Category Archives: Travel

Croatia adventure – a trip report

Another trip report so skip if you are not interested!
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We had booked a eight night cruise aboard the Windstar, a small, four masted ship. The sails are computer operated. It holds 148 passengers and can visit places the bigger cruise ships cannot get to. It is also billed as a luxury cruise with a ratio of one crew to each two passengers. We’ll see what it’s like. It is our first cruise.

Sunday – Venice Italy
Arrived Venezia on the 2:20 Frecciarossa train. Hottern’ blue blazes. Got the number 2 vaporetto packed with tourists. Made it to the San Basilio dock where the Windstar was moored. But wringing wet with perspiration.

The security process was a little like an airport. They did have cold lemon water, iced tea and cookies which maybe TSA could look into. We went through the metal detector and then walked to the ship and up the stairs and were met with a big tray full of cold damp towels. Heaven. We were checked in and went to our cabin. I had opted for a room on the bow on the port side. It is a spacious room with plenty of room to put our clothes etc.

We went out exploring to get the lay of the ship. There was a mandatory safety session where we all met up with our muster groups and learned how to use the life jackets and were instructed how to evacuate the ship. The ship has two decks of staterooms, decks 1 and 2. Deck three is the main reception area with doors to go onto the tender, a small boat that takes us to and from the towns when we can’t dock. There is also a lounge where there is music in the evenings and announcements about shore excursions in the daytime, and the main restaurant called Amphora. Also on this level is a library, computer room, small casino, spa, and shop. The next deck up is deck four with the bar, small swimming pool…really small. And then there are all the deck chairs and some tables and umbrellas. The other part of this deck is the Veranda where you eat breakfast and lunch. And the front is the bridge. Above the pool is one more place to sit with great views of everything. The four tall masts march back from there.

After a shower we went up on deck to watch the “signature Windstar sailaway”. Each day when you leave the port they play beautiful stirring music. I found out it is 1492 Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis, click to listen on YouTube. Big thunderstorms were threatening. It was too windy to use the sails. The big Venice tugboats towed and turned us around then towed us out of the harbor. We blasted a loud farewell to Venice and sailed away. It was cool. We were in the upper deck bar area as were nearly everyone onboard.

We went to the dining room for dinner and it was pretty good. We had opted for the “wine package”. It gives you the choice of any wine on the list and unlimited consumption anywhere on the ship to include your room. I figured if anyone could get their money’s worth it would be us! But I noticed you ordered with dinner and then it was slow in coming. I wanted to set expectations with the wine steward so pretty much told him, when I order wine I expect it to arrive promptly. After that he was much more attentive.

I had a corn poblano soup, can’t get that in Italia! And the grilled salmon with veggies. Luther had a minestrone soup and the rib eye steak. Hadn’t seen that cut since the US. He pronounced it good. Then we went to the deck lounge where we enjoyed a spectacular sunset. The storms had wetted all the deck and furniture but there is a small under cover area. Turns out cigars are welcome so Luther enjoyed one and we had some wine and met another couple from the Bay Area who we chatted with. The four of us were the only people up there.

Windstar sailed all night. Overnight she navigated high seas and I could feel her rocking but it was rather like being rocked in my sleep. The sound of the waves as we move along is also lulling.

Four masts.
the_masts

Our tugboat towing us out of the harbor.
tugboat

Saying bye to Venezia until our return.
bye_venizia

Beautiful sunset after the storms.
sunset2

sunset1
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Monday – Opatija Croatia

The next morning we had breakfast and then moored outside of Opatija at noon. It is the oldest seaside resort on the Dalmatian coast with a 7.5 mile long promenade. We did not have a tour booked.

We had a pretty exciting transfer into Opatija. The seas were very rough so the tenders transferring us to shore were bucking up and down wildly. There were two men at the entrance into the boat who watched the oncoming waves and signaled each of us to dash aboard. All got safely on and then we road a bronco across the water to the dock. Pretty exciting.

We went out of the port and just on the edge was a restaurant with a nice outdoor space called Casa Tua. We decided to go and have lunch there. Most other passengers partook of lunch onboard but we wanted to check out the local cuisine. I had a very tasty spaghetti fruiti di mare. Sweet clams, mussels, shrimp. Luther had calamari stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella. Nice Croatian Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot noir. Really good.

