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Archive for April, 2013

Italy: the outtakes

Last night in Venice. Will just rallied Dad and I for a walk down to the Piazza San Marco. He hadn’t gotten to see Harry’s Bar, and wanted to check it out. The sidewalks and the piazza are still packed with people at 9:30 p.m., and it’s pleasantly warm out. Plenty of couples strolling around with arms entwined. I see why people say this city is so romantic. Especially at night, it’s got a sensual ambiance to it. In a week or two summer season will be full swing and you won’t be able to take a step without running into a street vendor or a visitor from anywhere in the world. I’ve been to London, Paris, Copenhagen, New York City. There’s a crazy fusion of culture here in Venice, too. But what I enjoyed most here was getting lost this afternoon on my way back from shopping and watching the real Venezians head home after a day at work. Normal people, living in this crazy historic city unlike any other in the world. It must be strange to live here.

Tomorrow we head home. I’ve been all over the world with my family and this trip brought back a lot of memories of adventures at home and abroad. It’s interesting to go somewhere together as adults, all with our own separate lives, and see what our particular interests have grown to be. My brother, father and I are all rather obsessed with photography. We also all like to get up early and see things before the rest of the world is out and about. This morning and in San Gigmignano I bumped into my dad while out for an early morning run. We both had independently headed for the castle above Lake Bled to check out the daybreak view.

Having Abigail along on this trip made it really fun for all of us, especially Will of course.  And Will is to be commended for driving the Vito van more than 1200 miles through Tuscany, to the winding narrow road that took us to the Cinque Terre, all the way up to Lake Como, and then through the Alps and into Slovenia. As my mom said earlier tonight: “This wasn’t as much a vacation as it was an Italian road trip.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Ciao for now.

Last stop: Lake Bled, Slovenia

I’ve been really excited about visiting Slovenia from the very beginning of this trip, and it’s hard to believe that we’re already here. This our last stop before returning to Venice tomorrow and heading home the following day. Slovenia is known for its beautiful scenery, kind people, affordable prices and smart politics, and though we’ve only been here for an afternoon I’d have to say that this seems like a country that lives up to all of those things. Lake Bled is a beautiful place to take a walk, a run, a bike ride or row across the lake to a beautiful little island with a cathedral on it, and we did all those things this afternoon (except the bike ride). We’re not going to make it to Ljubljana, which sounds like a great city, to which I have to say “300 hairy bears’ (that’s a Slovenian curse, they are very mild mannered). Guess I’ll just have to come back. Anybody up for it?

Thanks for reading and viewing my photos. This will be my last blog post from this trip!

Darn good day for the Dolomites

Up high in the Italian Alps, we’ve landed in beautiful Castelrotto.  The air is clear and it’s intermittent hail, sunshine, or rain. On a Sunday afternoon in the shoulder season, everything in town is very much closed. But I ran around checking out some of the trails and country roads. There are dozens of chalets and spas, perfect for a relaxing vacation in summer or winter. We’re on the very early edge of summer (our hotel only opened back up again last week) so it is next to deserted. In other words – it’s fabulous and we love it. This is by far my favorite spot of the tour so far. Most of the photos were taken out on a 75 minute run around town and beyond.

Rainy day on Lake Como

We woke up to rain in Monterosso al Mare and it followed us all the way north, past Genoa and Milan. to Lake Como. (Italy has the most tunnels of any country I’ve ever visited, even more than Norway!) Took a nail-biting drive along the Bellagio side of the lake to reach this picturesque village with cobbled streets. Must give great credit to my brother Will for his capable chauffeuring abilities, with his wife Abigail in the co-pilot’s seat.

Rain has continued all day. Nevertheless, we’ve escaped the crowds. There are people here but nowhere near the multitudes we congregated with in the Cinque Terre. Walked around the city streets, enjoyed a lakeside afternoon repast, and now relaxing a bit. Mark Twain stayed at our hotel, the Hotel Metropole, while traveling here in 1867.

He wrote in Innocents Abroad: “Our hotel was at the water’s edge, or at least the front garden was at the water’s edge. We used idly spend the time walking among the specks of brushes and smoking in the twilight. Our look wandered far away up to Switzerland and the Alps seemed so immense that, looking at them, we felt an indolent desire not to look so closely. We were satisfied with the contact with water: we used to go down the small steps, we immersed ourselves and swam in the lake, sometimes we used to board a sweet little boat and sailed around among the reflection of the stars. Our evenings used to end up with a lively billiard game on one of the usual old and dirty tables. At midnight we used to eat our second lunch in the spacious bedroom; a smoke on the porch which overlooked the lake, the garden, the mountains; this was the last activity of the day. Then everybody went to sleep between the scented sheets, drowsy but excited by the agitated alternation of different sceneries which used to crowd in our mind..”

We can’t see Switzerland, due to the persistent clouds that aren’t likely to clear before we depart. But it’s lovely to be here nonetheless. Tomorrow we are on to Castelrotto in the Dolomites (Italian Alps).

Cinque Terre

Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore. Corniglia was my favorite, but I have very few pictures from there. The Cats of Cinque Terre could be a fun photo essay. Many of the trails are closed and not accessible. It would have been nice if someone had warned us of this beforehand. Great trains. We won’t come back, but that’s because we have a people problem – and there are an awful lot of people here. I guess that’s what you’d expect from a UNESCO World Heritage site. Go early in the day, and hang out in Vernazza before the hordes get there. As Dad said in the afternoon, quoting Poe: “Descent into the maelstorm.” And he (as usual) was right.

