Canada, England, France, Switzerland and Italy – September 2010

San Gimignano, Tuscany

San Gimignano, Tuscany

Hello!!!

Finally back after a month away – and are in need of a holiday now 😉

Here’s the link to a few photo’s you might like: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/su7e22p2lvjs14d/lIvJ6qH5gE

Enjoy….

Started intrepid adventure with a few days in Toronto – not as much to say as I thought…..it looks like a peaceful place to live ;-)..  then onto England where the sun actually shined!! Also met our future new sis-in-law – don’t know how my bro pulled it off  😉

Spent a few days in Annecy, France in the Savoy Alps to break ourselves in gently with gorging our way through Europe – Geoff naturally ate more french cheese in 2 days than any other human could consume in a month – in whatever form it presented itself – hot and dripping in raclette form to freshly rolled in dodgy looking herbs that very morning (in dubious health and safety standards on some sweaty farmers kitchen table) and ridden to market on a rickety old bike with onion strings slung around neck etc etc…..needless to say Annecy’s food market remains the best and most colorful in France :-). Gary met up with us as a birthday surprise for Don (and Sue) who we were travelling with for our European adventure – which was fab – he STILL refused to jump off a perfectly good solid mountainside attached to a paraglider – no matter how many times we try to convince him what extraordinary fun it is floating in the clouds strapped onto a large kite at 1500m (5000 feet) it seems terra firma and a large pint of beer are far more attractive 😉

Sue and I couldn’t jump quick enough 🙂 – G trailed slightly – he still finds heights and running off mountains a little disconcerting – and Don (for whom we had bought the jump as a birthday present) was a little nonplussed when he tripped over the tandem instructor and was facing down mountain for a terrifying moment before re-starting and ascending in a more traditional and less traumatic manner – luckily no coronary was suffered or the holiday would have ended on a bad note rather prematurely 😉  There was an extra interesting moment when the instructors thought it would be fun for Sue and I to fly close enough to have a conversation in the sky – only the wind didn’t play ball and I ended up walking across the top of her wing which was quite surreal at 4000 feet 😉

Sun shone gloriously until the minute we left Annecy and then – as we headed north on the longest trip in the world to Zermatt, Switzerland and the Matterhorn we were tormented by rain and thick cloud – not the best weather for staring at a mountain – the GPS had us going round in circles and via Hong Kong to get there so it took about 5 hours longer than necessary (finally G agreed the map would be a more reliable option as the GPS couldn’t even work out what country we wanted to get to ;-)). And all that to get there to find it was impossible to see the stupid mountain and it was freezing cold – especially in shorts 😉 The long haired sheep were cute so that was the upside of the detour via Switzerland 😉

Onwards to Lake Como which was absolutely beautiful – Bellagio is veryyyyyy touristy – not too many cheap t-shirts shops but more geared to the idle rich who clearly had been frequenting the same expensive hotels/restaurants (I have in mind Villa Serbelloni) since the 1930’s which appeared to be the era they were all stuck in – and – difficult to imagine though it might be – not managing to acquire even a single word of italiano to order their cappuccinos! Unbelievable! Don and I were feeling particularly righteous as we had spent many months perfecting our awful – but clearly understandable – italiano and the locals (despite the embarrassingly dreadful foreigners they had to deal with in vast numbers) were absolutely charming and let us struggle through as elegantly as we could without even laughing at us 🙂 The French might have some lessons to learn on the matter of not deliberately humiliating their clientele 😉

Spent our time flitting about the lake on ferries while the sun glistened on the crystal clear waters etc etc as we tried to escape the tourists – anyone thinking of going has only one chance of that – Veranna which was lovely.

Spent lots of $$ on many many coffee stops in many many piazzas and way too many gelatos…it was not a stressful time 😉

Then headed to Tuscany to a villa in the absolute middle of nowhere in Chianti – between Radda and Castellina. It was beautiful as anticipated – many hours spent on windy country mountain roads dodging the oncoming locals (and the Dutch for some reason) who seemed to prefer speeding round blind bends towards you on the wrong side of the road which kept us all awake 😉

Call me a heathen but I found it distinctly harder to stay conscious during the operatic performance of Rigoletto which I was forced to endure – I was out voted (it is rare so I couldn’t kick up too much of a fuss 😉 ) – the only upside for me was that it was in Montecatini Terme which is a very beautiful place to listen to an outdoor opera – even if it is a thoroughly miserable opera 😉 !! Apparently the singers were famous and even I could tell they were quite good – for the parts I remained conscious anyway 😉

Explored some wonderful towns – got lucky with the weather and the timing of arrivals – anywhere big or ultra  well known (Siena – my fav city and San Gimignano – my fav town) were surprisingly peaceful until late afternoon when the coach loads arrived to ruin everyone’s day..sigh….god knows what Tuscany might be like in summer – fall is definitely less manic from all reports 🙂

G and I were desperate to burn off some of the gelato so we managed 3 tower climbs – no mean feat  as we could barely squeeze our butts round some of the windy steep and extremely un-user friendly medieval staircases. From memory – 414 steps (up AND down) in Florence and 200  odd up and down the other towers. The views were spectacular so it was worth the struggle and all the puffing 😉

Only place we absolutely hated was Pisa – no surprise there – the city is really grotty and totally run down – if you want a genuine Chinese plastic Leaning Tower or a tea towel with the Tower then the Duomo Piazza is your place…other than that I wouldn’t bother even to see the tower, quite frankly. It was grim 20 years ago when I was last there but it seems to have plummeted new depths in recent years – which brings me to the tragedy which is now Florence – we managed about 20 minutes before we all looked at each other and decided to make it a very quick trip round the highlights (such of them as we could see from over the heads of the thronging masses and their umbrella wielding guides). Ponte Vecchio was half clothed in a large plastic sheet….the Duomo was swarming with people…luckily few of them walked up the 414 or so steps of Giotto’s Campanile so that was quite peaceful …the coffee shops were staffed by unbelievably rude people and you had to pay 50 cents for a pee in a very exclusive coffee shop…and it still took 20 minutes to get through the line to the bathroom due to the horrible overcrowding which is now the bane of the city – thank goodness I went 20 odd years ago when it was still beautiful and a lot cleaner 😦 Having said that the view from the Campanile was nice and the classic view from Piazzale Michelangelo with the afternoon sun on the Duomo and the city was still fab – from a distance it wasn’t possible to see the graffiti and the dirt and the marauding hordes so that was nice too! 😉

Aside from that, Tuscany was absolutely fab – food was excellent – Italians were very friendly and accommodating (yet more for the french to learn!! 😉 )..and a lovely time was had by all 🙂   G’s highlight (of course) was the small/privately owned cheese place he had been hankering to go to for the last couple of years, which took us hours to find (not signposted and about 6km’s down a dirt track literally in the middle of absolutely nowhere!)… Still, it was worth the hunt for and the lady running the place was very accommodating – G got a chance to try all 14 cheeses while Don quoffed back some of their Toscano Rosso!

Followed all that by a quick trip back to blighty for some more unexpected sunshine and a few days tripping round the Yorkshire Dales (and most of its tea shops 😉 ) having a thoroughly lovely time with my best friend in her convertible TVR – what could be better?? Final stop in Newcastle which remains one of my fav northern cities seeing another best friend and squeezing in the ONLY curry of the entire trip  (thanks Kate!!) – nightmare!! By then it was a very good job we had our “fat jeans” with us as, quite frankly, little of our wardrobe is wearable at the moment….oh well….back to the gym tomorrow 😦

Hope all is well – I’m now off to plan our Christmas sojourn to Costa Rica! 😉

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