Monday Travel Memory: Cinque Terre

Hey kids. It’s been awhile. A solid three month absence. Sometimes it’s good to take some distance from stuff, even stuff we love, to come back with better focus and energy. Right? It’s been nice to have some space and not spend so much time at the computer. Sounds like a legit excuse. Maybe nobody even noticed. 

And maybe you did. I know I miss writing on here and sharing bits of our sometimes interesting life. So why the long held breath? This had a little something to do with it:

This is Flinck.

This is Flinck.

Yes, we adopted a tiny puppy from the shelter where I volunteer (Oregon Humane Society). His name is Flinck, in honor of the street we lived on in Amsterdam (Govert Flinckstraat). And, not that I’m biased, he’s the best. 

But back to the topic at hand. As August hit, I realized that I have not been swimming or have even donned a swimsuit this summer. That’s just not right. To me, that’s the quintessential summer experience that I have not had this year. Too many house projects and other commitments have consumed our time. Bummer. Summer bummer.

This had led to some serious reminiscing. About this time last year, we took our summer vacation to Italy. Twelve months and some crazy life changes later, I’m still enchanted. And amazed at just how much Italy has to offer. Oh, Italy. What can I possibly say about you that hasn’t been said before? From your bustling streets in Roma, to the rolling hills of Tuscany, to your seaside luxury in Sorrento, to your decayed elegance in Venice, you truly have it all. And you have more. And on top of all that, you have this glorious little region known as the Cinque Terre.

I know I shared this trip with you before, but it’s fun to look at the pictures with fresh eyes and see the beauty anew. Sometimes I sit here and pinch myself because I cannot believe we were there. While far from a luxurious resort getaway (you lay out on rocks to sunbathe after all), it was the perfect break from reality for my husband and me.

When we arrived, I was instantly smitten with the colorful structures nestled into the rocky cliffs rising from the Ligurian Sea. It was magical. As we walked the narrow “streets” (they can hardly be called streets as barely a moped could squeeze through), you could smell the salty sea and catch whiffs of a grandmother’s sauce on the stove.

Each morning, we would wake up in our tiny room, head out for coffee and fresh fruit, then spend the days alternating between sunbathing on rocks and exploring the twisty streets in each of the five towns. Below are some more pictures that I didn’t include in my original write up. Those initial pictures captured little moments that I felt (at the time) best depicted our experience. Looking back, I realize I didn’t share much of the actual towns or the panoramas that created the wonderful backdrop to all those fried fish cones we devoured. Here you go:

Vernazza

Vernazza

Vernazza

Vernazza

The trail that connects the towns

the trail that connects the towns

Montorosso

Montorosso

Montorosso

Montorosso’s beach scene

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore

Kiss!

Kiss! along the trail

sunset from Manarola

sunset from Manarola

Manarola at dusk

Manarola at dusk

happy tree in Corniglia

a happy tree in Corniglia

pretty door in Corniglia

a pretty door in Corniglia

Corniglia

Corniglia

Corniglia

Vernazza

a "street" in Vernazza

a “street” in Vernazza

Negroni & Aperol Spritz for happy hour

Negroni & Aperol Spritz for happy hour

5am quiet

5am quiet in Vernazza

Vernazza at night

Vernazza at night

Our trip to the Cinque Terre was one of my favorite vacations. Ever. These pictures make me want to be back there immediately. August, while brimming with tourists, is still a great time to go. Now if only I could find my bathing suit…

xxx

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Monday Travel Memory: My First Vacation

In addition to the new Friday series about future travel, I’d also like to share memories of my previous travels. Hope you like it. 

This is me on one of my first vacations (hooray for traveling young!), if a three-year old can have such a thing. I think I had already been to Sea World though at the ripe age of two, but I’ll need to fact check with my mom. And nab a picture to share.

