Finishing Our First Week

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Michelangelo’s most famous and stunning sculpture . . .

September 13, 2014 – Five days in Florence just flew by, as it always does, with exquisite visits to the Accademia to see the David, the Medici Chapel, the Uffizi, and up high to the Etruscan town, Fiesole.  Wandering the streets of Florence, walking over one bridge and back across another . . . the Ponte Vecchio, Ponte Santa Trinita, always with a misty or sunny view of the Arno River.

By Wednesday, September 10, we were headed to Siena for the next three days.  Walking tours with Viviana Girola are always a must in Siena, and we toured the Duomo, the historical banking Piazzas, the Campo, and the palazzo where ancient documents from centuries of official transactions are stored.

A caprese a day . . . delicious!

A caprese a day . . . delicious!

As in Florence, our Siena days were also filled with delicious meals, including my staple, like an apple a day, the caprese insalate.  Fresh tomatoes, alternated with creamy mozzarella and a variety of applications for the sprig of basil.  I just can’t get enough of this dish, and there is no reason to deny myself.  It is low calorie, and much more satisfying to my taste buds than gelato, though several of the woman are becoming experts in the gelato arena.

The women in this group have threads of connections with one another that grow stronger with each passing meal, each passing glass of wine, each day of this trip.  We eat, shop, eat, walk and walk, laugh, break up into small groups sometimes, wander alone when we want, and come together each evening for another delicious dinner.  On our second evening in Siena, we attended an opera concert, with nearly a dozen arias sung by a woman whose strong voice was actually too much for the little church venue, but when in Italy, how appropriate to hear these familiar pieces sung in the language of this rich-in-culture country.

Siena, Day 3 is free for whatever everyone wants to do . . . exploring back streets to find that special cheese shop, looking for linens and discovering an art store, wandering around until we find our dinner restaurant for the evening, and of course, stopping often along the way for an espresso (big discussions about NOT calling them EXpressos!) or a cappuccino.

The Campo - Siena's center of energy, and a great meeting place!

The Campo – Siena’s center of energy, and a great meeting place!

And always in the center of the town is the famous wide Campo, site of the Palio, the horse races in July and August that determine the winning contrata (neighborhood district) each year.  The Campo is a buzzing place, big enough so it never seems too crowded, with a tower at one end and a fountain at the other, making it easy to find your traveling companions to reconnect after a day of exploring.

Today, Saturday, we will head for the Hertz office and get our cars . . . YIKES!

 

 

Our Group Is Nearly Complete . . .

May 22, 2014

It’s the middle of the night, and I have been checking out the menu for each of my favorite Tuscan restaurants, in preparation for our Italy Women 2014 adventure!  We have had a health-related cancellation, and that woman is one sad puppy . . . will YOU be the person to fill this recently re-opened final space in our fabulous Tuscany and Cinque Terre Italy Women trip??  . . . September 4-23, 2014.

Check out the November post on this website, the one that has ALL of the details!  Drool, and then let me know if you are interested in being that last lucky person.  We’ve got a great group already!

Update on Italy Women 2014 Adventure

Well, there are two spots available for our September trip, and you can scroll down to see all the details, pricing, etc.

Florence, Siena, Chianti country villa, and the Cinque Terre!  A variety of beauty for the eyes  . . . I just secured our accommodations in Manarola (Cinque Terre), right at the edge of the Italian Riviera.  And the villa we have acquired for a full week . . . well, looky here, as my sister says!

Our Chiangi Country villa

Our Chianti Country villa!

Five nights in the heart of Florence, three nights in beautiful Siena, and a week exploring the Tuscan countryside from this villa . . . San Gimignano, Montepulciano, the Chianti towns (Castellina, Greve, Radda), tasting delicious food and wine, and soaking up the ambiance of the area.

Portofino harbor

Portofino harbor

Our adventures culminate on the Italian Riviera, where we can explore the coastal towns from Riomaggiore to Portofino.  As we travel, I’ll write here about our daily activities.  Will you join us?

Check through some of the archives for past years’ details. And go to the details post for further information.

