Who knew it was mosquito season in Italy. Thankfully I brought the cortisone cream to help with the itching. I have five bites, one which I think was from last night. How I got bitten on my face, I don’t know. Italian mosquitoes must carry different “venom” because my bites look much angrier than bites I get back home, unless I’m scratching too much.
Backroads upgraded their user navigation system this year, providing riders with a Garmin GPS that has the routes pre-loaded for us. They still offer the paper directions, which is still handy in the rare circumstances that something goes wrong with the Garmin. I still enjoy the paper directions as a reminder/souvenir of the rides, but the Garmin is a game changer. With the paper directions, you’d have to stop to read it, and to flip the pages over. And it’s hard to read and ride at the same time. With the Garmin, you simply follow the purple line. The drawback is that you can’t actually see too far ahead – this is where the paper directions comes in handy, especially during each morning’s route wrap.
Today’s ride was long (95 km), but not terribly difficult. There was one section that was short, and very steep – about an 11-12% grade. There were some hilly sections, but overall, it was a flat ride (Pablo flat, as we call it). The last bit along the coast was made challenging with the head and cross winds. My legs were rubbery by the time we pulled in to our resort grounds. The long descent made the climb worthwhile. The views were majestic as I sailed down the mountain, and closer to the base, the road was perfectly in line with the grape vines in perfect rows.
We had the chance to ride with Pablo today, and learned that he used to race when he was younger. Fun fact – Pablo used to train with Alberto Contador! Our day with Pablo was an adventure, starting with a sheep transfer. On my previous BR rides (and even yesterday), hubs and I have come across sheep crossings. We simply stay back and let the sheep cross the road. Today was different. The sheep where being transferred and were on the road. A shepherd and his two sheep dogs were herding them, and then we come along, support van and riders. We were surrounded by sheep at one point! It was the coolest experience, watching how the dogs work and seeing how strong they are as the sheep push and run. Those dogs stand firm. Bob, one of the riders in our group, quickly picked up the sounds the shepherd was making to keep the sheep inline so if there were any straying sheep, Bob on his bike, would make the same sound. Maybe in retirement he could become a sheep farmer – such a natural!
Lunch was special today, both the area and where we dined. We stopped in Alberobello, which is famous for their trullis. Trullo homes are a traditional Apulian dry stone hut with a conical roof. We noticed some For Sales signs, and learned that it will cost you €70 000 per cone, and a home would require a minimum of three cones.
Our guide, Mimmo (owner of Truli Puglia), took us into a restored rental trullo, where his mother had set out a hearty and delicious lunch for us. She had made quite a spread, with vegetables from their farm. The lunch included her homemade orecchiette, chicken, various types of salads, and focaccia. After lunch, Mimmo took us on a tour of the town, including the original trullo which I believe belonged to a family member or close family friend.
Mimmo is a very charismatic, lively and knowledgeable guide. If you happen to find yourself in Alberobello, I would look him up (www.trulliepuglia.com) and get him to take you on a tour of the town. He’s currently restoring the original trullo (cleaning it up, but not modernizing it) and is working to turn it into an education centre and museum. The history behind the trulli is fascinating and worth reading about.
Today’s ride was very eventful in a positive way. I joked with Pablo that this trip has turned into a multi-sport trip, or maybe adventure follows Pablo. First was finding ourselves in the midst of a sheep transfer, followed by the after lunch adventure, when we turned on to a newly paved road. You could still smell the asphalt, but we weren’t making any dents, so we kept riding. Pablo was with our small group. Further along, we saw the rolling machinery, and we also noticed that this section of new asphalt was newly rolled and soft and hence we were making tracks. The workers driving the vehicles were blocking the road ahead, so we had to lift our bikes over the stone wall, and jump down into this field of very prickly weeds and wildflowers. We raced to get in front of the workmen in their huge trucks. The trucks were all lined up. They were waiting to continue to pave, so we jumped back onto our bikes and quickly pedaled away.
Tonight we checked into Masseria Torre Coccaro. Riding to the grounds, we got the sense that this place was going to be higher end. On the right, there was a nice looking golf course. When we turned down another road, we passed 1,000 year old olive trees, with massive and gnarly looking trunks. To get into the resort, we had to be buzzed in at the gates. As the gates slowly opened, I joked about how under-dressed we were.
I loved our accommodations. We basically had a little cottage, which was spacious for the two of us. If we had time, we could sit on our veranda, which faces our private front lawn, with perfectly manicured shrubs and a citrus tree. At night, we noticed some geckos on the walls. They were too fast; we couldn’t catch them. There’s also a lovely pool onsite. Hubs and I did not have time to enjoy it, but some of our riding mates did take a quick dip.
This evening’s activities was wonderful. We started with a mozzarella demo. The mozzarella and burratta cheeses were the most delicious I have ever tasted. Squeaky on the outside, and soft and stringy on the inside. Perfecto. Hubs wants to make mozzarella at home, because there is no mozzarella out there that compares to the freshly made kind. The problem is, I’m not sure where to find chemical yeast. We were told that the only ingredients that go into this cheese are milk, salt, boiling water, and chemical yeast. In the video below, you’ll notice that the maker’s fingers are quite pudgy. That is likely because his hands are always in boiling hot water! After the cheese making demo/tasting, we were given a brief lesson on olive oil and we had a tasting before moving in to the restaurant for another large dinner. I’m finding that I cannot consume so many courses at dinner. It’s so much food! But perhaps tonight my appetite was slightly ruined by eating so much cheese.
The evening ended with me and hubs having some fun conversations with Pablo and Gérald. That’s one of the great qualities of all the BR leaders we have had. No matter how long their day has been, they still make time for their group members, and they ensure that they get to know each of the members. They genuinely seem interested in us, just as we are fascinated by their lives. One of my concerns before the trip was that I knew our leaders were both male. In the past, we have always had at least one female leader riding with us, which has been so inspirational to me. I suppose it was more a disappointment rather than a concern that we didn’t have a female leader on this trip, but Pablo and Gérald are so great. They are great with us, and with each other. I can’t imagine being here in Puglia without them.
I’m very much looking forward to riding again tomorrow. I should stop here for now and get some rest. I think there will be a big climb tomorrow.