Category Archives: Travel

Trip Report – Paris!

Our trip this time was to visit with friends who are living and working in Paris for three years. They live in a wonderful part of town in the 2nd arrondissement. Their time would be up at the end of the year. My sister, who is also friends with them, was meeting us there. So we had a fun trip combined with a great visit with my sister. Win, win.

We arrived at CDG airport in Paris on Saturday at 5PM. We managed to go through passport control and claim our luggage with no problem. We had directions from our friends to take the train then walk to meet them. The train was a non-stop from CDG to Gare du Nord but then it becomes a regular Metro train. Lucky for us we got off at the next station – Chatelet.

We texted our friends that we were walking and we negotiated the tiny, crowded cobblestone streets with no problem, ultimately meeting up with our friends at Redd Bar for a glass of wine. We dropped our suitcase in our rented VRBO flat, which was spacious if quirky.

Dinner was in Liza Paris, a Lebanese, small plates place. It was fun. Off to sleep after a long day.

Sunday was gray with heavy drizzle. We had breakfast with our friends in their apartment just a block from our flat. Croissants were wonderful as was the coffee. This day we planned to visit Musee Jacquemart Andre. He was a member of the upper middle class in the 1800s. They were just below the aristocracy or what we would now call the 1%. The museum featured his and his wife’s extensive art collection in their magnificent house on Blvd. Haussmann. They apparently spent more than the Louvre each year on their collection! They went to Italy at least once a year thus the collection leaned heavily towards Italian masters. Very interesting with the audio tour.

Beautiful staircase.
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We walked from there to the Seine and along the bank toward the Tuillierie Gardens. We admired the barges, many of them house barges, moored along the way. It was still very gray and began to rain when we stopped in a cafe in the park for lunch. We had buckwheat crepes called Galettes filled with ham, cheese, egg, and mushrooms (for me). After lunch we walked back to our neighborhood for a glass of wine and then adjourned for a nap.

Big ferris wheel.
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Dinner was in a place called La Dame le Pic. It was a very upscale place with two tasting menus. I picked the one that included 2 appetizers, one entree and one dessert. The chef was adventurous with her ingredients and presentations. Everything was beautifully prepared. I had an oyster starter with green apples, fennel, and a green gelee, then a spring vegetable one with radishes, radish chips, artichoke. Then my entree was the John Dory fillet. And I chose the citrus dessert. All of the courses were very small and works of art.

When we left around 11:30 PM the entire city of Paris was in a celebratory mood with exuberant horn honking and congratulatory shouting. The election was over and Emmanuel Macron was the new French president beating Le Penn by a huge margin. This was good for moderates and those who want to preserve the European Union. Also for us who have a difficult time with Trump and Brexit. It was exciting to watch the celebration!

Monday, a holiday, Liberation Day, dawned gray again. We hoped to see the sun. This day we had tickets to visit the Vermeer exhibit at the Louvre. We met at the corner cafe for coffee and breakfast if anyone wanted some. The we took Nina, the dog, for a walk and Cathy headed back home while we continued our walk down to the Seine where we walked along the brand new river walk. They closed a tunnel that used to be used by cars. And opened it up. This was great because it was always a complaint that you couldn’t use the river as most cities did, for recreation etc. Now there are informal gardens, big trees, paths filled with bikers, walkers, runners, skateboarders all enjoying the river. There were cages filled with children. I couldn’t find the peanuts or I would have fed them 😉, actually they were cages enclosing the soccer playing area. They had this cool stuff that looked like concrete but was very spongy to walk on next to the play areas with climbing walls etc. to prevent injuries. Lovely improvements.

We stopped for a croque monsieur and a glass of wine. We headed to the Louvre to see the Vermeer show. It was very crowded even with advance tickets. Long lines everywhere. Finally, once we got in, it took forever to get near the paintings. But they were beautiful. The show was really good despite the crowds. Afterwards we visited the Maille mustard store. More mustards and condiments that you ever thought possible. Then we headed back.

This night we had dinner on a bateau called Le Calife. It is moored by the Ponte des Artes. It was a leisurely three hour dinner as we motored first upstream to Ponte Austerlitz, then downstream to Pont de Grenelle. Notable sights were: Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Grand Palais, the Invalides, the Palais de Chaillot and the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, and the remarkable bridges: Pont Neuf, Pont Marie, Pont Alexandre III, Pont au Double, Tournelle Bridge. My favorite part was the sparkley Eiffel Tower. It twinkles all up and down its height on the hour for five minutes. I had seen films of it but it was magical in person. The food was quite good and all prepared on board. I had the foie gras, the roasted lamb shoulder, cheese course and iced nougat for dessert. It was a one of a kind experience. Here are pictures taken from the boat.

Notre Dame just peeking up.
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This is the model for the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the French.
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On the hour, the Eiffel tower twinkles all up and down it’s height. Magic.
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The ferris wheel at night with the French tri-colours in honor of the new president.
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This young man sat at a table next to us, all alone. He looked out the window with unseeing eyes. We wondered what his story was. One we thought of was that he’d proposed to his lover on Le Calife but before they were wed, she died in a tragic accident. He returned on the anniversary every year. Of course we have no idea.
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Walking home.
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Tuesday dawned with the hoped for sun! One of our main objectives for this trip was to visit Giverny to see Claud Monet’s beautiful gardens so famous from his paintings. We had waited because seeing it in the rain would just not have been right. We took the train from Paris and in an hour arrived in the nearby town where we caught the bus to the little village of Giverny. There were crowds but they didn’t really affect the experience. The famed water lilies were not yet blooming but there were plenty of other flowers and bushes abloom. I took a TON of pictures but tried to pick a few that I liked best.

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We also visited his house. The gasp producing moment was when we entered his studio. The walls were COVERED in paintings. Probably hundreds of millions of dollars worth. And there we were, nothing between us and these incredible works. Stupefying.

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I loved the kitchen.
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We had a nice lunch on a terrace of a little hotel in the village. There are actually people living there although it is overrun with tourists. We explored and then headed back to Paris.

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My sis looking smashing in her new hat!
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We had dinner in Pirouette this evening. Randy was very upset that they didn’t have the tasting menu available for us. That was his main reason for picking the restaurant. We were sorry not to try it but went ahead and ordered from the menu. It was fun because of the company. The menu choices were very French…eel, sweetbreads etc.

