Thursday, December 11, 2014

So much traveling, not enough writing

I promise, I promise I will have some interesting things posted here soon.  I have been traveling so much since June!   I will have scores of photos and stories so please check back.

Meanwhile, here is a photo of me at the Grand Palace.  I didn't take it - yes, I know the Wat behind me looks like it is growing out of my head.  This was in Bangkok, Thailand, in the middle of November. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Sacro Monte di Ossuccio on Lake Como

When you peruse the UNESCO World Heritage Site list, you will quickly notice that Italy has more than its fair share of places to visit.  Out of 981 properties, Italy has 49.  Almost 5% of the world's most-cherished sites.  That's almost three times as many as Greece and ten more than each of France or Germany have.  In fact, if you quickly eyeball that list, only Spain and China come close.

Here, take a look, while I get to the point of this post:

I like to fancy myself a UNESCO site collector (I'm up to 63 sites so far), so, when it finally dawned on me that Lake Como has its own UNESCO site I decided to act upon it at my next opportunity.  Which occurred in 2012 -  so this blog post is a little behind.  Oh well.

In May of 2012 my Mom and I had another of our visits to northern Italy.  She's becoming an old hand at this part of the world - each of my four visits to Lake Como were with her.  One morning on our trip I decided I was going to walk up to see the Sacro Monte di Ossuccio which is not far at all from our favorite place to stay, in Lenno.  She wasn't keen on an early morning walk so I crept out myself and enjoyed a lovely post-dawn walk along the lakefront and then up into the hills. 

There are fourteen chapels on the way up the hill to the church which contains the 15th chapel.  The complex was built during the course of the 17th and early 18th centuries and apparently was built on top of the 16th century Sanctuary of the Madonna del Soccorso (I know what Soccorso means, because during our trip Mom had to visit the Pronto Soccorso - another story for another day.  She's fine). 

Up I climbed, with frequent stops to take photos and to look around me at the ever-expansive lake behind me as well as the various homes I passed along the way.  All of the chapels were closed - I imagine they would have been open at a different hour, though.

I made it to the top just as the church bells pealed 8 AM.  There is a road to get there as when I reached the top I saw a Range Rover.  There appeared to be a tiny little place for refreshments but it was early and no one was there. 

This church is actually in use although I wonder how tiny its congregation may be. You are not allowed to take photos inside, and, at that hour (despite being a Sunday morning) I was one of only two people silently wandering around. The votives had candles in them, some lit, so clearly there was life nearby. 

Here are some photos from my wander.  Enjoy!

At the beginning.  Look at all the chapels!

A few of the chapels:

Tada, some photos from the top.  See, I wasn't lying about being up there at 8 AM!

A view of the promontory.  On the other side is Villa Balbianello.  Directly below would be Ossuccio, and on the left side you can glimpse Lenno.

I love, love, love this photo.  This is the ferry, pulling into Lenno.  I've got it zoomed way in so it's farther away than it looks.  What a peaceful, peaceful morning.  Look how still the lake is, but for the ripples left by the boat. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Spring has sprung - I think

March 23.  The calendar says spring is here.  But the weather isn't sure it wants to commit to spring yet.  We have days here and there which are pleasant but then late winter grips us again - a foot of snow less than one week ago.  Perhaps a dusting in a few days, perhaps not.  The weatherman can't make up his mind either.

In my backyard I see the tulip shoots trying to see sunlight.  My Guy Friday has already mulched my flower garden and pruned the roses and lavender.  But I think we are still a good three weeks away from any flowerbuds that didn't come from a greenhouse.

So, in an effort to coax spring out of hiding, here are some photos from springs past.  Many of them were taken in past Aprils, so there is hope for us yet!

April 2, 2010 (we won't see this in just a week from today):

April 5, 2008 (nor this):

April 18, 2010:

April 18, 2010:

April 14, 2013 (possibly...):

April 18, 2009:


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Where did I take this photo?

Good morning!

Going through my photos, summer dreamin' (or at least spring, sun and warmth on my face)...  winter still has us in its clutches as we are expecting some mild flurries this morning. 

This photo made me giggle.  What a glorious day this was - if I had a Groundhog Day, I would want to repeat this very day, from start to end. 
Where did I take this photo? 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sentiero degli Dei: the Path of the Gods. Amalfi Coast.

