Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bella Bella Bellagio

Most of you know how crazy I am about my home state of California, especially the Central Coast and Big Sur. Well, I think I have found a place on earth to match the natural beauty of Big in the Lake District of northern Italy. Bellagio is a tiny little town that sits out on a point in the middle of Lake Como, in the Italian Alps. The lush green and forested mountains come spilling down into the lake, joining its tranquil blue watery surface. Along with Bellagio (its notoriety increased as soon as George Cloony bought a villa here), there are other towns dotting the hillsides along the lake, with red-tiled roofs and facades painted in warm shades of ochre and salmon. And, at night, the lights of the towns twinkle across the lake, with the sounds of the water lapping gently at my feet and the moon shining down on this little piece of Goddess' sweet earth.

The townspeople are friendly, similar to Vernazza, yet while Vernazza was a beach town, Bellagio is a bit more upscale, but not stuffy in the least. Flavio (surname not essential and left undiscovered) is the man who owns and runs the apartment I've rented and he has been helpful in every way, giving us his recommendations on restaurants and such. I have the pleasure of sharing this part of Italy with my oldest daughter, Kellee and her two sons, Taylor and Gavin (8 and 4). Enough room for all of us. We found THE yummiest place for our morning cappacinos and afternoon gelatos. Speaking of gelato, there are more gelato shops per square kilometer here than there are Starbucks in the States. Yeah, believe it. And the flavors! Oh my, fresh peach, melon, lemon, strawberry, and my favorite, caffe. Been walking up a storm, but this gelato is going to do me in. And, I have learned that ordering a quarter liter of house wine is cheaper than either water or a soft, guess what I've been drinking? Yep.

Right now I'm sitting in a groovy wine bar slash Internet cafe just outside our apartment door, playing what kind of music?? American jazz. Taylor is playing a game called Runescape on the other computer, keeping him quite occupied. Planning on going to the lake beach later today and tomorrow we will be taking a long ferry ride to explore the rest of the lake. If I could organize a writer's conference here, I would do it in a heartbeat. Anybody out there who has any inclination for seeking out the world's most beautiful and tranquil spots must come to Lake Como. I'm thinking that organizing a writer's retreat or workshop in Bellagio would be a most spendid idea. Hmmmm....wheels a turning, wheels a turning.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

It's a Small Small World

Just a quick hello as I am leaving beautiful Vernazza by the sea this morning. Some of you know I used to live in Santa Cruz area and went sailing every Wednesday with a man named Curtis and his partner, Maryann. Well, I jumped out of the sea yesterday, enjoying the cool salt water and heading up the one main street to my apartment, when out of the corner of my eye I saw two people sitting down, sipping on beers. They looked awfully familiar, and I called out, Curtis? Well, by cracky, it was him and Maryann and I'm telling you, there's nothing like running into some old friends when you are traveling by yourself.....we enjoyed a scrumptious dinner together and ended it with a shot of lemoncella. Never had a shot of lemoncella? Well, we will all have to have a party of Italian food and lemoncella when I return.

Off to Milan and then to Lago Como and Bellagio. Arevederci, your traveling fried

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

By the Sea

Anyone out there checking in? I would love to hear from you, really I would.

It took me a whole day to make it to the Cinque Terre, on the Liguria coast side of Italy...other side of the top of the boot from Venice....left side. Several train stops and I arrived at one of the 5 towns, Vernazza, around 6pm. I found a place to stay in grandma and grandpa's house, but only stayed one night, as it resembled a either a cave with no window or a tiny jail cell....needless to say, I found a new place to stay tonight and for the next two nights. As I was walking around the town, Sergio asked me if I needed a place to stay. Sergio is no spring chicken, but at least he can climb the steps without appearing to have a heart attack at any moment. I looked at the room, with windows that open onto another part of the same building, but the room was spacious and I felt my spirits lift, especially when he accepted my offer of 55 euro a night.

Took a swim in the Mediterranean today, jumping into the blue water from a rock above. Now I'm in an oh so cool local bar, using their internet system. guess what the Italian boys are rocking out to?? the Beatles! I think it's funny.

Oh, by the way, for all you English people out there....if I spell something incorrectly, I beg you a thousands I am usually in a rush and frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Ciao to all my blog readers!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Duomo With A View: 463 Steps Later

I am about to bid a fond farewell to Firenze and venture to yet another wonderful Italian location. Yesterday, I was overcome with insanity and decided to pay 6 euros to climb the 463 steps (think dark spiral musty stone steps)up to the top of Bruneleschi's Duomo. After a pause at the narrow ledge that leads all around the inside of the dome, thereby offering a view of the paininting on the ceiling, which included a wild and wicked rendition of Dante's inferno, I continued up up up till I squeezed my body through the opening in the top to emerge onto the top of the Firenze world. Three hundred and sixty degrees of Firenze, just imagine all the red tiled roofs, the views of the other famous structures and the tuscan hillsides beyond. Not a place for anyone afraid of heights, but it was a moment I will never ever forget. And, the walk back down was quicker than going up, but it made my head swim going step after step around a spiral.

