Thursday, June 28, 2012

Impressions of Florence

We arrived in this city weary travellers. It was early evening and our 2 days in Florence was already whittled away to 1 because of a train delay of several hours combined with our whirlwind excursion to the Tower and Duomo in Pisa.(Leah, you would have loved the shopping precinct we walked through on our way to the Leaning Tower-the 40 minute walk took us through streets with beautiful shop fronts. Anna, Gill and K had fun buying Birkenstocks at one store. We were glad we bought them when we did because our return journey to the train station was during siesta and everything had closed for those few hours.)
We enjoyed pizza for our late night dinner (in honour of Fraser's birthday) in a busy town square while sitting in the shadows of the enormous gothic Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore. Quite an exceptional location indeed! We poked around for the evening, window shopping and admiring the designer shops' displays. Florence was full of people wearing beautiful clothing! Many people travel around the city on bicycles and vespas. Pedestrians must keep on the lookout though as it doesn't always seem obvious who has the right of way. The girls had a great time shopping in here. There were beautiful leather products and colourful markets with cheerful vendors. Lots of gift giving took place. The Arno River was so pretty to walk along. Pont Vecchio was a lovely spot for photos, people watching and of course, gelato!
Dare I mention that we didn't make it to the Uffizi Gallery? Our time disappeared and we had not pre-reserved tickets. Kathy and I did visit the Accademia and enjoyed studying the Renaissance Art, Michaelangelos David, and his unfinished sculptures "the Prisoners". We partook of our first siesta and after such a great rest we were ready for a late night out which included an all you can eat tapas menu at Kitshz Restaurant, a panoramic night view of this very pretty city from atop Piazzale Michelangelo...

... an exciting set of bus rides where we knew not where we were headed nor when to get off, and a little scare after midnight in a lonely, back of the tracks kind of street where we were approached by 2 men. "All's well that ends well" our momma used to say. So long Frienze. Thank you for a lovely stay. Onwards now to Rome and more adventure!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

photos from Collioure, France.

Collioure, another favourite town!
gorgeous girls in a gorgeous town!

cajun shrimp and sangria at Chez Simone's

picture post

The iconic Sagrada Famillia
Barcelona from Montjuic


On the banks of the Loire River
A pretty street in Blois, France

Vernazza in the Cinque Terre

"the Cinque Terre, a remote chunk of the Italian Riviera, is the traffic-free, lowbrow, under appreciated alternative to the French Riviera. There's not a museum in sight. Just sun, sea, sand (pebbles), and pure, unadulterated Italy". (Rick Steeves, Italy, 2008 travel guide) Five beautiful communities dot the rugged cliffs of this coastline in Liguria, Italy. We fell in love with Vernazza, one of these villages,the moment we stepped onto the winding cobbled street that leads down to the sea. It was Sat evening when we arrived and the locals were out socialising. We asked someone about renting a room and he hollered up the street for Enrica. She appeared and we followed her up a steep staircase to her 2 lovely private rooms, immaculate and just what we were after. It was that easy! We spent 3 nights in this lovely location. Just a few highlights: -The owner of the Blue Marlin who fills us in on the devastating mudslide that occurred on the 25th of Oct, 2011, wiping out businesses and homes throughout the town. Eight months later, the cleanup and restoration shows how diligently the people have worked in order to be semi prepared for this tourist season. This normally sleepy place is a hive of activity as they continue the cleanup progress. -The pastel coloured four and five story buildings, laundry hanging from windows, locals leaning out and calling to one another in Italian, a maze of narrow winding alleys and winding staircases, flower pots and plantings decorating the homes. -The incredibly beautiful scenery as we hiked in the heat and humidity up, up, up the trails and stairs and terraced farmland from one village to the next. -alfresco dining next to the Ligurian Sea and enjoying delicious pizza, pasta and gelato.  -The cheers and festivities of last Sunday nights soccer win! It was such a wonderful experience!!


Friday, June 22, 2012

St. Raphael, Cote d'Azur

Trained it to here today. We had our first train delay. Someone lost their life on the tracks in Toulon. It was very sobering to hear of this. So Marseilles station was swarming with travellers waiting to carry on to Nice, ourselves included. We crammed onto an overcrowded train and Anna and I sat in between cars in the non air-conditioned luggage section, and Gill and Kathy hung out in the air conditioned bar! We leave in the morning for Vernazza, in the Cinque Terre.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Content in Collioure, France

Today we left Barcelona after a whirlwind trip to the chocolate factory. Before too long we arrived in the charming seaside town of Collioure. We are very spoiled! Our hotel room looks out across clay rooftops to the Pyrenees Mountains, we have a rooftop swimming pool and a 5 minute stroll to any number of cafes, shops, the beach, canal, castle with rampart walks, art museum... We ate shrimp and rice and salad while looking out to sea. The girls can't stop marvelling at the charming town of Collioure! Tomorrow, Kathy and I look forward to a trip to the Modern Art Museum, a trek up, up, up to Fort St. Elme, some wine tasting and the beach! The girls are going to eat crepes and gelato, and lie on the beach and unwind. Very content indeed!
A love affair with gelato begins here!


