kingdomexperiences

Italy Calls! (Post-trip update part I)

Kingdom Experiences, Mountain Bike Skill Camps and Tours in Vermont
Kingdom Experiences, Mountain Bike Skill Camps and Tours in Vermont

By: Karen Wilson

Part 1 of the follow to up to “Italy Calls”

Seeing farmland dotted with sheep as we were approaching the runway in Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci’s Airport was the first of many beautiful and surprising images of Italy. Our two week journey in southern and central Italy had just begun fulfilling a dream and sparking a passionate appreciation of this land, people and culture.

Here’s a reflection of the first stage of this adventure along with the ups and downs of planning your own trip and driving over 1200 miles in a foreign country finding secluded airbnb’s far from the luxuries of hotels and organized trips:

Following a red eye to Rome with a four hour drive south past Naples and Pompei was a stretch, but the adrenaline was flowing strong along with the espresso! Our silver Fiat Panda and a hard copy map in hand with a few tips from our airbnb host miraculously brought us to the town Centro of the small village of Agerola that sits high on the cliffs overlooking the Almafi coast. Driving on the autostrada was an adjustment from I91 in Vermont! I think Italian drivers all have race car driver’s blood with a fierce determination to pass anyone in their way. Staying alive and keeping the rental car in one piece became a priority. Figuring out the automated toll system was a fun hurtle too, but the icing on the cake was when we hit the last stretch of narrow (and I mean narrow) hair pin turns taking us up to the cliff towns and Eric’s slalom turning skills kicked in. As the passenger, that’s when my breathing froze and my stomach turned. I couldn’t help but think this is why people take trains or guided tours with vans. We left our car peacefully parked for our two day visit here and at our next one in Ostuni.
 
Juan Carlos, our host in Agerola walked us along the amazing vistas and introduced us to Pasquale who arranged our first Italian dinner in his home restaurant. Most of the food and wine including his amazing limoncello came from his farm and kitchen. His teen-age daughter served us while his wife cooked and in the middle of this delicious four course meal Pasquale came in with two glasses of warm goat’s milk fresh from the udder. It was hard to tell if I was in a dream or if this was all real. Later Pasquale took us down to his cellar where he had his meats curing, wine aging and jars of homemade preserves stored. Then he proudly shared a painting of four generations of his family painted on the stone wall of the cellar like a modern day fresco.These are just some of the results of traveling off the beaten track and searching out stellar hosts in magical places.
 
Our first full day in Italy took us along the cliffs of the Almafi coast on “The Path of the Gods” . The views were unbelievable! The terraced gardens, small inns, and simple dwellings with the backdrop of the Tyrrhenian Sea brought us down to the seaside town of Positano which was swarming with tourists. After lunch we took a boat north to the town of Almafi where we had a swim and a gelato and caught a bus back up to Agerola. It was an incredible loop that Juan Carlos suggested. Getting a seat on the bus was shear luck as the weekend crowds didn’t want to miss the last ride up the long, very narrow twisty road that only a seasoned Italian driver could maneuver. Oh, and who would know that bus tickets are often sold out of the tobacco shop. Just some little details in adventurous, independent expeditions! That night the meal and wine tasted extra good or “molto bene”. Planning the next road trip for the following day involved a technology growth spurt that I’ll share later….
 
Stay tuned for Part II’s follow up to “Italy Calls” when we drive across the country to the east coast in Puglia….
Kingdom Experiences, Mountain Bike Skill Camps and Tours in Vermont
Kingdom Experiences, Mountain Bike Skill Camps and Tours in Vermont

Italy Calls!

Kingdom Experiences, Mountain Bike Skill Camps and Tours in Vermont

By: Karen Wilson

Traveling to Italy isn’t just a line item on my bucket list to check off- it’s a calling from deep within. Most travelers inevitably seem to be tantalized to discover her beauty and way of life. This dream is soon to become true as my husband and I follow the calling and celebrate 25 years together!
 
