Category Archives: Trip Report

Carcassonne France – trip report – with pictures this time!

Sorry about the post of this without the pictures. Operator error!
Another trip report….
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Tuesday, September 18
We traveled from Umbria across Tuscany and up into Liguria today. First big, exciting thing was our stop for lunch at the Autogrill. EXCELLENT lunch. We finished our beer and wine and enjoyed the ambiance. We love the Autogrill. We also passed Carrara which is where most of the Italian marble comes from. The mountain, where they quarry it is snow white. And the quarries are huge! On the way home I’m going to stop there for a photo. Michelangelo went there to get the marble for his sculptures, la Pieta and David.

Since the horrible disaster in Genova with the bridge collapse, traffic is all messed up getting past there. We opted to follow the detour signs and ended up on a 100 kilometer detour! Added at least an hour to our trip. We arrived at our hotel and checked in, happy to be there. Our room is excellent. I got lazy and just looked for Relaise e Chateau properties for our two nights out and two nights back. They are a group and pretty upscale. This one wasn’t too bad. I got 20% off by paying in advance. It made a difference so we got the junior suite with balcony. It’s nice.

First night hotel. Nice room.

Gift upon arrival. A snack.

We had dinner in the restaurant which was pretty pricey. I didn’t have prices in my menu. I really hate that. Food was good but not exceptional. I had gamberi in a beet sauce and tuna chunks with crisp fried eggplant. Wine was Ligurian so interesting. But what they are really proud of is their olive oil. All the hills along the coast are covered with trees. We told the waiter we were from Umbria and loved our oil best. He explained it and Tuscan oil were too strong. I opined that I liked the strong tastes. He brought us each a small dish of their oil. It was very light. You could barely taste the olives. It was delicate and went with milder foods which I can understand. Our oil goes with strong tastes like beef and stews and soups. An interesting tasting lesson.
~~~~~~~
Wednesday September 19
Overslept this morning! They closed all the shutters and drapes when they did turn down so we didn’t realize the time! 🙄 we headed out to explore the Italian Riviera. We followed the SS1 which is the Appian Way all the way to Rome. A small two lane along the ocean and through the middle of all the little seaside towns. Once, it was the only way to travel through this area. Now the big autostrada A10 which is comprised of bridges and tunnels mostly, high above the coast and towns takes you quickly through. But we enjoyed the slow pace with the top down.

Our Angelo Giallo

Promenade

Pretty palm trees lined the way

Beach

Bouganville.

Many towns very congested. Lots of beaches. But the towns were different. We finally stopped in Rive Liguria which is a very small, calm seaside town. We had lunch in Ristorante Dalla Padella alla Brace. Out of the frying pan, into the fire! It had a nice seaside undercover area. My food started OK with octopus carpaccio with potatoes and olive paste. Quite good. But my Spaghetti con Vongole was a problem. After eating about 1/3 I felt something abrasive in my throat which I managed to cough out…a wire. Then I found another. It looked like steel wool bits. They said the helper had cleaned the clams with steel wool. I said it was not a good idea 🙄. So my lunch was less then satisfactory.

We returned via the A10 in a trice and headed to the IperCoop for a picnic dinner to be eaten in our room tonight. Now it is time for reading, relaxing, and enjoying our room.

~~~
Thursday, September 20
Up and out the door by 9:30 because it’s about a 6 hour drive. We made the drive uneventfully. We stopped for lunch (Hippo Burgers) at the Hippopotamus in a rest area. Nice restaurant actually.

We arrived in Carcassonne in the afternoon but hadn’t heard from our landlord so things were iffy. We went to the addrsss but it was in a tiny street and we went the wrong way up a one way thanks to our GPS. 😑 finally I called the owner in England and we managed to check in eventually. Then we had a very hard time finding a grocery. But we did finally. There are small ones nearby which we will explore later. After the epic drive, tomorrow is a planned down day.

Moon that evening

Small Plazza with church near us.

~~~~~~
Friday, September 21
This day we decided to do a walking tour of the old city of Carcassonne. There is also a vibrant city just across the river from us, the Bastide. And another surprise, the Canale du Midi goes right through town. Lots of barges and boats parked alongside. There’s a lock that they all have to navigate. It’s a pretty canal.

Our apartment is just beneath the walls and towers of the old city. A long stone staircase goes up just near our apartment. We went up it and at the top we were at the optimal viewing spot for the art installation on the walls. We had seen this from a distance and wondered at it. When you view from this spot you can see the actual design. It is not paint. It is tape.

We continued up into the town. There are tons of shops selling all sorts of souvenirs.

We went to the entrance to the walls, the keep, the ruins of the chapel and the crenellated walls.

Drawbridge

We first viewed an excellent movie with a quick history of the city. We wended our way through the walls where there were a number of signs explaining in French and English the history and what we were seeing. The history is long and convoluted. And to confuse things further much of the castle was restored/recreated in the 1800s. The man responsible was as good as it gets and did the best he could given the times. The castle had such a history that he had to chose a point in time to which he restored it.

We went to lunch at a tapas place with wines. It was small and very popular. The morning had been very cool, windy, and gray skies threatened rain. We opted for the inside seat in the window. Good place to watch people. We both had the chorizo in BBQ sauce and I had the patates bravas. Local red wine. And I even broke my rule and had the pain perdu for dessert. We continued our walking tour. We visited the beautiful cathedral. It was so reminiscent of St. Chapelle. Not as many windows but super tall and colorful and a lot of them. Two rose windows. All were created in the 1200s and 1300s.

We also did some souvenir shopping for our friends. A cake of wonderful soap, and two pretty bracelets made of polished stones with silver beads. I also got some wind chimes which I’ve missed since my old ones fell apart many years ago.

Tonight we will picnic in again. French TV is definitely worse than Italian in my opinion. Ugh.
~~~~~~
Saturday, September 22
Gorgeous Saturday morning! Breezy and perfect. We decided to explore the “other” old town of Carcassone. We walked down our street to where the Pont Vieux begins. It’s the old way into town across the Narbonne river. At the other end you pass the old hospital. In the Middle Ages you were checked before you could enter the town for disease. If you were deemed sick you could go in the hospital or leave. It’s a pretty bridge.

Saturday is market day in Carcassonne. We headed into town. What a vibrant place!!

Sidewalks were made of pretty stone.

All garlic, all the time!

Radishes.

Tons of people all about. A lot of locals. But we also heard a lot of Brits. And a couple of Americans. The streets all blocked off except for pedestrians. They have a beautiful street exhibition with hundreds of brightly colored umbrellas suspended over the main streets.

