Some pictures to match the stories!
This is a road from Montevarchi (close to our house) on route to Chianti (wine villages- wine area) via Cavriligia. Most of the riding is like this: incredibly scenic (but don’t let the flat fool you. These hills are scary!)

At the start of the GRAF we took turns doing dinner. This night it was Erin (left- fellow Canadian from Banff) and Linden (middle- San Francisco) and Morgan (NY)s turn.
One of the first places we stopped was a church/vineyard (what a juxtaposition?!) with a private cellar in the basement with wines dating back to the 1940s. There are very few bottles from the 1930s because during ww2 when Italy was occupied, Nazi forces drank a fair share of wine for saving.
In Radda in Chianti we had a private Olive Oil and Chianti tasting session. YUM.
View from up top of Giole, Chianti
The walled city of Montergonni...
Pienza by day.
Morgan looking very artsy in Cortona... the city that got put on the map because of 'Under the Tuscan Sun'
Cortona Italy... sorry I thought that I had flipped this over. Turn your head 45 degrees to fully appreciate.
Lunch in the country side on the last day of the GRAF. Notice it is cold... as I am bundled up in all the clothes I have!
When we drove from San Giovanni to Pernes... and we stopped in Cannes for dinner... on the beach. Too bad it was also cold. Lisa, me and Jill... and Brad snuck into the background!
Cannes, France. To the left is the main drag of town.
At the reception at the villa. Lisa (middle) was a 'super canadian' wearing all of mine and Erins stuff. So this picture is of the "Canadians" of the night.
Kevin (on top) is also Canadian... three strong out of twenty some off leaders in pernes... Mogan had to get in on the Canadian picture too. (She is 1/4 Canadian).
The full costume that no one understood: the paper bag princess.
Living Room turned dance floor in Provence living room....
ScarpaMondo, where I got my new Italian Shoes. Literal translation: shoe world. Morgan, Erin and I are drooling in the window.
Just another day at the office... moving bikes from the warehouse to the leader house.

Given the historical obsession with the number thirteen, unhealthy it seems appropriate that 13 days into my Europa Backroads adventure I pause to reflect, buy pause to write, pause to entertain that which have comprised of my life in the last two weeks.

Opening up my 2008 season in Death Valley/ Las Vegas was exciting, busy and fruitful- but entirely different then what my life looks like now across the pond. It is a curious phenomenon how Backroads is Backroads no matter where you go, and yet there are so many differences.

Opening up with the Italian GRAF (see previous note and few pictures) provided myself and the fellow seven to get a sneak peak into living and leading in Tuscany (which incidentally is divided up between North and South- who knew). Our six day whirlwind went something like this: eat, walk, ride, church, hotel, vineyard, hotel, hotel, navigate narrow streets, ride, eat, hotel, sleep. Repeat. The days were so long and completely overwhelming (Which one is Radda? What were the Chianti villages again? Where do you lock the bikes at that hotel? Which place was the olive oil testing? What hotel had the spa only open on Mondays and Wednesdays? What city was the walled city with the 1.50Euro wall tour?) that was completed with us hoping in a Fiat Van and navigating our way to Pernes for a week of European Training (Yes, such a thing exists!)

We roll into Pernes-les-Fountains (but the leader house is actually located in Carpentras, these are all French suburbs and very confusing) late, too late, to another house. Another warehouse. Another new set of people. Incredible. The Carpentras leader house is the first house where I’d hazard to guess that English is the 2nd or 3rd language spoken. Almost everyone was fluent in French plus one other: we had German speakers, Czech speakers, Italian speakers, one guy spoke Polish and another spoke Ukrainian. This is a far cry from my limited phrases of French (mostly all to do with Patrick Dumont, the fictional character of my French cds- Hillary’s French cds) and extremely poor Italian (which is mostly words).

We got worked through the week: some fun things, some not so fun things, lots of sitting. I was able to learn quite a bit about my job in Ireland (approaching much faster then I realized) and make a connection with my new boss Alex. We capped off the week with a huge reception at the Leader house on Friday night (I made bean salad) that was also a costume party. I went as the Paper Bag Princess (bought a crown for 2 Euro at a costume store in Pernes), which I thought, was a universal children’s story (thus my choice) but ultimately I realized that Robert Munch is a Canadian author. So I spent most of the Friday evening drinking wine from a box (and nothing says awesome like wine from a box) and explaining to people (including the Euro BR bosses and the new leaders… and some of the US leaders) who the paper bag princess is. Sheesh.

Bright sports of the cold week in Pernes (it reminds me of the time Hillary and I went to San Francisco in February and unknowingly packed spring clothes thinking it would be hot, ha ha, joke was on us) include the reception, finding granola AND Peanut butter at the Intermarche, going riding with two of the guys from the Leader house- Jace and Jakub – (I wondered if I was in trouble when both of them showed up in head to toe matching riding spandex plastered in sponsorship), and running in the mornings in the French country side (a scene from beauty and the beast comes to mind… a little town… it’s a quiet village… every day, like the one before…) and finding a gym where for 12 Euro you could go and lift weights in a dingy room with one TV playing 6 months old MTV on very loudly. Oh the life!

And now, another 10 lengthy hours in a van later, we are back in San Giovanni. Our Italian GRAF group has dispersed as all of us head to language school (4 of us will go here in San Giovanni starting tomorrow) and now we are on our own, left to grow little Italian wings and fly.

A few things important of note not already mentioned via blog.

1. I am dressed completely inappropriately. The Pernes warehouse is dressier then the lululemon office (from my office days… but I guess colored stretch doesn’t say much?!) and I was noted on more then one occasion that I was fairly ‘casual’ –damnit. Also, it is cold here. And it is going to be cold in Ireland (I checked the average summer temperature… hot doesn’t exist). Cue holly asking Mum and Dad to send a box to her. YIKES.

2. Everyone can tell you are a tourist if you A. wear open toe shoes like flops and B. Order cappuccino or a café latte after noon (it’s a cultural no-no, as milk is considered a breakfast liquid).

3. You can buy a bottle of Italian wine (maybe not great quality) for 1.98 Euro. Most bottles of water start at 2.10Euro

4. Everything is closed on Sundays in Italy. Maybe not in the bigger centres… but here in little San Giovanni you can’t buy a thing. Looks like rice and canned beans for dinner tonight.

So these musings on my thirteen days concludes with me putting on the stove (for rice and beans), thinking about home plenty, and promising that I will post some pictures to compliment this blog later when I have filled my belly, finished my laundry and figured out how to bike to school tomorrow.

With love from Italia.