Then we walked through the beautiful park along a piece of the 7.5 mile long promenade along the shore. Beautiful villas along the way. Remnants of the Hapsburg empire. Pretty flowers and palms. Many folks on the rocky, narrow beaches. Water was a brilliant aqua marine, deep blue. We strolled into town next then headed back to the boat. Took the tender back. Not quite as choppy this time. Showered and resting before the captains reception this evening. Interestingly, we have a woman captain, Belinda Bennett.
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Well, the reception was a hoot. Captain Belinda could be a comedian. Great sense of timing. She’s a large dark skinned woman from St. Helena island in the south Atlantic. All the serving staff is from the Philippines. The housekeeping staff is Indonesian. And the executive staff is from all over, France, Poland, US, Ukraine, Canada are a few I remember.

We went up on the top deck for sailaway. We met some people from Houston, Shiva, Gus, Maggie and Bill up there. They know a town called Passignano in Umbria nearby us and were excited to hear we live near there.

Dinner was all Indian for me, lamb harissa soup and a lamb Biryani dish. Luther had carpaccio and cod on a bed of rice and veggies. All good. We headed back up top so Luther could have his cigar.

My pasta at lunch.
opatija_lunch

Croatian language needs to borrow some vowels.
opatija_vino

Windstar at anchor.
opatija_windstar

Pretty beach.
opatija_surf

Part of the 7.5 mile long promenade.
opatija_promenade

Our first towel friend! Every night, during turn-down, the crew makes a cute little animal out of towels. They also leave a daily program for the following day with info on the destination, activities and shore excursions.
towelfriend1

Tuesday – Zadar Croatia
This day we docked at 9 am in Zadar which is an interesting town for walking around. It was quite nice if gawdawful hot. We walked the old town. Did a bit of shopping. Visited the Museum of Illusions and the Glass Museum. We visited several churches and cathedrals and the Roman forum which was extensive. Croatia is Roman Catholic. We had a beer and headed to the ship for lunch. Along the quay there is the Sea Harmonica. Very cool instrument with holes in the stone of the seaside promenade where the waves go in and out and make ethereal music.

Lunch was light. They have buffets and a la Carte. I opted for the Greek salad. Luther got the tuna salad. We rested and joined everyone outside for the sailaway. Still did not unfurl the sails at that time but later they were out…not all the way but three out of four.

We had arranged dinner at Candles. A special venue set up on the deck with an outside kitchen. Mostly grilled. Very good. I had beet and goat cheese salad. Not enough goat cheese, just a schmear on the plate. Then filet mignon. Nice American beef. Luther had the shrimp cocktail and veal chop. The regular restaurant is a blast from the past with old fashioned items like beef Wellington and duck a l’orange (!) Thankfully they have other things as well. The dinner at Candles was very nice. We stayed out on deck in the strong wind after dinner. Still not too cool. Just right.

Church built on the Roman forum ruins.
zadar_church_forum

They have removed the floor and you can see how the huge piers in the church are built on top of Roman wreckage like bits of columns and rocks repurposed. It looked a little unstable but its been there a while so…
zadar_church_pier

A pretty little interior harbor.
zadar_innerharbor

The market was blessedly shady but still everyone was sweltering in the heat.
zadar_markert

One of the streets in Zadar. It had not rained. This is how shiny the stones are from years of feet polishing them.
zadar_street

Wednesday – Split Croatia
We were off to visit Split this day. Hot hot hot. And very, very crowded. An old town that is ancient, pre-Roman. The ship docked at the main pier where the Ferries arrive from all the islands around here as well as the overnight ones from Ancona, Italy. We headed into the incredibly crowded old city. We skipped the cathedral, too crowded. We just wandered the streets and then the promenade along the sea. Stopped for a beer. Then headed back to the ship for lunch. There have been plenty of places to eat the last two days but just too many tourists.

The sailaway was early, at 5pm. Then later we went to dinner. There were no two-tops left so we shared a table for six and enjoyed talking to the two couples. One was from Tampa, the other Atlanta. Later we sat on the deck and watched the sea pass by. Beautiful evening. Finally it had cooled off.

