A Travellerspoint blog

Amalfi Coast Update

sunny 24 °C

October 1
We arrived in Naples at 10:00 on Friday night from Rome and made our way to our hotel (Piazza Bellini which was down the street from the Archaeological Museum). Mind you we had quite the adventure on the train getting to Naples. We were on a Regional Train from Assisi to Rome which makes several stops along the way. Our ticket does not indicate the various stops, it just states Assisi – Rome. Our ticket indicated we were 2 hours away from Rome, so we put on the headphones and settled in to watch a movie (Star Trek). When we got close to the 2 hours, the train buzzer rang which indicates the announcement of the next station. We heard Roma (something). We thought it was Roma Termini. So we packed up to get off the train. When we arrived at the station, it was a small terminal with limited train tracks. I said to Darwin that I did not think we were at the right station. There were not alot of tracks and no one else was getting off. So last minute we jumped back on the train and hoped we made the right decision. If we did not, we would not make the connection to Naples. Five minutes later we heard the buzzer again and it indicated we were arriving at Rome Termini. So we did indeed make the right decision. It was tense for a few minutes and a good lesson learned – know the different stops along your route so you know when to get off the train. What we also learned was just like a subway, the train line advertised, is the end of a line. So Rome Termini is the last stop on the route. So we should have known to stay on the train until the end of the line. When we switched trains to Naples, we discovered the same thing – did Naples have more than one train station. So we listened for the announcement to indicate we were at the end of the line, so we knew it was time to get off.
We made it to our room and decided not to go out for the night, but stayed in, downloaded some photos and went to bed reasonably early.
October 2
Got up and enjoyed breakfast at our boutique hotel (highly recommended for price and location to Museum). We walked around the block for an hour and then met Dwayne back at our hotel. It was weird meeting him in Italy.... and it was like hey Dude how ya doing.... Off to the Museum we went. Inside is a spectacular collection of Roman Statuary...from Julius Caesar to Homer and Aphrodite to Hercules. Original works on display that have been taken from Pompeii and other historic sites to preserve their conditions. We were in awe for three hours touring around.
One exhibit that was not open was the erotic frescos that depicted “pictoral menus” that were on display at the brothels in Pompeii.
We left the Museum and walked along Via di Toledo and arrived at Pallazo Reale, one of the old areas of Napoli. Here we found the opera house and Royal Palace. We had Drinks at Grimbalis and watched three different wedding photographers in the square. The architecture of this area was beautiful but Naples really is a dirty city. Darwin quite enjoyed the City and actually rated it higher than Venice but Dwayne and I both had it on our list of Cities not to return to.
Then it was off to find Pizzaria da Michele (Eat Pray Love). The line up was at least 1 hour to get an original Marguerita Pizza. We walked inside and I thought we had one of 5 tables but the waiter asked me for my number and then kicked me out to let someone else take our place. I would have loved to have my first Italian pizza in this place, but timing did not work. So we walked to another recommendation from our hotel. We could not find this location either, so ended up ordering a quick take out pizza. It was disappointing but we could still claim that we had marguerite pizza in Napoli. As we walked back to our hotel, we finally found the other restaurant the hotel recommended as the best pizza in Napoli but it too was lined up.
Off it was to the train station so we could meet our driver. He then took us to the airport so we could meet Kim, Kevin and Lori. We had a quick drink at the outside bar and then proceeded to make our way to Piano di Sorrento. This was about an hour and half drive. We stopped at a local supermacardo (grocery store) and stalked up on wine, beer and some snacks for the villa. By the time we reached our villa, it was 7:30 (dark). Our driver had to drive down a steep road, get a car moved out of the way and then we finally reached our destination. We took a tour of the place in the dark and was amazed at our location. The villa had to be at least 1000 ft long, stretching into the Amalfi Coast caves. It was unbelievable but it was so dark we could not really get the concept of the villa. We had a few drinks and then off to bed.
October 3
We awoke the next morning and explored our villa. Wow and unbelievable was all we could say. We could not believe this place went on forever... we had the main house, pool area, private reading places, bar, thinking place and even our own gardens and chicken coop. We pick up fresh chicken eggs (5) and some lemons every morning and bring back to our kitchen.
We ordered a vehicle for the week, but it did not arrive, so we enjoyed our pool for the afternoon and kicked back for a day of relaxation. Vencenzio (owner of villa) arrived to give us an overview of tours we could book. We asked if there was a possibility of going to a local restaurant for dinner. He made a call and indicated that Luigi would pick us up at 8:00 in two trips and take us to his family restaurant (Il Panorama). We arrived at this little restaurant with a great view. We had a cocktail outside and then went in for a great meal. We asked Luigi if we could order several dishes and split amongst the four of us (Darwin and Dwayne did NOT want to share with us). So we had the following:
Proschuitto, mozzarella, melon
Seafood appetizer
Marguerite pizza
Brushcetta
spaghetilli with porcini mushrooms
veal marsala
veal with mushrooms
seafood paella