Then we arrived at the market. Wonderful! We compared the differences with the Italian ones. Here there are none of the big veggie stands that go from town to town like in Italy. Here the stands each are focused on a single thing. Like one was all garlic! One was all mushrooms. Some were all vegetables. Some were only eggs. Or cheese. Or bread. It was lovely. I bought a big loaf of bread. We continued down some streets radiating from the main square. We came upon a goat cheese stand. And they sold milk from a tank. You brought your own milk bottles and they filled them for you!

Then we went into a market inside of a huge building. This one was all meats and fish. Stand after stand. All manner of meats. The French do like their offal. The fish looked beautiful and I was drooling with envy over the piles of oysters. Sigh. I do miss oysters.

We also hit a couple of wine stores here and there. We then settled into a table to rest ourselves with a glass of wine and/or beer. And good people watching. It struck noon and we watched the vendors begin to dismantle their stands. We headed off to find lunch but our first choice was fully booked. Sadly as it looked great. We ended up at Freaks. It was pretty good. Unusual. Lots of healthy stuff. I had a cured fish and potato salad thing with lots of sprouts and lettuces. Luther had quinoa and lots of lettuces etc. We had a carafe of the local red wine and coffees. It was a nice and less filling lunch.

We strolled back across the Pont Vieux. I got a good shot of the old city on the hill from there. Then we decided to kick back in our apartment. A lovely day.

This night we decided to have the cassoulet. We bought it in a can. They sell it everywhere in containers. The Langdoc, where we are, is famous for this dish. Also foie gras. Sadly as I do have difficulty with the way this is produced. But it is what it is.

Sunday, September 23
Another beautiful morning. Today we had made reservations for a lunch up in the old fortress town in a Michelin one star restaurant in the nice hotel up there. Beautiful garden. Big trees. Breezy.

On Sunday they have a 3 course prix fix menu. Choice of two starters, two entrees, and two desserts or cheese. Comes with a welcome spritz, two glasses of wine, water and coffee. For €39 a person. For a fancy restaurant that’s not bad. I had a poached fresh egg, with truffles, mushrooms, and more I can’t remember, onglet of beef with Cabernet mayo, itty bitty pickled mushrooms, roasted tomatoes. There was an amuse bouche with three tastes, and good breads. Dessert was pain perdu for me, cheese for luther. Excellent food and full enough not to need a lot of dinner.

Luther is enjoying watching the old Avengers TV shows on French TV every night🙄 In French with French subtitles. We had some cured ham, cheese and olives for dinner.

Monday, September 24
We decided to go for a drive today since we’ve been sticking pretty close to Carcassonne. Chose a 100km driving route toward Narbonne. It was on the Plain of Minervois. It was once a sea but now is called a dried up lake. They grow wine and rice there now. We sort of followed the Canal du Midi. Really pretty and so many boats. You can rent a boat and cruise the canals.

We finished our tour and went looking for lunch. Oddly, the little French towns don’t have much in them. No stores or restaurants. I did see a Post office and of course a school. All the kids were out at recess and spied our car coming. They were so excited! We beeped our horn at them creating pandemonium! Anyway, we headed up towards the low mountains to the north to Minerve. Really cute town built of stone and perched above the gorge cut by the Brian and the Cesse rivers. It has a history. It was an old Cathar bastion that was destroyed by Simon de Montfort in 1210 and the village has a column in memory of a stake at which 140 Cathars were burnt at that time. Minerve is also famous for its wine that has been produced here by local winegrowers for centuries.

We had a lovely lunch at the Les Table des Troubadours. High up above the gorge with nice views. We were on the terrace which is covered with grape vines and umbrellas. It was crowded with mostly bikers. But it didn’t slow things down much. They have a set Menu du Jour and another menu on a chalk board. We chose entrecôte which came with roast potatoes and ratatouille. Perfectly cooked. Also got a small bottle of white wine and a small bottle of red. Both house and both good. It was very windy and grapes kept falling on us as we ate! It was fun.

We headed back to Carcassonne. A really nice day away from the city. Tomorrow we head back to Italy.

Tuesday, September 25
Up and out the door by eight. Pierre was there to take the keys. It was a long day on the road. Stopped for panini just into Italy. Used Google maps on the iPad to navigate through Genova, instead of the 100 kilometer detour our car GPS sent us on when we came last week. We drove right past the bridge that collapsed. Eerie to see the two spans with the big, missing section. Found our hotel Il Bottaccio. It is just next to Carrera where the largest marble mines exist. They’ve been taking marble out of the mountain since Roman times. The mountain is amazing. It is surrounded by smaller forested mountains but the marble mountain has not a trace of soil on it, nor a tree. Just a massive chunk of limestone and marble thrust into the sky thousands of feet. Awesome.

Our hotel is very frufru. Our room is enormous. Twice the size of our living room and dining room. It’s in an old olive mill. I think we are the only guests. It’s owned by an art collector and I think they don’t actually need for it to be profitable.

Our room

Garden

We had dinner in the dining room and it was very good despite all the bad reviews I read. We had an amuse bouche of bisque with truffles and shrimp. Then I had the scallops with Lardo di Colonnata. This town is just next to us. Famous for the marble mines, chestnut trees and pork products. The Lardo is back fat from the pigs which is aged for months in big marble containers along with spices. The dish I had also had truffles and caviar which were unnecessary. Then I had the house made pici which is the traditional Tuscan pasta shaped like fat spaghetti. It came with a fresh very tomatoe-y sauce. Simple but very good. Luther got sausage stuffed pasta and then lamb. He said they were good.

Believe it or not, this is the dining room. As a reviewer said, who would swim in a pool next to the tables with oriental rugs?

We decided to head home today as we are ready. The hotel won’t mind since we paid for the room already. So Home agin, Home agin, jiggety jog! Always good to return home and I’m sure our cats will agree.

