A Travellerspoint blog

October 2011

Party Time on the Cote d'Azure

sunny 24 °C

An advantage of having family in exotic places like the French Riviera is that we get dragged along to great parties and fun events, so how could we refuse an invite to Roland's 60th. birthday...
Here's a couple of real characters getting into the swing of things...
And here's a couple of characters from Vancouver who we bumped into quite by coincidence. We knew that Tad and Michiko were somewhere in France, but were amazed when we bumped into them in the middle of Antibes...
We're getting ready to leave the Cote d'Azure, and not a moment too soon. Although it's beautifully warm and sunny today there's a black cloud on the horizon - the G20 meets in Cannes in a few days and the whole city is being shut down by 12,000 machine-gun toting gendarmes. We're leaving in the nick of time - but that's been the story of our trip. We barely scraped by a devastating storm in Turkey and slipped off to Italy just before the earthquake, and while the Romans were rioting at the Colosseum we were visiting the Pontiff across the city at St. Peter's. Another storm clobbered Rome just after we left for Perugia, (where we were fortunate not to die of a chocolate overdose) and we had then planned to stay in one of our favourite seaside spots - Monterosso, one of the five picturesque villages of the Cinque Terra. Unfortunately, (or fortunately as it transpired), Cinque Terra has been featured on so many TV programs and travelogues that everyone and his brother got there before us and the local hoteliers and peasants are all driving Maseratis and washing down their caviar pizzas with champagne on the profits.We are not in the champagne clique and couldn't afford to rent a broom cupboard for a few nights in Monterosso, so moved along the coast to Rapallo before travelling to Cannes. But we do like a drop of bubbly and we really enjoyed this Italian Prosecco that we bought in Cannes..
It's not a typo. This Prosecco was just 99 cents a bottle - $1.39 Canadian dollars for a bottle of very respectable bubbly (and regular plonk can be even cheaper). And as for the Maserati? - here's Sheila at the wheel of Roland's racing car - 0-60 mph fast enough to rip your pants off...
But, back to Monterosso. Three days after we left Italy, seven people were killed and Monterosso and most of the other ancient villages of the Cinque Terra were almost totally destroyed by landslides when twenty inches of rain fell in just 24 hours. We're now off to Milan, and if there's riots in Cannes in the next few days we hope we won't get the blame.

Posted by Hawkson 05:44 Archived in France Comments (3)

Pizza with that?

storm 18 °C

Italy offers an absolute smorgasbord of historical artifacts, architectural wonders and tourist attractions, but we can't leave without mentioning the fabulous food. Seafood tagliatelle anyone?
Pasta of every shape, colour and size can be found everywhere...
The cakes in the Pastecheria's window look as good as they taste...
And the fruit stalls in Rome were a picture...
Best of all, after Turkey, were the wonderful cappuccinos that cost just $1.60 as long as we didn't sit down in the cafe...
If you sit down the bill skyrockets to $3.00. It's a cultural thing, as is the pizza. The pizzas are absolutely fantastic - and cheap - but we didn't think to photograph one... which means that we'll have to go back.
We left Italy a couple of days ago. The rail journey along the Ligurian coast from Portofino to Ventimiglia offered a series of tantalising glimpses of secluded bays and cliff-hugging harbours as the train slipped in and out of a myriad of tunnels before finally bursting into the bright sunlight of the Italian Riviera and the glitzy resorts of San Remo and Imperia. The sea was always blue - impossibly blue - and it changed from cerulean to aquamarine and a hundred other eye-spinning shades as we sped from one bay to the next. And then it was Monte-Carlo, the Maritime Alps and the star-studded French Riviera. These are the playgrounds of the super-rich, where mere millionaires are a dime a dozen, but the heat has gone; the season is long past. The ritzy nightspots and chic beach bars of Cannes and Nice have rolled down the shutters and the glitterati have left their maids to lock up the villas while the captains refit the super-yachts ready for next summer.
We are visiting family for a week or so in Cannes but, knowing how much you would like to see a real Italian pizza, we're headed back to Italy next week. In the meantime a'bientot from a wet and windy Cannes: see you in Milan in a week or so.

