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:


Climate Change May Fuel Future Travel Options

climate changeClimate change is a topic that many of us think is something that will affect future generations, perhaps hundreds of years from now. But what if we look at it from a different viewpoint?

What if we could travel back in time 17 million years to when the Grand Canyon was just forming? Would we have believed that the national monument, now nearly a mile deep in places, would some day be a major tourist attraction? Probably not. But time and the forces of nature that come with it, along with the effect of humans on the planet, have a way of changing what we see – sometimes dramatically.

We don’t have to go back millions of years to see such changes either. A recent study indicates that the Arctic will become drastically greener in just a matter of decades. “So what?” one might say. “Who goes there anyway?” Significant to this study on climate change is that it was done in the Arctic where not much can grow or live due to the harsh environment. To see change of any kind is unusual.

The research team included scientists from AT&T Labs-Research, Woods Hole Research Center, Colgate University, Cornell University and the University of York. These are organizations that have a very global view on things that will affect our future.

My father-in-law worked for AT&T during the early days of microwave communications and sometimes told a story of how researchers in his lab used the then-new technology to cook hot dogs. That technology would later also be used for the microwave ovens we all know so well. This story has much of the same, believable flavor.”Such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the global ecosystem,” said Richard Pearson of the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation in an RDMag article.

climate changeIt will begin with something as simple as some species of birds being unable to seasonally migrate to particular polar habitats, such as open space for ground-nesting, suggests the study. But things turn worse very quickly as the sun’s radiation, normally reflected back into space when it hits snow, will have less of it to hit and will stick around, accelerating global warming.

Just one commonly accepted effect of global warming is flooding in some coastal areas and more powerful storms.

To the world of travel, that means popular beach destinations could be under water in a few hundred years. More immediate, some of today’s iconic travel destinations, already struggling with sea level issues like Venice, Italy, or the Netherlands, could be doomed much quicker.

Right now, for example, Venice, Italy, is being protected against rising tides in the Adriatic Sea by rows of mobile gates, intended to isolate the Venetian Lagoon when the tide rises above a certain level. The Netherlands, a geographically low-lying country, has a great amount of its land and people at or below sea level and will also be affected by rising ocean levels.

climate changeThis new study, while not talked about much in the press, is a clear indicator of what the future holds and good food for thought.

Of even more immediate concern, and visually a clear indicator of a problem we can do something about, is today’s reality of the “floating island of plastic” in the Pacific Ocean.

Brought to the area by ocean currents that move around the planet like a slow-motion whirlpool, opposing the wind and earth’s rotational forces, tens of thousands of pounds of garbage wash ashore here every year.

“These ecosystems are very connected. If the oceans are in trouble, we humans are in trouble. We don’t realize that we are threatening our own existence,” says Dr. Gregor Hodgson, founder and executive director of Reef Check Organization in this video.



[Image credit - Flickr user Kris Krug]

From Ankle To Arch: Italy’s Culinary Diversity

Go to your local supermarket to buy pasta and you’ll find about a dozen different shapes from which to choose. Travel from the ankle to the arch of the heel in Italy, though, and you’ll find 150 different types. And those are just the pasta types that begin with the letter “C.”


Each of Italy’s 20 regions has a distinct cuisine. Pizza crust thickens and thins. Ingredients go in and out of certain sauces. Meat is cooked in entirely different ways. On the island of Pantelleria, for example, you’ll find as much couscous on the menu of an Italian restaurant as you will pasta. In Sicily bread crumbs are an actual sauce you’ll find in pasta. In Valle d’Aosta, in the Alpine north, you’ll find fondue made with fontina cheese. Culinary diversity is one of the wonders of travel. And Italy is one of the best places to discover new food.

You thought you knew Italian cuisine? Not until you’ve traveled from Torino to Taranto. Here’s a quick guide to some of Italy’s best regional cuisine.


Piedmont
A Slow Approach
It’s no coincidence the world headquarters for the Slow Food movement, which emphasizes the use of local and organic ingredients, is based in this region in northwest Italy. Thanks to its location near the Alps, Piedmont’s capital, Turin, as well as the countryside is awash in mushrooms and truffles. Which is why one of the most local dishes in the region is tagliolini with white truffles, a nutmeg-accented pasta dish that is both earthy and satisfying. Wash it down with a glass of Barolo, Piedmont’s best known beverages and one of Italy’s most acclaimed wines.

