Triplog Day 15: Rome {0}

Robbie left to go back to jolly old England today so we sent him off with a truuuuuuuly authentic English breakfast. I think his omelette had just a little bit less bacon grease than his from a couple days prior.

After breakfast Spark and I got settled in our new hostel (complete with HOT shower unlike our last one) and headed out to meet up with Beth for a little more Roman exploration.

We headed into the Trastevere which was a pretty sweet little area of town – it reminded me at least a little of some of the nicer areas of Brooklyn which I really liked. I have a feeling that if you got to know this area of town a little bit it would become an amazing place to live.

On the way back downtown we encountered this giant douche driving around a city filled with the tiniest cars (even the buses here are tiny!) in a Hummer blasting 1) White Wedding – Billy Idol and 2) The Final Countdown – Europe. A young Roman and I really bonded in our joint excitement!

We said our goodbyes to Beth and made our way back to the hostel to get a good night’s sleep before the epic journey we’d face the next day. I’m pretty sure a local dude called us “Turkey Balls.”

The final SUNDOG of the trip. :(

Triplog Day 14: Rome {4}

Today was one of those days that ended up amazingly but started off pretty monumentally badly. Given that Robbie was leaving tomorrow and Sparkles and I were leaving the day after we figured that we should figure out how we’re packing our bikes for travel. Before we left my lady was kind enough to do a bunch of ‘cycling in Rome’ research for me which included the printing of about 100 Roman bike shops so I figured we’d be golden! What I didn’t count on is that out of all of those shops, maybe 4 of them were anywhere near downtown Rome and only 2 of them were anywhere near us. So, we mapped out the 2 closest ones and headed out in search of them only to discover that bike shops, like most other shops in Rome, tend to open and close whenever they want. 2 hours of walking around Rome in search of boxes and no dice.

So, we headed back to the hostel and I spent about an hour on the nerd trying to figure something out before we decided just to try calling the airline to see if they had any bike boxes available. They told us that they actually don’t allow bike boxes, which is funny because we definitely boxed them to bring them with us, but we’d have to use that saran wrap type stuff at the airport but not to worry because they are very careful with bicycles. We didn’t really buy that but figured we’d just have to take the chance so we picked up some bubble wrap just to be a little safer and called that case closed.

Realizing that we should have ridden around to the shops, we hopped on our bikes and headed down to the Colosseum. We missed the tour we wanted to take by a couple of minutes but figured it’d be worth taking a poke around regardless.

Much to my surprise and delight both THE SUNDOG & Sitty Robbie made appearances.

Our admission to the Colosseum also gave us access to the Palatine Hill which is one of the most ancient parts of Rome. It was truly beautiful and I really wish that we could have spent more time there but we’d already planned to head back to Africa to meet up with our friend Courtney for dinner.

Now, Spark’s sister is staying in Rome with her friend Lorenzo and we were lucky enough to be in town on the night when Lorenzo was throwing this big party in this old farm house (technically a castle) on the outskirts of the city. We didn’t know much about it other than there was music, art and lots of booze. We had to take a couple of trains, a cab and walk just to get there but it was a lot of fun and well worth the trip.

Robbie: “Beth, did you come straight from Aerobics Class?”

Robbie’s new Facebook profile pic, I guarantee.

The real party started when it came time to leave and we realized that we had no idea how we were getting home. It was around 4am and we were in bit of an industrial district (think Royal Windsor Drive in relation to Toronto, both in terms of feeling and geography) and there were no phones to be found to call a cab, very few cars driving by and most of them were probably piloted by drunk party goers. Apparently this is the norm in the region so I would have been hesitant to hitch anyway; at this point, with Spark half sleeping on a milk crate beside a news stand, I decide that we are walking towards Rome and hopefully something amazing will happen along the way. About a kilometer or so down the road something did! A city bus drives by and we decided that no matter where it went, we were getting on it! We flagged down the driver and hopped on – the driver didn’t speak English but we spoke just enough Italian to find out that it finishes it’s route approximately 2 minutes from our hostel. Sparkles woke up about 45m-1h later at Termini and his eyes lit up like a kid on xmas morning.

Our view of Spark:

Spark’s view of us:

Triplog Day 13: Rome {5}

After an unsuccessful attempt at a meet-up yesterday caused by my police troubles in Florence – we headed over to the train station first thing to meet up with Spark’s sister, Beth, who was staying in Rome for a little bit before heading off to Dubai.

No wonder the cops here are assholes – they have to ride around on Segways!

Who am I kidding? I would kill to ride around all day on a Segway.

Vintage Footie Jersey shop? Giddy up!

“This Pizza is so good, I need another one.”
“But you’ve only taken one bite out of that slice!”
“Doesn’t matter, it’s so good. I need another one!”

This shop was dope – they made personalized aprons and things of the sort so Spark and Beth picked one up for their niece, Olivia. I was really impressed to see the guy adorning the fabric in the old fashion way – no new fangled computron sewing machines up in here!

We’re classy.

And magical.

To quote Scotty Willemsen at his wedding “I’d like to thank little boys.”

