, we were treated to an enjoyable tasting, and ended up buying a bottle that traveled all the way to Venice in our panniers, subject to a sip here and there in the evenings.
How unexpected: The city of Padua proved a special treat. It’s a town not usually on a tourist’s agenda, but that is part of what made it special. A major 13th-century university that Albert Einstein attended, and where Galileo once taught; a marvelous botanic garden with historic and new sections; and a vibrant old city center, with modern chic stores and Renaissance-era buildings, all combined to make Padua something special. A highlight was the Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, which some consider the first example of modern Renaissance art.
Fondest memento or memory: In Merano, a city in Tyrol in Northern Italy, we took the train up into the Alps, and each rented bikes for the
60-kilometer downhill ride through the mountains along a paved path that followed the rapidly flowing Adige. Joshua rode the entire way, by far his longest ride on his own bike, and had the time of his life. I couldn’t have been more proud. Later in the trip, we stopped in Florence for a couple of days and decided to climb to the top of the city’s Duomo, something I had last done more than 35 years ago, while I was still in college. I worried that the climb might be too tough this time, but we actually raced to the top! Riding for a couple of weeks put us in great shape, and this climb together was part of the reward.
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