Rather than going the easy route with a bike touring group, I’ve decided to create my own tour. It’s taken months and countless hours of research but I’m confident that the places and experiences I’ve mapped out will be fruitful:
 
1, Red Eye from Montreal to Rome (great airfare from Montreal)
2, Rental car for two weeks (cheap)
3, Drive to the Almafi coast-2 nights and hike “The path of the gods”.
4, Drive to Puglia (the heel of the boot) to Ostuni -La Citta Bianca (the white town) and stay in the heart of the city for two nights.
5, Drive farther south in the boot to Borgagne and stay at a Masseria (old fortified farmhouse) for two nights.
6, Long road trip north to Citta della Pieve in Umbria near the Tuscan border for one week on an organic farm.
 
Finding places off the beaten path with options to bike and hike are the focus. Living close to the locals is accessed with airbnb and planned well in advance for the best options. Most offer breakfast and the Masseria offers bikes as well. In Umbria I’ve booked 3 different bike tours with 3 different companies. I like having a balance between planned tours and spontaneous adventure. Spring is prime time for biking so reserving in advance won’t leave us high and dry. No cross-country, single track tours have been on my radar via online searches, but I’m good with riding through the vineyards, olive groves, hidden ancient ruins and coastal paths along the Adriatic Sea! Save the single tracks for the Dolomites on another trip…
 
Being a tried and true non-motorized Kingdom Trails rider, I’ve surprised myself with reserving one tour using e-bikes. I figure we can cover more territory in hilly Tuscany. I expect the scenery to be pleasantly a little more serene on that day. On the other days we can scope out one of their thermal hot springs for some ancient healing powers!
 
So stayed tuned next month for a follow up blog reporting on the ups and downs of the itinerary, the challenges of driving and communicating with bare bones Italian and the highlights of fresh, flavorful foods and vino. Hopefully my shared experiences will inspire you to respond when Italy Calls!
 
Ciao….
Photo Credit: Tour Radar

Get to know Caitlin

Kingdom Experiences, Mountain Bike Skill Camps and Tours in Vermont

Caitlin grew up in Ridgefield, CT and was bitten by the travel bug very early on in life. Starting out as a francophile, Caitlin spent a summer in Minnesota going to French immersion camps (definitely not nerdy at all) and dreamed of living in Paris one day. Fast forward to freshman year of college in Boston, Caitlin decided to transfer to the American University of Rome on a whim and finish out her college career there. She then became a tour guide and started a tour company with a friend. After living in Rome for 7 years, she moved back to the US and met Collin, and the rest is history! Always knowing that she would incorporate her passion for travel and tourism into whatever she did, she and Collin started Kingdom Cycling & Experiences to merge their passions into one collaborative venture.

 

  1. Why is traveling so important to you?

Because it literally changed my life! Moving to another country opened my eyes to so many things and changed me more as a person than anything else I have experienced as of yet.

2.What do you look most forward to in your travels?

Traveling anywhere (even to a city near you that you’ve never been to before) is an opportunity to kind of try on another way of life so to speak. Can you be a New Yorker and live in one of the busiest cities in the world? What would life be like if you did? Or what about moving to a tropical island? Somewhere where you can’t speak the language? Going to new places and really experiencing them is such a great way to learn more about yourself.

3.Why is working in travel and tourism your dream job?

There is nothing better than being able to transfer your passion and love for a place to other people who are experiencing it for the first time. I get so into researching a new place I am traveling to (or even places I have been to before) – nothing gets me more excited than planning a trip. I’m also the non-official travel agent for most of my family and friends; I absolutely love putting trips together and customizing them towards what I know a person would love. To an extent, this is exactly what I do with KC&E.

4. If you could travel anywhere at any time past, present or future where and when would you travel?

Too hard! I would go pretty much anywhere. Italy is my adopted home country so literally anywhere in Italy – even places I have been to a million times. Some of my favorite places to explore in Italy so far (besides Rome) have been the coast of Calabria (specifically Scalea and Tropea), Sicily and the Aeolian Islands, and little hillside towns in Umbria and Lazio, such as Civita’ di Bagnoregio. The middle east/central Asia in general fascinates me – still hoping to get to Petra in Jordan as that’s been on my bucket list forever. But really, anywhere and everywhere.