It was the 80’s. I think this is the summer before my little brother came along. I was a couple years old and my parents did the most awesome thing parents can do for their kid – They took me to Disney World. Aren’t parents amazing? As an adult, I now realize how selfless mine were to travel to places like this for us kids. This isn’t exactly a memory (off to a great start here…) since I can’t remember what rides we went on or how many Mickey ice cream bars I ate… and I don’t know what happened to that sweet Goofy hat. All that has faded away with time. Thing is, I’m sure it hasn’t for my parents. I’m sure they remember how much I enjoyed it, which made them enjoy it too.

Parents are the best. I miss mine more than usual today.

xxx

P.S. If you haven’t noticed, things have changed here on the blog! New categories, a more recent photo of us and updated “About Us.” Click around, share with friends, give us a “like” to make our day. Let me know what you think! x

Road trip: Slovenia and Austria

Happy Friday, everyone! We’re slowly, but surely getting to the end of this road trip recap. After two nights in Croatia, we headed north (in the home stretch of our trip now) to Lake Bled, Slovenia. We had ooh’ed and aah’ed at pictures of it and knew if there was one place in Slovenia that we had to go, it was there. Conveniently, it was on the route home too.

Again, the roads were longer than we thought. As we finally approached, limbs aching from sitting in the car most of the day, we were reading about places to stay in Bled. Found one that sounded fantastic and decided to treat ourselves to hotel night #2 of this journey. Thank GOD. When we arrived in Bled after dark, it was pouring rain. Julie + pouring rain + camping do not mix well.

Woke up the next morning to beautiful views from our balcony. After a lazy morning in the sauna and pool, we ventured out. Bled is one of the most serene, calming places I’ve ever been. Stressed out? Go to Bled. Seriously. It was so quiet and enchanting to walk around the lake (there is a trail around the whole thing, we did maybe a quarter). Realizing it was already after noon, we stopped for lunch in town at a sweet pub for some grilled meats, bread dumplings and mayyybe even some cheese dumplings. Heaven.

Got on the road to Salzburg, home to Mozart and The Sound of Music, which was supposed to take two hours. It took over FIVE. There was constant construction, in almost every tunnel. Have I mentioned that some of the driving tunnels through the Alps are over 7000 meters long? Cray. Anyway, it was so bad that Jaro, the patient driver, could get out of the car and walk around. People were even walking their dogs! I tried to take a nap.

Again, got into town after dark. But what a pretty town! Salzburg looked so wonderful from our limited strolling. And the food was delicious. Went to the Zipfer Beirhaus and chowed down on seasonal treats like pumpkin soup and wild boar ragu. Shared a massive table with hilarious traveling Australians and enjoyed the night. Verdict? Definitely need to go back to Salzburg. Maybe combine it with a second trip to Vienna in the winter (Went to Vienna this summer. Sweltering).

Here be the pics:

Last stop: Oktoberfest in Munchen.

xxx

P.S. Trying Lion Noir tonight with friends. Can’t wait!

Road trip: Italian Escapades

It’s no secret that we love Italy. Having been there four times in the past two years might be a non-subtle clue. Everything from the landscape, to the food, to the culture is just a breath of fresh air, especially after cringing through three nights in Switzerland. We had originally (as in two days prior) been thinking about zooming through Italy to Croatia and Slovenia, but then checked ourselves. How could we drive right past Verona and Venice?

Getting through the mountains (driving stick – go me!) took way longer than we thought so we didn’t cross the border until sunset. Grabbing the trusty old GPS, we punched in “campsites near Verona” and hoped for the best. It ended up being a fantastic surprise! We arrived after the office closed, but the night guard was ready for us (thanks to calling ahead) and as we pulled up, he said, “Zijn jullie Nederlanders?” He was Dutch! Since our phone has a Dutch number and our license plate too, he assumed we were Dutch. Close enough. 😉 It was so comforting and pleasant to talk with him about life in Holland and how he decided to move to Italy (jealous).

We spent the next morning in Verona and what a cutie town. They have adorable shopping streets & markets and just general Italian loveliness. It’s also the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, so there is a romantical quality as well. Felt it. We had heard that if you love Italy, but don’t need blockbuster sights, then Verona is a great fit. It was.

