Cyclists Train Like Locals In Italy, Then Eat Well

cyclists

Top cyclists train daily to race, often on varied terrain and through different weather conditions. Cycling enthusiasts who might dream of racing one day, prepare one step at a time. They find the right gear, become friends with others into the sport and possibly join a cycling club or just meet on Saturday mornings for a ride. Have you seen them? Cycling in packs on a weekend morning or afternoon? Ever wonder what they might be talking about among themselves?

Other than “that guy in the Honda just about hit me,” the conversation might trend in the direction of unique places they have cycled. One such place, and the stuff of dreams for cyclists, would be up and into mountains. Doing so has become so popular that tour operators are offering package deals that come with cycling experts, mountain guides and more.

In their “Train Like A Local” tour, Italiaoutdoors Food and Wine takes cyclists on a six-night bike tour into the foothills of the Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy.cyclistsClimbs on their “Train Like A Local” tour range between 900 and 1700 meters and provide an ideal introduction to riding at higher elevations. Held from May 26 to June 1 and June 16-22, the tour attracts adventure travelers that share a passion for cycling. But cycling is just one focus of the all-inclusive package, which is priced at $3,695 per person.

Along for the ride are cyclist and mountain guide Vernon McClure and cooking instructor/chef/biker Kathy Bechtel. They bring cycling routes unknown to mainstream tour companies, sharing their expertise and passion for cycling. But their programming has more than other tour operators.

Participants also get an in-depth introduction to magnificent Italian regional cuisine and local wines. On a seven-day Bike and Wine tour, they cycle through wine regions in Alto Adige, Trentino and the Veneto. Starting in Bolzano, (also in the Dolomite Mountains) they travel downhill to Lake Garda and the iconic city of Verona.

Really into food? Italiaoutdoors also has cycling and cooking tours in Italy. This one, at the foot of the Dolomites, cycles through a diverse region located along the shores of the Adriatic sea and highlights another element of the Italiaoutdoors programming: history. This tour follows one of the old trade routes used to distribute spices and goods from the east throughout Western Europe.

Boasting personal service and a custom plan for every trip, Vernon McClure and Kathy Bechtel, the owners and operators of Italiaoutdoors offer a variety of ideas for biking, hiking and skiing tours via their ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine website.

Want to know more about cooking and biking tours in Italy? Check this video:


The Southern Road: Traveling Through The New Industrial America

If you’re not from the American South, you probably have an image of it in your head. It might have squealing pickup trucks and Daisy Dukes. Or hoop skirts and cotton plantations from “Gone With The Wind.” Maybe the streetcars of New Orleans, or the twang of Paula Deen.

What if I told you that the American South has become a land of opportunity, where people no longer have to leave home to find their fortunes? What if you knew that more than a third of all the cars sold in the United States are made there? And that its population is no longer just white, black, and Hispanic, but European and Asian?

In August, I traveled 4,000 miles over two weeks across the New Industrial South. I plotted a road trip that took me to all the car and truck plants between Mississippi and South Carolina that have been built in the past two decades. I talked to autoworkers and managers, chefs and mayors, university officials and farmers, wait staff and retirees.

And I came away thinking that people up north have no idea what’s happened below the Mason Dixon line. Thanks to the auto industry, and everything that came with it, the South is full of cities where there’s been growth, where people buy new cars and homes, and send their kids to new schools and to play on new skate parks. Towns have new city halls. Instead of selling the past, economic developers are salivating over a new future.

If you only visit one of these places, say, Birmingham, Alabama, you see some of this, but not all of it. Driving the entire region, however, fills in the picture in a complete way.

Over the next weeks, we’ll be exploring the impact of the South’s new industry in “The Southern Road: Traveling Through The New Industrial South.” We’ll have lots of tips to help you plan your own southern road trip.

Most of all, we’ll provide impressions. And this was my main one.