Ciao!

Italy Women 2014

Florence, Siena, Tuscan Countryside, Cinque Terre

September 4-23, 2014

Walking across this bridge, you will find wall to wall jewelry stores . . . Ponte Vecchio means the "Old Bridge", but often people call it the "Gold Bridge".

Walking across this bridge, you will find wall to wall jewelry stores . . . Ponte Vecchio means the “Old Bridge”, but often people call it the “Gold Bridge”.

Ah, Bella Italia!  Wouldn’t we love to explore her majestic art, architecture, and cuisine, her serene villages and vineyards, her romantic coastlines for half of the rest of our lives?  Well, on this Women’s Adventure, we’ll have to settle for just a bit less than that, taking in some of the spectacular sights in the top half of “the boot”. 

We’ll begin in Florence, my favorite Italian city, full of culture and beauty, and just the right size to enjoy ourselves easily. We will stay five nights, strolling on the Ponte Vecchio to the other side of the Arno, listening to the monks chant their 5:00 Mass near the Piazzale Michelangelo, stopping at a frutta e verdura market for a fresh afternoon snack.  After a half day private walking tour to get a feel for the history of Florence, we will visit the old masters in the Uffizi Gallery and the exquisite statue of Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia.  Franco treats us like queens at Il Porcospino, a local ristorante near the Medici Chapel..

A day trip to Fiesole will give us our first taste of some northern Tuscany towns, with a spectacular view of Florence from above, and we can explore the Etruscan ruins nestled in Fiesole’s village boundaries.  And always there is espresso, cappuccino, gelato and other delicious culinary delights.

Siena - Duomo

The Duomo in Siena

We depart Florence and travel by short bus ride to Siena, where the Palio is held each year at the Campo, in July and August.  We can see clear evidence of which contrata has won the prize when we’re there.  A half-day private tour with my friend Viviana Girola will put some of Siena in a historical context, including entry into the magnificent Duomo, as well as the side gallery with ancient illuminated manuscripts on display. Then we will be free to explore the walkways, churches, shops and alleys of this old world town. My past participants always long to stay more than one night here, so I’ve added two extra nights.  Delicious dinners await us, as well as casual daytime grazing on the Campo, full of cafes and street vendors.

Our Chianti Country villa!

Our Chianti Country villa!

After kissing Siena goodbye, we will head to a lovely villa in the Tuscan countryside, near Vagliagli, just outside of Castellina in Chianti.  We will take off most days for towns in Chianti, as well as Montipulciano, Pienza, Cortona, and San Gimignano, and perhaps visit Capalbio’s Il Giardino dei Tarocchi (Tarot Garden), a spectacular park with mosaic magnificence in the form of the figures of the Major Arcana.   

We can also just spend a leisurely day or two (your choice) at the villa itself, lounging by the pool, walking the area or napping luxuriously in the Tuscan sun.  There is always time to write in your journal, one you will receive for the trip, or one you bring with you!

Our departure from the villa, on our way to Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera, will allow time to stop in Pisa for a few hours. We will see the Leaning Tower, of course, and those of you who are adventuresome can climb the tower if you wish.  The Baptistry and the Duomo are spectacular, part of the unique Field of Miracles situated within an area the size of a city block.  Then we begin our time on the Italian Riviera nicely recovered from floods and mudslides in 2011.

Cinque Terre

             Cinque Terre – Vernazza

In Cinque Terre, where we will stay for three nights, we can walk or hike from one of the five villages to another, or take the little “milk train” instead, stopping here and then there to explore Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.  We will steal away one day, taking the train to the spectacular oceanside town of Portofino (remember Enchanted April, filmed in that area?) for a day of shopping (even just window-shopping) in the high end stores and galleries or just sitting by the sparkling Ligurian sea, sipping chilled Prosecco and watching the yachts come and go. 

When we depart from Cinque Terre, we will head for Milan’s Malpensa airport and our return to reality!