Wednesday, we had a quick breakfast at the corner cafe and headed to the train station where we got the CDG train. Cindy’s flight and ours left only a half hour apart so we could all go together. Sad to say goodbye but it was great to have an adventure with my sister!

Trip Report – Lincolnshire England

Another trip report so you can skip this if you are not interested.
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Our annual trip to the British Isles. We arrived at one PM Tuesday via Ryanair. We rented our little red Vauxhall and off we went. Hungry, we went in search of lunch. We went into the little town near the airport and found a pub called The Nags Head. Luther began his Beer studies with a pint of Invictus. He pronounced it golden and light. Then we got on the M11 northward to Lincolnshire.

We went through what is called the Fens. Flat as a pancake and just about as interesting.  Then we got into the Wolds, a hilly and very beautiful area. The entire area is full of old windmills, most without the blades. They are now used as museums, incorporated into houses, made into pubs and many are abandoned. They are brick with small windows up the walls that taper to the top where the blades used to be. They were mills to grind the grain.

There is a crop here that is brilliant yellow and they go for miles… very spectacular. I think it’s canola.
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We were again staying in a National Trust Cottage. This time at an estate called Gunby Hall. We arrived at  and, from the parking lot,  made our way to the Orchard Cottage. Of course we got lost, wandered about and finally found it. The way it works is the key is in a lock box and you have the code. You never see anyone. This cottage is very comfortable with wifi, two bedrooms, a bath and a half, nice kitchen and our own private garden. The Gunby estate is open daily, the manor house and the gardens. It closes at 5pm and then everyone is magically gone! And we have the gardens, which are amazing, all to ourselves. It is super private in the cottage as they keep all the visitors away from it.

I took some pictures early the next morning after the rain stopped and the sun shone out.

A wild meadow just in front of our cottage with active bee hives.
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Garden gate.
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Rustic garden path.
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Bunnies behind our cottage.
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Magnificent Cyprus of Lebanon – almost 200 years old.
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Formal garden path.
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We went to a pub for dinner and were very disappointed. It was called the Fleece and maybe it was what I ordered but it was inedible. Sounded good. Peeled scampi with salad and potatoes. I wanted something lighter so I ordered it. Canned cold, watery shrimp, dry salad and boiled potatoes…totally dry potatoes with nothing on them. Butter would have been nice. I even hid my shrimp under the salad because I couldn’t force myself to eat them. Ick.

Next day, Wednesday, we were off to Lincoln. Weather was alternately sunny, rainy with sleet and hail. Wild weather. It was good we were mostly inside. We toured the magnificent cathedral built in the 11th century. Amazing building and how they built it back then boggles the mind.
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Just one of the many stone details.
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The Dean’s window
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Beautiful pulpit
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One of the most fun things was The Lincoln Imp. A legend tells of it being a creature sent to the cathedral by Satan, only to be turned into stone by an angel. Now it is the symbol of the city, including it’s soccer team. We had a devil of a time finding it :-). It’s very tiny. See this picture. It is not the big head. See if you see the imp.
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Cropped so you can see him.
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Magnificent organ
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Exterior – storm is coming.
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Then we toured the castle. It has been there since the 900s. We saw the ACTUAL Magna Carta. Signed in 1215. This was the first Bill of Rights. And also a copy the Charter of the Forest from 1217 which basically re-established rights of access to the Royal Forest to free men which had been eroded by William the Conquerer.

Castle.
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Lincoln street.
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After this we had a nice lunch in the Wig and Mitre pub. Fish and chips with mushy peas was very good here.
pub Then we headed back. This evening I made salmon steaks and sautéed vegetables.

Next day, Thursday, we decided to go on a brewery tour. It was again a nasty rainy day. We think it will be better later in the week. First we visited Skegway, a seaside town. We approached from the north. It is an old town with a big clock tower. Full of take out food shops with Cornish Pasties and Meat pies and sweets. Tons of pinball emporiums, cheap clothing, beach stuff, charity second hand stores. AND I’ve never seen so many motorized wheelchairs and elderly people. Luther says that’s why the shops are full of cheap junk so the old folks think they are getting a deal. OK, I know we are probably considered elderly but we are not yet as elderly as these people were. Just north of this part of town are the enormous caravan parks, mobile homes used as holiday houses parked chock a block with roofs as far as you can see. Also tacky restaurants with karaoke nights and a huge water park and enormous amusement park with the biggest rollercoaster I’ve ever seen. Who sez the British can’t do tacky?

We headed up to visit the Bateman brewery in Wainfleet All Saints. Brewing since 1874. We took the tour which was quite fun and afterward we had a light lunch in the cafe. Luther found their ales quite good! Especially the XXXB.

Luther….studying.
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The bar was inside an old windmill, so it was round.

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For dinner we went to the Blacksmith’s Arms. It was a couple of miles from our Cottage. Nice pub! Front room crowded with locals drinking and chatting. We were seated in one of the dining rooms and Luther had the mixed grill and I had the chicken breast. Both quite nice. Luther’s had everything but the kitchen sink in it. On the way out all the people sitting around the front room, mostly on benches were so curious where we came from.

Finally the day was nicer on Friday. We had reservations to visit the RAF Scampton airbase just north of Lincoln. This was where the Dambusters missions came from. They blew up dams in Germany in the Second World War. There was a movie made about it back in the 50s. They had to come up with all sorts of innovative solutions for the plan to work. They sent 19 missions…only 11 came back. So many men lost. The base is also home to the Red Arrows, the British aerobatic team similar to our Blue Angels. Just our luck, they had flown out the day before we came, to go to Greece to practice in better climes.

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Two Red Arrows and a stunt plane

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Luther sitting at Guy Gibson’s desk. He was the head of the operations. He had a dog, a black Labrador. His name rhymes with Digger. A funny thing happened while we were in the hanger. Digger had gotten hit by a car and they carried him back on a wooden bed. We were standing by this bed and suddenly, out of nowhere, a black Labrador came running around the corner. I think our guides were the most affected. It was like seeing a ghost!IMG_1210

For lunch we went to the Dambusters Pub. I had fish and chips again and Luther had a sandwich. We stopped in Waitrose, a really nice supermarket in England. I bought a few things to bring home. We also bought half of a jerk chicken to cook for dinner which was very good. Another good day.