Unfortunately, since it is a small town and I knew Venice was a mere hour away, my anxiety kicked in and we scrambled over to check out our next destination. Sidenote: I read somewhere recently that Midwesterners (that’s me) often use driving time to measure distance between two places. {i.e. How far away is that city? Oh, about an hour.} I think it’s true! Anyway, we got to a VERY nice campsite (seriously, spa-quality bathrooms), got all our stuff set up and took a public bus into the city. Hey, when you are traveling on a dime, that doesn’t bother you at all. In fact, you feel more like you are having a local experience than if you just pull up in a taxi or park in the garage on the island. So we got to the island, started walking down a street and IMMEDIATELY were lost. Within a few minutes. It must have been some kind of record. Couldn’t even figure out where we were on a map. It’s so disorienting, but also awesome. All the little streets, lined with crumbling, chipped-paint facades, twist and wind over and under each other and those teeny canals. Elegant decay, indeed. And no cars, of course. Some of the streets were as wide as my body.

I have to harp on Venice, however. While I loved sipping wine at Al Merca and Aperol spritz along the Grand Canal, enjoyed hearty ragu at a tiny candle-lit bistro and noticed the canals do not smell like I was warned… there was a certain inauthenticity to it. From what I saw in the two days we spent there, the entire city catered to tourists. Every street had a heavy current of visitors navigating through. Huge signs point you to SAINT MARK’S SQUARE ==>. (Got it.) Every menu had 10 language translations, even those we “discovered” without the aid of a guidebook. So. I need to go back and explore the far corners for something that feels legit. You get where I’m coming from, right? Travel is supposed to take us out of our comfort zones, even just a little bit. Isn’t that the point? Maybe I’m becoming desensitized to it, but THAT is a discussion for another day.

We happened to celebrate our five year dating anniversary there. Our “date-iversary” if you will. (Yeah, we still do that even though we’re married, roll your eyes.) It was a little coincidental because our first date was at Carmine’s, an Italian restaurant in Chicago. I mean… it was fate.

Anyway, here are some pics:

Up next: Northern Croatia

xxx

Road trip: Swiss Hits and (mostly) Misses

See what I did there? Switzerland was, overall, a big miss in my book. But let me explain…

After driving through the Alsace, we realized we were pretty close to Basel, Switzerland and decided to check another new country off our list. As we crossed the border, we were stopped. Customs check, right? Passports, car insurance, etc? Nope. Just needed to hand over €40 for a highway sticker. Just to drive on the roads. And thus began our expensive journey through Switzerland.

The thing is, I don’t mind paying good money (whatever that means) when something is worth it. The problem with Switzerland is that I felt the value of what I was getting was far, far less than the money I was paying for it. Commercialism there is, quite franc-ly, a huge rip off. One hundred and fifty Swiss Francs for a musty hotel room in a nondescript town with sheets that look like they’d been there since the 70’s? Forty Francs for a 6-pack of beer, and a few vegetables for a campsite dinner? How about thirty Francs for one portion of fondue (melted cheese and cut up raw vegetables) at a touristic “chalet”? What about four Francs for a small beer? Same for a plain, filter coffee. Or my favorite, how about paying 70 Francs for a “thermal bath” experience at Thermal Centre Yverdon-Les-Bains, only to find out it’s for the geriatric set and we were the only couple there for leisure purposes (everyone else appeared to need rehabilitation)? Here is the misleading website. That wins for most awkward morning of the trip, especially since the saunas were co-ed and nudity “encouraged.” Reminder: We were the only people under the age of 70. …No Francs. Get it? Additionally, the camping throughout Switzerland was the worst we experienced throughout the two weeks. Campsites were poorly equipped and terribly located; One night we were directly next to a loud highway and the other we were quite literally in someone’s backyard. Unbelievable, disappointing, and downright pitiful for a country that claims to be the greatest outdoor experience on earth.