So, what’s the one thing that you’re not allowed to bring into the Vatican? Swiss Army knives. I had my knife confiscated in Florence but Spark forgot to take his out of his bag so we had to do the Vatican in groups of two as to not lose another of Sean’s knives.

Matt: There’s a lot of glare in this shot.
Rob: There’s a lot of self-importance in that shot.
Matt: BURN!

This kid was amazing. He got scolded by the same woman 3 or 4 times for making pigeons fly into her daughter but he was relentless in his endeavors. Ultimately, Chunk of Goonies fame, failed to capture a bird but he was successful in capturing a little piece of all our hearts.

The SUNDOG does the Spanish Steps

Il Margutta – definitely the most expensive / fanciest meal of the trip and as good as it was, it most certainly wasn’t the best. In any case, it’s nice to see all the options for Vegetarian / Vegan fine dining throughout the cities we were in.

Triplog Day 12: Siena > Rome {2}

Siena is a beautiful city and we had a lot of fun here. I wish the weather had been better but that’s pretty much the case for most of Italy. What can you do? We made the best of it and wouldn’t let a couple of soakers ruin our good times.

We figured that we’d hop on a train to Empoli and then transfer to Rome which would mean that we wouldn’t have to head all the way back to Florence. Once we got off the train at Empoli we realized that we did in fact have to roll on to Florence to make the transfer. No biggie, right? We’d just get on the next train, right?

Well, a couple of seconds later my heart sunk into the pit of my stomach as I realized that I left my little Under The Weather bag in the bike car on the train – the very same bag that housed my passport, my phone, my notebook, a little wooden monkey that I brought with me for good luck, our eurail passes, some postcards for my lady and my new camera complete with about 800 photos – in fact, every photo that you’ve seen up until this point was on that card and would have been lost forever.

Spark was trying his best to keep me calm but I wasn’t having it – I was so unbelievably mad at myself for leaving behind some of the most important things to me on this trip and just seriously wanted to get on a plane, head home and sulk for a month. I’m aware now how ridiculous that sounds but there was no looking at this situation logically for me – I was very quickly losing my mind.

I went to the little Police station and Spark went to the train information center and between our phone calls we were informed that they had in fact found my bag and would hold it for us in Florence – words can’t even express the relief I felt when they told me that they had my bag and told me that everything seemed to be there; camera, passport, phone, etc.

When we got to Florence I quickly found out that they’d left one item off the list when they were telling me what they’d found in my bag – a huge fucking knife! Now, my good friend Sean works for Swiss Army so before we left he asked Spark and I if we wanted to take some Swiss Army Knives for our trip? Of course we do! We’re boys, we like knives and things of the sort. We didn’t expect that Sean would show up with two huge Rambo knives but we took them anyway…

They directed me to the Police station in Florence to collect my bag where I was asked to join the officers in the back room where they kept me for the next half an hour or so. The officers took turns coming in and telling me how much trouble I was in and then coming in and telling me that they thought I was a good guy and were going to try to talk to the others on my behalf. A little good cop, bad cop maybe? It was mostly pretty tame until the guy came in with the “Do you have a lawyer?” talk. Either way, I knew that this really wasn’t that big of a deal and the worst that was going to happen was that I was either going to have to pay a fine or a bribe and I’d have a funny story to tell…

Meanwhile, Spark & Robbie are waiting on the train platform wondering why the hell it’s taking me so long – eventually the cops got tired of messing with me and let me go with a warning and I went on my merry way. I was just happy to have my bag back all its contents safe and secure. What was amazing was an hour later while on our way to Rome I hear this super loud, annoying euro dance ringtone blaring from my bag so I open it up, take out my phone and answer it – the caller hangs up. Not only did the cops change my ringtone and the background on my phone to some purple frilly thing but they called me to embarrass me on the train later on! Slow day for crime fighters in Florence, boys?

It was also on this ride that Robbie earned himself the name Dr. Italiano but I’ll save that story for another time…

This was the first photo taken of me; a free man once again.

Once we checked into our hostel in Rome we hopped on the nerd to see if any of the restaurants on our list were nearby and nothing really was but fortunately Sparkles spotted an Ethiopian joint called Africa down the street which was amazing considering 5 minutes earlier Robbie had requested “anything but Italian food tonight.” Giddy up!

After an incredible meal we moseyed on down to the Coliseum which was every bit as impressive as I’d hoped and it was neat to see it all lit up.

Triplog Day 11: Siena {6}

Sparkles loves footie.

We love Duomos.

People love to hurt each other.

Iron Maiden!!!

Boys love to eat.

I like Turtles.

We love roughhousing.

Triplog Day 10: Florence > Siena {1}

We packed up, fixed Robbie’s flat and got out of the city at a reasonable hour so that we could get into Siena for check-in before 5pm. For a city with as many bikes as Florence you’d hope that it would be a little friendlier to cyclists. In fairness, it’s really not that safe for anyone in this city; drivers, scooter folks, bikesters, segway operators and pedestrians alike so it’s probably just a matter of getting used to the dynamic of the city and knowing how to handle yourself.