It was AMAZING. The family was so nice. Maria, the daughter ended up picking us up. The other daughter was our bartender. Christina, the wife was our cook for night. We also got served a couple local treats – a beef dish that was the cheek of the cow(not my favourite) and french fries that had chilli pepper powder on them. They were hot but quite good.
So then we had to try a lemon cake and chocolate desert with lemoncello. Yep, it too was delicious. Frozen lemoncello was YUMMY. Can you believe the owner of the restaurant arranges to pick us up and take us to his restaurant. Where would you find this in Canada!
October 4 - Pompeii
Up early and off to Pompeii. We had a great driver – Salvatore who spoke fluent English. He used to live in NYC but has returned to his home town of Sorrento and is now a guide, cooking school tour, wedding planner, boat charterer etc....one stop shopping for the Amalfi coast with him. Our actual guide at Pompeii was also good. We spent two hours wandering the ruins. What a magnificent place. To see an actual town still partially in tact was quite amazing.
Darwin was in his glory figuring out the architectural design of the area, including their water system. The rest of us enjoyed the brothel. For a town of 20,000 there were 84 restaurants (fast food style like McDonald`s) and 23 brothels. Sailors arriving to this area would not know how to get to the brothel, so they needed a sign. Since there were no street signs back then, here`s what they did....... a large stone penis is situated on the main entrance street and it`s positioned in the direction of the brothels. Sailors would look for this advertisement and then follow the direction of the penis.....I`m not kidding. So our modern day GPS existed back then....but it was called Giant Penis System...
Back to our villa for some afternoon sun. Darwin cooked up some fabulous clay pot chickens in our outdoor pizza oven. They were DELICIOUS. For a group who was not that hungry, the two chickens did not last very long. He stuffed them with small tomatoes and basil. Some more cocktails in our bar and it was a fairly early night for a change. We are off to a mozzarella tasting in the morning.
October 5 - Mozarella
Today we got a tour of a local cheese factory and learned how to make mozzarella cheese. We even had a chance to braid a mozzarella ball. It was a fantastic sampling and of course wine was served as well. Afterwards, we headed to Sorrento to spend the afternoon. This is the main ferry port for the area and has some fantastic shopping. Good prices are found in this town as it’s not quite as popular as Positano or Amalfi. We found a great shop for cashmere pashminas ($15CDN).
Back to the villa for some late afternoon sun and then it was pizza night....let’s just say we don’t make pizza like the Italians. We bought the boxed pizza dough and it was difficult to follow the instructions in Italian (even though you only add water). Trying to get the dough to work and use the outdoor pizza oven --- not one of our best cooking adventures. Dwayne looked great trying to make the pizza dough. Vencenzio joined us for dinner and all he could say was “interesting”. So, he has offered to make us pizza on Friday night. That should be delicious.
October 6 – Capri