If you have never had any inclination to go to an opera, well folks, Italy is the place to get over it already. Two days ago I was walking around the city and noticed a few posters of the opera La Boheme being performed that very night. But, it was in a church that wasn't on any of the tourist maps, an Anglican one called St. Marks. I thought, oh, if I could go to an Italian opera while I'm in Italy, well that would prove to me that my fairy godmother does exist. After my dinner I happed to be aimlessly ambling along a street on the other side of the Arno and what did I see? A big sign that said "Concert." That's all it said, but I walked into the front door (the church was completely covered in a 'mask'of scaffolding and protective material) and there was a lady and I asked if this was where the opera was being performed and if I was too late. "Yes, and No" No way!!! So, I paid a measley 19 euro to get in, and realizing I had only 40 minutes before show time, I ran back to my hotel, changed out of my jeans and t-shirt into opera attire, well at least I got a chance to wear my girly clothes, and ran back in time to find my seat. The setting was quite intimate and I'd have to say there were maybe 100 people in attendance and the mc gave the introduction in English. You must come to Italy to hear Italian opera, YOU MUST. There was no amplicfication of any type, yet these singers practically raised the roof! Rodolfo and Mimi were sublime.

Must leave you now. Love to all.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Falling in Love

As you know, I've been hither and yon for a month now...a whole month! And, I've mostly enjoyed my adventures. I'm learning much about myself, as long distance travel does to anyone paying attention. I know I like people, but not hordes of them at once...smoking, ignoring your personal space and speaking a mile a minute in twelve languages, none of which I can understand. I enjoy meeting other travelers, hearing about their journeys and picking up travel tips. I do like seeing how people relate to one another, their sweethearts, their children, their elders. I enjoy the anonymity of solo travel, being a fly on the wall, yet I admit there are times I do feel lonely and realize there are moments where having a companion would make the experience even better. I love the open countrysides dotted with little villages, selling their local goods and sending out mysterious odors of delicacies to be tasted.

But until a couple of days ago, I haven't found a lover. Now I'm beginning to think I'm falling in love with an Italian beauty, full of life and warmth and grace. Although she's quite mature, she hasn't lost her youthful charm. She is lyrical in her movements, both day and night, with a rhythm all her own. She has a river running through her and a golden bridge that spans the centuries. Her children take after her, living life to the fullest, with a gracious appreciation for diversity and an acceptance of those who come hoping to share in her magic. She is mother to the greatest masterpieces of all time, yet she remains humble in offering the world her treasures. Her name is Firenze, Florence to us Westerners. You mustn't leave this world without coming to meet my new love, my Firenze.

My day at the Uffizi Museum was spectacular. I didn't know how I'd react to all the very Catholic artwork, but I viewed it in an historical sense. Looking at a painting that was created in the 2nd century or the 12th century requires more than a brief nod to Mary, Joseph and Jesus. It asks the mind to time travel back, to ask what life was like for the artist, for the wealthy Medicis, for the common people. It requires the mind to ask about oil and pigment and canvas and brushes and ladders or scaffolding for the massive size of some of them. It asks the mind to think how a cold piece of marble can resemble flesh and drapery and hair and expression. My mind and thoughts are overflowing, full to the brim.

And, oh, now on to more mundane, but oh so heavenly a topic....L*E*A*T*H*E*R.
Oh yeah, oh yeah, Italian leather. Florence knows how to woo me, yes she does.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Planes, Trains, Automobiles and then...the Duomo!

After a whole day of traveling, beginning at 5am and taking buses, trains, planes (first to Frankfurt, layover, then to Pisa) and then more trains and a taxi ride, I was, to say the least, exhausted. But, as my train pulled into Florence from Pisa, what did I see out the window? The red tiled dome of the Duomo! I was floored.

I will be posting a little more often in the next few days, as this Internet place is close and convenient to my hotel. While I was walking around Florence last night, just trying to get my bearings, I was totally taken by the close proximity of all these Italian antiquities that were right before my eyes. More to come.

Must tell you about Allessandro. A young man at the Pisa train station was standing by the train and I think he noticed the confusion on my face. He kindly offered to help me on my way to Florence, as that was where he was going also...his home town. I accepted graciously and as he lifted my bag onto the train, I already felt welcomed into Italy. We chatted along the way. He was happy to practice his English and I was more than happy to tell about the Bay area and the beautiful coastline we have in California. As we were approaching Florence, we both stood up and looked out the train window (picture arms on the window ledge--just like the movies), and I could feel the hospitable Italian sunshine entering my mind and body. And, then...the red tiled dome of the Duomo appeared and I just about dropped to my knees. Wow. it's just that I've heard and studied about this place all my life and when it suddenly appears, it almost doesn't seem real.

Anyway folks, I'm off to my reserved slot at the Uffizi now. Love to all...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

If It´s Thursday, It Must Be...

I know, I know. It´s been a while since my last post. What can I say?