Part of the church repurposed from the Roman temple.
split_church

Pretty street.
split_street

Fish market.
Split_fishmarket

Beer to cool off. Pivo means beer.
split_pivo

Promenade along the waterfront.
Split_waterfront

Thursday – Dubrovnik, Croatia.
We arrived in Dubrovnik at 9am. The Pilot boarded our ship and guided it to anchor. We can see the old town walls from the ship. We had scheduled a tour for this day. A wine tasting and city tour. I looked forward to it except for the heat. It was supposed to be 97. Just too damn hot. Later this evening was the free event for this cruise. It was to take place on a rock 665 feet above the sea. Beverages, canapés then entertainment.

The city tour was interesting, crowded and hot. It was an overview of the history and sights of the town and country of Croatia. The little country of Dalmatia was independent for 500 years but later was ruled by the Venetian and later, the Hapsburg Empire. The time between the two world wars and later, under the rule of Tito were very difficult times. Croatian population voted, by 80%, in 1989 to form their own country. It did not go well. They were attacked by the big dog in the neighborhood, Serbia who were joined by Montenegro. Dubrovnik was under siege and bombardment by the Serbians and Montenegrins for over a year in 1990-91. There was much damage and loss of life. Now they are enjoying a relatively prosperous time. I hope it continues.

Afterward we got a motor coach which took us to a winery. It was a pleasant drive along the coast with AC! All the buildings in the area were destroyed by the Serbians during the 1990 war. Most have been rebuilt.

The winery is a family operation. They let us taste three of the wines made from the local grapes. They also make Merlot and Cabernet. We had a lovely lunch of prosciutto, local cheese, olives and wonderful home baked bread. There were 18 of us from the ship.

We rode back and were dropped off. We walked to the dock and Luther and I decided to walk a bit and ended up in an air conditioned wine bar. The heat was incredible. About 100. I get soaked with sweat. No more July or August vacations for me!

Returned to our room. The shower was the high point of my day. All clean and comfy. We decided to not do the event that evening. Just too hot to go back out, get in the crowded tender, board a bus, for the event which didn’t sound worth it to us. We ordered dinner in our room. You can get anything from the dinner menu, we had two soups and lamb chops. Very tasty. Out on the top deck to watch the boat action. It was still very warm. Sailaway was not until midnight so we missed it.

The walls of Dubrovnik from the tender bringing us in.
dubrovnik_walls

These are the 1.5 mile long defensive walls built from 1,100 to 1,300. People walk them. It was way too hot for me! Not to mention there are many steps.
dubrovnik_walking_walls

From 1990 – 1991, over a year, Dubrovnik was under siege by Serbia and Montenegro. The citizens were defiant. If you look at this photo you will see the house owner who escaped his burning house raising his fist in anger. Notice the top floor window has flames coming from it. Also take note, he is wearing a cooking pot on his head. Hah! good as a helmet I guess. It was a difficult time.
dubrovnik_bombardment

One of the side streets off the main one. People live up in these streets and leave the main part of town to the tourists.
dubrovnik_street

This is said to be the Walk of Shame banister from Game of Thrones which was shot in Dubrovnik. They have entire tours for this series. I have not watched the show.
dubrovnik_gameofthrones

Windstar from up on the cliffs.
dubrovnik_windstar

View of Dubrovnik from above.
dubrovnik_fromabove

Headed back via tender to the ship.
dubrovnik_tenderride

Shot of the city at night.
dubrovnik_atnight

Friday – Korčula, Croatia
We arrived at our next port at 8am. The last port in Croatia…Korčula. We had scheduled a tour this day. Wine and Croatian delicacies. After breakfast we met up in the lounge with the other tour goers. There were only ten because of limited space which was fine with me. We tendered into shore and met our tour guide. The island and town of Korčula are beautiful. The town is small and built of pretty light tan stone with rounded towers and tiny streets. We headed right over to where our boat picked us up to cross to the mainland. We traveled about 45 minutes by small bus to the first winery.

We taste three wines, one white and two reds. They were all grown from local grapes called Plavec. The two reds were the same grape grown in different terroir. The Croatians are very proud to say Zinfandel is a genetic match for this local grape or the birthplace of Zinfandel. The Italians also claim this as well. I guess the Primitivo grape of southern Italy and the Plavec in Croatia and Zinfandel could all be related. Southern Italy is not that far from Croatia. The winery had pretty gardens outside and something I’d never seen. A kiwi plant. It was like a grape vine and trained on an arbor and you could see the fruits hanging above. They also had peach trees laden with beautiful fruit.

