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    Wednesday, May 14, 2008

    Zürich, Switzerland, 1:50AM, 5-15-08

    My how time flies when you are having fun! Although, contrary to popular assumptions by many, I work my butt off out here, I’m having a total blast. I am digging Europe! The scenery, history, traditions, people, food (ohhh, the food!), wine—all still rocking my world!

    So left off last update in Lucca, Tuscany, Italy. From there I took the advice of my friend Anna and hit up a hot spring outside Montecatini and ended up camping at a school yard with a million dollar view over the Tuscan hills to avoid the $150/night lodging at the springs.

    Free lodging gives $$ for great food and wine! Dig it!

    The view from my tent at sunset. Not bad...

    The rolling vineyards and light industrial roads finally weaved their way along a river to Florence where I rolled in with perfect weather and the awe inspiring views in every direction of this marvelous city. If you have never been—GO! It’s like a fairytale and so much more!

    I had no idea where I was staying as I somehow lost both my map AND my Lonely Planet Italy section of my book so I just rode around until some “sign” came of where to go next. Anna mentioned a campsite overlooking the city so I figured I’d somehow find someone to lead me there. Ask and you shall receive! Out of nowhere came my fired up Florence Angel named Silvano pedaling alongside me. Silvano is 67 years young, has 5 bikes, and has ridden all over Europe through about 20 countries. When he saw me and my bike he flipped out and we bonded right away.

    Silvano to my right leading me to my campsite

    Silvano spoke no English, but great Italian, French and some Spanish. So somehow between all these languages we were able to chat as if there were no barrier at all! Before we knew it he led me to my campsite up overlooking Florence and we set a date to meet up at sunset to ride together in the city!

    Just one of the endless stunning monuments in Florence

    After another "day in the office" we relax by the river

    Silvano and I had the most amazing tour of Florence that evening as he laughed, sang and directed traffic through the tourist filled city. We ran 2 video cameras on a wide arm and tall tripod but somehow hit nobody and no old buildings. We were a classic sight! He loved the Peace Pedalers story so much he committed to take me out the next day to get us into the papers so I had my breakfast date set.

    Silvano with his new Assos gloves riding me to the press

    And meeting the crew at the bike shop

    My last day in Florence we got an interview with La Nazione national paper, met all Silvano’s buddies at the local bike shop, ate great food, sipped strong coffee, tasted great wine and got ready to take a train back to my Italian family back up in Cislago you may remember, the Saggioro family. My friend Anna warned me about taking bikes on the train, so fortunately I got a bike box all set and was able to cruise right on the train with zero hassles, no extra fees, and met Anna back in northern Milan for my last few moments in Italy.

    The Saggioro family went all out to send me off with the very best hand made caprese salad, gnocchi and a surprise Tiramisu Anna made that rocked my world. Wow!

    The real thing baby! Soooo yummy!

    My last lunch on a perfect spring afternoon!

    Anna then took me to my grandparents favorite place called Como Lake where more fresh food, fine Tuscan wine and lakeside dining just kept me pinching myself whether I was dreaming or if it was real! I will never forget Italy—it’s truly heaven!

    Lovely Lake Como!

    Anna's lakeside cooking--homemade gnocchi!

    But let’s not forget Switzerland, where I write this now. Anna and I rode together from the Italian border to my Swiss sponsor Assos’ headquarters where we were greeted with open arms. Assos has been my cycling clothing sponsor now for over 6 years and is really one of the most important relationships I have both now and in the future. They took Anna and I out to a gourmet lunch, lined up a live interview with Swiss Radio, found me two beautiful Assos employees to ride with me down to Lugano and styled me out with a lakeside hotel room with a view to die for! Not a bad start to country #2 of my European adventure!

    Team Assos Relay Rockin the way from HQ to Lugano!

    And the view from the room Assso styled me out with!

    Turns out the pass over the mountains from Lugano to Luzerne was full of snow still and I had a short window to meet some Swiss friends so I hoped a train to a small town called Steiner. About 18 months ago I was on a plane from UK to South Africa and met a jolly Swiss gal named Clarissa. She stayed in touch and I was invited to stay in her parent’s 100 year old Swiss chalet with my own room right on a river. It was so peaceful, even with the church bells right next door. I had breakfast with her parents, neither of which spoke English, and without Clarissa who had to leave early in the morning to Austria. But luckily Clarissa’s mom spoke Italian so here the American was, in Switzerland, speaking Italian to communicate with the parents. Classic!

    Heading over the snowy hills by train. The snowboarder will enjoy em, no doubt!

    First stop: Clarissa's house. Bye bye to her parents before setting off

    I did an epic 65km solo ride along the lake to Luzerne, got some nice rest, soaked in the stunning city (go there, it’s a winner!) and then was greeted by two new Swiss princesses I met in Ghana, Shanti and Mirjam the next day. They came take me around the city, enjoy a picnic and give me some more estrogen pedal power as Shanit rode with me to Mirjam’s house in Geuensee. Life was good! Like Clarissa’s parents, Mijam’s family opened their home to me with amazing warmth and trust, we ate raclette cheese and potatoes (yummy!), and had a night cap at their cute local bar in Sursee to take Shanti to her train home.

    Taking some time to relax and check the map...

    Reunited! From Ghana, W. Africa to Lucerne! My Swiss friends Mirjam and Shanti!

    Shanti and I on KM 1 of our relay from Lucerne to Zurich

    Shanti paying her dues for the ride to Mirjams ;)

    Mirjam and I checking the maps for the long ride to Zurich

    Mirjam's family made me feel super duper welcome!

    And we gave Mirjam's brother a ride to high school before our ride

    The next day Mirjam and I took her younger brother to high school and then set off on an epic 92 kilometer adventure to Zurich. Luckily, Mirjam was a real cyclist and had strong legs and knew what it was like to spend a long time in a saddle. But 92km was her longest ride and I’m sure she felt it! We rode along remote rivers, through cute villages, and all sorts of grades of hills following the Swiss cycling routes. In 92 kilometers we only rode with cars about 10 of them. Imagine 80 kilometers of car free riding in Switzerland! It’s possible—bring your bike and check it out!

    The amazing scenery in the "midlands" of Switzerland

    The awesome bike lanes of Switzerland!

    92 Kilometers later we make it to Zurich!!!

    Mirjam and I arrived pretty exhausted but very proud of our efforts. She treated me to one of Switzerland’s famous 8 dollar ½ liter beers by the river and she headed out to meet her boyfriend and move on with life. I took a cool, sunset swim in the lake and then rode up a 14 percent grade hill to where I sit right now, in a 100 year old Swiss home those houses 18 students at the local University of Zurich. Turns out that my buddy Tim I met out traveling used to live here and was able to find one of the guys on holiday who offered to let me use his room for two nights.

    So I’m here now at 11:54PM, drinking Prosessco wine with the students, waiting for a sweet smelling cake to come out of the oven, listening to French music, going over online cycling routes to Liechtenstein and Austria and again, pinching myself that this is all really happening. Sure, I have my low moments, but they sure do pass faster than they did down in Africa with conditions like this!

    Chillin w/ a few of the 18 college students in a 100 year old Swiss home :)

    Enjoy the pics, enjoy life, come join me out here! It’s so amazing! I dig Europe--you will too!


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