We really only had one big ride planned from Florence to Siena with a stopover in San Gimignano – about 150k all in all if I’m not mistaken. All the talk of the hills in the Chianti region made us a little nervous but we were willing to plow forward regardless. Once we found out that we were going to get dumped on the entire time we decided to call the ride off, hop on the train to Siena and just see what happens with the weather.

Just before Poggibonsi we decided that the weather looked good enough that we could get off and ride. It was only about 25k but at least we’d be able to see a little of the Tuscan countryside with the wind at our backs so we got off the train, geared up and figured out how to get to Siena. Keep in mind, at this point we have maps and stuff but no real riding directions so after exhausting the few options we presented ourselves with we decided to ask a local who spoke no English but was able to give us directions worth following.

What he couldn’t have told us was that doing this ride, as seemingly short as it is, on single speed / fixed gear bicycles with 40 lbs on our each of our backs would be retarded – which it was. What he also couldn’t have told us was that the skies were about to open up so we’d be getting drenched for a good portion of the ride. We knew that there would be hills but I don’t think that any of us expected that even the flatlands would actually have a slight incline so you’d be trucking along incredibly slowly on the flats wondering why you’re not moving faster? I mean, being overweight and out of shape might have something to do with it but I’d much rather blame the roads.

The last 5k or so was mostly downhill – in fact a pretty serious downhill that (on a fixed gear) was actually pretty gnarly so it wasn’t as welcomed at this point as one might expect – I’d have given anything for a completely flat, dry road at this point but before we knew it we were entering the North end of Siena and I think we were all pretty proud that we’d made it without having to throw in the towel at any point.

25k = easy. This particular 25k = one of the toughest of my life.

Once we made it to the city we decided to look up the place that we were staying at which was said to be about 12k outside the city on an old winery. The prospect of relaxing on a nice Tuscan farmhouse was pretty enticing but once we realized that the place was 12k back the way we’d come in we decided to cancel our reservation and roll into Siena to try to find somewhere to stay. Because it was pouring rain again at this point and we were tired and cranky we poked out heads into the first place we saw which actually ended up being one of the nicer places we’d stay on this trip and not really much more expensive by any stretch.

Spark was digging through one of the travel books that our new friend Courtney passed along to us and he singled out two restaurants in Siena not initially even realizing that both of them were listed as ‘Tuscan / Vegetarian’ – Giddy up. We chose one and made our way over to Castelvecchio which ended up being one of the best meals of the trip and certainly the most memorable dining experience.

The owner / waiter, Mauro, made his way over to the table and we greeted him the way we greeted many people on this trip – Buono Sera. Do you speak English? To which Mauro replied “Sometimes, the same way sometimes you speak Italian… but not today” and then he proceeded to speak to me in Italian. I couldn’t tell right away if he was taking the piss or not but I liked the cut of his jib. His English ended up being perfect and he pretty much spent the rest of the night coming over and joking around with us. That was, of course, when he wasn’t serving us up some of the finest food I’d had in recent memory.

Towards the end of the meal Rob proposed a challenge to Mauro; if Spark could order his desert in perfect Italian he’d get to eat it for free. At this point the entire restaurant turns and looks and Sparkles fails pretty miserably, just as any one of us would have in that situation… Except for, perhaps, Dr. Italiano himself. Mauro then proposes a challenge to us; if any of us can name the utensil that he is holding in his hand (a spoon) in Italian – they would eat for free. Cucchiaio? I guess spoono wasn’t an acceptable answer.

Mauro is a sweet bro and his restaurant is top shelf so if you ever find yourself in the region make sure to go pay him and his beautiful pup Deva a visit.

The main square in Siena, Piazza El Campo is beautiful at night. Apparently once a year this square is transformed into the site of a huge horse race, the Palio, where all the neighborhoods in the city come together to compete – the old photos of the event were pretty amazing.

Triplog Day 09: Florence {3}

Last night Florence totally pwned us! After dinner we spent hours after hours walking in circles trying to find something to do other than standing like jackasses in front of the Duomo, getting rained on and generally hating life… and freedom.

A true low point hit when we finally gave in and decided to take a flier from someone on the street directing us to “The Fish Pub – Hip Hop Non Stop!” We were then paraded through the streets while the locals all took turns laughing at the idiot tourists being dragged to what was obviously going to be the worst place to be in the whole of Florence.

After about 10 seconds in the place we knew that we were going to regret ever coming but we ordered a couple of drinks and decided to give this shite pub full of bubbly tourists, Italian creepers and the old school hip hop stylings of Justin Timberlake a shot.

Lowest point of the night for me? The “free shot” coupons. I was mortified when Robbie pulled them out because I knew that the moment those pieces of fancily painted cardstock passed from our hands into theirs our place in dumbass tourist history would be firmly cemented. The bartender handed us a couple of pre-mixed juice shots (probably actually just juice) and we handed over our dignity in kind.

The first thing we did when we got back was busted out our travel books and made a list of the things were going to do when we woke up because we knew that there was something about this city that we must have been missing.

Our first stop was the Bargello – we’re boys and the prospect of visiting an old prison that was the site of public executions and untold horrors was at least mildly exciting. Our bloodlust was unsatisfied as very little about the history of the building is on display and it has largely been converted to a museum of art which was fine because it displayed a lot of really beautiful work.

