Jane's Travel Blog

New Chapter: Explore the World


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All Roads Lead To…

Wow, it’s been five months and ten days since we arrived in Italy. The countdown to visit family and friends begins.

Bob and I decided one last trip was in order before we leave this fine country, and you know where all roads lead. Yep, Rome it is, with an amazing side trip to the Mediterranean town of Gaeta.

The train was the mode of transportation. I love the train. You can see the countryside, relax and read. As long as I am facing the direction the train is traveling, I’m good.

Rick Steve’s guide book helped with a seamless visit to Rome. I did my homework and planned a delightful two full days of seeing the sights in Rome.

We arrived Thursday midday to a rainy yet warmer day, found the hotel, and took off to wander. No plans for this day except to get a feel for the city.

Friday morning and we’re off to the Colosseum. As you walk through Rome’s delightful​ streets, it’s normal to see an ancient ruin here and an ancient​​ ruin there. There’re almost as common as Starbucks in the states.

It was rainy and in the 50s so the crowds were light when we arrived at this 2000 year old ruin, the Colosseum. When I go to places like this, I like to think that I’m sitting in the same spot as someone 2000 years ago. What was “game day” like?” I found a painting that helped with the visual, and there it was, a guy tailgating.  And I thought Packer fans invented​ tailgating. It turns out, it’s an ancient activity. Truth be told, I’m glad it’s present day, as I have zero interest in seeing people killed by lions. I’m just saying.

It’s still raining as we walk to the Roman Forum. Thanks to our umbrellas and great rain coats, the weather’s no problem. When ​in​ Rome…

The Forum is lots of ruins that were once the commercial center of Rome. With a little imagination, you can see and hear the hustle and bustle of the city so many years ago. Here I needed to find a WC​ (bathroom)​ and was happy to discover that it was not ancient, in fact, one of the better WC’s I’ve experienced on our travels.

Next we continue walking to the Pantheon. No ruins here. It’s the only ancient building in continuous use.

It’s later in the day now so we stop for a coffee before walking back to the hotel for a rest and then a nice dinner.

Saturday brings a bit of sun, and we head for the Vatican, but our first stop was Castel Sant’Angelo. Bob loves a castle! It was built as a tomb for an emperor and later was used as a refuge for popes under attack. Lots of mysterious secret passageways.

We walk the few blocks to The Vatican ​and ​enter the square. First thing we notice is a crazy long line, maybe 2 or 3 hours to get into St Peter’s Basilica. Once again, Rick Steves saves us. The guide book tells us to buy a ticket that gets us into both the Vatican Museum and the Basilica.

The museum is overwhelming with literally miles of displays. We moved somewhat quickly​,​ lingering at the Egyptian exhibit, the Raphael Room and of course the Sistine Chapel. We learned of a secret door that leads to St Peters, that can only be used by tours, so we just pretended to be a​ ​part of a tour and walked with them through the door. It was quite covert of us!

Now we are in the Basilica and it’s beautiful – the size, the marble, the feeling of quiet. I loved just being in this space. Bob headed for the cupola and I found a cafe for a rest and a wine.   Here’s Bob to tell what’s up on top………

I couldn’t resist a climb to the top of the dome of St. Peter’s.  There are over 500 steps.  It all starts out with a spiral staircase, which leads to one ever more narrow staircase after another.  Finally you go outside, up another staircase, through a door back into the church, and suddenly, I wasn’t expecting this, you’re inside the rim of the dome of St. Peter’s looking down from a safety cage to the tiny altar below. Then you look at the walls around you and discover that all those grand paintings on the walls of the church are not paintings at all, but rather elaborate stone mosaics, made to look like paintings from below.

Next you enter another even tinier staircase, but this one leans to the right because now you’re actually walking within the dome itself, which is, of course, curved.  After a couple of times around, you finally emerge on the outside observation balcony near the very top of the dome, with a spectacular 360 degree view of Rome all around you.  My favorite experience here in Rome.

Next we jump on the subway to another area of town for a walk to see the Spanish steps and the Trevi Fountain. Unfortunately the fountain is under construction, but we still got to toss a coin into a makeshift fountain. The legend says if you toss a coin into the fountain, you will return to Rome. I tossed a coin 18 years ago, so it looks like it’s true. I wonder when Bob and I will return?

