Saturday, July 11, 2015

July 2014 - Italy - Elliot and Leah's Arrival

Remembering- a year ago....

 My son Elliot is attending school in Calgary and doesn't come back to Toronto very often.... Christmas and sometimes during the summer...I miss him so much...

And so when he was spending time at the Max-Planck Institute in Germany and decided that he would remain in Europe to travel a bit, I was delighted.  We were going to be in Italy at the same time and would be able to spend some vacation time with him.  Leah, his girlfriend, would meet up with him in Germany and they would travel around before meeting us in Rapello.   I was soooo excited! Especially after our ordeal (previous blog post with the stolen lens) that we had recently gone through.  It really was the first real vacation time with Elliot in many years.

 There is something very exciting about meeting someone special at a train station in a foreign place.  I was like a little kid waiting  for them to arrive and when I saw them get off the train, I was jumping for joy.

We rented a house near Zoagli, a quaint little seaside town. Off we went for a seaside dinner in Zoagli at a little restaurant with a pretty view.

The following days we visited Portofino, an Italian fishing village and vacation resort famous for its picturesque harbour, its celebrities with its million dollar yachts and the highlight of the stay -  The Cinque Terre, the five lands comprised of five villages: Monteroso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola,and Riomaggiore. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages  of The Cinque Terre and cars are not welcome and cannot access the villages from the outside. We hiked, trained and ferried to these charming rugged villages.  We had long dinners on our terrace overlooking the sea.... and life was good.

Ciao for now,
Penny and Camera Guy (Dan)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The train station and the scam...

I need to begin by saying that as a travel professional of a gazillion years... ok maybe I am exaggerating a little bit, but I think I have a good understanding of vacation scams.  I have talked about scams, taught agents about scams and written about them.  We advise our passengers  to "be aware" while travelling in various situations - not to cause fear but to emphasize the importance of being aware and travelling wisely.

I have travelled a fair bit and I can tell you lots of stories - about other people.  But this story is about me and Camera Guy.

We arrived at the  Tiburtina train station.  We were looking forward to the next part of the trip.  Taking the train to Florence, picking up our car rental and driving to our rented house on the Italian Riviera where Elliot, my son and Leah his girlfriend, were going to meet up with us in a few days!
For those of you who have not travelled on European trains, there is usually a very large electronic board displaying the trains and track numbers.  Everyone stands and watches the board until their track number shows - about 10-15 minutes prior to departure.  You then make your way to your track.

Camera Guy (CG)  and I were waiting for the train on the track specified.  I was huddled over our luggage and CG was tossing something in the trash can about 8 feet away.

My back to the track, a guy pulling a suitcase approached me from behind and pointed to the train so I slightly looked away from the bags and asked if this train was going to the airport.  I said I have no idea and turned back to the luggage - 5 seconds. I had not let go of the top of the bags.

CG at the same exact moment was approached from the opposite direction and asked the same question.

I said to Camera Guy that I felt something was wrong and sure enough CG's camera lens had disappeared.  A 3rd guy, at the exact moment when we were both distracted, scooped the $8,000 lens. CG was heading off to the Commonwealth Games to photograph the Canadian team in Scotland which is why we had that lens with us.  We both were unaware that the other had been asked the same question at the same time....
I felt like the lens was surgically removed from right in front of me... these were skilled thieves.  The 400mm sport lens was in a black bag with a little NIKON label. They knew what it was and its value.

It was insured.  I suppose like any robbery,  you feel violated and upset that you could have allowed it to happen.  And so the day went downhill from there. For insurance purposes we had to report it to the police, which caused us to  miss our train.  When we finally arrived in Florence  and made our way to the car rental depot, it was closed.  I forgot to mention it was a 10 minute walk with the luggage.... in the rain.  We thought it was closer.  Did I mention it was closed?  She smiled at me through the glass and said I could try the airport.  I begged and pleaded through the glass. We told her about our unfortunate experience .... to no avail.

We tried to find a taxi, there were none. We stood in the rain on a side street near the Florence train station outside the closed car rental counter. And so we began to walk... trudging through the streets in the rain... to a hotel where the front desk clerk took pity on the drenched travellers in front of her and called a taxi for us. We found out that the airport car rental counter was not actually AT the airport, but at an office NEAR the airport. The taxi driver seemed really upset that we were not going to the airport and informed us that an additional charge would apply. We were not surprised.
We finally got our car and plugged in our GPS that we brought with us. Hmmm, it didn't work.  The depot was out of maps....

At this point, CG knew the general direction so off we went. We just wanted to get there.  It was about a 2 hour drive. And we did find our way to the closest village  of Zoagli. We then referred to the instructions the owner sent us. 

