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It was like the battle of the Caudine Forks all over again. And I was about to get burned.

What’s your best New Year’s Eve memory?

One of mine is getting a spumante shower in Villa Borghese. But it was too late to save me.

If you were walking the streets of Rome tonight, everyone would greet you with the word, “Auguri!”

This means something like congratulations and good luck, rolled into one. Congratulations, I assume, because you survived another year in Italy. Good luck, because you still have to make it through the night.

You see, if you were walking the streets of Rome tonight, you would probably be trapped in a narrow cobblestone alleyway, packed like a sardine with hundreds of other people. It would be the battle of the Caudine Forks all over again.

While you crept forward, locked in a human glacier, people would throw fireworks out of the windows above you. One time, a firecracker hit me and burned my hair (and you thought I shaved my head to look cool).

At midnight, the Romans eat lentils and grapes. This is supposed to make you rich in the coming year. It hasn’t worked for me yet, but maybe that’s because I drink my grapes.

What about you? What are you doing tonight? Whether you’re cheering on the streets with all humanity, cracking your head at your favorite club, or staying warm and comfortable under a roof, I wish you all the best for an awesome 2018. I know you’ve got this.

Buon Capo d’Anno. And thanks for reading.

Auguri!

Jacob Bear

Shortly after I lost my hair, I took a long bike tour along the route of the ancient Roman road, via Appia. A book about these misadventures will come out in 2018, but in the meantime you can get my original travel notes, including a map that was hand-drawn by an Italian archeologist. Grab your free copy in the top right corner of this page (you might have to scroll up to see it). Thanks for reading!

Even if you just have a few hours free, you can jump on your bike and have an adventure. There's a small residential road that I had never explored, but on the maps it looked like it continued on for a while.

I had a free afternoon with just about three hours until sundown, so I took a bike ride down the mystery road to see where it would go. It turns out this particular section of Olive street intersects with El Camino Real, the Royal Highway of "New Spain."

I ended up in the historical center of San Gabriel. The road went almost in a straight line to one of the early California missions. People from the San Gabriel Mission went on to found the city of Los Angeles, so this bike ride took me to some of the roots of LA's history.

I even got to see one of the first and oldest grape vines in southern California, and later on I tasted some California wine to celebrate.

If your a biking newbie, this just reinforces the point: It doesn't matter how far you want to ride or how much time you have. Just get on your bike and explore. You'll run into something interesting you've never seen before, or discover a new bike route to places you've already been.

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I made a small discovery this week. And it ties in with my plans to bike the Appian Way in southern Italy. I'll tell you more about it in a minute, but first you need some background.Italy bike tour wine shop Matera

With all the air pollution, even in rural Italy, you need your antioxidants. An Italian study compared the antioxidant effects of eating fish, garlic, vegetables, red wine, and dark chocolate.

The good news: the wine and chocolate tied for first place.

Other things being equal, the researchers made the conclusion that if you drink a glass of red wine with dinner you might be lowering your cholesterol even more than the guy eating five helpings of broccoli.

By the way, when I told an Italian about the health benefits of drinking a glass a day of red wine, he disagreed. He said a glass a day of red wine was definitely bad for you because "you need to have two or three glasses."

Secrets of the Aglianico in southern Italy

The real adventure began when I reached Benevento on my first bike tour in southern Italy. This was roughly the halfway point of the via Appia. It was also the first place off the map--from this point on I didn't really know where I was going except in a very general way. It was the beginning of serendipity, lots of unexpected adventures, wrong turns and bad weather, as well as friends in the most unlikely places.

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Benevento is also the origin of a little-known wine called Beneventano, made from the aglianico grape.

This strong-flavored beverage (the experts would call it "full-bodied," I think) might be neutralizing ozone in my lungs on every bike ride. What I know for sure is that it has a lot of sentimental value because it reminds me of that first bike tour.

So imagine my excitement, back here in Los Angeles, when I found 3 bottles of Beneventano at a local store.

I served some to a friend who is an expert on food and wine. He said it was good quality, of complex flavor, and added a lot of other jargon about the "nose" and the "finish" with words like "legs" and "bouquet" thrown in for good measure.

"Where did you get this?" he asked me. I was too embarrassed to tell him, but I'll tell you.

It came from Trader Joe's. They still carry it every now and then, but the quality seems to vary. The last few batches were only slightly better than the citrus degreaser I use on my chain. But the bottle I opened last week was decent.

Southern Italy's "most impressive grape"

This week I looked up the lore of the aglianico grape in The Wine Bible. There's not much to say about it, but it was introduced by the Greeks and is among "the south's most impressive grape varieties." The Italians grow it in the volcanic soil left over from the eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, and its flavor carries the long and complex history of the Mediterranean.

The reason I'm bringing all of this up is that if you join me on the bike tour of southern Italy, you'll get to taste some great wines that are unknown outside the regions of Campania, Basilicata, and Puglia.

Southern Italy lacks the well-known and large-scale wine industry of the north. Most wine is produced and sold to the locals, and people outside the region rarely get to try it.

This is another good reason for a bike tour. You can find out more about it here.

By the way, I don't know the source for the food/wine antioxidant study. I saw it on a cooking program on TV at the airport while I was waiting for a flight to Italy in 2005. Bike every day, be safe, and eat your chocolate and your vegetables.

WARNING: This information is not to be construed as nutritional advice. Whatever beneficial compounds may go with it, alcohol is still a poison. Drink responsibly. Don't drink and bike, because you will probably suffer serious injury or death, and you will most certainly look like an idiot. Save that bottle for the hot tub or the campfire, where you can share it with your friends.