A Travellerspoint blog

Goodbye, au revoiur and arrivederci!

Waiting to catch the plane on the first leg home we have time to reflect on a magical six weeks abroad. Each of the three countries we visited have their unique charms.
England was a great place to begin, it felt familiar from the start and our apartment exceeded expectations for position and ambiance. London is fabulous, especially in full bloom, the tourist hotspots and the unexpected highlights of the Phisics garden and the Globe theatre. The people are so terribly accommodating, polite and the cabbies are really helpful, especially the traditional black cabs. And everything so clean.

Our rural stay in Somerset was lovely too, the classic country side with highlights being Tintinhull, Bath, the old inns and for me the glimpse of the Ww2 aircraft. I can understand the unique attraction England has for many in Australia better too, being the home of many Australian ancestors for centuries.

From London the fast train to France, our first experience at this form of travel, one we must surely pursue with such a large continent at home.
In Paris our accommodation was almost a little too much in the middle of "everything", but it was very well equipped and gave us a chance to live like a Parisienne for a few day in a classic old building, while Montmartre itself proved to have everything on our doorstep and still be close enough to the city center.

Then the Luberon experience, a "leisurely" driving tour of beautiful little villages, each with surprises, markets, unique artisans and of course history mixed in. Retiring to our La Petite Maison among the vines at the end of the day was a treat in itself, and then there was the local wine and food. Nougat of several recipes , jellies, Turkish delight plus of course the breads, cakes and croissants. Their lamb is fantastic too, not the same breed as home, bones are differs but very tender & tasty!

Over to Italy, via the Riviera our overnight stay too short. The Cinque Terre experience was dampened by the weather, stunning nether the less while Florence and Tuscany began the journey further back in time that has continued in Rome. Again there is just too much too see and in the end it is all a little bit blurred by the sheer amount and scale of the ancient world still evident. You have to mention the shopping and the huge number of tourists here in Europe, without their input the economies would surely be suffering more. Today in Rome there are 30,000 Harley Davidson owners converging on the city from all around Europe, a Swedish chapter staying at our hotel.
We also noted the younger demographic in the cities, all in a hurry while the ratio and pace changes in favour of the aged in the rural villages. In all three countries we were struck by the number of dogs and cats in both cities and villages, many on apartment balconies or being walked morning and night!

We have had an amazing time, our thanks go to those at home who have made it possible, especially all our fabulous staff at Bradley's Real Estate, our family who gave us great advice on preparing for a trip like this and fed the cat!

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Posted by A M Chaffey 06:50 Comments (0)

Rome

After 17 days driving around France and Italy we had to leave Tuscany and our last chore was to drive in to Florence and deliver the car to the depot, made a bit more difficult by road closures around the American embassy meaning we had to go through the forbidden zone. But first we had to get to Florence itself and Ken, the gps was at his devious best plotting a route that took us through every minute passage in every small village on the way! We just had to put our faith in the bastard and carry on as there was a schedule to keep to and in the end we made it to a point we recognised from our bus rides in and we got there! You seem to be still in a semi rural area and then you turn a corner and your in the center of the city!

That accomplished we had to walk back to the rail station dragging our baggage over the cobblestone to catch the fast train to Rome, a cocoon of comfort which got us there in just 1.5 hours. Anyone who does not support a fast train in Australia is crazy, it is a fabulous and efficient way to travel and the longer we wait to start it the more expensive it will be.

From the train at 250kph, a fabulous way to travel.

From the train at 250kph, a fabulous way to travel.

Ballerina at the Spanish steps late on the day we arrived.

Ballerina at the Spanish steps late on the day we arrived.

Rome has left us lost for words at the ability of the engineers, masons and craftsmen that produced these huge buildings and the minute ornate details evident on so many of them.

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Trevor's fountain, handy with a chisel, eh.

Trevor's fountain, handy with a chisel, eh.

Our hotel is well located allowing us to meander the streets and enjoy sites such as the Trevi Fountain, the Spainish Steps and the Pantheon. Just metres away around the corner we found a small restaurant, they had great fresh pasta, a real Nona & Nonie affair which the family had run since 1956. Others their that night of Italian origin had been recommended by their Padre in America, who wanted to be remembered to to them.

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We are taking a guided tour tomorrow to some of the highlights, as our host in Lecchi advised, "other wise it's just a pile of rocks." He also gave us a handy book that depicts the ruins as they are and an overlay of how they were in their prime. Today we took the tour bus to give our legs a rest, all in beautiful sunshine and we could see the archeologists still working on sites within the city.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

Roman bus driver!

