To celebrate the release of my new book ‘Big World Little Lens – The Complete Guide to iPhone Photography’ (get it on your iPad for only $4.99 here), I decided I would invite a special guest to join our daily adventure. As a cyclist myself, I felt it was only appropriate to invite another author from the fraternal order of cyclists. However, they couldn’t be an everyday pedal pusher like myself. Nope, they had to be stronger and faster than me. Like Giro d’Italia racing faster. So I asked Ted King if he’d be willing to grab his phone and take us on a behind the scenes tour of what life is like as a professional cyclist living in Italy and racing the grand tours of Europe. I hope you enjoy today’s unique adventure.
Other than racing the Giro (Tour of Italy) and getting 3rd place in the 2011 US Pro Championships, here are a few things you need to know about Ted.
- He runs the very fun and enlightening blog, IamTedKing.com.
- His father suffered a stroke in 2003 and Ted hosts a ride every year benefiting the Krempels Center which helped him recover. You can read the story and find ways to support the center here.
Ted King iPad Wallpaper
For the Ted King fans out there, I have provided this iPad wallpaper I shot of him racing last year's USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Just click on the image to get the full size version you can download to use as your iPad’s home/lock screen. If you do use it, I encourage you to make a safe and secure donation to the Krempels Center.
A Day In The Life Of Ted King
What does an Italian mailbox look like? Beats me because there’s no one set standard. What’s an American mailbox look like? It’s as distinct and recognizable as the American flag. So when I’m riding another sinuous, unnamed back road through the punchy hills on the outskirts of Lucca, and there amid an olive tree grove stands an American mailbox, let me tell you, it takes you by surprise. There’s something very nostalgic about these nuances of American life that you miss when living in Europe. I must sound like a complete dork waxing poetic about mailboxes, but seeing one in this instance truly brings a smile to my face.
In general an Italian breakfast consists of a cappuccino and brioche, which you consume while standing up at a corner bar making animated small talk with the barista and other patrons. While that’s perfectly acceptable and customary here, I miss the drawn out breakfasts with bottomless, watery coffee as much as I miss the giddy feeling of anxiety when the waitress arrives to take my order and I’m still torn between something savory like a western omelet or the pillowy Belgian waffles. Oooh critical life decisions, why must you torture me?!
Remaining on this topic of nostalgia, I made the recent discovery that one of my favorite osterias in town does an American Sunday morning brunch. It’s a very rare occasion that so many of my American cohorts are in town since races generally take place on the two days that begin with the letter “S”, but a lively group of seven of us descended on Osterial del Manzo for a proper breakfast. I nearly hit a euphoric sensory overload with the wafting smell of buttery pancakes drenched in maple syrup or the sight of actual bacon – nearly impossible to get here – the clanging of dishes mixed with friendly morning conversation. And of course entire taken in amid large carafes of coffee. Bellissima!
It was actually before this breakfast out that I made my own pancakes. What might sound like a standard task, this was anything but. I’m fairly certain Maine is about as far east as one can purchase Bisquick, but thankfully I consider myself quite handy around a kitchen so without any flour to be found in the house, I started by making my own oat flour. Baking soda or any leavening surprisingly nearly impossible to find in Italy, but with a will there’s a way so one exhaustive search later, I acquired the requisite sodium bicarbonate. And with a very well traveled bottle of Maine maple syrup having arrived to me in Lucca after a four month layover in Italian customs, I was ready for a piping hot, homemade breakfast. Oatmeal pancakes with pears and bananas, topped with yogurt, maple pecan granola, and a healthy dousing of maple syrup. That’ll fuel a proper day of training.
Daily chores take on a life of their own here. Sure, there are grocery stores throughout town – in fact there’s one literally a 60 second walk from my front door – but there’s far more character found in the individual corner markets found on virtually every block. The familial conversations and recognized faces in the frutta e verdura (fruit and vegetable) shops, the Macelleria (butcher), the pescheria (fish market), panificio (bakery), make each day something of an adventure. There’s something very fulfilling to have even a conventional conversation entirely in Italian about virtually anything under the sun while buying your meat, cheese, produce, and bread in four different stops throughout town. Fluidly throwing into the conversation that you’re a professional cyclist for Liquigas-Cannondale here in Italy doesn’t hurt you’re street cred’ either…
This unpretentious, simple way of life can be peacefully serene. Or it can be mind-numbingly complicated (exhibit A, exhibit B). Often simple tasks will nearly bring me to tears with frustration. I won’t bore you with details, but I encourage you to visit the above two examples for complete extrapolation. This photo is the inside of a large Italian post office, ufficio postale. There’s no such thing as a line, rather you arrive, push a button and out spits a piece of paper with a letter and number code. To begin, you hope you’ve pressed the right button and then you just mill around waiting while various other letter/number codes are called out. Here is my word to the wise in order to save time: buy your postal stamps at the tabaccheria and pay your parking tickets at the post office. Obviously.
Paris-Nice is one of the biggest races of the year, so to mark that off the schedule in early March meant I got to play both host and play tourist for the week. Florence is one of Italy’s most excellent cities and what better place to be an oblivious tourist than there. It reminded me a bit of my first Giro d’Italia which finished with a short time trial snaking through historic Rome; we’re literally surrounded by some of the most historic and well known buildings in the world, but for one, it all goes by very quickly and two, I don’t really have any idea just how powerful or important these structures are. Allow me to plead ignorance.
In a similar vain, here is the inside of the Duomo – one of the most famous and historic buildings on the planet. This trip also included a visit with Michelangelo’s David but they’re not too keen on allowing anyone to take Dave’s photograph. Being surrounded by this level of history, however, if you make the trip to Florence be sure to the visit both the Duomo and David.
This touristy swing of Italy included a visit to southern Tuscany’s Chianti region. Just as I’m telling you to scope the history in Florence, do yourself the favor and visit Chianti. While you’re there, try to lose your passport so that you’re “forced” to stay a little longer. It’s a timeless throwback to the simplicity that Italy is known for. Wine vineyards and olive groves unfold below you as you crest every hill and turn every corner. March isn’t the most picturesque time of year, as compared to the vibrant green of summer or the crisp golden yellow of fall, but Chianti is such a magical place, that it’s worth the visit any time of year. It doesn’t hurt that they make a mean Chianti Classico here.
Ever heard of Dario Cecchini? Don’t feel bad if not, because I consider myself a foodie – as much as I detest that actual word – and I had never heard of him until last week. A friend of mine who has spent extensive time in Chianti on a farm-to-table bed and breakfast and who’s husband is a tried-and-true, nose-to-tail American butcher knew about Signore Cecchini, his Macelleria (that’s where this photo was taken), and amazing restaurant across the street. A bit of research quickly indicated to me that he’s arguably Italy’s most famous butcher. Furthermore, after speaking to another friend of mine who is the chef and owner of a gourmet, offal centric, (to use the term again) nose-to-tail restaurant in San Francisco, I learned that Dario is something of a living legend. Another recommendation high on my list is the Solociccia – due diligence is found here, but as long as your a carnivore, you’ll love it. And if you’re a vegetarian, there’s a decent chance you’ll convert for this twelve course meal.
As I mentioned before, Chianti is nothing short of magical. Riding over hill and dale, the terrain alone makes you want to ride incessantly. With nary an airport in sight, however – which surely helps maintain its bucolic state – and with flights throughout Europe a regular part of my in-season routine, I chose Lucca as my European home base. I can continue to hone my Italian, plus there is an amazing community here. Cyclists and non-cyclists alike are all incredibly helpful and friendly people. I have a good international group of close friends, from Americans, Australians, Kiwis from New Zealand, German, British, and of course plenty of Italians. Of course the two airports within an hour’s drive helps as well. It also doesn’t hurt, or maybe this was the primary reason to begin with, that there is spectacular riding in this part of Tuscany. This photo was taken about thirty minutes from my apartment. Yeah, I don’t mean to rub it in, but that’s basically my back yard.
With the bigger cities of Pisa, Florence, and Siena all fairly close-by, my hometown of Lucca is definitely a community more than a tourist trap. You’re not accosted by people pawning watches and knock-off designer bags in the city center, rather we have antiquated cathedrals surrounded by quaint coffee shops and exquisite restaurants. Down an unnamed pedestrian street, I paid this friendly musician the 76 Euro cents I had in my pocket to play and he was giddy when I asked if I could take his picture. Lucca is a walled city and the sense of history, intertwined with no-nonsense Italian living, tossed with bit of tourism, and local flair – I couldn’t think of a better place to live.