Next stop was the Uffizi Gallery – more of the same, but beautiful work none the less.

At this point we made our way back across the Ponte Vecchio to pick up some art from local painters and then back across town to the hostel for a little siesta.

Once back at the hostel we decided to take the bikes out for a spin and head out to the local Velodrome. Not that I expect that we’d have been able to have snuck on anyway but I was a little bummed to get there and find a local footie match going on right in the center of the Velodrome. We sat down anyway and enjoyed the game – complete with diving, red cards and a face slapping Smurf with a Napoleon complex. Come on, brah, you’re 3 apples high!

It’s funny how this photo makes the walls of the Velodrome look almost completely flat but they were pretty damn steep in person. Weird.

We set out again in search of the Piazzale Michelangelo that we couldn’t find the other day and discovered that it was pretty much right where we were – only up! We did the little hill climb and found our way to, as it had been described, a truly spectacular view of the city. I can only imagine how it would have looked at sunset… and without 300 tourists… and without the all fake Gucci bag salesmen…

We then shot across town to Il Sedano Allegro, a vegetarian restaurant that had received pretty good reviews – not the best food we ate on this trip but most certainly not the worst, either.

Sparkles loves Greg Benedetto

Back at the hostel we made friends with a lovely gal named Courtney from Chicago (via New York) who is traveling Europe by herself so after we assured her that we were ill intentioned creeps we invited her out for a better attempt at a night on the town than we’d had the night before.

The travel book my parents got for me made mention of a gelato spot in Florence that “we’d be talking about for the next 50 years” so after watching Robbie get hosed on a 9 Euro cone the day before we figured that we’d give it a shot. It was amazing, well priced and fortunately for me they had a dairy free double chocolate fudge gelato that had The Rennick’s Fat Belly written aaaallllllll over it.

We also had what what supposed to be a pretty sweet little bar called Mayday on our list buuuuuuuut it was closed so we settled for a fancy bottle of wine at a 4 star hotel instead.

Now, this photo reminds me of an amazing story from earlier on in the trip – Sparkles is reenacting the story for our American friend here… I was about to write about it but I realized that it’s really not funny without the reenactment so be sure to ask me about getting yelled at by an Italian woman behind a glass wall next time you see me.

Gradisco la tartarughes.

Triplog Day 08: Florence {4}

We’re 8 days in with very limited space for extra clothing and we’re three boys who like to ride bikes – rest assured, we stink. We figured the first order of the day should be to find a laundry mat and get some serious business taken care of.

We also found a dollar store where we could buy detergent, soy milk / cereal, bowls to eat the cereal in and most importantly a sewing kit / iron on patches to repair my blown out crotch.

We decided to try to see some of the things that we’re ‘supposed to see’ so we made our way over to our favorite Florentine landmark; The Duomo. To be honest I didn’t think it was quite as impressive on the inside as it was from the outside but we also didn’t take the tour and actually go up to see the ceiling the dome itself so maybe that would have been more ex. The one thing that I found most interesting about this building is that they didn’t have the technology or the knowhow to build the dome at the onset of the project but had faith that they’d figure it out in time – apparently it had been done in ancient times but the knowledge had not been passed down – engineering challenges like this must have been amazing in those times.

We went back to the Piazza Della Signoria to have a look at all of those amazing statues in the daylight and to our surprise the ‘Human Rights in Tibet’ banner was still flying in the square.

Our exploration brought us over to the Arno river and the Ponte Vecchio which was apparently the only bridge in Florence that was not destroyed by the Germans under expressed orders from the Fuhrer himself. See? He wasn’t totally heartless! He wanted this poor old bridge to survive – it that doesn’t speak of the man’s endless compassion I don’t know what does!

There is a covered walkway that runs along the entire span of the bridge which was designed so that the ruling class could cross the bridge without having to walk in line with the peasantry.

Once across the Arno we had no idea where we wanted to go but there was a hill and we’re all gluttons for punishment so we decided that regardless of where it went, we were going up! That hill led us to the Forti Di Belvedere which gave us a pretty amazing view of the city and the countryside around it.

Next we set off in search of the Piazzale Michelangelo which was also said to have pretty spectacular views of the city but our directions weren’t very good so we only found Piazza Poggi and Rob only found some pigeons to chase.

This day is a bit of a blur because I have absolutely no idea what happened between Lunch…

…and Dinner…

…but I’m sure that whatever it was it involved the phrase “I’m hungry. What do you guys think? Are you hungry?”

Triplog Day 07: Cinque Terre > Florence {1}

We left the lovely Albergo Souvenir in Monterrosso at a decent hour and headed over to the train station for a light snack before moving on to Florence. I should apologize to Spark & Rob at this point for getting us yelled at by an Italian ticket taker at the train station who had no patience for… well… anything, it would seem.

