Monday, December 8, 2008

Hannah Belle crosses the Alps - the Ultimate Road Trip

Highlights from my BMW delivery in Munich in May 2008. The below are emails to friends...

It's a girl! a 3792 pound girl...

And I've decided to name her Hannah Belle. Can you guess why? (For the first person who guesses correctly - I'll send an 8 x 10 of any photo I've taken on this trip that you like...)

Here are two photos:

This was a first class experience all the way. The new BMW Welt (google it for photos, it's amazing) was just opened in October and it's quite an experience. It's a huge building and the Premium Lounge (where you check in, and wait for your time slot) is on the third floor, but it's likely higher than 30 feet up. The cars are brought out into the showroom below and when you go down to see it for the first time, you watch it from the viewing platform while it rotates on its own platform. Each buyer has his own attendant and there is a 40 minute overview (video, and simulator) of the car beforehand. After that is over they take you to your car and spend another hour learning about all of the car's features. It was like taking flying lessons for the first time - there is a LOT of stuff in the cockpit of this car! I synched up blue tooth and called my Dad from the car itself - I heard him talking through the speakers of the car.

After that is all done they load your luggage into it (believe me - the trunk space on Miss Hannah Belle is pretty darn small...) and then you can do a victory lap around the showroom before taking it outdoors and then into the garage.

After parking we spent another 2.5 hours on a factory tour which was VERY interesting. (Loud, but interesting...). The robots build the cars in a very elaborate dance - it was fascinating and frightening both, watching them operate. (and dance is the only way to put it - ballet even....) I think the person who dreamed up The Terminator must have been inspired by a trip to a car factory. The coolest part was watching the robots paint - it's as if they were alive, the way they handled the car. (opening doors, the trunk, the hood, etc...)

In a few minutes Mom and I are taking off to Austria, our first stop on the adventure. Enjoy the holiday!


We have a winnah!

Hi everyone

I can't stay on long, as Mom and I are heading out on a hike. I just wanted to pop in, say hello (on an Italian keyboard, so please excuse any typos) and say that Mellen immediately emailed me with the correct reason behind the car's name! She emailed me back within hours. JOdy also guessed it right but I think her email was a day or two later. Great minds think alike!

Hannibal crossed the Alps, only he had elephants. He most likely did not have a laptop, blackberry, camera gear, nor a BMW. I think I have the better end of that deal!

It's been just wonderful. Highlights include the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse (High Alpine Road which cuts through a park with a view of Austria's highest mountain) and we arrived Tues night in northern Italy, in the Dolomites. We are staying in a hotel perched on the side of a mountain, called the Uhrherhof Deur. From here, all you can hear are the tinkle of cowbells and the roar of the river down below.

I can't post photos yet because I haven't found wifi since I left Munich. Maybe on Lake Como (Anne and Kirk, did you find wifi there?)

Brodie, you should have gotten the email about the Welt since I cc'd you, if I don't hear back I will assume they are not going through and I'll forward them to you.

I have many more things to tell but we are heading out now. I'll be in touch later and it is so nice to hear from everyone too! I hope you are enjoying the late May weather.


Ofenpass: Ja. Stelvio: Nein. Boohoo

Hi everyone

Logging in from cloudy Guarda Switzerland. What a week this has been - it's Friday night already! Today was the day we left the Dolomites in Italy to go to Switzerland, and in order to go from Italy to Switzerland you must cross some mountain pass (take your pick of several, depending on your location).

I had been hoping for the Stelvio Pass, which is the second highest pass in the entire Alps. It has over 60 switchbacks and is supposed to be just amazing. As the week grew to a close it was clear that it wasn't going to be fully open (one side only) and when we woke to cloud cover in Bulla, I knew it would have been pointless anyway. Not to mention the Umbrail Pass (other side of the Stelvio) is the last unpaved pass in the Alps and would have been a mudfest. Not the kind of fun I want in a new car. Plus, at the top of the Ofenpass it was 39 degrees F and that is quite a bit lower in altitude than the Stelvio. Rain, freezing, mud - not a good combo even if open! Instead of the Great Alpine Adventure it would have been the Bataan Death March through the Alps.

So we pressed on and opted for the Ofenpass, which is a pretty gentle pass, as passes go. We made it to our destination at 4 PM - Guarda itself is fairly high up and we have an impressive view of the mountain range across the river Inn (being on a mountain ourselves...).

Oh yeah, did I mention it rained all day, too? Considering all we did today was drive, not a big deal - except at the Swiss border where we had to produce our passports - which were buried in the suitcases. Did I mention the only way you can easily get the suitcases out of the backseat is to put the top down? Well, you can "not easily" root through your luggage in the backseat with the top up. Finally success! and we produced our passports and went on our merry and wet way. By the time we got here however, the sun was trying to peep out and we went for a nice walk before dinner. I do have a lot of photos by now but haven't posted them on flickr yet.

Some quick notes from the week:

Munich: Paige - I think we missed the boat on the olive oil soap. The Viktualienmarkt is not open on Sunday and by the time we got in Saturday and dragged our jet-lagged selves around, all we did was have a snack there and then we wandered to the English Garden (where we saw examples of what it is famous for - let's just say, how do they put sunscreen on the private places in public?) and then the Ratskeller for dinner (and REALLY GOOD BEER) and then snooooooooze. Didn't we eat there when I met up with you guys in Munich 6 years ago? Anyway, we wil be back in Munich next Saturday but I think it will be after 4 PM when it will be closed.

Also Munich - on Sunday we visited Dachau which was thoroughly depressing. I really don't have adequate words for it. The Museum and its stories and photos - well let's just say a little goes a long way. After 30 minutes you want to get outside and get some air. I last visited there about 15 years ago, but Mom had never been. That afternoon we went on a 3 hour walking tour which was about the Third Reich and Hitler's rise to power. What one person can do with the proper thugs behind him and a culture of fear.

Monday we picked up the car and ya'll know about that! Having driven it all week I can say it's a spectacular car. It's climbed mountains (7 passes so far and counting) with two people and with the boot and back seat full of luggage (and I do mean - full of luggage) with nary a whimper, and the doodads on it are fun to play with (and use) and already I feel like I wouldn't want to be without them.

Monday night we stayed in Zell am See, Austria. I'd love to come back and spend more time - it is a beautiful village and a great base for day trips and hiking and biking and you name it. "See" means lake...

to be continued...