Monday, June 18, 2012

Kathy joins our band of weary travellers

On the 17th, Anna, Gillian and I made a very enjoyable TGV journey from Paris to Barcelona. It was a welcome 7 hours of resting in co fie seats and enjoying the beautiful scenery as we headed south toward Valence, Nimes, Montpellier, and then westward to Peripgnan, Figueres (imagine, we are now in Spain). We oohed and aahed over our first glimpses of the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrennes mountains. Pinch me now! My camera was buried in a securely locked and stowed pack but we are travelling back to the south of France on the 20th via the same route and I look forward to many photo opportunities. It was a great day-happy companions experiencing the beauty all around us. And then we had our wakeup call! We arrived in Barcelona around 10pm and began to negotiate our way to the hostel via the metro. Something happened on the metro that set off a warning in my mind and I kept my eyes on my girls and our belongings like a hawk. I could see that with the crowd we were becoming more separated with each metro stop. Sure enough, at our stop, Gill was hemmed in by the two women that had initially set off my radar, and while one kept Gill from moving, the other tried for her handbag. We all did get safely off, the two women were not successful, but it was scary and a terrible way to begin in this city. Our walk to the hostel seemed long and we were very wary. I felt so badly for Gillian! Now I had anticipated we would have some inconveniences along the way living in youth hostels, and our first night in Barcelona was one we will remember. We arrived at the street no and questioned if we were in the correct place-nothing about this address suggested a place of lodging. A tiny piece of tape near the buzzer had the word "hostel" handwritten on it and after buzzing, we were let into a huge, carved wooden door. We discovered we had 5 other roommates, both genders. No lockers for our valuables, everyone was there playing cards. They were friendly although curious as to how the girls would go clubbing with their moms in tow. Toilets and showers were communal so there was not one place I could see that you could have any privacy. I asked to move to a room of 4 (we were switching to this room anyway when Kathy joined us the following morning, and it was empty), but they wanted so many extra Euros for the move that I could not bring myself to pay it. Then we discovered they had misplaced the key to the linen closet and could not provide us with bedsheets. Nice touch. The lights went off finally sometime after 2:30, Gill and Anna stayed up googling traveller blogs on how scary it is to travel in Barcelona and frightened themselves very thoroughly, Gill stayed dressed all night in her street clothes and finally fell asleep after 5am. It was a bad, bad night. Sleep deprived and discouraged we headed back into the streets (which looked much friendlier in the light of day) to meet sister Kathy at the airport shuttle bus stop in Plaza Catalynua. bus after bus arrived with no Kathy, but finally... It was a lovely reunion. I think Gill was so happy to throw herself into her momma's arms. And naturally, Kathy's enthusiasm and confidence fired us all up again and in no time we were ready for the day's adventure! And what an exceptional day we had! Barcelona is a beautiful city and when the sun is shining and you are feeling safe, it is easy to enjoy it. We did our first hop on hop off tour and went everywhere on the sunny top deck of a tourist bus, audio commentary teaching us so much about Barcelona. We finished the day with a late visit to the iconic landmark Sagrada Famillia. Incredible! Today we are going to the Picasso Museum, the Barri Gotic area, chocolate museum and "sweet tour" the Cathedral and Las Ramblas under lights in the evening.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Blois and the castles of the Loire Valley

We arrived in Blois yesterday and wish we could stay and stay! A picturesque French town (city? population 47,000) and a 16th century Auberge on the banks of the Loire River, and as Gill says, no gypsies harassing us! Today we perused  2 of the beautiful chateaux in the area- Blois Castle and Chateau Chambord.  We took so many photos!  Blois is just as we had hoped, a quaint French town with old stone buildings and cobbled streets, meandering lanes, ivy walls, moss covered roofs.  A horse and carriage passes our hotel periodically.  The cathedral bells are singing to us.  There are poppies growing in the long grass along the river bank.

Above are some photos of beautiful London.  Can you tell how happy we are and what a good time we are having?
Sacre Coeur

What a beautiful landmark!

