Thursday, June 26, 2008

Farewell Italy, Hello Paris!!

The Last day in Paradise!! Leaving Tuscany

Up and an easy start. We didn't want to leave until midday so ther

e was time to pack and clean. To Florence, where we dropped the car, “left” the luggage and just wandered around one of our favourite places. It was a bit hot so we didn't do too much - went through the Duomo and ate our packed food in Place della Signoria before heading to Stazione for dinner, decamped to Campo di Monte (Florence's second railway station) where we waited for our (late) overnight train to France. While it was somewhat cramped and crowded we all managed some sleep in our “couchettes” before arriving in Paris a

round 10.30.

Paris – in the Springtime (well almost!! - early summer!)

Our little flat in Rue Jean Beausire (just off Bastille) is just fine. It is light a

nd airy and is just right for the four of us.After showers and a quick lunch we headed off for a taste of this new delight. Together around 8 for dinner at a nearby restaurant with Genevieve (MaryAnn's schoolchum and best friend who lives in Paris) and Kate (likewise MaryAnn's longtime friend and cousin of Gen – from Oz but here for the same wedding as MaryAnn).

It was a great night to be out. Almost like NYE!! It was a Festival of Music which encourages musicians of all genres to perform for free – so every back alley, archway and bridge resonated to rock, hip-hop, classical, bagpipes, flugelhorn, organ, accordian, folk etc. it was quite amazing. We wandered for ages through huge friendly crowds – there was still light in the sky at 11.15 p.m. A terrific way to begin!!

The next day we were up surprisingly early and off to the markets at Richard Lenoir to play at being Pariesiens stocking up for the next few days. It is a great market with a wide variety of food really well patronised. In the afternoon we joined a small walking tour around Pigalle with an entertaining English gent who has lived here for forty years – the tour focused on Piaf, Jane Avril et les autres femmes de l'etage. It was good fun and a different way to go!

Paris is for wandering, looking and enjoying and that is what we have done in various combinations. Sung Mass at Notre Dame; Musee Carnevalet; an evening chamber concert n Sainte Chapelle; Latin Quarter; Marais; lots of river views and bridges; coffee and crowd watching and more to come!!!

Mick achieved a lifelong ambition by riding his Velib (commuter bicyclette) across the Place de la Concorde, a full lap of the Champs Elysees (including around the Arc) and along the river. The locals were confused as to whether he was Stuey, Robbie or Greg Norman(he wore his Akubra!) and all that was missing was the maillot jaune!!! (For authenticity sake it is acknowledged that this video was actually shot at Bastille - he really did the Champs!!))

MaryAnn left us today (Wednesday) for the family wedding in the South but the three musketeers are carrying on!!!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Second Week in Radda in Tuscany

Sunday June 15th

Glorious Local Delights

Lovely sunny day so we strolled up to Radda to enjoy the Sunday quieter mood of our village. There was a more relaxed feel and we wandered about phoned, interneted and shopped. Drove along small local road to Volpaia – small hamlet about 4 km away – decided on the spur of the moment to have lunch in a warm sunny restaurant with magic views (licensed since 1707!!). MaryAnn, our tenacious native-speaker, cleverly negotiated a cliff-top table with exquisite views and we settled in!! Mick had wild boar (very appropriate thought the others) and the desserts were to die for! Checked out the Church and village before enjoying a forest drive and magnificient views back over our lodgings. Siesta around 4.30, light tea and early bed ready for the next two days!!

Mon June 16 – Tues june 17th


Up early and off via A1,A11,A12 & A15 to La Spezia where we eventually found some free parking, bought tickets and caught the 12 o'clock train. Jumped off at Vernassa (on Ben and Maddy's recommendation – thanks guys, a great call!!) where, after negotiating some “zimmer pimps” MaryAnn and Elaine settled on two lovely rooms (close to each other and one with access to a tiny private garden with sea views) high up on the hillside! Having dumped our gear we headed off for Monterosso. The next two hours was a rather strenuous climb and descent with astounding views – certainly well worth the effort and leading us oldies to be a little smug about making it!! The regulation beer and sniff around (rather spooky church!)in Monterosso before train back to Vernassa and REAL SHOWERS!!! (the only downside to our Chianti digs). Drinks in our secret garden; dinner al fresco by the harbour – feeling like locals now those pesky tourists had scuttled off; walked around the town (with several glimpses of the full moon on the water!) and home!!!

Breakfast at O'Shannassy's before packing and walking to Corniglia – still pretty difficult but well worth it. The weather was overcast (thankfully! we have no illusions about us all making these walks in really hot weather) but fine and the sun came out around 11. Pit and phone stop at Corniglia and joyful news that the track to Manarola had just opened after a week of being closed! Off we went (down all those stairs!) brief stop in Manarola and on to Riomaggiore for late lunch – there were lots more people at this end and we know that we didn't do the latter towns justice but still there was a sense of accomplishment in having “done” the whole nine km!

Left La Spezia around 4.30; home around 7.30 to Elaine's pasta and bed!!!!! A great experience!!

