Swarming Bees and Snipping Balls

Most of the last week was spent doing things around the house – painting railings and outside walls, topping up plants, etc.
The weather has generally been lousy – not a lot of sunshine or warmth. Had a couple of bad storms – really hard rain, lightening and thunder one night that Mo had to bark at, and a fierce wind storm all day long a couple of days ago – even the pigeons took shelter.

The bell tower is chiming once again, although it’s 2 hours and 40 minutes slow. It doesn’t matter in the mornings but can be a bit annoying at night when it doesn’t quit counting the time until 20 to 1 in the morning.
Chairman Meow has been spending more and more time at the house – his human Angelo has been away a lot and he likes it here because we let him in the house out of the rain and wind – oh, and we feed him too. A few of the other neighbourhood cats have realized that there’s food here, so we are now feeding another little one as well from time to time.
One day we were out on the terrace doing some things and I heard a buzzing – I said it sounds like some bees, and wondered where they were. I went inside while Colin and Mo were still outside, then I heard them rush in and shut the door tight. Colin was looking out the window and told me to come quick – it wasn’t just a few bees, but thousands and thousands in a slow-moving swarm that came right down the lane on the lower side of the house.

They hovered for awhile just across and down a bit, then slowly moved on – they sounded like a freight train there were so many of them. A little later we were heading down to the bar and Colin had to take something down to the campervan – Mo and I took the short route to meet him at the bottom. We got partway down the ‘78 steps’ portion and I came to a dead stop. The bees were hovering quite low very near where the ‘short way’ and the ‘long way’ met.

I scooped Mo up and made a quick backtrack all the way up and around the long way that Colin had taken. When we got to where the short way and the long way met we managed to scurry by the hovering mass without getting attacked.
Despite a couple more days of crappy weather we managed to get all of the painting done that we wanted. We even managed to get Chairman Meow in a carrier case – with Colin wearing heavy-duty work gloves – and then taking him to the vets to get ‘fixed’.
Angelo had given his blessing to the venture, but was too scared of Meow’s vicious claws to try to get him in a box. Several hours later Colin collected him but no matter how much Meow begged we couldn’t yet feed him, following the vet’s instructions to wait until evening. Poor fellow – losing his balls and then being denied food all in the same day.

Papiano and Patio Furniture

Leaving the campground at a decent time we ignored both of the GPS systems and took the road above us rather than following their directions back through the maze of Valeggio.

After only a short climb we emerged onto a lovely plain and went a bit west/southwest before veering southeast. The road wasn’t too bad, and the traffic wasn’t overly heavy, except it is a holiday so there were a fair number of motorcycles.

We made good time, passing Modena, then Bologna, where we turned south to cross the Apennines. Rather than continue on the motorway we exited onto a smaller highway that was slower, of course, but more scenic. Part way along there was a diversion due to road work, which slowed us down even more, although we weren’t really in a hurry having made such good progress the previous day.
We rejoined the motorway just west of Firenza and arrived home to Papiano just after 5:00. Our trip north was just short of six weeks, and in that time we saw ten days of excellent racing and covered thousands of kilometres. It was a hugely successful and exciting journey but we’re both very glad to be back in Italy.
Since getting back Colin has started doing little fix-ups around the house. I helped him take the shutters down, some of which had to be lowered by rope as they wouldn’t fit through the window frames. He’s sanded and painted one so far – they’re going to look fantastic, especially after the house itself gets a fresh coat of paint. He does have to be careful about the sanding, however, as a couple of them are very weathered and are at risk of falling apart.
One day we took a day-trip, starting with outdoor furniture shopping in Marsciano. I sat on dozens of chairs to test for comfort, and we both agreed on a bright red set that had wide seats – there must be room for a person as well as a dog, after all – with nice comfy cushions. When the fellow showed us the total we both registered our shock, but then he indicated ‘wait’ and hit another button – the set was on sale for half-price as that model has been discontinued and the display set is the last one. He also gave us a present – a back cushion for one of the chairs – he apologized profusely for only having one, not two to give us.

After piling the new furniture into the back of the campervan we continued our day-trip to Trevi, ignoring both of the GPS’s again, so we drove almost straight east and past Montefalco instead of taking the main road up past Perugia.
We went to our favourite restaurant but had to get an inside table as it was pretty chilly out. We shared a plate of bruschetta for an appy – it was such a large portion I wondered if I was going to have room for my main course. There were five different toppings, each as delicious as the others – plain with olive oil, pesto, creamy cheese, tomatoes, and pate.