Photo taken from Musee d'Orsay, looking out toward the Louvre

At the Louvre

Relaxing at Tuileries Garden and Fountain

Oh Ya, what filling will our crepe hold today??
 And those pics were snippets from Paris.  xx Bye for now.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Degas et le Nu

Paris...we loved it but not every minute. It felt a little daunting, sometimes scary, and we were always on our guard. We had a good time though! What a spectacular city- c'est magnifique! Highlights: the Eiffle Tower and it's summit and a city ablaze with lights; Musee d'Orsay and room after room of Impressionist, neo and post-impressionist paintings-a sight for sore eyes!; fresh chocolate filled crepes in Montmartre while listening to French folk music; time out relaxing by the fountain at Jardin des Tuileries; riding the metro after midnight; the view from Sacre Coeur and Montmartre. Half the time I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants not knowing enough of the language. I suppose a good example of this is my purchase of tickets for the Degas et le Nu exhibition. I promised Gill she would see some of Degas' ballerinas. No ballerinas! Lots of other lovely ladies though! (It was still an amazing exhibition, just a bit unexpected- silly me)


We did our best to ignore the unseasonably cold temps and persistent rain on offer in London while we were there. What a beautiful city! My first experience as a mature traveller using a youth hostel was great! I was surprised to find many families and oldies using the facility. Clean, comfortable, set in the heart of the Oxford Circus shopping district-  YHA London Central possibly spoiled us-(I write this from Paris where we are not as happy, but more on that later, maybe). Our dinner at Jamie Oliver's Barbecoa was delicious! Anna and Gill have been living off Tesco's one pound egg and cress sandwiches so they were ready for a hearty meal. We did a wonderful walking tour of the city and although we were drowned rats it was really fun and informative. Les Mis at Queen's Theatre was outstanding. We had seats that were so close to the stage. What a memorable evening! Another highlight was attending Evensong at Westminster Abbey. Portobello Market in Notting Hill was such a feel good place. I loved the pastel coloured row homes witH their window boxes overflowing with roses and English country garden flowers, and the eclectic shops with their interesting and creative window displays. And speaking of shopping-Oxford St! That was fun too! Thankfully I have no interest in adding to the weight of my pack so window shopping sufficed. And I cannot forget to mention our time at the Victoria & Albert Museum. I could spend hours upon hours there! The fashion and ball gown exhibits, the V&A gift shop (sigh!)- I have a wish list for certain! So our first destination was a huge success. Anna and I are full of cold/flu but we are soldiering on-thank you Rob for insisting I pack your cold and flu meds. As it turns out, blogger won't let me upload photos from my iPad. So I am sorry, this will be quite boring without pics, but I can post some to my Facebook wall. Wifi is very intermittent so I will be in touch when I can!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

London Bound

I am en route to London Euston station as I write. Rob and I enjoyed our time in Singapore. It was sad to say goodbye at the airport-Rob went his way back to Jakarta and I boarded my plane to Munich. I thought the trip had potential for disaster when the "gentleman" in the seat next to me greeted me with "IS THIS YOU DARLIN'? He was completely loaded from his flight from Perth to Singapore and he bombarded me with all kinds of unwelcome colourful and suggestive conversation. Early on he warned me that he was going to get more drunk than he already was and this time he wouldn't stand for the flight attendants "cutting him off, because they have no right!" I asked him if there was any fear that he might throw up next to me-he assured me that would not happen-and I hoped for the best. Blessedly, it didn't take him long to pass out and apart from his arm hanging over my armrest for 14 hours and his thumping music coming through his earplugs, we both survived. By contrast, I am now travelling quite comfortably in a Quiet Zone, First Class train car and my travel companions are very civilised. Another couple of hours and I meet Annie

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Happy Travels

Well, tomorrow is the big day!  My Europe trip with Anna is now just hours away!  I fly on the 8th as far as Singapore and meet up with Rob for 24 hours.  This will be a whirlwind of shopping, beautiful meals in unique cafes and being spoiled with a gorgeous hotel stay! 
But then after a long haul flight to Manchester and a train ride to London, reality will strike when Anna, Gill and I check into the YHA London Central:
I don't know, it looks clean and that mattress looks comfie enough!  Regardless, it will be the start of many nights in hostels all over Western Europe.  My backpack is standing tall (and possibly too heavy), all packed and ready.  I hope and pray this pack and I are going to have a great relationship!!

I arrive just in time to celebrate my birthday with Anna and Gill at Jamie Oliver's London restaurant Barbecoa.  It looks like it will be a beautiful treat.  I look forward to dining on a delicious dish while feasting my eyes on my daughter whom I have not seen for weeks - and the view outside this window of St Paul's Cathedral will be amazing as well!
The girls will have been in London for a couple of days already so they are in charge of putting together an itinerary for us.  We have tickets for  Les Miserables at Queens Theatre in London's West End,, and I would like to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Check this out; Ball Gowns, British Glamour since 1950's.  I will be sure to let you know just what we get up to!!

Stay tuned...