Saturday dawned beautiful with blue skies and puffy clouds. We were touring National Trust properties today. But first…a mission. I am partnering with a friend, Angela, in a garden venture in Umbertide. I want to grow sweet corn. She has land. I’m paying for the man to prepare the soil. Angela asked me to find horseradish, parsnips, and runner beans for her. So we had to visit a couple of nurseries before we found them. Yay!

Then we headed out to see Tattershall Castle. We could go for free because when you rent a National Trust cottage you get free entry to nearby Trust properties. It was beautiful and imposing and the history was great which I will not go into here.

Church near the castle on the walk there.
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Church from the castle.church_from_castle

There is a funny story about the fireplaces in the castle. The castle was a ruin when a gentleman bought it and meant to restore it. When he paid for it he went and saw that all the fireplaces had been removed. He said “where are my fireplaces?”. Come to find out someone had taken them all out, crated them up and they were on the dock due to be shipped to America. He paid 2,700 pounds for the castle…and 5,500 pounds to get the fireplaces back! This is one of them.fireplace

Then we started back to our neighborhood, looking for a pub in Croft a sibling of the brewery we visited. We found it but it was closed. So we headed to Burgh le Marsh where we had lunch at the Bell. I tried their Piri Piri chicken which was yum. Spicy!

More studying…
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We returned and took the Gunby Hall house tour. It was in the Massingberd family for 250 years and nearly all their belongings are still in the house. The story is that the family fell on hard times, having to sell lands and even personal things like family portraits. Lucky for them the tenants bought them and returned them to the family so they still remain. It is a beautiful house. And the gardens can’t be beat.
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This evening we had pasta from the left over salmon with snow peas, onions and garlic…it was good enough.

Sunday was bright but very blustery. We had planned nothing for the day other than a Carvery lunch at the Blacksmith Arms. It was good, if typical but then I knew it would be! For dinner we have left overs, some cold cuts, bread and a pear for a picnic of sorts.

Observation. Lincolnshire is beautiful if a bit old fashioned. Usually, if you do your research you can find gastro-pubs or otherwise good pubs with excellent food. Not so here. Stuck in their ways with heavy, not-so-good food. It didn’t feel like any thought or effort went into it, just going through the motions. We left and drove south and got into Essex where we stopped at The Eight Bells for lunch. Lovely salad and a burger. Nicely prepared with care. So I’ll avoid areas like Lincolnshire from now on.

We enjoyed our trip!

Torino-Turin

Last week we took a short jaunt to Torino which is the capital of the Piedmonte region of Italy. It is also home of the Shroud of Turin. The Shroud is only viewable occasionally and was not while we were there. That was OK as I didn’t really want to see it.

We rented an apartment from VRBO. it was a spacious one bedroom with large modern bath, living room and small kitchen. It also had a nice balcony. Unfortunately we had quite a bit of rain while there so the balcony was not usable. We were, however, in a perfect location right in one of the main piazzas and just next to the Egyptian museum. I did not take any pictures of the city mainly because of the weather. Torino is the headquarters of Fiat so outside the Centro is quite industrial. It is also the birthplace of the Slow Food movement.

Since it was raining a lot we spent a lot of time in the museums. The Eqyptian Museum is said to be the 2nd best in the world. It was pretty spectacular. Some of the many pictures.

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We had a light lunch at Enoteca. Yummy burrata salad.

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We also visited the museum of the Cinema. In the early days of the movies Torino had more than 100 movie studios. The museum was in a spectacular dome shaped building which had kind of a free style elevator. There was a square hole in the floor and in the ceiling. The elevator was all glass and appeared and disappeared through these holes, hanging from the cables through the center of the dome. Here are a couple of pictures. IMG_0055_sm IMG_0054_sm

This is the museum within the dome. IMG_0048_sm

We had two nice dinners while there, one at Del Cambio and the other at Ristorante Solferino. Solferino specialized in Piedmontese specialties. Del Cambio was a one star Michelin restaurant. Excellent everything here.

We went there and back on the train. Intercity from here to Florence and then the fast FrecciaRossa from there. I liked Torino. I did not love it. I don’t know that I would go back.

Mid-winter trip

To break up our cold, dreary winter we decided to go on a little 3 night trip to Venice. I have been five times before but never in the winter. Everyone says it’s better in winter because it doesn’t smell. I say, balderdash! I have been in hot June and never ever picked up any odor from the canals. A bum wrap for sure.

We took the regional train from nearby Terontola to Florence. There we got the fast Frecciarosa train. It has 4 classes of travel. We opted for Business, one step down from top. It was a lovely quiet trip as no one was in our entire car but us! Arrived in 3.5 hours. Low stress.

We arrived in Venice around 3:30 PM and took the Vaporetto number 1 which goes all the way down the Grand Canal. Here’s the bustling Grand Canal at the train station.
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We got off at Ca’ Rezzonico. This we were told to do by the people we rented our flat from. Julia, a nice college student, met us there and showed us the way. And then she showed us around the apartment. It was a one bedroom, living room, kitchen and bath. Nice enough if a bit dark. There were only two windows and the Living Room had no window at all. Kind of cave-like. It was, however, in our neighborhood of choice, the Dorsoduro.

Vegetable boat.
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Our neighborhood. Loved this yellow building.
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During our trip we visited the Peggy Guggenheim museum mainly to see the Tancredi Parmegiani exhibit. He was an abstract artist from about 1946-1964. Amazing works and very diverse. He became a protege of Peggy Guggenheim. She probably made his career. He was very talented…and troubled. He committed suicide in 1964. We also visited the Accademia Museo. It was full of many religious paintings plus some non-secular works to include a small exhibit of Hieronymous Bosch. Here are some of the sights along the way.
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Our efforts to find good food were thwarted several times. The first dinner, we tried to go to a place advertised as open…but they were on winter vacation. A hazard when traveling in the winter I guess. We settled on a place nearby which was average at best. Next day we tried to go the Ennotecca San Marco and they were closed for renovation. Drat. We ended up near La Fenice at a place called Vino Vino. We figured it would be bad but it was quite nice with nice servers and decent food and wine. Here’s the interior. Early brothel decor.
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That evening we got lucky and got in one of our choices, Estro Vino e Cucina. Quite good wine bar with food. And on the last day we had a wonderful time meeting with our friend Jed and his husband Simone who live in nearby Treviso. We had a lovely dinner at Anice Stellato, their recommendation. Fun to see them.

