Thursday, May 31, 2012

Switzerland

The view from our hotel room is okay, I guess (!).

Travel Can Remain Surprising

Annecy, France:  One of our top travel surprises ever! In driving from Provence to the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland, we looked at a map, picked the halfway point of Annecy, checked a guidebook to see if it looked like a decent lunch stop, and plugged the town into the GPS. I could not believe how impossibly beautiful it was, set on the shores of a clear, alpine lake and with a river running through town. Annecy was utterly delightful and filled with eye candy at every turn.



Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Provence Finale

Our final day in Provence was my favorite. After sleeping in, we stepped out our hotel front door and directly into the Wednesday market. While smaller than the others we've visited, the market was still a nice, morning stroll, and we still managed to find a few unique items. After collecting our standard lunch fare and picnicking by the town's river, off we went for a drive along the Cote du Rhone wine trail. We visited cute villages and several wineries, lucking into a fantastic, vineyard tour at our final stop, Domaine du Mourchon. The proprietor spent almost three hours with our group of 16 or so, explaining all sorts of viticulture aspects, then providing tastings of each of his wines. Nathan learned all he'd been hoping to learn about the Cote du Rhone wines.

Tomorrow means lunch in lakeside Annecy, then on to Switzerland, where the forecast is for rain and cold.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Rhythm of Provence

Our days have taken on a relaxed rhythm of sleeping in just a little, heading out to a Proven├žal market in the mornings (and finding coffee and a croissant), enjoying the market while hunting down a baguette, cheese, sausage, fruit, and cookies, and finding a shady, pretty picnic spot to rest our aching feet and enjoy our market spoils. For the afternoon, we spend some time enjoying a couple of new towns and driving through the countryside, then return to that night's hotel to relax by the pool before dinner. We are enjoying the slower pace...and the food!
This photo is of our picnic spot today - a beautiful, turquoise, clear river in the town of Vaison-la-Romaine.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012

Paddling Around

Today we drove along France's Grand Canyon (du Verdon), and at the end of it all, we rented a paddleboat to go up the canyon a short ways. While seeing the canyon and river from above was spectacular, I preferred the peacefulness of being on the water and enjoying the limestone cliffs up close, complete with a waterfall and mountain goat sighting.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Yep, Pretty as we Thought

Before getting on the road to France we checked out the port again. Postcard perfect. Then we drove 5 kilometers along a windy, coastal road to Portofino, mainly because just the name calls up visions of Hollywood glamour. A quick stroll through town gave us the highlights of this small, pretty village with a mega-yacht filled harbor. No pics to post now of Portofino - domani, domani. And I'm using "domani" in the classic, Italian tradition to mean much later or never.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Back at the Castle

We are on the road and stopped for the night in the gorgeous, seaside town of Santa Margherita Ligure. Arriving after dark, we could only guess at how pretty the town is based on our lovely walk along the harbor to dinner. We love being in "the nord," where we get a change of pace food wise...and where we can actually speak and understand Italian. Tonight, dinner on the Italian Riviera and sleeping in a converted castle; tomorrow, French Riviera, here we come.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Photo Class on the Amalfi Coast

A few weeks ago, I took a trip to Sorrento that was also a photography class taught by Renee Williams and with Beth Moskal assisting her (to all my D.C. friends, Beth is moving to D.C. in a few weeks and will be setting up her photography business - she's fabulous, so keep her in mind for your family photos - click on her name here to reach her website!). Nathan and I upgraded our camera soon after moving to Italy, and we both love to take photos of our travels. I have a part time job just sorting, editing, and labeling all the photos we take...and boy am I behind right now! Below are a few of my favorites from the trip...






And just for fun...in case you can't make out the words on the blue part...this is a Titti Dispenser - and only 1euro, too!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Finally, A Town Loony

Oops - I only today realized that I hadn't finished up my Lake Como series. We had one final day on the lake, which we'd thought we'd spend going to the town of Verona. Then we realized it was almost two hours away, so instead, we slept in. Then, feeling like we needed to actually make use of one last day but with me hobbling from our hike the day before, we elected to visit the lake town of Aregno - mainly because the ferry ride was almost an hour. I was quite excited to be doing something that involved sitting down for an entire hour. The appeal in Aregno was a cable car up, up, up to the hill top town of Pigra. After getting off the ferry and rushing to the cable car (because it only runs on the half hour), we found that it was closed until 2pm, a fact I later remembered reading and actually writing down on my "Things to Do on Lake Como" list. I blame the pain in my calves for pushing out all other rational thought. A nice, little lunch in Aregno's small piazza occupied our time before we headed back to the terrifying cable car. We lurched our way up the first few yards, making all of us in the cable car rethink the decision to be in it.

But after a little ride with phenomenal views, we reached Pigra. Absolutely nothing going on there. Nothing at all. With one major exception. This guy kept rollerblading around town blowing some sort of toy horn contraption. We were delighted to dub him the Town Loony. I still long for one of the best TV shows ever, "Gilmore Girls," so we often have names for people who seem to be right out of Stars Hollow. Pigra's Town Loony is one such character. We're pretty sure we found his house as well, but sadly, I did not get a good photo. It was decorated with all kinds of animal skulls and signs about dinosaurs...and I almost forgot about the odd, ghost figure hung up by a noose.

Pigra itself seemed to have lots of artsy type residents as many of the yards had sculptures and such hanging about. Other than that, there was a nice trail (that I think may have actually been a cowpath) that wandered thru some woods on top of the mountain and opened up to one, nice viewpoint. But really, the best activity in Pigra is sitting on this bench overlooking the lake vista while listening to the off-key horn of Town Loony. And that completed our wonderful, relaxing getaway on Lake Como, surely one of the most beautiful spots in Italy.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Varenna Morning, Star Wars Afternoon

Colorful, beautiful, Varenna
Our favorite day on Lake Como, in part due to a full day of blue skies, we spent mostly in the village of Varenna. Lovely, lovely Varenna. We both agreed that this charming village was our favorite. Where Bellagio makes no apologies for catering to tourists and Menaggio seems to do so under duress, Varenna fills the gap in between perfectly with a charming mix of small town, local life along with some lovely cafes and a small number of artsy shops. Add to this a short, pretty boardwalk that curves the coastline from the ferry landing around a small point to a movie set worthy, colorful collage of buildings, plus a couple of villas open to the public, a large piazza, and some hikes in the hills and you've got a near perfect town. We started with a stroll along the waterfront, taking in the lake on a brilliant day and stopping every few feet for yet another photo, then we made our way along narrow, neighborhood alleys and up into the pretty piazza. There, we found a map of town which showed a loop road going up to a castle in the hamlet of Vezio. Somewhere, either the map or a road sign, we noticed the castle was only a 15 minute walk. Taking into consideration the disaster of our Greece hike added to my recent tendency to become out of breath by doing something as strenuous as walking to the bathroom, we decided that 30 minutes was a reasonable assumption for us.
View from Villa Monastero
Fifteen minutes later, we had just barely turned off the flat road and onto the pedestrian path sloping up. The path headed up with slight curves, cutting off most of the switchbacks that the smart people (with cars) use. We headed up, up, up. And then up some more. Until our path ended at the road, and we had no idea which way to go. Thankfully, we found a nice lady working in her yard to point us toward the castello, and at our next crossroads, ran into yet another friendly local out for a stroll. And so we headed up some more. Until we reached a sign pointing us off the road we'd joined and onto yet another pedestrian path that headed down. This path was quite easy and led us past a pretty waterfall where we relaxed by practicing our photography skills in attempting to take photos where the water looks all soft and cloud-like and glowy. After this little rest, it was up again, but this time, helpful signs told us just how close we were, and we quickly landed in the tiny, hilltop village of Vezio.

Due to exhaustion, I had no desire to wander the few streets of Vezio, so instead, we headed straight for the castle, and for some reason, after almost two hours of hiking, didn't go in. It was a classic example of the phrase "It's the journey, not the destination." From the castle, which probably had stunning views of the entire lake, but I don't really know, there were two paths back down to Varenna. One was clearly marked Varenna and ferries with an arrow. The other looked a little sketchier, said it went in the "direction" of Varenna, but also was supposed to go by a waterfall. We picked that one. I regretted it at the no turning back point, which was after about 10 minutes of carefully picking my way down a little maintained, narrow path of rocks with a steep drop off the side. Thankfully, this ended soon, and we found ourselves in a bucolic scene of olive groves, sloping path, and expansive lake views. Back in Varenna, we settled into a lakefront Creperie for a delicious lunch and even more delicious, dessert crepes. My reward for a much more challenging hike than we'd planned.
Cafe in Paradise

With the afternoon passing a little too quickly, we found ourselves in a bit of a time crunch trying to grab a ferry down to the town of Lenno, where we hoped to visit the Villa Barbianello. Anyone recognize the villa? It was used for scenes in both Star Wars: Episode 2 Attack of the Clones and Casino Royale. I'd read that the walk to the villa is along a nice, 1 km path, but the best approach is via water taxi. As we arrived in Lenno, we realized that we had very little time to actually reach the villa, tour it, then make our way back to the ferry for the last ferry out of town. We made it to the every 30 minute, water taxi with about one minute to spare and found ourselves on a nice boat ride around the small peninsula, giving us a stunning view of the Villa. As we arrived, we found the last tour of the day had already started and while the lady selling entrance tickets offered to call to see if we could run up and join it, we waved her off. Unfortunately. I had not read about the interior of the villa until we were strolling the small garden area and reading the brochure we got at the entrance. The interior sounded fascinating, full of items collected by the previous owner in his very adventurous life of travel. But since I could barely walk at this point due to sore calves from our morning hike, I couldn't work up too much regret. We walked around the gardens, which were nothing fancy after seeing Villa Carlotta the day before, and headed back to the ferry to return to Bellagio and enjoy a fabulous dinner before turning in early after our active day.