Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rest in Peace, Colonel Michael Chilcott

Good morning everyone

I am sad to tell the news. I am not sure how many readers have been to Normandy in the past several years, especially in the early 2000s. Michael Chilcott was a fascinating fellow and a great storyteller. I'm walking down memory lane a little bit this morning. 

I just found out the news. I had emailed Rosemary, his wife, a few months ago to check in and see how they were doing, and didn't hear back. I thought that was a little unusual because while it takes a while to hear back I usually do hear back. The summer wore on and I forgot about it and this morning I looked online on a hunch.

In 1999 I visited the Normandy beaches with a friend on a spontaneous, quickly planned trip. I did a little research ahead of time and found on VRBO reference to Michael and Rosemary's B&B in Bayeux. He was retired military and in his mid-60s. We stayed with them a few nights and had a fun time listening to him and their various guests who were all history buffs and apparently all repeat visitors. Michael was quite the story teller! He and Rosemary lived all over the world during his time in the military and the places he mentioned all had the exotic-sounding flavor of the former British empire. Their home, while very Norman French, was decorated much like you'd expect a British home in the country to be (complete with stuffed stoat, and lots of photos and books everywhere). This would have been 55 years after the D-Day landings, and so the youngest veterans would have been perhaps 73 - still hale and hearty in many cases. 

In 2004 it was the 60th anniversary and it had been 5 years since my last visit and so I decided "why not go back again". I had checked in occasionally with Rosemary in the intervening 5 years to see how they were and I was excited to go back to see them again and visit other parts of the area I hadn't seen the last time. It was, as usual, part of my "let's get a flavor of everything trip" because I had spent part of the week before that hiking along different parts of the Brittany Coast, and in fact after the French portion of the trip went on to Switzerland to visit friends there for more hiking. But I digress!

So, off to Bayeux again and another visit. Michael was still in great shape, barely 70 and Rosemary was as always indefatigable. I enjoyed the visits because it felt to me kind of like going to visit grandparents in their home in the country. If you've been to Normandy, especially the coast, it's beautiful and peaceful. Their home is barely a mile outside of town, and the walk into town takes you past the British WWII cemetery. Walk the other way and you are thick in the countryside very quickly. I took a photo of Michael and Rosemary and some of their friends, in dapper clothes, heading out to walk to church services the morning of D-Day. I will have to find this photo. I enlarged and framed it and mailed it to her after my visit. It would have been digital so I must have it somewhere.

Fast forward to June 2009 and the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings. I had started taking my Mom on various European trips with me in 2007 but as yet hadn't taken Dad along. So I dragged him off to Paris and Normandy.  It was our first solo trip together and in fact I hadn't spent a ton of time with Dad solo, full stop, because Mom was always there. He is a huge history buff himself and had a fantastic time meeting Michael and Rosemary and all the regular visitors who came back year after year. Michael had suffered a stroke a few years prior and had slowed down considerably. He had other health issues as well - but still had a lot of stories and was getting around. Rosemary was doing well and we left with more great memories and now with three visits to see them a new tradition - every five years. The youngest vets at this point were probably around 83 or so, and Rosemary mentioned that each year over year they witnessed the changes. There were many more wheelchairs being pushed along the beach during the memorial ceremonies.

So now we are at June 2014 and I decided I wanted to do a little more exploring along the coast and the pull of the tradition of "every five years" was hitting me again. This time it was the 70th anniversary and I wanted to see how the Chilcotts were doing, spend a little time there, and I was curious to see how the area had changed once again. In 1999 the area was still very traditional, for lack of a better word. A few museums, but many of them were small and home grown (and in fact Michael had a hand in starting a few of the smaller ones). I am not even sure if the Caen museum had been built yet, in 1999, and I'm too lazy to google it right now. I think it was, come to think of it, but I'm not sure. I visited in 2009 with Dad but not before that. At any rate, this time some friends had independently decided they wanted to visit the area too and so we coordinated to spend time together a few days while we were local to each other. In 2014 the number of museums or memorials had grown dramatically compared to 1999 and things seemed much more "glitzy and official" to me. The old small museums almost made you feel like you were stepping back in time to 1944, the new ones were glistening and had defined parking lots and interactive displays. 

Michael had slowed even more, that time, but Rosemary seems to never have changed at all to me. She still ran the entire household and B&B with constant guests overflowing their home. Literally. Camping during the busy times, a small cottage on their property they also rented out, people stayed even above the barn sometimes. One thing I also remember fondly is the tradition of their huge table, laden with all kinds of food at breakfast with a table full of people at all times (taking shifts to have breakfast) and no matter which time you chose to came down you would hear even more stories of their days of exploring. Breakfast was easily as engaging as having dinner there. They loved loved loved having a full home at all times. She said it was her favorite thing about having a B&B. Always new people, usually old friends, and lots of stories all the time.

It occurred to me in 2014 that this might be one of the last times I saw them. Never say never, but while going back every five years was a nice tradition I also felt I had seen so much of that area and you only get so much vacation time each year. I think I will go back at least one more time to visit Rosemary and pay my respects to Michael but I'm not sure when, now. I should also mention I made a few nice friends during these visits, too, who I keep up with on Facebook. I have very fond memories of my times there and I'm sad that time marches on, as it must.

Rest in Peace, Michael.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Netflix is pairing with Instagram for a photographer's dream come true

I am breaking my long silence to post about some exciting news.

Netflix and Instagram are seeking talented photographers to photograph different film sites in various parts of the world.

I've tossed my hat into the ring. Wish me luck.

The three photos I've submitted and a few more to boot:

Others I quite like from my travels but that didn't make the three #grammasters3 cut:





Limone sul Garda


Paris Institut du Monde Arabe

Pernes les Fontaines


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...
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