Abruzzo – Trip report

Another short trip report. Birthday celebrations.
~~~~~~~~
A three night road trip down the Adriatic coast and then across the Gran Sasso d’Italia mountains of Abruzzo. Abruzzo is one of those provinces that doesn’t get enough good press. But it is increasingly on the radar for tourists and for people looking to move to Italy. Abruzzo is known as “the greenest region in Europe” as almost half of its territory, the largest in Europe, is set aside as national parks and protected nature reserves: there are three national parks, one regional park, and 38 protected nature reserves. And it has a coastal area to the east with beaches on the Adriatic sea. When one travels the coast one will notice the lack of very old buildings. WWII took a heavy toll with many cities along the coast reduced to rubble. Towns were rebuilt in haste and thus have less appeal than, say, the towns on the west coast.

Anyway, our trip was more culinary than anything else…which I’m sure is no surprise to any of my blog readers. Our first stop was in a town called Guardiagrele. To a restaurant called Villa Maiella, named after the large mountain behind the town. We had reserved for lunch but need not have as we were the only people there. We opted for the Menu of the Abbruzzo territory. It was very, very good.

A benvenuto from the chef.

Medley of pork from the famous black pigs of Abruzzo.

Soup. Farro with truffles.

Pallotta cac’e ove. Has cheese and eggs inside. Wonderful rich tomato reduction.

Chittara, a type of pasta that means guitar with ragu.

Main course of pork. Very tender.

First dessert. Peach ice cream with chocolate morsels.

Dessert. Semifreddo.

After that wonderful lunch we waddled to our hotel which was not far away. It was Castello di Semivicoli in Casacanditella. Beautiful old palace. Rooms all different. Ours was enormous. They have no restaurant but we were not hungry anyway and had some wine from their vineyard before turning in.

The next morning we headed to the coast, about 45 minutes away to visit Ortona. A medium sized city which was on a bluff above the ocean. We visited the fortress and walked it’s streets.



The Canadians fought in Ortona in WWII finally seizing the city in December 1943. There is a Canadian war cemetery there. This statue of a solder with his fallen comrade was poignant.

Next we drove down the coast. Just south of Ortona begins what is called the Costa Dei Trabocchi. A trabocco is a massive construction built from wood, which consists of a platform anchored to the rock by large logs of pine, jutting out into the sea, from where two (or more) long arms called antennae stretch out suspended some feet above the water and supporting a huge, narrow-meshed, net (called trabocchetto). Eventually their usefulness waned as more modern methods were adopted. These platforms were all but abandoned until the Slow Food movement encouraged owners to transform them into restaurants.

We chose Pesce Palombo as our Trabocco for lunch. It was an experience. First big issue was finding the place. Nearly impossible. But we did and walked across the narrow bridge to the platform. We were fed til we popped. Of course it was all seafood and super fresh. We saw fishermen traversing the bridge with buckets. I am guessing they bring their catch for the Trabocco owners to buy. The below are just a couple of pictures of the place, menu and  food.





The next morning we rose and got on the road to our next destination. Reale and Casadonna in a town called Castel di Sangro. One of nine Michelin 3 star restaurants in Italy. It is very remote but beautiful. Decorated in wood, steel and cement. Austere. White. And the dinner was…how to describe it? The dishes are simple but at the same time they are celebrations of taste. The dishes often were multiple dishes of food or multiple foods on one plate and you are instructed on what order to eat them or whether they should be eaten together. Obviously the chef spends much time experimenting and cares how his creations are eaten. I can’t really describe the experience. We had the small menu and were glad we did as it was quite a lot. I don’t know if I’d go back but it was worth it for once. (I took no pictures…)

We headed back to Umbertide the next morning after an amazing breakfast.

View from our room.

The bar, breakfast area and salon.

Breakfast brioche.

Trip Report – Scotland

Another Trip Report – long with lots of pictures – so skip if you are not interested!
~~~~~~~~~~
Four people. Me, Luther, my sister Cindy and her husband Bill met in the middle. C&B flew from Virginia to Edinburgh and we from Bologna for a rousing road trip around Scotland and it’s isles.

We arrived in Edinburgh airport at 12:15 and met up with C&B with no problem. We headed out to rent our car and off we went to the north, crossing the Firth of Forth. Great suspension bridge. We got off the highway in Dunfermline just because it was near and on the way. We were famished. We had a nice lunch in the guildhall and linen exchange. A historic hotel with a restaurant.

We headed north and arrived in Carrbridge which is in Speyside with no events. We passed some beautiful scenery along the way. Very stark.

We checked into our rooms in the Dalrachney Lodge. Nice little place with a gentle speaking innkeeper. Our rooms were nice with plenty of room and ours had an amazing bathtub with shower stall. Reminded me of a Victorian torture device!

We had reserved for dinner so we met up for wine in the parlor and to choose our food. The food was ok. Not great but passable.

Saturday June 16
Still gray out the next morning but we took a picture of the stone bridge for which Carrbridge is named.

Then we headed north and to do a scotch tasting at Benromach Distillery. Along the way we drove through vast moors, barren and wild.


They were funny asking who the driver was and we had to limit our tasting somewhat. Legal limit is .03. We also bought a drivers pack which allowed you to save what you couldn’t or shouldn’t drink. Handy! The scenery on the way was stunning. We went to Aviemore and had lunch at the Bridge Inn. On the Spey river. It was great with excellent pub food. A gastro pub.

The bridge the pub is named for.

After lunch we went to another distillery, Tomatin and tasted more scotch.

We again ate in the hotel. Luther was able to smoke a cigar outside and we finished all the bits of scotch from the tastings.

Sunday June 17
We decided to go to the coast this day and on the way visit a distillery. We went to Dufftown and on to Glenlivet Distillery. Good tasting. Bought some to bring home. And for Vera.

Glenlivit

Afterwards we headed to a coastal road which went through some beautiful scenery. The towns were full of pretty, what looked like, holiday homes. No tacky shops. In fact no shops at all! We stopped in a town called Findochty. We walked into the harbor and by chance found the only place at all doing any sort of business, the Admiral Inn. We decided to try it for lunch. It was goodish. We had Ale, or beer and some tried the neeps and we had chicken with hagis which we liked, surprisingly.

Laundry day – taking advantage of a seldom seen dry and sunny day!

Hagis.


We headed back looking for another distillery and finally stopped at Glen Grant. It was weird. They would only serve you whisky as part of an activity. You could take the tour of the distillery or tour the gardens. We opted for the gardens. The day was quite nice and the gardens were pretty.

We were mildly disappointed that we got a blend that was of indeterminate age but probably only 5 years and the other was 10 years. They were pretty good even that young. We headed home and had a picnic in our room for dinner and sat outside. It had been a nice visit in Speyside Scotland.

Monday June 18
We woke and had an 8 am breakfast. We said goodbye to our innkeeper, his wife and Archibald the spaniel. We all loved Archie. And he loved us. He stationed himself at the bottom of the steps for a tummy rub from anyone descending.

We drove north through Inverness and on up beside the North Sea.

We arrived in Thurso and did a little shopping for lunch on the ferry. We loaded our car on the ship and had our picnic sans vino as alcohol was prohibited.

We headed for Westrow Lodge after we debarked. It is a modern house with stunning views of the sea. And a wicked wind had come up gusting to over 50 mph. The house has just the two rooms upstairs and is a B&B. Our innkeeper is Kathy from Michigan(!). She’s lived there 25 years.

Our neighbors the cattle…

Cindy scaring away our neighbors…

We went to find a beer, badly wanted, in Stromness. We found the Ferry Inn just across from the ferry pier. Afterward we went to the small supermarket Coop. We bought ham, smoked salmon, roast sliced chicken breast, Camembert cheese wine and bread for our dinner tomorrow. Then we headed back for showers. Dinner that night was a place I’d found on the web called Foveran Restaurant with Rooms. Excellent place! Very pretty with walls painted shades of ivory and ecru. Minimally decorated letting the stunning views of the Scapa Flow outside the windows be the artwork. View 9:30PM from window.