Took the 9:15 ferry to Capri. There are several different ferry lines, so it’s best to buy a one-way ticket as your departure time may not correspond with your ferry line. As we were waiting to board the ferry, a tour guide – Jerry was selling his services. For $20EURO we get a guided tour around the island – Anacapri and Capri and a ticket for the funicular to get back to the port. So we became “Jerry’s kids” for the day.
However, what we discovered is the buses are free and really all we get is a ride to each part of the island. However, Jerry gave us a few tips that were useful.
Capri is a beautiful island worth seeing for a day. The shops in Capri are gorgeous but expensive. Beverly Hills in Italy. Anacapri is quieter and the shops are more affordable. There is a great hike to a lookout point but we found it too late (good reason to go back). We took the 17:20 ferry back to Sorrento where Carlos (our driver) took us to a boutique deli for some local food sampling. The cheeses were delicious as were the sausage and chutneys. We did not need dinner after this little snack.
October 7 – Amalfi Coast
We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning and headed off early to see the Amalfi Coast. First stop was Positano (7 km away). It did not disappoint. As we turned the corner to get our first glimpse of the city, we all said “Wow”. We spent two hours wondering around the town – checking out the beach, restaurants and shops. Next stop was lunch at a local vineyard. We went 5 km above Amalfi (Furore) to a little vineyard (100,000 bottles/year production) and got a tour of their vineyard before lunch.
According to their brochure : “Gran Furor Divina Costiera is a brand which dates back to 1942, when it was first used to sell the wines made from the grapes grown on the terraces of the Furore Coast. In 1980, Andrea Ferraioli, the last descendant of an old local family of winemakers, and his wife, Marisa Cuomo, bought the Gran Furor Divina Costiera brand. It was here that Marisa and Andrea’s adventure began. Encouraged by their love and an extraordinary passion for wine, they decided to make high quality wines in Furore, the place where they were born. Furore is a place of incomparable beauty but extreme from a winegrowing viewpoint. The age-old vines, cultivated without grafts, grow horizontally, lying on rock and soil that plunge down towards the sea in the form of terraces”.
The main vines grow on the rock face - through the concrete bridges in town. Back in the early 1900’s, builders left holes in the concrete so vegetation could grow around the structure. These vines are old and mature. They grow red and green grapes together because of the constant change in temperature as you go up the slope of the hill. So every harvest, the grapes are picked by hand. The steps that need to be climbed to carry the picked grapes to the sorting area is quite dangerous, so only locals are hired for the harvest. Once again this was a family business – husband, wife, uncles, nieces and children were the main employees.
We had a typical local lunch of mixed seafood and fresh pasta, and of course a caprese salad. We tried the reserve white wine (Fiorduva) and it was delicious. It was a heavier wine, which I thought would be like an oaked chardonnay. But instead we were pleasantly surprised. It was like a Savignon Blanc combined with Pinot Grigio. The grapes are Ripoli Fenile, Moschella, Peppella and Ginestra. Of course, we had to buy a few bottles. Unlike the America’s, there was no wine shop. So we walked up the hill and back to the vineyard. We stuck our heads in the bottling factory and asked if we could purchase a bottle. The owner took us to his office and came back with a few bottles. The price was $27Euro, but he told us to give him $25 instead. Later in the afternoon, we discovered the wine at a local winery for $60Euro.
After lunch we drove back down to Amalfi and spent an hour discovering this town. It too was gorgeous, just smaller than Positano. There was a large church in the center of this square, where we watched a lovely bride walk up the 40 stairs to the church entrance (Italians get married every day of the week).
After Amalfi it was another 15km to Ravello. This town is 5 km above sea level. It’s very small and no cars are allowed on the main square. Carlos dropped us off at a tunnel and we walked into the square. It was quite small. Dwayne found the entrance to the gardens that are very popular in this area and we took a tour of this. They are quite spectacular but overall we were not impressed with the town. Yes, the view of the coastline was beautiful, but there was not alot to do in the town. Unless you are trying to find somewhere to escape for a week with little to do, Ravello is not the place to stay. Our favourite was Positano.
We drove back and caught the end of the sunset and headed back to our villa (drive from Ravello to our villa is 1 hour). Darwin cooked a 3P feast (pork parmesan pie) on the outdoor stove and it was delicious. Vincenzo’s mom also prepared a treat for us – stuffed peppers and cannelloni for us to try. Well, that pasta lasted 5 minutes with our gang. It was delicious.
The end to another perfect day on the coast. Tomorrow we relax around the villa and we have ordered a masseuse for poolside massages (yep life is tough here).

Posted by winmouse 08.10.2010 10:14 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Pompeii

