03.09.2012 - 03.09.2012
03.09.2012 - 03.09.2012
A day in the countryside and a night to remember!
07.09.2012 - 11.09.2012 90 °F
After a delicious breakfast provided by the hotel, including some incredible croissants (this time mine was filled with blueberry marmalade ) we took a taxi to the Villa le Piazolle about 20 minutes outside of the city. We were met by our guide Beppe who proceeded to show us our transportation for the day.... A vintage Fiat 500 named Paola, who is des ribbed in their website as:
Ciao Bella! Paola is “L” for lovely – but a rebel at the same time! Young at heart and a child of the revolution, she was produced in the late 1960’s at a time when Italian students lead the cry against the conservative government!
Pump action screen wash!
Persistent, Cheeky, Good uphill
She was red in color and if I could only get my pictures posted, you'd see why she was so much fun.
Anyways, we were so pleased to discover that we were getting a private tour since no one else signed up for the time we selected. So Beppe went through a quick teach on a simulator on how to drive Paola. Of course Jackie was a pro and after a couple of short test runs, we headed out on our tour of the countryside. We drove through the tiny streets of Florence amongst the most beautiful neighborhoods. We stopped at a church/cemetery where a bad-ass Roman who was so bad that when they cut his head off he picked it up and went up the hill to who knows where... You will have to google that one because Jackie and I don't remember. It was a very old place and the view of the city was great.
Then we drove around some more and saw the Gallileo Observatory and Beppe gave us some very interesting history on the man and his life. We also learned tha Beppe had been a lawyer and when he met his wife in Australia, and they moved back to Florence, he found that there were no jobs available. His wife, Andrea, had purchased one of the vintage fiat 500's and became enamoured with them and actually bought another one. When Beppe just couldn't stand working as a customs agent (which was the only job he was able to find) Andrea decided she wanted to start the touring with the fiats and they now have a fleet. Go to their website and you can see everything including the tour we took. 500touringclub.com
After more driving, which Jackie was the best by the way, stopping to see more olive groves anspd countryside, we returned to the Villa and met Fabrizio, the winemaker for the vineyard. Through the translation by Beppe, FabriZio took us to the vineyard and explained the process of winemaking from determining if the grapes are ready for harvesting based on the sugar velocity of the grape, to taking samples to a third-party lab to measure the quality of the grape....something like the FDA I think and then to the time the grapes are harvested. We were shown how to harvest them and then actUally did it ourselves. We brought the grapes up to the winemaking facility where the presses and vats were. Fabrizio explained the process and the differences in the processes for red or white wine. I won't bore you with what we were taught, but I will tell you that both Jackie and I were put to the task of processing some of our harvest the "old-fashioned way".....yes,Ricky, we stomped on the grapes in a wooden barrel...just like Lucy did. It was very exciting, at least for me. Then we were taken to the cellar where the fermentation took place in the barrels, tasted some white that was not ready yet but really delicious. It was very enlightening.
The temperature has been in the upper 90's and 100 plus so when we were invited to swim in the beautiful pool overlooking the hillsides of olive groves, we certainly took advantage of it. After a short swim, we were served a beautiful lunch under a lovely eating area poolside consisting of cheese, bruschetta, homemade honey from Andrea, Beppe's wife, chicken liver pate, salami, proscuito....all to die for by the way. Then pasta bows with pumpkin, a killer. An organic salad of the most incredible lettuce and cherry tomatoes I have ever tasted, all grown on the villa. Even the olive oil was made at the villa. Then there was a great fruit salad as well. Of course we were served a bottle of red and white from the vineyard. It was unbelievable. After another quick dip in the pool, we said our goodbyes and went to the palazzo piatti and Bobili gardens. We decided to get some gelato since we where so hot....... Can't pass up those opportunities.