Sul Lago di Como

Hello everyone!
We made it to my favorite part of the itinerary - Lake Como. Last night we stayed in Lenno, on the west side of the Lake, and this morning we will visit Villa Balbianello, which has been used for several movie sets (among them A Month at the Lake, and at least one Star Wars..) This afternoon we will put Miss Belle on the ferry and cross the Lake to Varenna, where we will stay at the Eremo Gaudio for 3 nights (same place as last year...).
I think the idea of a Month by the Lake is really attractive... heck even a week or two each year would be nice.. sigh.
More later! Have a great weekend everyone...


Changing course in midstream (following the sun...)

Hi everyone!
We are still on Lago di Como and the day dawned bright and sunny - nary a cloud in the sky and it is maybe 65 degrees out right now.
Many of you have emailed me to ask me if we were affected by the huge rains here in middle Europe. We actually did not know it was a system passing through, we have been very lucky with the weather. Other than the rain we experienced on the drive from the Dolomites to Guarda Switzerland (Engadin region), and, a brief bout of spitting yesterday, we have been rain free. We have had some overcast weather, but even that has been in the minority.
That said... I noticed with some alarm that the 3 days in Grindelwald (Berner Oberland) was forecast to be not only 3 days straight of rain, but cold (high of 50). That just will not do. We would not be able to see the mountains and forget about spending 3 days outside in rain and cold. The things I had hoped to do there just would not be very enjoyable. It is not an ,indoors, place to visit!
So, I extended our stay here on Lake Como. How can we leave blue skies and sun? We are spending one more night (beyond tonight, which was already reserved) in the Eremo Gaudio, perched up on the mountain... and another night across the lake in Lenno, in the hotel where we stayed on Saturday night. It is in a perfect location, the balcony overlooks the ferry stop and just meters up the (quiet, one-way) lane are several restaurants with terrace views on the lake. I am taking a hit for the cancellation, since I have to pay 100% of the room fee for the hotel we are cancelling, but, it is a small price to pay to be able to stay where it is warm and sunny.
So, instead of leaving here tomorrow morning, we are leaving Friday morning to make our way back to Munich for the weekend - which is also one day early, so we will just pick a place to stop for the night Friday and thus split up the driving. I think tomorrow we will go to Milan to wander (and shop!) and perhaps get lucky and see Leonardo da Vinci,s Last Supper. (reservations required). Today we are going to have a seaplane ride over Lake Como so I will have some fabulous photos to share!

Some highlights from the past few days:
We have wandered through several lakeside villas. The amount of money that landed here (now and in the past) is staggering. Villa Balbianello was spectacular (as expected) and I also found out that Casino Royale had scenes filmed there. The owner.s story was really fascinating - has anyone here ever heard of Guido Monzino? He was the last owner of the villa, and gave it to FAI (the Italian version of the National Trust) upon his death. He was the son of a very wealthy Milanese businessman and he neither worked nor had a family, but he devoted his life to exploration, being the first Italian to scale Mount Everest and he also was the first Italian to reach the North Pole. The villa has a massive library and map room (and much of the villa is underground, it looks large but not hugely so, from the outside...) and to sum up looks like THE ultimate bachelor pad from the 50s (and I do not mean that in a Hugh Hefner kind of way... think more of a James Bond kind of way...)

There is a huge lakeside villa in Varenna which apparently was a monastery a long time ago (those poor Catholics!) and after the last owner died became a center of scientific study.... while on the topic of the impoverished Catholic church, the Villa Balbienello had as its first owner a Cardinal from the 1700s... (I am Catholic, so I can say this!)

We also wandered around Bellagio yesterday. Mom and I are thoroughly enjoying ourselves, in case that is not evident!

Amy, you would appreciate this - in the restaurant where we had lunch yesterday, we sat very near a young-Colin Firth lookalike. (men, you can avert your eyes now...) You know how he looked in Pride and Prejudice? All the way to the curly, foppish hair, long side burns, and white button down shirt with the top two buttons undone? Yeah, that Colin Firth. hubba hubba. It clearly was not he, since he was a good ten years younger and spoke perfect Italian, but hoo baby.

I forgot to tell everyone also - a fillup on the car is 115 bucks! yipes.

OK, we are heading out now. Have a great day everyone!


Spargel-bargle and back in Munich

Hi everyone

Apparently it is Spargel season. (asparagus, and I think specifically white asparagus). We got back to Munich Friday night and I've seen entire menu pages devoted to them, as well as seeing them in every food stall in the Viktualienmarkt. It's also the weekend for kickoff of Euro-cup so we saw a lot of flag waving yesterday and huge lines to get into the Hofbrauhaus and other pubs.
Friday was a loooooooong day of driving - overcast when it wasn't rainy, mountain passes shrouded in clouds, and "only" 300 miles on the odometer but until we hit Germany it was entirely slow going. Naturally once we were on the autobahn all bets were off (but for the limits on the new engine) but the lead up to that was relatively slow. I dropped off the car with 971 miles on the odo, in part because once we got to Lake Como it stayed put for the week. I think the break in period is 1200 miles or so, so I had to keep it around 100 once we finally got to Germany. Sooooooooo smooth. It's quite an experience to be in the left lane, passing someone at 105 mph and have a speck in your mirror turn into a big BMW very, very quickly. You move over immediately after passing and the 740 rockets by... (I'd say it's a thing of beauty but some might disagree...)

Friday night we didn't have hotel plans (heck, Friday morning we were still debating whether to go to Fussen or Garmisch for that night, until deciding to just plow through to Munich) so I decided to drive straight to the airport Sheraton where I was stranded in January after my Italy New-Years trip. A few clicks of the Nav system, pulled up the hotel directions and off we went. I knew the hotel had a good restaurant and Paulaner Weissbier (nectar!) and that once we parked we would have a good place to eat and it was very modern and comfortable too. It was the cheapest hotel on the trip, too. So, now the car is at the shipping agency (boo hoo) and I have the German license plate in my luggage as well as the loose odds and ends in the car. (manual, first aid kit, triangle, yada yada). It was already initiated - someone swiped the rear bumper, I suspect while it was parked in the garage at the hotel in Lenno. It's just a scuff with some paint missing, not a dent or anything. Roads and garage space in Italy are so narrow!

The first week of our trip was pretty much full sun with a little overcast here and there. The second week of the trip (Lake Como included) was pretty much full overcast with a little sun here and there and a little rain too. On the Lake, Tuesday was the last sun we saw (the day we decided to stay put) but it stayed warm the whole time. We made it to Milan for four hours but after a trek from the Duomo to the Last Supper, we found that it was sold out (as expected, you need to reserve well in advance). We did visit the Duomo and were robbed of 100 bucks at lunch. By robbed, I mean we plunked down at an "outdoor cafe" in the over-the-top Galleria next to the Duomo and had awful pasta, a glass of wine each, and a stale roll each... for 65 euros. I wouldn't have minded so much BUT the rolls turned out to be 5 euros, each. 16 bucks, for two stale rolls. Try not to eat near the Duomo.