sunny 24 °C

October 1
We arrived in Naples at 10:00 on Friday night from Rome and made our way to our hotel (Piazza Bellini which was down the street from the Archaeological Museum). Mind you we had quite the adventure on the train getting to Naples. We were on a Regional Train from Assisi to Rome which makes several stops along the way. Our ticket does not indicate the various stops, it just states Assisi – Rome. Our ticket indicated we were 2 hours away from Rome, so we put on the headphones and settled in to watch a movie (Star Trek). When we got close to the 2 hours, the train buzzer rang which indicates the announcement of the next station. We heard Roma (something). We thought it was Roma Termini. So we packed up to get off the train. When we arrived at the station, it was a small terminal with limited train tracks. I said to Darwin that I did not think we were at the right station. There were not alot of tracks and no one else was getting off. So last minute we jumped back on the train and hoped we made the right decision. If we did not, we would not make the connection to Naples. Five minutes later we heard the buzzer again and it indicated we were arriving at Rome Termini. So we did indeed make the right decision. It was tense for a few minutes and a good lesson learned – know the different stops along your route so you know when to get off the train. What we also learned was just like a subway, the train line advertised, is the end of a line. So Rome Termini is the last stop on the route. So we should have known to stay on the train until the end of the line. When we switched trains to Naples, we discovered the same thing – did Naples have more than one train station. So we listened for the announcement to indicate we were at the end of the line, so we knew it was time to get off.
We made it to our room and decided not to go out for the night, but stayed in, downloaded some photos and went to bed reasonably early.
October 2
Got up and enjoyed breakfast at our boutique hotel (highly recommended for price and location to Museum). We walked around the block for an hour and then met Dwayne back at our hotel. It was weird meeting him in Italy.... and it was like hey Dude how ya doing.... Off to the Museum we went. Inside is a spectacular collection of Roman Statuary...from Julius Caesar to Homer and Aphrodite to Hercules. Original works on display that have been taken from Pompeii and other historic sites to preserve their conditions. We were in awe for three hours touring around.
One exhibit that was not open was the erotic frescos that depicted “pictoral menus” that were on display at the brothels in Pompeii.
We left the Museum and walked along Via di Toledo and arrived at Pallazo Reale, one of the old areas of Napoli. Here we found the opera house and Royal Palace. We had Drinks at Grimbalis and watched three different wedding photographers in the square. The architecture of this area was beautiful but Naples really is a dirty city. Darwin quite enjoyed the City and actually rated it higher than Venice but Dwayne and I both had it on our list of Cities not to return to.
Then it was off to find Pizzaria da Michele (Eat Pray Love). The line up was at least 1 hour to get an original Marguerita Pizza. We walked inside and I thought we had one of 5 tables but the waiter asked me for my number and then kicked me out to let someone else take our place. I would have loved to have my first Italian pizza in this place, but timing did not work. So we walked to another recommendation from our hotel. We could not find this location either, so ended up ordering a quick take out pizza. It was disappointing but we could still claim that we had marguerite pizza in Napoli. As we walked back to our hotel, we finally found the other restaurant the hotel recommended as the best pizza in Napoli but it too was lined up.
Off it was to the train station so we could meet our driver. He then took us to the airport so we could meet Kim, Kevin and Lori. We had a quick drink at the outside bar and then proceeded to make our way to Piano di Sorrento. This was about an hour and half drive. We stopped at a local supermacardo (grocery store) and stalked up on wine, beer and some snacks for the villa. By the time we reached our villa, it was 7:30 (dark). Our driver had to drive down a steep road, get a car moved out of the way and then we finally reached our destination. We took a tour of the place in the dark and was amazed at our location. The villa had to be at least 1000 ft long, stretching into the Amalfi Coast caves. It was unbelievable but it was so dark we could not really get the concept of the villa. We had a few drinks and then off to bed.
October 3
We awoke the next morning and explored our villa. Wow and unbelievable was all we could say. We could not believe this place went on forever... we had the main house, pool area, private reading places, bar, thinking place and even our own gardens and chicken coop. We pick up fresh chicken eggs (5) and some lemons every morning and bring back to our kitchen.
We ordered a vehicle for the week, but it did not arrive, so we enjoyed our pool for the afternoon and kicked back for a day of relaxation. Venchenzio (owner of villa) arrived to give us an overview of tours we could book. We asked if there was a possibility of going to a local restaurant for dinner. He made a call and indicated that Luigi would pick us up at 8:00 in two trips and take us to his family restaurant (Il Panorama). We arrived at this little restaurant with a great view. We had a cocktail outside and then went in for a great meal. We asked Luigi if we could order several dishes and split amongst the four of us (Darwin and Dwayne did NOT want to share with us). So we had the following:
Proschuitto, mozzarella, melon
Seafood appetizer
Marguerite pizza
Brushcetta
spaghetilli with porcini mushrooms
veal marsala
veal with mushrooms
seafood paella

It was AMAZING. The family was so nice. Maria, the daughter ended up picking us up. The other daughter was our bartender. Christina, the wife was our cook for night. We also got served a couple local treats – a beef dish that was the cheek of the cow(not my favourite) and french fries that had chilli pepper powder on them. They were hot but quite good.
So then we had to try a lemon cake and chocolate desert with lemoncello. Yep, it too was delicious. Frozen lemoncello was YUMMY. Can you believe the owner of the restaurant arranges to pick us up and take us to his restaurant. Where would you find this in Canada!
October 4
Up early and off to Pompeii. We had a great driver – Salvatore who spoke fluent English. He used to live in NYC but has returned to his home town of Sorrento and is now a guide, cooking school tour, wedding planner, boat charterer etc....one stop shopping for the Amalfi coast with him. Our actual guide at Pompeii was also good. We spent two hours wandering the ruins. What a magnificent place. To see an actual town still partially in tact was quite amazing.
Darwin was in his glory figuring out the architectural design of the area, including their water system. The rest of us enjoyed the brothel. For a town of 20,000 there were 84 restaurants (fast food style like McDonald`s) and 23 brothels. Sailors arriving to this area would not know how to get to the brothel, so they needed a sign. Since there were no street signs back then, here`s what they did....... a large stone penis is situated on the main entrance street and it`s positioned in the direction of the brothels. Sailors would look for this advertisement and then follow the direction of the penis.....I`m not kidding. So our modern day GPS existed back then....but it was called Giant Penis System...
Back to our villa for some afternoon sun. Darwin cooked up some fabulous clay pot chickens in our outdoor pizza oven. They were DELICIOUS. For a group who was not that hungry, the two chickens did not last very long. He stuffed them with small tomatoes and basil. Some more cocktails in our bar and it was a fairly early night for a change. We are off to a mozzarella tasting in the morning.