Traveling the Southern Road made me think this is what it must have been like in Detroit, and Cleveland, and Gary, Indiana, and Pittsburgh for our parents and grandparents. While those cities are striving to write their next chapters, you can go see the story of the new American economy playing out right now, all across the South.

%Gallery-164205%The contrasts are striking, beginning with terrain. My trip began in my hometown, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Once I passed Lexington, Kentucky, en route to Greenville, South Carolina, I found myself driving around sweeping curves and up and down hills. As I crossed Tennessee and North Carolina, I was in mountains. And the geography stayed interesting as the miles clicked up, reminded me quite a bit of New England, only lush and verdant in a different way, with live oaks, moss and pines.

The variety was staggering. If you prefer to stay in luxury hotels and dine at some of the country’s top-rated restaurants, you can do that in Chattanooga, Tennessee, now the home of Volkswagen’s new plant. Or in Birmingham, Alabama, which has Mercedes-Benz just west of town and Honda within an hour’s drive to the east. Downtown Greenville, South Carolina, bustles at night, in no small part due to the BMW plant right by the airport.

Do you want to couple history with your auto town visit? Then head for Montgomery, Alabama. That’s where Hyundai built its first American factory, only 10 minutes from the spot where Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat. Near Tupelo, Mississippi, there’s a brand new Toyota factory a few exits down from Elvis Presley’s birthplace and the hardware store where he bought his first guitar.

Perhaps you’d like to see what happens to a small southern town when a car plant becomes its neighbor. Canton, Mississippi, fits that bill. So do Lincoln, Alabama, and West Point, Georgia. These towns also have gorgeous lakes and recreational areas only a stone’s throw away.

Many of the plants are open for tours, and the most elaborate, like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and VW, have visitor centers where you can drop in even if you’re not going to see how the cars are built. Several of the plants have gift shops, where you can buy golf balls, shot glasses, T-shirts and picnic baskets. (Too bad Kia’s gift shop isn’t open to the public because it had the cutest souvenirs – the toy hamster and sock monkey that have appeared in its ads.)

Other plants don’t allow the public to visit, but even if you don’t set foot in one of the factories, it’s easy to spot what happens when one of these big auto plants comes to town.

The first thing you might notice is new highway exits, new overpasses and new roads around the plants. They’re often part of the incentives that the states paid to land these factories.

The next thing to look for is development. Fast food restaurants and new hotels are the first signs of growth. But you’ll also see billboards for new subdivisions, and you’ll notice even more in the way of smaller factories – these have been opened by the suppliers to these big car companies. Often, they’re set next to the freeway a few miles down, because they often sell parts to more than one automaker.

What I found on the Southern Road is that the impact of these factories goes a lot deeper than what you can see on the surface. When you have newcomers from Germany and Japan and Korea, their culture comes with them.

That’s why you’ll find the makings for a Japanese breakfast, like miso soup and steamed rice, on the breakfast buffet at the Lexington, Kentucky, Residence Inn. That’s why you can now rent a loft apartment for business entertaining at Soby’s, the popular restaurant in Greenville – because BMW and other European companies wanted a private place for a small group.

To be sure, the South hasn’t become one big Manhattan, and no one would mistake any of these cities for Los Angeles. Southern culture is still widely apparent, from men automatically holding open doors for women, to gas station lunch counters and lots of fast driving. Divert from your Mapquest directions, and you’ll find long stretches of farmland and dusty roads.

But you can stop for Starbuck’s on the way to your plant tour. And you might even wonder, “What would it be like to live here?”

Micheline Maynard is a writer and author based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She previously ran the public media project Changing Gears, and was Detroit bureau chief for the New York Times.

Setting Up Your Trip:

These are some of the car companies that have public tours or facilities for visitors.