I wish I’d taken a photo of the classy American we had the pleasure of sitting with from Pisa to Florence. I’d been making a conscious effort to judge people less and be open to meeting new people so when this greasy, indoor sunglass wearing New Yorker wearing zipper jeans, a bandanna pattern shirt and a silk screened blazer sat down next to me I was open to chat. It wasn’t 5 minutes before I regretted that decision – I think I pretended to fall asleep somewhere around “I would have fucked her but I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman.”

We arrived in Florence in the mid-afternoon and checked into our hostel which, despite having clear directions, was difficult to find because cities like this don’t have a very good grid system and the street signage isn’t the best and streets just kind of start, stop and change name at random. It’s like living in the G-D Labrynth! What was really amazing was watching Bowie himself perform the Magic Dance outside the Duomo for spare change at 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon – really spectacular!

After we got settled and did a little walking around Florence we made our way over to Il Vegetariano which had come pretty highly recommended by both the HappyCow guide and the non-vegetarian owners of the hostel we stayed at. We got in there around 7 pm and the place was completely empty – we ran into the chef at the back who was still preparing food and he told us that they opened at 7:30 so we decided to go explore the neighborhood a little more before returning around 8:30 or so… When we got back in the place was jam packed with people and there wasn’t a seat to be found inside the restaurant so we set up shop in the makeshift tent in behind the restaurant. Ordering food in this place was insane – there is no set menu, no waiters, no real line-up and no real rhyme or reason. Basically you look at the chalk board, select your food, write it down on a little piece of scrap paper, hand it to the chef who is sitting at a little ticket booth type desk, pay him, he signs your paper and then you bring it over to another area where you had them your paper and they get you your food. I’m convinced that the chef likes the chaos because it makes it seem like everyone is just going craaaaaaaaaazy for his food. In any case, we figured it out, got our food and had a pretty frickin’ fantastic meal.

After dinner we decided to explore the city a little and made our way back to the Duomo for probably the 2nd time of what would become 300 times during our stay in Florence. Basically, all roads lead to the Duomo where Jareth tries to turn your baby into a goblin. GOBLIN!

We did stumble upon the Piazza Della Signoria which is filled with amazing sculptures including the fake David, a variety of homo-erotic works, a Human Rights in Tibet banner and Perseo beheading the Medusa – always a crowd pleaser.

Oh look, the Duomo AGAIN!

Triplog Day 06: La Spezia > Cinque Terre {3}

This was one of the most highly anticipated stops on the trip for me. Up until a few months ago I hadn’t even heard of Cinque Terre but when we decided to go to Italy my special lady friend told me that it was a place that I just had to see. I looked at a couple of pictures online and I fell in love with the place instantly.

Cinque Terre is a UNESCO Certified Heritage Site / National Park comprised mainly of 5 villages on the coast of Italy; Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. There is no direct car access within the villages and nothing new has been built there in some time – it has that kind of simple, old world charm that is quite literally like no where I’ve ever been before. I could draw some parallels between this place and some of the small fishing villages out on the East coast of Canada but at the end of the day they just don’t compare.

As mentioned in my last entry – the weather report was looking pretty grim with downpours slated for at least the next 3 or 4 days but given that we were already only 20 minutes away by train we decided that we’d at least go check it out and just hope that the rain holds off. We couldn’t hit the trails between the towns because of the weather but there is a train that connects the villages and a day pass for the region is about 8 Euros so not being able to walk or ride was only a relatively minor bum out.

We spent the day making our way through all the villages trying to avoid the packs of teenagers on school trips – par for the course throughout the entire trip. We probably would have done well to have left our bikes at the hostel as they were dead weight for most of the day but they did prove themselves to be useful at the end of the night, as I’ll tell y’all about later.

After a fine meal and a great bottle of local wine, we headed out into the misty night and by chance Spark pulled out the train schedule and noted that if we didn’t get on the train that came in the next 3 minutes that we’d be stuck in Manarola, in the rain, for the next 2 hours. Keep in mind that Manarola is one of the smaller villages and there were literally 2 places open at that point – a gelateria down the street and the restaurant that we just stepped out of. We broke into a mad dash up the street, up the stairs, unlocked our bikes, went down the stairs on the other side, hopped on our bikes and sprinted to the station with about 30 seconds to spare – it was like a cross race through the streets of old world Italy and all 3 of us were the f’n champs. 1 word – we win*.

We spent the night in Monterosso – hung out at a local watering hole where we met a stinky dog and some fellow Canucks before leaving for Florence in the morning.

Apparently it rained non stop for the next couple of days as it had for the days prior to our arrival – we managed to hit the one relatively decent day in the region and I feel grateful for having had the opportunity to visit such a truly beautiful little corner of the world.

*Yes, I know.

Triplog Day 05: Genoa > La Spezia {6}

We woke up on the Love Boat to find that it was overcast and would be raining by the time we got to Genoa.

At least we were traveling in good company, right?

It was spitting a little when we hopped off the boat and was in full downpour by the time we figured out how to get to the train station. Once there, we had to try to figure out where we were going to go / stay tonight as Cinque Terre was beginning to look like a bit of a bust. We called a couple of hostels there and they said that the weather had been awful, the walking paths between the villages were closed and they weren’t sure that it would be worth it for us to go there at all as it was supposed to be just as bad for the next few days. Given that this was the place I wanted to visit most on this trip and didn’t want to call it off that easily, we decided to take the train to La Spezia and spend the night there – get up in the morning and see what the weather is going to be like before deciding whether to hit Cinque Terre or move on to Florence a little early.