The gelaterria we stopped at Jackie asked for a half and half scoop of chocolate and coffee in a cone. She received two huge scoops spilling over the top of the cone. I then asked about a flavor that looked interesting and was offered a taste... But was told that if I tasted that one I had to taste a different one at the same time which of course I did. In the meantime, Jackie was losing control of her cone delight and requested a cup to dump her scoops. I requested a scoop of each of the two flavors I tasted and our server said "I'll make a cup for you" and before I knew it, was handed a large cup that must have had at least four scoops of different favors. Jackie then asked the cost of our treats and we were told 15 euros! Another lesson learned to watch before accepting anything. Of course I had to finish the cup, at least most of it. It was really quite yummy and refreshing.
After freshening up at the hotel, we set out for a light dinner since we really were not very hungry after our gelato binge. Now a bit of background on why we or "I" chose Florence. During my research I discovered that on September 7th is one of Florence's oldest festivals held in the Piazza of SS Annunziata on the eve of the birth of the Virgin called Festa Della Rificolona or the Festival of the lanterns. The farmers and their families would wake up very early, put on their Sunday-best and walk to Florence by the light of candles held in tissue paper lanterns on the end of poles. Today, the night of the 7th sees the children of Florence running through the streets with their rificolone.
So, all day I was looking for some indication of paper lanterns for the festival but only saw one. So I assumed nothing was going to happen, especially since it was now about 9 pm. We went across the street to check out a menu and their was a ped-taxi with a little girl and her Mom in the back (found out they were from Stockton CA believe it or not). The girl had a paper lantern and I asked if the festival was actually occurring or if we had missed it. We were told that the children were still parading around and to head toward the Duomo square. So I bee-lined for the square with Jackie in tow and discovered a parade of lanterns and children and parents congregating at one end where there were banners and cheers. We headed over to see the happenings only to discover the mayor and his wife (or at least some dignitary ) and a band were going to lead the parade to wherever it was headed. So Jackie and I watched them go by and I just couldn't resist, so I just said, "come on! Let's join the parade!" so off we went. How exciting it was for me...all of the lit lanterns of all designs...the beautifully illuminated Duomo which was incredible! And fulfilling a childhood dream of marching in a parade......in Italy of all things. There were children of all ages, in strollers, perched on father's shoulders......boys using a straw to shoot spit wads at the lanterns to try to tear them...to me it was so exciting. We marched for a good while and then bowed out since we were not sure where we were going and didn't want to stray too far into unknown territory at night. I do have to say that I was pretty impressed at how well-lit the streets were and the amount of police being on the streets.
Finally got a bite to eat. It was another great day!
Saturday September 8th
After breakfast we ventured over to the Uffizi Museum and saw some beautiful Rennaisance artwork and really learned a lot from listening to the audio tour from Rick Steve's. Wandered a bit more and returned to finally make travel and hotel plans and reservations for the balance of our trip. This was the "whatever" part of our adventure. We finally decided to go to Monterroso in the Cinque Terra.
Our final dinner in Florence was at La Bussola. My friend and colleague Mike Sigler,referred me to this fine establishment. Mikey's brother, Father John, christened the owner's child, and was close friends with the family. I had emailed the owner, Stefano, and we corresponded prior to our arrival in Florence. Unfortunately, Stefano was out of town so we did not get to meet in person, but Alejandro, the manager of the restaurant was very gracious to us and we enjoyed a wonderful evening. By the way, we had our first limoncelli and it was THE BEST! Loved every drop!
Sunday - September 9th
Grabbed a train to Pisa. To our delight, two girls (practicing nurses) from Seattle in their young twenties sat across from us and they were also headed to Monterosso which for us meant that four heads were better than two as far as figuring out if we were on the right trains. Once in Pisa we found our train to Monterosso and discovered our reserved seats on that train were in the same compartment as the girls. At the first stop a young lady sat in our car (#5) because there "was no car #4" in her words "oh well, that's Italy". At the next stop, the last seat in our compartment was then occupied by this Italian woman (I can only describe her as a perfect Italian woman character from the movies) with her big purse, suitcase and dog! you could tell that she was having difficulty maneuvering all of her possessions into the seating area... The purse strap was around the dog's neck and her arm...her long chain necklace was tangled around her neck and wrapped around the dog's leg, and the dog leash was tangled with the dog's leg and her purse strap. It was like a tornado came into the compartment with a lot of boisterous Italian comments and conversation from her. I helped untangle her necklace that was wrapped around the dog's leg and when she finally got settled with the dog, she proceeded to carry on an amazing conversation with her dog. She emoted both sides of the conversation even describing how the dog was panting! It was the quintessential display of an Italian woman! Loved very minute of it.