Posted by Hawkson 10:41 Archived in Italy Comments (4)

Postcards from Picture Perfect Portofino

sunny 22 °C


We wish you were here in beautiful Portofino on the Ligurian Sea, Italy.

Posted by Hawkson 09:05 Archived in Italy Comments (4)

Stairways to Heaven

Perugia and Assisi

semi-overcast 18 °C

Throughout most of the past three millennium Italy was war-torn; often dominated by despotic rulers and foreign invaders. Following the decline and eventual fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, Italy was up for grabs and various Germanic tribes and the Goths were scrambling to capture what they could. The Romans had built many castles atop strategic hills and the locals retreated to these defensible communities to protect themselves. Perugia, the capital of Umbria, occupies such a fortified hilltop location and the enormous walls have been constructed and demolished many times over the centuries. It is a spectacular medieval city with many great buildings and a beautiful cathedral. But its most intriguing feature is an incredible series of stairs and escalators that wind up inside the immense fortified wall that was built by the Pope's army in the 1490s. Here is Sheila inside the ancient walls on a modern escalator - no claustrophobia inside theses cavernous fortifications...
Perugia is just one of dozens of fortified cities in this part of Italy. Lucca, Florence and Sienna are all within striking distance and are some of our favourite places. But today we went to Assisi - the birthplace of Saint Francis, (San Francesco). This is the basilica where the 13th century saint is buried...
While we enjoy discovering the history and admiring the incredible medieval architecture, we love the maze of steps and passages that snake up and down these hilltop communities. Here's a selection from Assisi...
These precariously perched cities are not for the fainthearted or weak kneed. Fortunately there is always a great cathedral at the very top, so it can be said that these steps are a stairway to heaven. But what goes up, must come down...
And this lengthy tunnel in Assisi was built by the Romans nearly two thousand years ago...
What would the tunnelers have made of the fact that today their tunnel is used as the entrance to the parking garage?

Confession time - we didn't really win the giant chocolate bear at Eurochocolate 2011. However, we did win the golden one that James is holding in the picture. But wait... it wasn't real gold, just gold foil disguising the fact that it was actually made of chocolate! The nightmare continues!

Posted by Hawkson 22:14 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Nightmare in Perugia

sunny 22 °C

Following our blog about Rome several readers commented that they were envious of us, however, we realise that they may not fully comprehend the terrible conditions we endure on our travels. Take our present predicament for example. We booked to stay for three nights in a 15th century restored palace in the medieval central square of Perugia, the capital of Umbria. The weather was gloriously warm and sunny as our train from Rome climbed slowly through the lush olive groves and vineyards of Chianti, affording us spectacular views of the mountains and the many honey-coloured medieval towns and villages perched high on the surrounding hills. This was Italy at its finest; a timeless sun-drenched landscape dotted with ancient monasteries and castles; a country brimming with history; a beautiful green landscape redolent of Canaletto and Giovanni Ghisolfil. So imagine our dismay when we arrived in the centre of ancient Perugia to find that our hotel (circa 1491) and all the other historic buildings had been entirely surrounded by a circus...
Quite unwittingly we had walked into the midst of the biggest chocolate festival in Europe - Eurochocolate 2011 - and wherever we went we were forced to eat free samples of Europe's finest candies...
There was chocolate of every kind everywhere we went...
We even had to drink chocolate liquor, and there was special chocolate for some of our friends on Gabriola...
Strong winds had forced us to cancel a projected hot-air balloon ride over the alien rock formations of Capadoccia, but here in Perugia we were bribed into a flight with a large piece of Sacha-Torte each...
We were made to enter a competition to win the world's largest chocolate bear - and we won. Here we are receiving our prize...
(Note that we accepted the small gold bear as we don't have room in our luggage for the big brown one).

Unfortunately, Eurochocolate 2011 is on throughout our stay in Perugia, but we've decided to put up with being constantly hassled into trying free samples. It's a tough job, but these young ladies can be very persuasive and we don't like to discourage them...

Posted by Hawkson 03:18 Archived in Italy Comments (8)

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