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!

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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.

More Week Two – King’s Canyon, Uluru and the Kata Tjutas – Outback

After the first 20-minute climb, (see previous post), the King’s Canyon hike was fairly straightforward.

That little bridge we have to cross . . . no worries!

Neil on that little bridge we have to cross . . . no worries!

Oh, there was a swaying little bridge walk over a very deep part of the canyon, but it looked sturdy to me, and after all, these places have to have liability insurance, right?

The 6+ kilometer hike ambled a bit up and down, round the curves and up and down again, but negotiating it only took patience, and not much in the way of superior hiking skills.  I had water, my walking stick, camera, and three companions.  The day was beautiful and the camera captured only a bit of the spectacular red surroundings.

King's Canyon walls

King’s Canyon walls

Some fooling around out on the overhangs, but you notice I didn’t walk out there!  The kids and Neil seemed to have less caution than I generally do in high places.  So I had an opportunity to snap a few of these crazy climbers!

We finished the hike by 11:00 a.m., returned to our ‘resort” and grabbed Kindles, towels and fresh water before we headed to the pool for a few hours of refreshing relaxation.  Tomorrow, we will head out to Uluru and the next part of our Outback adventure!

Neil . . . hanging out at King's Canyon

Neil . . . hanging out at King’s Canyon

Ashley and Justin out on a rock limb . . .

Ashley and Justin out on a rock limb . . .

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?”

November 2-9, 2012, Week Two continued – The Red Centre – We WANTED to buy the permit, truly . . .

Red hot takes on a new meaning!

Red hot takes on a new meaning!

Well, are any of you wondering about the camel photo at the top of this website?  Yes, that was a photo I took this week, the week in which we felt like we were in the Twilight Zone on Mars (the red planet, yes?).  More about that in my next post.

Our first and last nights in the Outback were spent at Toddy’s Backpacker Lodge in Alice Springs, separate rooms the first night, sharing a room the rest of our time in the Outback, cooking in the hostel kitchens of our various lodging locations.  Good training for the Camino next year . . . and excellent relief for our wallets, with outrageous restaurant costs all through Australia.  This is NOT what we remembered from eight years ago on Oz’s east coast.  But we weren’t on the east coast yet.  We were in the middle of the desert, surrounded by heat and red dust.

We awoke on Day Two, excited to head for King’s Canyon.  Since I’m the 4WD driver in most situations, I took the wheel.  Remember, our driving time in Oz was focused and on the lookout to make sure the driver, sitting in the passenger seat, turned left onto the left side of the road, and turned right onto the . . . left side of the road.  We also got to laugh at whoever was in the “driver’s seat” every time he or she used the windshield wiper rather than the turn signal, also situated on the wrong side of the steering wheel.  It was a twisted brain exercise each day, re-learning to turn ourselves backwards and inside out.  Anything to get to the reverse orientation.  And the passengers cheered and counted all the right and wrong actions of the driver as we made our way down the dirt road.

So . . . I drove.  We were to go by way of the Mereenie Loop Road to King’s Canyon, but needed a permit to drive on the Aboriginal property. My instructions were to drive to Hermannsburg to a gas station there, buy a permit, and be on my way with my three red-dirt companions.

Anxiously on the lookout for Hermannsburg, we saw it rolling up into our line of sight like a strange tumbleweed . . . in the middle of absolutely nowhere, there was the “gas station”.  Hmmm . . . dust, old cars, lots of Outback mutts gathering around and a battered building with a caged front door..  I got out of the car, and walked into the “store”, greeted by a goofy white guy, perhaps in his mid-twenties.  When I asked to buy a permit for the Mereenie Loop Road, the guy guffawed, stopped, put his hand to his mouth, guffawed again, and told me he was “real sorry” but they were out of permits.  Yep, he had just started working there a week ago, and he had run out of permits about three days into his new stint. (Chortle, chortle, sideways look, silly grin . . . )

“But hey, if they stop you”, he advised, “just tell them you WANTED to buy a permit, but we just (guffaw, guffaw) ran OUT!”

I’m not sure what he was smoking, but I would like to have tried some of it.

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 . . .