Saturday, December 24, 2011

Washington State, Idaho and Canada - 1995

Bicycle trip to Washington State, Idaho and Canada

Leave Harrisburg in 90+ heat on August 31 – layover in Pittsburgh for short time before heading to SeaTac. We had a few rough spots, but all in all a good flight. We could see the ground all the way. Arrive Seattle at about 8 p.m. their time – 11 p.m. our time. We found our Hampton Inn after a bit of driving around and had a little trouble getting the correct auto for our bike rack. At 2 a.m. our time we fell asleep – long day.

September 1

Early call from the Merrill’s gave us directions to the home of Cliff and Rose Goudy – in-laws of their son at Holy Cross. They live on Magnolia Island, reached by bridge – a lovely community – manicured. The houses are built on tiers of streets giving everyone a gorgeous view of the harbor. They hosted us to a breakfast at Fisherman’s Wharf – really terrific food – with the fishing harbor in full view of our table, lots of atmosphere.

John and Chip drove 470 miles to Spokane on Route 20 – wow. The first 150 miles are mountains – high and covered with conifers. Douglas Fir, Western White Pine, Western Hemlock. Then we came to very dry, arid land – high hills but desert dry with no green growth. The earth looks sandy. A quaint Western town called Winthrop with Wooden sidewalks was a delight, but we went to an elegant resort called Sun Mountain for lunch ($9 sandwiches). We sat on the deck on the edge of a cliff – absolutely spectacular views of brown mountains and valleys – the topography is startling in its range of hills and canyons. The next surprise are rolling hills of fresh cut wheat – huge acreage farms as far as the eye can see. Arrived in Spokane Brewery for fabulous raspberry beer and chicken stew. Good to see everyone!

September 2

Gorgeous day, cool morning – hot midday. Early call from Russ Oakley – he’ll be here at 7:30. We are off to his house in a lovely section of Spokane – high on a plateau adjacent to the business section. Their house is lovely – manicured, small lot, and gorgeous trees. Ann has done a fabulous job of decorating it – very comfortable feeling. The children are lovely and they love it here. We headed off at 9 for a bike tour down the hill to the city, which was without traffic in the early morning coolness. We met the rest of the group at a giant carousel and went on a 29-mile ride on the Aubrey White Parkway. Russ and Ann have a buggy with two seats for the children.

Returned to Riverside Park and pigged out on taco salad and root beer. Tired – many hills but a gorgeous ride. This city is so very unusual with the Spokane Ruin cutting a wide swatch of blue through the canyon of evergreen trees. You look down or up and the walls of lava rock have decided where the city shall be and where the parks shall be. A cookout at Russ & Ann’s was a great end to our day. His homemade beer was excellent – I tried them all!

September 3

Another gorgeous day and we get an early start. The men drive the vans to Cover D’Alene at 8:30 and Russ drive the men back to the hotel. We leave at 9:30 and the three men caught up to us at the Arbor Crest Winery. We went to the market and packed a lunch. They shuttled us up the mountain to the winery where we enjoyed lunch with a view. Then on to Coeur d’Alene – a total of 39 miles on a wonderful paved trail. The hotel is very beautiful and this lake is spectacular. I can’t wait to explore this place tomorrow. It was a terrific day of biking – almost flat and so beautiful all along the Spokane River – a very shallow, wide bed with river stones of every size. Cocktails at Oakley’s and dinner with the Merrill’s at Macaronies – to bed, to bed – biking makes the bed appreciated.

September 4

Another beautiful day, temperatures in 70’s. We had an early breakfast at a yuppie coffee shop – overpriced, but we walked around town and around the marina window sopping and getting our morning workout. John and Chip worked on the bikes and I went to the golf course with Jeannice. The pro-shop is one of the best I’ve ever seen. I bought a pair of shorts and a golf t-shirt – expensive! It was fun to watch the golfers trying to land their golf balls on the floating green. This golf course is magnificent – no rough. The rough consists of blue grass cut ½” longer than fairway blue grass. The green moves along cables anchored to the lakebed to vary the playable length from 100 to 175 yards. The 160-acre course has magnificent plantings including over 30,000 geraniums. We had a trip back to the hotel in a cruiser. It was an exciting ride across the lake. This lake freezes over in the winter. I visited the shops and had lunch before bicycling with the group for about 12 miles. Dinner at the Beach House was very good. Tomorrow we take off for points North. Gorgeous day here on this fabulous lake.

September 5

Beautiful day – cool mornings, warm afternoons and cool evenings. We left Coeur d’Alene after breakfast and drove East to Wallace Idaho. On the way we stopped at Lookout Pass in Montana to ride mountain bikes on the mountain. We rented bikes and had a guide. We are novice mountain bikers, but it was fun and we did about 15 miles, some rough on rocks and through streams, but some on old railroad beds. We went on to Wallace, the silver capital of this state. Today I visited the jewelers and saw some nice silver pieces – bought a pair of handcrafted silver earrings by a local artist, Rob Harper. The town is poor – 1,000 residents. They live for the she crowd and the limited mining left here.

September 6

Another gorgeous day – cool in the 50’s early, to 70’s later. Breakfast was huckleberry pancakes and they were delicious at Brooks Hotel. This is a little mining town in the mountains and hasn’t changed much in 50 years, I expect. We had a tour of a fake silver mine and a museum video. IT was a hazardous life and we were left with a pretty grim picture of lime of a miner in 1880. We drove to Pind Oreille (Ponderay) for lunch (200 miles) through the most magnificent part of Idaho and Montana. The scenery is breathtaking. When we crossed the Canadian border at Eastport and drove about 20 miles, we turned a curve in the road and behold these in the sky were what looked like mountains of ice. The sun was going down as it was late in the day and we all emitted an ahh as we drew in our breath at the sight. They were the Canadian Rockies and I may never see them quite so magnificent again as the light was part of the show. What a sight it was!

Arrived at Fairmont Springs tired – a quick cup of soup and a dip in the hot springs put me to sleep. We lost an hour as we crossed the time zone so I’ll sleep in.