I called it a night and Bob headed​ out to hear one of his favorite operas, La Traviata, performed by stars from the Opera Theater of Rome in a Renaissance church downtown.​

Sunday we hopped the train to Gaeta to visit our landlord, Tara. We stayed at her beautiful home overlooking the ​Mediterranean​. I honestly think Gaeta and Tara’s family was my favorite part of this week​-​long adventure. The energy and love of this family is contagious. Our first stop was Tara’s mom​’s​ house for a happy hour.  The group included Su​z​ie – Tara’s mom, ​Giada​ – 9 year old daughter, Luca – 18 year old son, and Bob and ​me.​  We were instant​ friends. Later, we head back to Tara’s for a perfect dinner. She whipped up a d​i​vine pasta with white beans and squid in tomato sauce served over bruschette. Seafood is quickly becoming my favorite food.

The next morning we hiked with Tara in the ​Parco Monte Orlando, discovering breathtaking views and getting a​ bit of exercise. We pick up Luca and Giada from their schools. (at one o​’​clock – for my teacher friends) and headed back to Su​z​i​e’​s for a delightful lunch. The FOOD!, SOOOO Good. She served a light  pasta with tomatoes, olives, and olive oil, followed by a “​Tiella”​.​ Amazing. It’s basically a pizza with the crust on the bottom and top with  lots of yummy filling.  One was filled with octopus. One of my favorites now.

We sai​d​ our goodbyes at dinner that night as everyone was headed to school o​r​ work early the next morning. Tuesday mid​-​morning, Suzie drove us to the train, we shared a coffee and more wonderful conversation and we were on our way back to Verbania.

On the train ride back, Bob and I talked about how relaxed we were on this trip to Rome. We are quickly picking up the “travel skills” needed to better enjoy this new lifestyle.


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What’s Been Happening Since Thanksgiving

Hello All,

Oops. I’m a bit behind in my blogging so here’s a quick catch-up sung to My Favorite Things. You know the one – Rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Bright copper kettles and …

What’s Been Happening Since Thanksgiving: The Catch Up Blog

Blogging was missing, so friends want to listen

Pleasant Thanksgiving with five pounds of chicken

Jan and Dave joined us to share tasty pie

These are a few of our holiday highs

 

Walks in the city to see Christmas essence

Chestnuts and holly and lights are quintessence

Luceran and Nice because they’re nearby

These are a few of our holiday highs

 

Lots of nativity scenes all around town

Even one lit under water deep down

A trip to Milano for Christmas sighs

These are a few of our holiday highs

 

When the rain leaves, when the sun tries

When it’s holiday time

I simply remember the holiday highs

And then I am feelin’ prime

 

New Year upon us, and a friend come to stay

The south and Milan, they were places to play

Fun and exploring and then a goodbye

These are a few of our holiday highs

 

When the rain leaves, when the sun tries

When it’s holiday time

I simply remember the holiday highs

And then I am feelin’ prime


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Tuscany A Tour

A new experience – Taking a Tour to Tuscany

Bob and I were a bit burned out on planning, so we decided to join an Italian tour – 4 days, 3 nights, visiting Pisa, Florence, Sienna, San Gimignano, and Lucca. As we predicted, there were pros and cons.

Pro: We saw a lot in 4 days!

Con: We saw a lot in 4 days!

Our tour stated at 4:00am stepping out of our building into four inches of flood water. (See last weather blogs.) Luca, our friendly taxi driver took us to Gravallone to join the tour, and the bus ride to Tuscany began.

The first stop was Pisa. I thought it was going to be a hokey tourist trap, but I was pleasantly surprised. Once you pass the stalls of tourist knickknacks, you enter the Field of Miracles with its emerald green lawns, bright white marble cathedral, and yes, a leaning tower. It’s just crazy to see the tour defy gravity and of course I couldn’t resist trying to hold it up. Most people come to see the tower, but you can’t miss the rest of Pisa. In our free time, we just roamed the streets, stood on the bridge over the Arno River,  and ate slices of pizza in a sunny piazza filled with university students.

Day two –  Florence

Florence was predictably amazing! It’s so chock full of great buildings and great art that it’s almost overwhelming. It did surprise us that it’s all in the middle of a very busy gritty city. Guess we thought it would be a little more like a hushed museum. And one of the highlights of the day was finding a little off- the-beaten-track restaurant for lunch, where we enjoyed great food and a chat with the chef.

By the end of day two, I’m tired. The town we’re based in, Montecatini is known for its thermal healing baths, so yep, I ditched the tour on day three, roamed the town and enjoyed the baths. It was just what I needed.

Bob kept the pace of the tour and traveled to Siena and San Gimignano . Here he is to tell you a bit.

These are two of Italy’s most famous tourist attractions, and they deserve the honor.  Both are “hill towns” in Tuscany.  But beyond that they are very different.  San Gimignano is small, remote and isolated.   Siena is large and bustling, even in the driving rainstorm we encountered. San Gimignano’s medieval streets are lined with shops selling local specialties like wine and cheese and sausage. Siena is kind of like Beverly Hills meets the Renaissance. I loved them both.

