travel bug: europe, part viii

We got up bright and early (5am!) to head to Paris, the final city of our trip. I know Paris might sound like an odd next step, but in addition to offering us cheaper flights home, I have had a love affair with the city ever since my first visit in 2006. I was so excited to share Paris, my favorite city, with Brian, my favorite husband. We arrived after taking two Italian trains, a taxi, a plane, and two French trains and made our way to Le Hotel Londres Eiffel, our home base.

We plopped our things down, rested a bit, and then made our way to the big sites in town.

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We underestimated how far we would walk and made it back to our hotel with aching feet. Fortunately, we had dinner plans at Le Timbre to look forward to. What a meal! Definitely recommend it – friendly, helpful staff and delicious food. {and the lovely waitress translated the WHOLE menu when we said we were unsure of a few items.}

On our way back home, we swung by the Eiffel Tower, just cause.

Do you see it? Just peeeeeking out??

The next morning, we decided to check out a market near Le Bastille that the ladies dining next to us at Le Timbre recommended.

After wandering through the lush market, we bought ourselves some pain au chocolat and made our way to a nearby cafe for some espresso. Then we decided to wander around Le Bastille neighborhood and then through Le Marais. Brian became obsessed with finding graffiti by Space Invader and Banksy (he loved Exit Through the Gift Shop), so we took lots of pictures of possible works by them (perhaps for additional wall art!).

We wandered through Le Bastille and Les Marais and decided that we would certainly live there when we move to Paris.

We had lunch at falafel restaurant (yum!) and then wandered some more.

Can you imagine playing your pick-up ball game with THAT as a back drop??

“Cuisine de la Louisiane” – peanut M&Ms, shake and bake and marshmallows. Obviously.

Our next stop was Pere Lachaise – the cemetery where many celebrity are buried. Honoré de Balzac (French novelist of the 19th century), Max Ernst (German artist), Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (proposed the guillotine as the official method of execution in France), Marcel Marceau (French mime artist), Molière (French playwright), Édith Piaf (French singer), Oscar Wilde (Irish novelist, poet and playwright)… oh and Jim Morrison (American singer and songwriter with The Doors).

It is a beautiful place to walk around. The first time I went, it was drizzly, which was perfect. But this was perfect, too. Sunny and hot everywhere else in Paris, but shaded and cool on the grounds of this beautiful cemetery.

 

 

On our way home, we decided we would swing by the Museo Rodin, since it was one of my favorite places I had visited on my last trip. The line was long, but it moved quickly. And the museum was just as lovely as I remembered.

 

 

 

 

The museum is not only sprinkled with lots and lots of the artist’s amazing sculptures, it is also home to an array of stunning roses (something I didn’t get to experience on my previous trip, since it was in the fall).

 

 

When we finally decided to head home we were exhausted and happy. We headed to dinner and crashed – we had an early flight the next day…

A wonderful trip, indeed. Wow. Thanks for letting me share my memories (and lots and lots of pictures!).

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

xo

 

 

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travel bug: europe, part vii

Our last, and final, day in Cinque Terre we decided more hiking was in order since we had such an incredible time hiking the day before. Brian discovered a hilltop church that was accessible by a trail beginning at the top if Riomaggiore. We took the coastal trail from Manarola to Riomaggiore bright and early and noticed that we could see the church from the trail. We were excited!

See the white-ish building at the top of the far hill? That’s where we were headed…

The trail had a different feel from the coastal trails, in fact it felt a lot like hikes in our home state of North Carolina. Very woodsy, lush and green.

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All along the trail were these little alters to different saints and Brian had the good idea to capture them for possible artwork in our home. Here are some of my favorites:

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Once we got to the church, we were rewarded with a beautiful building (still in use!) and beautiful views.

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And just to prove it was in fact the same church we saw earlier:

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We hiked back down and decided to head back into Corniglia for lunch – we saw lots of tasty-looking places the day before and decided to try one out for lunch. After filling our bellies, we explored the town a bit more.

Once again, our feet were begging us to rest, so we napped and vegged out before heading to the happy hour at La Torreta. After chatting with some of the others staying at our lovely B&B, we made our way to Trattoria Billy for dinner.