Our weather was sunny all the way through. It was pretty cold though. Blustery sometimes, but in the sun it was pleasant. Some cold, looking tourists on a Gondola ride.
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US wedding, addendum

I forgot a big part of my trip. I forgot to say I got to visit my sister…twice! Once for dinner and the second an overnight and dinner at their house in Wintergreen.

It was a pretty easy and very beautiful drive from Hot Springs to Wintergreen. We went up the Maury River gorge. Gorgeous! But the prettiest part was Route 56 up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. That road has many hickory trees and maples. They were at their peak color and it was breathtaking. Brilliant golds, yellows, and reds. The parkway was pretty too and surprisingly nearly empty on a Sunday.

We had lunch at Devil’s Backbone, a brewery we all like and she made a delicious chili for dinner. When we left the next morning I had packed up the numerous things I had ordered and had sent to her house. Thank you Cindy! We stopped on the way to the airport and bought some hard to impossible to find items from the grocery store…zip-locks and Aluminum foil (natch), cranberries for Thanksgiving, brown sugar, cocoa powder, oh and Grape Nuts (I had been craving them). Our suitcases overflowed.

A US wedding trip

We are just back from our trip to the US to help celebrate our nephew’s wedding. A good time was had by all.

We arrived in DC on a Sunday and crashed. Then we did a couple of days sightseeing and a day of shopping. We visited the newly re-opened Smithsonian Gallery of Art – East Wing. The building is in itself a work of art designed by I.M. Pei.

3000It’s only flaw was a limited amount of exhibit space. With this redesign it now has much expanded space and they opened two of the three towers. On the roof terrace is a big blue chicken sculpture by German artist Katharina Fritsch.dsc06475

We also got to see the recently de-scaffolded US Capital building. When we moved away it was completely covered. Now it gleams in the sun. It has never looked this good.

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We dined on some ethnic food to include Oyamel, a great Mexican place, and Rappahannock Oyster bar which has world class farmed oysters. We’ve missed them! The big splurge was Komi which many said should have received a Michelin star in the recently published guide. I will say it was mighty fine. There is no menu. They bring about 12 courses, starting small and getting bigger as they go along. So good. And we elected to get the wine pairing. We never do this but we were glad we did. The sommelier is excellent and all the wait staff made us feel very special. Recommend it.

On Thursday we rented a car and drove to The Homestead in Hot Springs, VA – about a 3 1/2 hour drive. We attended the beautiful wedding of our nephew, Dave and his bride Shira. It was a Jewish ceremony although our nephew is Christian. It was lovely. I did not take pictures. It was outside and the weather was fine. We partied into the night. I wish this young couple all the best in life.

While there we strolled the grounds and played a rousing game of mini-golf with Luther’s brothers family who were there from California. Again, the weather was perfect. The trees were beautiful.

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We are back home and I am happy to say we have finished our travels for this year. I am glad to be home in tranquil Umbertide. Long trip back. While we were gone there were three (!) earthquakes of 5.6, 6.1 and 6.6 on the Richter scale. No damage in Umbertide but in the mountains just 40 miles away is devastation. So much lost. One of my favorite cathedrals collapsed in the town of Norcia. Here is the picture I took about 2 years ago. Sadly it is almost totally destroyed. My heart goes out to the people. The one good bit of news is, no one was killed.

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On our way home we stopped for provisions. I spied, of all things(!) corn on the cob! Now, if you’ve been reading this you know I have searched for decent sweet corn since our first summer here. I found some inedible this past summer. So I slyly put my finger nail into a kernel and lo and behold! it squirted juice. This meant it wasn’t totally gone to starch. I notice they are grown in Umbria so are local. I bought two cobs and cooked them last night. They were decent! Sweet. Not as good a fresh summer corn but, good. The only thing that puzzles me is…it’s November! I mean who heard of corn in November?dsc06501

Coincidentaly, I had ordered corn to be sent to my sister. I picked it up on our trip so next year I will have corn! I hope to find someone with garden space to lend or rent. But one of these packets has “Container Corn”. It can be grown in pots! So next year my terrace will be farm-like. I am pretty excited about this!
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White Roads…and wine!

We are just back from a fun quick trip to Montalcino in Toscana. This town/area is famous for the Brunello di Montalcino, a wine from just this small area of the world. And, of course, very famous and it draws many visitors. That said, the town of Montalcino was a nice hill-town. It had its share of tourists (mostly American) but seemed to have it’s own life and locals living their lives within the walls. I read a book called “Vanilla Beans and Brodo” about life in this town. Pretty good for Italy fans.

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We visited two wineries on the way. Little did we know almost all the wineries in this area are on White Roads. These are gravel roads that are not meant for a car like ours. We also should have called for appointments. The first one, Innocenti the person was not there until afternoon. But along this White Road I snapped some spectacular pictures. The day was just perfect. Look at that sky!
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We visited Sasso di Sole winery on the way back down the white road. Their wine was pretty good. We bought some. The nice woman there recommended a restaurant down the road a bit. It was in a spa, or hot spring town called Bagno Vingnoni. It was lovely. The main part of the little town surrounds the walled in spring which is where the main, hot spring surges up from underground. You can see the bubbles roiling the water. Surrounding this area are restaurants and spa buildings. We visited Il Loggiato and had a very tasty hamburger of Chianina beef, the famous white cattle of Tuscany. Perfect lunch outside under blue skies. Nice. I would never have known to go here! Very below the radar.

This is the penned up spring.
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Water really bubbles up from below.dsc06452

My burger. Unconventional bun with olive oil, But why not!?  dsc06454
After the spring bubbles up it flows underground and out into spillways where people sun bathe and soak for free.  dsc06459

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Finally flows into this river.
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Water running down the wall for probably centuries has built up quite a mineral deposit.
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We returned to Innocenti and this time we got to try their wines. Nice man. I was amused by the fact that he asked us after the wine tasting if we wanted to taste the olive oil. I said I preferred Umbrian oil so no thank you. Well after we had purchased some wine he brought out a bottle of the oil and gave it to me as a “gift”. Ha. I guess he was miffed at my comment and was going to try to get me to change my mind about my preference. Sweet.

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We arrived in Montalcino in late afternoon. We stayed in a hotel on the edge of town which advertised “free parking”. We drove the Porsche and when the proprietor saw it he said maybe we shouldn’t try to drive to his parking. Turns out the road had been badly washed out and a car like ours had a VERY hard time getting down it. We did but it was not pretty. We did drag the undercarriage a few times. The hotel was quite nice called Vecchia Oliviera. The proprietor was nice. Rooms very spacious with really pretty views. Not many people were staying there. We could easily walk to everything in town.

