Wednesday, January 26, 2011

GENOA

Genoa port 007
Genoa was a surprise in many ways.  The first surprise was that we were even going there, but logistically it made the most sense.  I booked one night in a hotel that was recommended to me on the ST message board. I really didn't do a lot of research about Genoa because we were only staying one night. I did find out that the oldest part of Genoa is an amazing place to explore, and also read that Genoa has worked hard to clean up its image. Being a port town means that you have a lot of people coming and going, along with a lot of merchandise - obviously some of those people, and probably some of that merchandise, is less than desirable. For this reason port towns can be a little rowdier, but also a little more open and forward-thinking. I wasn't sure what to expect, but Genoa was a very pleasant surprise.

Genoa_001 After FINALLY finding our hotel (I hatehatehate driving in unfamiliar cities!!!), the Hotel Bel Soggiorno, we set out on foot to wander through the old part of town.  Many of the huge mansions built by the wealthy merchants of Genoa now house banks or have been converted into museums, so it's still possible to walk down the street surrounded by the oppulence of an earlier time. 

Eventually we made our way down to the port, and the area was beautiful with large open spaces, a new aquarium (the largest in Europe I think), a biosphere, and of course boats from all over the world.  We found an open-top bus tour and decided it would allow us to see the most of the city during our limited time. 
Genoa_014I could have easily spent another full day in Genoa, maybe even two full days - there are lots of museums to visit, plus the aquarium and biosphere.  We just missed the last sightseeing boat of the day, but I'd put this on my list of things to do too - I think seeing the city from the sea would be interesting.  Good food, especially seafood, is easy to find here too.

For those of you interested in costs, the Hotel Bel Soggiorno cost €75.  Our room was small but adequate, with an ensuite bathroom.  The rate included a very nice breakfast buffet, and parking was an additional €12 by special arrangement with the parking garage for a large department store.  We found out the hard way that just because we'd requested parking didn't necessarily mean there was a spot reserved for us.  The garage was tiny and we were lucky to find a narrow spot we could squeeze our car into!  Later in the evening when we returned to the car to retrieve something we were able to move the car to a better location with more than a few inches on each side!
 

Here's a slideshow with all our photos from Genoa:

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Monday, January 24, 2011

CARRARA MARBLE

It's obvious to me that I have become WAY too disorganized to write about our vacation last fall in chronological order.  Somehow my days seems to be even fuller than they were in Italy, and the idea of a schedule seems too much to handle.  So, I'll just write about whatever place or adventure pops into my head.  Today I'll tell you about Carrara.

Carrara, yes, the place where the marble comes from, is at the northwestern edge of Tuscany and we never figured out how to visit it when we lived in Italy.  Still, it was at the top of our wish list, and when we decided to visit the Cinque Terre, a stop at Carrara made perfect sense. 

Carrara 009 As usual an internet search and some questions on the Slow Travel message board helped.  I found
Fantiscritti, a marble quarry that's located deep inside the mountain, and decided that because we'd be there on a Sunday this might be our best option.  We knew we probably wouldn't see much work going on, but the tour would let us get a little closer to the marble in it's natural state.

Once we entered the marble 'cave', we learned that each company is assigned the right to excavate by the local government.  I don't remember how many different companies are active right now, but I was surprised to find out that there was another company excavating just ABOVE the 'cave' we were in, and another one below it!  Of course there's quite a bit of space left in between those layers, but for me it was still rather amazing to think of the weight of the marble itself, combined with all the heavy equipment, and to wonder what would happen if the floor of the cave collapsed.

Carrara 015The inside of the cave looks like an ice cave.  It was much quieter on a Sunday than it would have been on a workday.  The walls of the cave hold the noise in and make it echo, so ear protection is a must - but I wonder if it really helps?  Because the 'rooms' of the cave are so huge, they are often used for filming commercials or hosting exhibitions.  One of the fancy car companies, maybe Ferrari or Lamborghini, shot an ad campaign inside the quarry and there was an exhibition of very large, rather strange marble scuptures going on while we were there. 

