My most recent pics - Southern France

Monday, June 11, 2007

Viva la France

I just posted my pics from France. I know I still owe a few more entries and my pics from Italy. I guess I'm just trying to drag this out as long as possible so I don't have to accept that I am back in the real world again.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Florence - the real story (well, most of it)

Okay, my previous entry on Florence was a little vague and skimped on detail, so I feel like I should at elaborate a little bit. Damn. my fans are demanding.

After leaving Cinque Terre (which was one of the best parts of the trip), we headed to Florence. For once, our hotel was right in the heart of the city and we were right in the middle of everything. So Sunday afternoon, a bunch of us headed to what is supposed to be the most famous statue of all time, David, at
Accademia Gallery. It was actually pretty amazing, especially the detail - the muscles and veins were actually quite realistic. And he was huge... I didn't expect him to be so tall.

After gawking over David and trying to figure out if any of the body part ratio formulas were accurate, Andrea and I thought we would see if we could get into the Uffizi. It was but a pipe dream since it was about 4:00 pm, the line appeared to be about 2.5 hours long, and the museum closed at 6:35.

Instead, we took a stroll over the Ponte Vecchio and up to the Pitti Palace and the Giardino Boboli. Initially, the uphill nature of the gardens just looked to daunting for us. We were exhausted! So we lazily sat by the small pond and did some people watching. It was awesome to hang with Andrea. Most importantly, I think she was able to prove to me that there are still cool people in Texas.

One of the things I found funny about Florence was all of the rogue street vendors selling designer knock-off purses. They would carry all of the bags in a sheet and set-up shop just about anywhere. Not really being on the right side of the law, every few minutes they would gather up the bags and run around the corner if they saw the police anywhere near by. I saw groups of these guys all of over the city, hovering around the corner waiting for the po' to go the other way. It was definitely interesting - kind of wish I would have bought a good Prada knock-off.

The rest of the night was pretty uneventful except for the awesome dessert we had with dinner. Let's see - when I think of Italian desserts, I think gellato, biscotti, tiramisu, tortoni, or cannoli. It was exactly like that, except instead, it was an orange.

Stuffed from the orange, I headed to bed early knowing I wanted to get up in time to for a bike tour the next day. Somehow, I just wasn't into seeing the leather factory with the group and wanted a little adventure of my own. The bike tour,
I Bike Italy, didn't dissappoint. To be honest, the first 3 miles killed me. Tuscanny is not flat (which might qualify as the understatements of the year). If you have been reading all my entries, you now know my athletic prowess (stop laughing) has been challenged by Arhur's seat and a bike tour that includes wine with lunch.

Despite the tough start, the ride was beautiful. There is good reason that Florence is the epicenter of art and beauty. With a nice long lunch, a stop at a winery/olive grove, and downhill ride in the afternoon, it was the perfect way to spend the day in really seeing the outside of Florence. Thanks for the great ride Per - your knowledge of the terrain was superb!

I joined my friends for dinner at a restaurant that overlooked the whole of Florence. It was probably the funnest dinner we had together! There were loads of laughter and wine (I still can't believe the Texas sisters don't like wine. It would have been insulting to our host to let it go to waste, so no need to thank me for drinking your share!). The highlight of the evening was the piano player and the leg of pig served to the theme song of Star Wars. I don't want to brag, but when was the last time you had leg of pork rolled out on a cart with a sparkler in it? It was one of those nights I laughed so hard I cried. While everyone else went to the Space Disco, I met a local I had met earlier in the day for some gelato. I think that made the 4th or 5th day in a row eating gelato. I think my favorite combination was lime/dark chocolate, but choosing a favorite is like Sophie's choice.

It was a treat to be out with someone who really knew the city - it made me a little less like a tourist. One of the best parts was the scooter ride up to Piazzale Michelangiolo to overlook the city at night. It would be impossible to plan a more enjoyable evening. It also helped to have a cute tour guide! ;-)

Back at the hotel, my group had a real bonding moment when the fire alarm went off at 5 am and stayed on for an hour. Anyone see Yak?

Florence was beautiful and romantic, but somehow different than the way Paris is beautiful and romantic. I think the difference is that Firenze has a more organic beauty; less designed, yet no less inspirational. I'm sure there could be some great metaphor for the rich soil that grows the grapes and olives adding a richness to life; I'm just not able to quite capture it though.

I think I was also finally getting to a place where I could really relax and thouroughly enjoy the slower pace of life. Even thinking back to my time in Florence, I feel calmer and seem to take deeper breaths.

Most regretably, our time in Florence had to end as we needed to make our way to the last official stop on our trip, Rome.