Let's see... we visited several villas right on the lakefront, I think I told you about one of them. Villa Monastero was very near our hotel and the gardens there were my favorite. (Anne, the drive up the hill to the Eremo Gaudio literally starts at the Villa Monastero entrance). Boats are *the* way to get around (forget about driving, parking isn't easy and the roads are maybe 1.5 lanes, not quite two..) so it was a slow, lazy week on the lake.

I'll fill in some blanks on other experiences later. I think the final tally on mountain pass driving was nine passes - the coolest pass was the Maloja pass which was essentially a step ladder right down the mountain. Gasoline is crazy expensive - more than double that in the US (a fillup is almost 115 bucks...). I put a few more photos online but the majority wil obviously have to wait until I get home. I owe a lot of emails now, too!

Have a great Sunday everyone...


ps. photos:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Italian Notebook published another one of my little stories and photos


What do Casino Royale, Star Wars, Ocean's Twelve and A Month by the Lake have in common?

More hints you say?

How about "What was revered by a Cardinal in the beginning and loved by an international man of mystery to the end?"

If you thought "Villa Balbianello on Lake Como", you're right!

Lake Como has long been a playground for the wealthy. Its beauty and serenity has also been attractive to the Catholic church which snapped up some prime locations; to-wit, Villa Monastero in Varenna (once a monastery) and Villa Balbianello, once the site of a Franciscan monastery. Villa Balbianello itself was built by Cardinal Durini in 1787 after he discovered its beautiful locale (a promontory jutting out just south of present-day Lenno) and decided its solitude would be a perfect place to escape the world.

Almost 200 years later, in 1974, Villa Balbianello would be bought by its last private owner, Guido Monzino, the son of a wealthy Milanese businessman. Guido was quite a character: he climbed the Matterhorn, he was the first Italian to scale Mount Everest and he led an expedition to the North Pole. Sadly he died a young 60 years old in 1988 and his resting place is his beloved Villa. He willed it to FAI, the Italian National Trust, and it is now a museum to his adventurous life (with a strong James Bond aura!). When you visit his smoking room, filled with leather chairs and maps and globes and books you can imagine that he only just nipped out for a bottle of Scotch and would be right back.

Finally, the glamorous movie connection of this fabulous Villa: it has played a starring role in the various movies listed above and it's no surprise at all that one of them was a James Bond film. Before you visit this spectacular villa you simply must watch the Vanessa Redgrave/Uma Thurman movie, A Month by the Lake. You will find yourself seeking your own Month by this wondrous Lake too.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Gli Angeli del Fango

I am now "published" on the internet! Someone else likes me enough to endorse something I wrote and put it out there for me. It's on Italian Notebook, and, the link below is an archive page. It was published on November 4 so if you are viewing this after November 4 you may have to search a little below to find my note. Below is my text. GB used historical photos in the note, showing the actual Mud Angels. It's quite inspiring, have a look!

The Arno after a storm...

November 4, 1966 will never be forgotten by residents of Florence or art lovers around the world. The great river of Florence, the Arno , rose to deadly heights after the nearby dams were compromised by severe rainstorms in the days leading up to November 4. Residents of Florence, and the world, watched helplessly as roughly 30 people died, thousands were made homeless, and countless (and priceless) art treasures and literature were lost to the churning, engulfing flood waters. All in the blink of an eye...

Among the many relief efforts which rushed to aid Florence, it is inspiring to learn of Gli Angeli del Fango, or the Mud Angels. They were volunteers from all over the world who dropped everything to turn up in Florence's time of great need. Some of them were experts in the field of art restoration, others were young students. They tirelessly set about the task of digging out the city and attempting to save the artwork that they could. Two notable examples of art that were eventually recovered (though unclear if it was the work of the Angels) were The Doors of Paradise by Ghiberti, and, the Crucifix by Cimabue, which sustained massive damage.

The next time you visit Florence, seek out the wall plaques which show the heights the flood waters reached and say a thank you to Gli Angeli del Fango for their gift of love and hope to the world.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The colors of Virginia

Last weekend I took a drive out to Bluemont winery. It was Loudoun County's farm/open house weekend. I drove up to the winery itself (the driveway was dreadful! just like a Tuscan farm driveway come to think of it...) and got some colorful photos of the day.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Dawn at the beach (Hilton Head Island)

Last weekend I visited my beach house near Hilton Head. I had planned to visit shortly after Labor Day, but Hannah the Hurricane loomed and I was pretty sure my plane would be cancelled either on the trip down or the trip back. I switched my tickets and spent September 26-28 there instead. The weather was perfect and I spent a lot of time taking photos. I got up for the sunrise both mornings and also took some sunset photos. The Low Country is becoming more near and dear to me - it's only taken 3 years! I told a friend recently the evolution has been "I'm going to buy a house to rent out - what an investment" to "My nice new house, I can't rent it out" to "Why did I buy this place, I won't rent it and I'm hardly ever there" to the current, "I really enjoy my visits. I can leave my cares behind and just hang out at the beach". Enjoy the photos - I even saw a sunrise wedding. What a perfect morning.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tarara (boom-di-ay...)

I gotta update this blog more frequently. 10 days? Here are some photos I took yesterday in Leesburg. Tarara Vineyards was having a wine festival, and I went to investigate. These grapes were maybe a mile from the winery entrance.
Earlier that day, I bought a diffuser/reflector and I think it may have helped a little bit, but I really needed an assistant to hold it for me. It's hard to hold it over your head and shoot with the other hand, especially with a moderately heavy lens.


Photo of Hannah Belle with the top down...

Grape leaves...

More grapes...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Girasole, Tournesol, Sunflower, in any language - they follow the sun

These were all taken at my parents' home in Girard Pennsylvania over Labor Day Weekend.

I used a polarizing filter on these photos, and I used two different lenses for the shoot - one, a 24-105 Canon (set on 105 to get closer) and the other one a 100mm macro. These Sunflowers are tall tall tall!

I love Sunflowers, they are so cheerful. My dream photography trip is to visit France in July and take photos of both the Lavender fields and the Sunflowers...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Originally uploaded by Skyhawk Flyer
I used my new macro lens to take this photo. Macros have a very tight DOF. That really is the color! Isn't it pretty?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Monarch Butterfly

I got a brand new lens last week and went to Meadowlark Gardens in Vienna and took some photos. They have a butterfly garden as well as an herb garden. Many photo opportunities there! I bought a year pass for the gardens - it looks like a great place to wander all times of the year.