Off we went to the town of Ston. It has the second longest defensive wall in the world after the Great Wall of China. It reminded me very much of that wall as it snaked up and over the mountain. We passed Ston and boarded a pirate ship! It was cute and I’d always thought it would be fun. This boat had tables and benches. We traveled through the beautiful aqua water past hundreds of floats which were the oyster and mussel growing farms. Our objective was to taste these delicacies. The boat pulled next to another boat and they proceeded to pull up ropes with different sized oysters attached to them. They shucked then and we each got three incredibly fresh oysters. In fact, they were so fresh that when you squeezed lemon on them they contracted on the shell since they were still alive and I guess the lemon juice was an irritant. We were served the fresh local wine with the oysters. Several of the group had never eaten oysters and had a bit of trouble getting them down. Others were enthusiastic oyster lovers and we all took pictures of each other toasting with our oysters. Yum! Then they brought out bowls of just cooked mussels in an oniony broth with chewy bread. Also very good and very sweet. A one of a kind experience.

Then we left for the final wine tasting. A super nice wine-maker gave us a talk and we went up into a pretty old room with heavy dark beams and long tables with benches. There were proscuitti hanging to cure and lots of oil paintings. There was a basket of homemade bread. The delicious chewy bread favored here. And a plate with fresh home grown tomatoes and three home made fresh anchovies, very briny and fresh. Fresh anchovies are a world apart from the ones you put on pizza. Not at all salty. They are cleaned and boned (apparently a tedious messy job) and the the filets are soaked in vinegar and sea salt. He said the vinegar should not be too strong so you can add a bit of water. Leave for five hours and then drain. Cover in olive oil and serve. Very good. Then a plate with cheese and prosciutto and a nice bowl of lentil soup from the lentils they raise. The wines, a white and a red were very good paired with the food. The winemakers cousin played guitar and sang folk songs which were fun. It was a nice time for us all.

Back to Korčula in the boat and we were set free to explore the town. It is a beautiful town with a lovely cathedral. One of the interesting things we were told was that it was built on a small hill and the Main Street runs up and down in a straight line. This street is crossed by tiny streets that run up the hill from the water which is on both sides. There was a strong breeze blowing through these little streets which helps cool the town. We had glasses of water and wine on the waterfront and then back to wait for the tender. The wind was very strong and riding the tender was again a bucking bronco.

These are the walls of Korčula.
korcula_walls

Beach on the mainland side.
korcula_beach

First winery had a kiwi vine. I had never seen them growing.
korcula_kiwi

They don’t trellis the vines. They just let them be bushes. Pretty grapes.
korcula_grapes

Next stop, the oyster and mussel farm. Here is our pirate boat taking us there!
korcula_ourpirateship

The great wall of Ston.

Pretty house and beach along the way.
korcula_beach2

These are the oyster/mussel farms.
korcula_oysterbeds

These are the oysters. It is different than in Virginia. In the flat box sitting on the rail are the small oysters which need to be protected from the fish. Once they are big enough they are cemented onto ropes and they grow to maturity. The man is holding mature oysters on the rope.
korcula_oysters

Our three beautiful oysters.
korcula_oysters1

We clinked oysters in a toast and slurped them down. Very good.
korcula_toastingwithoysters

Mussels in an oniony broth.
korcula_mussels

The last winery.
korcula_winetasting

Home made pickled anchovies, fresh tomatoes, home grown and made lentil soup – This tour was truly a moveable feast!!
korcula_lunch

The town of Korčula is built on a small hill with streets in a grid. The prevailing wind blows up these small streets and is natural air conditioning.
korcula_street

A break on the seaside.
korcula_luther

Beautiful, clear, inviting water.
korcula_clearwater

The tender ready to take us back.
korcula_tender

There was a BBQ this evening and it was something! The main dining room was closed. They had moved all the tables from the Veranda restaurant on the same deck as the aft deck and set them all with linen, china and glassware. All very festive looking. The servers and barmen all wore Hawaiian shirts. We chose a corner table with great views of the town and the surrounding water and mountains. The sun had not yet set and we had some sun and some shade. They had set up the outdoor kitchen and an enormous appetizer table. The chef with two assistants were hard at work searing sizzling flank steaks, lobster tails, and chicken. There were accompanying sauces. There was a whole suckling pig and the biggest paella pan I’ve ever seen. A sumptuous feast! I wish I had three stomachs so I could go back for more!