Posted by winmouse 05.10.2010 01:11 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Venice/Assisi

Falking Off - Part II

sunny 22 °C

Venice (Sept 28 – 30)
Wow. We are back on the trail again and it feels GREAT. We departed Calgary and flew to Amsterdam. It is a great airport – simple and clean. We had a 4 hour layover and then flew to Venice. Upon arrival at the Airport, we took a bus to the Piazza Roma where we then transferred to a water bus. We purchased a 48 hour pass for $28Euro each. We were to get on Line 2 and get off at the Rialto station. Well...we got on Line 2 but it went in the opposite direction. So we took the outer route around Venice and then ended up in Saint Marco Square and the water bus ended. Not a big deal however as we were able to see a lot of the city along the water. We got off the water bus and quicly found another one that took us to Rialto Bridge. Our hotel was Hotel Rialto and was directly beside the Rialto bridge.
It is hard to describe that initial water bus ride through the Grand Canal. We have watched videos on it, seen thousands of photos and google earthed the location, but until you see it for yourself it just doesn’t prepare you. WOW and UNBELIEVABLE is all we could say. It truly is a wonder of the world. Your senses are overwhelmed with the colours of the houses, smell of citified sea water and the noise of gondola pilots, serenading their passengers. We instantly fell in love with this city.
We registered at the hotel, and eagerly went to our junior suite overlooking the canal. Our room was in pink and green – a large bed with sitting area all decorated in Venetian style furniture. We had 2 small terrace windows that open up with a view of the Rialto bridge and the water bus station. Our hotel actually encompasses three buildings, so it’s not just the pink building we saw in the photos. Our room was the last building and we were directly above a little bakery. So we awoke every morning at 05:00 to the smell of fresh pastry baking below us.
By the time we got settled in, it was 20:00 and we had been awake for over 30 hours. So we crossed the Rialto Bridge and went to the first restaurant. It was a perfect first dinner in Italy. I had Spaghetti Bolognese and Darwin had Veal Marsala. We split a Caprese Salad (tomato, mozzarella, basil, lettuce) and a bottle of Valpollicella. It’s great hear. The wine list just indicates the type of wine. Valpollicella, Brunello, Barolo. Those were our “Rosa” selections. They don’t offer any “brands”. You get what they have. It satisfied our thirst.
We were starving and thirsty. So the meal did not last long. We met a nice couple Scott and Meaghan from Chicago who have been travelling from Ireland-Italy for 3 weeks. We exchanged some good travel stories. They had just left Munich from Oktoberfest. They enjoyed a great night in the Bavarian tents and to save time, Scott decided to wash his clothes while he was in the shower. After a few pints of draft beer, this was not a smart move. He tripped and fell in the shower and was laying in pain. He yelled to his wife in the bedroom who is a nurse and knew she could help me. Well, she was sleeping and didn’t hear him, so it took him awhile to get out of the shower and into bed. It was a much better story when you saw his bruises. We had a good laugh and vowed not to wash our clothes in the shower after drinking too much wine.
Bedtime was early for us – around 22:00. We slept for a few hours and then were both awake at 03:30 (19:30 MST). We finally fell back to sleep around 05:30 and slept until 09:00. Continental breakfast is served at the hotel consisting of cereal, toast, meat, cheese, hard boiled eggs, yogurt and juice. It was perfect.
We walked around for a bit trying to find Darwin a cell phone company so he could buy a SIM card for his iphone (the new iphone 4 is “unlocked” which allows him to use his iphone instead of buying a local phone like we used to). We could not find any locations close to us so walked to Saint Marco Square to see St. Mark’s Basilica. It took awhile to figure out where to drop off your backpack before gaining entrance to the church (you need to go around the church and down a small alley). Once inside we listened to the Rick Steve’s podcast we had downloaded and it worked great. We got a detailed overview of the church without having to wait for an English guide. This saved time and money and we highly recommend this approach of using podcasts. The church is spectacular and the view from the terrace on the second floor overlooks the entire piazza. When we were leaving the church, the entrance point had changed because high tide was coming in and ground water was at the front of the church. It’s quite neat to see how the Venetians deal with high tides. They have catch basins (storm drains) located throughout the low spots in the City which allows the tide to back up and form puddles.
We had a snack on the piazza which consisted of beer, a half litre of Pinot Grigio and an ice cream sundae (hazelnut and pistachio gelato with whip cream and nuts). It was YUMMY. By no means is the high tourist spots cheap – the above items cost $63Euro (including an $11Euro charge to sit outside on the piazza that was paid to the band playing in the background). But when will we ever do that again? ... so it was worth every penny.
After our snack we went to the Tourist office and enquired about a cell phone office. We found the location and then took a water bus to the area, walked around for awhile and FINALLY got Darwin connected. It took some time but for $34Euro he purchased a SIM card and extra minutes for calling. Italy has strict regulations on data, so we are only allowed 250MB of data per week. This is the first country we travelled in where this has been restricted. We will find out how quickly we use it up.
We wandered around the back alleys and over the canal bridges for the afternoon. It is a great city to explore and get lost. The gondola pilots are great with their singing throughout the day and everyone was in a great mood. We checked out the farmer’s market where Casino Royale was filmed. We headed back to the room for a bit as Darwin had some work to do. We found a roof top terrace at our place, so took a bottle of wine and had fun taking photos of the bridge at night. We were going to head off for a gondola ride but needed some dinner first. So off we went over the bridge again and found another restaurant on the water. We had a great time with a couple from Palm Springs – Scott and Steve. We chatted it up for a few hours and then asked for our check. When we looked at our watch it was 23:30 and we looked on the water and the gondolas were gone.....yep we were in Venice and did not get a chance to take a gondola ride. Talk about LOSERS.....Well not much we could do about it. The City shuts down early. Just means we’ll be back sooner than we thought.
This is definitely one of our top 5 cities to visit in the world.