Misty morning view from our room.
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That evening we walked up into town to a restaurant called Drogheria Franci where we had a good meal which was not traditional Tuscan. A little more innovative than one would expect. The town of Montalcino is not very big but on a hill. At the top was the Fortress. We were near this.

Next day we were off on quests for more wine. We were off on yet another White Road! After 3 or 4 kilometers we finally got there. This one was called Fattoi. A nice young girl gave us a tasting (it was 10 am!). We bought some wine and headed out to find more. The countryside in this part of Tuscany is extremely diverse. It ranges from verdant wine areas to barren wasteland. I do not know why this is.

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We were unsuccessful in finding our next winery. It seemed to be on a White Road that was impassable without a 4 wheel drive. Resigned, we returned to Montalcino. We visited an enoteca which was also a restaurant. It filled up quickly and I only heard American voices. The lunch was quite good and the views were killer across the valley. Back to our room for a nap.

Lunch.
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That evening we had reservations at Osteria di Porta al Cassero. It was up near the Fortress. Food more traditional Tuscan. Very nice place.

All in all a nice getaway. I am a little tired of traveling and am looking forward to staying home for a couple of weeks.

My sisters visit and a trip report

I was so happy Cindy, my sister, and her husband Bill could come to visit for almost 2 weeks! We picked them up in Rome at the airport and they came back with us to Umbria for a few days. The weather was quite nice. Not too hot and sunny all the time.

The first day we visited Spoleto. Cindy and Bill had never been there. It is a lovely old place and is known for it’s jazz festival in the summer. It was nice that the city has a system of escalators that take you to different levels in the city to include the top where the fortress is. We visited the fortress and the aqueduct. Here are a couple of pictures.

The aqueduct. Due to the recent earthquake here in Umbria you couldn’t walk acrosss it anymore. They will assess it to decide if it is safe.
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Inside and outside of the fortress
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The second day we visited Todi. It is a beautiful hill town south of us. Very picturesque. This was good because my sis had gotten a new gigantic camera and lenses. She did a LOT of picture taking. We had a really nice lunch at Ristoranti Umbria, a very traditional Umbrian place. We have been there several times ourselves but not with Cindy and Bill. They have a beautiful outside terrace with major views.

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Just one of the dishes we had.
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Street scenes.
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We spent Wednesday enjoying the market and shopping. We had lunch with friends up in Montone.

The next day was a travel day for us all. We took the train from Foligno to Rome Termini and from there took the FrecciaRossa, the fast luxury train to Naples. Here was where it got interesting. We rented a car (!) and drove out of the city. I have to hand it to Luther, he was masterful. You have to be both careful and aggressive. There are no real traffic signals or signs anywhere. It is every man for himself. We exited the garage and immediately entered an enormous stream of cars probably 5 lanes across…not that there are actual lanes mind you. We had to get from the right side to the left across this mess. There were cars, vespas and buses. We clipped a bus with our mirror as it tried to cut us off. Luther swerved and jumped in front. Bravo! Cindy said she totally “got” why we didn’t want to drive our car down there. It took over an hour to get out of town! We finally managed it and headed for Positano, stopping on the way for supplies. Then for the second part of the driving adventure(?) – the Amalfi coastal drive. Downright terrifying. We managed to get to Positano and find the parking lot and meet up with the nice lady letting us in, and showing us around our rented apartment. It was up about 95 steps of varying heights and depths. All carrying our luggage and our groceries. Whew!

Well it was nice to get there and kick back for a bit. We were situated very high up and were across from another hillside. Positano is a town built up the three hills with ravines in between them. We also had a sea view if not as expansive as we had hoped. Here are a couple of pics from the terrace.
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dsc06212Sea view.

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Pretty magical at night.
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See that little restaurant right at the bottom? Every night they played jazz or schlocky Italian music. It wafted up to us. In fact the whole street scene on the other side was like being in Rear Windows. It was cool.
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The bad thing was that we took our landlady’s advice to walk to the restaurant on the beach. Since we had just gotten there we had no idea how far down it was. Well let me tell you, it was VERY FAR down!! And once there, neither the food, nor the service was good. One thing I’ll mention here. Every so often we run into a restaurant, mostly in a tourist area, that will tell us the service is not included. Of course they always know we are American so are scamming us since we are used to tipping. That said, the service charge is ALWAYS included. And the wait staff do not work for tips. They are paid a decent wage, unlike servers in the US. So DO NOT fall for this scam. If you really like the service then leave a small tip or round up the check. This restaurant told us this when we were seated. It always leaves a bad taste in my mouth…but the food wasn’t so good either! TripAdvisor heard from me on this one. The next bad thing is we had to get BACK to our apartment. We decided to count the steps. We stopped every 100 steps to catch our breaths. It was 522 steps(!) a LOT of steps. After this miss-adventure we always walked down the road. MUCH easier!

The first day there we went to Pompeii. We drove and it was OK. It was a zoo. So many people and tours. The tour guides talked over each other and you couldn’t hear. It was hot. Last time I was there 20 years ago it was totally empty. We practically had it to ourselves. What a difference. I am finding this to be the case at all tourist places here. It was not the best experience but Cindy an Bill got to see it. Just a couple of pictures of the many I took.

One of the mosaics in a villa.
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The forum.
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The hot baths. This where they heated water and steam was.
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Poignant dog. At Pompeii when they found a hollow area in the solidified dust they pumped in plaster to make casts of the bodies of people who had died and been buried. This was a dog who had been chained up. He died a ghastly death.
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We had a surprisingly good lunch at a Pizza place right outside the ruins. The pizza was from a wood fired oven and we sat in a pleasant outside terrace. The best part was they validated our parking!

The following day we had decided to take the boat to Capri. It was a lovely trip. Took 30 minutes. Pretty coastal views.

Positano cascading down the hill
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Positano
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The cliffs. Click on this picture and look closely…right in the center there is a tour bus parked up on the Amalfi Coast drive. This should give you an idea of the drive and how scary it is…especially when you come face to face with an enormous bus on a curve…yikes!
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Capri was, again, a madhouse. Jammed with day trippers (like us). From where the boats let you off you have a choice of taking the Funicular or a taxi. There was a total mob scene at the Funicular so we grabbed a taxi. TOTALLY worth it. And they are all convertibles! Nice! We wandered the streets, taking pictures, stopped at a cafe in the main square for a drink and people watching, and picked out a restaurant.