I spent another week in Provence, most of it really terrific. In Nice, my daughter Kelle and I found ourselves in a downpour in old town Nice. But, we spotted two men who set up a little table outside their shops and were pouring champagne and nibbling on some cheese amidst it all! It´s the Life!

I left Kell at the Marseilles airport to take my little rental car into the hills of Vaucluse. That´s just north of Provence and full of small towns and rolling hillsides. I was fortunate to find a chambre d´hote...that´s a bed and breakfast, at an old 18th Century farmhouse with a view to die for. I really appreciated the laid back pace and pastoral atmosphere. Took a walk in the ochre hills, where the color √≥chre´actually first came from. So cool. Traveled over hill and dale to discover all sorts of small towns, shepherds with flocks of, what else, sheep. I went to Lourmarin to find a bustling street market with, of all things, a hot 4 piece jazz band. Bought salami and cheese and was lucky to be invited to dine with a couple that were also staying at the same b and b as I was. Must admit, it was great to be able to speak my own language with a couple of people from England.

I am about to leave Barcelona, Spain. Spent 4 and a half days here and I think it´s a great city, yet it doesn´t hold the charm of the French countryside for me. I think it´s a place for the young(er)crowd, the ones who don´t mind staying on their feet for hours at a time. Las Ramblas is nothing more than a very long wide sidewalk with souvenir vendors and flower shops, and restaurants lining the sides. It is a stream of bodies from morning till evening. My dinner tonight was cheap¨..cut up melon from the produce market, one euro...3 slices of the special ham they all rave about here, cut directly from the leg of pork from a very special to come, 3 euros...and then I wandered some more till I found a gelato stand, double scoop for 3.30 euro...that´s about 7.30 euro for fruit, meat and dessert! Hey, I was satisfied, okay!!

Also went for a little boat ride along the coast here in Barcelona. A little lackluster, to be honest. I think I´m spoiled with the Central Coast of California. Really folks, you can´t beat it. But, there was a moment of fun when about 4 guys in a little motor boat waved enthusiastically to the tour boat and upon waving back, they all (well, what do you think?) dropped their shorts for a lovely bare assed good bye! Don´t panic...I didn´t return the favor.

Flying off to Florence tomorrow...extra early...whole day of travel...wish me well.
Adios Amigos!!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Dordogne Valley aka Heavenly Valley


I have been traveling for a few weeks now and I have been over and through the French countryside, hill and dale, fortress and castles, rivers and tiny cobbled streets.

The Dordogne in the middle of France is now on my top 10 of most spectacular places on earth. Yes, that sounds like hyperbole, but it's the gosh darn truth, folks. Again, I am working on downloading my photos...your patience will pay off. I visited several tiny towns. Beynac, Castelnaud, Domme and Sarlat. They were a several giant steps back in time. The prehistoric museum in Beynac was impressive, yet all in French...the findings there are an anthropologist's gold mine. In Castelnaud I visited an ancient fortress, complete with trebuchet (spelling is atrocious, so sorry)**giant stone throwing weapons, used way before canons were invented. I also took a short boat ride along the Dordogne river, crossing under an old bridge. Domme is an old Bastide town high on a hill, barely looks like it left the 12th Century. On to Sarlat, another town steeped in history. My evening meal consisted of the region's delicacy--foie gras...fatted goose liver, on rustic bread toast. I figured if I was to have an authentic experience I better eat the food of the region, even if it included poultry innerds.

I left Brive and drove to another town in the Dordogne area...Rocomadour. This destination was full of Catholic mysticism. A mysterious black wood madonna and child enshrined in a darkly lit chapel. And, a brass bell hung from the ceiling. This bell supposedly rings whenever a sailor is saved out at sea because he calls on the madonna of Rocomadour. Whatever works, that's what I say.

Leaving Rocomadour, I picked up my daughter, Kellee, in Marseilles on May 31 and we headed for a lovely place in the hills above Nice. The proprietors were happy and beautiful people, who happened to know how to prepare food to die for. Kellee was brave (or foolish) enough to try the after dinner "digestive" ...homemade hooch, basically, made from herbs and stored on a high shelf with a piece of aluminum foil for a stopper. Needless to say, she felt it in her head all the next day. What fun!

One of our favorite experiences was when we drove up to a small town called Vence. We wondered the small streets on foot and came upon an art gallery with a woman sitting inside, painting an oil painting. Caroline (pronounced, Car o leen) stopped and had a lively conversation with us, in English. She had worked as a restorative artist in the Louvre for 20 years and now runs this little exquisite gallery. Oh, the tales she told! More later on Caroline.

I am in Aix en Provence right now and will be staying in Southern France until June 9th when I take the train from Marseilles to Barcelona. Kellee and I met a couple from Australia at the bed and breakfast we are staying in. They look to be about in their mid 60s, and they are on a 4 month trip all over the world. What travelers! They told us to find the little out of the way restaurants away from the city centers for the best food. Yes, sounds like wise advise.

I hope you are all doing well and enjoying the beginning of your summer. I will post more soon. Love to all.