Our trip will include AIRFARE FROM DENVER, eighteen nights’ lodging (double occupancy), all transportation within Italy, walking tours in Florence and Siena, a half-day trip to Pisa, sixteen breakfasts, three lunches, two picnics, eight dinners, entrance to the Duomo in Siena, the Uffizi, Accademia, and Medici Chapel in Florence, combo ticket in Pisa (the fee for the Tower climb is not included), Florence Street-wise maps, travel journals, and ME, your planner, guide, and all-around fire extinguisher!

Cost for above, (including airfare from Denver) is $6200.00**  A $500 non-refundable deposit holds your space.  A referral discount of  $250 is yours for early registration by November 30, 2013 OR for bringing a friend not on my list . . .

For questions, please contact Joannah L. Merriman, Lifeprints, 970-481-6339.  E-mail me at jetlost@lamar.colostate.edu and check out my travel blog, http://www.woodswomanabroad.com for samples of previous trip adventures!

A very happy group of women!

Delicious food, delicious wine, very happy women!

Arrividerci!

**Double occupancy.  Single occupancy available for additional cost.  If you are flying from somewhere other than Denver, or if you have miles you’d rather use, please talk with me. Travel insurance is a must, I’ve found, but I will offer a group rate or individual policy for the full value of your trip as well as for lost luggage, trip delays, medical coverage etc.  Details about that upon registration.

Week Two– Palms, Camels, Wild Horses and A Long Dirt Road

On the way to King’s Canyon, we met a red dirt road that went forever.  With diversions such as Palm Valley, “just a bit off the main track”, it took us about 10 hours to go from Alice to King’s Canyon Resort, 50% owned by Aboriginal shareholders.  The Palm Valley side-trip was only 22 km.  How bad could it be?

But when our 4-wheel drive vehicle was challenged on a barely-a-road full of rocks, hardly a dirt path at all in some places, that 22 km. took forever.  Well, only much of the afternoon.  The twelve-mile equivalent times two for the round trip reqired about three hours of very careful navigation through the rocks, dips and mud holes.

The beginnings of Palm Valley

The beginnings of Palm Valley

Soft sand turns out to be as hazardous as deep snow, and though my 4WD skills are quite good, we spent a good hour before the first palm showed up in our line of vision.

Short story was that we arrived at the trail head mid-afternoon, when the temperature was about 40 degrees Centigrade . . . perhaps 104 degrees, and the short, fairly easy hike became a sunstroke threat for this woman.  Neil, Ashley and Justin completed the walk, while I retreated halfway through, found the car, and practically plunged my face into our water-soaked washcloths.

Once recovered, having collected my companions, we headed back up the rutted trail toward the “main road” if one can call it that.  The permit-required Mereenie Loop.  Fortunately there were no permit checkers on the way, but there were groups of camels on the sides of the road, along with the wild horses and foals running back and forth in front of our car, all headed to the potholes filled with rainwater from occasional showers as we moved down the Loop.  The photo at the header of this website was taken on this part of our journey.  It was actually quite exciting!  I hadn’t considered sharing an Australian road with camels . . .

As the sun hung lower in the sky, our collective nerves began to rattle a bit.  There was NOTHING out here . . . absolutely nothing.  No streetlights, no houses, huts, tents, no gas stations, no cars, nothing but us, and beyond us a continuous show of sheet lightening with surprise instant rain showers.  And when the dark came, we were plunged into the black, but for the now inadequate light from the front of our car.  “Trusting the process” took on a whole new meaning.  We were on the red moon, or Mars, and though we knew we couldn’t get lost, because there was no other road, King’s Canyon might as well have been weeks away.

By about 9:00 p.m., we arrived at our destination, checked in, got to our room in the darkness and took turns learning our way down the path to the communal bathrooms.  Getting ready for an early hike the next day was our first priority after we settled in, because the heat of today’s hike let us know we did not want to be away from heat shelter by noon.

The beginning of our "little day hike" . . . King's Canyon.

The beginning of our “little day hike” . . . King’s Canyon.

The next morning, we were out by 7:00 a.m., headed toward King’s Canyon for our hike.  The drive to the trailhead was only about a ten-minute one, and we parked in a large lot, along with the other cars and tour busses.

