Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Aventura Toscana: Siena

September 30, we awakened in the Hotel Alcide in Poggibonsi, where we had a nice breakfast with the group in the hotel's restaurant.

While others were headed in all directions, Sarah and I decided to visit Siena by ourselves.  I tracked down maps for my non working phone and set a route.  Siena was only 36 km to the southeast.  We took the SP2 past Monteriggioni.  Google maps had made it mysterious in how to get up to the historic, walled part of the city, but we gave it our best shot.  Then the phone maps completely stopped working.  But we rode some more, then stopped and asked a local how to get to the old town.  He said that we were stopped directly across the street from a bank of escalators hidden in the hill that led to our destination.  So we parked the Tmax and headed up.

A stop along the way to Siena.

The public escalator to the historic part of town.

 After some walking down a wonderful pedestrian street, we came to an opening to the Piazza del Campo, the famous center of Siena.  Across the piazza was the Tower of Mangia and inside the piazza was a stage with the crew doing sound checks for a concert to be held that night.  The sound system sounded great.

Playful art along the walk.

The lovely pedestrian street.

Piazza del Campo, with the Tower of Mangia

We looked around a bit, then decided to continue our tour of towers and bought a ticket to the top of the Tower of Mangia.  It was set to a time so we hung around until 1:00 for the walk up.

Piazza del Campo

A photo of the Il Palio, a horse race around the Piazza. 

Inside, getting tickets for the walk to the top.

The first runs of stairs was open and easy.  Then we transitioned to a very narrow run with limited headroom and lighting.  I could feel a bit of claustrophobia creeping in, but luckily we were out of that one after two more runs and out into a much larger space, with the stairs open to the inside of the tower.  We stopped at openings, photo opportunities, along the way until we were at the first open level near the top.  The views of the town and countryside around were fantastic, very much worth the cost and effort to make the climb.

The Piazza from the first outdoor landing.

Still a long way to go

Luckily for me the stair opened up a bit.

View from the lower landing at the top

The crowning bell at the top

A framed view of the Duomo

Happy traveler




View down to the Piazza

We stayed at the top for maybe a half an hour, then descended back to the ground.

After a little shopping and a visit to the local Duomo where Sarah went in while I checked out the visitors outside and tried to create more room on my phone for photos.  She said it was beautiful inside with the marble floors uncovered for a viewing that only happens one month per year.  I should have gone in too, but was happy to just hang out in such a nice place.

The Duomo steps

Tourist from afar

We rode back to Poggibonsi along the same route.

Sarah had found a restaurant suggestion that we decided to try.  I believe it was a vinoteque, or small restaurant called "I Love You."  It had only four tables and was run by a young married couple.  The wife cooked and the husband ran service, including wine selections.  He was out when we sat down and the wife graciously went over the menu with us.  She was a delight.  We ordered and had a great dinner.  No tasty that we went there the next night too.

Nice wine

The cook in her modest kitchen

Chicken in mushroom

And layered eggplant among other delights.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Rocket & Me, The Book

One of the gifts I received for Christmas this year was the book Lassoing the Sun, written by Mark Woods.  Mark is a columnist with the Florida Times Union.  He came to the paper to replace Mike Bianchi in the sports section but transitioned to his column in the Life section several years ago.

His writing is my favorite in the paper, so I looked forward to reading the book.

Lassoing the Sun was intended to be a book on the state of the National Park System.  Mark was to visit a different park every month and write about its successes and challenges.  He had won a grant to take the year off for this purpose so he could devote his time to the book.

But early in the year, he found out that his mother, the person, along with his late father, who developed his interest in the parks, had cancer.  A bad kind.  Within a few months of failing health, she passed away.  So that became an integral part of the book.

I enjoyed the read very much.  But while reading, I could see that the format of the book could work very well for the book I intend to write.  That book will be about the 2014 Scooter Cannonball Run, with its high highs and low lows all wrapped around a beautiful ride through western Canada and the US with some very kind and interesting people.

So, because the Times Union office is in my neighborhood, and everyone eats lunch, I decided to contact Mark to see if he would have lunch with me.

He accepted and we had a nice, hour and a half talk at Zoe's.

He was very kind, agreeing to help me with my book.

It will be a while, but this was a real plus in my motivation to get started.

I have been practicing my writing here, with quick blurbs describing my mundane life.  The book will have to be much more polished and, hopefully, entertaining.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Poor Rocket

One night last week, the Leuthold family decided to have a get together at Intuition Ale Works.  The impetus for the gathering was that Marianne was visiting from Switzerland, leaving the next day.  Also it is where my two nephews, Riley and Alex work, Riley managing the tap room.

I rode Rocket.  Arriving at the parking lot, I found a seemingly safe parking space near the bike rack.  I went in and met up with the family for a fun visit.

The family at Intuition

When I returned to ride home, I found this note.