We are just two days from the Solstice, the longest day of the year. And, since we are so far north the sun sets at about 11:30pm and rises at 3am. Between it is not really dark, more like dusk.

Tuesday June 19.
The winds roared all night, shaking the house. We arose and had breakfast, included in the rate, of your choice of bacon, egg, sausage tomato and mushrooms. Good enough. Then we were off to Scapa Brae, a prehistoric village that had been buried in the sand for thousands of years and was washed free in 1850. It dates to 4,500 years ago. The village was all made of stone with grass covered roofs. The inside of each house had a square hearth in a square depression bordered by flat, straight, thin stones. On the sides of the room were beds constructed much the same way which would have been filled with straw and animal furs. They even had a “dresser” on which to display their treasures proudly. And nooks for clothing and storage. The village was inhabited for 600 years and abandoned – reason unknown. But this is situated in a pristine location on a turquoise bay. The strong winds we endured whipped up amazing white plumes of surf.

Hearth is the square in the foreground.

Next we went to Stromness, the second largest town. It is a fishing town and ferries come in and out regularly. They have one shopping street which we explored. I bought some yarn from the famous Ronaldsay sheep of Orkney. I chose natural colors, undyed. We went back to the Ferry Inn. Nice lunch. I chose the lobster salad, consisting of half a lobster, served cold, nice composed salad and new potatoes. Perfect.

Next we went to the Ring of Brodgar. Standing stones. It’s age is uncertain but probably dates from 4,500 years ago. Older than Stonehenge! 35 of the original 60 stones are still there. We couldn’t walk among them like we had done on our last visit. They do have free guided tours where you can go inside. It is hard to convey the scale in photos.

We drove a short way down the road to the Stones of Stenness. We were pleased to see we could walk amongst them. They are awesome in their size. The Stones of Stenness today consist of four upright stones up to 6m in height in a circle that originally held 12 stones. The focus of the interior was a large hearth. The stones were encircled by a large ditch and bank, no longer there. The stone circle may be the oldest in Britain dating to over 5,000 years ago. They are thought to have been a major center or worship. There are also six burial mounds in the vicinity and the two rings (Brodgar and Stenness) are thought to have been once connected.

I left that one person below in this one so you can see the scale of these stones.

Me buffeted by the winds.

All of these places we visited are on vast plains or seashore so there is nothing to break the wind. The gusts made it hard to walk or even stand still to take pictures.

That evening we had a picnic in our room. Which was fun.

Wednesday June 20
We woke to sun, clouds, less wind and patchy rain. After another breakfast we headed toward Kirkwall, the largest town. But we saved it for later and passed through on the way to the Italian Chapel. This Chapel was built by Italian POWs during WWII. 200 were based at Camp 60 on Lamb Holm, brought to build the Churchill barriers between the islands. In 1943 Camp 60’s new commandant, and Father Gioacchino Giacobazzi, the camp’s Catholic priest, agreed that a place of worship was required.

The chapel was constructed from limited materials by the prisoners. Two Quonset huts were joined end-to-end. The corrugated interior was then covered with plasterboard and the altar and altar rail were constructed from left over concrete . Most of the interior decoration was done by Domenico Chiocchetti, a prisoner from Moena. He painted the sanctuary end of the chapel and fellow-prisoners decorated the entire interior. They created a facade out of concrete, concealing the shape of the hut and making the building look like a church. The light holders were made out of corned beef tins. The baptismal font was made from the inside of a car exhaust covered in a layer of concrete.

These next two look like stone but are just painted to look like 3-D carved stone.

Many prisoners had special skills, like iron working.

When his fellow prisoners were released shortly before the end of the war, Chiocchetti remained on the island to finish decorating the newly consecrated chapel.

It is a touching memento from a difficult era.

We returned to visit the famous Highland Park Distillery. Famous the world over. They only let you taste if you tour but the next one was over an hour later. The nice guy let us taste a wee bit of the two we were interested in. Luther bought a bottle.

In Scotland almost all the distilleries are built with these distinctive copper chimneys.. They use a stylized version on the signs of the Whisky trail.

Next we headed to Kirkwall, biggest town on the Orkneys. We walked it’s streets and did some shopping.

St Magnus Cathedral is it’s big sight but it was closed for a funeral. So we missed seeing it.

I was taken with the frieze

We found a nice pub with a friendly bartender where we had lunch.

My favorite beer.

My first fish and chips of the trip.

Next we headed to Scapa Distillery. We decided to take the tour which was quite good. At the end we tasted some of the Cask whisky straight from the barrel which was surprisingly smooth. And we headed back to the main building for three more tastes. The first was really just alcohol…what we’d call white lightening. Ugh. Next we tried one that was smooth and not made with peat. The last had been aged in barrels that had previously been used for whisky made with peat so it had a residual smokey taste.

Luther on the beach at Scappa.

A fun day. Headed to the B&B to rest and shower. Later we dined again at the Foveran restaurant. It is a very good place.

Thursday, June 21
Arose and breakfasted with Kathy, our innkeeper. Then we packed and got on the road to catch the 11am ferry. This was the hitch in a day of long driving. If we hadn’t had to catch a ferry we could have gotten an earlier start. As it was, we didn’t get on the road until one. The ferry trip was rough as the winds had, again, picked up.

We drove south the way we had come. We stopped at the Bay Owl Inn for lunch. Didn’t look like much from outside but it had gorgeous views from inside of the sea and a small bay. Lunch was good and we got going again.

The scenery was gorgeous the whole way. Scotland is beautiful. Indulge me here. I simply could not chose from these!

Look at this amazingly dramatic and stark scene!

Hiking path across the wetland

The GPS sent us down a road that turned into one lane with passing places. Lots of potholes. We finally arrived at the Edinbane Inn, a lively pub with rooms at about the worst possible time for them 7:15pm, slammed at the dinner hour. We finally got to our nice, but VERY small room, and then headed down to dine. It was starting to slow a little by then. The food was quite good. I was not very hungry. We retired to the outside picnic tables to finish our drinks and Luther to smoke his cigar. We were inundated with the notorious Scottish midges, or wee bastards as the Scots call them. Then to bed.

Friday June 22
Today we explored the north part of the island. But first we had an excellent breakfast at our Inn/pub. Scrambled eggs over toast topped with smoked salmon. Very yum. We headed out and up the west coast. The road was one-lane-with-passing-places and many, many very large and deep potholes. Also sheep. In the road.