"At the second church you are in the hamlet of San Pietro di Rovereto, which is a frazione of Zoagli.  After the church the road narrows, you will pass a bar and green grocer.  Shortly after the "village" the road makes a sharp turn to the right and a steep descent..."

The road was very narrow, and was completely congested  due to a music festival in the village that evening. Two cars could not pass each other without one reversing into the nearest open driveway. Cars were parked everywhere.

The rain continued and so did the thunder... and the lightning. I cannot even continue writing, it is too crazy to repeat.
We finally found the house and climbed the 1 million steps up the hill to the house... in the dark, or  I should say intermittent light from the lightning.  The one time I have begged for more lightning.

We went to sleep.  No, we didn't.  We couldn't sleep. We wondered aloud if this was worth it.

The next morning we opened the door.  We opened the shutters.
And this is what we saw....

Ciao for now
Penny and Camera Guy

Next ...the arrival of Elliot and Leah!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Photographer's Wife in Rome

July 2014

Twirling in my retro dress and posing for camera guy is always fun!  The Pantheon, which was minutes away from our cute little hotel, was where the photo above was shot.  The Pantheon opened in 126 AD and is the oldest standing building still in use!!  Early  in the morning...verrrry early...he eagerly pushed me out of bed so we would get to the Pantheon without anyone there and of course catch the right light or as Camera Guy calls it "The magic light".    It all sounds quite posing in my colourful dress and all - but in reality it was quite a dark overcast morning.  Everything looked grey.  And just for the record, it wasn't only about my photo - there were several amazing photos from that morning.While Camera Guy did his thing, I wandered about the Piazza della  Rotonda trying out the chairs at the empty tables imagining what it was  like  a long time ago... During the nineteenth century, the piazza was especially noted for its market of bird-sellers, who brought their cages with live parrots, nightingales, owls, and other birds.   I get a little weird around lots of birds so maybe it is a good thing the Piazza wasn't like that any longer.  

We had limited time in Rome, on this trip, so we decided to stay in a hotel as central as possible. This way we could walk easily to many places we wanted to visit.
Hotel Caravita was the perfect place.  With only 8 rooms, this little luxury boutique hotel was 5 minutes from the Pantheon, 10 minutes to the Spanish Steps and 10 minutes to the Trevi Fountain. 

It had incredible service, a perfect location, was spotless, had wifi and included a beautiful breakfast. Who could ask for more?  And a rain shower with lights changing colors every few seconds!  Dancing in the shower hahahaha!  

The hotel had a cute little dining area where treats were  laid out to eat during the day- from fresh fruit to homemade tarts and cakes. The room was quite small but for a night or two, who cares?  I would highly recommend this property!  Especially if you are only staying one or two nights.

As far as meals go, you can make reservations and eat in a decent restaurant for about 40 Euros per person.  We, on the other hand, wanted our evening to be flexible so simply found a little street near the Pantheon with numerous restaurant tables lining the sides of the narrow streets.  Each restaurant offered a modest menu - a two course meal with a bottle of wine for 12 Euros each.  The atmosphere was great and we were happy!

Ciao for now

Penny and Dan (camera guy)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Rome Under Construction - No Coins Allowed....

A visit to iconic sites are a thrill...we have seen them in movies, magazines, the news and there is something wondrous about being there in person!  We do need to keep in mind, however, that many of them are in a constant state of repair and restoration.
Such is the case here in Rome.  The Trevi Fountain is undergoing a major restoration and was almost completely concealed in scaffolding And In fact was drained of water.  It is still a very popular site so they have come up with a very efficient system for those who still want to enjoy this landmark.  A scaffold walkway goes over the work site - one way only - each end guarded by a Roman policeman who makes sure everyone is going the right way and another one in the middle who keeps people from stopping and throwing coins in the dry construction zone below. Maybe the construction workers don't wear hard hats here! Whatever...there are still people sneaking their coins in...maybe they should encourage people to throw in coins so they can hire more people to get the job done faster!

Onward to the Spanish steps which is another construction zone. And the Coliseum...And so on...

If sites like this, whatever city you visit, are important to you, then make sure to check before you book, so you aren't disappointed.
This city is much more than the tourist sites though, Rome is amazing! Everywhere you turn, you see something special.  And don't forget to look up to the rooftops to see all the beautiful details in the architecture.

Ciao for now
Penny and Dan (Camera Guy)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Arrivederci Canada!