September 7

Fairmount Hot Springs. Brisk clear morning. We had breakfast in the hotel dining room. This is a western lodge – large rustic rooms, western décor. We have had very comfortable accommodations. After checking out the two gift shops we left for Canada and Lake Louise. It is the most scenic ride we have ever taken. The mountains with their glacier tops are all around you – very steep – the tree line is low – about halfway up. Water courses down in waterfalls.

The Baker Creek Lodge and cabins is fantastic. We have our own little condominium with fireplace, kitchen, bedroom and living room – very rustic décor, but delightful. We decided to eat in and Sue and Jeannice went shopping. Our dinner was great – spaghetti with meat sauce, salad and cookies for dessert. The best deal yet - $12.70 per couple. We are having breakfast in also. Three couples in each of two condos. Some of them have two bedrooms and Jacuzzi tubs. The best thing is a beautiful glacial stream running by our back deck, bubbling over rocks.

September 8

Friday – gorgeous day. Cooler than any yet. I’m layered for our hike up to the Tea House overlooking Lake Louise. There is a low cloudbank covering the mountain peaks as we arrive at the Lake. It is a glacial, smoky green color – but as the sun comes out we unwrap the mountains and the lake turns turquoise. Our climb to the teahouse is marked at 3.5. The altitude contributes to our slow climb, but we make it in two hours. We see lots of chipmunks in the rocks. They are so tame that people feed them from their hands. The scones and lemonade at the summit were good, perhaps because were so hungry. We also spotted mountain goats on the rocky sides. They are gigantic and look very strong. The first one I thought was a horse. We also saw an eagle and quite a few more goats, but everyone is hoping to see a bear.

The trip down was more difficult than up on our knees and feet, but we came down in half as much time. We drove to Moraine Lake, but I as unimpressed after Louise. I’ll never see anything as breathtaking as that turquoise lake and glacier in one eyeful. While on the climb we saw an avalanche. It sounded like thunder and we turned to see a large chunk of glacier come over the edge and down into the canyon. It was a waterfall of snow.

September 9

Another gorgeous day – we drive to Banff and find Hidden Ridge Lodge to be disappointing. The views from our Quonset huts are fantastic so we will grin and bear it. We had an hour in town. It is a busy town – pretty good size and has the alpine look – nice stores. The hotel Banff Springs is beautiful and very large. It is set up in the foothills overlooking a majestic river surrounded by glacial mountains – sophisticated and rustic all at the same time. The scenery is unbelievable. We took a bicycle ride along the golf course drive passing glacial lakes and the Bow River. Dinners have been disappointing and expensive. Tonight it is Cilantro – 3 star?

September 10

We head downtown – cool morning but clear and sunny again. We couldn’t find church so decided to get to the shopping. We had good luck and finished that and lunch before our ride back came at 1 o’clock. After changing into our bicycle clothes, we’re off to a bike ride to and around Minnewanka Drive at Minnewanka Lake, Two Jack Lake and Johnson Lake. We were back for the cocktail hour and everyone wished Deanne and me a Happy Birthday with cards and a terrific bicycle t-shirt. We had some good laughs. They are a terrific group and we have had a fabulous time.

September 11

Off early after seeing the alpine glow on the mountain at sunrise – a pink sky – just beautiful! We drove to Calgary and left the Merrill’s at the Best Western. John and I headed south on Route 2 to Glacier National Park. Wow – the scenery is incredible and the drive on “Going to the Sun” highway was unbelievable and impossible to describe. These mountains with their glacier hats are so majestic and the road to the sun was literally up to the sky – John and I were breathless and glad to get back to river level. Spent the night in White fish – neat frontier town – ski country. Our hotel is fabulous, new – Whitefish Lake Lodge on a lake – condominiums.

September 12

Whitefish, Happy Birthday. Early morning is lovely on the lake. It is cool, but much warmer than it was in Canada. We have a driving day to Spokane. It is about 6 hours and we drove to Russ and Ann Oakley’s, arriving shortly after 2 o’clock. We got right to work on the bicycles and finished in 2 ½ hours. They are ready for UPS tomorrow. We had a swim with the children before dinner. Grant and Molly are delightful – grant is so loveable and we’re decided 3 ½ is a perfect age. They are so well behaved and are fun to be with. Ann had a fabulous dinner of salmon, asparagus and rice. The best meal since leaving home – really! The food has been very mediocre on this trip.

September 13

Off early after seeing the children. We went to UPS and sent our bicycles. We have a long drive today to Seattle on Route 2. It is very interesting to see the different areas. It goes from rolling farmland to barren dessert – bike land to mountains filled with evergreen trees. We stopped at dry falls to view the canyon caused 13,000 years ago by the melting of the glacier during the last ice age. It must have been quite an event to cause such deep erosion – it reminded us of the Grand Canyon. Then we stopped in Leavenworth, Washington for lunch. This town is a Bavarian copy – every building and shop has carried through the theme. It was a fun stop.

September 14

Home today. Another fabulous day of perfect weather. Left SeaTac at 7:30 a.m., arrived Pittsburgh 3:15. Left 4:00 and arrived in Harrisburg at 4:30. Everything is burned up in a drought. We’ll be watering until the first frost. Good to be home!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Italy 1996 - Part II

October 19

Cool. John and I got an early start to Florence. We drove it in one hour 15 minutes – our door to the parking lot at Fortezzo de Basso. It seemed less crowded on Saturday than on weekdays. We spent three hours in the Uffizi and saw some spectacular art – all Tuscan painters pretty much and all during Renaissance years. Much or just about all is religious in nature. Our whole room of Botticelli’s, Titians, Giotto, Angelico, Lippi, Leonardo Da Vinci. It seems everyone ahs done the “Adoration of the Magi” and many Madonnas. We had lunch on the roof and had a view of the Duomo – it was practically in our soup. Then we shopped for a while and stopped before will have to buy another seat on the airplane.

Today is our goodbye dinner – two couples leave tomorrow for Venice. We leave on Tuesday, October 23. We’re going to a Country Inn – La Buca di Santé Antonio in Lucca. It was a great restaurant. The difficulty is in not knowing the language. Five courses are too many for me.

October 20

Sunny, cool. We awaken to the sound of gunshot, especially on weekends. We seem virtually alone on this mountaintop until weekends. They are hiking and shooting birds. One gentleman we talked to was wearing olive green Wellingtons, olive green pants and jacket, olive green baseball type cap, and large orange silk bow tie gun over his shoulder and a big bunch of wildflowers in his hand. These Italians are a colorful lot.