Luckily I was able to finish my main, with a little help. I got the roast wild boar with baked potato and it was so tender I barely needed a knife to cut it with. As usual I had no room for dessert, although I did manage more than one glass of very nice red wine.
The return trip back home was via Leroy and Merlin near Perugia where Colin got the rest of the supplies needed for the painting.
We watched another movie – the first one a couple of nights ago was ‘V for Vendetta’, the next night was ‘Capricorn One’ and this one was ‘The Usual Suspects’. I hadn’t seen any of them before and was pleasantly surprised each time.

One afternoon as we were heading down the hill to the bar I noticed one of the local cats up in a tree – not clinging to the trunk or climbing up or down, but roosting comfortably right near the top.
We had some rain and the weather had turned quite chilly again – I got my winter coat out but it was actually a bit over-the-top. The shutter painting had to be put off until things dry out a bit.

Chairman Meow next door hadn’t visited in a couple of days and we were a bit worried about him – he usually shows up for food as soon as he knows someone’s up and about. One day we encountered his owner, Angelo, when shopping for groceries – he assured us that Meow is fine – he’s just been ‘out loving it up’.36DF5AE1-1467-4972-9F27-396906A7E9B0
He does need to be ‘fixed’ – Meow, not Angelo – but he’s scared to try to put him in a box to take him to the vet.

Goodbye Belgium (sob), Hello Again Italy

The morning promised much better weather than there was yesterday for the race – the field across from us was totally misty in the rising sun while the sky behind and above us was beautiful blue.
The sheep were all grazing in the field, and further over Mr. Fox was back rooting around near the fence.
We left our excellent little spot fairly early so as not to overstay our welcome in the village parking area. We drove back through Stavelot to get to the motorway south. This time I got a photo of the ‘pinocchio’ statue in the middle of the large roundabout.
We made good progress down and into Germany, with the weather deteriorating along the way. By the time we reached the campground, between Stuttgart and Ulm, it had turned fairly cold and wet.

The campground is smaller than the last few we’ve been at, but has very nice facilities, including heated washrooms and showers. You have to pay for the wi-fi, which is unusual, but it was a very strong, fast signal, which is also somewhat unusual.

I looked up what the story was about Stavelot as I’d also seen a ‘Hansel and Gretel’ cafe in addition to the pinocchio statue. I don’t know about the cafe, as the writers of Hansel and Gretel were the Brothers Grimm who were German, but the pinocchio was actually based on an annual carnaval where some of the men dress up in white with long pointed red noses. They are called the Blancs Moussis, and would hit bystanders with inflated pig’s bladders – glad it wasn’t that time of year! As with all of the towns in the area, Stavelot was heavily involved in the Battle of the Bulge, and sustained a lot of damage.

Had a nice pasta dinner, then fairly early night.
Next morning was grey and drizzly, but the further south we went the lighter and brighter it got.
By the time we passed into Italy via the Brenner Pass the temperature was rising and the sun was coming out.
We had a bit of a frustrating time finding the campground we’d chosen as it involved navigating through very narrow streets in the town of Valeggio Sul Mincio, just southwest of Verona.
The campground is actually across the river Mincio in the very small village of Borghetto. In addition to the river there is also a fair-sized canal, as well as lots of little ones going thru the farmers’ fields for irrigation.
The frustration was worth it in more than one way – the campground is very basic, although quite nice. And Borghetto is really charming, if a bit touristy even at this time of year.
The medieval fortress across the river in Valeggio overlooks everything and there are still quite a few walls/parts of walls and gates still standing.
We setup the campervan and took a walk around. We decided to go for Colin’s birthday dinner a little later at one of the many restaurants on the river.
When we went back to the village we chose a really nice looking little place and sat down – Mo included. We ordered some bruschetta to start with and it was four pieces with different toppings, all of which were just delicious. We shared them, each eating half – salmon, creamy cheese, smoked beef, and pike from Lago Garda – I think the pike was my favourite, but maybe it was the salmon – no the beef! Oh – I couldn’t decide as they were all so good.

For the main course I got the ‘suckling pig with crackling skin’ and it was one of the best pork dishes I’ve ever had. It was a fairly large portion, complete with vegetables and salad, but I managed to clean the plate – with a little help from Colin and Mo.

It was dark by the time we finished and walked back to the campground, but it wasn’t cold. I only had my sweater on for warmth, and remembered that only 3 days ago I was bundled in my winter coat, boots and gloves.