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Billy is widely known as the best restaurant in Manarola and we were excited to see if it lived up to its reputation. We had the best seat in the house – the corner of the patio, perfect for viewing the sunset.

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And the meal was delicious. Just as lovely as the view. The perfect ending to Cinque Terre.

Up next: Paris!

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travel bug: europe, part vi

Our second day started with a delicious breakfast in our room (apparently this is big in Italy – two of our three hotels offered it!), which we needed for our main activity: hiking the coastal trail from Vernazza to Montorosso. We had read that this was the toughest of the coastal trails connecting the Cinque Terre, but we were looking forward to a bit of a workout after all the gelato!

We walked down the winding main road in Manarola to the train station and took the train to Vernazza.

Once we arrived in Venrazza, we made our way into the main part of the town where the trail begins. We had read about the mudslides that devastated two of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza and Corniglia, and had heard that Corniglia was pretty much back to normal, but that Vernazza was still struggling to rebuild. We quickly noticed that the whole downtown was under construction and learned that the town was covered in 10-12 feet (FEET!) of mud. While it looked surprisingly good for what had happened, it was clear that they still had a ways to go before everything was back to normal. Still, you could tell why many once referred to Vernazza as the jewel of the Cinque Terre. It was very well laid out and has a beautiful coastline.

We made our way to the trailhead and started our trek.

It was stunningly beautiful right from the start. And hard. You certainly need sturdy shoes for this one! There’s not much more to say about it, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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It was an amazing hike – probably the second best of my life (the best one being the one when we got engaged!). I would recommend doing it in the direction we did – not from Monterosso to Vernazza because the stairs are in to/out of Monterosso and they are BRUTAL. I cant imagine going up them at the beginning of that hike. Much better to go down them at the end.

When we got to Monterosso, we decided we needed lunch and fast. So, we wandered along the beach and found a focacciaria for some quick and tasty grub.

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We sat and rested our feet for a bit then wandered back along the beach (stopping for gelato, of course!) to the train station. We decided to pop into Corniglia to see what it was like before heading back to our home base of Manarola.

We (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your take) didn’t know that to get from the train stop in Corniglia to the center of town one has to walk up nearly 400 steps. And this is after the many, many steps we already faced outside Monterosso (fortunately we went down those!).

But what a view from the top!

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We got to the top and meandered through the quaint town.

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There were lots of little shops and restaurants, we could see the town was definitely back in business after the landslides!

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When our legs couldn’t handle it anymore, we made our way back to Manarola to rest up for dinner. After napping and showering, we participated in La Torreta’s little happy hour and then headed towards Volastra, a little hill town above Manarola, for dinner at Cappun Magru. We planned to walk there, but didn’t really know where exactly we were headed… So, we just wandered (basically) until we found what we thought was Volastra.

It was not Volastra. More wandering…

Finally we found the town and the restaurant – and we had worked up quite a sweat in the process! Boy was it worth the effort – what an amazing experience we had at Cappun Magru. The restaurant is owned by a very friendly couple and housed in the husband’s family home. We learned all this from the wife, who was our hostess/server/welcoming committee. Not only was the atmosphere lovely, but the food was outstanding. Certainly worth the adventure getting there! Here is the view FROM OUR TABLE:

Up next: Cinque Terre, day 2.5!

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travel bug: europe, part v

We hopped on the train from Florence to Cinque Terre (more specifically from Florence to La Spezia to Manarola) and arrived in beautiful Manarola by lunch time. If you’re not familiar with Cinque Terre, let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. (Name that movie.) Cinque Terre means “the five lands” and is a region on Italy’s west coast that is made up of five towns, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The towns are connected by trails, the most well-known being the coastal trail, which supposedly takes 5 hours to complete (you can stop in each town along the way, though). We only did two of the four coastal trail segments because two were closed due to landslides the region experienced in October 2011.