We drove to Portovenere – just up the coast toward Cinque Terra. What a gorgeous little town. The houses come right down to the sea. The town dates back to 1113 and a church St. Pietro dominates the entry to the bay. We walked up and down the narrow, cobblestone streets and up to the top where there is a small cemetery, which has the most beautiful view. Poets, artists and well-known figures have frequented these small towns – Byrnes, Shelley Dante among others.

October 21

I’ve resolved to have a day of leisure and sketching before we leave for Venice and this is it. It is a gorgeous day! I finished my villa window and Marion came up with her watercolors and we filled in a little color. It looks good on the window, but my paper is wrong for watercolor and it is rather puckered. Maybe when I get home I can do another sketch.

We went to Massarosa to look around and brought home lunch. Snookie had a fire in the kitchen fireplace and the Oakley’s and the Caldwell’s joined us and we all shared. We packed and generally enjoyed our afternoon here. The English couple joined us for cocktails at 5, which made for a long cocktail – two hours, since the restaurants don’t open until 7:30. We had our best dinner yet at “Salferino” 55056 S. Macario in Piano Telefono 0583/59118.

October 22

Sunny, warm. Venice here we come! Drove on the autostrada to Florence, Bologna, Padava, Verizia (or Venice in English). Returning the rental auto and catching the boat to the Rialto Bridge went beautifully and our hotel was really close to the boat dock. Super planning! We walked the streets with the Olson’s oohing & aahing. St. Marcas’ Square nearly blew us away – such grandeur!  Such size – such unbelievable detail on the Duomo – statues, carvings, and paintings. The shops are incredible.

We stopped for wine and went to The Madonna for dinner. It was excellent! However, you pay enormous amounts for dinner and lunch – never less than $30 or $40 each for dinner and $20 for lunch. Our Hotel Canada is passable, but for $125 a night, you don’t get much. It is clean – nice linen, private bath, small with breakfast. We had a fun evening.

October 23

We had a wonderful laugh with the Olson’s at breakfast. Don and John are having problems with the tiny bathrooms and narrow spaces we’re living in. John whacked his back and Don bumped his head. This place has struck a funny chord. The Olson’s have a room at the top of the hotel with a little roof deck. It overlooks roofs and chimneys as far as one can see. This morning it is a very busy place – on the next roof cement floor is being layed – Just above, a chimney is being repaired. All this work seems very primitive, yet they are talking on cellular phones. We are trying to imagine what is actually happening and Don and John are “Clerk of the Works” Don yells to the next roof telling them they are doing a good job. They must think we are nuts.

We start each day and end each day on their roof to check out the activity. The bell for a local church is so close to this tiny deck, it could deafen you if they rang it. It is good we will be gone before Sunday. We had a good day – went to the top of the Campanile at the Duomo. What a spectacular view of Venice. This is a must as you can see all the islands and relate to the red rooftops, domes, churches and bridges.

We met quite accidentally for lunch in Campo Saint Vidal and sat in the sun. Then we walked the back streets after crossing the Ponte dell’ Academia. We went on the pub-crawl after cocktails on the roof. We drank too much wine, but it was a fun way to eat dinner for a change. Early to bed.

October 24

Don and John are off to check the train station for tomorrow morning. Nan and I will meet them at St. Marco Square, where we will sketch until they arrive. We got ripped off, as we needed a place to sit – always a mistake in Italy. Our cafe latte was 16,000 lire for two = $11 or $5.50 per coffee. It we stood up to drink, it would have cost 1500 lire each or about $1. We went to visit the Ducal Palace after John arrived. It is very impressive with the water lapping at its foundation. There was quite a display of Venetian glass and the Venetian Chandeliers are fabulous in clear and also done in multi. Maybe for a contemporary space?!? It is a bit gaudy to me. The art is very large on ceilings and walls, but I’m a bit OD’d on religious art and Rome yet to come, so we spent the afternoon walking and this is really the way to feel the charm.

We saw the Carnival Destiny – ready to embark on its maiden voyage to the US and the Caribbean. The largest ship in the world and 20,000 tons heavier than the Queen Elizabeth II. It is huge, about 7 stories high – takes over 3,000 passengers. It would be too large for me. It was just built in Triest.

We bought a painting of a street, or I should say – canal scene – with the bridge to remind us of Venice and Italy. We resolve not to buy another thing – again! We went to the roof for cocktails with the Olson’s. We are quickly drinking up their wine to lighten their load. It is cool out on the roof. Nancy and Don found our restaurant – it was terrific. I had veal and they do a good job with veal – Tratorria Vash Vagon.

October 25

Nice sunny day – we’re up early 5:30 and ready to leave La Canada by 6:30 a.m. We wheeled those suitcases down the Venice alleys before daylight and onto the boat to the train station. Upon arriving we found no train listed to Rome, as there was a train strike. We dashed to catch a train to Bologna, hoping to catch a train to Rome there. We hadn’t had breakfast and only had 10 minutes before getting the Rome train only to find it so crowded we stood off and on for over three hours. We did finally get some breakfast about 11 o’clock in the dining car but the bays never had anything until after 3 in Rome. IT was an exhausting day and has taught us to distrust train travel. When we got a seat in Florence as some people vacated, people with seat reservations bumped us. This was in spite of having first-class tickets. We love our hotel in Rome. La residencia is lovely and quite elegant. A big bowl of fresh fruit in our room and a bottle of mineral water was a treat.

We left immediately for lunch and then the Spanish Steps, Palazzo del Papolo, the Borghese Gardens, then back in time for cocktails and dinner at a little nearby Truttoria. It was good “Tempo di Bacco” and reasonable. We are so tired it had to be close by. Reasonable is $50 for two in Italy.

October 26

Breakfast in this hotel is superb. As a matter of fact, this hotel is great in every area. The people on the desk and in the bar are very pleasant and helpful, always sending us to wonderful restaurants that aren’t on the tourist agenda and offering extras free of charge such as champagne before you leave for dinner, etc.