A fairly easy hike, said the book, but for the first 20 minute climb.  Again, I asked myself, “How bad could that be?”

Week Two – The Outback, Northern Territories – November 2-9, 2012

The heat is not at all my favorite thing, a fact to which those who know me even slightly can attest.  However, when I had set my sights on seeing the 2012 total solar eclipse from nearly the only land location from which it would be visible, I also knew that going to Australia for a few days or a week would be foolish.  Any destination that takes nearly twenty-four hours from portal to portal deserves at least three weeks or more.

So it was with relish that I planned our trip to Oz.  One week in Western Australia at Neil’s request because the Margaret River Valley is known for . . . what else?  Wine!  A week in the Outback, so I could visit Uluru, the sacred red rock of the Aboriginal people.  A third week at the Great Barrier Reef, scene of the total solar eclipse if we planned it right (and of course we did), and a five-day wrap-up in Sydney before heading back to Colorado.

From the air, we could see absolutely no sign of civilization.

Week Two began with a flight from Perth to Alice Springs, in the dead center of the Outback.  Once we had been whisked away from the e civilization that was Perth and its surrounds, I began to see the complete desolation that is the landscape of the middle of this continent.

I used my iPhone to shoot photos out the airplane window.  First completely abandoned red dirt, seen through a screen of puffy clouds.

The “folded over” mountains from our plane.

Then the “folded over mountains” as Neil called them, a sort of long ridge with vertical creases, such as one would make in a long loaf of bread.

The long and zigzagged road . . . the only one visible from the air.

At one point, halfway through my flight, I spotted a thin red line zigging one way and then zagging another, perhaps the only road for a thousand miles.  Or perhaps not a road at all.  If that’s not it, there IS no “it” through this section of Oz.

Finally we arrived at the Alice Springs airport, and after about 45 minutes at the Hertz counter and numerous errors kindly and frantically corrected by the only employee in the booth, the four of us lugged our bags and backpacks to a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, a honking big 4WD vehicle suitable for our Outback explorations during this next week.

Our Toyota “Camel” for travel during Week Two

This was the first rental car for which we were given a 100 km. daily limit for our travel.  We thought it a bit strange, but as they say in Australia, “No worries!”   After all, we wouldn’t drive more than 700 kilometres in a week, would we?

To be continued . . .

Week One – Busselton, Western Australia – October 26 – November 2, 2012

Wine tasting . . . that is what brings us to this little town, not a bustling one, despite its name.  But Busselton, nearly four hours south of Perth, “in the West”, as they say, is the gateway to the wineries of the Margaret River Valley.  It’s also a perfect spot from which to launch oneself onto the rocky coastline of the southwestern part of this continent.

Busselton Grand Mercure Resort

One of the best parts for us is that we managed to snag a three-bedroom time share condo right on the Busselton beach . . . the only cost was the $150 Interval International exchange fee.  Now THAT speaks to some strange convergence of planets, grapes, sand, and our best intentions for our Eclipse 2012 trip.  More on that plan later.

Morning Beach Walks

So launch ourselves we did, indeed.  Each morning we walked on the beach. Nearly each day we lined up three wineries to visit, interspersing our tasting with a picnic at the nearest set of coastal rocks, or a burger in Margaret River itself, or a paired food and wine tasting at one of the fancier wineries (Leeuwin Vineyards for that one).

Leeuwin Tastings

Traveling with Ashley and Justin was a real lesson in meal efficiency, and we enjoyed most of our dinners at our condo, grilling steaks one night, stuffing ourselves with Justin’s tacos another, pasta on two different evenings, and always, always . . . some of the wine we had purchased after our daily tastings.

Wine tasting in Nannup at a food festival . . .

Not that we were only enologically focused . . . we did visit one brewery, where I, the non-beer drinker, began my soon-to-be-habit of ordering hard cider (YUM!).  We also set out one day to see only galleries . . . no wineries.  However, when we got to the Happ’s Pottery Gallery, we discovered that a tiny tasting room was tucked away across the entry from the artwork, and there we had some of the tastiest varieties of the week!