We stopped frequently for pictures. We wished over and over for the sun to break through. But no go. We paid a visit to Kilt rock with its waterfall and farther along mount Skorr an ancient volcano which has eroded into interesting formations. Cindy, Bill and Luther hiked up toward the famous rock formations while I remained in the car.

Ever-present sheep.

Vista with wild flowers.

Home sweet home…to someone.

Nesting bird.

Kilt rock and falls

Old Man of Skorr

Foxglove.

The road came around to the east and down the other side ending at Portree, the largest city on the island. It was pretty mobbed with people. We found a very subpar place for lunch and headed back to our pub.

After a nap and a shower we went to the Ullinish country lodge or dinner. Got great write ups but I have to say it was not worth it. We had a hard time finding it as it was way down a long one-lane-with-passing-places road. The scenery was stunning. The place was quite formal and pretentious. It was a price fixed 4 course meal with only two choices of appetizer, two entree, cheese, and two desserts. We got French wines which were good. Too expensive and not my style anymore.

We returned to our Inn and enjoyed the wonderful Scottish music that was on this night. All local people who just show up to play together. The musicians were seated around a table and rotated in and out. Fiddle, bagpipes, guitar, mandolin, bass, several voices. Really quite wonderful.

Saturday June 23
Another gray day. After breakfast we headed out to visit the Talisker Distillery. It’s been around a long time and is way down a narrow, one-lane-with-passing-places road. It was mobbed. We found you’d again need to take a tour and then you could taste one whisky. Not worth it. We bought a small bottle. Cindy and Bill bought 3 miniatures.

Misty boats in the harbor

Back on the road in search of Scotland’s oldest Inn, the Stein Inn in the little town of Waternish. It was a perfect pub! Low ceilings and stone walls. Fireplace and pretty bar. We got our beers and decided on lunch. Mine turned out to be sub par. It was pretty basic. But we had fun.

We next went to Dunvegan to see Dunvegan Castle. Ancestral home of the McLeods. The oldest part was the castle keep built in 1320. Then thee or four other parts were added, including the Fairy Tower, which I loved. We toured the gardens which were large and diverse but we were attacked by the wee bastards! Horrible things. Got lots of pictures though.

Then back to Edinbane Inn for our afternoon pint and then for a nap.

We had dinner in the pub that night. The food was pretty good, not great.

Sunday June 24
We had breakfast and checked out of the inn. We had all come to like it, even if the rooms were very tiny. We had a long drive ahead of us to Edinburgh. As we left Skye the clouds cleared and we stopped a few times for photo ops. We had been sad to have no sun to get good pictures the whole time on Skye.

Our Pub

On the way off of Skye – finally sun!

These next ones are of the Five Sisters. Five peaks over 3,500 feet high just off of Skye on the way to the Ft. Williams area.

We stopped for lunch in Pitlochry, a bustling little town. Lots of tourists. We ate at the Old Smiddy Pub. We had a decent lunch and headed out again. We found our hotel, the Norton Country Lodge, with no problem and checked in. Nice place. Big comfortable room. Very close to the airport but quite bucolic all the same. We had decided to get a picnic for dinner that evening. We went out to shop and get gas.

After freshening up and napping we all got together for our last super. It had been a great trip overall. I think everyone had fun.

Monday June 25
Up at the crack of screech as my old friend used to stay for our 6:50am flight. By 5:15 we had checked out. Cindy and Bill slumbered on as they had a flight at a decent time. Things went downhill from there. The rental drop place had no drop box. Luther decided to wait the 10 minutes until they opened. I went ahead to check in. I went to the baggage tag place and our boarding passes would not scan. I had to go to the end of the terminal to get new boarding passes and a Visa check. Then back to the luggage place. Thank god Luther found me on my way back. We jumped the line as instructed. And then went to security. By now it was only 20 to departure and our plane had been boarding. Even the family line, which we used because I had my crutch, was packed. It took a while to get through. I sent Luther on ahead to tell them I was coming. I walked as fast as I could and got there where Luther had persuaded them to wait for me. The gate was closed and we were last to board! Just too much strurm and drang for me.

Let’s see, best and worst…
Best breakfast, Edinbain Inn scrambled eggs with salmon.
Best lunch, Aviemore in the Bridge Inn
Worst lunch food (for me) Stein Inn.
Best dinner, Foveran restaurant Skye
Worst dinner Ullinish country lodge. Too pretentious. Too pricy.
Best place to stay, we liked them all for different reasons. The most comfy was Dalrachney Hall. Westrow Lodge in Orkneys was comfortable if you don’t mind being in earshot of the owner and family. Edinbane Inn was one of a kind. How many times can you sleep in a pub? The last nights hotel was lovely but we had such little time there.
Best sights, the Orkney Islands.
Best scenery, the islands of Orkney and Skye
Best whisky tasting Benromach Distillery

Trip Report – Mediterranean Islands and Barcelona

This is another trip report so skip if you are not interested! And I’m warning you, there are a LOT of food pictures. 🙂

The trip was three days in Barcelona prior to a cruise across the Mediterranean to Rome. 10 days all together.
~~~~~~~~~~~~

Barcelona Thursday May 3
Long day. Got up at 6:15 and drove to Foligno. Caught the train to Rome. Then took a train to the airport. Waited for it to be time to check in. Funny though, I got to do FastTrack checkin because of my crutch 🙂and people give up seats for me! Geez. Then had a bad sandwich for lunch. Plane was delayed 45 minutes. We arrived in Barcelona, got our luggage, and took a taxi.

The driver didn’t know the hotel or street. 🙄 but she eventually found the street and she walked with us to find the hotel. Which was nice. I wouldn’t want to be abandoned to find it on our own! Little bitty streets. Tons of people out. It was wet from rain. And pretty chilly. Hotel is nice but very quirky.

The bedroom and bath are on one side and a sitting area is across the hall. I’m thinking we’ll do a picnic there tomorrow. TVs are in both sides. They have planted an amazing vertical garden in the air shaft outside our bathroom.

After such a full day my knee was very sore and tired from walking. It felt unstable and I was walking very slowly. I had used the crutch all day but am beginning to feel like an old woman so I decided to ditch the crutch the next day.

At around 8:30 we were really hungry so it was time to figure out dinner. Our hotel recommended a place around the corner. Called En Ville Restaurant. It was OK. They were nice and the food pretty food.
~~~~~~~~~
Friday May 4
Friday dawned gray and cool. The hotel had a great breakfast. Pancakes to order and fried eggs and bacon if you want. Plus a bar with fruit, cheese, meats, pastries, toast, bread. A frig with yogurt. Fresh squeezed orange juice. Very yummy. Not only a great breakfast but free sandwiches, snacks and drinks other than alcohol available all day and night.

We planned a walking tour of the gothic quarter. It is not very gothic! We saw the cathedral but it was inundated with hundreds of school kids who were skipping, running, dancing through a course and there was a band etc. so we just walked on by. We visited the indoor market with amazing food.