It was still pissing rain when we hit La Spezia but fortunately the hotel we were staying in was just across from the train station – a total shithole with pube towels and a sink toilet but big, cheap and good enough to us to stay in for the night.

Fortunately Sparkles had done a little reading on La Spezia and had a lead on a restaurant where we could get great, plentiful food for next to nothing so we made the trek across town to Trattoria Luciano and if the naked breasted shark woman artwork on the walls wasn’t proof enough – this place was the jam! Luciano was a nice, older guy who hooked us up – just as described, with great, plentiful food for next to nothing.

My pants finally gave way as well which would prove to be a source of great dismay over the next few days.

Triplog Day 04: Barcelona > Genoa {0}

Robbie woke up this morning being horribly disappointed at his lack of hair on the backside of his head leading to his inability to rock a proper mullet as basically every dude in Barca is currently doing but fortunately he has enough on top to pull off the second most popular haircut in Barcelona.

Sparky woke up this morning horribly disappointed to find that he had a flat tire. See, the boys and I made a pact at the onset of this trip; the first one to get a flat has to buy a round for everyone else.

I woke up this morning horribly disappointed because Spark’s flat was my fault! When I built his bike I apparently forgot to tape his rims so it was only a matter of time before his tubes gave way.

Flat fixed, we decided to set out to explore the city a little more on our last day here. We made our way back to Juicy Jones off La Rambla for lunch and then decided to head back into The Gothic Quarter of Barcelona in search of a little chunk of Spanish history.

While at Xavi’s flat the day before, his girlfriend had filled the boys in on a small courtyard in the city which had been the site of a good deal of bloodshed during the Spanish civil war – Plaça de Sant Felip Neri.

Once left the Gothic Quarter we decided that we should go check out the FCB Stadium so that Spark could hit up the club store and score himself some sweet footie memorabilia. What’s funny is that after riding all the way out there, I don’t think that he ended up with anything at all but it was cool to see the stadium and get to explore more of the city just the same.

Knowing that we had a couple more hours to kill before we got on the ferry to Genoa, we decided to head back down to the waterfront and check out the Naval History Museum which was pretty sweet. It’s interesting to see some of the history that lead to so much of the Spanish exploration (and exploitation) that led to the development of the new world. Tales of slave ships you could smell weeks before they arrived will stick with me for some time, I’d expect.

After looking at boats for a couple of hours it was time to board one. Let me tell you a little something about our trusty sea-going vessel; The Splendid. Ferry back home basically means “bus on water” but I guess over here it means “hotel on water” – really, really crappy hotel… on water. When we purchased our tickets we were informed that our ferry had a gym, pool, hot tub, restaurants, a nightclub, etc. I have no doubt that at one point this ferry had all these things – but that was 1979 and I doubt that any of these things have been used ever since. I mean, the nightclub was technically available but too crowded with 15 year old girls for us to really venture into.

The highlight of this 18 hour ferry ride was definitely the piano (keyboard on top of piano) bar where we witnessed the captain serenading teenaged girls and we had Margareta’s that took 25 minutes to make and tasted like they’d been poured straight from the sea beneath us. I wonder what the poor people were doing, eh boys?!

Sparky also learned, on this fateful evening what happens when you mess with a man’s pudding. It wasn’t pretty – his Kung Fu skills are no match for the passion of a pudding starved vegan.

Triplog Day 03: Barcelona {6}

So the first night we shared with Alan wasn’t bad because I was so exhausted and I fell asleep before he began strangling babies in our room. Last night, however, I wasn’t so lucky. The man was snoring up a storm (again, I snore so I am a bit sympathetic) but I was loosing my mind! I was sleeping in the bunk under him so I punched his bed from beneath a few times or smacked the wall or yelled random things like “BALLS!” and each time he slowed down a little but never long enough for me to properly fall asleep. Eventually I just stabbed myself in the ear drums with pencils and passed the F out!

Today we decided to venture a bit onto the cobblestone clad streets of old Barcelona and do a little bit of exploring before heading to the market off La Rambla for some lunch. Sparkles had read in some book (Heat, I believe) about a little restaurant in this market that had been the inspiration for some famous chef’s restaurant in the US where you basically sit around a bar, choose your ingredients and then they make amazing food for you… You’d figure that a guy who likes food as much as Spark would have boobs like the old Rennick over here… go figure.

With our bellies full we headed out to check out some of the amazing Gaudi architecture that began to pop up in Barcelona in the late 1800’s which eventually lead us way up North in the city to Gaudi’s famous Parc Güell which was pretty dope to say the least.

