Italian tour leader Cristina Taioli spent March traveling through Texas, Colorado and Florida visiting ExperiencePlus! alum, hosting happy hours and talking about her extensive travels throughout the world and particularly her love of cycling in Italy. She took a few minutes to reflect on her visit to the States…
I love to come back to the US, once a year, to be overwhelmed by the size of the streets, the cars, and sometimes, the people! It surprises me each time I visit that in the States the word “small” means big to me!
My journey began in Fort Worth, Texas, where I soon realized that if things are big in the US, in Texas, they are even bigger! The first thing I did, after my 13 hour flight, was to head to “Billy Bob” for a lesson in country line dancing. I tried my best and felt I represented Italy well despite my jet lag! My host took me to the historic part of town, where cattle with long horns and cowboys walked down the streets next to people and cars. We stopped at a bar for refreshments and they had stools with saddles mounted on top instead of regular chairs.
I went to my first rodeo in Fort Worth which prepared me for my second rodeo — a “PBR” (professional bull riders) competition at the Dallas Cowboy’s stadium in Arlington. I’m confident that my home town in Italy would fit inside the stadium. There were massive screens to watch the action and they even had fireworks inside! It was incredible to see tiny guys, perched atop gigantic beasts and how some managed to hold on for as long as 8 seconds!
Luckily, there were some familiar things on my trip. I went for a 42-mile bike ride along the Trinity Trail and into a park; it was sunny but not hilly (you know Texas is not exactly like Tuscany!). The following day I went riding with the “Rusty Chain Gang”, members of the Fort Worth Bicycle Club, and the wind was blowing so hard I thought I was going to fly away, since I’m pretty small!
When I said to the Texans that I was leaving to go to Colorado, someone told me: “you are going to the postcard state.” I think she was right; the scenery in Colorado was truly magnificent! High mountains, canyons, forests and lakes, and I also felt the altitude. Steamboat Springs was a real plus, even if warm spring temperatures made the ski conditions less than ideal.
I spent a few days in Fort Collins, a university town with lots of young people, places to hang out and good energy. I enjoyed the place, and the “Spring Creek Trail” was very nearby for biking. I did a brewery tour one afternoon, and discovered that Fort Collins has a large number of microbreweries and a variety of tasty beers. I was riding my bicycle around trying various beers and soon realized that these two things don’t go well together! And I finally met everyone who works in the ExperiencePlus! office so now I have faces to go with the regular email exchanges.
Boulder was also very nice, with the mountains right there – beckoning to you and calling for a bike ride through one of the canyons. And the pedestrian Pearl Street Mall, reminded me of a European city, even the temperature was perfect for a stroll downtown and some window shopping.
Another beautiful day in Denver, my last day in Colorado, I did a bike ride along the “Cherry Creek Trail,” looking at the mountains in the distance, but very closely at the prairie dogs! Very cute little animals for me, but I got the idea that the locals don’t share the same feeling for them!
Then it was off to Florida, the “Hurricanes’ State!” One thing I realized when I landed in Florida was that I no longer needed skin lotion, the air here was not dry like in Colorado, but humid, and much warmer, of course. My friends in Punta Gorda live in a very nice house, with palm trees around, a swimming pool, hot tub, and fishing boat docked on one of the many ship canals, a beautiful spot to relax, fish or just get inspired! I celebrated Saint Patrick ’s Day, with two friends of mine: “Stella” and “Corona” and still had enough energy the next day to paddle board around mangroves and more, we spotted dolphins and sailed over water of many colors. I loved my wide red board, it offered a great workout and tested my balance when I stood up especially when the wind was blowing against me and fishing boats were passing by, creating waves. We all needed to relax after paddling for hours and found the perfect spot at Boca Grande. It was so nice I biked back the next day on a nice green trail and had a manatee swim all the way to my feet. I had never seen one that close to me, I was so excited!! Florida was so varied; I witnessed palm trees of Punta Gorda to the oak trees with hanging Spanish moss of Ocala, lots of farm with cattle and horses as well. What a change in the scenery after 3 hours driving. I quickly discovered that people here knew how to party: I had a pomegranate margarita and a mojito on my first day. I went canoeing with new friends, down “Silver River”, in a fairy tale like landscape: lots of gators, turtles, fish, different birds and even monkeys! That night the Florida Gators basketball team would battle and lose against Louisville, but we all enjoyed the barbecue. The next day I went mountain biking on “Santos Trail” which was really nice, lots of roots and rocks to practice on. Later that night 20+ people came to an “open house” to meet me and get to know a bit about biking in Europe. I hope that the beer and the wine helped them to concentrate during my speech! 😉 My last day was spent at one of the lakes, kayaking and knee boarding, a relaxing way to prepare for my flight back to Italy.
I’m back in Europe and our tour leader training has begun so we are all very busy, but I can’t help but think about when I might be able to get back to the US!? I loved it. Thanks to you all, I miss you guys, but hope to see you again soon, or perhaps you’ll be with me following those white chalk arrows on the May 5th cycling tour of Puglia in southern Italy.
Ciao ciao Cristina