Along our walk. Pretty lamp.

Bridge of sighs look-alike!

OK everyone, what is this vegetable?

And a beautiful faucet. Brass. In a public fountain.

Then we went to the plaza with Gaudis first project…lampposts. Instantly recognizable.

We stopped for a glass of wine and to rest my knee. It was a pretty square ringed with cafes and beautiful with palm trees. It began to rain while we were there. Then we went to see one of the Gaudi buildings with a beautiful entry and facade and on top were a whole forest of little Gaudi trees. Cool.


We returned to our hotel and rested a bit before walking to our lunch restaurant – Cera 23. Catalan and Galacian cuisine. Excellent. Very comfortable space, not stuffy or fancy. Nice people. I chose the tuna tartare with “red fruit”. They had 4 tartares on the menu, tomato, tuna, steak, degustation of the three tartares.

Luther had Carpaccio de presa ibérica. Smoky Iberian ham. It was wonderful but I could not have eaten the entire thing.

Then I had the Volcán de Arroz negro con marisco. It was black rice with a cheese saffron sauce and seafood. I would call it a risotto.

Luther had Atún en dados. It was perfect cubes of seared tuna with kimchi mayonnaise. Both of these were great. I don’t quite know how kimchi mayo fits in with galacian cuisine? 🤔

Our wine.

And dessert…molten chocolate…YUM!

We planned that lunch was to be our main meal since they do eat dinner late here. We went to a little store and bought cheese, meat and wine. Then to a forn (means bakery) for a baguette. We had our picnic in our sitting room and then adjourned for the roof. Great views and no one up there. Luther had his cigar and I finished my wine.

~~~~~~~~~~
Saturday May 5
Another gray day. We had our excellent breakfast and headed out to try the city bus tour. It was sub-par. It was hop on – hop off at the different stops. If you didn’t do that you saw little despite the audio tour. We got off at Gaudis Church. Amazing! But we couldn’t get inside as they were sold out on tickets. A big disappointment for us both. I guess we will have to come back. I also want to visit the Art Nouveau museum next time when I can walk better.



Along the bus tour I snapped a couple photos of the wonderful architecture. Art Nouveau to the max. Gorgeous.

After the bus tour we walked down a great pedestrian street. Luther obviously had already chosen our lunch spot. It was called 4 Cats. It was on a tiny street and Picasso had hung out there. A very ornate, jewel box of a restaurant with mostly tourist traffic but we got a pretty good lunch of tapas.

Luther ordered a brandy to finish and I swear they poured half a snifter!! It was a real South Carolina Pour! We enjoyed our lunch. Then we walked back with a stop to view an amazing 7 piece group of buskers. Very talented and I got a ton of pictures. They were fun.

Toe cymbal.

Wailin’ on the sax.

Then back to the hotel to snooze.

For dinner we had a picnic with the left overs and went to the roof deck where it was raining. Oh well.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Sunday May 6
Another rainy morning. We had breakfast and packed up waiting until the check out time of noon. Then we went to the roof deck where we relaxed until time to take the taxi to the port. While we waited the sun came out! 😀

We asked them to call a taxi and we were picked up by a lady with big blue glasses and cute short hair, off the shoulder blouse and a great selection of music on her cab stereo. She got us straight to the terminus, where we checked our bags and were processed through immigration. We boarded the Windstar and signed in. All was quite familiar from our last trip. We even chose the same cabin!

We did the muster for our lifeboat drill and using our life jackets and then we went to the deck to watch sail-away.

Dinner was a disappointment. We both got the strip steak. Sub-par. I did like my poblano corn soup. Luther hated his shrimp appetizer. Hoping things will improve. After dinner on deck was quite cold so I left Luther to finish his cigar.

~~~~~~~~~~
Monday, May 7
We sailed overnight to Palma de Mallorca. Still in Spain. It was gray and cool when we breakfasted. I equate the word “port” with being small…but then I think about the Viking cruises megaships and the like who are all here in the harbor. You need a lotta room! We were ready to take a taxi into the old town but there was a Windstar shuttle bus. Yay! 10 am departure and it runs every 30 minutes. It broke down on the way! But they fixed it. We walked into the town skipping all the steps up to the amazing cathedral. There is an old town with lots of pedestrian streets. Many shops, and of course, many tourists. We walked for about 2 1/2 hours. It is a nice place. A lot of tourists but we enjoyed the walk. Here are pictures.




Cathedral.


We stopped about noon for me to rest my knee and had a glass of wine and a beer in a pretty little plaza. We could have eaten there but it was pretty touristy so we decided to move on. And a good thing we did! We ended up in a tiny square next to a huge church where we had a lovely lunch at l’ambigú.

The day had turned sunny once the morning fog burned off. And it was kind of cool. But I was OK in a T-shirt. We couldn’t sit outside as it was booked out there but inside had big windows. We ended up sharing an anchovy appetizer. The anchovies were on seaweed bread with mache and a mild sauce.

Then Luther had a lamb dish with fresh mache, radicchio, cabbage and you made a nice pita sandwich. It came with two sauces, one yogurt the other super hot. Quite interesting dish.

I had grilled octopus on a mountain of mashed potatoes with fried arugula and a mild garlic sauce. Both dishes were great.
We had a local Mallorcan Cabernet – super fruity! A nice lucky find for us, having done no research.

Knee held up except the many stairs were hard…and painful.

We went up for sail-away. Cold on deck. Very chilly wind. We got underway and still see no sails. 2nd cruise. No sails.

Dinner average. I am disappointed in the restaurant this time. My salmon was overcooked the portions are minuscule. Shrimp appetizer 2 shrimp. Scallop appetizer 2 small scallops, steak entree, 1/2 inch thick, overcooked.

On deck for Luther’s cigar. Breezy but with blankets manageable.
~~~~~~~
Tuesday, May 8
Maó-Mahón, sometimes written in English as Mahon is the capital city of the island of Menorca.The city is located on the eastern coast of the island, which is part of Spain. Maó-Mahón has one of the largest natural harbours in the world: 5 km (3.1 mi) long and up to 900 metres (2,953 feet) wide. The water is deep but it remains mostly clear due to it being slightly enclosed. It is also said to be the birthplace of mayonnaise(!) 🙂.

The town was high above the port. We took a taxi up to save my knee. We walked around the big square and down the little streets of shops. Cute.

We stopped at a large church. And found the square where our restaurant was supposed to be. It was a bit hard to find but we managed. It opened at one so we went to a nice outside cafe for wine. Then returned at one when they opened.

Casa Mares is the name of the restaurant and it has a stunning view over the harbor. Cute basket light covers.

All the menus choices were to share. Tapas here are not like tapas in the US. The portions are more than generous and we always over-ordered. We got Patatas Brava – so good! With the normal bread that comes with tomatoes and garlic.

Then a crispy chicken nuggets 😏 with melted local cheese type thing each one in its own lettuce leaf with sauce.

Then an egg over sautéed calamari and cabbage and tomatoes. All of it great and very hearty.

The bread here and all of this trip so far has been fab. Crusty with lots of holes and when they split it and toast it it is great!

We were stuffed and found our way back to ship. Probably will skip dinner or just get snacks. 🤭

Sail away at ten o’clock and then an all night, all day sail to Corsica.