For Robin:

As we were riding back downtown we heard the familiar sound of a tire skidding to a stop as a young man on a hot pink fixed gear slid to a stop behind us – I guess he’d seen us ride by a while back and was excited by the prospect of more fixed riders in the city so he caught up and introduced himself. Simone explained to us that there are maybe 20 people who ride fixed in the city and they all know each other so he figured that we must have been from somewhere else. Simone told us that he was heading over to his friend Xavi’s place and invited us along for the ride. We spent some time there shootin’ the breeze, listening to music and drinking tea with Xavi’s girlfriend and the boys before the guys decided to take us to a spot they like to ride called The Forum on the far reaches of the city – how could we resist? Very nice guys, gnarly riders, great times…

I think we were all pretty much ready to eat when we left the Gaudi park so by the time we’d finished hanging out at the forum we were all about to keel over and die if we didn’t eat. The guys were kind enough to ride us right into the old Barcelona where we had a fantastic meal at Vegetalia. Robbie thought that this glass of Vino Rosso was bouqueting nicely.

As with most nights – we headed back to the Hostel for a nightcap. Please notice the Austrian tourists in the background standing on their chairs, hilding the tables up with their drinks on them and singing wildly. The Austrian drinking songs went ’til the wee hours of the morning. Amazingly these party animals were bright eyed and bushy tailed first thing in the morning for check out – go figure!

Triplog Day 02: Barcelona {4}

The boys started off the day with a little workout – later in the trip we all adapted a fairly regular workout routine but I think the glass walls and the gym being exposed to all of Hello BCN kept me from working out and prompted me to mock the fellas from outside of their little enclosure.

We figured the first thing we should do on our first full day in the city is figure out how we were going to get out of it a few days later. We could take a train which would take forever and involve a bunch of transfers (bikes aren’t allowed on high speed trains), fly with a cheap local airline but that would involve re-boxing our bikes and probably wouldn’t end up being all that cheap or take a ferry from Barcelona to Genoa which was both pretty cheap and a little faster than the train (18 hours) and it was an over night ferry so we’d sleep for a good amount of the trip anyway so we headed down to the port to make the arrangements.

While down there we spotted a cable car tower and couldn’t resist so we locked up and decided to check ‘er out. It was getting close to lunchtime (let’s face it, it’s always lunchtime in the land of The Rennick) so we figured we’d hop on board and grab a bite at the top. While on the gondola we met some terrified German tourists (Sparky could relate, the poor guy soiled himself on the way up) and a nice gal named Andrena from Pittsburgh (currently living in Italy) and her cousin Salvo who didn’t speak a word of English but seemed like a pretty sweet dude based on Andrena’s translations.

I also discovered that Spanish adolescents do the exact same naked lady, boner & turtle appreciation graffiti that beautifies truckstop bathrooms across the great continent of North America – call it a little slice of home away from home.

Once way made our way back down on the cable war (which in essence took us very near to where we’d ridden the night before) we decided to make our way along the waterfront to the beach. The waterfront is dotted with amazing views and beautiful architecture. At this point I should make mention of the Barcelona Bike Share program which seems to be pretty amazing. As mentioned, Barcelona is an incredibly bicycle friendly city and the little commuter bikes that are available readily and affordably seem to move a lot (I mean A LOT) of people around this city

We rolled up to the beach where I guess a local group of ladies and gents get together on the weekends to show off their low rider bicycles… Pretty dope.

This old fella knew what was up when he rolled by our bikes. An interesting observation about the old fellas in Europe and any sort of road bike; they love to stop and check your tire pressure. This guy was no exception.

After checkin’ out the local bike show we decided to get a little man tannin’ on and headed down to the grassy hill by the beach where the most amazing set of events began to unfold.

Soon after sitting down we noticed two young ladies sitting in front of us enjoying a beautiful Barca day at the beach. After a minute or two, two dudes roll up on these girls; one guy with kind of an American Pie college guy vibe and the other in a leather coat with a faux-hawk and some serious sideburns. We’ll call them American Pie and Douchehawk from here forth. Now, two guys approaching two girls isn’t weird at all but when one guy (American Pie) walks up and introduces his friend (Douchehawk) as if he were a cheap used car and then walks away watching intently before disappearing behind some bushes, we begin to take notice. All the while a third guy, Baldy Blazer is standing near by and pretending to talk on his phone but is clearly paying attention to how this guy interacts with these girls. Douchehawk was promptly dismissed at which point he follows American Pie around the bushes with Baldy Blazer in close pursuit.

Sparkles caught on pretty much right away and followed them around the corner where he seems them all talking – it was pretty evident that there was some serious dating coaching going on here so we each cracked a drink and settled in because we knew that it could only possibly get better from here. Soon enough they emerge and take a better position to scope out the action on the beach. Douchehawk makes another attempt at a different girl – this time going without the introduction of his mentors. Again, he’s sent packing and returns to the comforting arms of American Pie and Baldy Blazer. But who’s this? A second protégé? What do you have in store for us my Striped friend?

Douchehawk has made his way across the hill and manages to strike up a conversation with a young lady that actually seems to be going somewhere so our attention is turned to Stripey who is about to make his first approach. He decides to talk to this hot young thang who is enjoying some light reading in the sun. Just look at this form! 6 feet away? Check! Hands in sleeves? Check! Useless question about what she’s reading followed up awkward silence, fake time checking and staring off aimlessly? Check! It didn’t take long before Stripey realized that he was horribly outmatched and returned, quite obviously, to his coaches. Not that the girl noticed; he’d lost her at hello.