When we finally reached Monterosso we bid our Seattle friends adieu and marveled at the beauty of the Ligurian Sea. We then strolled along the beach to our hotel which was just one building up from the beach. After dumping our luggage, we ventured into Old Town and grabbed a bite to eat. Since we are on the sea, there is an abundance of fish on the menus. A definite different difference of options here than in Florence Tuscan cuisine.
After relaxing on the promenade, people watching and enjoying the seascape, we went back to our hotel and got ready for the evening. as we neared our hotel, we discovered at the end of the Promenade road a free beach area next to a statue named Il Gigante. It is 45 feet tall and once held a trident. While it looks as if it were hewn from the rocky cliff, it is actually made of reinforced concrete and dates from the beginning of the 20th century when it supported a dancing terrace. A violent storm left the giant holding nothing "but memories of Monterrosso's glamorous age." Once again, I will try to upload my pictures as soon as I can.
To our delight, we found that there was activity along the promenade eateries and gelaterrias at night. We stopped at one and shared a light bite and then some yummy gelato (Jackie tried the mixed Berry this time ... I indulged in extra dark chocolate fondante which was a killer by the way).
A bit of background on Monterosso and the Cinque Terra. The five hamlets of the Cinque Terra are located on the west coast of the Riveria...the villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggoire either cling to the cliff face or are concealed in small inlets blending into a beautiful landscape. In many areas, Jackie and I both felt the Italy we have seen feels very much like California as far as landscape.
Monterosso is the only Cinque Terra town built on flat land, has two parts: a new town (where our hotel is located) and an Old town which has the old world charm with small, crooked lanes...hole-in-the-wall shops and ristorantes and gelaterrias. What is really amazing is that Monterosso sustained serious damage in the October 2011 flood, but within about six months it was back up and running at nearly 100%. The old town is filled with newly furnished and equipped shops and ristorantes, and photos on walls Commemorate the historic deluge. But for the most part, the town is moving on. If you want to see the damage that was done by the flood, you can see it at www.rebuildmonterosso.com.
Tomorrow, Cinque Terra by sea!
Monday - September 10th
After our breakfast at the hotel, we ventured out to board a boat taking us to the villages of the Cinque Terra and then Portovenere where we boarded another boat to see the three islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. We saw old citadel towers from the 14th century, beautiful cliff sides and water the color of turquoise. You could see the rock formations way below the surface due to the clearness of the sea. There were caves and striking designs on the sides of the cliffs showing the layers of earth throughout the centuries. Absolutely indescribible!
We then deported in Portovenere and strolled through the town doing a bit of shopping and enjoying the charm of the town. This sea-faring village is really beautiful. The Doria quay is hemmed in by a number of tower-like houses which turn the harbor into a citadel. Jackie climbed the stairs to the top of the hill to see the church of San Pietro (per brochure 4th to 13th centuries). We both really enjoyed this town.
We then boarded our boat for the return to Monterosso stopping in a couple of towns where others boarded or departed. The Ligurian Sea is quite a large body of water. As the wind picked up in the afternoon, I was amazed at the size of the swells and the roughness of the sea. But I was definitely overwhelmed at times by the beauty and granduer of the Italian coastline. How fortunate I am to have this experience.
Upon our departure, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and returned to rinse (or should I say scrub... At least for me) the effects from the humidity, heat and sea. We researched transportation for our return to Zug and then set out for our night out to dine.