Day four – Lucca

On the last day, we explored the small medieval town of Lucca. It’s a beautiful sleepy city with a huge intact wall surrounding it that is now used as a park. You can actually ride around the whole city, about 3 kilometers. Another highlight of Lucca was that Puccini, the Italian composer, grew up and studied here.

All and all a good tour.


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Weather Update 2

It rained more and flooded our plaza all the way to the buildings. We had 4 inches of water outside our door. The city worked hard to support the community by erecting a large orange tube. Think of it as a gigantic hi-tech sandbag. Later they put up planks over the water so you could get to the businesses.

One of the hotels removed the bottom panels of glass of its lobby to let the water in so that the flood water would not break the glass. Sandbags blocked the doors. I think the hotel was designed for floods.

Kayaks and row boats were out and about surveying the scene. One boat stopped for coffee at one of the cafes still open. The boater waded through the water with two cups of coffee. It was fun to watch. Everyone seemed to take the flood in stride.

After the flood waters receded there were small amounts of damage. There was a lot of debris everywhere, a boat was torn apart and some of the bricks on the walkway were pushed up.

The city is quickly cleaning up and the Christmas decorations are starting to appear.


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Weather Update

And now for a quick weather update:

It’s raining now, it’s been raining and it’s going to continue to rain. There’s a front parked over northern Italy right now and it’s bringing the rain. Last week it rained four days in a row and the lake flooded. It wasn’t too bad, just over its bank and a little on half the road. Basically the ducks and swans were swimming in the piazza.

Of course, the skiers are thrilled.  Since we’re living in the very foothills of the Alps, the rain here means heavy snow less than an hour away.

The rain stopped for the weekend and it was a sunny and a warm 58 degrees Friday and Saturday. Sunday was cloudy, but warm. Today, Monday rain again and the weather report says it’s going to rain until Wednesday again.

So, I have two new purchases to help me navigate the rain. My first pair of rain boots, not yellow – I tried, and a new bright pink umbrella. My friend Lori told me to wear bright colors on rainy days. I love putting on the boots, and opening up the cheery umbrella and going for a walk in town. It’s too rainy to hike so we are doing more “urban hikes,” stopping for a hot chocolate or an espresso and exploring the town.

The other news is that we have moved into a bigger apartment in the same building. We have a very long balcony and… (drum roll…) a fire place! There is nothing better than a warm fire and a steamy bowl of homemade soup on a rainy day. Looks like I’ll be building a few fires this week.

Thursday we are off to Tuscany for a long weekend, and it’s not suppose to rain. Stay tuned.


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Anniversary Hikes in the Alps

Bob and I planned to hike the Alps to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. We hired Donato for a Saturday hike and then received an unexpected invitation to hike the Alps again with Suzanne and Maurizio on the day of our anniversary. Two different hikes in the alps, oh boy!

Both hikes could not have been more perfect. That’s about all I can say because the beauty renders a person speechless. But I’ll try and describe each day. The videos will show you more than I could ever describe. ( look for both videos)

For the first hike, Donato and Emanuela  picked us up at 8:15 and drove about an hour to Macugnaga, a lovely ski town at the foot of Monte Rosa, which is the second highest mountain in all the Alps, and straddles Italy and Switzerland.

We stopped for a cappuccino before we hit the trail. (Monte Rosa is also very close to the famous Matterhorn, which is across the border in Switzerland.)

The first half of the hike is up, up, up. We just keep going up. It started on a gravel road, which I’m guessing is used to get skiers to the lifts.  We are surrounded  by woods and Monte Rosa stares down on us. She looks like she’s lit by God. Soon the trail starts and we trek switchbacks through the grassy foothills, and the sun is out, beating on me and I am WAY over-dressed. Thank goodness for layers.

We get to just above the tree line and BAM, Monte Rosa is towering over us. I feel like I can reach out and touch her. The next part of the hike is along a dry glacier. Very cool!

 

The power of nature is clear here. We actually cross the rock glacier to get to a mountain ridge about four feet wide with steep cliffs on both sides. This ridge takes us tPo a mountain refuge that is a place for hikers to stay and eat in summer. We walk another five minutes to a grassy pasture with boulders scattered around. Donato picks a boulder, we climb up, and enjoy our well-earned lunch surrounded by Monte Rosa and her fellow sidekick mountains.

The trek down was just as beautiful. We took the same trail, but somehow it felt new. This trek was ideal  to celebrate twenty years of marriage: peaceful, beautiful, satisfying, and occasionally challenging, but always worth it. Thanks Bob. I love you.