Assisi (Sept 30 – Oct 1)
We got up early and headed off to the train station for our 09:47 train to Assisi via Firenze. The water bus drops you off directly in front of the train station (10 minutes from our hotel). A great convenience for tourists. We were on a Eurostar reserved Coach train from Venice to Assisi. We found our seats and realized that seat number 74 and 76 are a window seat and an aisle seat across from each other(so we were not beside each other). We had 4 stops on this train. Boy does it go fast. From here we transferred to a Regional Train from Firenze to Assisi. This train made about 15 stops along the way but we got to see some great Tuscany/Umbria scenery. We arrived safely in Assisi and took a taxi to Hotel Minerva which is located at the entrance to St. Francis gate. We checked in and then wandered the City for the afternoon. What a neat medieval town. It was built in approximately the 1100’s and upgraded in the 1400’s and is very representative of the medieval era. We checked out Saint Rufino Cathedral, Centro Piazza, City Hall, and the Church of Minerva. This city is set high on a hilltop, so lots of climbing to see the various sites. We found a neat little wine bar at the main piazza. We had a couple beer, wine and split a caprese salad for $16E ($20CDN). Much better prices than Venice.
We went back to the hotel to do a bit of work and then decided to hit the sack early instead of going out for a late dinner. Got up and headed off to St. Francis Basilica. What a neat place. St. Francis’s remains are buried here. It’s not as elaborate as some Basilica’s we’ve seen but it certainly has presence in this town. From there we hiked to the top of the town to see Rocca Maggiore (town fort) built in 1174. And is quite large. We had a great view of the townsite from here. We certainly had no hesitation eating a large lunch after this excursion. We found a quaint courtside restaurant and had a great lunch. Darwin ate gnocchi, wild boar stew and salad. I had penne with sausage/beef stewed in vinegar and salad. We enjoyed our first bottle of Noble di Montapulciano and now understand why everyone says it’s a great wine. It was EXCELLENT.
Finished our leisurely lunch and headed back to our hotel. Took many pictures of public works related works going on which included paving, cobble stone repair, new telephone cables and a sanitary sewer upgrade. LL SHALLOW AND VERY OLD REPAIRS – LOOKS LIKE A TERRIFIC AMOUNT SPENT ON UPGRADING IN THE PAST FEW YEARS HOWEVER ON THE VERY NARROW STREETS.
We grabbed our luggage and took a taxi back downtown (6 km) and stopped at Saint Matia Degli Angeli Basilica (St. Francis’s favourite church) which is located close to the train station. Now we have an hour to kill at the station before our train arrive so doing up the blog and working up project notes and catching up on emails. We head to Rome and then to Naples tonight.