Per the suggestion of the hotel, we went to a restaurant called Cafe Miki. We enjoyed the most delicious apertivo, souffles of parmesan cheese, spinach and ratatouille .. Which we both agreed was outstanding. Then we had sea bass caught that day from the sea that was oven-baked with potatoes and olives on an olive wood tray.
Jackie was a bit uneasy when the fish was served whole...head and all... But after the waiter filleted the fish and served our plates she seemed more comfortable. It was an outstanding meal.
We ventured down to the train station to see if we could get our tickets but to no avail, our "request could not be executed at this time"...what else is new?? After all, "this is Italy!" Of course, we had to heal our disappointment with some gelato and then returned to the hotel. You could imagine my excitement (for those of you who know me) that there were a few people sitting in the lobby watching the men's final of the US Open. We got there during the tie-breaker of the first set and after an hour....it was midnight.....we decided to go to bed. Good thing I find out since the match went on for another four hours!
Another great day!
Thursday - September 11th
A quick breakfast, a jaunt to the train station to successfully get our tickets to return to Zug tomorrow, and we went our separate ways to enjoy our last day in Italy. Sad, but true.....all good things must come to an end.
Jackie set off for her hike to Vernazza and I set off for a day of wandering around town and enjoying the beach. It is still pretty hot and humid, but is still a beautiful place to be.
I am posting this before Jackie returns and before our evening because I am so far behind. Our plans are for dinner and then we have a very early train to catch at 7 am tomorrow.
Ciao, Italy......but I WILL return to see you again!
Pictures are following
03.09.2012 - 07.09.2012
Monday in Lucerne -- Before I go on, Jackie wants a disclaimer that al opinions and observations are Ila's and "you can thank her for the updates. Jacie says she is on vacation and she doesn't do blogs.... it's too much like work." But (it's Ila now), I know she'll appreciate the our journal Also, apologies for no pictures being seen on the blog. Evidently I am having challenges using the iPad to get the pictures posted. I will keep trying if possible.
Our next venture was to lucerne via train from Zug. We set out on the "Grand Circle Tour". Upon arrival in Lucerne, we took a ferry boat on Lake Lucerne to Appenshtaldt. The beautififul landscape around the lake ws so lush and the homes and chalets were amazing. We then transitined to the Unsersee (Unser lake) and departed the boat in Appenshtaldt. Here we took a cogwheeltram up the mountainside sometimes at a 48% incline to the top of a peak called pilatus. It was quite different to experience being seated horizontally while the wheels beneath you were at such an incline. An amazing feat in transportation to say the lest. The scenery was something from a fairy book - so green and lush, intermittent with running water, the sound of cowbells and the rare sight of mountain goats. Then all of a sudden, we were in the clouds -- literally. We couldn't see anything. When we reached the top at Pilatus, you could imagine our dismay that we could not see our hand in front of our face. We knew from the brochure the views of the Alps and surrounding lakes were spectacular; that there ws a children's rope park, a dragon path to hike down to Lucerne if you wanted, and more beautiful sights to behold. So it was then tht Jackie and I opted to forego the top and took a gondala car (just lke Disneyland) back down the mountainside into Lucerne. We then went to Old Town and crossed over an inlet of Lake lucerne on the most beautiful bridge named Chapel Bridge. We ate lunch at a waterside cafe and watched te swans, listend to the church bells chime and enjoyed the fascades of the buildings across the water.
Old Town was very quaint with cobblestone streets and alleyways, many stores many of which we have in the states. Bu the buildings and church steeples and clocks are beautiful. We then caugh a train back to Zug and a bus up the hill to the Tobins. All in all a great day!