Friday, August 1, 2008

My other car is a Mercedes

Ha, ha, ha. You know those bumper stickers that say "My Mercedes is in the shop" or "My other car is a Porsche..."

Hannah Belle is finally home from Germany.
I never did expain why I named her Hannah Belle.
Here is a hint: We drove her across the Alps...

This is on the car ferry from Menaggio to Varenna, on Lake Como.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My first-ever photo competition!

Hi everyone!  This is Varenna on Lake Como.

I just got home from my first ever entry to a photo competition. I joined a photo club in February and haven't been able to get my act together in time for the competitions.

I finally got two photos matted for the competition. This is one of them.

Since this was the end-of-season party it was a "judging by your peers" competition. Out of 44 entrants, each person was to select their two top favorites. The official counters then selected the top 5 based on the number of votes, and then the whole group was to look at the top 5 and vote on their favorite out of the top 5.

Well, when we filed back through the room the second time, I was happy to see that mine was one of the 5!

We then all voted on our favorites. (No, I did not vote on my own either time).

I came in third! Out of 44 photos by some really talented photographers. I am pickled tink. And the funniest thing of all - I took that photo with my Canon SD800IS - in other words, a little point and shoot.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

OK, where next?

In an effort to see more of the United States, I will be spending the July 4th weekend with my parents in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Apparently this is the first place in the US to get the ZORB. The photo you see here was taken in August 2005, in New Zealand. Other possible US plans in 2008 include a road trip to New England in late summer or early fall, and potentially a trip out to California. I will definitely be in South Carolina several times this year and if I can swing the time, back to New Mexico.

Monday, May 26, 2008

It's a girl! A 3792 pound girl...

Introducing Hannah Belle, who was delivered at 930 AM today,Munich time.

Can you guess why I named her that? I'll leave a hint later if no one can...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Hooray hooray, we're on our way...

Our big vacation starts today. (That piece of corn, courtesy of Dad).

In just an hour and a half the cab is going to whisk me to the airport, for the start of our Big BMW Alpine Adventure! Seeing the Alps from a convertible, what a delight.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ten, NINE, eight, seven, six...

That's right, only 9 more days until the Great Alpine Driving Adventure. And in a little over two weeks we will be right where this photo was taken 4 years ago...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In my front yard...

In my front yard...
Originally uploaded by Skyhawk Flyer
I can't get enough of these tulips! I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. I planted some other bulbs I forgot in my garage last fall and they are just now starting to poke out.. I hope I am lucky with another wave of tulips.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The official 30-day countdown to Munich and the Alps!

BMW Badge
Originally uploaded by Skyhawk Flyer

On May 23 Mom and I leave for Munich to pick up my new BMW. The actual delivery is May 26 (Memorial Day) and our itinerary is roughly this:

May 24 and 25: Munich
May 26 night: Zell am See
May 27 drive the Grossglockner
May 28-29 stay in the Dolomites (Hotel Uhrerhof Deur)
May 30 drive the Stelvio Pass, and night in Guarda CH
May 31 - June 3 (4 nights) on Lake Como
June 4 - June 6 (3 nights) in Grindelwald
June 7 night - maybe Fussen
June 8 night near Munich
June 9 fly home.

Friday, April 18, 2008

More tulips, and why not!

Originally uploaded by Skyhawk Flyer
More kudos for my flowers - so I thought I would share. To think this was a tiny point and shoot camera, not my "big guns".

Monday, April 14, 2008

Closeup of a Tulip

Originally uploaded by Skyhawk Flyer
Between the zoom and the macro, check it out. Not half bad for a little point and shoot camera.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Cherry Blossoms of Spring

It's Cherry Blossom time in Washington DC.

Flowers gone wild! Trees going mad! Find a place to park if you can and wander if you dare. This particular neighborhood had patrolling police cars to make sure no one trampled anything or parked out of hand.

It's time to pull out your cameras - and the Claritin.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Some tips for France, especially Brittany.

For your enjoyment or maybe even for your use! Friends of mine went on a first trip to France last year. They took 15 days and I told them for a nice flavor of France maybe split up the trip by 5, 5 and 5 days - 5 Paris, and then visit two other places for 5 days each. The below is some advice I've put together to help them out. Enjoy!

Here are some things I thought about which might help you with your trip coming up. I think Paris has enough going on that you could fill your days without even consulting a guidebook! If I think of unusual Paris things I will send those along later. The usual stuff you can’t help but find.

If you have time google the below places and see if they interest you at all. On my last visit to Paris I stayed at Agora St. Germain which is a short walk to Notre Dame among other things. Good location. Nice hotel – 3 stars I think. It’s not fancy but it’s clean. Don’t forget to get the Museums and Monuments pass – any metro station. This is more valuable as a line-jumper pass than actual money savings. You can look up the museums on the internet. Overall don’t bother to buy any tickets or passes until you get there though. It is a waste of time and one more thing to forget to pack.

I liked climbing Notre Dame for a good high-perch view of the city (included in pass). Also the Arch of Triumph is included – you can climb up there too. In Paris, don’t miss Angelina at 226 rue de Rivoli. You can do this before/after you walk through the Jardin des Tuileries near the Louvre. They have the richest hot chocolate you’ve ever had – get “L’Africain” hot chocolate. Yummy.

There is La Maison de Bretagne at 203 Boulevard St. Germain. This is a good place to check out tourist info if you are heading to Brittany from Paris as they seem to cover all aspects of a holiday in Brittany.

In fact, as a rule, whenever you get to a town, if you have time, check out the tourist office because they usually can tell you about unusual things to see or do. If you have time, Giverny, where Monet lived out the latter part of his life, is about 60 miles from Paris. It is really worth a visit and especially for Les Andelys, the town not far down the river which is where Richard the Lion Heart’s fortress is. The house/gardens are closed on Mondays. Many of his paintings were inspired there – the lilies, the red bridge, etc. You can see it all at his house.

If you are going to go to Brittany, a side trip on the way up into Normandy isn’t too far out of your way and would take one day (obviously you could stay a lot longer). In fact Giverny is on the way up to Normandy. You could at least see some of the Normandy beaches. If you go, you gotta have Crème Brulee while you are there (the best! Fresh cream) and also Calvados, the apple liquor which is a specialty in Normandy.

As you leave Normandy on the way to Brittany Mont St Michel is really worth a visit.

At Pointe du Grouin - on a reasonably clear day you can see Mont St. Michel across the water. Brittany and Normandy go together logically on a trip because they are next to each other.

When I left Normandy and kept going into Brittany, there is a really cool place to visit called Ploumanach where the Cote du Granit Rose starts – nice walking there. Along the way I found a really cool cliffside drive (near Perros Guirec I think) to follow as well as a 13th century Abbey. Abbaye de Beauport it was called.

