Thursday, September 28, 2017

Ambling Through Chianti

I thought I’d miss the seaside when we headed inland to Chianti.  But I was immediately won-over by the rolling green patchwork quilt of vineyards, olive orchards, hedges and cypress rows, and the stone walls, castles and abbeys.  We’ve spent two glorious days ambling up and down through vineyards, groves and wooded oak forests.  We've done five or six miles each day.   And Backroads makes it flexible, using two vans to provide transfers and lots of options, and encouraging everyone to break free and ‘have your own adventure’, and I have. 

Then there’s the wine!  I tend to favor red blends of late.  And Chianti Classico is often a blend, too.  The main grape is Sangiovese, and Classico can be 100 percent Sangiovese, but it’s often blended with another red, with the designation very strictly controlled by the government.  I liked best some 'Super Tuscan' blends, labeled as 'Toscano'.  And I now know that most Italian wines have about one-tenth the headache-producing sulfites of those from California and France!  We’ve tasted both wine and olive oil, and amazing spreads of food have appeared all along the way.

We’ve been ‘lodged’ at Villa Le Barone, a former private residence run by two Baronesses.  The property has been in their family since the sixteenth century.  It’s all been tutto fantastico!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Picnic in Portofino

We hiked through five miles of Parc Portofino, a National Park here.  And we 'happened upon' a perfect picnic.  This is my first trip with Backroads, and they definitely know how to exceed expectations! Then we ventured on to to the small harbor town that is the gem of the Italian Riviera, and a favorite destination for monied travelers and mega yachts.  I visited Portofino 15 years ago on 'shore leave' from a Windstar Cruise, and remembered it to be as idyllic and picture perfect as anywhere I'd been.  And it still is  .  .  .

Monday, September 25, 2017

Hiking, Walking, Boats and Trains in Cinque Terre

Just two days out, our 'team' of 19 is extremely compatible, and a lot of fun.  I’m the only ‘single’ in the group, and six of the couples attend the same Charlotte, North Carolina church.  But everyone makes me feel very included, and even sort of popular!

The main attraction, so far, has been the Cinque Terre, five villages in a six-mile span of the Italian coast that were isolated until relatively recently, accessible only by the same walking and hiking, boats and trains that we’re using to explore them today.  And, despite their close proximity -- within sight of each other -- every one had its own unique culture and dialect.  We really are doing some hiking, not just walking, including ‘technical’ terrain of beautiful black marble facings and steps.  Then half-way through the afternoon, we’ll happen on our own private ‘snack station’ including everything from M&Ms and popcorn to soft drinks and beer.  And truly sumptuous lunches and dinners include freshly sourced and prepared seafood and pesto pasta, the local specialties.  And, of course, wine.  This is Italy! 

The scenery is absolutely stunning, with quaint fishing harbors; colorful buildings that rise up in crevices and perch atop rock cliffs, and terraced vineyards and orchards.  And they’re all set against a blue, blue sky.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Pizza in Pisa

My first pizza after five days in Italy.  Why here and now?  Because I like the alliteration!  I'm in Pisa overnight before joining a five-day walking and hiking tour of the Cinque Terre and Tuscany with the company 'Backroads'.  Go to if you'd like check it out.

Siena: Now a Favorite of Mine, Too!

Many people have told me that Siena is one their favorite cities anywhere.  And now it’s a favorite of mine, too!  There’s so much history contained within this walled hill town that was once a financial, trading and pilgrimage capital of Europe.  Medieval craftsmen hand laid stone and brick everywhere you look, building palazzos, cathedrals, towers, streets and walls.  The hue of the local red/brown brick was the namesake for the color ‘Burnt Siena’.  And today you see certain sense of art and whimsy here, too. 

I’m told that most people come as a day-trip from Florence, but I’m visiting for two nights.  It’s true that it’s a little like the cruise ships left when the sun goes down, but the partying doesn’t stop. Il Campo is the main plaza, and there is great people watching there, both day and night.  I’d read that the city is built on three hills, and you definitely go both up and down to get from point to point.  It’s pretty steep at times, good training for the walking and hiking tour I’ll join in two days.  You dodge cars and motorbikes, but not too many.  The city is closed to vehicles except for those of residents. 

For friends who’ve asked why I’m never in a photo, here’s a ‘proof-of-life’ selfie.  You can see that I’m traveling light, as usual, with just a small backpack and my little Rimowa roller.  No food pics, but I’m thriving on a daily diet that includes excellent Chianti, pasta and gelato, not necessarily in that order. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Florence: Delicious and Beautiful

The thing about Italy is that everything looks delicious and beautiful here.  People look like models, and even bicycles seem stylish.  You’re drawn down narrow streets and into piazzas because you hear music being played.  Long lines and reservations are required to see some of the beauty.  But me, I prefer to just wander and take it all in.  I even talked my way into the Societa Canottieri, a rowing club on the Arno River that was founded in 1886.  And I watched a boy named Neri taking his first lesson.

Monday, September 18, 2017

'New' London Town

My real destination is Italy.  But I made a London stopover at the perfect time to visit my friends Eden and Sam, and to attend Sam's Birthday Bash, where he was the DJ!  I'm staying on the South Bank to better explore some 'new' London.  But I also toured the Buckingham Palace State Rooms.  It's already feeling like Fall here, but there are still beautiful flowers in the parks. And what better place to see the charming new Judi Dench film 'Victoria and Abdul'.  It was playing in a theatre downstairs at my hotel.