Happy campers are we . . . always a great beach with crashing waves against the surrounding rocks, always a beautiful sunset dipping below the blue waters, always a great glass of wine awaiting us, and always a decent bed to crash into when the day is done.

Sunset at Busselton Beach

So goes Week One in Australia 2012 . . .

Australia – October 24-November 20, 2012

Over the western seas to Oz

We begin our trip on United Airlines, in First Class to San Francisco and Business Class to Sydney.  We are delighted with our seats, the ones that turn into beds for the travel over the water.  I’d go in Economy and just suck it up, but Neil, my tall person, the last best one, really needs the room for those long legs of his, and I had 300,000 United Miles just begging to be used, so with his coach ticket and upgrade and my mileage bonuses, we snagged a much more comfortable situation, so as we embarked, we settled into the front section for the flight . . . Kindles, knitting, my Bucky neck pillow and the softest eye mask I’ve ever found – one I carry with me on all long trips.

After a fabulous filet mignon dinner, we each took an Ambien and settled into a very long sleep.  Waking up two days later by the calendar is always disconcerting when I travel in this direction, but it is what it is.  And time goes so swiftly in any case . . .

The flight approach to Sydney

In Sydney, we grabbed our flight to Perth, picked up our rental car, and drove to the International terminal to meet my daughter Ashley and her husband Justin, who will join us for the entire month of the trip.  They’ve been traveling the lower part of the world for the past year and are arriving from Bali, where they’ve spent the last month.  We haven’t seen them since my mother’s funeral in Chicago in early June, so we can’t wait!  I only wish my other two children, Tanner and Morgan, could accompany us as well, but that was impossible for them.  Another year . . .

Five Days In Florence – Part Due

Throughout our time in Florence, we have the pleasure of walking a half block from our hotel right into the Piazza della Republicca, one of the main squares in Florence, for almost everything we want to do while we’re here.  The Duomo is past the Piazza, and on our day at the Uffizi, we go through this square first.  It is our gateway to the western half of Florence.  As we wander to the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio, the Piazza della Signoria offers its sculpture and history to us as well.

Lovers affix a lock to the Ponte Vecchio, promising one another that their hearts will be “locked” together forever . . . a naive but sweet ritual.

And as it happens, our visit this year coincides with a small Tuscan festival, situated right on the piazza itself.  (See photo from previous post.)  Celebrating the upcoming grape harvest, a series of lovely white tents line one side of the piazza, coincidentally in perfect view from my hotel window.  Inside these tents, area vendors offer tastings of wine, cheese, honey and other products associated with the good life in Tuscany.

As I begin to browse the offerings inside each vendor’s space, I am drawn to a table with not only several types of wines, but two stacks of books, each a bit more square than a deck of cards, and a bit fatter.  These chunky books are filled with resources, one volume for Tuscany, the other for Florence specifically.

I talk with the woman who compiled the books and wrote up the information in each . . . Veronica Ficarelli.  To my surprise (and this is one of the delights of my traveling experiences), Veronica and I quickly prove to be quite simpatico, and I see her nearly every day of our stay.

Needless to say, I promptly buy her books, but each day at an appointed time, we meet at the group of tents, exchange e-mails, and plant the seeds of a friendship I hope will flourish in between my trips back to Italy.

Veronica Ficarelli – It’s always a lovely thing to find a new friend in a favorite country!!

Anne and I purchase our wine glass at the festival, which we carry around with us, visiting one wine table and then another,

getting tiny tastes of the various products of the vineyards in the countryside.  Before or after our walks we taste and talk . . . a favorite daily ritual.

Our group develops a co-mingling independence, going off in small clumps to this restaurant, that museum, the other gallery.  We meet for breakfast in the dining room of our hotel, check in about the day’s activities, planned and spontaneous, and move out to greet the day.  Four of us visit perhaps fifteen little restaurants one evening, searching for one that serves steak tartare, finally settling for beef carpaccio instead.

Five or six of us meet up mid-day for an espresso or a cappuccino and something sweet, before or after a visit to my favorite button shop, a writing store one of us spotted during the previous few hours, a dress in the window of a tiny shop down a side street lined with cobblestones.

We can always create our adventures by simply strolling down an unfamiliar lane, turning left instead of right at an already familiar corner.

Porcillino – The Brass Pig – A Market Mascot

And then there are the scheduled activities.  Next post . . .

 9/14 – 6.77 miles registered on my pedometer

Five Days In Florence

I have never been able to explain why this city comforts me, welcomes me.  Why not Rome, one of the greatest cities in the world, according to some?  Why not Venice, my mother’s favorite?  And of course there is always Paris . . . with an atmosphere all its own . . . .  Somehow, if I were to live in a city out of our country, it would have to be Florence, my first choice.

Tents are set up for a four-day celebration of the coming grape harvest . . . Tuscan wines, cheeses, honeys, oils, etc. are available for tasting throughout the long weekend!

There is something magical about Florence, something intimate and soft, as well as historical and cultural.  There are two piazzas in close proximity to our hotel, the Albergo Pendini.  One is directly below my bedroom window, the Piazza della Repubblica.

The other is perhaps six blocks away, an easy walk, the Piazza della Signoria . . . the one with the Fake David.  That’s how we always identify it, but it is much more than that.  Bernini statures, the Palazzo Vecchio, the entrance to the Ufizzi, the cobblestone street that leads directly to the Ponte Vecchio.

An exquisite dome . . . Firenze

And the magnificent Duomo is only a few blocks from our hotel.  I only have to walk for perhaps three minutes, turn left, and in another two or three blocks, there is the breath-taking view of it.

We are spending more time here than I have ever stayed in one visit.  Five nights, thus nearly five full days this time.  And it makes no sense to give a blow-by-blow description of everything we will do in this five days.  We began the way I always do . . . a visit to the Piazzale Michelangelo, as you read in the last post.  That was Wednesday afternoon and evening.

Thursday morning, we meet Elena, a lovely young woman who is my walking guide when I come with a group.  She gives us a bit of history as we walk through the sections of the city near the Duomo, near the Arno, near the fancy shopping street, and her lilting English makes me smile.  She knows that we will end near the Antinori Cantinetta for lunch, so she plans her route accordingly.

The lunch is magnificent as usual, in the small and intimate restaurant owned by the largest wine-producing family in all of Italy.  Service is impeccable, the prices match the quality of food and wine, and everyone is satiated.  The San Lorenzo market is nearby and some of my travelers head there to look for a wide array of gifts displayed at colorful booths before they head back to our hotel again.  The Pendini is in close proximity to nearly everything we want to do in this favorite city.  Fifteen minutes of walking will get you anywhere you want to go within the old walls.

Magnificent, no matter how many times I see this statue! Absolutely breathtaking . . .

On this trip my women will visit the Medici Chapel to see ancient mosaic ceilings and floors, sculptures of Michelangelo in the Medici, the piazzas, and of course at the Accademia, where the real David stands in all his glory, at the end of a hallway lined by The Prisoners, also Michelangelo created.  Though photos are not allowed anymore, someone snuck one in quickly!

The Uffizi is full of early art, for those who have never been there, and for those whose eyes are able to take in an enormous number of paintings and sculptures by the masters . . . Caraveggio, Boticelli, da Vinci, Giotto, Titian, and of course, at least one piece by Michelangelo.

But I, like the Doobie Brothers, I am taking it to the streets.  Wandering through the winding roads is my favorite pastime, stopping when I see an inviting café (a bar, they call it in Italy) where I can have a cappuccino and something sweet, just for a moment, trying out my meager Italian as I order what I’d like.  Stopping at a market, buying a basket of strawberries, bright red in their freshness, and asking, “Quanto costa?”, then giving the vendor two Euro or three, eating the fruit along my journey.

More on bella Firenze soon.

9/13 – 6.65 miles logged on my pedometer