We took a bus to the Coloseum and the Forum and spent the morning in the ruins – Trajan’s columns and Trajan’s Forum. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is remarkable that this has all been uncovered. We visited the Pantheon, which also dates back to 120 AD and it is now a basilica. Raphael and St. Catherine of Siena are buried here (except Catherine’s head, which is in Sienna). Hadrian rebuilt the Pantheon on an earlier one in 120 AD. It is in perfect balance – the height of the walls equals the width of the dome. The use of mathematics made it possible for them to construct these long-lasting structures. The center top of the dome is open to the sky and I’ve read it is beautiful when it rains. There are 24 holes in the center floor to absorb the rain that falls.

We went to Bellini’s three fountains in Plaza Novena – a huge plaza and then to Trevi Fountain, which is spectacular. We threw our two coins in; and have visited many, many churches with our three wishes. One always for our new grandchild. It has been a super day. A note as at the desk from the Oakley’s and they arrived back from Amalfi a day early. They are at the “Regina Bugglia” on Venetia, so we’re going there for cocktails – 5 star hotel. We went to Mariani’s for dinner – fabulous – best yet. It was frequented by Italians, not tourists, and recommended by our desk. We walked through the exclusion on our way back – a hotel frequented by Sheiks, etc. They are all so beautiful but I still love our residenzes, with its oriental rugs and numerous sitting rooms. It is a most comfortable, small hotel with impeccable service. It will be on our list of Best Hotels.

October 27

Sunny again!! Off to Vatican City at 9:30 after a fabulous breakfast. When we arrived at the subway, we couldn’t believe the hordes of people this early on Sunday – all going to the same place (almost). We pressed our bodies into the throng inside the car. Nancy was half out and half in and she called for help. Don took his hand out of his pocket to grab her and someone emptied his pocket of about $100. What a start! Thank goodness it was only four stops, but on arriving the line was about ½ mile long. The last Sunday of the month is free and this accounts for the crush. It moved pretty well and we were in about an hour, but it all closes at 1:30 so every hour counts. We bought tapes to help compensate for the shortage of time and John and I were able to listen to each room a bit as the line snaked along the immense Vatican Museum – room after room of sculpture, paintings and artifacts from all over the world. Upon finally arriving at the Sistine Chapel, we had a good hour left before closing and it was wonderful to have the tapes. The Last Judgment on the back wall took Michelangelo six years. His work is magnificent; his people are real and his theology excellent. It is his own creation and the meaning focuses on the human body, which is the hope of the world. The church and religion is the connection between God and man. The restoration is complete and very beautiful. The ceiling is magnificent and tells the story of creation.

We left there for St. peter’s and the square, or Plaza, is immense and Bernini’s columns incredible architecture surrounding it. They are likened to two arms embracing all peoples of all races. The interior is beyond all belief – so vast – so beautiful – all marble. Forty-two alters, each with marble mosaic on its front panel and large magnificent works of art over each altar in marble mosaic – all natural colored marbles, many colors now extinct. Floors, walls, paintings all in marble mosaic.

Upon leaving we saw a large group in tuxedoes arriving. We asked if they were a choir and they told us they were singing at 4 pm Mass. We turned and returned with the choir and has wonderful seats for Mass. It was absolutely spellbinding and a wonderful experience for me. I received communion and must admit to being quite overcome with emotion at the entire event. The size of the church with the immense throne of St. Peter over the priest’s head with the voices swelling through the church and echoing off the marble walls and floors. It was incredible. We took the subway home to our hotel in time for cocktails with Olson’s and Oakley’s and a lovely dinner at a fine restaurant named “Marche” near our hotel. Tomorrow is homebound.

October 28

Sunny! We had a fast breakfast and with help from this wonderful staff were in our cab and on the way to the airport by 7:30 Rome time. It is 18 miles, or about 45 minutes usually, but this ride was memorable. We never stopped for red lights unless someone else stopped in front us. We traveled like an electric current around all objects in our path taking any lane open to us. The seat belts don’t work in any of these cabs either. We were there in 30 minutes through Rome traffic. Our flight was smooth enough, but filled to the max – the food terrible – the worst airline food I’ve ever had. They should forget food. We’ve decided we’ll fly non-smoking aircraft in the future or not at all.

Arrived Newark at 1:28 and John drove home – very, very tired but very happy to have had such a great, great, trip. Really super!

Thoughts on Italy

They don’t know how to cook chicken.
They use cheap cuts of all meat.
Veal is their finest meat course.
Pasta homemade is what they do best.
Lupe is another thing they excel in.
Five courses is too much food.
The people are wonderful.
The country is beautiful.

Italy 1996

October 7 – October 8 Rome and Pisa

The Caldwells, the Doughterys, the Olsens, the Fearens and the Merrills arrived by 10:15 a.m. at Bryce Road. The Oakley’s flight is on U.S. air out of Philadelphia, but Marion came to say goodbye and wish us well. Our limousine arrived at 11 and we were on our way. The limo was very comfortable – leather armchairs or all, refrigerator, bathroom and T.V. available. We arrived in Newark with over two hours to spare, but airports swallow up time. We left about 30 minutes later for our flight to Rome on Alitalia. We have to pinch ourselves as the day is finally really here.

Wow, what a long day and night – good smooth flight, but we didn’t sleep and are dog-tired upon arrival. First day difficulties are magnified by being so exhausted but we kept going, finding out way to Pisa and seeing the leaning tower and then to Lucca for lunch – spaghetti – delicious, but we must do better with out language so we will have a better and more diverse diet. So far we haven’t found many English-speaking Italians. We struggled in the super markets and it took hours to buy a few breakfast items. John’s limited Italian is helpful and people keep saying “bravo” as he struggles for the Italian words.

Our villas are unbelievable. When we found the sign for Campignano off 439 on the road to Viaraggio, we started to ascend a steep, steep hill with switchback after switchback – views to our right were astounding as we looked down on steep terraced hills of olive groves – up, up, up until we arrived at this large, ancient villa with bright green shutters on the top of the mountain. It is so picturesque – a tennis court and gorgeous pool but the views defy description as we can see all the way to the Mediterranean Sea from our sky top perch. Wow!!! Every room is unusual. I’ll describe our bedroom: We are on the second floor of the Campora Villa. The floor is red tile and white stucco walls about 20 x 20. The furniture is painted antique white with colorful flowers of red and blue tulip. A very large armoire – ceiling about 20 feet high with exposed beams. I feel like I’m in a castle. The windows have an inside solid shutter that opens in – then a glass window that opens in and a shutter with screening that opens out. It must be very hot here in the summer. Wildflowers are all around – it has a very natural look but it is magnifico.

