Friday, February 13, 2015

Our Italian Soccer Expereince

It all started with the 2010 World Cup.  Like many Americans, Sherry and I did not really follow soccer, especially on the world stage.  Still, our love of traveling in Europe made us start to think a little differently.  I mean, to many Europeans, soccer is everything. So, we tuned in and were hooked from the very first game.

From the moment Spain hoisted the World Cup trophy as the eventual winner, we knew we would have to see a soccer game in Europe.  And, every trip since then we’ve tried.  Boy how we have tried.  Each time we looked into it one of two things would happen.  Either we were between seasons or the home team was on the road.  It seemed the soccer gods were rooting against us.

As the 2014 World Cup came and went, we were still looking for that first game.  On our current trip to Florence we found it.

Florence is home to the Fiorentina’s or Le Viola as they are called locally since their primary color is purple, which also happens to be the color of Florence.  We were able to buy tickets in advance online and were all set to see our first ever European soccer match.

However, we had to do a little shopping first.  I mean, if you’re going to cheer for the home team you had better dress for the part.  As luck would have it, there is an official Fiorentina outlet just a few doors away our apartment.  We went over the day before the game and walked out a few minutes later with enough hats, scarves and t-shirts to show our support.

Finally, it was game day.  After a minor delay concerning our tickets we were in our seats just about 15 minutes before the match began.  Now, we just need to learn the chants and songs as the excitement was building.  The first part was easy.  As the announcer introduced each Le Viola player, he would shout the first name and the crowd would shout his last.  Since the names were also on the scoreboard it was very easy to join in.  This also happened after each goal when we would shout out the scorer’s last name.

Next, came the songs.  I don’t know why but I really wanted to participate in the singing.  After paying very close attention, I discovered the main song went something like this - blah blah blah blah Fiorentina blah blah blah! Yeah, I only managed to learn the Fiorentina part but that was enough to join in each time it came around.

Of course, there was also a game to be played.  We groaned when the visiting team score first.  Then we cheered as we tied the game.  We cheered and then groaned when our go ahead goal was waved off because of an offsides called.  We cheered wildly when the opposing team player was issued a yellow card. 

As the game progress, we found ourselves settling into the rhythm.  We scream when the referee missed a blatant call or called some stupid little penalty against us.  We booed each time the opposing team took an obvious dive to gain a call in his favor.

Mostly, we just enjoyed the experience.  We enjoyed it all from the three 12-year boys behind us (who knew every song), to the espressos at half time, to walking out with the crowd in the glow of a win by the home team.  It was everything we hoped it would be.

We will continue going to games when the opportunity arises.  Hopefully, the soccer gods will now be a little kinder and we will see our next game before the 2018 World Cup.  If not, we’ll just sit at home wrapped up in Fiorentina scarves and try to pretend we’re at the game.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Barista Training

In 2012, Sherry and I spent 3 weeks in Italy and part of that time was in Florence.  The few days we were in Florence left us wanting much more.  Now, we’ve returned with an 11-day visit dedicated to learning the secrets of Florence.  

The goal for this trip was to go beyond the Uffizi, the David, and the Duomo and really get to know the city.  As we were researching things to do we stumbled across something on TripAdvisor that immediately spoke to us both - Cappuccino & Espresso Course & Tour.  

Coffee is more than a hot beverage for us.  We study it.  We are fascinated by ever aspect from growing to roasting to sipping.  So, when we see a course in Italy (delivered in English) that offers to teach us about the plants, how to blend, the perfect espresso technique, coffee tastings, perfect foam and latte art, our only question is how to sign up.

Gabriele showing his technique.
Our class was on Friday night and it was a blast.  As soon as we met our host and teacher, Gabriele, we knew we were in for a great night.  He was that perfect combination of witty and knowledgeable.  And, to make things even better, we were his only students that night.

After making us coffees, the course begins.  We learn about the 2 main types of coffee and why they are typically blended.  We learned about how coffee is priced for purchase on the stock exchange.  We took a tour of the roasting facility where we discovered that even with all of the science available, it is a real person who decides the coffee is roasted perfectly.

Learning how to create latte art.
After the tour it was back to the class where we made espressos from 3 very distinctive coffees.  Tasting the nuances between the coffees reminded us of wine tasting.  Then it was our turn to play.  I must confess I’ve always wanted to make a cappuccino on a real coffee shop size espresso machine.  Well, this was my chance.  Gabriele showed us the perfect technique and then Sherry and I both got to practice.  

In the end, it was a memorable night.  I think Gabriele enjoyed our passion for coffee as much as we enjoyed his knowledge about it.  

This may not be your typical vacation activity but it was a great evening for us.  After all, the purpose of this trip was to go beyond the main attractions.  If our espresso class is any indication, we are off to a successful start.


Friday, February 6, 2015

It's All about the Base

I am writing this post while flying 35,000 feet over Canada on my way to Florence.  As I speed my way towards another great European adventure, you would think my thoughts are focused on long walks with Sherry, good food, great wine, and fine Italian espressos.  While understandable, you’d be wrong.  With 8 hours of flight time still to go I have plenty of time to switch my thoughts to the romance that is Florence.  Right now I am thinking about cycling!!! 

Well, I am actually thinking about not cycling, as in I won’t be riding for the next 14 days.  And, to be honest, I’m not sure buying the cycling magazine at the airport is helping the matter.  The reason for this focus on cycling is that this season is off to a weird start and I’m concerned about my base fitness. 

I rode nearly 4,700 miles last year that included a lot of climbing and jumping in the occasional pace line that was way too fast for me.  The result?  I entered the off season in great shape and I was really looking forward to carrying the base into 2015. It was going to be the foundation for another awesome year.  Instead, I am off to a very slow start and that’s cause for my concern.

It all started going down hill in October.  This is when I usually start to back off just a little and then take some real time off to recover in November.  However, my company started a really cool wellness program last year and we began an 11-week cardio challenge in October.  This meant completing at least 200 in zone minutes per week to qualify for the championship.  So much for taking it easy in October and November.

Long story short, my team was in the final championship so instead of taking time off the first week of December I racked up 1,012 of in zone cardio time.  By they way, 1,012 minutes was only good enough for 7th place as I work with some very competitive people.  The top gun logged 1,316 minutes. However, my team did win the championships so it was all worth it right?

It was time for a new plan. After the championship, I took 2 full weeks off to recover.  The plan was to rejuvenate and then pick things up in January.  That plan died a hideous death when I strained my groin.  This kept me off the bike for another 2 weeks.  In 2014, I finished January with over 400 miles.  This year it was a measly 126 easy miles.  No big  climbs.  No rocket-fast pace lines.  Just me cruising along like I was going to get coffee, which I did on most rides.

Now, just as the strain groined has healed enough to get back on the bike, I will be in Italy.  

What does this all really mean for my base.  Well, to begin with I fully intend to enjoy the hell out of Florence and not really care that I’m not riding.  But, you can bet your bottom euro that when I get home I plan on hitting it hard.  That’s because I have a 75 mile event with over 6,000 feet of climbing to prepare for that is a short 7 weeks after we return.

Still, it’s all good.  I am pretty sure there is still a solid base in me somewhere.  I did manage to ride the Saturday before we left and I felt pretty good all things considered.  I am hopeful it all comes back quickly once I start riding on a regular basis.  If not, it’s going to be a long 75 miles.