There was of course the requisite gift shop, which was simple but effective, as well as an outdoor display of old tools, some marble sculptures and a little history about the marble of Carrara.  For me it was not only interesting to see Carrara, but the idea of a cave made it even more appealing.  Had we had some extra time I would have also enjoyed visiting a real cave in Tuscany, la Grotta del Vento, but I guess that will have to wait for another trip.

Here's a slideshow of all the photos we took that day:

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

TOURING ITALIA

As many of you know, we lived in Italy for about 7 years, from the fall of 2003 until April of 2010.  Although we've never quite figured out the connection, we now know that the government is tracking our movements - but we're not sure which government.  All we know for sure is that as soon as we announced we were moving to Italy the dollar suddenly tanked - when we went to Italy in the fall of 2002 to look for a house one euro cost about 95¢.  By the time we closed on our house in the spring of 2003 the euro was up to $1.10.  The rise of the euro/decline of the dollar continued more or less for the entire time we lived in Italy.  Yes, sometimes the dollar rallied or the euro stumbled, but in the end things never improved more for very long, or more than a few cents. 


The drastic decline of the dollar really killed our plans to travel throughout Europe, especially Italy, but still, we hung in there.  Although Italy had never been a life-long dream for either one of us, it was something we were committed to, and something we enjoyed very much.  And then finally, after much discussion, we decided to sell our house in Italy and move back to the states.  So of course the dollar rallied against the euro - then the U.S. economy went into a tailspin!  Somehow these past 7+ years caused me to develop a dual personality - I'm still the tightwad and worrier, but then I have moments when I just say F&#K it and live for the moment!


When we decided to sell our house we also decided that we'd take some of the money from the sale and use it to do the one thing we'd really wanted to do all along:  travel.  We knew we had to come back to Louisville at the end of April so that Art could work at Churchill Downs, so after we closed on the house in mid-April we decided we'd stay in Louisville, look for a house, and make plans for a grand tour of Italy in the fall.  Of course our wish list was long - I could go to Florence - no, I could LIVE in Florence and never get tired of it - but we specifically wanted to see some of the places we'd always dreamed of seeing.  We threw all our ideas out there and ended up with a six week vacation that would allow us to visit with friends in Umbria and also to travel both north AND south.


Here's our itinerary: 


• Sept 19-25 - Arrive in Italy go to Umbria for one week, getting over jet lag and visiting friends


• Sept 26-29 - leave for Cinque Terre - stay in an agriturismo in Levanto for 3 nights

• Sept 29 - Drive to Genoa for one night

• Sept 30-Oct 2 - Spend 2 nights in Turin

• Oct 2-9 - Drive to Acqui Terme (Piemonte) and stay in apartment for 1 week

• Oct 9-16 - Drive to Emilia Romagna - spend one week in an agriturismo apartment between Parma and Modena

• Oct 16-19 - Drive back to Umbria for 3 nights

• Oct 19-24/25? - Drive to Puglia - stay in Ostuni

• Oct 24/25 - Oct 30 Back to Umbria

• Oct 31 - Nov 14 - Transatlantic cruise - Rome to Ft Lauderdale
wine road to Nizza 036Over the years I've saved articles, printed out reviews and 'favorited' many threads over on SLOW TRAVEL  so I had plenty of resources, and of course plenty of people to ask for advice, both from the SLOW TRAV MESSAGE BOARD and from friends in Italy.  We'd always wanted to visit the Cinque Terre, had heard how beautiful Piemonte is, knew that Emilia-Romagna would win both our hearts AND our stomaches, and knew that somehow we'd have to find time to visit Puglia because everyone we know who's visited has raved about everything from the food to the scenery - and the cheap prices!  And of course we'd be back in our beloved Umbria just in time for the new wine and new olive oil!
 
Once we'd decided on our itinerary and made all the arrangements, the dollar decide to take another dive - but we weren't surrpised.  All we could do was hope for the best and take it on the chin like every other vacationer - at least our pain would last a finite amount of time. 
 