Roman bus driver!

Ballerina gets the thumbs up from Papa!

Ballerina gets the thumbs up from Papa!

Posted by A M Chaffey 09:24 Comments (0)

The end is nigh...

Last days in a Tuscan paradise.

Greve butchery, specialise in free range boar, with tails!

Greve butchery, specialise in free range boar, with tails!

Ken the GPS often finds the back way to a town, revealing gems like this 2nd hand yard, marble, iron, terracotta.

Ken the GPS often finds the back way to a town, revealing gems like this 2nd hand yard, marble, iron, terracotta.


Margaret and another of her italian boys.

Margaret and another of her italian boys.


Why we stopped, view from the 2nd hand marble, iron etc yard.

Why we stopped, view from the 2nd hand marble, iron etc yard.

I think we have a winner, for buildings so far anyway, sorry France.

I think we have a winner, for buildings so far anyway, sorry France.

Sadly we are up to our last day in Chianti, with the worry of packing everything up for the train ride to Rome, three days there and then home.
We explored Florence ( Firenze to the locals) on our second full day and got the chores of train tickets and locating the car return point out of the way. We were in the Europcar office when Danny walked in, a doppelgänger for our bro in law! Both of us must have looked a sight as we were on different sides of the office, mouths open!
We walked for hours checking out the amazing, detailed beauty of this city. The Dumo, piazzas, bridges, everything seems to have the artisans touch.

The shopping too is amazing, although the markets pressure techniques left us cold, all 'same same' not much different.

Wednesday we headed for Siena, an old walled city 25k south of where we are staying. Much smaller than Firenze it was a pleasure to explore within its walls, although we got dreadfully disoriented in its maze of narrow alleys and tall buildings and walked ourselves ragged before we were able to find a taxi to take us back to the car. The cities central square is amazing.
Siena, walled city.

Siena, walled city.

Siena church, sorry duomo, Prosecco again

Siena church, sorry duomo, Prosecco again

On Thursday we also organised guided tours of the cities main Galleria degli Uffizi and Galleria dell Accademia, the small museum containing the works of Michelangelo for Saturday. The gallery contains many of Michalangelo's unfinished sculptures and of course the celebrated statue of David. Our guide provided insights into his methods, unquestioned genius and provided perspective on the politics of the time. The statue is truly a wonder that has to be seen to be appreciated.

The Uffizi , like Paris's Louvre, is too big to absorb in few hours. Our guide Roberto, gave us an understanding of the progression of the renaissance, it's influences and how it was related to the powers and politics of the time, as well as an appreciation of its major works and the building itself. It is amazing to think that at the time of the Medici power so much conflict ensued between rival centres Firenze and Siena for so long, cities only 60 k or so apart! Even recently locals were still concerned if their offspring wanted to marry someone of " enemy" heritage! ie from Florence!

Our host here in Lecchi is an Archeologist with the Florence uni, and he suggest we visit two sites in the area today (Sunday), both with heritage going back 1000 years.
The first was a castle owned by the same family all that time, with one member Bettino Ricasoli largely responsible for developing the wine industry in Italy, the unification of the country and twice Prime Minister in the early 1860' s. Charles, our host, had an invitation to dine at the castle with Bettino's descendants in one of the richly decorated state rooms that had hosted Italian royalty in the past and he had referred to the Medici as a powerful family, at which point the Baron stiffend and referred to them as " Nuevo riche"!

Castle view

Castle view

Brolio Castle, home of Baron Bettino Ricasoli

Brolio Castle, home of Baron Bettino Ricasoli

The second was an Abbey, Badia a Coltibuono established by the original Benedictine monks who occupied the site until Napoleon invaded and chased them off. Today the crypt beneath the Chappell is used to house the oak vats holding the produce of Coltibuono wines, whose logo features the planting stick, a symbol of the Benedictine order. The abbey is now a B& B, and when we visited was hosting an international vintage & veteran rally.

Class at the Abbey

Class at the Abbey

1958 vintage

1958 vintage

Where we are staying has a number of castles in the area like the one we visited today that were on the border between the major power centres for centuries and the area has been the site of many battles.
Charles, our host and tour guide, is working on a drive tour for our last day, briefing at 0900!

Posted by A M Chaffey 15:45 Comments (0)

OMG Tuscany!

Bordighera Italy

Bordighera Italy

The white buildings are glasshouses, the steep slopes around Bordighera are covered with them!