Tuesday - it must be Verbania
Tuesday morning found us on a train (actually 3 different trains to our chagrin) from Zug to Zurch changed trains to bern changed trains to Dommodosolla, Italy and then changed trains to verbania on Lake Maggiore in Italy. The scenery during our travel was quite spectacular. But what was even more spectacular was the guardian angel that came to us verbania. Upon arriving at the train station (wich by the way was nothing either one of us envisioned) I proved that my 10 weeks of Italian class were worthless because I could't remember a thing except "grazie". We found that we needed to take a bus to the hotel which was about 40 to 50 minutes away (at least that's what the ladyy in the ticket booth told us). So we stood with the others at the bus stop for around 20 minutes waiting for the bus to Hotel ancora. Jackie asked this lady if she was waiting for the bus to the area where our hotel was located and discivered she did not speak englsh nor italian! She was from Russia. We waited for another ten minutes or so and thought we would just go ahead and take a taxi that was parked there for 25 euros. But our angel came over and said, "no, no" and pointed to the bus that was coming up the road. Besdies, the taxi driver said he couldn't take us because he was busy talking to his friend. So we got on the bus with our angel who pointed us to our standing place. Jackie also asked the bus driver to advise us where to depart ... no prblem, right??? So as we drove to the hotel along the lake, every time we stopped our angel would catch our eye and shake her head "no". So we stood in our place and didn't move. At one point our angel indicated that she was going to get off at the next stop but we should not. We nodded that we understood but then then driver's assistant came down the aisle indicating that we should get off. It was at that time we got and emphatic "no" with the shaking of her head and the pointing of her finger -- neither of us moved. Therefater at each stop she would look at me and just give me the stink eye not to do a thing. So I shook my head to respond that I wouldn't think of moving until told. Lo and behold, our angel stood up to get off and took our arm to say "move now"! In some language that neither of us knew, we discovered that she was actually escorting us to our hotel which was much further than her stop. She made sure we were safe and then we hugged each other and she started back to her home. Truly an angel.
The hotel was very nice. Our room had a lake view - only a small one-lane street separating us from the lake. We unpacked and set out to see what surrounded us. We walked through a small square with 2-3 gellaterias, many beautiful shops, resaurants and this magnificent church - San Vitorro Church from the 18th century. The sculptures and paintings were beautiful and the altar was so inspiring. The church bells from the adjacent steeple chimed while we were inside and it was very moving. All I could think of was, "We're in Italy!" The fascades of the buildings in the area were from a fairy tale book. Beautiful flowers everywhere and the colors of the buildings were orange, gold, green -- everything you would expect. We located the restaurant that the hotel referred us to but they were not open. It was 6:30 pm so we figured it was just closed for that day for some reason. So we stoped by an outdoor cafe and had some dinner. I had a pizza which was very good, awful wine. Jackie had fish (selected by the owner becausee he did not want to give her what she preferred) and it was not very good. After a short walk near the port we headed back to the room in anticipation of our next adventure.
Wednesday - Tour of Lake Maggiore
After a nice breakfast buffet at the hotel (guess what, Krista-- we were served yummy chocolate filled croissants as well as marmalade filled croissants as part of the buffet. Just had to let you know ) Anyways, we then boarded a boat that took us around the lake to different ports and islands. The view was breathtaking. The colored homes, both old and new, the gardens in bloom -- really unbelievable to say the least. The forecast was for thunderstorms but we had beautiful blue skies, whispy clouds, sunshine and a slight breeze.
Our first stop was Isola Bella which had a small little town full of all kinds of shops, restaurants, gelaterrias as well as all kinds of artisan exhibits displaying their wares. Jackie even found an artist painting the adjacent island - Isola Superiore - and purchased his painting.
Then we stopped at Isola Superiore which was a bit larger but had the same type of activities. It, too, provided beautiful sights. All in all we were very pleased we had chosen the boat excursion. The only sight we did want to see was Villa Tarranto but unfortunately it was closed due to major damage from a severe storm they had earlier in the season.
Then Jackie and I went to an outstanding restaurant for the most delicious food and wine and beer. A great and memorable day for us!
Thursday - Ciao Verbania!
Due to miscommunication as well as language barriers, we had a how can I say nicely, tranportation to the airport that just went wrong from the get-go. After paying 5 times more than we expected, we arrived a the train station in time to leave for Milan and then changed trains to Florence. The train to Florence was the Italo which we rode in first class - what a difference! At one point we calculated that we were going 174 miles per hour but it was so quiet and smooth you did't realize it.