Luckily for me, it wouldn't be the last time I saw Florence on this vacation;-)

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Firenze was very, very, very good.

I'm finally at a place where the Marley song that says "don't worry about a thing, every little thing is going to be okay" is really resonating.

The leaning marathon

I dare someome to tell me one thing they know about Pisa besides they have a tower that leans. Anyone?

Well, don't feel badly because I've now been there and I don't know much more. Sunday morning we made it Pisa and had just a few hours there. The tower really is amazing - it leans much more than I thought it would. Then there are a bunch of churches as well, but between the Valley of the Fallen, Sagrada Familia, the Duomo, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Bascilia, I will have seen many more churches than any JAP should. The highlight of Pisa for me was that the Pisa marathon was happening that day. So instead of seeing another ornate church, I thouroughly enjoyed myself cheering for the marathon. It was the perfect amount of inspiration that I needed to get me ready for my own marathon training which starts right after I get back at a bit sooner than I would like. The only action my Asics have seen lately is when I pull them out of my luggage looking for flip-flops and then guiltily put them back in without any use.

Cinque Terre

At this point, I assume many of my friends and family are saying "enough already, I get it, you're having a great time, everything is beautiful or amazing or brilliant, now shut up already." I get it. I remember reading Heide and Mark travel blog with 75% enthrallment, and 25% unrelenting jealousy. But it also inspired me, so maybe you'll read this and the travel bug will bite you too. Or not, but this is also for me, so I'm sorry to go on and on, but I don't want to forget how spectacular this whole experience has been.

I digress. So we left Nice early this morning and headed for the Italian border.
We arrived at the train that took us to Cinque Terre and hopped on. I wasn't quite paying attention when our tour guide explained this part of the adventure, so I didn't know what to expect exactly - I was just going with the flow. Sometimes not knowing what's next allows for the best surprises. Cinque Terre was so cool and one of those places I would have never thought to go on my own. It is five little towns along the coast connected via train or walking path. We did a nice little hike between a few of the towns and then had lunch in Monterosso. And when I say lunch, I mean one of those lunches you dream about - Margaritas and the best gnocchi I've ever had with a spectacular pesto alongside the beach. The lunch was only topped by the best part of the vacation so far - the beach. The water was warmish and a bunch of jumped in regardless of not having towels. We had so much fun just being silly and playing in the water. It was a really great time. much before I was ready, we grabbed our things and jumped on a boat that took us to another port. We jumped off with just enough time to grab a gelatto (I had apple - delicious) and transfer to anther boat. The view of the western Italian coast was spectacular. None of could figure out how some of the houses were built there without roads. This is probably the second best day of the trip so far - but there is still Pisa, Florence and Rome.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Monte Carlo Baby!!

The days are all starting to run together a bit.

So Tuesday was a pretty uneventful day driving from Barcelona to Avignon. We stopped in Avignon, which is a pretty cute little town, but I could have lived without seeing it. Those who know me know I don't really do cute.

But Wednesday was awesome. Talk about checking things off a list in one day. Our first stop was Aix-En-Provence, a little town with great markets. I picked up some of the soap the town is famous for, but can't decide whether to be selfish and keep it for myself or give it as a gift. This was one of those areas you could wander around in for hours and hours. But there wasn't time to waste - we wanted to make Cannes by lunch. Cannes was beautiful - it reminded me a bit of Monterrey, CA but warmer and sand beaches.

After Cannes, we drove to Nice about 40 minutes away and checked in and got ready pretty quickly for a night out in Monte Carlo. The drive there was amazing - the hills are filled with beautiful houses overlooking the Cote d'Azur. The road was a bit terrifying as I'm afraid of driving on windy, narrow, mountain roads, but we survived. We had a quick stop at a perfumery and it was better than expected. Did you know that to be a "Nose" (which there are only 150 in the world) you need 7 years of schooling and can't smoke, eat spicy food or drink? Yeah, that sounds like a great job.

Smelling great, we all headed to Monte Carlo. We had a great dinner (I kept hoping someone would run by James Bond like) and then headed to the casino. Take a second and get a picture of what you think the Monte Carlo casino is like. Got it in your mind's eye? Ok.