Brittany is neat in that it’s more Celtic than French in some respects. It’s not classically French like you think of Paris or the Riviera or Provence. It’s more remote, wilder and less people live there. To me it seems like a great place to summer – lots of boating, some beaches (not going to be warm though!) and hiking and horseback riding and biking. In some ways it seems like New England to me – more rustic and rural than other parts of France.

Each part of France is quite unique. One thing though – Brittany seems to be more popular with Brits/French/other Europeans and not nearly as overrun with Americans as the other parts of France are so that may be appealing too. I have also heard from friends who went to France that the Dordogne was their favorite area – I have not visited there yet. I also really want to visit the Calanques sometime too.

One thing to note – if you use Michelin maps in France (recommended) the really pretty scenic drives are highlighted in green (I think) on the maps. The map key will tell you, but I think it’s green – they highlight the parts of the route which are particularly scenic and that is nice to follow along.

Try to research restaurants and towns with good ones in Brittany if you go there, especially when you get to the more remote parts of it such as Finistere (a part of Brittany). You will be there off season and I didn’t plan well and as a result lived on crepes and salads. Also note places close down midday. If you are hungry, best to eat at lunch time and don’t wait until 3 PM to start looking for food. Pont Aven was a good place to find restaurants as was Quimper and Vannes had lots of restaurants.

While at the tip of Brittany I stayed in Audierne, at a hotel called Le Goyen. It wasn’t far from Pointe du Raz (don’t miss!) and the horseback riding I wanted to do. I liked the hotel – my room was easterly facing over the water and I had a small balcony too. Horseback riding at Plogoff, where I rode near the cliffs of Pointe du Raz. They are easy to reach from Audierne: phone 0033/0298/706/740

How about hiking or biking in France? I know their hiking paths are well maintained – I haven’t done any major hiking on them though. There is a coastal footpath all along the Breton coast (Brittany) which you can pick up anywhere. (“Sentier de Grande Randonnée GR34”)Leaving Audierne, I also visited Pont Aven (artists’ village – Gauguin for instance) and Carnac on the way to Vannes.

You'll definitely want to see the Menhirs in Carnac. HUGE! These were seriously motivated people (or maybe aliens).

In Brittany there is a special pottery called Faïence. There is a factory in Quimper which is a larger town in Brittany. You can get knockoffs all over – for fun I got dishes with my cats’ name on them. Who knew Cecily and Ophelia were popular names in France. (Cecelie and Ophelie).

Heading back east - I LOVED Vannes. Brittany itself is set up into 4 separate areas, the Morbihan area is on the way to Paris and has Vannes which is usually really high on French “great towns to live in” lists. Plenty of places to eat and shop.

In Vannes I stayed in Villa Kerasy which was great. My room was called "Pondichery". The owner had spent much time in India (he is from Lorient in Brittany, which was a major port for the Eastern trading) and he decorated the hotel to reflect the tastes he picked up there.

I wanted to do a three hour bay cruise tour of the Golfe du Morbihan while I was there but the hotel was so busy when I checked out I had to wait – I zoomed down to the boat slips and I drove up to see them throwing the ropes off the boat. I ran to the dock, and waved to the folks sitting there on the boat which was already about 20 feet away from the pier. So if you get there, see if you like the boat cruise and don’t dally because they don’t wait or come back.

Other stuff I think is cool – how about looking up the various UNESCO World Heritage sites and visiting the ones where you will be? I haven’t done this on purpose but once I looked at the listings on the internet I found I had seen a bunch of them anyway. This might be worth it to go visit things you might not otherwise drive out of your way to see. They are literally all over the world and France has a lot.

One other thing I had to mention – if you don’t see the Loire Valley and its chateaus I’ll be bummed! It’s kinda/sorta on your way (driving) to Provence if you leave Brittany and head southeast – I don’t know what the roads are like though. You won’t do it a lot of justice if you zip through in one (long) day but it’s still really interesting and beautiful – plenty of wineries (and you can do a vineyard drive or bike ride…) and lots and lots of castles. Overall the food there will be better than in Brittany (anywhere in France, it will be better. I wasn’t impressed with the food there really). And you won’t find wineries in Brittany (at least not good ones). It would be a good alternative to Brittany if you decided to do that instead. Also bear in mind Brittany is a lot more west and it’s still north so driving to Provence afterwards will take longer than if you just left Paris and headed straight south (or went to Loire Valley instead). Paris – Avignon is 6 hours of driving (it is three hours by fast train). From Brittany it will be a lot more – I’d say likely at least 10 hours if not more, driving although you’d likely see more cool stuff. is a great place to figure out routes and times. Some times I’ve picked up a car, used it, dropped it off, taken the fast train to another spot, and gotten another car for sightseeing. That might save some time too for you.

You won’t run out of things to do in Provence. The sun is out a lot – the lighting is wonderful (another reason artists love Provence) and there are lots of wineries, olive oil, great food, stunning sights to see – the lavender comes out in July – I still haven’t seen that yet other than the late season stuff. I think a cooking class would be fun, haven’t done that yet though.

Arles has a lot of Roman things to see (a great arena – I saw bullfights there) and don’t miss Pont du Gard – also Roman. Nimes has a Roman arena as well (I didn’t go there).

If you want a really nice place to stay check out Patricia Bach’s home in Maussanne: I stayed there once and on a second visit just went to her home for lunch. She is American but has lived overseas most of her life as has her husband. The place is gorgeous and she is a great cook too, in fact, she used to have week long cooking classes, maybe she still does. I have not spoken to her in a long time.

I also went horseback riding there, starting from St. Remy (also might be a nice base to stay – I stayed there once too). It’s not far from Arles, either. Pretty drive. If you go horseback riding there, make sure to ask for the 2 hour ride because they will take you up into the mountains (the Alpilles). Beautiful sights and I think you either get to the top by foot or by horse – I didn’t see many regular roads up there. I would kind of like St. Remy as a place to stay better than Arles but that’s me – it’s a short drive to get to Arles anyway. And Les Baux is close by too (where the dead city is I told you about). There are also Roman ruins near St. Remy, too.

I have heard good things about this hotel: but have not stayed there yet – maybe another time. I had dinner in Uzes one night which is a village worth a look, too.

Vaison la Romaine (heading up north) is definitely worth seeing (I think Patricia Wells’ home is there – one of them anyway) and this area also has a lot of wineries.

Chateauneuf de Pape is worth checking out for sure. B&Bs etc outside of Paris check out:

One very good website for Provence: you may decide to make your whole trip here once you start poking around.