Lombardy
More than Milan
The most famous dish to come out of this northern region is the breaded veal or chicken cutlet a la Milanese (which later influenced the advent of Wiener schnitzel, by the way). But Lombardy’s cuisine offers so much more. Risotto and polenta, for example, are more prevalent here than pasta and butter and cream-an influence from northern Europe-are just as popular as olive oil. The region’s capital, Milan, is an optimal place to sample the regional cuisine, but for lesser known specialties head south to the town of Pavia, surrounded by rice patties, for risotto rusti: rice with pork and beans.

Veneto
The taste of La Serenissima
Hugging the Adriatic sea in northeastern Italy, Veneto is-surprise, surprise-a feast for seafood lovers. Dried cod stewed in milk might not sound too delizia, but try it and we trust you’ll be won over. For true carnivores the fegato alla Veneziana –calf’s liver and onions-is a true taste of Venice. Like Lombardy, one of this region’s neighbors to the west, rice is more prevalent than pasta. The area around inland Treviso is famous for its soft, bubbly prosecco, be sure to indulge in a glass.

Emilia-Romagna
Porky Goodness
If there’s a gastronomic epicenter to a country that is already brimming with mouth-watering food, Emilia-Romagna is it. The region’s fertile land means it produces some of the country’s best dishes. The streets of towns like Bologna and Parma are teeming with porkliscious goodness (prosciutto, anyone?) as well as local staples like freshly made tagliatelle and lasagna. Don’t forget to try some Parmagiano in its hometown, Parma.

Tuscany
Under the Tuscan Tongue
Perhaps no other region of Italy has a more romanticized cuisine than that of Tuscany. Geography has played a heavy role in shaping the cuisine, which is earthy, simple, and seasonal: from olive oil to pecorino cheese to spices like rosemary and sage. Panzanella, a bread soup, is a traditional Tuscan dish. So are various bean soups. And, of course, one cannot forget the tender steaks the region produces (the Chianina cow from the sub-region Chianti is a legend among meat eaters). Wash it all down with the king of Italian wines, Brunello di Montalcino, which hails from Montalcino in souther Tuscany.

Umbria
The Green Heart
Known as Italy’s “green heart” for its fertile landscape, Umbria is a foodie paradise. The gorgeous hill-top towns are a feast for the eyes, but there’s plenty for the taste buds as well. Perugia is famous for chocolate and Orvieto for its many Slow Food restaurants (such as Trattoria dell’Orso or La Grotta), but be sure to check out off-the-radar Norcia, where sausage is king. For something less meaty, try the Umbrian dish falchetti verdi: ricotta gnocchi and spinach baked with cheese and tomato sauce.

Lazio
Eternally Delicious
With Rome at its axis, this region is a culinary world all its own. Famous dishes that hail from Lazio include the egg-and-pancetta-laced pasta carbonara, tomato-and-pancetta-based spaghetti amatriciana, and the spicy pasta arabiata. Many of Rome’s dishes were created in the district of Testaccio, home of an ancient slaughterhouse where workers were often paid with the “quinto quarto,” or fifth part of the animal. Only the brave should sample real Roman dishes like pajata, veal intestines with the mother’s milk still inside.

Campania
Tomatoes and Buffalos
Naples is the heart of this southern region’s cuisine, and for good reason. It’s here where locals put their famous tomatoes, San Marzano, and mouth-watering buffalo milk cheese, mozzarella di buffalo, to good use: they’re the main ingredients for the world’s best pizza, invented here in the 16th century. Lesser known treats such as bistecca alla pizzaiola, a thinly sliced beef topped with garlic and tomato sauce, are also worth the trek.

Puglia
The Pull of Puglia
Situated in the heel of the boot, the sparse olive-tree spiked landscape of Puglia has inspired a unique cuisine. And so has the region’s historic poverty. Pasta is made without eggs and the shapes are unique. Orecchiette, or “little ears,” originated here. Puglia gets more sun than anywhere else in Italy, which means the region’s wine is delicious. The negroamaro grape, nearly exclusive to the region, produces a smooth, medium-bodied wine.