When we arrived in the port we were impressed with a five masted ship. One of the WindStar cruise fleet called the WindSurf. Beautiful!
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View of the harbor from Capri Town.
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A couple of the street scenes. Pretty.
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And it would not be complete without a couple of food pictures!
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The next day we decided to treat ourselves with a day spent in our town of Positano. I should mention the weather has been TERRIFIC! We wandered around town. Visited the two art museums. Walked along the beach. Stopped for a drink on the terrace of the Palazzo Murat. I should mention that Luther and I stayed here 20 years ago on our own trip to Positano. It was beautiful with it’s own lemon grove, which is, sadly, gone now. The place is much fancier that when we were here but it is the best location in town!

These next three are of the Palazzo Murat’s terrace.
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When you drink wine they bring a lovely tray of goodies.
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This is the view of the beach from our choice for lunch. It was a very nice place with good food. A bit pricey but it kept the crowds away!
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The food was so good I had to include the picture of my dish. The pasta was very obviously house made and perfectly al dente. The seafood was exquisite. May have been my favorite meal.
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This is the church dome from on the way back to our apartment.
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Next day we were off in the car to Paestum. Only bad thing it was about 2 1/2 hours south and it meant we had to drive the entire Amalfi coast drive. Cindy and Bill got to see it anyway. It was stressful on our driver. Paestum was a Greek settlement from around 600 BC. It is one of the best preserved examples of the temples they built, the town around them, etc.

First is the Temple of Ceres. Originally dedicated to Athena. It was built in the 6th century BC.
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We walked the length of the town and marveled at the road. Reminiscent of the roads in Pompeii.
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Arch into the amphitheater. Again, reminiscent of Pompeii. They built in a honey comb pattern and combined different materials. Here, stone and brick. Amazing after all these years.
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Next is the temple of Neptune dating from 450 BC. I was trying to capture the scale of these columns! They are massive!
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Same temple and the best preserved one with several sets of colonnades. Two would have been inside the temple, the others are the outside ones.
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Finally the Temple to goddess Hera. It is the oldest surviving monument dating from the middle of the 6th century BC. It has 9 columns across and 18 along the sides.
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Cindy wanted a picture of the final of the 95 steps leading up to our apartment. Every one was a different height and width.dsc06408

We left Positano the next day, heading for Rome and the airport. We stopped along the way at Herculaneum or Ercolano. This is another of the four towns destroyed during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. I had always wanted to see it. Happily it was not as crowded as Pompeii. It was destroyed by pyroclastic flows which preserved it perfectly even down to the carbonized wood. It was buried under 20 meters (60 feet) of ash. The pyroclastic surge formed by ash and hot gases and moving at 100 MPH buried the city. In Pompeii heat was the main cause of death. I took a lot of pictures. Here are a few.

View from ground level. See how deep it was buried? And see what is looming in the background? Yes, Vesuvius.
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Example of a balcony of wood. It is carbonized black but still standing.
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The town streets.
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Interior of the mens bath. This was a shelf where they could put their sandals and tunics before going into the baths.
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Also the baths with mosaic floor.
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This was a very wealthy seacoast town. Much richer than Pompeii. They lived very well. This is an atrium open to the sky with a rain water basin in the center. The mosaics were deformed by the seismic activity before the eruption.
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Throughout the town were fast food stores. The clay basins were kept warm with fires underneath and each had a different dish.
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It was thought until very recently that the town was evacuated because the actual eruption took place the day before and Herculaneum was not destroyed until the massive column of ash collapsed the next day. But now they have found 300 skeletons at what was once the sea shore. They had all fled there only to be buried. I felt a bit voyeuristic taking these photos.
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Sadly Cindy and Bill left the next day after we spent the night in Fiumicino and had a nice seafood dinner. Happy trails!

Portugal

Another trip report so skip if you are not interested.

Portugal. We arrived at about 7PM in Lisbon where we rented a tiny Fiat 500 and drove about 80 kilometers to the town of Obidos. We had rented a room in a B&B there. We arrived at about 9:15 and went right out to dinner as we were famished. Our innkeeper, Carlos, recommended a place very nearby called Restaurante O Caldeirao. We had their fresh fish which was OK. At least we weren’t hungry anymore and it was good that the Portuguese eat late. But not as late as in Spain.

The next morning we got on the road and drove the more than 200 km to the town of Tabuado. It was pretty hard to find. We had Google maps directions but the road that we turned on was unmarked. We turned right on the only road of any size we saw and found the Villa. It was called Quinta da Varzea de Cima. We met up with two Australian couples Jeff and Kaye and Steve and Shiromi. Both couples had visited us in Italy. We also met their friends Rhonda and Rob, also Australian. The villa had 6 bedrooms but we only used 4 of them. They were all comfortable and the villa itself was quite beautiful.

It had it’s own chapel.
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Our room was to the right at the top of the stairs.
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There were several outside tables and chairs.
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They had a spring.
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This was the amazing chimney. See all the holes at the top?
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Below was the old cooking area with three things, a hearth, and what looks like two different types of oven.
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If you look at the hill across from me you can see one of the many scorched areas from fires. Apparently it is normal. It was parched!
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Big barrel made into a bar.
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As soon as we arrived we all piled into the cars and went to the town of Amarante, which was about 30 minutes, by tortuous road, away. We had lunch in a beautiful restaurant on the Tamega river. Here are some views.
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On Wednesday we drove down to the Douro river. This is the main area where the port wines are grown. We were headed for the town of Peso da Regua. Due to operator error we ended up WAY up in the hills in the little villages all through the vineyards. It was a bit nerve wracking since we were two cars following each other and the roads were very narrow. But Shiromi and I were very happily lost as we got some stunning pictures we never would have gotten. Take a look!

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The town way down there is where we were trying to reach.
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Here we all were trying to figure out where the hell we were!
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Peso da Regua was a bustling town. Very hot and we had quite a bit of walking to do. I took a few pictures of the interesting doors and buildings. In Portugal you see tiles everywhere! This was a bar.
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Interesting door with tiles above.dsc06030

Derelict building with tiles.
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Pretty garden in town with beautiful tiles on the building.dsc06017

In this town we had trouble finding a place with room for 8 to have lunch. We finally did but it turned out to be a pretty amusing lunch. We were kind of late so they had run out of much food. The waitress was visibly annoyed when none of us wanted salad. Then when asked for things she said all gone. She pointed to what was left. It was very Monte Python-esque. We did finally get fed.