The almost six weeks in Belgium (and Holland) were awesome and we loved them, but both agree it’s good to be back in Italy.

La Doyenne – Liege-Bastogne-Liege

F123DD22-6AD5-4669-B8AD-CB6A06AD7937Race day – which happens to be Colin’s birthday – started much the same as yesterday – grey, cold and rainy. Mid-morning we took the short walk up to the top of the climb to see where we might want to be for the race.
At about 11:30 one of the ladies’ team cars pulled in beside us – I asked the young fellow when they would be coming by and he said about an hour. I took that time to walk down the road to where the men’s and ladies’ routes diverge – the men go straight while the ladies take a left.

I was curious what was down the other route so walked about 1 km before turning back – I was pretty wet but not overly cold. I hustled back to the campervan, collected my camera and Colin and I went back to the turning point to wait for the ladies.
There’s not nearly so much fanfare involved – no caravan, no helis and only a few motos, none of which is a tv moto. I took my extra ground cover with me so I could spread it out and keep my backpack covered, and kept my camera and flash dry by wrapping them in my scarf.
This time I did get cold – my feet were soaking wet even with my good water resistant runners and thermal socks. Back at the campervan we had a bite to eat and a nice cup of coffee.
I just had to jump up and throw on my wet socks and runners when suddenly the caravan came by – I hate to miss freebies so ran out with laces undone and not even my sweater on. There weren’t many people around at the time so several of the folks threw things my way. A couple of things landed in the mud, but they can be washed.
There was a small family with a horse that came up to the fence across the road from us – the man called and called for the larger horse in the field to come – we wondered if it was his horse, especially when he went over the fence and down into the field. The horse finally noticed him – or maybe his white horse, and came running up. The two horses whinnied at each other a bit, then the family took their white horse and walked away. The brown horse in the field was quite upset – it ran back and forth along the fence several times before giving up and running back down the hill.
Knowing that the race is usually within an hour of the caravan’s passing we got our bags ready again and headed up the hill. There was a fairly steady stream of people doing the same thing although with the rain and cold it wasn’t that bad.

We picked a great spot and covered up our bags with my ground cover – the rain came and went, and at one point we even thought it was going to clear up completely and be sunny. No such luck – it started pouring again a few minutes later.

We’d been waiting some time when a blue and white van tried to pull in on the side of the road – there really wasn’t proper room for them and we and another fellow were already standing right there. The asshole backed up and almost ran the other guy over – he pounded on the back of the van so they would stop but all they did was pull forward again so they could back up a little further off the road.

We screamed at them because our bags were almost crushed under the back wheels – what an arrogant bunch of jerks. They’re on a VIP – as in Very Ignorant Pr!cks – trip and thought it was just fine to pull in at the last minute and take someone else’s place. We told them what we thought, picked up our bags and moved across the road and down a bit.

On the other side two other people agreed that the van was in the wrong, and they turned out to be british. Colin chatted with them a bit while I moved further on down the road to find another spot.
Trying to keep the camera and flash dry was a bit of a challenge – I wrapped them in the scarf again but my hands were starting to get very cold. The race finally arrived just before 3:00. I got a couple of not bad shots but an abundance of blurred ones. I think that the cold made the focussing and shutter react more slowly.
As soon as most of the riders had passed we gathered our things together – I gave the blue and white van the finger as they pulled out, just in case they hadn’t understood my earlier shouted comments.

We scurried back to the campervan, dried off our cameras and flashes, and spread everything else out to dry. Luckily we have a good satellite signal so were able to watch the rest of the race on tv.
When I loaded my photos onto my ipad I picked out one of the better ones and showed it to Colin, who had to laugh – the team sponsor was the same company whose van it was that almost ran us over and stole our spot – ha ha! Well, it’s not the riders fault, and the van was not his ‘team support’ vehicle.

For the 16 days of racing we’ve seen so far this year today was the only day with such horrible weather – we’ve been very fortunate.