Showery in Italy – puddles everywhere from recent rain.

October 9

We overslept – 10 o’clock was our first awakening. We made up for our lost sleep. We had a pleasant breakfast with lots of running back and forth to see each other’s views. By noon we were in Lucca. It is a very nice town, but everything closes from 12-3:30 p.m. We visited the cathedral and walked the city wall. The wall is about 4 miles and surrounds the old city and provides a beautiful park for the pedestrians and bicyclists. The wall is about 100 yds wide so this is very generous for all activities. We stopped for lunch and ate in the sunshine at an outdoor café. The food is fairly expensive. Diane and Snooky prepared dinner and you couldn’t beat the ambiance or the dinner – salmon on the grill – oven roasted potatoes – a salad fabulous – dessert dime tosse and biscotti. The best!! The cocktails overlooking the pool and dessert by the open fire. To bed by 10:30 – tomorrow more fun!

October 10

Sunny. 9:30 start at Sassella Villa but it was a shotgun start – no one knew where anyone else as going. We drove with Katie and Craig to Rio Maggiore to start he Cinq Terra hike. The road into Rio Maggiore from La Spezia was spetacular with views of the ocean and cliffs from the side of a mountain. It seemed scary on coming into Cinq Terra, but easy going back. These five towns are the most picturesque I’ve ever seen. The houses are built into the hills and go down to the sea. There is a walkway along the ocean cliff and every one hiked it. We didn’t want to leave Katie and Craig so we only walked the easy one on the first town. We ran into a friend – June from San Diego painting on the walkway and she came with us for the rest of the day. She is quite colorful – attractive, grey-haired lady – model, actress, etc. She speaks good Italian and was very helpful at lunch and she and her husband have been living on the Cinq Terra for a week and know their way around. It was a super day – warm (about 75). We left in time to get over the mountain before dark and it was much easier coming back. We found the H12 in Spezia to A11 to Massarosa where we stopped for dinner. My first really good Italian food. Ravioli stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta with a basic sauce – yummy. Heir white wine and crème caramel for dessert – great day.

Friday, October 11

Sunny – spectacular. We drove to Florence with the Olsens, but didn’t get into the parking lot until 12 noon. We walked to the Duomo and Campanile – it is truly spectacular – the façade is pink and green and white marble and the detail and statuary incredible. It does seem they turned it inside out with all the design on the outside. We visited the Duomo Museum and saw Michelangelo’s Pieta that he designed for his own tomb with the face of Nicodemus – a self-portrait of Michelangelo. It is a small museum, but very interesting. The Donatello Mary Magdellan, although shocking, is beautiful work. We walked through the Ufizzi Courtyard to Pont Vechio. The bridge was very busy, but the jewelry stores are quite grand. It was a fun day and we left Florence about 6 and drove to Lucca for dinner at DiGigoli’s – great wine, fair to good food. We’ll be back next Tuesday.

October 12

Today we slept late and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. I picked flowers for the house and did some laundry. The washing machine takes three hours. Snookie helped me shop for tomorrow’s dinners – no small fete where you don’t speak or read Italian. We are going to have fruit, cheese & crackers for hors d’voures – ravioli/ricotta and spinach in a pesto sauce and sage and butter dressing – tossed green salad, Swiss chard from our garden – Italian bread – Italian cookies for dessert. After enjoying a great lunch under over pergola, we went to a winery and olive mill outside Lucca in Matroia called Factoria Calle verde. Dinner at Sassala was prepared by marion and Nan – great!!! Wonderful day!

October 13

Sunny. We went to 10:30 Mass at St. Rosarios in Lucca. It is a very old Chiesa (church) and it was the children’s mass; except for the Italian, it was typical of our U.S. Children’s Mass. They had folk guitars playing and the children brought up the gifts. More women than men attend church it appears. We stopped for a latte and a pastry after Mass at a sidewalk Café. The store were open – women beautifully dressed, young families with carriages walking on the piazzas – gay and happy mood. John and I stayed at the villa to prepare dinner for the 14 of us. We’re having what I explained yesterday. The evenings are cool enough for sweaters. John and I sat by the pool; It is so gorgeous and peaceful – a delightful day. Cocktails and dinner was such fun – lots of laughs. The group bought us a bicycle key holder to say “thank you” to John and me … mostly John.

October 14

Cloudy day – rained last night.

We’re off by 10 o’clock to Pietrasanta and Forte de Marmi, and Veriaggio to bicycle. Tom and Snookie checked out the rentals yesterday to be sure they had 14. These are clunkers – big heavy one-speed clunkers. We bicycled along the edge of the beach, mostly on bicycle paths or marble sidewalks. We could see the marble mountains to the East and the Tyrranean sea on the West. The Carrare Mountains are where marble is mined and Michelangelo picked his blocks of marble. We biked about 16 or 17 miles and we knew it – what a difference from our wonderful Treks. This beach resort is closed for the season, but there are beautiful shops here and hotels. The beach side is not visible as each hotel has its cabanas on the beach side blocking your view We cooked in the villa and leftover ravioli salad and hamburgers. It was delicious as we were too tired to go out. We all moved today to new rooms. John and I love our new room in the Sasella Villa with private bath. This Villa is much brighter than Campora and really lovely. There is a magnificent pool, but it has been too cool to use it.

October 15

Showery off and on all day. We left at 7 a.m. for the train in Lucca to Florence – a nice, leisurely way to get there as traffic here is wild! Motor scooters, bicycles, pedestrians mix it up on narrow 1-way streets with 2-foot wide sidewalks – disaster. We headed right for the Academia to see David (spectacular). The Rosalie Pieta and the Four Slaves – all by Michelangelo. We looked in the shops until one o’clock as we knew they would close then and by the time we had lunch it was 1:30 and there was a 2-hour line at the Ufizzi so we went to the Pitti Palace which was excellent. We were pleasantbly surprised. The Medici apartments were open for viewing and fabulous art by Ruhens, Murillo, Gitian, Vassaro. “Consequences of War” by Rubens. However, I’ll have to go again to see the Uffizzi. We stopped at Giorgios for dinner and give them only 2 stars. We’re aiming for Montacatini tomorrow.