Subtitle:  Getting up very early on vacation for a beautiful morning hike.
Here I am, entirely too early, getting ready to head out the door:

This was my last day on the Amalfi Coast.  I made it count!  In the lead up to my trip I did a lot of research on various hikes in the area and decided that it would be nice to have a local guide accompany me. 
Lucia of Zia Lucy is a great companion on this hike.  She's a native who lives in Nocelle and her home is literally at the very end of the main part of the Pathway of the Gods.  She hikes this path several times weekly in all seasons and her boyfriend is a serious trekker who travels to other regions and countries for his hiking adventures.  She is pleasant and fun and very knowledgeable.  She  is also very reasonably priced.  When I made my plans I decided that given that there is a bit of traveling involved to get to the trail head in Bomerano (and early to boot) it might be easier just to have a native along to make sure I was on the right buses - as well as having someone to talk to.
Her website:

Lucia and I first met on my first day in Positano when I did the intro to Positano walking tour.  She knows a lot of people and many times people stopped to say hello while we were walking around.  I also ran into her a few days later - she was conducting a tour with some people I had met at lunch the day before  - I had recommended they contact her.  We made our plans to meet in front of the Alcione (my lodging) at 630 AM so that we could catch the early bus to Amalfi which is where you catch the bus that goes to Bomerano. 

We were on the SITA bus just before 7 AM on a Saturday and take heed - it was already filling up.  Make sure to sit on the side that looks over the water, if you can - the views are just stunning.  I was glad to let someone else do the driving on the coast.  The drive was mostly without incident although there was at least one spot where our bus met another bus and the one coming in the other direction had to slowly inch backwards to make room for everyone.  Naturally the other drivers on the road are very impatient and once a small space cleared between the buses we watched people in their tiny cars trying to cut ahead and zoom through the hole - which only serves to slow everyone else up and especially because you can't see what is in the other direction.  Lucy watched this all and commented drily:  "Now let's watch this festival of stupidity" which I thought was just hilarious.  That is a great quote to  use when watching drivers pull silly stunts!

As we drove along the coast I briefly wondered where the House Hunters International property might be found.  I had corresponded with the owner although I knew I wouldn't have enough time to look it up on such a short trip.  She's wayyy up in the hills above the water.  Maybe some other trip it would be interesting to visit.  I wonder if she will turn it into a B&B, or if it would be their private home.  I don't know.

We made it to Amalfi and had a little bit of time to walk to a grand old caffe Pansa and get some pastries and espresso.  Then back on the bus to take us to Bomerano.

We  arrived in Bomerano pretty close to 9 AM and stopped at a bakery to get a variety of cookies and then another small caffe for water and espresso as well as a pit stop before the walk.
You will see a number of people prepping for the hike in this little village although once we started walking we passed a few people and then we were alone for the most part.  Here are a few photos taken at the beginning of the hike.

As we walked, Lucy talked about the different flowers on the trail and some of the history of the area.  She told me that the fall, and especially October/November, is her favorite time.  Apparently the water is still warm enough for swimming in October.  She also said the winter seas get very intense blues.  If you follow her on Facebook (or Positano Daily Photo, also on Facebook) you will see some frequent photos of the region.
Here are some flower photos:

The hike, coming from Bomerano down to Nocelle, is a fairly gentle trend downhill.  I would prefer that direction because you are not only going downhill, you have the sun at your back and the whole of the Amalfi Coast ridgeline in front of you.  Walking in the opposite direction I would only want to do in the late afternoon and while it is a fairly gentle trend, you are still going to go uphill if you start in Nocelle and end in Bomerano.  Not to mention you will probably encounter more hikers if you start later in the day.  Be an early bird!  It's so pretty in the morning. 

More photos.  You can see how high up you are hiking, and the stunning views over the water.  One of the photos is Positano from a distance.  I'm sure you can find it.  You can see various Saraceno towers in these photos, too.  

Of course, Positano from a distance:

There is a certain part of the hike where you emerge from what appears to be some farmland, with grapes and lemons growing, and then BOOM you have the whole of the Amalfi Coast ridgeline in front of you.  You can't miss it.  Here is the first photo:


And here is the ridgeline from various spots.  As we near Nocelle you will see very clearly the Faraglioni of Capri off in the distance. 



And then we reached the end.  There is a B&B in an absolutely fantastic location with stunning views along the coast - it's maybe 100 feet from her own home.  We stopped by there for some orange juice and espresso and I took some more photos.  This B&B was very nice and modern with a beautiful terrace as you can see from the photos.  It's also very reasonably priced - rooms in May through September (high season) are under 100E.  Bear in mind if you stay here you would have to take the toodle bus down to Positano each day. 