~~~~~~~~~
Wednesday May 9
Woke to rough seas. The ship was rolling and pitching. VERY hard to walk around. Bad enough with my knee and then staggering about. Taking a shower was a challenge. And being cooped up in the little bath made me queasy. We went to breakfast and the wind was very strong outside. And quite cold. A lot of people must be seasick as I noticed a lot less of them around.

We had the BBQ lunch. Choice of hamburgers, hotdogs or chicken with potato salad and coleslaw. It was ok. We sat on deck in the sun and it wasn’t too bad. It’s nice to see the horizon, that way you don’t feel sick.

For dinner we went to the regular restaurant. I had the crab cake and the shrimp entree. Neither was all that good. I am not impressed with the chef. Last summer was much better. We dined with another couple tonight. We asked to have a table to share. They were nice folks from Salt Lake City. I’d guess they are Mormon as they didn’t drink. We enjoyed talking to them. Afterwards we went up in deck so Luther could have his cigar. There were a few other folks up there smoking and drinking who we chatted with.
~~~~~~~~~
Thursday, May 10
During the night the ship docked in Calvi, France (population 6,500). Finally stopped her rolling. Woke to pretty sun and not so much wind. We breakfasted early because we had signed up for a wine tasting tour. We had to use the tender as we were at anchor. The tour was by bus and took us into the interior mountain villages. Rugged country. The whole island is covered in wild flowers.


We enjoyed the wine tasting at Clos Columbu. We tasted a white, a rose, and a red. The bus tour was definitely not worth the money.

After we walked around Calvi, which is cute but touristy, and had lunch in Le Nautical. They specialize in mussels but we had salads. Probably stupid choice.


This night we ate on deck at the specialty restaurant, Candles. Food was good-ish. The appetizer I got was beet and goat cheese but there was barely a smear of cheese. Luther got the shrimp.

I got filet steak and Luther got lamb chops.

All food is cooked on the grill. Good. We enjoyed more wine outside. Good conversation.

~~~~~~~
Friday, May 11
Another nice day. Warmer. The town of Bastia is about 50,000 people and the capital of its arrondissment. We breakfasted and waited a bit to go ashore. Then we walked around the Vieux Port area. Old streets and lots of churches.

We had a glass of wine in a restaurant along the shore and then went in search of lunch.

We chose O Resto where we had salads. Mine was Vietnamese with nice flavors. Luther had the goat cheese on toasts salad. The food was good enough but not exceptional. Trying to speak French was comical! Italian and French all mixed up together!

That evening was the big BBQ. I will say this was as good as last year. My favorite was the suckling pig but I also liked the flank steak and the grilled lobster tails! Yum! The food service manager who is Indonesian makes his own hot sauce which he shared with us when we mentioned we like the spice. One was SUPER hot the other only very hot. Then the crew all started the line dances. And I watched since there was no dancing in my life at that time!
~~~~~~~~~~~
Saturday, May 12
Arrived in Elba, town of Portoferraio, Italy. Another sunny day. Finally I was able to wear sleeveless. We chose Bistro Teatro e Wine Bar.

Lovely little restaurant up high with two outside spaces. One has a lovely view of the harbor.

It was on a very long, very steep set of steps.

We had the mixed seafood antipasti. Octopus, fresh anchovies (my fav) tuna, tuna toasts, tuna ceviche.

Loved what they did to the peas!

Then the spaghetti with crab. It was wonderful but really hard to eat! They gave us things to crack them with and pickers. The house made spaghetti was in a wonderful red sauce.

While there we met some Americans who have a unique retirement. They own a condo on a ship. 1,100 sq ft. Two bedroom. Big balcony and it sails the world. The condo owners own the ship. They choose where the ship goes. Pretty amazing. They’ve been full time residents for 10 years. I wish I’d gotten their contact info.

So we went up for the last sail-away. It was nice.

Pilot comes out in each port to guide the Windstar out of the harbor.

Bye bye Elba. This is not far from us. Just off the coast of Tuscany and we can return if we want.
Then we decided to eat in our room. Prime rib was ok. The party’s over. The next morning we were debarking at 8am.
~~~~~~~~~
Sunday, May 13
Up and at em. We got our passports back and debarked. The captain and some officers saw us off. We got a taxi to the train station and we were off homeward bound.

Final experience to recount. We arrived in Foligno and went to retrieve our car. The good news is it was only 5€ a day so we owed 55€. Suddenly we knew we were in deep kimchi. It would not accept bills. Only coins. Aaaahhhhh!! It’s Sunday. No banks open. No stores open. Only a few ice cream places and bars. Poor Luther went off to try to get 55€ in coins!! A little known fact. Italians do NOT give change. They want YOU to give them exact change. So if you ask for change for a five it’s like asking them to cut off their arm! Luther ended up buying a small bottle of water, getting 4€ in change then throwing away the water and doing it again. And again. Until he finally got 55€ in change 🙄 I had stayed at the station figuring I’d just slow him down. Then we slowly fed in all those euro. Got our ticket and drove up to the gate. Plugged it into the slot and waited for the arm to go up. And waited. I’m like, WHAT?! This can’t be happening. You also have to understand the lot is totally unmanned so no help available. I was ready to call the cops. Or break off that arm. But Luther went over to it and gave it a shove and it raised up! We quick, like a bunny, exited that infernal lot. Geez what an end to our trip!!

Final thoughts. Windstar was not up to snuff. Not nearly as nice as last year. They will hear from us. The itinerary itself was great. I got to see lots of places I probably would not have seen…and in three countries! It was a good trip, considering my limitations.

Maremma – Wine journey

We went for a quick two day getaway to the Maremma which lies on the southwest Mediterranean coastal region of Tuscany. It is a beautiful area. Our agriturismo (Tenuta del Fontino) where we stayed, was made up of thousands of acres. Horses, an entire lake and a person could jog and never leave the property. The house is the main manor and they refurbished an old barn into rooms where our room was situated.