October 16

Montacatini is on our agenda for today. It is cloudy and sunny – cool but we left about 10 with Nan & Don Olson. It is a short drive from our Villa – less than an hour. It sits on a very high hill and is visible in the distance as you come to it. What a picturesque little town – narrow streets and lovely multi-colored houses with shutters of bright gues. Our house was peach with cream trim and lovely soft greyed-down jade green shutters. We drove to the top up at 75 degree angles with views of the valley and red tiled rooftops. From the top we went beyond the Finicula to the little village where peoploe live on steppes off cobblestone streets that are barely wide enough for a car. The flower boxes overflow with color. It is absolutely charming.

We took the Finicular downt o the town at the foot of the mountain where we lunched and shopped. The stores are lovely and I bought a handsome silk scarf for myself and a woolen pair of cherubs for Susan and a triple one for Priscilla. This store was full of antique art and I would have loved to brose, but closing time at 10 o’clock prevented me from bankruptcy. We’ll eat at Campora tonight. The Campora residents did a great job of warming up that Villa. It is very dark, but they had all the fireplaces lit and fresh flowers everywhere. It was delightful – and delicious.

October 17

We left the Villa at 7:15 a.m. for Sienna. It should take 2 hrs and 30 minutes. Three cars stuck together almost until we arrived, but we met again in the Piazza Campo. We shopped some, but I still haven’t seen what I would like to buy. I love some of the Felorentine Ware but it is too heavy to carry home with all the olive oil we’ve bought. The shops were very nice, but didn’t compare with Montecatini. However, the antiquity of Sienna is incredible and the views across the hills of orchards and Vineyards is breathtaking. I hope I can carry the picture of these hillsides home with me. The Duomo is one of the most impressive we’ve seen. The floors depict in marble the stories of the bible and the frescos are magnificent after 500 years. I bought two sweet wooden (olive tree) rosary beads for Caroline and Emily in their gift shop. On our way back we stopped in Monteriggioni for lunch. Charlie Gibson of “Good Morning America” was lunching at “Il Pozzi” and John introduced himself to him. The food was the best thus far. Most outstanding for me was Ravioli as thin as paper stuffed with pumpkin in a sage and bugger sauce. Wow!! It was delicious. John loved his bean Zuppa. Those are two Italian specaitlies. Then we drove to Sam Gimignano, the best preserved medieval city in Italy. It is charming – steep up hill to the church at the top and lots of shops to tempt the tourist. We didn’t stay too long as we had a 2-hour trip to Campignano and wanted to cover the winding roads before dark. A great day – wet off and on and pretty cool, but fun. We brought two pizzas home and had them with beer at our villa.

October 18

Cool and sunny – a few showers. We need to rest a bit today as yesterday was a long one, so we decided to do some local shopping. I sketched the chapel from our poolside this morning, and we were in Lucca by 11. That gives us 2 hours til closing time. We bought two oil decanters and a gorgeous dress for Emily. Now I must get something for the others. We drove to Bini Shoes in Monsummano and John bought a pair of Fabi Shoes – very Italian black loafers. We were home in time for cocktails and a spaghetti dinner a la Dianne. She is fabulous – runs this house – cooks, shops, etc. We have a cleaning lady every other day so life is quite easy for us. It was a good day.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cruise Part II

March 23

72 degrees. At sea all day so perhaps will catch some zzz’s. An early walk around the deck nearly turned us into seagulls. As we rounded to bow, which was facing into the wind, a gust nearly took us off our feet and we inched back holding the handrail. We did our walk on the port side only to avoid being blown overboard. I only had a continental breakfast as I’m over indulging on every meal, as the food is so fabulous. John should gain some weight as he is having all the low fat available, which is considerable quantity. We spent the day getting the rest we’ve missed even though there is a full calendar of activities and you have to make choices. For instance – we decided to go to a discussion on St. Thomas, it’s history and shopping opportunities instead of dancing class, hoping to catch that another day. I took a nap and John went to a concert – a steel band playing classical music. John says it was fabulous. The management sent us a bottle of wine – a Bordeaux by Mouton Cadet, just delicious. We shared it with our table at dinner. The food is so great. We had fish again – this time Grouper. After dinner we went to a concert by Guy Lombardo’s Canadians – what fun – great music and Al Pierson was a fabulous entertainer. He can sure play a mean piano. We danced a bit, but clocks go ahead and we lose an hour so we hit the bed at eleven. Tomorrow a new adventure.

March 24

85 degrees. Up early for a two mile walk on deck – eight times around – I quit at seven. Nice big breakfast – ate on deck. The Lido restaurant has a buffet line and you can take it out on deck It is very warm. San Juan is very picturesque – buildings in bright yellows, oranges and lavenders with white trim and dark mahogany porches and shutters. We walked up the hill to San Juan cathedral, a lovely old church open to the outdoors. Iron gates instead of doors. We made our three wishes and continued up to San Jose church at the top of the hill, which was built in 1532. It is white stucco and looks like a primitive building with few windows. The altar is the only decoration except for Blue and White delft stations of the cross – very unusual. The Dutch tried to capture Puerto Rico and were defeated by the Spaniards. Eventually the island was captured by the English and is presently a U.S. protectorate. We returned to the ship early enough for a nap before a full evening. A barbecue on sun deck was delicious and we danced to Guy Lombardo’s orchestra. Small world department – as we introduced ourselves to a couple we were joining for dinner, a friend of John’s from New Bedford overheard the name and came over. George and Terry Ladino. We spent the rest of the evening with them and they are joining us before dinner in our cabin for a glass of wine tomorrow evening.

March 25

85 degrees; St. Thomas. What a beautiful morning! We looked out our stateroom window to see another large cruise ship approaching St. Thomas and St. John. We dressed quickly to be on deck before docking. A launch picked up some passengers that chose to spend their date in St. John. We walked the deck for our two mile constitutional and enjoyed another fabulous breakfast before getting dressed for our day on shore at St. Thomas. We’ve been waiting for this day – what a shopping Mecca – liquor (not great) better on board – perfume and jewelry of every description: gold, pearls, gems, all at fabulous prices. I am just thrilled with my Omega with slicker and gold earrings. We also did a little Xmas shopping for Karl and Steve and my birthday gift to John. A very successful shopping day – hate to think of the bottom line. This is a lovely spot!

The people who went to St. John said it was a lovely island – a bit more affluent perhaps than St. Thomas. We rested on deck before dressing for dinner. George and Terry came for cocktails in our room – more catching up and some good laughs. Dinner was spectacular as usual. We all had Dutch hats put on by our waiters – I looked like the flying nun. I had Roast Lamb for a change from fish. John had Dover Sole, which he said was great also. The desserts are dangerous – so delicious and beautiful. Danced until 10:30 – great orchestra.

March 26

At sea today – nice leisurely schedule. Walk two miles on deck – windy, warm, cloudy day. The fitness bikes are great; looking out at the sea makes time fly by. Another breakfast and lunch to fit a king. Bingo at 10 just to try it out and John won $213. Now we are hooked and tomorrow’s game is for $2,900. Dinner is beyond description – Shrimp Cocktail, Lobster Bisque, Beef Wellington and Baked Alaska. The kitchen crew and chefs lineup and all the lights are out except for table candles as they march through the dining room with sparkles topping the desserts.

Seaquest game played in afternoon. We laughed so hard. Each team must get articles asked for to the table first – man’s pants, false teeth, TT, picture of a white house, black teeth (comb) – really hilarious. Danced our feet off in two different lounges – what fun! Then our chocolate extravaganza at 11:15 – around the pool, ice sculptures, fruit and vegetable sculptures and chocolate desserts of every description. Wow – to bed none too early. Boat will rock us to sleep tonight.

March 27

Rough sea; sunshine. Our trip to Half Moon Cay is delayed by rough seas and a medical emergency. A man had a heart attack and a helicopter is coming to take him to a hospital. The tenders are all our waiting and they are bobbing around like corks on the rough waves. It calms enough by eleven for us to leave the ship and sail a short way to the most gorgeous beach I have ever seen – turquoise water and white confectionary-like sand set against emerald hills. The place is virgin – not a sign of seaweed or fish or shells. We took our mats from the chaise and floated in the sunlight. The water was about 70 degrees and the air about 80. Heaven! Arrived back about 3 p.m. for Bingo and dinner. Tonight is goodbye to our new friends and wonderful crew. It has been fabulous.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Eastern Caribbean Cruise 1998

March 21

Our bus arrived at MacDonald’s at Davis Blvd in Naples early and Mary and Bill dropped us off. The trip to Ft. Lauderdale was comfortable and fast as my new M. Binckey book, “Evening Class” was engrossing. Port Everglades Terminal was bustling with activity, and it was a motley collection of humanity dressed in every conceivable costume. Lived up with their baggage in sneakers and hats of every description, they patiently waited to board.

The moment we boarded they snapped our picture and took our carry-ones and a steward led us to our cabin. Our steward is Andy. Everyone uses first names and the crew is either Filipino or Indonesian, but very polite and helpful. Our cabin is on a deck, outside, just above the restaurant deck – comfortable with sofa and double bed and adequate storage space.  A bottle of champagne from our travel agent was in our cabin #884 and a bowl of fresh fruit. Luncheon was being served at a buffet until 4:15 so the first thing we did was find a restaurant and have a little sustenance. We chose Shy Deck and took our lunch out in the sunshine. This ship is huge and it takes awhile to discover where all the facilities are and the best way to access them. A lifeboat drill at 4:15 was revealing. Those lifeboats have motors and food and water – very reassuring. They seem to work.

By this time it was time for dinner at 6 o’clock. Our table was assigned and we were disappointed to find ourselves at a table for four instead of eight. We informed those in charge and it will be rectified by tomorrow. We had two delightful widows from Ft. Meyers as dinner companions – Norma from Michigan and Anne from New York. Both live in a mobile home park in the winter. John asked the waiter for olive oil and ended up with a bowl of olives. We had a good laugh before correcting him. It was his first tour and he was trying so hard to please. Our dinner was superb: pineapple soup, arugula and spinach salad, roasted snapper and pineapple sherbert. Then we went to a show in the Admirals Lounge. It was very New York nightclub, but then they introduced the social crew. After that we danced to the Guy Lombardo Canadian Orchestra. There were eleven pieces and they were excellent. John and I visited some of the other lounges – one had a string quartet, one had a four-piece Caribbean band. They were all lovely and a hard choice to make. However, since I’m not drinking we went to our cabin early. It was a good thing as John called at 3 a.m. to find out about drumming and noise, which the staff came and investigated. They stopped the party below us and we were off to sleep.

March 22

Sunrise out our window and a quiet sea awaits our docking in Nassau. After a hearty breakfast we left the ship for a tour of Nassau. It is very disappointing as it is badly neglected. We visited Parliament Square where all the government offices are and even these buildings are in disrepair. Everything needs a fresh coat of paint. Work in progress at the docks is half completed. We visited the straw market, which was full of cheap junk. The Anglican Cathedral was the only beautiful building we saw. It is called Christ Church and we attended part of a service. The people, predominantly black, were very well dressed – no women in shorts or slacks and most wearing hats. The men were nicely dressed also and the stained glass windows are gorgeous. We know why we only spent four hours in this port. On our return to the ship we had lunch and went to Mass at 1:15. Many attended – about 250 or 300 I’d guess and a Benedictine monk said Mass. We rushed to a talk on jewelry and then high tea with a great combo playing. We are really tired and try to catch a catnap before the Captains Champagne party at 5:15. After cocktails, dinner at our new table was terrific. Our new dinner companions are Jo and Ingrid from Long Island, N.Y. who taught German at Hofstra University and Mary Anne and Henry from Syracuse, who are now permanent residents of Tampa. He was an environmentalist, who had an accident when someone mislabeled chemical containers he was using, which caused an explosion that seared his arms and ruined his lungs (cyanide).  They were both great company and were looking forward to the dinners for the balance of the cruise. We took in the show, which was terrific based on Hollywood famous music and people. The costumes are fantastic. Then to bed as we too tired to dance. Another night we had to call to stop the partying below us by the kitchen staff.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

France 1999 Final Entries

Wednesday, September 22

Today is Irene’s birthday and Dianne and Bill’s 20th anniversary. I stayed with the Merrill’s who are not bicycling either and we met the bicyclists in Beynac for lunch. There is a castle there called Beynac Castle. We took a boat ride on the Dordogne River and viewed that castle and three others from the river. They are quite spectacular. One is owned by an American businessman from San Antonio and it is called Frayrac. There are flower boxes in each window. Castelnaud is being restored; was built in the 12th century. Chateau Milandes was owned by Fallies Bergere star Josephine Baker, an American who used it for children of different races and religions. Dinner was excellent at a restaurant called Le Relais de Paste in Sarlat, recommended by Philip, the bicycle aficionado.