If you fly in and out of Paris, and, the south is your last stop, I’d drop the car down south and take the fast train to Paris OR Nice has easyjet to Paris or you can just fly home from Nice. I wouldn’t backtrack-drive just to fly home.

Ok I am running out of steam. This is a good start anyway. No matter where you pick you will have a great time and see cool stuff.

Books to read to prepare for a trip to Italy

Colosseum at dusk.

I thought this list might be of interest to people who are seeking books to read before a trip to Italy (or during, or aftter...). I read voraciously and the below are books on my bookshelf. To make up for the sparse text, I've peppered this blog with photos I've taken in Italy. 

Enjoy the list! Do leave a comment if you liked any of the below books or have others to recommend. Most of the below are non-fiction books, but, I would love to read some fiction books/stories about Italy. If you have any to recommend, I'd love to hear about it.

Miss Garnet's Angel by Sally Vickers – oh such a treat! I highly recommend reading this before you leave and visiting some of the spots the author highlights. It's a fiction book and quite enjoyable, it gives you a real sense of place. (...older English lady leaves England after the death of her friend to start a new life in Venice...). Mom and I visited the church that was the subject of her story. It is utterly beautiful. I'll have to find a photo of the ceiling and post it later.

Meanwhile, the below I took not too far from the Rialto bridge.

Time Out for Venice, Florence/Tuscany and Rome, and the Top Ten DK guidebooks for Venice, Tuscany, Rome. For Tuscany I recommend the Reid Bramblett one. Time Out is my favorite guidebook series and I like Top Ten to carry around day to day.

Collected Traveler for Venice and for Italy, both by Barrie Kerper. I love this author and her approach. She collects her favorite essays about certain areas and each chapter is devoted to a certain theme - for instance history, people, food. The book has a very "stop and smell the roses" approach and it's evident she has a serious book habit as each chapter, each essay, has an editorial afterwards in which she describes her favorite books about that given topic.

Venice for Pleasure by JG Links. The ultimate take-along walking tour book written by a devotee of Venice. While I always recommend taking a guided walking (or in Venice, boating) tour while visiting a destination, this is a great substitute or add-on to your experience. There are several photos as well as prints/artwork throughout the book, and many I had never seen before. For instance, there is a photo of the aftermath of the Campanile collapse in 1902. What a pile of sad rubble.

Below is Venice as viewed from the Campanile on Isola San Giorgio.

A Valley in Italy by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran – wacky Englishwoman raises family in a formerly-ruined castle Umbria. Charms village in the process.

Italian Days by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison This book received the highest recommendation by Barrie Kerper, above. I didn't finish it, and it's on the waiting list for my attention again.

Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Out of this Century: Confessions of an Art Addict by (and about) Peggy Guggenheim. If you want to see how the other half lives. Talk about the roaring 20s. Her life story, and the stories about the lives of the expats in the '20s and '30s, are what make us all (well, me anyway) have such romantic notions of chucking it all and moving to Europe. There's that little detail about either being an heiress or having latent artistic talent – must put that on the list of Things to Do.

World of Venice by Jan Morris. I bought this several years ago before my first trip to Venice and re-read a few chapters before each subsequent one. A must-buy before you visit Venice. even though it was written in the 50s, it's just as timely as it was then.

A Traveler in Rome by HV Morton. My absolute favorite book, to date, about Rome. A must-read. No question about it.

The above photo shows Fleurs de Lis in Florence.

The Stones of Florence by Mary McCarthy. A delightful book about the history of Florence. I'd recommend this as a take-along if you have room. (edit - I dropped this in the bathtub one night while reading it and needless to say have not finished it).

Witness to Hope by George Weigel. This is about Pope John Paul II. I think it must weigh five pounds. On the to-read list. My Mom bought it for me for Christmas the first year I went to Rome. (update - it still sits collecting dust).

Below are some books bought in Florence after the fabulous walking tour I took:

April Blood by Lauro Martinesi. This is about the Pazzi conspiracy - and do you know Pazzi now stands for "crazy" in Italian? If you knew the story you would understand why!

The above photo was taken in Assisi and has nothing to do with Brunelleschi.

Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King. If you like how-to books, this one is for you.

Medici Money by Tim Parks. God what a slog. I set it aside. "Quicken" for Medicis. blech. It's a shame because I really like Tim Parks' books otherwise. I've since seen this book referenced in other books about the Medicis so maybe I will give it another go.

Another take along book to Rome: Oxford Archaeological Guide to Rome. One of my guides on the walking tour of the Colosseum highly recommended this book. I walked around the Forum with it, too. If you cannot have a guide, this is the next best thing.

I bought a book on the Colosseum while visiting it – and I recommend getting one there, they are fairly comprehensive. They also have photos and diagrams which are a plus.

The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone. It's a masterpiece. Must-read before a trip to Florence and Rome. Even though MB died over 400 years ago, I still cried at the end when he died (SPOILER ALERT. haha).  One of the things I particularly enjoyed when reading this book is adding to my "mental timeline" of history.  The more I have read about the Middle Ages/the Renaissance the more fascinating I find it.  Think about this:  while Michelangelo was waxing poetic with stone, Columbus was busily discovering the New World.  King Henry VIII was a wee bairn in 1492 and turned the WORLD on its head a scant 40 years later, if that.  Contemporaries!  That kind of stuff lights my fires. 

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon. Are you kidding? Waiting for attention.

Naples '44 by Norman Lewis. Not read yet.

The Rubicon by Tom Holland. ditto.

I am currently reading A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin. This is set mostly in the Dolomites during WWI. As you may know, much of north-eastern Italy was Austria prior to WWI. This is a moving, well written and fantastical story about one soldier's experiences during wartime. The photo above I took in the Dolomites.

While in Pienza, I bought the book War in the Val d'Orcia by Iris Origo. It is her gripping diary written during WWII while on their farm/estate in Tuscany. That part of Tuscany was no man's land, and when Italy capitulated the Germans took over. Iris and her family took in orphans (or children whose parents could not take care of them during wartime), they sheltered partisans, they lived in danger on a constant basis. Iris buried her diary after each entry. As I read this I was very impressed with her on-the-spot knowledge of the war efforts and politics behind it all, for they had radio access if that.

The photo below was taken from a balloon over the abbey of Sant'Anna in Camprena, which was in the movie the English Patient (set during that time).