We stayed at La Torretta in Manarola and it was the fanciest place we stayed on our trip, though it wasn’t outrageously priced (making it doable for us, yea!). It is a bit of a trek to get up to the little bed and breakfast, but boy is it worth it. This was the view that awaited us in our room:

Wow, right? Once we dropped our stuff off, we ventured out into the town looking for some lunch. We ate some delicious focaccia (apparently Cinque Terre is known for focaccia, among other things!) and then decided to wander around a bit.

We made it down to Manarola’s coastline and found this:

We meandered along the coast a bit and found a trail leading around the cliff (and away from the town) and even though clouds were starting to roll in, we started wandering down it. We later learned that this was the trail to Corneglia (which was barricaded off farther down the trail due to those pesky landslides), but we discovered a path that led right back to our hotel. On our mini-hike we were able to get a feel for what we would experience the next few days and it made us oh so excited!

If you have to die, what a place to be buried!

Manarola, from the trail – beautiful, right?

After our mini-hike, we washed up for dinner, which we ate in neighboring Riomaggiore. We took “Lover’s Walk” (the easy coastal trail segment connecting Riomaggiore and Manarola) to get there and just picked a place to grab our meal.

Our friends that we met up with in Florence (who had been to Cinque Terre before making their way to Florence) recommended getting the “little fishes” for an appetizer and we decided to do just that. They are little fish that are scaled and then fried whole. They sounded a little scary but they were fresh and delicious, so I’m glad we tried them. We had delicious pastas for our mains – I had linguine with pesto, which the region is known for and I was very pleased with my choice. YUM.

With full bellies, we made our way back to Manarola and crashed. We needed our rest anyway – we were planning to tackle the hardest of the coastal trails the next morning.

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travel bug: europe, part iv

When I left off, we had just finished up our second day in Florence with a great meal with friends and were looking forward to more exploring on our final day in Florence. Our friends suggested we check out the Galileo Museum (after we admited that the long, long lines caused us to pass on the two big museums in Florence – Uffizi and Accademia – who wants to spend three hours in line when you only have a limited time to explore the actual city?!). We were glad we did – no line at all and lots of neat science-y/math-y Galileo nuggets to be seen. Plus, I found this outside:

You may remember, that my grandfather made fun of my tattoo at my wedding – the short story is that he claimed it looked like a worm (which he alleges I chose because it reminded me of my first fishing trip with him, where in I asked my grandmother for soap and a rag to “clean” the fish). Really, it’s the symbol for my horoscope sign, Leo. But it does look like a worm.

Anyway, I digress… Once we got our fill of Galileo and his wonders, we decided (well, I suggested and Brian agreed) that we should search out the best gelato in Florence (according to a friend of mine), Vivoli. It did not disappoint. We got our gelato and wandered to the Piazza Santa Croce and took it in (the first full day of sun in Florence! yea!).

We wandered around some more (are you sensing a theme?), making our way back to our hotel.

I am still amazed that our hotel was right.on the Piazza del Duomo. It was wonderful (and surprisingly not noisy). I took this picture from our room’s window:

We decided to rest up for our big meal that day: dinner at (what would be come our favorite place of the trip!) Coquinarius. Oh my gosh, was that place amazing. Mmm. My stomach is growling just thinking about it. We decided to get three pastas to split because we couldn’t decide. We got the pear ravioli , the pea and rabit ragu with linguini, and a gnocchi dish. All were beyond delicious and very inventive.  It was the perfect ending to our trip and left us excited about the many other tasty meals we had in store!

Next up: Cinque Terre!

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travel bug: europe, part iii

After lunch at ‘ino, we wandered over to the Ponte Vecchio to Oltrarno (the neighborhood on the other side of the arno from central Florence).

The Ponte Vecchio houses lots of little shops and attracts lots of tourists (especially since the sun decided to make its first appearance of the day!).

After snapping a picture of the Arno river (like a good tourist should!), we made our way to the Pitti Palace and it’s beautiful Boboli Gardens to get a peak at what central Florence looks like from afar.

We popped into a gelateria to grab a cone of frozen goodness (again, like any good tourist should!) and stumbled upon a side entrance to the gardens. We paid the entrance fee and started meandering through the beautifully manicured gardens.

The gardens are lush and expansive, covering some 11 acres, with pathways leading to various sculptures peppered throughout the grounds.