Visited Carcassonne another tourist trap, I’m sorry to say. Bagnols in Provence – one of the best towns – fabulous museum: Albert-Andrew museum with modern and contemporary art.

House Mus Treille is great although we have #8 room. Visited Arles – dirty town, Roman Ruins Avignon, big disappointment. St. Remy – good shopping. Orange – wonderful town, clean, good sopping, beautiful roman ruin still in use as a theatre seating 7,000. We have come to the conclusion that the small little towns have the charm and none of the tourist hype of the large cities. Many of the small towns on the wine road are absolutely charming.

Our final dinner on October 1 at Mus Treille was a huge success and ended on a high note.

We’ll be leaving the group tomorrow and on our way to the Riviera tomorrow with only Carole Wick. The Angladon in Avignon is a fine museum.

October 2

Back to my diary. Today became very exciting again. We left with French kisses for everyone from the country house. Lucie and Odile seemed genuinely sorry to see us go. Carol, John and I spent the day oohing-and-aahing over magnificent views. We first visited Gordes – a perfect French Village built into the rocks and a Cistercian Abbey dating back to the 12th century. It is still in use as a monastery and among other things the monks raise lavender. Of course, I bought more lavender and a wonderful cross for Eric for his first communion next May. It was sculpted by an artist whose name is on the box. Then we headed toward Trigance where we are staying in the Chateau Trigance. The trip through the mountains was incredible with mountains of stone reaching the sky all around us, and drops on our side to rival anything we’ve ever seen before in the U.S. The Chateau is sitting up on a cliff and the switchbacks to reach it had us sitting on the edge of our seats. The view from the outside Terrace is like being in an airplane. It closes on the first of November until March as the roads are dangerous and it is too cold, so they don’t have any customers. The room is the best we’ve had although Karen Brown made it sound cold and barren. It is a castle, after all.

The dining room is beautiful – a barrel vaulted ceiling with candelabras on each table. We felt like we had stepped back in time to the middle ages. We were tired after driving all day so early to bed.

October 3

Long drive to Grand Canyon on southern route to Corniche Sublime provided gorgeous and breathtaking views as we climbed to 1400 meters. The Grand Canyon is incredible rock mountains on all sides of a canyon too deep to see bottom. We drove for five or ten miles along its’ boundary on a two-lane road. The sun moved from one rocky precipice to another making them look as if they were snow-covered. We reached Moustiers in time for lunch. What a fabulous small hilltop village. Every house has hanging flowers from window boxes. Morning glories of purple climb the walls and a lovely chapel dating back to 445 ad. is sitting on a rock precipice high above the village. Many pilgrims climb to honor the Virgin Mother and many miracles are attributed to their prayers. Many consider it equal to Lourdes. We visited St. Marie – a very old church in the village. The monks who came here in the first century lived in caves and started this community. The faience pottery called Moustiers is made here. We left for Mougins and drove through beautiful mountains – saw truffle hunters along the roads. Mougins – pronounced “Mou jan” – lovely little village and our hotel is wonderful. Pretty and very luxurious. View of Mediterranean Sea if I stretch my neck out the window.

October 4

Started in St. Tropez and drove along the coast to Cannes. The road hugs the coastline and the mountains rise alongside. The water is purple and blue and you know why they call it Cote Argus. It is incredibly beautiful and similar to Southern California but more fertile and more dramatically beautiful. Sometimes the red rocks rise up hundreds of feet from the ocean to the road and again beside the road. The beaches vary from wide and sandy to a sea wall where the waves crash against the wall. St. Tropez and Cannes are lovely spots with beautiful people and expensive shops. All the best are here: Cartier, Escada, etc. We saw the location of the Cannes Film Festival. The movie stars have their hands molded into tiles on the walks.

A very long and tiring day and it was a relief to reach our destination here in St. Paul de Vence. The room is great with French doors to an outside terrace – charming.

October 5

St. Paul de Vence is another wonderful hilltop village with streets so narrow and steep you must leave your cars in a car park. Many galleries and wonderful nooks and crannies with charming doorways. My camera doesn’t get a rest and I hope they all come out. We drove to the Nice Airport to check out the time for Thursdays’ flight before driving the shore route from Nice to Monaco and Menton. It is an unbelievable shoreline – mountains down to the sea peppered with beautiful homes built into the hillsides. Can there be so many billionaires? The yachts look like cruise ships and there are harbors full of them. We stopped at Eye, a hilltop village a mile up from where we left our cars. I took some great pictures. The sights and views from the top of Eze take your breath away. You look down on the Azure Sea where the sailboats look like toys and the mountains loom out of the ocean on all sides. Our eyes cannot take in all the beauty everywhere. Monaco is full of skyscraper condominiums and hotels perched on cliffs surrounding a magnificent harbor filled with yachts. We had lunch at McDonalds – good to get a McChicken sandwich.

October 6

Great day – fabulous weather all this week on the Cote d’ Azure and the Riviera. Today we went to Nice and walked the Anglars Promenada. It is a magnificent beach although rocky and a wide Promenade with a section for bicycles and skaters and a space for benches in addition to a very wide walkway for pictons. Went through the wonderful hotel with a huge Baccarat crystal chandelier – magnificent – beautiful shops. We went to Henre Matisee Musee – disappointed to find only one completed painting – mostly sketches for others including the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence. So off to Vence to find it closed today. It was a fun day but we are ready for home. McDonalds for dinner so we can eat early. Restaurants don’t open until 9:30 and you are lucky to finish by 10 o’clock.