Thursday we spent just enjoying the villa and relaxing. Lunch was lovely cold cuts and cheese alla casa. We had what they call Mortadella but it would never past muster in Italy, the birthplace of mortadella bolognese. It had olives embedded in the meat and when sliced, there were slices of olives rather than the squares of fat mandated in Italy. Nice day.

Friday we headed back to Lisbon for three nights. The city was nice…I guess. Very crowded. We couldn’t get into many sights due to the crowds. Good food. Nice hotel in a very good location.

Traditional tile-covered building.
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In main square by the port.dsc06127

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A parade we happened upon.dsc06123

How did they do that to the horses rumps?dsc06121

The monastery. Very ornate.
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The city is built on two hills. The middle is flat. They have streetcars going up.dsc06104

A neighborhood near the castle.
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Old tiledsc06086

Castle
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The sidewalks and plazzas are intricately tiled. These make the plazza look like waves.
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Brilliant fountain in the sun.dsc06061

I got pick pocketed on our last night They are Good! Unzipped my purse as I walked and took my wallet. I realized it quickly and called the CC companies but they had already charged thousands. And all in Central America. Who knows how it all works. Do they sell the numbers? Anyway, the good thing at the time was that I had used the ATM earlier and had not replaced the card or cash in the wallet so he didn’t get that. I was not carrying our passports but my wallet had my codice fiscale, Permesso, health card and VA drivers license. Rats. Next day I filed a police report. Apparently this is common there. The best news is someone found my documents! The police brought them to my hotel just before we were leaving. The other good news is I needed a new wallet anyway. I guess I’d gotten complacent and my guard was down. Lessons learned…do not carry all my stuff with me and split the credit cards between us. Also hold the purse with my hand and keep it in front of me.

Oh I forgot to mention we got ripped off by a cab driver upon arrival.

We had a 7:30 PM flight which arrived in Rome at 11.:30PM.  So we got home at 3am. Ugh! I think I I’ll lobby not to arrive at midnight in Rome.

Final thoughts. We loved seeing Steve, Shiromi, Kay and Jeff. We enjoyed meeting the third couple, Rob and Rhonda. It was fun to cook together for dinners and tour around with them. So that part was nice. Lisbon…not so much. When we return we will stay in the Duoro valley which was green, vine filled and beautiful. It was incredibly hot everywhere we went. I think I’ll forgo summer travel to cities. Crowded and too hot. Portuguese is one weird language. Supposed to be a Romance language but they way it is pronounced makes it sound almost Russian. We could read quite a bit of it. Lots of accents and pronunciation a mystery to us.

Road Trip!!

This is another trip report so skip it if you are not interested.

We four, Luther, me, Susan and Gary, left Umbertide at around 9:30 on a Sunday headed for Ljubljana, Slovenia and ultimately Krakow, Poland. We brought a picnic but it’s darn near impossible to find a place with tables or seating. We finally stopped short of the border and sat on benches. It was very hot but we found some shade. We arrived at the Grand Hotel Union. It was in a great location just steps from the triple bridge across the Ljubljana river. It was very hot and we took a rest before venturing out to find dinner. It was Sunday so many places were closed. We found Gujzina, a Slovenian restaurant along a pedestrian street. We sat outside. Our server was super helpful with food descriptions and wine recommendations. Took lots of time with us. We had a superb bowl of cold cucumber soup. It was oh so refreshing on such a hot day, afterwards we had among the four of us: venison, trout, and pork cutlets. The food was not gourmet but fine for a casual dinner. My trout was over salted but I did not complain. We were treated to bowls of vanilla ice cream on the house. One speciality here was pumpkin oil. We had never heard of it. We had it first with the bread like when you get olive oil for dipping. It was very dark green, almost black. A bit off-putting but wow what a flavor. They toast the pumpkin seeds before making the oil. Then later the waiter drizzled it on our ice cream. Amazing sensational taste! I would never have thought. Anyway, each couple bought some to take home.

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The next day we had a great breakfast and walked to Tivoli park. We saw the US embassy in an odd looking building. We visited Pravoslavna cerkev, Saints Cyril and Methodius Church. Eastern Orthodox. It had five domes topped with crosses and was beautiful inside and out.

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We walked through the the market and visited the dragon bridge. And we found a nice little place for lunch in an alley with a much appreciated breeze. We again had cold cucumber soup and salads. Very refreshing. By now we were done for so retreated to our rooms to recover.

Dragon bridge.
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This night we had reservations in Valvas’or. We enjoyed a sparkling wine as we chose our food. The chef sent an amuse bouche of puréed essence of tomato with a bit of soft white cheese, nice. Our waiter was excellent in recommending wines. We are seasoned wine people but did not know Slovenian wines well. All choices were excellent and fairly priced. The food was all very good.

We decamped our nice stay in Ljubljana and headed north to Bratislava, Slovakia. It is situated on the Danube River and we stayed in the Marrol Hotel. We had stayed here last year and found it nice enough. We dined in the Houdini restaurant in the hotel our first night. Since we were last here this restaurant has been refurbished. It looks great and the food was very good. The servers are very nice and very knowledgeable and helpful. I started with a cool, sliced veal with arugula and anchovy mayonaise. Very tasty and just the right size. Then I chose the chicken breast. It was baked and served on a bed of roasted vegetables with quinoa. The chicken was not dry. Very moist. An interesting dish and quite healthy. Others in our group had tuna tartar to start. For entrees one had lamb on a purée of squash, one had baked baked salmon which he liked. A good choice.

Next day we did a walking tour of the town. Someone tried to get into my backpack but I could feel her pulling on the straps. Two youngish women pretended to be looking at a plate in the ground when I turned and found the zipper open. I didn’t say anything…should have. Slovakia has the EU presidency right now and there was a huge roped off area for dignitaries. We walked along the river and had refreshments outside.
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Then we went off to find lunch. We had our eye on a gastro pub called Mestianske Pivovary. They have inside and outside seating. Big building with pipes and open duct work. The beer was super fresh, naturally and the food was good enough. We were there for lunch so stuck with schnitzels and fries. They were tasty. Nice place.
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We had dinner in Zylinder. It is on the leafy green mall in the center of town. It was cool and raining so we couldn’t sit outside. There was a large table and we were afraid we’d have trouble getting served but all was perfect. Our waitress was great. We had Schnitzels, one had dumplings light as air. The wines were good and we had a lot of fun. Not fine dining but good for a basic meal.