Upon arriving in Florence, we decided to walk to our hotel which was only a little over a mile from the station. What we didn't factor into our decision was that there were a million people on the street at the same time and the temperature was well over 95 and a little on the humid side. I was experiencing being in a sauna the entire walk. We were following Luigi (Jackie's phone gps) and he finally said that we had arrived at our location but we couldn't see it. Finally we saw the single door entry and got to our room. Our room looks out at the Piazza San Firenze church which is absolutely beautiful. We ventured out to the palazzo vecchio which has the Gucci museo and another museum and so many sculptures together ... More than I had ever seen clustered together. We had a bite to eat ...love the pizza.. And then wandered about the city over the Ponte Devecchio bridge over the Arno river. Did some shopping and ending the day now...for me at least. Jackie might go out to see what the nightlife brings. Anticipate good things for tomorrow.
Our stay in Lauterbrunnen
01.09.2012 - 02.09.2012
After arriving Friday afternoon in Zurich, Lisa Tobin picked us up at the airport and we went to Bernie and Lisa Tobin's home in Zug. Unfortunately, we found out that Bernie had to leave the next morning for the states to help Drew, their son, get settled into his new college so our visit with him was brief but nice.
Through the generosity of our hosts, Bernie and Lisa Tobin, we started our first day driving (with our guide "Heidi" through the GPS) to Lauterbrunnen which is situated in one of the most awe-inspiring settings in the world. Jackie found the most amazing hotel before we left, the Hotel Oberland, which is a family-run hotel in the center of Lauterbrunnen not far from the famous Staubbach waterfall. It was raining all the way but our drive took us through the most beautiful countryside we had ever seen. The mountainside waterfalls, lakes, the flora and trees had the most incredible colors of green -- even our detour (much to Heidi's chagrin) taking us up the mountainside on this one-car road to the most incredible "farm" homes and views of the Untersee (in English means Unter Lake).
Jackie was a terrific driver and we arrived at our destination unharmed. As soon as we got checked into the hotel we went to Trummelbach glacial waterfalls which are inside the mountain. You take a tram halfway up the mountainside to start the climb to see Falls 6 through 10. Lots of rushing water going down these crevices inside the mountain and the noise level is quite loud to say the least. I was walking with an umbrella because of the rain but there was so much moisture falling from the waterfalls I guess it tried to serve a purpose, but as you can see in the pictures, both Jacke and I were soaking wet despite trying to cover our heads. We walked down the rest of the mountainside looking at Falls 5 to 1. Needless to say, we saw LOTS of water. Drove back to the hotel and walked through the town. The Staubbach waterfall was quite amazing. We also saw this beautiful small cemetery for the town. The hotel served the most incredible dinner and the Swiss Chocolate ice cream was so yummy! (where's my thesaurus when I need it!)
We awakened on Sunday morning to blue skies and sunshine! Had a great breakfast served at the hotel and then ventured off to Schilthorn - Piz Gloria! This is the top of a peak where the revolving restaurant in James Bond 007 movie took place (don't ask me which one) but you take 3 different aerial cable cars up to the top which is about 11,000 feet up, give or take. You'll see that the views are spectacular - the Swiss Alps surrounding you with a beautiful valley below. Jackie and I forgot our hiking poles and shoes so we didn't actually hike up or down the mountain but some people did believe it or not. On the way down, the cable car stopped in Murren which is a quaint little town where we took more pictures of the mountainsides, water falls, paragliders -- believe me when I say the pictures certainly do NOT do justice to the spectacular scenery. I just couldn't believe I was actually in the Swiss Alps -- another childhood dream of mine! Thanks to the Tobins, I realized both of those dreams -- see the tulips and windmills in the Netherlands and see Switzerland!
We then started our return to the Tobins' home in Zug seeing the most beautiful lakes like the Brienzersee which is a glacier lake and the color was the most beautiful light teal turquoise. Also little towns like Brienz. It was a wonderful weekend to say the least! Tomorrow - Lucerne is on the agenda.