The person had hit Rocket from the rear, knocking it down on its right side, probably against a curb.  Damage was limited to the side and, as I found out later, the rear.

Scrapes on the side, both cowl and plastic panel.
The rusted area is from a poor parking job ten years ago.

I contacted the guy and he agreed to pay to have it all repaired.

But Rocket is old with lots of replacement panels and scratches, especially on that side, so I decided to fix it myself.

The first problem I found was the tail light.  It was popped out at the top.  I tried to get it to seat by inserting the tabs at the top, then securing the bottom with screws.  But when I tightened the screws, the top tabs popped out.  There was no way it was going to fit without some body work.

The tail light pulled away at the top.
It took some minor body work under the plastic panels to get it to fit.

So I pulled all of the panels off and pulled out the bottom of the steel cowls at the back.  I used Channel Lock pliers to give me some leverage.  These caused some minor scratching, but it is all covered up by the panels.

I tried the tail light installation again and it fit.  Billy Bob's Paint and Body Shop in action!

Then, this weekend I bought some paint and sandpaper and went at fixing the side panels.

Rocket fell over ten years ago on that side and I never repaired the damage.  There was some slight surface rust at the connection between the steel cowl and the plastic bottom piece. Since I was painting, I thought I would try to get this painted too.

The panels got painted, not perfectly, but good enough.

Painting the side cowl.
You can also see the scrapes on the silver heat shield on the exhaust.
I can live with that.

The last part is the brand new heat shield on the exhaust.  It is all scratched up now.  But they always get this way so I will just leave it alone for now.

Rocket is running fine and looks OK now so all is good.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Aventura Toscana: Ride to Poggibonsi

September 29 had the group leaving Elba for Poggibonsi, a well placed medium sized town in the middle of many incredible sites.

It started by having all of us gather at the ferry terminal in Portoferraio.  We boarded and began the 160 kilometer ride to Poggibonsi.

Gathered to ride onto the ferry.  That is Al in red.
He was our fearless leader and organizer.

A view of Portoferraio from the ferry before setting sail.

The harbor at Portoferraio

On this leg, Sarah and I rode with Ken and Walt, leaving the big group to ride together. Ken had the route programmed into his GPS and we headed out from the ferry terminal in Piombino.  From there the ride was pretty, but mostly flat until we could see a small town on the side of a hill ahead of us.  It was Massa Marittima, a beautiful old town.

The town on the hill was Massa Marittima

We parked the scooters and walked into the town, where we found a Vespa Club displaying their scooters in front of the Parriocchia della Cattedrale de S. Carbone, a church that dominated the town square.  We hung around the scooters until the owners arrived, then we had a pleasant, international meeting of Vespa owners.

                                                      Scooters in front of the church

Two of the Italian club members, Marseglia Rossella Paolo and Simone Borghini have become friends on Facebook, so I can keep track of their riding, which is extensive.

Marseglia Rossella Paolo


Simone Borghini, a photographer with a camera mount on his shoe.

We had coffee in a restaurant on the square, then spent an hour seeing the small town.

Ken pointed us into the hills after that, looking for a rural restaurant for lunch.  He would look down every cross street until we came to a large stone building with several cars parked out front.  No signage, but he knew that this was the place.

The nondescript exterior, hiding a wonderful dining experience.

 We went inside to find a small dining room with a fixed menu and ordered everything they had,  This included plates of antipasti, pasta, salad, french fries and dessert.  The highlight was the meat platter with beef steaks, sausage and pork ribs piled onto the plate.  That, plus every table had a huge bottle of white wine in the middle.  When that was depleted, another came out of the back.  It was maybe the most memorable lunch I can ever remember.

Walt digging into the antipasti plate

Walt and Sarah looking pleased with the fine food.

The incomparable meat plate.

Fulfilled, we headed towards Poggibonsi. stopping a couple of times to enjoy the views.

Along the way.
Sarah and I always rode third of the three scooters.
That is Walt on the red one.

Almost into Poggibonsi.  The light through the trees was pretty.

Once in town, we settled into the hotel, then went for dinner in the old part of town with Ken and Vicki.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Oyster Tour 2017, Number One

After paying for the cost to support me and Vanessa on the 2016 Scooter Cannonball Run, and reinstating my member-in-good-standing, Ken let me know that there was another Oyster Tour in the works.  This one would not necessarily include oysters, but I was interested anyway.

It would include staying two nights at the Stephen Foster State Park near White Springs, Florida.  From there Ken suggested we ride 90 miles up to Douglas, Georgia to check on the progress of the XP 82 airplane undergoing restoration (mostly reconstruction) in a hangar at the Douglas airport.  We had seen it last year and were curious.

I worked at my usual job most of the day, leaving my office at around 3:30, went home and packed, and was off just after 4:00.  Because the sun was setting, I chose the fast route.  Interstate Highway 10.  I arrived at 5:15 and found Ken, Jim and Gary in the cabin.  We hung out for a few minutes, lamenting lack of preparations, mostly beer for me, before heading out to dinner at a "New Seafood Restaurant" in Lake City.