In retrospect we were both very pleased with all our choices, not just for locations but also for accommodations, food and sightseeing.  The trip was an absolute success, although I will admit that the last week on the cruise, the one where we were at sea the entire time, did get a little long for me - I was ready to be home, in my own bed!  I looked at the calendar and realized that since we'd moved back to the states in mid-April we'd only slept in our own bed for 5 weeks out of 6 months!  Yes, I love to travel, but being in your own place, in your own bed, having your own washer and dryer (woohoo!) are things that are even more appealing when you've been away for eight long weeks.
 
Alba 072I've been posting the photos from our trip on OUR FLICKR PAGE, but it's still a work in progress.  Digital photography means that I can take lots of photos, but culling through those photos is a time-consuming job!   I'll try to get more organized and write about where we went, what we saw, what we ate and where we stayed - I promise!






Cinque Terre 2 066



Parmesan Making 048

Saturday, January 15, 2011

CALABRIA IN 2011?

I don't know what the weather's like where you live, but here in Louisville it's been unusually cold this winter.  The cold, combined with the dreariness of cloudy days and looong nights makes me want to snuggle up and stay inside with a cup of hot chocolate!  It also gives me plenty of time to research and plan my next vacation!  As you probably know, the R&D phase is my favorite!  Where should we go?  When?  How long should we stay?  Do we need to rent a car?  What is there to see, and even more importantly, what is there to eat in the area I'm considering?  Sometimes there are so many choices that it's just overwhelming, tempting you to a) go back to the same old place you go every year or b) throw up your hands in despair and give up.  Wait!  I've got an idea for someplace you might not have considered before, AND I have someone who can help you plan the vacation too!  Curious?  Read on.....

It's probably not going to be a big surprise when I tell you that the vacation spot I'm recommending is in Italy, but it's not quite that simple  As wonderful as Rome, Florence and Venice are, there really are a LOT of other amazing places in Italy, some of them still relatively undiscovered by the masses.  The province of Calabria, all the way down in the toe of the Italian boot is an area that's unbelievable beautiful, and well worth considering. 

I realize that information about Calabria is not going to be as easy to find as information about Rome, so now I have a secret weapon:  my friend Cherrye Moore, an American who lives in Calabria!  Cherry writes a blog about her life in southernmost Italy called My Bella Vita, and also runs a travel service for Calabria called Bella Vita Travel Services.

Here's what Cherry herself has to say about her services:

"Whether you are looking for a fully customized vacation, personalized ideas or if you just have a few questions about your itinerary, Bella Vita Travel Services can help. We offer a range of services for individuals and families, including:

Custom Itineraries
Want a trip that is customized to you but don’t want to sweat the small stuff? When you book a custom itinerary, we help you plan your ideal trip, then book and confirm everything and are available 24/7 throughout your vacation.


Pre-Built Trips
Want someone to handle all of the details? When you modify a pre-built trip, we book and confirm everything and can help troubleshoot throughout your trip-or-you can purchase an existing trip, as is. 

Custom Consults
Looking for some tailor-made suggestions? With your custom consult, we will help you choose destinations and offer you personalized ideas for your trip.

Trip CoachingNeed a little guidance so you can get started? When you book a Trip Coaching session, you will have seven days to ask as many questions as you want regarding your trip.

Trip Doctor Want advice on an itinerary you have already planned? When you book the Trip Doctor, a local expert will review your itinerary and offer tips to maximize your trip."



No matter what level of serivce you need Cherrye can help!  Will 2011 be there year you decide to explore someplace new?  Calabria may be one of those places you've always wanted to visit but never quite got around to, perhaps because tourist information isn't as easy to find, or maybe just because you don't know much about it.  Now you have a friend who can help you plan your trip down to the last detail!  Ah, and when you contact Cherrye, please let her know that you read about it here!

You might want to check out Cherrye's blog to learn about life in Calabria - the hidden medieval villages, the amazing beaches, ancient churches and more.  You'll be able to see some of the beautiful sights Cherrye's photographed over the years, and don't forget to check out the recipes!  Once you're ready to start planning your trip to Calabria just contact Cherrye at Bella Vita Travel Services.  Get ready to be amazed!

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