The sheep in the field below us were very funny – a lady walked across the pasture and a few followed her. She reached up to a lilac bush at the fence-line on the left, grabbed a few bunches and waved them at the sheep – they all came running and she led them into a different field. Who needs sheepdogs when you have lilac? The horses apparently don’t care as much for lilac as the sheep do – they ignored the lady and the running sheep and just kept grazing.
Once my shoes were dry I went for another little walk and saw another beautiful horse, some cute little calves and a couple of beautiful guard dogs.
A little more walking and I was near the big church – I found it kind of funny to have a children’s playground right next to the graveyard.
Back towards the campervan there’s a large map of the local hiking trails – lots of hikers come here. There’s more than one B&B in this little town and lots of trails connecting all of the nearby villages.
There’s also a helpful poster of the digestive system of a cow, just in case any of the hikers was wondering where the grass goes. Shortly after I returned from my walk Colin saw something moving in the field – I jumped out with my camera to have a look and it was a fox – a very large and scruffy one by the looks of it.

Sportif from Hell, Rally Car Heaven

We left the campground around 10:30 to find a place to watch tomorrow’s race from – it poured rain almost the whole way. The first half of the race is pretty ordinary – going from Liege down to Bastogne with only one climb. The return trip to Liege is much more interesting – there are 10 categorized climbs and we headed to an area that has 3 of them within about 20 miles.
As soon as we reached to town of Vielsalm we started to see the race arrows so we just followed them. The second climb seemed promising as there was a small town just past the crest and there was even a paved parking area within easy walking distance. Since we were so close to the third climb we kept going so we could have a look at the stele to Eddy Merckx that is at the top – he won this race a record 5 times.

We had started to pass sportif riders now and then along the way, and the road was getting thick with them by the time we reached the town of Stavelot, which is the start of the climb. We started up the hill but turned back after only a short way – the road is extremely narrow and the sportif riders were in the way.
We drove back down and through the town, stopped for gas, then pulled over in front of another memorial. This one is to the miners, by which they mean the brave men who went and found and defused the land mines that the Germans planted everywhere as they retreated.
We pondered continuing to follow the race route to the next climb, but decided instead to go up to the Merckx stele on the road the race will come on. Still dodging sportif riders that were coming down we made it up after only one wrong turn. The view from the top is spectacular – you can see the town of Stavelot down below.
The stele is really neat and I’m very glad we made the effort to get to it. We actually parked on the side of the road and thought we might stay there for the race.
As we ate lunch we saw that more and more sportif riders were arriving – and we spent the next couple of hours marvelling at how stupid some of them were.

Many of them were stopping, of course, to see the stele, and they were just standing in the middle of the road even as cars were trying to pass by – the roads aren’t closed during sportifs, and there was no course marshall there or anything. Other riders that didn’t stop turned the sharp corner to the road down without even looking for oncoming traffic – I was sure one of them was going to get run over. And one stupid guy actually leaned his bike against Eddy’s on the stele, thinking maybe it would make an interesting selfie or something – Colin told him have some respect and move it.
Then there were the stupid drivers that were waiting for someone that was riding up – they could all use some parking lessons. One ignorant asshole actually parked right in the middle of the road – when I opened the campervan door and shouted at him to move he argued with me ‘cars can still get by’ and refused to move. Colin eventually had to go over to his window and explain that it was an open public road and he must move. I thought for a minute that Colin might get hit in the face but the jerk just wound up his window – he did end up moving, but was still half on the road.
The local people must just hate events like this, although we were surprised by their restraint in not honking and cursing as much as I would have. The stupidness of so many riders made me embarrassed and I decided I might have to email the organizers of the event to express my overall displeasure. I’ve seen many sportifs now and have several times been annoyed by the clogged roads, but never this disgusted.

I also wasn’t impressed with the garbage – many riders tried to hit the garbage can that was right there, but others didn’t bother. I went out with a large black bag and picked up a bunch of discarded gel wrappers, etc and put the bag next to the can.

And finally, what impressed me the least, was all the pissing that was going on. Riders stopping on the side of the road – at least they weren’t in the middle, small blessing I guess – pulling out their ‘equipment’ and letting loose a stream. It’s not just dogs that do that!
We decided we didn’t want to stay in that spot after all so once the throngs of sportif riders had thinned out a bit we went back down to Stavelot and re-traced the route back to the town of Wanne that is just past the one climb.
We tried out a couple of different places on the side of the road but weren’t satisfied. During this time we kept seeing vintage sports cars whizzing by – a nearby photographer confirmed that there was a rally happening. It seemed to mostly be beautiful old Porches, but there were also other makes.
We ended up back at the parking area at the end of the village. The rain had come and gone a few times, even hailing for a bit. Then, of course, the rainbow came.
We walked over to a lovely restaurant thinking to have a nice meal to celebrate Colin’s birthday which is tomorrow, but they were fully booked.
Across the road was a nice park area that has a small memorial to the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team USA, and there’s also a museum that’s open twice a week.
We’re right across the road from a lovely field full of sheep and a couple of horses – not a bad spot at all.