The "New Seafood Restaurant" turned out to be a Cedar River Seafood restaurant, part of a chain that has been in the North Florida area for forty years.  Luckily it was good.  And I was thoughtful enough to get something with oysters in it, oyster stew, that was quite tasty.

After dinner we stopped at Publix for provisions, mostly beer, coffee and snacks.

When we got back into the car, heading back to the park, Gary asked the driver, Jim, if we could stop at a convenience store to get some CocaCola.  We all thought that Publix probably had that and it would have been more "convenient" to have gotten it there.

I got the top bunk as usual and had a good night's sleep.

I got up early to finish a book I had been reading.  Lassoing the Sun by Mark Woods.  Mark is a columnist with the Florida Times Union who had taken off a year to write about the state of the National Parks.  But during the year his mother was diagnosed with cancer and quickly passed away from the disease.  The combination of parks and death made for a fine read.  Highly recommended.  I am going to see if Mark might be interested in writing the book about the experience of Rocket and Me in the 2014 Scooter Cannonball Run.  That book will probably be called, believe it or not, Rocket and Me, the adventures of a man and his scooter.

We then ate some of the cheese danish I had purchased at the convenient Publix along with strong coffee that Ken and I prefer.  It turned out to be decaf, but I never noticed.

We picked up Jim and headed north to see the airplane, stopping for fuel within a mile of the park entrance.  Ken struck up a friendship, as he often does, with one of the station attendants.  She was all smiles as we took their photo together.  Then we got another mile or so when Gary decided he needed coffee.  So Ken found a fine coffee shop in Jasper, where we all casually drank down some nice joe while discussing the local crime scene with a young police officer, who happened to drop in while we were there.

We finally were able to get in some miles and headed north with a mission.  Only two more stops.  One when Ken spotted a memorial to Martin Luther King, and the other when the coffee caught up with me so we stopped for a quick pee into a drainage ditch.

Upon arriving in Douglas, we were hungry and visited our now usual restaurant.  It is the one with the crashed plane in the parking lot.  Cute.

Then we traveled to the airport where we rode on the taxiways to the hangar where the XP 82 was last year.  It wasn't there but we did get to see several other restored planes inside.  Then we rode towards the airport office building to see where they were hiding the restoration project when we couldn't help but notice a shiny airplane inside an open hangar door.  We found it!

Ken knows everybody, and his, and our, friendly interest seems to make everyone want to show us the work on the plane.  There were four people working on sheet metal when we arrived.  They pretty much stopped everything for a half hour to show us the progress.  It is impressive.  The plane is nearing completion with the first flight coming as soon as April.

We rode back to the cabin in the park on a different route, 441 this time, and got back in time to have a beer before leaving in Jim's Subaru for Lake City's finest Italian restaurant.  Of course, after two weeks in Italy this fall, this one fell a little short of that experience, but the food did the trick and we were fulfilled.

I didn't sleep well and woke up with a visit from my old friend Lucy Bowel.  Took care of that and felt well enough to have lunch with Ken and Gary at Fat Boys BBQ in White Springs before heading home.

That ride wan enhanced when Ken decided to ride some of the way with me.  He had just bought a nearly new Vespa GTS 300 and wanted to check the top speed.  We got onto I-10 and quickly gained speed.  I was in the lead and found that he was mostly able to keep up, but when I wanted to, I could pull away.  That shouldn't happen because I was on Razzo, a 2005 Vespa GT with 198 cc, where he has 278cc.  He also has fuel injection, so something was up.  I think we can get the speed up with a few minor adjustments.

It was a very nice way to spend a few days.  I am looking forward to the next one when David Masse will be joining us for a ride to Apalachicola and Cedar Key.

Ken making friends, like he does so easily.

The "Gucci Coffee Shop" in Jasper.

Our fearless leader

Sun dappled road with trees.

A rare curve in the road in North Florida.

Ken stopped to memorialize our crossing into Georgia.

The Martin Luther King memorial.

Four scooters, three riders and a wrecked airplane.

While looking for the XP 82, we found several other restorations, including this Stearman.

Me and Ken and our scooters (Jim's too, but he took the photo)

Guys working on the plane

The plane

A shot to show the two fuselages.

The plane peeking out of the Hangar, with the wild bunch of scooters outside.

The guys there are so nice.  They even showed us some of the metalworking techniques.

Details of the restoration of the XP 82

Along 441.  It was into the sun and wind, so not as nice as the ride up.

Gary needed a drink, so we stopped at a Dairy Queen along the way back to the park.  
I was going to get a shake but they posted calorie counts.  Decided to abstain.

The three red scooters as we dropped Jim off at the park.

Ken behind me on I-10.  I laid off the gas so he could catch up.