*If you have any questions about Italy (most specifically Rome) please feel free to email me (caitlin@kingdomexperiences.com)! I love assisting in trip planning in any way I can. *

5. What is your most favorite outdoor adventure?

Hiking in Turkey was pretty cool! My friend Julia and I trekked through Goreme (specifically “Love Valley” – named for it’s phallic rock formations) and it was incredible. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience!

 

The 5 most important things I learned while in Rome

By: Collin Daulong

Recently Caitlin and I went to Rome, Italy for a little R&R before the season heats up as well as to do a fact finding trip for an experience we are planning for this fall.

Before we got to Rome, Caitlin gave me some disclaimers (as she lived there for nearly 7 years before we met) about Italians, the city and their pace of life in order to prepare me (an admittedly “type A” American) for the potential culture shock.  I decided in advance to go in with an open mind, and try to embody the adage of “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Armed with this mindset and my wonderful tour guide, we set off to one of the most ancient cities in the world. Here are some things that I learned:

1) Life is not all about money and working yourself to the bone. One of the most clear distinctions that I noticed between the States and Italy (at least Rome) is that their daily rituals prioritize quality of life over work. A long (at least by American standards), leisurely lunch – with vino of course – certainly sets the rest of your day up for success and feels downright luxurious in comparison to a quick sandwich or salad next to my computer while working. A nightly passeggiata (walk around the neighborhood) was not only good for digestion but worked wonders for my sleep schedule (even with 11 pm dinners).

2) Do not expect things to be on time, or even open necessarily. One thing that we are accustomed to in America is hyper-vigilance of hours of operation, timeliness of public and private transportation and strict adherence to a schedule and deadlines; in Rome this is not so much the case. This is not necessarily a problem if you are willing to approach it with an open mind and fully immerse yourself in the culture (both positive and negative) of Romans. Realizing that most restaurants close around 3 and do not re-open again until 7 or 7:30 is hugely helpful in planning for meal times.

3) The food is simply amazing. In my experience, Italian cuisine relies on simple, fresh ingredients that are cooked to perfection. There are not many meals that I had over there which were overwhelming flavor bombs (like a triple bacon cheese burger) but all the flavors and ingredients were appropriate, delicate and delicious. The portion sizes were also interesting: they are moderate and leave you feeling renewed after a meal, not like you need to take a nap from a food-coma!

4) The riding was unexpected and it over-delivered. When you think of riding in Italy, most people think of Northern Italy in the Alps, which is what I thought as well – until I went to Rome. I took a tour around ancient volcanic craters and quaint, colorful hillside towns, and it blew my mind. Within a 45 minute drive from the city center, our friend Linus and I departed on a 30 mile mountain bike ride leaving from a beautiful lake side town, Castel Gandolfo (known as the pope’s summer residence). We rode around a couple of mountains with increasingly impressive vistas and fast flowinig single track. On our way back to Castel Gandolfo we passed through a town, Nemi, where we had ridden the day before with Darius Arya, one of our celebrity tour guides. The single track was amazing here, the dirt was tacky and fast and there were just enough technical features to keep you on your toes.

5) It is important to have someone with local knowledge. When we were walking around Rome we saw enormous groups funneling into all the same museum entrances and restaurants; this lead me to believe that these were the best places, or where we needed to be going, but this was far from the truth. One of the most important things I took away from our trip is that you need to be guided around like a local – not like a tourist – to experience the true Rome. Some examples of this would be that we would go to restaurants off the beaten path and away from the high traffic tourists area because that is where real roman food is. Food around the major monuments is overpriced and less authentic. Another example of going with a “Local”: we went to see Saint Peter’s Basilica at the most inopportune time, Friday evening. The line was enormously long and they were actually closing down for visits due to a Papal mass. Our local friend shuffled us around to the back where we gained access and were fortuitously seated within 20 feet of Pope Francis.

We will be taking a mountain bike trip to Rome in the fall. If you would like more information, please follow this link!