The Lady in the Palazzo by Marlene de Blasi. I was late to discover the charms of her writing. Over this past New Years I traveled with my friends Anne, Kirk, and Jill to Orvieto for the Orvieto Jazz Festival and they raved about her books. She actually lives in a Palazzo that is within view of the magnificent Duomo in Orvieto. She moved to Italy in mid-life and fell in love with "the Venetian", which romance apparently was the subject of her book 1000 days in Venice. She then moved on to Tuscany for 1000 days, and then they settled in Orvieto and spent a very long time (1000 days anyone? anyone?) renovating their Palazzo. Her writing is quirky and charming and as a bonus you get recipes at the end, as well as some teasers within the story itself. I burn with jealousy over people who can just "whip up a gourmet meal" on a whim. Below is a photo I took in Orvieto when we arrived late December 2007.

Some Italy notes... (from May 2006)

Matthew McConnaughy piloting a gondola...

Recently I've been sorting through old emails that were sent to friends during some of my trips in the past few years, here is another installment, somewhat edited after the fact. I put the ballooning experience as its own separate posting below. This was my 2006 trip to Venice, Florence and Rome. I have to seek out the Rome part of it, and also add photos later. For now, enjoy!

Hi everyone!

I am here in Venice, finally, and unbelievably had no jetlag at all yesterday, at least until dinner when I had a few glasses of prosecco. Then it hit me like a brick. I was only awake for 36 hours straight! I don't know what the problem was. ar ar

I took Air France through Paris to Venice. If anyone remembers my posting from the spring, I wasn't sure if the bewilderingly short connection AF allows in Paris was a bright idea and in the end I opted for the 3+ hour layover. I was quite glad I did because the 50-odd minutes connection time they offer is a joke. Why they allow for that is beyond me – if you are reading this, please heed – CDG needs more than an hour for connections if you are coming from the US. The good news is that they broke their perfect streak of losing my luggage and it actually arrived with me. You can imagine my horror at Dulles when I left – I was so proud that I had managed to pack only one 22 inch case for the whole trip and they simply wouldn't let me carry it on. There was a bit of a tug-of-war at the ticket counter but in the end I lost. Since I hadn't done triage on my luggage as I usually do (one small carryon, one checked) I was biting my nails for a while. But, it made it – wonders never cease.
When I landed in Venice I couldn't believe I had really waited five years since the last visit! What is wrong with me?? Because I had already been in transit for quite some time I decided to splurge with the water taxi straight to the Hotel Wildner. That's a spendy trip but it was so much fun.
The Wildner is a great little hotel and a wonderful value. I will post a photo of “the view from my room” and the view was certainly grand. I only paid 220E per night. It's a few doors down from the Danieli, right on St. Mark's Basin, so you can get the same view for about a quarter of the price! I did walk into the Danieli - it's quite an elegant hotel but I'd prefer to stay at the Wildner unless I was on my honeymoon or something. Elisabetta and the other managers there were very friendly and welcoming. I'm definitely staying there again!
My best meal in Venice was at Osteria San Marco. Don't be put off by the name, proximity to St. Mark's in this case does NOT mean mediocre quality. It was fabulous and in fact my stomach hurt after I left; I ate so much. (Well, it was that and the full BIG bottle of San Pellegrino that I drank.) There I had a 1/4 carafe of prosecco, the above devil-drink (gassy water) and a big caprese salad (big enough for a meal) and also ravioli filled with ricotta and drenched in butter and topped with lightly sauteed asparagus. In order to find it on Frezzeria, you need to head west while in St. Mark's square. When you are about two-thirds of the way down the square, look off to your right and you will see a little sotoportego. Once you go through this, you will see the gondola ranch (I call it this because there must be 10-20 gondolas all lined up there, ar ar ar). Turn left and keep walking. You will shortly intersect with Calle Frezzeria.
I also met up with my friend Monica on this trip. She was ending her Italy trip in Venice; I was beginning it. So we met for dinner each night and my first full morning in Venice (after sleeping off the jetlag) I was up quite early and walked from my hotel to La Calcina where she stayed and had breakfast with her at La Calcina's outdoor terrace. Here is a photo from my morning walk.
I must say early mornings are the best time – you have the city to yourself (and a few locals walking their dogs, and the odd storekeeper and restaurateur). I'll have to come back later with the restaurants she chose since when we met up for dinners I let her pick from her lists. She's much more organized than I am and especially when it comes to food!
Three days is simply not enough, not enough by far, for this city. It takes me that long to settle down. I think I had Stendhal Syndrome (not Stockholm syndrome! although I suppose I was held captive by the city so maybe that isn't far off the mark either. heh heh).
I will catch major grief in some quarters but I only went to one museum - Ca Rezzonico. I went on a guided tour that had me inside St. Mark's for all of 5 minutes. I went into a few smaller churches but most of this trip was walking, walking, walking, walking, walking, walking, walking, walking, walking, walking, and of course photo taking. And walking. My last trip 5 yrs ago saw me going in to several museums and churches and since it was SO nice out (and my last trip was in winter so I didn't cover as much city ground) I decided to spend more time outdoors). I did very much enjoy the boat tour we took one evening. They are quite easy to find, but if anyone is interested I will look up the one we took.

Some observations: Pigeons + kids = cute cute cute. Pigeons - kids = damn shitting birds.

Gondoliers on the Grand Canal are either brave, or lost. I watched a few navigate their gondolas as we passed in the vaporetto. Maybe the best word for them is "deft" (at handling the waves).

Peggy Guggenheim's dogs all seemed to die very young! Out of something like 12 dogs only a few made it past age 10 and the rest lived 1 or 2 years it seemed like. She buried them all in her garden and she's buried next to them. Leave it to me to notice something weird like that. (Peggy was a very eccentric rich American who moved to Venice in her middle age and made it her permanent home. Think Guggenheim Museum in NYC - THOSE Guggenheims.)

I am going to take the brave position here (quite controversial) and say I prefer Venice without all the bloody tourists (which I, of course, am not one.. ha) The best time to wander around is very early or late if you don't want to feel like you're at a crowded rock concert.
You can find any famous Italian designer you can imagine, in Venice. It was far more interesting in that regard than say, Fifth Avenue.

Venice is as beautiful and as decadent as I remember it. I've spent most of my time merely wandering and I think I've taken 200 photos so far (sad but true. not kidding. in 24 hours.) Don't worry I won't send them all to you. I've got to slow that down because despite the 2 gig cards, I am blazing through one pretty quickly.