Here are the photos from Nocelle:


After we had our beverages we said our goodbyes.  Lucy showed me the shortcut to get to road to meet the bus near La Tagliata, where I had dined the day before.  It was a 15 minute walk, give or take, and then I met the bus and headed back down to Positano.  The day was not hot (although it was warming up as it was noon) and I could easily have stopped for lunch and then walked the rest of the way down but I decided to take the bus back to town and clean up for a lunch on the beach.

To be continued...

Monday, February 10, 2014

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Two tips for foodies in Rome - and a few of my recent favorites

Good morning all!

Here are some new things I learned in preparing for my Rome visit which was over the week of Thanksgiving, 2013.  As 2007 was the last time I visited, my preparations were a bit more high-tech than last time.  For one thing I did not have a iPhone in 2007. 

Tip number one: If you do nothing else, download these two smartphone apps: Elizabeth Minchilli's Eat Rome, and, Katie Parla's Rome for Foodies. You really don't need anything else to eat well.   Since I am a type-A planner, though, I did do some word of mouth research which uncovered a few other places (which I believe were on the apps, anyway). 

I relied on Elizabeth's app the most and used Katie's app as backup.  There was some restaurant overlap which is to be expected.    If I found a restaurant in both apps it was double jackpot - you know it is winner.

I would give a slight edge to Elizabeth's app because it had a filter to break it down by neighborhood which was quite useful and especially when it gets a bit cold out and you want to find something good to eat nearby without a lot of walking. For all that I took two guidebooks with me (Fodors, and Time Out) I think I ended up only using one guidebook reco for a meal that wasn't already in the apps. 

Tip number two:  There are a number of food related tours and classes you can take.  My friend Marcy recommended two of them to me, and I looked into both Elizabeth Minchilli's day long food tour as well as a wine class led by Hande, of Vinoroma.

Elizabeth's tour would no doubt have been fantastic but at 700E for the day (mid-morning to mid-afternoon) I decided that could wait until I was with my parents or friends.

I took one wine tasting class with Hande of Vinoroma which was marvelous and was only 50E per person.   She specializes in Italian wines and at the two-hour tasting you sample and discuss 6 wines from different regions of Italy.  She holds these classes in her Monti-neighborhood wine studio which was a treat to visit all in itself.  Apparently the cellar is a thousand years old.  I should also mention here that her wine studio is walking distance from the restaurant where I had my absolute best meal of my trip.  So if you take her class, keep that in mind!

Look at the age of that wine!

I would have taken another wine class with Hande but the timing didn't work out for the days I had left.  If you look at Hande's website she also has food tours for a much more reasonable price of only 80E.  She is a very warm and engaging person who really knows her wines! 

Her "My Italians" class seems to be the most frequent and works well as an intro - it was the one I took.  She also offers a Wine and Cheese Lunch but I missed it.

You can follow them both (and Katie, too) on Twitter. 
Hande's website:

Here is Marcy's travel blog, by the way:

A few restaurant superlatives, now:

The absolute first thing you must do when you arrive in Rome and are setting out for the day is to stop by Tazzo d'Oro (a few steps from the Pantheon) and order a Granita di Caffe con Panna. Don't wait until your last day, as I did, for this absolutely wonderful treat. You will kick yourself if you only have it once, and you wouldn't want to load up on several your last day - way too much caffeine. So start early, savor it, and make repeat visits over the course of your trip.

This next restaurant is a must-visit and it was not only on Elizabeth's app (and probably Katie's app, too) but it was also highly recommended by Marcy, my foodie friend. It is called Trattoria Monti and is walking distance from Vinoroma, in fact, after enjoying the tastings with Hande and her guests I made my buzzy, happy way to this Trattoria. Why was it a must-visit? Because of the onion flan, which sounds so much better in Italian: Flan de Cipolle Rosse con Crema di Gorgonzola. I also ordered some fritti and I can't even remember the name of the pasta I ordered (it was divine pasta in a meat sauce, but I cannot remember exactly what it was) and with another glass of wine, I just didn't want this meal to end. I even tortured friends with a photo of it - real time live.

Armando al Pantheon. This name comes up on Fodors all the time for a reason. It also happened to be a two minute walk from my hotel. I would have eaten there twice even if that weren't the case, though.  I actually tried for a third time but they were closed. 

Giolitti. This is an old favorite of mine and I visited three times. It's also quite near the Pantheon which makes it convenient. The first visit I had a dark chocolate and hazelnut - a scoop of each - gelato which combination was a tad too rich. I swapped Amaretto for hazelnut the next two times and that worked much better. This may be the thickest, richest gelato I've ever had.