You're wrong. It is the opposite of Vegas. No music, no ka-ching of slots, and worst of all, no free booze served by scantily clad women. It was very quiet and serious with maybe 20 tables going. Very, very serious. Had I tried hard, I might have left with a rich (but not so cute) husband. So what did I do? I ordered some champagne, bought some chips, and bellied up to a table. I went roulette - it seemed the easiest since all the dealers spoke French. First play - I lost 10 euros. Second - there went 10 more. But three the lucky number and I hit - now I was up 40 euros. I hit once again, but in the end, I sacrificed about 60 to the Museum of Gambling. I like to think of it as a steep admission fee for the chance to say "I've gambled in Monte Carlo." The bad news is I didn't get any pics because they don't allow you take pictures in the casino. Eric will vouch that I was there (and he even said I was good luck charm for the guy I was standing next to - which means I'm happy to be a good luck charm for anyone who wants to take me back to the French Riviera...I'm sweet like that).

All in all - a day that you shop at a provincial French market, lunch in Cannes, have dinner and gambling in Monte Carlo and then head to Nice for the night isn't so bad.

But Friday was the day had been looking forward to for months. A full day in Nice. I'm sure there was some fantastic something or other to see and I missed an amazing opportunity to see it, but I had only one thing on my mind. The beach. I have never gone swimming in clear blue water and it was time change this. So I spent almost the entire day at the beach. The bad news is the beach wasn't all that great because it was a rock beach and it hurt to walk on it, but once you arranged correctly, it was fabulous to lay out on. And I braved the tough sea floor and went for a swim in the Mediterranean - chilly at first and then pretty refreshing. And really, really salty.

Overall, a great day of eating and laying by the beach. Which brings me to the food. Mom - no worries about me being too thin anymore - I am happily eating my way through Europe. Tapas and wine in Spain. Crepes and wine in France. I'm sure everything and wine in Italy.

Friday, May 11, 2007


No, I said topless. That conversation usually goes the other way around. More on that later:-)

My heart is torn - in three pieces so far. Amsterdam, Paris and now Barcelona have me in a love triangle. I'll almost afraid to go to Italy in fear of adding to this tug of war.

After leaving Madrid, we had a very long bus ride on Monday. We stopped in a little town for lunch, but I forgot the name of it. We finally got to Barcelona around 5:30 pm and went to this the fort on the top of the south hill of the city. The view was great and it was a good way to see the whole city. - it was very, very dense. And it was my first time seeing the Mediterean. It was beautiful - the word that kept coming to mind is azure. It seems to describe more than the unique color of blue water, but something a little more majestic.

After a little tour of the city, checking into the hotel (with a new roommate - woo hoo!) We headed out into the city for a drink. We ended up at this great lounge where a good time was had by all - I'm really getting to like some of the people in my group. Special little shout out to the Texas siblings, Susan and Walter, Patrick, Christine and Melanie and lots others.

The bad news is I only had one full day in Barcelona and a list of about 30 things I wanted to see. I knew it was going to be tough, but I gave it a shot. Just like the night before where I gave myself a shot. Or two. Plus a few mojitos. - but I was up with dawn to get going. Fine, I'll tell the truth, I got up at the crack of 9.

Since I had such a good time on the Paris bike tour, I decided to do it again here. The thing I wanted to see the absolute the most was the Sagrada Familia - I think Spain was on my list almost solely to see this. I could try to explain it, but my words would never do it justice. The fact that it still won't be done for another 20ish years and that the final spire will be twice as tall as any of the already built is ones is beyond imagination. Also, I learned how the city is crazy (and justifiably so) about Gaudi. My regret in Barcelona is that I didn't get a chance to see his house.

I saw lots of other sites, but besides the Sagrada Familia, the highlight was the beach. We stopped and had a drink seaside and it another one of those moments you have to do a reality check. And yes, it was also a topless beach. I would go into further detail, but this is (mostly) a family friendly blog. Well, at least sometimes.

Side note, one of the guys on the bike tour looked so much like my cousin's cousin, Steve, that I kept calling him that. Thanks for putting up with it "Anthony."

After the bike tour, "Anthony" and I wandered around a stumbled on the famous Boqueria market. I'm a proud Washingtonian and Seattlite, but even I have to admit that Pike Place market had nothing on this one. I have never seen such large, brightly colored fruit - it looked (and tasted) delicious. It was almost out of Willy Wonka. If I lived here, I'd be there everyday and twice on Sundays.

After the market, we headed to the Gaudi park the north hill of the city - Parc Guell. Can someone do me a favor and send me list of synonyms for "amazing." I feel like I use to ofter and I don't water down some of the things I've seen. It was an aesthetic dream - everything was a little dreamy. Absolutely beautiful. Not even the steep climb up there could infect the experience.

Overall, a perfect, if not a bit rushed day that ended very late with tapas in Las Rambla with Audrey, a few overly friendly Scottish and two cute Canadians.

Like Paris, I definitely wish I had more time. But maybe its better this way. The more time I had, the more I would have loved it and the more my heart would break as I left it.