Posted by winmouse 01.10.2010 14:55 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

Florida

Final Week

overcast 15 °C
View South America on winmouse's travel map.

Wow we can’t believe this adventure has come to an end. We are now in Miami packing up for our flight home tomorrow afternoon.
We’ve had limited internet so haven’t been able to write much this past week. But it’s been a blast ending our trip with Bill and Alice.
Here’s a summary of our past week.
February 11Bill and Alice left for Miami to the boat show. Darwin and I stuck around Orlando. We were hoping to go to Disney for the day. But that changed quickly. We woke up to 45 degree weather and our resort even called us and left a message “due to the extreme cold weather, all pools will be closed today”. Once we went outside and felt the COLD wind, we said, forget about walking around Disney. So we drove around Orlando. We decided to watch Avatar at a Universal IMAX theatre. What a great movie. Definitely worth the hype. Different from Canadian theatres, we could actually enjoy a cocktail during the movie. It certainly raises the bar on film for the future. There was NO ONE at Universal studios, maybe 300 cars for a major theme park. Obviously, we weren’t the only ones thinking it was too cold to visit a park.
February 12Headed off to Miami and met up with Bill and Alice at the Miami boat show. We headed off to the sailboat display at Sea Isle Marina, which is located at the Marriott Hotel, Biscayne Bay where we started our trip. Talk about serendipitous. The sailboats were amazing, big, and expensive. We walked around the docks until 6:00 and then went inside the Marriott for a cocktail. Well, we got inside just in time. A major storm blew in within minutes and lasted for a few hours. The winds were WILD and for a few moments, we thought a mini hurricane had blown in. This certainly gave us an idea of how fast and furious the weather can change in this part of Florida.
We wanted to watch opening ceremonies of the Olympics so asked a taxi driver to take us to a good place. So off we went to the Irish Pub – Playwright and yep they had the ceremonies on TV. But we had to talk to the bartender to turn up the volume and include closed captioning. This part of the country is much more interested in College Basketball and superweekend (whatever that is) than Winter Olympics. It was interesting to watch the ceremonies outside your country. We met a few Canadians who were cheering with us, but most bar patrons were not interested. Overall, we were impressed with the ceremonies, but very unimpressed with the torch lighting. We have not been privy to Canadian media coverage so not sure what everyone else was saying. Darwin was ecstatic to see Bobby Orr on the Olympic Flag and I was happy to see Terry Fox’s mom.
Back to the Arctic Fox for the night (Bill and Alice’s camper). We were parked in a high school parking lot and stayed there overnight.
February 13Off to the boat show again. This show is huge. We thought it was the largest but learned that Fort Lauderdale is the largest show, then Monte Carlo and then this show....we drove by the yachts.. OMG. These ships were huge. Some had helicopters on the stern. Bill and Alice toured them the day before and commented on how beautiful they were..... and they say there is a recession in the US... well didn’t notice it in Miami.
Mid afternoon we headed off to South Beach and rented Segways for the afternoon and toured south beach. Once again, these proved to be a blast. Bill and Alice quickly caught on and enjoyed the ride as well. We saw Versace’s house, the main condo from Bird Cage and Johnny Rockets where part of Scarface was filmed. We left Miami and drove to Marathon key for the night and stayed at Pelican Hotel and Trailer Park. Darwin and I got a room for the night so we could watch some Olympic coverage. However, we didn’t last too long and went to bed early.