To our surprise, it just happened our friends Suzanne and Maurizio invited us to hike the Natural Park of the Devero Alps on the day of our anniversary. It’s also on the boarder of Switzerland with equally stunning views. All the hikes that we have taken are spectacular, yet they all have their own unique speechless views. Nature knows how to show herself off.

The hike started next to a wild rushing river which guides us up into the woods. Next, we find ourselves in a grassy pasture that the alpine cows use to come down from the mountain in winter. This leads us to the top of a valley whose beauty simple takes your breath away. We leave this valley to enter another valley top and are hiking on the edge of the valley, and I mean edge. One wrong step and I’d be rolling hundreds of feet down into the valley. Yes, I was focused, hanging on to grasses (that wouldn’t help if I slipped anyway) and just scared enough to take this section very seriously. We stopped a few times to soak up the incredible views.

After about 20 minutes, we descended a bit to a tiny working farm where the cows live in summer. We saw three stone buildings, and what looked like an area for pigs.

Then we hiked straight up a ridge to the top of this mountain to discover more pasture and a small lake where we sat in the warming sun and ate lunch. Boy, food tastes good after a hard hike.

The rest of the hike was downhill through beautiful woods, past more rivers and waterfalls. Almost at the end, we hiked into the quaint community of Crampiolo, with its restaurants and places to stay. Many tourists hike to this area as there’s an easy paved trail that leads here. We took the high path.

As the sun was setting, we hiked another half hour along the river back to the car. I could not have planned a better way to spend my 20th year with a perfect partner. Cheers to you Bob!

 

 

 

 


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Ghiffa Hike

Ghiffa Hike

Bob discovered a hike on the internet from Ghiffa to Verbania. The website stated, “perfect for families and children.”  It sounded like a perfect 3 hour hike. You take a quick bus ride, hike up the mountain, and hike on an old goat trail back to town. Simple, easy. Hmmm, NOT so much.

It was 60 degrees and we were off. Bob, our friend Dave and I take the 7 kilometer bus ride from Verbania to Ghiffa. The plan, as explained on the hiking website, was to follow an old trail to Sacro Monte of the Holy Trinity, a natural reserve and UNESCO World Heritage site (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.)

We believed we were the best prepared for any hike with printed directions in hand. Well, we quickly discovered the website was WRONG! The directions sucked and at times the trails were quite arduous.

Finding the trailhead was the first clue that the directions, as I said, “sucked.”

“Go to the hat factory/museum and follow the stone stairs.” Sounds clear, sounds easy – Nope, no stone stairs at the hat factory. They should say, “go south from the hat factory, past the parking garage, and look for the stone steps and a sign for Monte of the Holy Trinity.” The directions were about 2 football fields off.

We are feeling wonderful now. The trail is ancient stone, with stone walls on both sides and honestly radiates  holiness.  All goes well for about 15 minutes and we meet an asphalt road. The directions are not helpful. Is it a left? Is it a right? Do we turn three times, and click our shoes together?  Our instincts prevail  and we find the next major landmark, a church.

At the church, the directions, say ”walk up the steps past the church and follow the internal road until you reach the mule track that rises to the Holy Trinity of Ghiffa.” Again, sounds easy. Going up the stairs was as obvious as the yellow brick road. We get behind the church and you guessed it,  turn left? right?  Hmmm. And where’s the mule track? As if we’d know a mule track if we saw one.

At this point we are practicing our oral reading and listening skills. “OK, listen to me read this and you guys tell me what it means.” We choose right and keep walking. A few more dead ends, a helpful woman walking through the woods in a business suit talking on the phone (haven’t figured that one out yet) and two somewhat angry construction workers later ( we got busted cutting through some construction), we make it to Sacro Monte of the Holy Trinity.

The crazy hike was well worth it. The peace, the quiet, the view! We eat our picnic lunch sitting on an ancient stone bench overlooking Lago Maggiore, and explored a bit of the sanctuary.

OK, now we think all is great. There’s a trail marker and it looks crystal clear for the second half of the hike.  Again, after about 20 minutes of clear trail, nothing is obvious.  We run into many forks, trails that just end, and sometimes no trail at all. We read the useless directions, trust our guts, hit many (albeit beautiful) dead ends, and just keep hiking south.

Eventually we found our way back to the road, had a somewhat hair-raising walk on a highway, and arrived safely back in Verbania happy, a bit tired, and satisfied with a day of unexpected hiking.

We will be commenting on their website with a few suggestions on their directions. BTW, NOT children friendly.