Lucca, Pisa, Monterosso al Mare

The leaning tower of Pisa is a lot more impressive in person. I didn’t even realize I wanted to see it until we turned a corner, and there it was.  Riding bikes around the city wall the Romans built around Lucca was pretty fun, too. We were dodging Italians left and right. Everyone’s off work because today’s the anniversary of Italy’s liberation from the Nazis in 1945. So it’s a great day to say, yay Allies! Monterosso al Mare was swarming with people when we arrived, but has quieted down now that it is getting toward evening. Tomorrow we will hike along the coastline to the other four towns in the Cinque Terre.

Under the Tuscan sun

Not my best shots today. Just wasn’t feeling inspired .. or maybe failed to find the inspiration. Not quite sure which. Tuscany is everything you’d expect it to be, though. Vineyards, rolling hills dotted with olive trees and scrub oak, and many wineries. In other words, not all that dissimilar to home (Santa Ynez).

(Updated: This post has been updated with images from Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, walk and run around San Gimignano.)

The vanguard takes Venice

Sometimes pictures are worth more than words. Here are my images from our full day in Venice today. Blue skies, crowded alleys, and some lovely more local areas early in the morning. Ana and Danielle, those nuns on the bridge are us in about 50 years .. David Vo, those meringues (and the gelato) are all you. Click on any image to bring up the full size image gallery. Enjoy! (We are in Padua now, heading to Tuscany tomorrow.)


Gray skies and gondolas in Venice

We are waiting for Will and Abigail to arrive and join us in Venice. Since most of the day was eaten up with travel, today was really just about checking out the canals and alleys a bit. Mom/Dad have been here before. I haven’t. I’d say it is exactly what I expected. Too many tourists (even though this is very early in the summer reason, so early it is still raining) in a very old and fascinating city on water. I feel slightly uncomfortable here because I can’t get a feel for what it is like to actually live here – it is impossible when every business caters to people from out of town.

Everything my friends advised me of has been spot on (it is crowded, the narrow alleys are awesome, easy to get lost, watch out for scammers, not a great city for running or for the mobility-impaired.) But the worldwide mixture of tourists is fascinating and the Venetians who are about seem fashionable and relatively nice.  I’m not able to write much tonight because I am just too tired. Tomorrow, hopefully, will be a more adventurous and blog-inspiring day.

Heartbreak in Boston

I started wishing that I was in Boston for the 117th running of the Boston Marathon last Friday, in the morning.

You can scroll down and read proof in the post below: “You know you’re a runner when .. it’s Boston Marathon weekend and three days before the race you start thinking about how exciting it would be to be in Boston right now. Even just as spectator or a volunteer.”

I’ve qualified to run Boston twice in the past, but never registered. My lame excuse? I didn’t have someone who would be willing to take the trip out there with me for the race. Marathons are emotionally and physically grueling experiences. They’re impossible (at least for me) to run without someone’s arms to collapse into at the finish line.

The fact that the dead and injured victims of this senseless, evil, horrific attack were mostly spectators – people who were there to support their loved ones, or maybe even just watch strangers sweat and struggle to the finish line – is to me one of the cruelest wrongs of all. They were there to send their cheers and well wishes onto the passing runners, to help them reach the finish line by standing by. Someone decided to do them grievous harm.


There’s no answering that, and no logical explanation will ever come. I simply can’t accept the inhumanity of it all. An eight year old boy, there to cheer on his Dad running the race, died for no reason. So did two other young women in the prime of their lives. As of today, more than 80 people are still in the hospital with serious injuries suffered in this attack. There is no why, just awful wrong.

If you know runners, or are a runner, you may understand that we have a solidarity among us that runs very deep. As part of the contract staff of Running USA, I have learned that one of the reasons for this is that it starts at the top. The people who produce running events and road races in this country are some of the best people there are. They are kind, compassionate, logical, smart businesspeople. They work in an industry that brings out the best in its participants. Everything they do, every decision they make, is for the runners.

Every year at the Running USA conference, Boston race director Dave McGillivray and his team from DMSE Sports  (who produce the Boston Marathon on behalf of the Boston Athletic Association) are out on the course with us for our morning runs. They are one of the top race production teams in the country. Detail-oriented, exceptionally organized, cautious and competent. Somehow they manage to take care of 20,000 runners, and hundreds of thousands of spectators, without a glitch, at a storied and historic event. It’s a monumental task, and they knock it out of the park.

And now this.

There’s a quote making the rounds via social media, which is spot on: “If you’re trying to defeat the human spirit, marathon runners are the wrong group to target.” (Credit to David and Kelvin Bright)

I would expand that to include the running industry at large. Our sport has experienced a boom in participation that’s going on more than a decade. Huge increases in participation numbers have been recorded by our Running USA statisticians as Americans take to the roads. Those of us who have been running for our entire lives have welcomed them joyously. We would love nothing more than for everyone to be a runner, whether you jog a mile or race 26.2.

My colleague Christine Bowen, who was in Boston and thankfully uninjured in the attacks, put it this way: “We are all part of this amazing industry and I know we will all stick together and come out even stronger, but it’s going to be an emotional road.”

But if anyone can take on an emotional road, it’s the running industry, its runners and the people who love them. See you out there.


A few ways to contribute to the victims of the Boston Marathon attack: