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Our Tudor Family

The little village of Milna, on the island of Hvar, in the nation of Croatia, is full of “Tudors”. Perhaps 90% of the people living in this village of less than 100 people have the last name of Tudor. The local legend is that a Tudor prince once visited the island, fell in love, came back years later to wed the local girl and together they had 11 children… and so the story goes.

The Tudor’s we have gotten to know are a particularly special family. The Patriarch is Duje Tudor. He was born in Malo Grable, where is family was very, very poor. He was only able to go to school through the 4th grade, before he had to leave school to work. Jake just finished the 4th grade and it is impossible to imagine having to send him off to years of hard work. What a different life.

Here is a picture of Duje’s home in Malo Grable

The bedrooms where on the second floor. The main floor had the kitchen and living space. Their animals, including a mule, lived in the walkout basement below. The entire house stank from the animals living just below. Their cistern is visible in the lower right corner of the house.

Duje remembers going up into the hillside vineyards where he would have to dig really deep holes, through rocks, in order to plant new vines. There is so little soil on the island, that planting a single new vine took tremendous work. Hillside all over the island looked just like this

Imagine the generations upon generations of hard labor, over literally centuries, to expose enough soil to plant a grape vine or olive tree of lavender plant. Millions upon millions of rocks were cleared. These weren’t decorative stone walls, these were walls of necessity, needed to make farmable land. It is hard to comprehend how much work went into moving those rocks. It would be an interesting thought experiment to calculate the amount of work… was it equivalent to the energy of a small atomic bomb? Moving X million stones, weighing on average Y pounds, a distance of Z feet?

Duje also told us stories about water. The only available source was rain water. I saw cisterns all over the island. If a rat, or whatever, got into the water… that didn’t change anything… they would still have to drink that water. He described it as such – if you pulled up a bucket of water and there was a rat, you would just toss out the rat, and then drink the water anyway, what else could you do.

His wife, Ivanka, also lived in Malo Grable. She went to school there as a child. Her family lived half the year in Malo Grable, and half the year in Zaraća, a small coastal village a few kilometers east of Milna. Duje’s family moved out of Malo Grable in 1953. The village has been more or less deserted since that time. Duje and Ivanka were married in 1968. Here’s a picture of Ivanka and Duje.

Duje was very poor and worked very hard, and like most people he worked for the one of the few wealthy people who owned land on the island. Duje’s particular employer didn’t have any heirs and offered to started selling his holdings to Duje. Although poor, Duje had also been very frugal, and had always found a way to put some money aside. Land on the island was cheap back then, so with his savings he was able to buy lots of land all over the western part of the island. The parcels of land on the island are mostly quite small, having been divided and divided over the generations. It seemed like wherever we drove Mate could point to a hillside and say we owned those 25 olive trees there, so that small vineyard over there. All this land keeps them very busy.

Duje and Ivanka have 2 sons, the younger of which is Mate. Mate met his future wife, Mihaela, while he was in Italy. He said it was love at first sight. But I also heard from others that he had to do a little “pursuing”. After a bit of courting, Mate’s dad, Duje, had a heart to heart talk with his son. According to Mate, Duje said something to the effect that you are almost 30 years old, are you going to get married? If so then this is the one. Tell her that. So Mate approached Mihaela with a similarly gruff proposal – if you’re going to marry then I’m the one… yes or no.

Most of the Tudors families in the village of Milna run guest houses, but according to Mate most have employees doing the actual day to day work from housekeeping to cooking in the family small restaurants. And then at the end of the high season they all complain about the lack of profits. Mate and Mihaela don’t have any employees, they do everything themselves. They rent 9 apartments in the village and run the restaurant all by themselves. In additions they have to tend to all the vineyards, olive groves, and vegetable gardens spread around this portion of the island. They have to keep this pace up for the 3 to 4 month high season. No days off. From 6am to sometimes well past midnight. I noticed a few times in the afternoon they could relax of caught a quick nap. Here’s a typical view of the couple, working together over the sink in the kitchen

One morning I went out with Mate at 5:30am has one of their vineyard needs some tending. If they had a second weed whacker I would have chipped in, but they didn’t so I brought along my camera. While Mate was weed whacking his dad showed up to blow some sulfur on the vines.

Here is the raw product of their work

Some of their grapes they keep to make their own wine. And some they sell to wineries.

Just about all of the guests that we met have been coming to Milna for years. We met 2 guests in their early thirties that had been coming their entire lives. They remember playing with Mate when he was just a baby himself.

Our last dinner at the restaurant was the day before my birthday. Mihaela even made palačinke (crepes), something she doesn’t like to make because they aren’t time efficient. Also pictured is some of the rest of the amazing meal we enjoyed that evening.

Hvar has become, over the past few years, quite a hotspot for the jet set (or yacht set). Madonna and other big names have been frequenting the island, particularly Hvar Town. Traveler Magazine (or some such publication) named Hvar one of the world’s 10 most beautiful island. None of this glitz has come to Milna, a mere 5 kilometers from Hvar Town. Mate and Mihaela charge 10 Euros per person per night for a room. Lunches or dinners cost another 10 Euros per person. That’s about $14 bucks for the best meal you might ever eat! Hvar is quite an amazing destination. And Mate and Mihaela are similarly amazing hosts.

They have no website to point you to. You have to search them out by name, but don’t use their last name, as Tudor’s are everywhere. But there is only one “Mate and Mihaela” in the tiny village of Milna on the island of Hvar.

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Bike ride to Svete Nedejle

I’ve only gotten in 1 bike ride on the island of Hvar. I’m still hoping for 1 more, although as I write this we only have 3 more days on the island. My only ride has shown me enough to realize that there is tons of riding to do on the island. Given the relatively few number of paved roads, and the apparent abundance of gravel roads I’d say that mountain biking is the preferred form of cycling. I’m looking forward to a future trip where I get to explore many (all!) of these old roads.

For my only ride I rented a bike in Hvar and then pedaled it back to the village of Milna where I swapped in my pedals, loaded up my camelback and headed out for who knows where… I had my GPS, but that wasn’t to lead me on a trip. Rather it was just to record where I ended up. The ride was not long or super strenuous, but it was beautiful. I ended with 20 miles and about 2000 ft of climbing. About 14 miles were on dirt/gravel roads.

Here’s a picture of me, above a small inlet of the tiny (like 4 house) village of Uvala Zaraca. Days later we would boat into this little bay have have ice cream and play on the beach.

From the village of Milna I headed west, not on the main highway, but on the old road that followed the coast. I didn’t know how long this road would last. It quickly turned into an old gravel road.  After perhaps a mile the road turned into a footpath, and then ended in an overgrown jumble of blackberry bushes. I found my way past a couple old houses and then found a path back up to the main island highway.

I road along the highway for a couple miles. I was headed to a big tunnel that cut under the mountains to the other side of the island. I did not want to ride through that tunnel, but I’d previously seen evidence of what I thought was an old road that would give me an alternate to that tunnel. As I road towards the tunnel I found the junction with that “old road”. Only after my ride did I find out that what I thought was an old gravel road was actually brand new, only opening to cars about a week earlier. I had no idea where this “old road” went, but off I went. It was spectacular. The road was cut into the side of a mountain and cliffs on the south side of Hvar. After a few turns in and out of the small inlets I could see a small town off in the distance. I decided to make that town my final destination. I was on a deadline as dinner was early that day, at 6pm, and I didn’t want to be late. After the ride I learned that I’d ridden to the town of Sv. Nedilja (St. Dominica)

Sv. Nedilja is barely visible on the right hand side of the picture below, on the piece of the island jutting out into the sea.

Some of the road was quite exposed, with perhaps 200 to 300 foot drops to the sea below. But even in this harsh and steep terrain there was evidence of a long history of people eking out an existence by farming the land. Everywhere rocks had been moved into walls/piles to expose the precious soil that might nurture a grape vine or olive tree or lavender plant.

 

Here’s the entrance to Sv. Nedilja, although at the time I still didn’t know the village name.

This was the upper village. Once in town I hit a paved road and followed it down a few hundred feet in elevation to the lower part of town that was right on the sea. I was hoping to come across a small market, or better yet an ice cream stand, but everything seemed closed down. All over the island stores close between 2 and 5pm (afternoon siesta) and it wasn’t quite 5pm yet.

The above picture is now looking back toward Milna. Just to the left of the sign post in the foreground you can see the cut in the mountain that is the gravel road that I’d just ridden. This turned into an out and back ride so back I went retracing my path. I made it back just in time for another amazing dinner at Mate’s and Michaela’s restaurant.

Since that ride I’ve studied various maps and there are lots of old roads and paths around the island. I can’t wait to explore more on this and future trips.

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Malo Grable

“Malo Grable” mean little rake. It is an old, deserted village about 1.5 kilometers from Milna. On Wednesday evening we hiked to this village, up an wonderful old gravel/rock road. We saw lots of different kinds of wild flowers. Michaela gave us a history lesson on the region as we walked. Mate’s family lived in this village until 1953 when they moved to Milna. Life was hard in the village. As on the rest of the island there is no fresh water. None. Everyone survived off cisterns. Imagine having a cistern with a certain capacity. And then facing a dry spell. When would you start rationing. Our rationing in California is so much more abstract… it isn’t nearly as visceral as what they would face.

The entrance to the village is marked with a small stone tablet. The name is barely visible (right side of picture below).

 

As we were with the kids I didn’t have time to take a lot of pictures. I’m hoping to walk back up to the village early some morning to get more pictures.

A local from Milna runs a small restaurant in the village. his cars are in the picture above. It is only open “on demand”. A small group was celebrating a birthday party on the day we were there. He run a generator for power. I’m not sure what he does for water… probably carried it up via car.

The village is in a deep valley surrounded by steep rocking mountains. It is stunningly beautiful.

We went inside 2 old buildings, the school house and Mate’s family house, which they still own. Each family still owns their respective houses. Some sort of conservation agreement is currently in progress, definitely worthwhile as I’ve never seen a village like this. In the Western US we have places like Bodie, capturing a colorful yet harsh era in American history. Malo Grable is just as special a place, worth preserving.

We stopped at the restaurant, and always wanting to be gracious (I somehow lost that trait) the restaurateur invited us for some food and drink. It would have been rude to say “no”. He, of course, is never short of wine and other harder alcohol, but was also able to scrounge up a couple plates of meat, cheese, and bread.

Here’s a final picture of Casey sitting on a wall next to the old Church.

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Hvar

Hvar is one of hundreds of islands off the coast of Croatia. It is idyllic; I’d need to be a true writer to describe it better in a single sentence. One of the main towns on Hvar is also called Hvar. This is where our catamaran arrived. It is a beautiful old town. Our hosts, Mate and Michaela met us at the docks to drive us the 4kms to their village of Milna. Mihaela and my mother are distant relatives something like this – My mother’s cousin is Michaela’s grandmother.

The town of Hvar is beautiful. Old, old stone buildings and glassy smooth, large cobble/marble stone walkways. The building pictured below is just near the ferry docks, it is the oldest theater for common people (whatever that exactly means… not for royalty?) in Europe.

Mate and Mihaela Tudor own and operate what we might call an “Inn”. They own several properties in the village and rent out apartments. They also have a restaurant so they provide breakfast and dinners “on demand”, when the guests desire. After just a couple days I’ve got so many stories to tell that it is difficult to know where to start.

Here’s a picture of the village from one of the small beaches on the edge of town. The house where we’re staying is in the center of the picture. Not the highest house, but the house just to its left and a little lower. We’re on the top floor.

Here’s the view from our balcony,

and here’s the balcony where I’ll be writing most of these posts until June 20th.

My parents have come to Tudor’s Inn several times so they knew what to expect. Jodie and I didn’t. We were blown away from the start. And things have only gotten better. They have 2 small kids, a little younger than ours, Borna (a boy) is 3 and Matea (a girl) is 8. The 4 kids have really gotten along well. Matea school is just finishing today (June 10). Last night we all went to watch her class performance where Matea and her classmates sang, danced and acted. It was very fun.

Mate and Michaela run a fabulous restaurant.  They built/created this wonderful, intimate, earthy, unique place over the past 4 years. They are still waiting for final permitting, they’ve been waiting for over 1 year. Governments move slowly all over the world. So at this point it is under the radar and operates on demand. We’ve had 2 dinners there our first 2 nights and those 2 meals have absolutely formed the best back to back dinners I’ve ever experienced. Hands down. Here’s the very beautiful, simple, authenticate entrance to the restaurant. You first walk up this rough rock road (the island is all rock) from the village.

and then get to this entrance

Here’s one of the main cooking areas, a big outdoor fireplace(s). All hand built by Mate. The fuel is old grapevines (from his vineyards).

Just to the right of the big fireplace there’s a big bread/pizza oven. They don’t make pizza, as they stick to a more traditional Dalmatian cuisine.

Here’s a brief rundown of what I know. Mate and family have 2000+ olive trees. Vineyards all over the island, he made something like 7000 liters of wine last year. I don’t know how much olive oil he’s produces, but we’re eating it like water! Yummy!

We’ve been eating outside, on hand made tables and benches.

Mate and Mihaela remind me a lot of Tom and Carolyn Taylor (good friends of mine who live in Washington). Tom and Carolyn took a tear down old cabin and turned it into what I think is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen that was “hand made” by a good friend(s). Their cabin is spectacular. Not in a fancy sense (rich, showy, etc), but it a completely authenticate fashion. The Taylor’s cabin is 100% true to what Tom and Carolyn are. I think Mate and Mihaela have created something just as true to who they are.

There’s a vegetable garden behind the kitchen where they pick produce just as it is being cooked. The food and its preparation is so very simple. We literally showed up last night with nothing prepared. And together we made (The Potrebic’s helped a little) a great dinner is about 45 minutes. We had shrimp and bread and whatever vegetables where ready for picking in the garden. Mate (with a little help from me) whipped up a couple appetizer plates. One was prosciutto & cheese, the other was anchovies & onions & capers.

For our first dinner (pictured above) we had 3 different kinds of fish (all local) and squid. Olive oil is used generously on most everything (but never during cooking as they explained that olive oil shouldn’t be heated). I’ve never eaten such good zucchini. Jake can’t get enough of the olive oil and vinegar (also home made). He’s eating it with bread all the time. They also make there own brandy, offering my dad 3 different kinds.

I joked that the only thing on their dinner table not “home made” was the cutlery. I said that they need a forge (a la Dave Burnard) and then they could fix that. Mate said to not joke… he doesn’t have time for more. But it sounds like he would get into smelting, forging, etc if given the chance.

Here’s Matea (just before her school performance) and Jake

Yes, we’ve gone in the Adriatic as well. We haven’t just been eating!

 

Last night we arranged a sea kayaking trip on Sunday. Jodie and I will be paddling with Jake and Casey is double kayaks. I hope I don’t sink!

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First stop – Zagreb

We’re now 6 days into our trip and I’m finally sitting down to write. I’m sitting on a balcony overlooking a quaint little village of Milna on the island of Hvar. The sound of birds and the Adriatic Sea are in the background. More on this magnificent place in my next post.

Our trip to Zagreb was uneventful. Planes were on time and the kids were quite well behaved. My cousin Joco picked us up at the airport. He is the eldest son of my father’s eldest brother Slavko. Slavko passed away a number of years ago. Slavko was a wonderful man. He took over my grandfather’s farm in Lika, a special region of Croatia, home to such important world figures as Nicola Tesla. Slavko lived his whole life in Lika, yet he knew lots about the entire world. I’ve seen this time and time again. People living in small villages, isolated by our standards, not having traveled the world, not having spent months on a Eurorail pass the summer after college, not having jetted to Rio or Paris for adventure. Yet having a better understanding and knowledge of the world. Slavko was just this sort of person. I remember sitting with him on the porch of his simple farmhouse, and with my dad talking about the world economy and US politics. Later in the trip we will visit Lika and Slavko’s wife Neda. She lives a very simple life, the farm was destroyed in the previous war. Joco tells me that things are better now because she got electricity about 2 years ago. Imagine that.

2 pictures from Tirg Ban Jelaćić, the main square in Zagreb

We spent the first night at my Uncle Peter’s house in Samobor, a little village outside Zagreb. I didn’t have the chance to take pictures of this village yet, I will later in the trip. It is very quaint in that European sort of way, narrow cobblestone streets, a small central square, old buildings, etc. After Samobor we went to Aunt Pavica’s house. She’s a relative on my mother’s side of the family. I’m eating too much here. Pavica makes my favorite all-time dishes… and she wouldn’t stop feeding me. I think I’ve eaten 3 chickens already! The food is so good here – right from the garden or farm to the table.

Pavica’s house was split into 2 apartments. Her son, Marinko, lives upstairs with his wife, Vlasta, and 2 son’s, Carlo, 20, and Fran, 17. They are all wonderful. Marinko has done a wonderful job remodeling his apartment and taking care of his mom. Not having enough room for all of us, they found a neighbor, Mrs Slavica, where me, Jodie, Jake, and Casey are renting her second floor. A couple bedrooms and a bathroom. Mrs. Slavica is so hospitable. She insisted she was comfortable with however much we wanted to pay. And she’s been baking us pasties and giving us fresh strawberries from her son’s garden. She is rather lonely, as her son is recently married and her husband died 6 years ago. She’ll be a first time grandmother in a few months and boy is she excited about that!

Pictures of Pavica’s yard.
Her big vegetable garden is just beyond the fence in the picture on the right.

Slavica told me some stories about the war in Croatia back in the early 1990’s. A big bomb fell just across the street, blowing out all the windows in the houses in the area. Fortunately no one was killed. This isn’t something that American’s, except those in Manhattan on 9/11, have experienced.

We’ve taken the kids around Zagreb. My mom showed them where she went to High School. We also went to the cemetery where my mom’s parents and brother are buried. Jake’s middle name of Mladen was given after my mom’s brother Mladen.

On Saturday evening we went to my cousin Darko’s and his wife Vesna’s apartment for dinner. Vesna made a wonderful meal, more great food; I’m eating too much! Darko’s mom, Ankica is my dad’s sister. Her husband is Joža. I’ve got lots of fond memories of this family. When I was 11 years old Joža drove my family (me, Sonja, my sister, and my parents) all around Italy for a week or so. 5 people, all our luggage in an old VW bug! I remember the Italian drivers were crazy, but Joža’s career was as a limo driver, so he was quite comfortable.

Me and Darko. My dad and his sister Ankica

Darko visited in the US back in 1989 or so, when my sister was getting married. Darko and I spent about a week driving all over California. I have so many wonderful memories from that week long road trip. It is one of my fondest memories. Darko recounted many more details that I had forgotten. Man, is his memory good. He even remembered that we went to see "Road House", a movie starring Patrick Swayze. Here are my highlights:

  • Carmel – Darko remembered how I talked up the amazing sand on those beaches.
  • Disneyland – Darko was afraid of the roller coasters, but after I went on one he decided to give it a try
  • Korean restaurant with my friend Eric M. We got to cook our own meat right at our table
  • The 8 lane freeways in LA. Darko had never seen anything like that before!
  • Driving Hwy 395 from southern CA up the east side of the Sierra Mountains. That is such gorgeous country. Darko said that this was his highlight. At time I pushed my old Honda Prelude up over 100mph.
  • Driving over Tioga pass to get into Yosemite. There was still snow at the top and Darko had fund standing on snow in June.
  • Yosemite Valley and our 1 night stay at the Awhanee Hotel.

What a great trip that was.

On Monday morning we headed to the main train station in Zagreb for our trip to Hvar. First a 5 hour train ride, then a 1 hour trip via catamaran to Hvar.

Train station. Cousin Joco is the second from the left. 

                                            Jake & Casey boarding the train.

The Train ride took us right past where my dad was born, probably within 1km of his farm. We’ll visit there after our stay on Hvar. The nearest town of any size is Gospić (pictured below), about 15 km from where my dad was born. He once had to walk to and from that town twice in one day (60 km total).

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Story behind why April Fools is so special to me.

The timing for this story is wonderful since in 3 days it will mark 2 years since Paulette Adams passed away.

There’s a rather lengthy personal story to help explain why the April Fools Bicycle Challenge is so special. It starts and ends with Paulette Adams. She passed away 2 years ago from cancer. Paulette was a passionate cyclist. Riding to Church, riding around town, and going on as many bike trips as possible with her friends. She wasn’t a “fancy” cyclist. Just the basics. A basic bike, a workhorse style. Very down to earth. And she could put in the miles. In the 1st April Fools rendition I believe she road over 500 miles in (April 2005). Come April 2006 she was battling cancer. I saw her in March 2006 and asked if she was going to participate, knowing that she couldn’t do anything like what she could before the ravages of her disease. She said she wasn’t planning on riding. I encouraged her to just sign up and to do what she could. The cycling community loved her and we wanted her to be part of our group.

So April passes and she does ride, just a little, as much as she could. And she is able to come to the April Fools Awards dinner, held at the bike shop in early May. This dinner is a wonderful part of the April Fools tradition. At this dinner we each talk a little about our month of riding. Paulette’s words end up being one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. She said how she wasn’t planning on riding, but that my words of encouragement gave her that little boost to get out there. And she was so glad that she did. She thanked me for this gift. Thinking about those words still brings tears to my eyes.

There’s more to this story.

Paulette passed away on March 23 of the following year (obituary: http://www.weeklycalistogan.com/articles/2007/03/29/obituaries/obituaries/doc460bc9f8df3a6428136235.txt). Her funeral services were to be held on March 29th at the St. Helena Catholic Church (went we to the same Church). I couldn’t call us friends, just acquaintances, but she’d privately come to mean a lot to me because of April Fools and her comment the previous year. I had a perhaps brilliant, but certainly scary and out of the norm idea… to organize a group of her friends and fellow cyclists to bike the 10 miles from Calistoga to St Helena to attend her services. I was a little nervous about proposing this idea… showing up at a funeral in lycra and bike shoes? But a mutual friend convinced me. About a dozen of us rode down together and sat together in Church that March morning. It felt right to us.

But there’s still more to this story.

Around that the same time I had bought myself a new (fancy & expensive) road bike. On Mother’s Day that year (2007) it was stolen while parked outside a bakery down in Napa. A couple days later I went down to visit all the high schools, on the chance that I’d find the bike. At one of the schools I’m driven around campus looking at the bikes. Turns out that the driver is Paulette’s brother-in-law. From him I learn that Paulette’s family really appreciated the group of cyclists that came to her funeral. That Paulette would have loved this show of love and respect. And that they too valued our gesture.  

Wow… did that just complete the whole circle for me. That’s why my bike needed to get stolen. After the initial 10 minute shock of actually seeing the thief ride away on my bike I was never angry or bitter or hateful at that person. I was not going to let that act take anything more away from me than it did (a bike). And 3 days later I learned why. If I ever met the person that stole the bike I’d only want to learn a little about him and I’d want to tell him this story.

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April Fools… back for a 4th year

It is April Fools time. The April Fools Bicycle Challenge that is. This continues to be a really special event for me. I love putting it together. It might only raise a few thousand dollars, but it special, at least in my heart. A brief recap:

 

1) Idea is to ride your bike (any sort of bike, including stationary) as much as possible in April

2) You log your miles at the April Fools website (www.bikingfools.org)

3) You get friends/family/coworkers for make a "per mile" pledge against the miles you put it.

4) All the proceeds go to Calistoga Family Center (www.calistogaFamilyCenter.com)

 

BOTH local newspaper carried front page stories this week about April Fools. That was really exciting to see. Here’s a link to one (the other paper doesn’t have a website): http://www.weeklycalistogan.com/articles/2009/03/20/news/local/doc49c1deaccc665576837905.txt

 

I scrambled to update the bikingfools.org website in a few little ways. There’s a simple "donate" feature where anyone can make a "per mile pledge" against the whole of the event. So if the riders put in 5,000 collective miles, and you had pledged 1 penny a mile, then you’d make a donation of $50 to Calistoga Family Center.

 

The idea to get pledges for the whole of the event is something new this year. It came from Jim Barnes, a Calistogan whole is always giving back to the community. I’ve taken his idea to each of the service organizations (Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, and Soroptimist) and from members of these clubs have raised about $1500 (assuming we collectively ride 5000 like last year).

 

I’m excited to announce that we have our first international participant, a young woman from Singapore. She’ll be vacationing in Calistoga for just about the whole month of April. And she’s already signed up to ride and is activity talking to her friends (I see her activity on Facebook) about sponsoring her.

 
 
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Tour of California press conference

Yesterday afternoon I drove to Sacramento to attend the opening Tour of California press conference. Because of my recent forays in the world of “photo-journalism” for the Calistoga Tribune (see “George Costanza” from Seinfeld, always wanting to pretend to be an architect) the Tribune was invited to attend this press conference. I hoped to find someone to join me and spoke with a couple local pro photographers, but they weren’t available. I almost didn’t go, but Thursday afternoon I found myself driving to Sacramento. In retrospect what a great decision.

The press conference was at the Grand Sheraton Hotel. The conf room was packed, perhaps 150 folks from the media, and more than a dozen TV cameras. Kevin Johnson, the major of Sacramento, and former NBA star said only at the NBA finals did he see more press. And the riders said that only at the Tour de France is there a larger groups of media-types.

I was sitting next to a real AP writer. I overheard him chatting on his cell, saying that apparently Lance wasn’t going to be there because he didn’t see his name up at the front tables. I chimed in, informing this AP fellow that Lance was indeed going to participate, that there were 2 waves of riders and Lance was in the second. His name tag was up there, just folded down flat on the table. I had of course walked around the room, looked at everything, and picked up all this info in doing so. The AP guy then said into his phone "my buddy here just told me that Lance was indeed going to be here…". I was glad to be of help :-). It was kind of fun.

 

  

Of course all this media was due in great part to one Lance Armstrong. Cancer survivor and 7 time TdF champion. Back from a 3+ year retirement. Folks have got to watch this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7fV-48DT3E) for the highlight of the evening. Lance in all his “don’t mess with Texas” calm swagger. I’m with you on this one Lance. That British reporter deserved the new one you ripped him. Calling a cancer survivor “cancer” is just not right.

George Hincapie was in attendance. One interesting tidbit is that his name appears on all the leaders’ jerseys in the ToC. His clothing line is the supplier. If you look closely at the jersey picture above you’ll see his name.

Before the press conference I noticed Phil Liggett walking about. He’s one half of what I consider the best announcing duo in all of sport. Paul Sherwen is the other half.  

I walked over to Phil and introduced myself. I told him how my 2 little kids LOVE watching his coverage of cycling. He told me to say hi to both of them. That was cool, talking to Phil.

This years ToC has such a strong field of riders. Here are a few that took part in the press conference.


Carlos Sastre (ToF winner in ‘08) and Mark Cavendish (arguably the best sprinter in the world right now)


Tyler Hamilton and George Hincapie

Here are some more of Levi Leipheimer, the local Santa Rosa resident, one of the best stage racers and Time Trialists in the world. #rd place in the ’07 Tour de France. Bronze medal in Time Trial, Beijing Olympics.

One interesting aspect of this year’s ToC is that it will be the first time in a long time (ever?) that Lance and George Hincapie will be racing against each other, as opposed to being teammates. They both talked about their close friendship. I’d love to see and hear their exchanges during the race.

It was very fascinating to see and hear Lance in person. I sat down in the second row, perhaps 25’ away from Lance. He was well within his comfort zone facing the media. If I were a real journalist here’s what I would have asked him: “Lance, I’ve got a simple 2 part question: 1) Can you win this year’s Tour de France? 2) Can you ride in support of a teammate in this year’s Tour de France?

I’d love to hear that answer. If he turns out to not be the strongest rider on his team (a team with 3 other TdF podium riders, including the stellar Alberto Contador) does he have it within himself to ride in support, rather than as team leader? As it was, not a single journalist asked him “can you win the TdF this year?”.

I’m looking forward to this weeks coverage of the ToC. And the month of July will be exciting!

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Lance is coming through town. Don’t miss your chance!

The following is my “scouting report” of the photo shoot the Calistoga Camera Club is executing during the Tour of California race through Calistoga on Feb 15th. If you are a CCC member you can use this info, or not! Just get out there and take some photographs, not just snap shots of this unique opportunity. The best in the world are in Calistoga.

A great photo could really become part of history in Calistoga. 50 years from know if you be hanging somewhere in town, marking Feb 15, 2009.

 

Above photo was from the ToC press conference in Sacramento on Feb 12 2009. I attended and it was a great experience. Watch this video for the highlight of the event (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7fV-48DT3E). Lance Armstrong ripping into a reporter.

Bottom of Kortum Canyon Rd (near Buster’s).
The shot on left below was shot at 120mm. I think it could look nice with a pack a riders coming right at you. Shooting from the roof of your car might be good. I took this shot standing on the stone wall, circled in the picture on the right.

Shooting the Bike Shop
I think we need a couple people shooting the bike shop. Nick, a bike shop employee, and photographer will be shooting from here. Could use another taker. Also a good spot for people shots. Standing on the circle bricks could offer a nice elevated angle. The yellow building is the Three Sisters dress shop just across the street from the bike shop.

Roof of Boskos
Access requires climbing a ladder. Need to speak with Jon (Boskos owner) and/or Peter to get permission. Most likely it will either be Jon or Peter who shoots from here. (Note the roof of Brannan’s in the lower right portion of the image below)

Roof of Brannan’s
This roof is accessed from the lower roof of Boskos.

Balcony of the Masonic building
I took shots of the tractor parade from this location. Let Peter know if you want to shoot from here

Hurd Candle Shop and Cherry Picker
Pacific Tree Care’s cherry picker will be in the parking lot of the Hurd candle shop. Here’s the angle down Lincoln Ave. ChickH (our resident pro) will be flying high.

Calmart
Shooting from Calmart gives a nice view of the hills behind. And because of the curve in the road can get the riders coming directly at the camera.

Indian Springs
Something around here could be good.

Indian Springs Hill towards Lincoln Ave
Here I’m up the hill at Indian Springs

Indian Springs Hill towards Brannon St
The Hill at Indian Strong, but around the corner looking down Brannon St to the Silverado Trial.

Brannon & Silverado Intersection
The mound fronting Solage gives an elevated perspective. Many opportunities in other spots to get a Napa Valley Landscape shoot, with cyclists as just one element.

 

Silverado Trail, about .25 miles south of August Briggs Winery.
THIS IS A PRIME SPOT FOR A VINEYARD SHOT.
THE
MUSTARD IS IN BLOOM
I recommend getting inside one of the vineyard and shooting so that the road surface isn’t visible. Just the riders, with vineyard mustard in the foreground and the background. Might want to bring a small step stool ladder to get elevated 1’-2’.

Petrified Forest Rd
I high recommend this spot if you want a shot with riders and Valley and Mountains. It is right near this driveway (photo on the right). There’s an embankment on the side of the road. At the top of that embankment (perhaps 10’ high) there’s a flat cut in the terrain that runs parallel to the roadway. A great place to shoot.

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