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Sunday, October 30, 2011


No, it isn't a spelling error, as I am sure the epicureans amongst you already know. And, while I have a story or two about the better margaritas I've enjoyed over the years, this is all about the pizza. Oddly enough, my first margherita pizza experience was in London. Especially odd in that food in the UK is generally considered to be somewhat below the high standards of continental cuisine. It is a bit unfair, in my opinion, as it is hard to beat a good fish and chips with mushy peas, accompanied by a cold Magners cider.

But I digress, which I know you find unusual. So, getting back to pizzas...

A group of us attending the Compressors Conference at City University several years ago found ourselves looking for a place to eat after the evening social event arranged by conference organizers and sponsors. We settled on a cafe with tables on the quay along the south bank of the Thames where I decided to take a chance on the margherita pizza as it was something I had not heard of before. It was, I must say, a most pleasant surprise. The pizza is made on a very thin crust with only tomato sauce, olive oil and mozzerella cheese, garnished generously with fresh basil. It is a light, fresh taste, the antithesis of the deep dish Chicago style pizza; I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Snce that chance encounter in London, I have made it a point to sample the margherita pizza when I find one on the menu, and I have rarely been disappointed. The exception was a visit to Germany where I sampled them at two different restaurants and found them to be nothing whatsoever like the pizza with which I had become aquatinted.

Once again I know you think I've wandered away from the cycling stories that are, supposedly, the reason for this blog. But, as has been noted, "Not all who wander are lost" (J.R.R. Tolkien).

My wanderings have brought me to a cycling opportunity that promises to bring me to the heart of margherita pizza country. I have foregone bicycle tours in the last two years in favor of other endeavors. This year included mission trips to the Dominican Republic, Uganda and Kenya in addition to three visits with family in California and a business trip to London. While a return to Africa in 2012 is a possibility, my plans for travels in the "not a bike tour" category are considerably less ambitious. That leaves me with, you guessed it, a chance for a tour.

As luck would have it, Laurenz Gsell, the organizer and host of the marvellous 2008 Swiss tour, has offered a ride through southern Italy. In March. Remember, I live in Wisconsin, sometimes refered to as The Frozen Tundra. Whatever you might think of when you consider March, here it is still winter.The tour is around the Puglia region, the heel of the boot that is southeastern Italy. Here's the route map:

Naples is the official tour terminus. We take a bus to Matera to start the ride which includes two nights there and in the towns of Otranto, Gravina and Peschici, the last stop on the tour. There are also overnights in seven other towns, making for ten days of riding during which we'll cover about 550 miles and climb around 20,000 feet, much of this in the last few days from Gravina to Peschici. After a final day in Peschici, it is a bus to Naples and a flight home.

An article in USA Today paints Puglia as a wonderful destination, in spite of a name that sounds as if you might want to prepare yourself for something less. And it is this article that brings us back around to pizza:

...my last dinner in Puglia...a humble pizza margherita. This must be the only region in Italy where the tomato-and-mozzarella staple of generations of students and workers still only costs about $2.50.

Of course, I will have to do my own research into the quality of the margherita pizzas. There will be a report.

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