I started nearly every morning with a stroll to get a macchiato and pastry from Caffe Camilloni which is kitty corner to Caffe San Eustachio and both are in Elizabeth's app.   Don't forget to load up on espresso/chocolate treats when you visit Caffe San Eustachio. 

I hope you enjoyed the mini food tour of Rome.  These were not the only places I ate, but these were my favorites on my most recent visit to Rome.


Friday, January 31, 2014

If Franz Schubert were alive today...

He would be 217 years old!  Sadly, though, he only lived to be 31. 

Born in Vienna and a contemporary of Beethoven, he was an incredibly prolific composer with over 600 songs.  However, his popularity during his lifetime did not extend far beyond his circle of friends.  Posthumously, though, he was much more appreciated. 

Ultimately his final resting place became Vienna's Zentralfriedhof.  You may have seen this cemetery in the final scene of The Third Man, a postwar movie set in Vienna and starring Orson Welles.  He is buried mere feet away from Beethoven.  Franz, that is.  Not Orson. 

Happy Birthday Franz Schubert.  January 31, 1797. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Books to read to prepare for a trip to the Amalfi Coast (Italy)

As usual I get home from a much anticipated trip, which was preceded by nonstop reading and daydreaming and questions here, there and everywhere… and then a few months go by and I still haven't gotten my act together on everything I saw and did!  Here are a few books I read to prepare for my trip to Capri and the Amalfi Coast as well as a few choice photos.  Enjoy!

Above are some ceramics in Positano.

Greene on Capri by Shirley Hazzard. This is a book about Graham Greene's seasons on Capri (he owned a home there for something like 40 years) and it was written by his friend Shirley Hazzard. I read this before I left, in one weekend, and I wish I had read it after I got back instead. I would have liked a frame of reference for Capri before reading it. It's the kind of book that would benefit from a bit of a background ahead of time, I think. I'll re-read it again at some point once I get through my mountain of other books. I noticed that there are a variety of villas owned (or formerly owned) by famous writers on Capri. I guess being an author used to pay better than it does now!

Above is the view from Villa San Michele on Capri.

Rick Steves Naples and the Amalfi Coast. I will buy his books before I visit a brand-new place, usually, since he gives good basic information. I didn't take it with me, and the only use I would have gotten out of it anyway was the chapter on Pompeii. I should have photocopied that chapter for my luggage.  I would have benefited from a guide for my too-short visit to Pompeii.

Above is the view above Positano, looking down as well as along the whole coastline.  You can see the Faraglioni in the distance.

Two small compact hiking books: Walking on the Amalfi Coast by Gillian Price and Sorrento/Amalfi/Capri by Sunflower Guides. This last has a website which offers updates to its book in between editions:

I will say that for the hikes I did end up doing this time, and the fact that I looked up a local guide for the Pathway of the Gods, I actually did not need either book although they will be useful on the next trip when I go more afield. My hotel on Capri gave great advice on my walks on Capri and the eastern side of the island is so easy to navigate. If I had to choose only one I'd probably pick the Sunflower Guide but they were both interesting to read and were good for some daydreams.

Above:  more coastline, this time from the Sentieri degli Dei.

My Amalfi Coast by Amanda Tabberer with photos by Carla Coulson. Amanda Tabberer is a famous Australian actress who moved to Italy in her 20s and met and fell in love with the son of the owner of Da Adolfo, a restaurant in Positano. This book is eye candy extraordinaire for the Amalfi Coast - Carla Coulson is my favorite photographer and I could easily recommend this book just for the photos alone. While it's mostly a love letter written by Amanda Tabberer to her much adored Amalfi Coast (including the story of her life there including marrying an Italian hunk and having a son), you could also call it a guide book in that she describes several of the towns along the coast including her favorite places in each as well as her favorites places to eat. She talks about some of the history of the area, some of the festivals and churches, and in addition to contemporary photos she has included some older photos of her family and friends enjoying themselves whether boating or hiking. What a life.

Above is the main beach (Spiaggia Grande) in Positano.

Fodors Amalfi Coast, Capri and Naples (borrowed). This was a really useful guidebook and I probably should not admit this here (!!) but it might be the only time I've used a Fodors guidebook. Based on this experience I will have to change that - it was well written and had a lot of useful and interesting information.

Above is the pier in Positano.  Sitting by the dock of the bay, or something.

The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe, which I bought from Amazon when I got home. Not yet read.
Below is his villa and you can see the mysterious Sphinx.

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