Now, Switzerland does have its charms. Gorgeous, dramatic scenery is around every curve of the road. Cities like Bern (lovely, despite the strange Bear Park), lakefront towns like Montreux & Lucerne (the lakes are stunningly beautiful) and tiny villages like Gruyere (most fake real place I’ve ever seen) are all very pleasant to look at and stroll around. Matterhorn? Eiger? The Aletsch Glacier? (which cost 80 Francs to see). Mother Nature at her finest, certainly. And, it’s one of the best places to master manual driving (as I did, woo hoo!).

We stayed a night at La Tour-de-Peilz on Lake Geneva (next to the highway), another in Interlaken (in someone’s backyard- good morning!), and a third in no-big-deal Sarnen (the scary hotel room). The hotel was, franc-ly (hah), out of desperation as we booked it around 9pm and we didn’t want to camp in heavy rain. Because of the ridiculous expensiveness, we didn’t have a single meal in a restaurant. Unless you count Tak Rai, a Thai take out place in Lucerne that somehow earned a good review on Lonely Planet. For microwave-sized portions, our “cheap” take out dinner for two was 39 Francs. …No Francs.

Still glad we went. Just not sure if I’ll be returning anytime soon. I sort of hate it. Here are some pics that might convince you it’s worth it.

Ahead: Paragliding in Interlaken. That adventure needs its own post.

xxx

Road trip: Route des Vins D’Alsace

I’m going to start this post with the assumption that everyone reading it (love you) has seen Disney’s Beauty & the Beast. We all know the opening scene where Belle walks through her town singing, “There must be more than this provincial life” and neighbors pop out of their shuttered windows singing, “Bonjour! Bonjour!” I know, you are all singing it.

I found that town. You’ll see in the pics.

After a brief visit to the Lorraine region, we traveled down to the Alsace region. With a little research (ie: reading travel guides in the car), we learned that there is a wine road that stretches through the region called the Route des Vins. It’s 170km long! That’s a lot of wine. Had to control ourselves and only drink at night when we were done driving for the day. So hard! We started from Marlenheim at the north end and weaved through the rolling hills of absolutely breathtaking wine country (The French win) to Colmar. That is not the entire route, but we had to move on. We easily could have spent the full two weeks here. Main stops were Obernai, Ribeauville, Riquewihr (Belle’s town, I swear!) and Colmar. Just lovely. Like a fairytale. I have few other words to describe it, hopefully the pictures do it justice.

One thing about the local food: We had a delicious lunch in Obernai at La Cloche‘s charming sideway patio. Have you ever heard of a Kentucky dish called a Hot Brown? Jaro has suffered through one before, and similarly, I should probably tell warn you that spatzle baked in munster cheese is the best worst decision of your life. Read: a French Hot Brown. Both the spatzle and munster are local specialties, so we considered that to be the megatron of Alsatian cuisine and as a result, we were all over it. While Jaro clogged his arteries with that, I had the not so much more reasonable spatzle with mushroom sauce. Could not get enough spatzle. Anyway, here are a few pics.

One other thing about food: This was my first extended time in France outside of Paris and something I immediately noticed was that everyone was carrying a baguette (or three). Under the arm, while riding a bicycle, poking out of the windows in their cars… so just plant that pleasant little image in your head. (Again, the French win.) But good luck trying to buy one after noon. Every shop, grocery, market, you name it, was sold out by then. Thankfully, our campsites sold them fresh every morning. Yep, that’s right.

So, I love France. Is that obvious?

Ahead: The Swiss Alps & why I hate Switzerland…

xxx

Walking on a dream

Happy October everyone! I, for one, cannot believe it’s already October. What happened to September? My life has been a bit of a tornado lately…

Speaking of tornadoes, we just got back from an epic two week road trip through Europe. No plans, just a sense of adventure.  Here is a little photo montage I put together of it. These are edited down for time, but as you can see we take LOTS of pictures. Will be sharing specifics soon, but I thought this was a fun way to sum it up. What is your favorite part? Mine a tie with the gondolas in Venice (love how Jaro shot that) and those kraut fries. Haha. Let me know what you think! Might start doing this with all our trips.

Have a good Monday, pals.

xxx