The white buildings are glasshouses, the steep slopes around Bordighera are covered with them!

Vernazza from the boat

Vernazza from the boat


After leaving our wonderful stay in the Luberon Valley we spent a lovely night at a high end hotel in Bordighera and then a couple of hours the next morning wandering along the waters edge of the riviera. The colour of the ocean there is just fabulous. We were amazed too at the hectares of glass houses installed on the steepest of slopes in the area. As we drove west along the coast they were a feature for kilometres. The only thing I can imagine they are used for that would be economic is hydroponic food production, but they are a major feature of the landscape.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

click on large

click on large

The next two nights we spent at a much more economic hotel at La Spezia. Arriving in the mid afternoon we wandered into the town centre to explore a bit and on the advice of the hotel reception, the next morning caught the boat to the the towns of the Cinque Terre, thinking this would give us a great perspective of the coast. We set ourselves up in a prime viewing position at the front of the upper deck with only the Captain in front of us while manoeuvring at each village, so we had an unfetted view. After the first stop however the rain once again came to spoil our parade, and after holding out for some time we eventual surrendered and in a rising swell stumbled our way downstairs to shelter. It was a good way to view the area though and we would recommend it, particularly in better weather.

You can't drive there, there's no parking.

You can't drive there, there's no parking.

The whole Cinque Terre region is a testament to the tenatious spirit of the locals not only to live in such a rugged terrain but to build houses and tend gardens on what to others would be impossible slopes. It must be their high fish diet that maintains their knees and other joints to keep it up!

Pisa

Pisa

Pisa old city streetscape

Pisa old city streetscape

Garibaldi's statue in Pisa

Garibaldi's statue in Pisa

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From La Spetzia we had til after 4 pm to get to our new accommodation at Lo Stallino in Tuscany, so we headed to Pisa, which was sort of on the way. Again we were too hesitant about the availability of parking near the tower and ended up walking about 3 K more than we need to, but you're never to know that when you start out!

After a pizza and beer for lunch at Pisa we headed off to Lecchi and arrived after a drive that,in the last 20k, resembled the twists and turns of upper Buckrabendinni, for those that know it. The difference is this roads are paved and sufficiently wider than in Provence to take some of the tension out of it for Marg.

San Sano view

San Sano view

San Sano, Home of Castellare de Noveschi, a hydro massage using wine therapy!

San Sano, Home of Castellare de Noveschi, a hydro massage using wine therapy!

It seems I have scored 5 out of 5 in the accommodation with Lo Stallino exceeding our expectations in every respect. Once again our hosts have supplied us with a welcome hamper of food, pasta, coffee and a cold bottle of Proseco. We supplemented this with a trip to San Sano, 1k away for olives, pecorino cheese and prosciutto for happy hour. The all too fast consumption saw us a happy, giggling mess in no time as the photo may show!

Yippee hour

Yippee hour

When we left the Luberon valley we felt that it would be hard to beat the experience we had encountered there, but so far Italy is providing a true contest!

Posted by A M Chaffey 12:19 Comments (0)

First impressions of Italy

Green cheese with basil and pistachio at Aix earlier today

Green cheese with basil and pistachio at Aix earlier today

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One last lash out, from Aix au Provence, so good!

One last lash out, from Aix au Provence, so good!


We made it to our hotel The Grand Hotel Del Mare just inside the Italian border without a problem, the only blight on the trip the toll booths that won't accept any of our cards and have a different operation method at each one, to my frustration. They always seem to be just out of reach from the drivers position too. Margaret may have more to say on the subject later. Yes Italian drivers are mad, tooting before you go round a blind corner at speed seems to allay any resonsibility for the consequences, and our GPS wanted us to again "turn left" either into the driveway of a home that resembled the position of and eagles eyrie perched on the edge of a cliff or off the cliff. Turns out our hotel was almost directly under that point at sea level about 200 m below. Margaret was very exited to find our room has a splendid view of the Mediterranean, and it is a lovely azure colour, nice to be near the ocean again. Found a lovely, quaint place for dinner specialising in the local seafood, shared a local fish done under a layer of salt and too much wine. Very nice night. Margaret likes the Italians more already, breakfast is served til 11 and checkout is 12!

Room with a view at Grand Hotel Del Mare

Room with a view at Grand Hotel Del Mare

Night lights on the Azure coast

Night lights on the Azure coast

the beach, complete with lifeguard!

the beach, complete with lifeguard!

Posted by A M Chaffey 23:16 Comments (0)

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