Though 2013 will mark only her third season with ExperiencePlus! Lisa Merighi has quickly become one of our traveler’s favorite tour leaders. We thought it high time we all had the opportunity to get to know her a little better.
How did you decide to get into leading cycling tours?
While cycling around in China in 2010 I got the idea to turn my passion for cycling into a new career and become a bike tour leader. I was amazed and delighted to discover that the ExperiencePlus! European headquarters was a mere 7.7 km from my doorstep in Faenza, Italy.
What does your mom think of your career path?
My mom is happy about my career path because she sees that I’m happy too. Sometimes she’s even a bit jealous that I get to travel so much. But then she admits that she wouldn’t enjoy always being on the move.
You lived in the States for several years – did you find the transition to the US and back to Italy difficult?
Yes and no. I lived in a big city so I could definitely do without the traffic once I moved back. Cycling is a lot easier in my home town. On the other hand I miss the rich and diverse cultural offerings I enjoyed in the big city. Things can get very quiet at home in Italy.
You have a Bachelor’s degree in Art History and a Master’s in Museum Studies – Any tips for enjoying art?
Just enjoy what is visually interesting and stimulating. Often people feel intimidated because they don’t think they understand what they see–contemporary art in particular. Experiencing art doesn’t have to be a tiresome exercise: people from all walks of life have individual sets of skills to help them interpret and enjoy what they see–from their personal point of view. The thing is, art is supposed to elicit a response in its viewer but there isn’t one universal response. A good guided tour can help put an art exhibition in context so I recommend it when visiting an archaeological site or a museum.
Who are some of your favorite artists and why?
I’m a fan of Caravaggio, a 17th century artist who is famous for his innovative and radical paintings that included everyday models for high religious subjects. Every time I go to Rome, I try to find the time to visit a couple of churches where you have to feed a coin in a slot to have the painting light up with life. My very favorite one is San Luigi dei Francesi, a church tucked in between the Parliament and the Senate.
You’ve bicycled pretty extensively in Asia what keeps you going back?
I’ve always been attracted to places that are very different from home. The first time I landed in Bangkok I was blown away: the smells, the noise, the highly sophisticated and organized chaos were something new and exciting for a girl from small town Italy. I keep going back because it’s a large continent with many countries to explore. This winter I decided to return to South East Asia because the food is great, the people are incredibly friendly, the roads are (mostly) first class, and cycling there is very rewarding and easy.
Worst bike malfunction and how did you resolve it?
On the first day riding of a 2-month bike tour in Morocco I had a brand new tire slashed by a shard of glass. I patched it with a piece of a plastic bottle I found in the ditch and some duct tape. It’s still there. Other than that I’m generally very lucky and hardly ever get a flat.
The most memorable person you’ve met traveling?
I had the incredible luck of meeting Christian Hoffmann, (author of Augen auf und durch: Ein Leben als Weltreise, which translates as Wake Up and Get on With It: Living One’s Life as a Journey Around the World) a silver haired German cyclist/writer/engineer at a roadside café in Laos. I was bike touring solo around Asia for the first time and I was going through a lot of self-doubt regarding the choices I had made to quit my job in the US, move back to Italy, and embark on a one-year cycling trip. Most people I met warned me about the danger I was putting myself into. Mr. Hoffmann, oddly enough, just plain encouraged me to go ahead and continue with my trip. He was adamant that it was going to be one of the most important experiences of my life. Over a lunch of fried rice, he told me the amazing story of his cycling trip as a very young man from Germany to Thailand and onward to Australia in the aftermath of WWII. It was the most meaningful and uplifting encounter I could have ever hoped for at that time and I treasure his words to this day.
Describe your dream bike? Does it have a name?
I’m just about to get my dream bike after waiting a long time for it to be built. It’s a touring bike with all the bells and whistles such as SS couplings, hydraulic brakes, and Rolhoff rear hub. I still haven’t named it since I haven’t had the chance to ride it yet. We have to get to know each other first. But I’m very excited to meet her soon!
Why does the pasta seem to taste better in Italy?
Pasta is better in Italy. It’s just the way it is; you can’t really subvert universal laws such as those of gravity and the goodness of Italian pasta. Just kidding. But a large pot full of boiling water and timer certainly help to achieve good results. I like my pasta “al dente” so I make sure I drain it one full minute before the directions on the package indicate. One of my favorites is pasta al pesto. Every summer I have a basil plant in a pot on the balcony and I make my own fresh pesto. It just takes five minutes and it’s delicious.
Italian, of course. And Thai. There is nothing like combining coconut, basil, and lime. The results are amazing!
If you could do any ExperiencePlus! trip which one would you select and why?
I would like to take part in the Saint Petersburg to Istanbul Expedition. I haven’t had the chance to cycle in that region of the world yet and I like the challenge of long distance cycling.
Of the ExperiencePlus! trips that you’ve led which is your favorite and why?
My favorite tours in Italy are definitely the ones on the two main islands, Sicily and Sardinia. Both tours offer beautiful landscapes, delicious cuisine, some very important cultural sites. However these islands have a very different history despite being geographically close to one another: while the Sicilian coast is very developed the interior is mostly abandoned, whereas in Sardinia the coast is mostly still wild while the interior has historically been more populated. Cycling in both islands is very fulfilling and I never tire of going back.
If someone is nervous about doing a bike trip what advice would you give?
Never ever think that you can’t do it. Most of our strength lies not in our legs, but in our head. I always tell people our body can sustain a bit of challenge if we set our mind to it. Facing a day’s ride or a climb with a positive attitude could mean conquering the top of the pass rather than hitching a ride in the van. The feeling of fulfillment is a great motivation to undertake rides that might have seemed very hard before.
Favorite TV show? Favorite book? Favorite movie?
Recently I enjoyed watching “The Wire.” I have become a big fan of writer Tom Robbins and have had a lot of unexpected fun watching the movie “Seven Psychopaths.”
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise most people?
I’m a pretty good cook and baker. In winter I bake bread and pizza once a week.
If you stopped leading tours what would you do instead?
This is a tough question: I don’t really know because I’m not thinking about a career change. For the moment this is my dream job and I have no intention of doing anything else but leading tours. Ask me again in 5 years!