Sicily
Sun and Sea
The food of this island, the “ball” being kicked by the “boot,” has a legion of influences, thanks to the many invasions over the millennia. Greeks, Vikings, Muslims and Spanish have all contributed to the cuisine. The sun and the sea have also played a large roll in shaping Sicily’s table. Everything from capers to saffron to wild fennel can be found in pasta dishes (often laced, not surpsingly, with seafood). Arancini, fried rice balls, are a must. So are cannoli, fried tubular dough stuffed with cream. Lemons are ubiquitous here, which means a true taste of Sicily can be found in drinks like the luscious after-dinner digestivi, limoncello.

[Photo by David Farley]

Exploring The Marvels Of Croatia’s Modric Cave

Twist your head to the right, your body to the left and wiggle through the crack, urged the guide leading us through Modric Cave in Croatia. Pretending I was a pretzel worked. After dragging my lagging left leg through a fissure between caverns, I re-lit my carbide miner’s lamp and stood stunned by the beauty of crystals sparkling on the curvaceous stalactites. My husband, who was a spelunker in his earlier days, couldn’t stop grinning and told me that he’d never seen a cave so pristine.

We were partially through a two-hour excursion into the cave, which is located less than 20 miles from the ancient city of Zadar and about a three-hour drive north of Dubrovnik. The adventure had started with a 10-minute walk over rocky ground to the entrance, within view of a calm, azure Adriatic Sea. Our guide, Marijan, unlocked the iron gate barring the entrance to the cave, so that our group of five could enter. Looking at the opening, the size of a book-return slot at a library, we eyed each other wondering how we could slip through it. Grab the rock wall, slide your feet through the crack while resting your back on the grate, wiggle through, then twist around and drop to the ground, Marijan directed. Following his directions (mentally thanking the helmet on my head when it smacked the grate), I wound up in a space barely big enough to hold the group.

During the time we spent exploring Modric Cave, we gingerly climbed over rocks or contorted our bodies to wiggle through small cracks in walls to marvel at the formations in the larger caverns. Our lamps revealed nature’s beauty created over millions of years. The cave is still “living” – growing with drops of water depositing tiny bits of calcium carbonate on the formations – and we were admonished not to touch them. Colored stalactites hung from the ceiling, with drops of water at the bottom you knew would one day add a millimeter to the glistening column. Stalagmites had dew-laden tops from the ground water seeping through the ceiling high above. Entering cavern after cavern in this 829-meter-long cave, we were awed as Marijan pointed out flows, columns and speleo shapes ranging from cuttlefish and jellyfish to a formation that looked like a turtle.

Quick flashes of light from cameras showed the three Germans we were spelunking with posing by fat pillars. Marijan, lean and weathered from years of leading people through caves and on treks in nearby Paklenica National Park, took our camera and photographed us. Then we sat down, turned off our lights and held our breath, savoring the absolute darkness and silence.

When we had re-emerged into bright sunlight, Marijan re-locked the iron gate covering the entrance and said that no more than 1,000 visitors are allowed in with a guide annually. In reality less than 300 people will visit this year, he added.

For us, this immersion into an underworld of pristine beauty was the highlight of our trip. Croatia may be a “hot” destination, but it still holds many unexplored marvels like Modric for the intrepid traveler.


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Advance arrangements are needed to visit Modric Cave. Go to www.zara-adventure.hr for details. Modric Cave is listed as a technically undemanding excursion, but do expect to walk over very rough surfaces and to twist your body into some seriously contorted positions. This is not a cave NFL linebackers can enter, nor anyone with claustrophobia or a fear of the dark. Marijan, who says he is the only guide allowed to take small groups into Modric Cave, supplies overalls and helmets. Light hiking shoes, long pants, a long-sleeve shirt and a camera are all you’ll need to bring. The adventure costs 22 Euro per person. Experienced cavers can also arrange to visit caves that require rappelling and more advanced caving skills.

[Photo Credits: Lois Friedland]

Photo Of The Day: Silba

silba

Silba is a tiny northern Dalmatian island close to the port city of Zadar, Croatia. The island sees its population boom in the summer, from a few hundred year-rounders to a few thousand seasonal sunshine seekers. Closed to passenger cars, Silba is one of many Croatian islands that could have been created to perfectly showcase summer in all of its glory.

This image, captured by Flickr user mmusnjak, is drenched in happy summer emotions. It is a particularly bittersweet image today, the last day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

Upload your best images to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr. We select our favorites from the bunch to be future Photos of the Day.