Enormous rosemary bushes!
rosemary

Pretty grounds of the hotel.
hotel

That’s the normal part. Now for the weird part. We went to dinner the first night at 7:30 in the hotel dining room. It was on the upper floor of the manor. When we were seated they ask me “Was möchten sie zu trinken?” Huh? Was I transported to die Heimat? Deutschland? Germany? Turns out this hotel caters to, and is full of Germans. We had noticed everything was in Italian and German but it hadn’t occurred to us this could be the reason. The whole room was full of Germans! And German was the default language.

So, we settled in at a table set for three which they said was ours. After we were there a bit a single woman came in – and she was Italian – who joined us. We proceeded with the five course meal. Now I should say, when I read TripAdvisor the people raved about the food. One of the reasons I went here. So, first we saw the hoards of Germans falling on the salad bar…What? salad bar? Where am I? We’ve lived in Germany and I saw it was a typical German style salad except for the cannelloni beans. These would figure often into the rest of the meal. Tuscans are known as “the bean eaters”. Next course was a large piece of toasted bread with cannelloni beans. They had a bit of rosemary in them but overall a very bland dish. Next we had a pasta which was shaped like very short macaroni. Served in a broth that I swear was cannelloni purée with….potatoes!!! Ugh. Again, super bland. Finally we got a very thin slice of roast beef in a bit of gravy. It was obviously a cut meant for long roasting and it had been. It was tender to the point of falling apart. Five boiled potatoes (more potatoes!) accompanied it. The roast was strongly reminiscent of Sauerbraten, a German dish. We opted out of the chocolate mousse, also typically German. It was maybe the worst meal I’ve ever had in Tuscany, which is known for good food.

Our single woman table mate told us she was on a two day getaway from her husband and family and their business. They own a restaurant and hotel in the Livorno area. I thought that was cute. She was very out front that she needed some ME time. So, seeing as she was a cook we asked her about the food and she assured us it was an authentic Tuscan meal. I am still in a state of shock. As an addendum, after we got home I described the dinner to my Italian teacher and she, too, said it was pretty typical Tuscan food. Funny, I’ve been there a lot of times but never disliked the food before. Maybe, since I’ve always eaten in decent restaurants I would not get typical food Tuscans eat at home which was probably what the set, five course meal was more like.

So the objective to our trip was to visit some wineries and purchase some wine. The Wine Guy is in his element doing this. There are five main wine regions in the Maremma and we visited our first one on the way to our hotel. I won’t go into describing our winery visits because I know you will read about it in an upcoming blog.

Wine tasting.
wine_tasting

Beautiful vineyards.
beautiful_vineyards

We found our lunch which was quite good. Ristorante Rintocco. They brought out two beautiful fish to show us and a big plate of porcini mushrooms, which are in season now. We split an antipasto which consisted of a bowl of Tuscan soup, a plate of marinated zucchini and a bruschetta with fresh tomato. I had the home made tagliatelle with the porcini.

ristorante_rintocco

Porcini, (means little pigs in Italian) are the same mushroom called cèpe (in French), and in Germany, Steinpilz (the “stone mushroom”). They are gathered wild in the woods and people make some extra money selling them to vendors and restaurants.porcini

House made pasta with porcini mushrooms
firstlunch2

Luther’s fish. We were near the coast so there was a lot of seafood and very fresh.
firstlunch

The one whole day there we went south of Grosetto, the capital of the area. We visited a small winery with a very nice guy letting us taste all his wines. The business was the father, mother and this son. Fun visit.

Off in search of lunch in a small town. Beautiful vista!countryside

Town where the restaurant was…alas, it was closed.
small_town

So we drove to the next town called Scansano which was way up on top of a mountain and fairly big. We drove through and found a parking lot and started walking up the hill. We happened upon this restaurant which turned out to be a lucky choice – Osteria Fiaschetteria Rurale.  It was a real dump as Luther said. But the couple running it seemed to care about the food and its presentation. For instance, we had an excellent cheese plate with five or six types of goat and sheep. One goat was super strong and I loved it. We each had pici pasta which is a traditionally Tuscan shape like thick spaghetti. Nice and dense and chewy.

fiaschetteria

My Pici cacio e pepe…yum!
second_lunch

Luther’s pici in cinghale ragu.
cinghale_ragu

Afterward, we decided to purchase another cheese plate to take with us for our evening picnic. It worked out well. We had bought some wine which we enjoyed with the small plate which was of mostly meat. I think the lady misunderstood what we wanted. I thought we’d get another cheese plate but turned out to be meats. Many very fatty. Luther liked them so I didn’t eat much. It was a nice light meal with not too much wine.

The next morning we headed home. We stopped in one more winery which didn’t let us taste but Luther bought six bottles. He was lamenting the fact that there was still space in the car for more!

The weather was beautiful. We put the top down and drove through the Tuscan mountainous center. We passed near San Gimignano. When 1 o’clock came around we began looking for a place for lunch. And we found a cute little place called Ristorante Tre Archi.

3rdlunch

First the proprietor brought a little cart with six olive oils to try with the bread. Yum!
tuscan_oils

Then I had Tuscan onion and potato soup. Toasted bread to put in it. Very like French onion. And tagliatelle house made, with fungi porcini again. Since these big mushrooms are very much in season I took advantage. Luther had Ribolitta, or Tuscan bread soup, and lamb chops. Over cooked. The man, I assume the owner there, was super nice.
3rdlunch_pasta

We arrived home about five pm. A productive and fun trip.

Croatia adventure – a trip report

Another trip report so skip if you are not interested!
~~~~~~~~~

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
~~~~~~
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.
~~~~~~
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.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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.
canola_fields
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.
blue_meadow

Garden gate.
arched_gateway

Rustic garden path.
blue_meadow_path

Bunnies behind our cottage.
bunnies

Magnificent Cyprus of Lebanon – almost 200 years old.
cyprus_of_lebanon

Formal garden path.
garden_path

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.
cathedral

cathedral_crossing

Just one of the many stone details.
stone_head

The Dean’s window
deans_rose_window

Beautiful pulpit
pulpit

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.
imp_big

Cropped so you can see him.
the_imp

Magnificent organ
organ

Exterior – storm is coming.
cathedral_storm

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.
Lincoln_castle

Lincoln street.
Lincoln_street

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.
2017-04-27 13.17.26

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

inside_windmill_bar

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.

Luther sitting in a Red ArrowIMG_1184

The bomb used to blow up the damsIMG_1189

Two Red Arrows and a stunt plane

IMG_1207

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.
old_church_windows

Castlecastle

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…
beer

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.
formal_garden

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.

IMG_0017  IMG_0044 IMG_0026 IMG_0014

small_sarcofogi

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

IMG_0047

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.
DSC06619

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.
DSC06621

Our neighborhood. Loved this yellow building.
DSC06631 DSC06626

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.
DSC06627

DSC06625

DSC06629

DSC06630

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.
DSC06641

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.
DSC06636