As the plane begins its final descent, I lean my forehead against the Plexiglas and try to catch my first glimpse of the island. For a moment, the outside world is nothing more than a blur of white before we break through the clouds and the harsh scenery opens up below me. A blackened lava bed consumes the skyline, filling my field of vision with sharp edges and a wild landscape belching thick grey pillars of steam.
Wait! Don’t put that winter active wear away just yet. If you’re planning a trip to the Dolomites during the summer, you might just need it. There is often this misconception about “sunny Italy” being, well, warm all the time. But it’s a long peninsula that experiences true seasons and isn’t always under the Tuscan sun.
I’m not writing any new material by saying that Paris is a magical place. The amount of history, creativity, fine art and architecture in this ever-gray city is astonishing. In fact, deciding what to do with only 24 hours in such a culturally rich place can be overwhelming. Here’s my recommendation for a day well spent in the City of Love.
All right, I realize I’m not about to unleash a revolutionary statement here, but the fact is, Tuscany has some amazing bike routes. Even if you haven’t been there, I bet you’ve seen postcards. The real thing looks just like that! No—even better! It didn’t take me much time in Tuscany to realize this part of the world is a cyclist’s haven.
Amsterdam is full of canals, exhibitions, museums and nightlife. The Hague is where the King lives and where all the political life of the country takes place, whereas Rotterdam will shock you a little bit if you compare it to any other Dutch city. It got completely destroyed by bombing during WW2, and now it has such a modern and futuristic look because it was rebuilt from scratch.
I’ve been lucky in my time as a Backroads leader to have some amazing guests, like Andy Russell. If that name rings a bell, it’s because Andy was an NFL star in the 1960s and ’70s. It was day three of our trip and Andy and I were riding along a gorgeous stretch of road. Something shiny coming from Andy’s handlebars caught my eye, so I took a look: a ring. It looked like a Super Bowl ring. I had to ask…. Andy, who hadn’t mentioned anything up to this point, grinned a little grin and told me his story, and what a story it was!
One warm and lazy afternoon, I found myself meandering about the twisted and narrow pedestrian streets of downtown Seville. As I made my way back toward the main square, I spotted a tiny nun (almost a full head shorter than myself), nearly doubled over with what looked to be an incredibly heavy picnic basket, disappear into a small doorway. Surprised–and more than a little intrigued–I followed in the nun’s laborious path to sneak a peak around the door she had left ajar.
Traditional, yet modern. Buzzing with activity, but filled with peaceful pockets of relaxation. Where the Kloster Dhammapala (a serene Buddhist monastery) huddles in the shadow of the Klettersteig (a heart-pumping level-4 climbing path). Whatever paradox you’re looking for can be found in Kandersteg, your Backroads gateway to a spectacular alpine adventure and the starting point of our Switzerland Family Multisport trip.
It was pure serendipity that allowed Collier Lumpkin and me to be here together, enjoying an enormous fish stew at Ristorante Belforte overlooking the tiny harbor of Vernazza in Italy’s Cinque Terre. Our lives had been running parallel paths for some time, but it wasn’t until a year before that our worlds finally collided on a Backroads trip in Puglia.
The punctually repetitious ezan (Islamic call to prayer) will forever ring distinctly in my ears–that shrill wailing cry echoing from loudspeakers perched on minarets towering above nearly every town throughout Turkey. And never will I forget the hospitality that I experienced during my six weeks of cycling from the rocky eastern Black Sea coast, through the historic hills and caves of central Anatolia, and along the rugged sun-drenched Mediterranean coast before eventually turning north to Istanbul–the geopolitical gateway between Europe and Asia.
If you’re taking a Backroads trip through Tuscany or Umbria, your pick-up city will be Florence. Before you meet up with your fabulous Backroads leaders, we strongly suggest that you take a day (or 2 or 3!) to acquaint yourself with this timeless city.
During my time in Tuscany, I led the Backroads biking trip several times but I have never had the feeling I was repeating something. I just love being with people and getting to know their stories: that’s the main reason why I applied for this job in the first place and that’s also why every trip is so unique.
The first experience I had with the Italian fear of wind came after a gym workout with the host mom for whom I was au pairing. We both took showers, and she emerged with her hair dry. I knew we were tight for time, but I had a case of grease-head so I had done a thorough wash. I’m accustomed to walking outside while my hair air-dries, so I grabbed my stuff and met my mamma at the door. She looked at my wet hair with a horrified face. “Go blow-dry your hair, the wind will make you sick!” So I did.
One of the best parts of a Backroads trip is the connection with a place and its locals, and one of the best parts of being a Backroads leader is creating our own connections and facilitating them for our guests. At the beginning of my first season leading trips in Italy, I was unsure about my ability to provide this connection.