Stripey tries the same approach a few minutes later but this time crouches down to talk to the girl but maintains his 6 foot buffer zone which yields predictable results. At this point, Douchehawk seems to have gotten himself a phone number!!! I’ll admit, we were all pretty proud of him at this point and so was American Pie who was literally hiding behind a tree (seriously) and watching his boys in action. Both protégés made a b-line for the tree and American Pie tried to look less obvious by walking away but there was no hiding it – these guys were coming straight for him and he was having none of it. I swear to god I thought he was going to break into a run.

The four gentlemen reconvened at the top of the hill to review the days successes and catastrophic failures – all the while Douchehawk giving Stripey a hearty pat on the back as if to tell him “you’ll get ‘em next time, tiger, just look at me! I got a phone number today! I know it’s probably not hers but it’s someone’s number so technically that counts, right?”

Now meet Sparkie’s dating coaches – the presidents of very exclusive the Silly Hats Only club.

We left the beach in search of the Barcelona Aquarium. It’s funny because just a few weeks prior my special lady friend and I were taking about aquariums and how I hadn’t been in a long, long time. Now being the vegan warrior that I am I have mixed feelings about aquariums, zoos, etc. but I’ve got to think that sometimes public education may be worth sacrifice in quality of life (or at least the sacrifice of a natural life) that some of the animals may have to endure – maybe not, but sharks are sweet and at the end of the day I want to see me some sharks, god damn it!

After all the excitement of the Aquarium we made our way back to the hostel for a little Siesta before heading out to what was one of the more spectacular meals of the trip at a little joint called Organic. The staff was super nice, the atmosphere was nice and the food was incredible – throw in a nice affordable yet surprisingly good bottle of house wine and the night just doesn’t get any better.

We decided after Organic to wander the streets a little into old Barcelona where we found the first of very few fixed gear bikes to be seen in our travels locked up near an empty bar that had the Iron Maiden a blastin’. Generally speaking an empty bar is a bad sign but when said bar has Manowar, Maiden & Beer Mosh (?!?!) posters lining the walls what choice does one have but to venture forward through those doors? Enter; Rocka Rolla

Back to the hostel for a little Connect 4 and seriously, life just doesn’t get better than this.

Triplog Day 01: Toronto > Barcelona {5}

With our bikes all boxed up Sparkles and I had ourselves some Big Fat Burrito and made our way over to the airport. When we got to the Alitalia check-in counter we were the only ones there but within 3 minutes there was a busload of people that had come in together – I think they were all on some company trip. The woman we dealt with was amazing – not only did she skirt the $150 bike transportation fee for us she fought to make sure that we had seats with a ton of legroom (I’m a little tall – in case you hadn’t noticed) and people kept undoing our seat assignments so she was marching up and down the check-in counter making sure that our seats didn’t get messed with. Thanks Alitalia lady; you started our trip off right.

After checking in we found a little bicycle themed bar (random!) so we did what any self respecting bikester would do – strapped our helmets on and had a drink. The flight was long but fortunately we were flying in the evening so it was pretty easy to catch a couple of hours sleep – we knew that we were going to be 6 hours ahead when we landed so we’d need to stay up as long as we could when we got there so that we could get our schedules normalized within the first 24 hours.

We set up shop outside the airport and put our bikes together, hopped on a train to bring us into the downtown core then hopped off and rode the rest of the way into the city. We tracked down our Hostel where we found Robbie who had been patiently waiting for us for 4 hours as our flight had been pushed back.

We got settled in and headed out to find a bite to eat – we made our way to Las Ramblas and into Juicy Jones – I guess the closest Toronto comparison would be Juice For Life in their early years in that it’s mostly a juice bar but has a full vegan menu as well – pretty dope.

After that we decided to ride around the city and we made our way to the Montjuïc where there was a pretty cool light / fountain / music show (Font Màgica) at sundown and then we rode around in behind the Palau Nacional and explored that area of Barcelona a little bit.

We made our way back to the hostel for a nightcap and then headed off to bed. Just before bed I was goofing off in the room and I started speed punching the bike boxes before remembering that we’re in a hostel and it’s a shared space so we figured it was only a matter of time before someone comes in and yells at us. 10 seconds later the door opens and an older gentleman steps in so I’m thinking “Here we go!” but he wasn’t there to yell at us… he was there to bunk with us. Enter: Alan – an affable Kiwi living in Suffolk who travels a lot and has his entire life loaded onto his cell phone. “Hey! Here’s my trip to Morocco! Watch this video on my cell phone… it’s only 3 hours long!” I snore sometimes but Alan, oh man, that guy seriously SNORES! It’s like a freight train running through the room in slow controlled breaths for 8 hours – no fun.

Barcelona is amazing city – on day 01 the weather was beautiful, the people were beautiful, the buildings were beautiful and cycling in that city is a breeze. We knew right away that this was going to be an extremely hard city to top.


FHBC European Tour

PS Thieves beware – my house isn’t empty and you don’t want to startle the occupant – you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.