Bastogne – War Memorial and Then Some

Another blustery morning with grey skies – we drove down to Bastogne so Colin could visit the war museum. Much of the drive down is on the route for Sunday’s race – they go just into the city before circling around and going back north to Liege on a different road.
As you near the city there’s more than one war memorial, and several old rusted tanks, etc. There’s also a really neat array of sculptured cyclists in one of the large roundabouts paying tribute to the race – it’s the oldest one on the calendar going back to 1892.

The war museum was actually on the race route just at the northeast end of the town. We parked and had lunch, then Colin went on into the museum – I didn’t think I could handle it so took Mo for an outside tour of the memorial to the Americans.
On the way to the memorial, just outside the entrance to the museum, was an art display. It was made of paintings that were all done on pieces of the actual Berlin Wall – it was very moving, and seemed to be a very apt place to have it.
As you approach the memorial there’s a large sculpture of the photo of the sailor kissing the nurse.
The memorial was very beautiful and emotional – I might as well have gone into the museum as I had tears streaming down my face almost the whole time (although almost hidden by my movie star sunglasses).
It’s built in the shape of a five pointed star and on the outside panels are the names of the various American regiments, etc, who participated in this area, and on the inside of each pillar is the story of what happened.

Along the top on the outside are the names of all of the states, although they seemed to have a bit of a problem with the order of a couple of them.
One kind of amusing part was getting up to the top viewing area – there was a set of circular stairs that were very narrow and I was just about as freaked out by them as poor little Mo was. I almost had to stop and pick her up but wondered who would pick me up – luckily we reached the top unscathed.
There wasn’t really much to see from up there, except that at the end of each point of the star there was a placque with a map of the countryside in front and what had happened there.
The trip down the spiral stairs was easier than the trip up for both Mo and myself. We then walked just a little ways down to ‘the Crypt’ that Mo didn’t like at all. She was fine going down the stairs but didn’t like the inside – she pulled furiously at the lead and started barking as soon as we went inside so we didn’t stay long.
We walked back up and took another look at the art exhibit, then headed back to the campervan to wait for Colin to finish his museum tour.

I encouraged him to take a look at the memorial and crypt, so we all went back down to the outdoor cafe so Mo and I could wait while he had a look around. The chairs were all chained to the tables, but there was a couple at the end that called out to us – their chairs were unchained and they asked if we wanted to join them.

They were Dutch and had just come down for a long weekend – the fact that the race was going to go by was a bonus for them, as they also knew a lot about the races. They spoke english very well – as most dutch people do – and were nice to talk with for awhile.

While Mo and I sat and nursed a glass of wine – ok it was me, not Mo – Colin had a walk around up and down the memorial and to the crypt.
On the way back to the campground we stopped in La Roche-de-Ardenne so I could have a closer look at the ‘sculpture park’ we’d seen next to the river. Once again the theme had something to do with the war, but none of the placques were in english.
Mo and I walked all around and did enjoy the sculptures, and although they were a bit on the obscure side the place was very peaceful and beautiful.

La Roche-en-Ardenne

We’d arrived last evening to a campground just outside the town of La Roche-en-Ardenne after the office had closed but a fellow had let us through the gate and told us to register in the morning.
The campground is right on a very pretty river that has a large berm – meant to keep floods at bay – and it’s a nice walk along the top, with the odd bench here and there. The weather changed completely more than once throughout the morning – clouds, sun, rain – but always windy.
Later in the afternoon we drove into the town – it’s very pretty, but I guess was almost completely rebuilt after WWII.
There is more than one US tank on display, and a fairly large war museum, as well as the usual memorial.
This area was heavily bombed by the Americans in the war to force the Germans to flee, and the town was a very important river crossing location during the Battle of the Bulge.
Many of the roads in the city centre are pedestrian friendly so walking around was quite relaxing – there are sculptures and artwork all over the place.

We stopped at a nice cafe/bar near one of the squares for a drink and waiting for the rain to diminish a bit.
As we passed the war museum the fellow was just about to take in the outside sign but waited a moment so I could take a photo of it. The town before the war in the top left corner and then the after – not much was left.
But they did a great job rebuilding, and the place seems prosperous and busy enough even on a rainy day in April.