Off to the farthest point in the trip, Kraków Poland. I was a little worried about this one as the rooms were apartments on a restricted street. I’ll have to hand it to Chloe, our GPS, she got us there. We had to drive right through the large and very crowded with people, horse carriages and cafes, main square. We found the apartments and got our luggage up two or three flights of stairs. The woman at the desk gave us directions to the parking. We missed it the first time but – after another harrowing trip through the square(!) we found it and – parked for the duration.

I should mention it was downright cold here. The first thing we did was buy some warm clothes. Also we had a lot of rain throughout the stay. Definitely not my idea of July. It was not common, there was an enormous front that came through while we were there.

The first night we visited Kawaleria for dinner and were pleased with our choice. They had a guitarist playing and it was a nice touch. The service was excellent. We had only one course each but they were pleasant. My quiche was a bit thin but the salad with it was good. One got the cold cucumber soup which was surprisingly spicy. One got the salmon perogies which he liked and finally the baked salmon fillet which he thought was only OK. We had wine and fun. Not the best place in the world but quite pleasant and reasonably priced.

The next day we had arranged a tour of Auschwitz/Birkenau. We were picked up by a bus and the ride was nearly two hours to the camps. We had a guide who was very good. It was a depressing experience but we had known it would be. So horrible what happened… 1.1 million Jews were exterminated there. We saw whole rooms of hair, eyeglasses, shoes, clothes. We looked at the pictures of the people who were strong enough to work. Yet they rarely lasted more than three months due to conditions in the camp, poor nutrition and hard manual labor. I looked into the eyes of the lost souls and was moved to tears. Each one looking straight into the camera and thus into my eyes. I learned that they took photos of people when they started to work and that in a month or two they were unrecognizable. This prompted the tattoos to identify them even when emaciated. We must never forget.

Arbeit Mach Frei – work makes you free – on the gate
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No words necessary
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The one bright spot. Gallows on which the former camp commandant was hung, within sight of the villa where he and his family lived.
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This is the platform where the arriving would get sorted. Thumb to right, gas chamber. Thumb to the left, work until you die.
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This train car is one of the originals. It was found and donated by a Jewish man whose father died in Auschwitz.
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When the Nazis knew they were going to lose they tried to destroy evidence of the exterminations. This is what is left of one of the crematoriums.
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The pit in the very back was the gas chamber.
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There were over 300 buildings. The wooden ones are gone with just the foundations and chimneys left.
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We visited Resto Illuminati for dinner this night. Our nice waitress spoke decent English and was very attentive. The menu was quite small. There were two soups, about four appetizers and four entrees but we had no problem finding things we liked. Susan ordered the cold beetroot soup. It arrived and it was a shocking, bright pink! But its taste was sublime. Others had the perogies and for entrees we tried the trout fillets with risotto, tagliatelle with chanterelles and rabbit. The pasta was perfectly al dente as was the risotto with a nice chewy bite. Good wine list. Zabaglione for dessert to share. A very very pleasant meal.

This day we walked to Warwel castle where the Princes of the kingdom lived. We toured the state rooms. It was pretty impressive. After that we decided to do the little golf cart tours they have here. There are four areas – Old town, Jewish quarter, Shindlers factory, the Jewish ghetto. We went for the first two. We had an interesting 20 year old driver from the Ukraine. He played a recorded tour for the places we visited but was very sweet and talkative. We all liked him. It was a good investment as we saw some things we wouldn’t have seen.

Dinner this evening was at Kogel Mogel. It is just off the main square in the Old Town. Very popular so reserve. We had a good waitress who gave us attentive service. All of my table mates enjoyed their food but I did not like the beef cheeks entree. Very thick, dark, unappealing sauce with strong flavors, none too tender beef.

Castle pictures.
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We all enjoyed Kraków and agreed another day would have been good.

Next day we headed back south homeward bound. We stopped in Durnstein Austria. It sits on the Danube River and is very pretty. We had rooms in the Richard Loewenhertz hotel. It is just next to where Richard the Lionhearted was held hostage for nearly 10 years. I had a soft spot for it from a trip 30 years ago…my first to Europe. We had lunch there. It is pretty old fashioned but I still liked it. We had a nice dinner the first evening in the hotel. It was still too cool for the terrace…too bad as it’s lovely. The food was nice. All four of us enjoyed our meal. The wines were local and very good and the service attentive.

The next day, not wanting to drive anywhere, we decided to take the boat trip up-River to Melk. The river is a fast flowing river so the trip upstream was about 2 1/2 hours. Coming back it was only 45 minutes. What a difference. It was nice and relaxing. Melk has an amazing church which we toured. We also had lunch there.

Views along the way.
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Melk monastery. They liked gold!
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Improbable location!
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Vineyards of the Wachau valley
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View of the iconic church in Durnstein.
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We dined In the Relais et Chateaux hotel, Schloss Durnstein. Lovely dining area on the terrace overlooking the river. We had major issues with the Maitre’d who was our server. He was inattentive, arrogant, and dismissive. We were moved to post some pretty bad ratings. There were three good things. Food was good, views were beautiful from the terrace, and the piano player was very good.

Excellent breakfast at Richard Loewenhertz and we were off winging our way south to our “children”. We all missed our pets.

We arrived in Bassano Del Grappa in the Veneto region of Italy after a long, nearly 7 hour drive. It has again gotten oppressively hot. We stayed in the Ca’Sette hotel. It has a good restaurant. I was not at all happy with our room. Not up to standards.

Dinners were excellent. We ate there both nights. We sat on the gorgeous patio overlooking the pretty grounds complete with fountains. The villa is pretty too. Other than the poor room I like this place.

Grounds.
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We also visited the town of Bassanno dell Grappa. It is cute, small and walkable. It has a pretty wooden bridge. It is the birthplace of grappa with a nice museum.

The town of Bassano del Grappa is lovely. Note the clock face has 24 hours!
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Grappa museum. The town is famous for this spirit.
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The Alpinisti bridge.
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All in all a good trip. We were happy to get back to our little Umbertide.