Dan and I are enjoying the Premium Lounge at the airport before boarding our Transat flight to Rome. This is the beginning of our vacation to Italy!  We like to get here early and relax, although I must admit my head is spinning because I am listening to a couple  giving advice to  two young men who are going to celebrate a birthday in Italy. Ahhh, the value of a travel agent couldn't be more emphasized here...but I am not working!  Even though I want to jump up and scream  NO! NO! NO! one day is not enough for Tuscany!!!! and the Cinque Terre are not five islands....and the Parthenon is not in Rome...but instead I am trying to convince Dan to tune them out.because this is OUR vacation. From the look on his face, I don't think he's taking my advice.

Dan will be photographing the Canadian Team at the  Commonwealth Games in Glasgow so we decided to take some time in Italy  before he needs to be in Scotland. The Cinque Terre area on the Italian Riviera we decided was the perfect place to go!  We've never been there before and have wanted to explore it for some time as we have heard so many good things about it.

This is what we plan to do....We will spend a little time in Rome before taking the train to Florence. From Florence we will pick up our rental car and head to the little house we rented overlooking Portofino.  Elliot and Leah will join us there and I am over the moon excited about that too!  We haven't seen Elliot since Christmas and I miss him:(.   From there we will explore the Cinque Terre as well as do some day trips in the area.  Elliot and Leah will continue on their journey, Dan and I will head to Florence then Dan will go to the games and I will take the train to Rome then return home to Toronto.

We will keep you posted about our adventures along the way!

Penny and Dan

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Paris...Never Enough Time...

I had been waiting for this day...tea and dessert at Ladurée on the  Champs-Élysées.  This famous street with its cafés and luxury specialty shops is definitely a "must see"  when you visit Paris.

Ladurée is a French luxury bakery and sweets maker house. It is one of the top premier sellers of the double-decker macaron, fifteen thousand of which are sold every day! They are still one of the best known makers of macarons in the world. (Wikipedia)

There is an outdoor patio at this location, but we chose to go inside and enjoy the pretty decor.  It is like being in a pastry fairy tale drenched in antique green and gold.

Most people visit for the macarons, but you need to try the  Passion Raspberry Tart - Sweet pastry filled with smooth passion fruit cream and need to savour each bite.

The line ups were very long, but it is like being in a gallery so you need the time to admire these little dessert jewels.  The packaging is also so beautiful-at an additional cost but hard to resist!  I use the little box now to hold some of my jewellery...

A pastry fantasy!

Galeries LaFayette - There is no store quite like this anywhere...I have to visit every time I am in Paris...just to look up at the beautiful domed ceiling made of stained glass. A visit to the lingerie section is a must but you need to set aside a budget just for that- the selection is massive!!!!!

As beautiful as the sweets look and taste at Ladurée.  Camera Guy and I preferred the macarons at Hermes!  Especially the lemon ones...oh my goodness...
There is a counter at Galleries Lafayette....

Besides the famous buildings and sites to visit, there is a joie de vivre everywhere.  We stopped to listen to a jazz group near Notre Dame.

 Notre Dame Cathedral de Paris ("Our Lady of Paris") needs to be a stop on your walking tour.

The Paris Opera House...

An evening at the Eiffel Tower...

The Pont Alexandre - one of the many beautiful bridges of Paris that crosses the Seine

Yes, Camera Guy and I  had a romantic evening on the Bateaux Parisiens...floating down the Seine on a dinner cruise.

After my baking class I headed over to this very famous shop to purchase my new necessary tools!  
This is where the chefs of Paris shop...I was in heaven! 
Camera Guy waited for me at  the corner pub-I think he was on his fourth pint by the time I got back to him.

We planned to spend our last four days of our vacation in Paris, knowing that it wasn't enough time to fully explore the city.  I suppose we will have to go back....

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

While on vacation I try to take one or two baking classes.
Camera Guy does his thing and I do mine.  Usually I am right behind him admiring the not what you think!  Yes he is the love of my life, but I meant the scenery!

This summer, in Paris, I enrolled in a  Croissant and Baguette class at La Cuisine  Paris.  The school  is located in the Marais, just across from Notre Dame and the classes are actually taught in English.

I was like a schoolgirl...again... and so nervous about being on time and finding the right place, I had Camera Guy escort me the day before to check it out.
There were seven students  in my class and we made Baguettes Parisiennes (miniature versions of the Baguette) and Fougasses - artisanal breads filled with a variety of ingredients such as cheeses, spices, bacon (or lardons as they call it in France). 
We went through the entire process- From pétrissage à la main (kneading and working your bread by hand) to scarification du pain (scarification of bread).

The second class was  Croissants, as well as two other famous morning pastries: Pain au Chocolat and Le Croissant aux Amandes (croissant filled with almond cream). Pain au Chocolat is one of my favourites!  We  had a little Boulangerie going! And of course waiting for the delivery of the goods was my taster...Camera Guy!

He ate a lot of them...I guess they tasted goooooood!

A la prochain....


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