I gotta run so I'll write more later when the mood strikes. I hope this email finds everyone well and I'll catch ya later. Beth

And now today, in Florence (ps. I was wrong on photos, it was more like 500 the first 24 hours...!!)
My trip from Venice to Florence was mostly uneventful but for a little bit of a surprise at the train station. I had gone the day previously to buy my ES Italia tickets to Florence and used the ticket machines instead of standing in line for a ticket. I wasn't paying attention and when I bought the ticket hit the button for Venezia/Mestre to Firenze. I imagine you know what happened... I showed up with plenty of time to spare for my 9AM train – but from the wrong station! Yep, you guessed it, I needed to get a ticket from Venice's main station to Mestre and another one to Florence. I had the Mestre-Florence leg... and the only way I made it was to jump on the first train to Mestre (which was the only one I could have taken to make the connection on time) and hope it wasn't a long run to the correct track.

As it turned out it was no problem at all – once off the one train I merely had to walk across the platform – a distance of a few feet – but I was sweating it until I got on the ES train! The next train into Florence was that afternoon and I didn't want to waste it in a train station. Take heed – if you get your own tickets make sure to get both legs sorted out!
Once in town it was rather grey and the second surprise of the day was that my hotel, the Antica Torre di via Tornabuoni, had a problem in one room the night before.. and had put the person there in MY room thus leaving me room-less for that night. Why they couldn't put me in a different room I don't know – I asked. They sent me to the Albergotto, just up the street, for one night. It was no problem at all in the end because they took care of the taxi ride up and the Albergotto was also a fabulous hotel. I may not have found it but for that little hiccup and I'd definitely recommend it as a place to stay, too. My room rate was 250E a night for the Antica Torre and 230E a night for the Albergotto and I stayed two nights total.

It would be a tossup which one I liked better, too. The Antica Torre had by far the best view and of course the rooftop terrace. My own room there had a terrace, which, if you stretched your neck, you could see the Arno!
I didn't make a lot of use of the room terrace due to the lovely rooftop one. The room was large enough but not massive like the Albergotto... and it had carpeting not hardwood floors. It did have a huge bathroom which is always a plus. The room in the Albergotto I liked better – spacious room... hardwood floors.. big windows which when opened allowed the breeze to waft in through the long white sheer curtains... spacious bathroom with tile flooring.. but no terrace.

In the end the terrace really counted for a lot so if you are going during a time of nice weather – I would recommend the Antica Torre. If it is too cold to be outdoors you could go with either one but I'd likely stay at the Albergotto. You won't be displeased with either.
I had the best meal in Italy (this time) in Florence. I stumbled across this excellent enoteca by perusing Time Out shortly after getting settled in. My meal was simple: a glass of Brunello (10E), Crostone with melted gorgonzola, honey, and celery as an appetizer, and, ravioli in a light cream sauce, filled with pecorino cheese and pear. The ravioli was delicate and had the appearance of a tiny package, tied up at the little neck, rather than a square blob as you see here. The whole meal came to 25E and I ended up going back AGAIN before I left since I knew I'd never find that in the US. The food just melted in my mouth. It's very close to the Duomo, if anyone wants to find it let me know and I'll look it up – but it is in Time Out Florence.

I also have to give rave reviews for my walking tour the next morning. It was on basic Florence history and amazingly well done. It was the Original and Best Walking Tours which you can find it on the web at I saw that Michael Palin proclaimed it his favorite walking tour in Florence and since hey, he's my fave Python, not to mention a truly inspiring traveler - so why not check it out. (What is it with Brits and world traveling? They put all the rest of us to shame, no matter how much we may travel; they do so much more; I imagine a lot of it is from having so much of "their" sun shine on so much of the globe).
The woman who guided us was getting her doctorate in the Italian Renaissance and she was very thorough as a result. I learned some interesting little factoids on the walk – here are a few (which may be apocryphal but nonetheless entertaining):
“Stinking rich”: the rich used to be buried under the floorboards of churches – the richer you were, the better your “real estate” in a church – with the richest being up near the front. Naturally, dead bodies underneath tended to stink. “Hole in the wall” signifies the little tiny holes built into palace walls with a tiny door on either side. The rich folks inside would leave food and other goodies in their “hole in the wall” for the poor to come by and take for themselves and their families.
We didn't just learn little factoids, she also dissected artwork both on churches and buildings as well as inside them. After the walk I bought three books - two on the Medici (April Blood by Lauro Martinesi, about the Pazzi conspiracy to murder the Medici brothers.. Medici Money by Tim Parks), and the third one was Brunellschi's Dome by Ross King. Did you know because of the Pazzi conspiracy to kill the Medici (and thereafter the Pazzi family was extinguished....) the word pazzi in Italian means crazy?
I also got a number of my gifts for friends and family - Florence is great for leather items so it's going to be a leather birthday for everyone this year (and wedding, etc etc). I bought some beautiful watercolors from a street artist along the Arno. I am a sucker for flowers and especially poppies. I also walked my buns off in Florence – including a walk to Piazzale Michelangelo. That was a stunning view and I wish I had gone up a little closer to sunset. But it was wonderful nonetheless. I definitely got my exercise on this trip. Next up – into Tuscany! (including Pienza and the ballooning ride).
I picked up the car in Florence and drove the S22 down to Pienza. It is a beautiful drive - if you are a ceramics junkie like I am, stop in Castellina and check out Pep Bizzarrie. Stunning ceramic pieces (plates, platters, pitchers, etc.) and all of them hand painted. I bought a 4 piece place setting and a pitcher and shipped them home. I also stopped in Castellina di Chianti and San Gimignano.

My hotel here in Pienza is amazing. It is Il Chiostro di Pienza and I have views over the Val d'Orcia from my room. It is a beautiful hotel and well situated. (see the other blog post for the ballooning story...)

After the ballooning, I dined at Poggio Antico in Montalcino. The setting was beautiful and the food and wine - well let's just say after a two hour meal I was ready to take a nap. There are plenty of good shade trees around for that! I didn't however, I went into the winery itself and bought 3 bottles of 99 Brunello Riserva to bring home. Remember the days when you could carry on liquids? Well, it went into my carryon. Try that now!

After two nights in Pienza I drove to Rome and dropped the car at Ciampino. I'd recommend that over the train station I think.
While in Rome I stayed at the Hotel Parlamento, which was recommended to me a few years ago by Kismetchimera on fodors. I've stayed there twice now and number three will be in May 2007. It's a small family run hotel, nothing fancy but very clean and the terrace rooms are spacious (the double I had in May 2006 was a very small double, but I had a terrace room on a previous trip and it's quite nice - it even had an American electrical outlet next to the Italian one).
I very highly recommend the walking tours offered by Context Rome. I took the Roma Antica tour and it was fascinating. I tend to read a lot before trips (and during, and after) so it was interesting to have some of my readings come alive through the tour guide. As usual a 3 day visit to Rome barely scratches the surface but, since Rome wasn't built in a day I won't see it all in a day either. Must... Go... Back...
Related Posts with Thumbnails