We made our way to the top of the gardens to see what we could see. Oh my, it was breathtaking.

After taking it all in, we made our way to the palace (its that big building in the forefront of the above picture) and wandered through a few rooms before deciding we wanted to spend more time in the sun. We weren’t sure exactly what we wanted to do, so we just stared wandering along the Arno and eventually stumbled upon something amazing:

Ok, I know it doesn’t look amazing, but that tower lead us to views that were even more impressive than the ones we saw at Boboli. At the base of this very tall tower are the little cave-like arches that keep some very lucky pigeons dry.

There were some steps nearby that led up to a road that we decided to wander up, and then we started to thank whatever spirit guide led us towards that tower because we saw this:

So we kept walking up and up, finally reaching the top of the hill. We were rewarded with a panoramic (360 degree!) view of Florence:

Wow, right?

We wandered back to our hotel, after swinging by our dinner spot, Trattoria del Fagioli, to make sure we knew where we were going later on. And we crashed. All that wandering made our bodies (especially our feet!) TIRED. Fortunately, we had a big reason to rest up: we were meeting friends for dinner! Brian was the best man in Matt and Lacey’s wedding earlier in May (Cinco de Mayo!) and we serendipitously ended up in Florence while they were in town for part of their Italian Honeymoon Adventure. We had a wonderful dinner at Fagioli – the owner took the time to walk us through the entire menu telling us all about every little thing. We ate and drank and shared stories of our Italian vacations so far (they just came from Cinque Terre, where we were headed next!). It was a great end to a wonderful day.

Next up: our last day in Florence!

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travel bug: europe, part ii

We left for Florence on Sunday afternoon, taking the fast train from Venice. Well, because the earthquake’s epicenter was between Venice and Florence, our train trip was not as speedy as we had hoped. This ended up being a bit of a blessing because we were able to sneak in a much needed long nap (jet lag is not fun when you have Italian cities to explore!).

We arrived in a rainy Florence and thanked our lucky stars that I happened to check the forecast before we packed and thus crammed raincoats and an umbrella into our bags. Phew. We wandered over to our hotel, Soggiorno Battistero, which was easy to find since it is right on the Piazza del Duomo (seriously, right.on.the.square!). The below picture was taken later on in our trip, but our window is in the top row of windows in the yellowish building (with green shutters) on the right hand side of the picture.

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Despite the rain, we decided to wander around to start to orient ourselves to the city. And we got drenched. So, naturally, we stopped in at a local cafe to grab a cappuccino and dry off. Then we headed back to the hotel to rest and change for dinner.

The owners of our wonderful little hotel were so helpful in advance of our trip, answering my frequent emails quickly and helping us make the difficult decision of where to eat while in town. For dinner our first night, we went to Boccadama, which is right on the Piazza Santa Croce. It was a nice spot for our first night since it was right on the square and had lots of delicious (cheap!) wine. We sat, undisturbed, with our vino for quite a while which was lovely. The food was so so, which would have been disappointing if we had been wanting anything more than a comfy (dry!) place with good wine. After dinner, we meandered back to our hotel, stopping for gelato on the way, and crashed hard (after saying a little prayer for the rain to end before we woke up!).

Sadly, our prayers went unanswered and we awoke to raindrops on our window. Fortunately, we had a beautiful breakfast brought to us (in our room!) complete with my favorite coffee of the trip. After fueling up, we grabbed our rain jackets and umbrellas and took to the streets, undeterred by the rain. It slowed a bit while we were out and we got to really enjoy a quiet Florence, which we realized later was a rarity this time of year!

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We spent most of the morning wandering around, popping in and out of cafes when the rain would pick up. When our tummies started rumbling, we found our way to ‘ino, a little sandwich shop near the Ponte Vecchio (our plan was to wander around the Oltrarno – the other side of the Arno – after lunch). Ino was a gem! Delicious sandwiches on freshly baked bread were just what we needed for our afternoon of walking (and walking and walking). Don’t feel too bad for us, all the walking resulted in some pictures like this:

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Ok, this has become quite long… So, the rest of Florence (and more of these great views!) in part iii.

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