BMW Zentrum, Greer S.C. (plant tours, customer delivery center, and more). Open Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Call 1-888-TOUR-BMW or www.bmwzentrum.com

Mercedes-Benz Visitor Center, Vance, AL (museum and plant tours). Museum open daily, tours given Tuesday-Thursday. Call 888-286-8762 or www.mbusi.com

Volkswagen, Chattanooga, AL. (gift shop and tour) Eight tours a week, Tuesday through Friday at 9 a.m. and 1:30 pm. Inquiries: tours@vw.com

Hyundai, Montgomery, AL (visitors center and tour). Tours given Monday, Wednesday, Friday, also a Thursday evening tour. Call 334-387-8019 or www.hmmausa.com

Nissan, Canton, MS (gift shop and plant tour) Tours by reservation. Call 601-855-TOUR.

Honda, Lincoln, AL (plant tour) Tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. By reservation at www.hondaalabama.com/

Photo Of The Day: Bangkok Motorcycles

If there’s one sound I remember from my travels in Southeast Asia, it’s the motorcycles. The insistent motorized whine of these two-wheeled bikes is audible everywhere you turn, from Hanoi to Bangkok. Today’s photo, taken by Flickr user halvora, is a great visual reminder of one of the most iconic images of Southeast Asia. Taken in Bangkok, the black and white image, dashed road lanes and cluster of helmeted bikers form an interesting pattern and a great reminder of this most familiar of symbols.

Taken any great photos from your trip to Bangkok? Or maybe just from your trip to Boston? Add them to our Gadling group on Flickr. We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Will This Motorized Unicycle Redefine Transportation? (VIDEO)


Watch out, Segway – there’s a new kind of people mover in town, and you don’t even have to stand up to use it. Earlier this week, Honda introduced the UNI-CUB, a self-balancing electric vehicle intended to transport people inside large buildings such as airports, museums and shopping malls. The compact device looks kind of like a futuristic motorized unicycle, except there is an extra wheel on the back for maneuverability. Similar to the Segway, riders simply shift their weight to move backward and forward, side-to-side, or even diagonally. But unlike the Segway, users are free to use their hands and are able to buzz along on the compact device while sitting at eye-level with pedestrians, making the UNI-CUB an unobtrusive addition to foot traffic (besides, of course, all the people who stop to stare).

For travelers, especially those with disabilities, the UNI-CUB has the potential to revolutionize getting from place to place. People who cannot walk long distances are currently limited to using cumbersome scooters – especially when standing upright on a Segway for a long period of time is not an option. Since it’s less bulky, weights only 22 pounds, and can be folded up into a carrying case, the UNI-CUB also might be able to help users get through airport security and board planes with ease.

This is all just speculation, of course. Honda does not yet have a planned release date for the robot unicycle. Besides, we can’t forget that even the Segway never lived up to its hype as a product that would redefine the way we travel. Instead, the machine is most commonly known as a shopping center patrol vehicle. It doesn’t look like we’ll see armies of UNI-CUBs replacing the Segways that are now popular for city tours, either. The transporter is intended for indoor use only and moves at walking speed, about 3.7 miles per hour.

Is the UNI-CUB just another ridiculous people mover, or would you go along for a ride on the sit-down Segway? Personally, I think I’ll hold out for my own hovercraft.

How the Japanese drive around town without spilling their soup

OK, this is absolutely brilliant. Imagine having to speed through Tokyo on your Honda Super Cub scooter. That is hard enough without having to worry about carrying a tray filled with bowls of soup!

Of course, it takes Japanese ingenuity to design a simple and crude way to keep things from spilling.

I’m not really sure what to call it, so I’ll just name it the “scooter self stabilizing soup shelf”, or S5 for short. It’s not much more than a couple of bits of tubing, a piece of wood and some form of shock absorber.

Even a parked scooter will be no match for the S5, parked up against the curb, the shelf stays level, and you don’t lose a drop of whatever you are carrying. Apparently these things have been around for years, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone photograph them.

There are several more of these contraptions captured on film by Lee Chapman, the Brit in Tokyo behind Tokyotimes.org. His site is filled with fantastic articles and some pretty stunning photography, certainly worth checking out.

(Tokyo Times, via Wired gadget lab)