February 14
Today was our swim with the dolphins. It was a cold Sunday morning. Darwin had a great idea to rent wet suits, so off to a dive shop to get equipped for our swim. Even the locals were saying it was cold out. So we were not sure what to expect. The air temperature was 55 and the water was 65. We arrived at the Dolphin Research Centre and got a quick overview on our swim, 20 dolphin residents and the hand signals we would do with the dolphin. Before we knew it, we were in the lagoon with Talon, a 20 year old male, who is a grandson to Little Bit, who I swam with 23 years ago. So that was cool.
We entered the water and it wasn’t so bad, as it was warmer than the air temperature. We got to back rub Talon, shake his pectoral fins and then we got to do a dorsal pull. This was the highlight. Talon swims beside you and then you grab his dorsal fin and off you go for a spin. Then you get to do a mimic trick. They learn to mimic from watching, so I chose a water fight and Darwin bobbed with Talon. It was a riot (see posted pictures). I was so proud of Darwin. He can’t swim too well and yet he got into the Gulf of Mexico with a 500 lb mammal and let him pull him across the lagoon. The pictures say it all. This was another highlight of the trip. We were all buzzing after this experience.
We drove down to Key West and checked into Boyd’s campground. Once we were set up, we headed off to Duval Street and checked out restaurants for Valentine’s according to Alice’s Lonely Planet recommendations. However, all restaurants were booked in advance. We lucked out and finally settled in to the Blackfin. It was recommended by Nine One Five (who was booked). Luckily the Blackfin still had room.They had a fabulous set meal for the night. We had Lobster Bisque, scallops in phyllo pastry and Yellowtail Snapper and a great chocolate desert. The owner was our waiter and he had restaurants in New York and was a great host. We got talking to him and asked if there was other fish we could try besides the yellowtail snapper. He was awesome and served us red grouper and mutton snapper so we could sample some other local fish. I have been to Florida many times and had never heard of the mutton snapper. It reminded all of us of Halibut...but better. This was a great fish and all of our favourite for the evening.
After dinner we strolled Duval street and finally found Sloppy Joe’s. The Pete and Wayne show was hilarious. These performers take famous songs and make up their own lyrics. They were very funny. They have one great song that was written based on them getting a fine in Maine for drinking on stage. You will have to ask us what the rest of the song is about......
From there we headed to Irish Kevin’s to enjoy some great 80’s tunes. Let’s just say Irish Kevin’s shut down Dar and Murph.
February 15
Today was a casual day around the campground. The wind died down a bit and we had a 67 degree day. So off to the pool for a few hours of sun. Hot dogs for dinner and then we watched our photos from the past few days and an early night.
February 16
Today we headed off the Southern most point in Continental US (the barrel) and then tried to find an old hotel Bill and Alice stayed at in 1989 and finally found Le Patio. We stopped at a beach and enjoyed a Pina Colada from a fresh coconut. We headed back to the campground and Darwin and Bill found us some fresh Mutton Snapper from Fishbusterz (the local fresh fish market just minutes from the campground). We cooked up some awesome fish on the bar-b-que, watched a movie on itunes and had a quiet evening.
February 17
Enjoyed our last day in Key West touring around Duval Street. We walked the street, enjoying the galleries and shops. From there we headed off to Mallory Square for the sunset Buskers. We watched a juggler who finished his act on a semi high wire. He needed an assistant and picked Darwin out of the crowd. Darwin had to wear a MISS SUNSET sash as his assistant uniform. Bill had to hold the Gay Friendly flag. It was hilarious and we have lots of video as a memory. We watched the sunset at Sunset Pier. It was an emotional time for us, knowing our trip was coming to an end, but it was also a great sunset and an awesome way to end our adventure with two of our best friends. We headed off to Hogsbreath pub where Darwin helped Americans understand curling.We then met two brothers from Brazil.One now lives in Miami and is an architect and his brother visits him every year from Sao Paulo. We had fun talking to them about our travels through Brazil. They were alot of fun to visit with. Then off to Sloppy Joes for some more entertainment.
February 18
Last day in Florida. Off to lunch at the Hogfish Grill which is beside Fishbusterz. This is a great place for fresh fish. The coconut shrimp is the best and so were the homemade onion rings. Said goodbye to Bill and Alice and then we headed off to Miami. Darwin has just finished packing and we are watching the Men’s Figure Skating Finals. Back to Calgary tomorrow night.
We will write some final thoughts on our trip in the next few days. A bit overwhelming today knowing it is now over.

Posted by winmouse 18.02.2010 20:46 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Florida -brrrr

Derby Lane Reunion

sunny 9 °C
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Today was VERY VERY cold. We woke up to 44 degrees and said, we're out of here. So we drove to St. Petersburg and went to Derby Lane Greyhound track. This was my dad's favourite place, so after spreading some ashes on the track we enjoyed 6 races (and the weather was 10 degress warmer). We were not too lucky until the 6th race. Darwin grabbed a vodka and diet coke in honour of dad and bet on a boxed trifecta and he won....So it paid off the five races before.

Satisfied with leaving on a winning streak, we then headed off to Treasure Island and Madeira Beach, so Darwin could see where our family spent spring vacations. We were thrilled to see the mom and pop efficiency hotels still exist in this area. It was fun to drive down memory lane.

Back to Orlando and off to Downtown Disney. We toured around for a bit and then went to see Mel Gibson's latest flick. It was OK..... We had to get inside because it was FREEZING. We are all bundled up in our warmest clothes and still shaking.

Just got back to the room and are off to bed. A cold day is exhausting. We are definitely not used to this weather!

Posted by winmouse 10.02.2010 19:31 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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