After dinner they did last call for food so they could quickly dismantle and move all the food and grills and tables to make a dance floor. Pavlo, our tour director and all round announcer and MC got the show started. The first line dance to My Achy Breaky Heart began with mostly just crew to include our fun Captain Belinda. The crew obviously did this a lot and were great. After a few songs and a few more of the guests trying to dance they played YMCA. Pavlo was dressed in a white cat suit with sailor collar and hat! The other three crew were dressed as a motorcycle tough and a construction worker with hard hat and wife beater shirt and a fireman. We stayed and watched. I couldn’t have danced with my knee but it was fun. After the ship left anchor we headed to bed. The sea rocked us to sleep all night. We would sail all night, all the next day and all the next night to get back to Slovenia.

The last tender from Korčula.
korcula_tenderreturns

Sunset.
korcula_sunset

BBQ! Suckling pig!
korcula_sucklingpig

The biggest paella I’ve ever seen!
korcula_paella

Our executive chef on the right and his crew manning the grill. Flank steak, lobster tails, chicken and  ribs. Yum.
korcula_chefandstaff

Waiting to raid the food line.
korcula_me

Luther too.
korcula_luther2'

Afterward they cleared out the grills and food to make room for the line dancing. The crew started us out. The large woman on the left in front is Captain Belinda.
korcula_capnbelinda

Another towel friend greeted us.
towelfriend2

Saturday – Day at sea.
The day dawned partly cloudy. It is very windy.

We had breakfast and went on the aft deck in a corner away from the strong wind to read and relax. There were a few events planned for this day. A cooking class, a towel folding demo, trivia contest, etc. It was a day of enforced relaxation. Just what I needed!

We dined with some new friends Brian and Pam from California who are interested in buying a home in Italy for maybe half year living. They are nice. Then after dinner we went to the lounge where the crew had an entertainment show for us. It was cute.

Sunday – Piran, Slovenia
Piran Slovenia. We arrived at 8am on schedule. Our tour this day was Slovenian wine and a farmers market. We did a walking tour of Isola, a small town. It was nothing to write home about. Then through the countryside and to an outdoor market. Problem was we were just 15 people and the folks who sell stuff don’t want to come out for such a small group. But we did have some. A lace lady. A lavender lady. A wine and spirits maker. Another wine guy with prosciutto bread and cheese bread. A potter. I bought some things to help the local economy. Then back to Piran where we had lunch. I had grilled sardines.

Piran harbor
piran_harbor

Piran from the cliffs.
piran_fromabove

Those are the alps in the distance. The far coast is Italy, the town of Trieste.
piran_alps

Piran street.
piran_street

I liked this window.
piran_window

Waiting for the tender. The weather was much cooler!
piran_waitingfortender

Windstar at anchor.
piran_windstar_sparklingwater

Our last towel friend.
towelfriend3

Back on Windstar we had the farewell address from Captain Belinda and all the crew and support staff came for a bow. They are a super group. They all remembered our names! Then Pavlo, our tour director told us about upcoming cruises and about disembarking tomorrow. We had dinner and sat up on the top deck to see the sailaway. It was lovely as always and they played Time to say goodbye. Sad but true. All done. All in all we both really enjoyed this cruise. A couple of things I would change but mostly pretty great.

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.
staircase

painting

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.
paris_eye

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.
notre_dame

This is the model for the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the French.
lady_liberty_model

On the hour, the Eiffel tower twinkles all up and down it’s height. Magic.
twinkling_tour2

The ferris wheel at night with the French tri-colours in honor of the new president.
eye_night

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.
pensive

Walking home.
walking_back

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.

garden5

bee

garden4

garden3

garden2

garden1

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.

inside2

inside

I loved the kitchen.
kitchen

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.

lunch_nice_day

My sis looking smashing in her new hat!
cindy

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.