Wed June 18th / Thurs June 19th

“Come back to the place you began and know it for the first time” T.S. Eliot

The simplest things are just the best! Our last two full days here were blessed with perfect weather – gloriously sunny and warm with slightly cooler evenings – and we expected just to experience more of the same. Up very late on Wed.; wandered up to Radda for a look, coffe and phoning; back down the hill with groceries for washing, lunch and siesta; drinks around six; lingering meal; an even better sunset; great company; fireflies!!! in the dark – they looked like fairy lights at one stage!

Thurs up a little earlier. Off to Castellini (the next town which we had driven straight through about ten times). Saw and went into Etruscan tombs (c. 400 B.C.) open to the public sort of in the middle of a park. Wandered through yet another delightful town and found excellent local museum which had a fine presentation of finds (some back to 1000 B.C.) and the history of “our” area. Bonus was a terrifically restored castle with tower and top views. A great way to finish our time here. Home for the usual; siesta, walk to the village; drinks; lingering meal (Mick's risotto – much nicer with only two stock cubes this time!!); music; wonderful sunset – and, for the first time, chocolate!!!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Wed to Saturday Week One in Radda

Well we are slowing down a little!! Wednesday was Siena. Another beautiful place with the Duomo reminiscient of Florence and the rather special Campo. The weather was pretty good and it is only about an hour from here (although we took another half an hour to find a park!!). The up and down hills make Siena different and we were all fascinated by St. Catherine's head and digit!(p.s “Not me!” says Elaine) On the way back we visited Castel D'Albola – a local winery (there are dozens!) Fortunately or unfortunately, we decided that we really aren't able to tell a lot of difference between the good ones and the cheapies (peasants that we are) so we renewed our pledge not to spend more than 4 euro on a bottle! Home for another cooler but still lovely night.

Thurs was really quiet – weather wet, us tired! Didn't get to Radda till 11- shopped for fruit and Mick spent time on the internet. Down the hill again, snooze, dinner, quiet night ... Lovely!!

Friday was Florence, our favourite place!! Again about an hour away. We wandered at our leisure just feeling good to be back in this lovely place with its colour and magic and the Duomo appearing almost magically at so many corners – especially in the summer sun!! There was actually a storm around one so we headed into the Pitti Palace with all those great paintings – any single room on show in Canberra would have us all on the Hume! After a late lunch sitting in the sun we headed for the Brancacci Chapel with those frescoes. Then wandered slowly back across the Arno (with gelati) and back up the rise. After a beer and some shopping we headed off around 7.15 and just made the Alimentaria in Radda. MaryAnn cooked a simple yet lovely pasta meal for the tired but happy bunnies, who quickly fell into a deep sleep!

Saturday had lots planned but the wearies took over! We were up sluggishly and with local internet on MaryAnn and Brendan Skyped Liam and the girls. Mick checked out accomodation for London and we simply went shopping for groceries at Poggibonsi (30 mins away). We were going out for dinner but the BBQ beckoned and we just stayed home – the weather was glorious – MaryAnn forced us to play “Spicks and Specs” and Charades (Mick was outstanding, of course – wails of protest from the girls with maryAnn saying that Mick was *****!!) before we retired.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Cup of Tea, a Becks and a Good Lie Down!!

I tell you Heaven is going to be pretty good!!

We have become Italian Tuscans up early, walk to town do the shopping and have a chat and coffee, come home around one, have a beer and a wine and a bit of lunch (and a swim for MaryAnn) have a snooze for a couple of hours then head back out again around 5!! It has been a beautiful sunny morning and to get to town we climb up this narrow, overgrown farm track which emerges into this medieval (what isn't?) village. We have decided that our own village of Radda in Chianti is pretty good by Tuscan standards. It isn't one of the “must see” tourist spots such as Volterra (see below) but it is a real gem with all the attractions without the crowds.

From five onwards we had the most exceptional evening. BBQ and drinks, meal on the patio as the evening quietly fell. Scott's little computer played Kenneth McKellar singing classics. We were still there at eleven laughing and talking and reflecting on the gift that is life. Heaven will be great if earth can be this good!

We visited Volterra (a classic tourist destination) on Monday. Beautiful walled village, delightful church, the best Roman ampitheatre in Italy, great coffee, very colourful. The drive was around 90 minutes (these roads are not built for speed unless you are an Italian on a motoguzzi). Glorious weather again although a storm rolled in late. We wandered home around seven via another scenic track and fell asleep quickly after a few reds.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

From Rome via Cortona to Radda

Saturday was travel, in our black BMW we hurtled along the A1 with Brendan Schumacher grinning as he cracked the imperial ton with MaryAnne screaming “Slow down” from the back seat, Elaine dropping bon mots of advice (also from the back seat) and Mick hunched in concentration over maps, strip charts and sextants in th co-pilots seat. The highlight was “doing” all four leaves of the clover-leaf as we joined the ring road – it worked and when we got back to the start we knew exactly what to do!

Afer an hour we left the autostrada and headed for Cortona, a delightful hill town of Etruscan origin, for lunch. Wonderful to be able to wander about (we ate our own lunch in an ancient courtyard) and climbed to the village church where we saw yet another piece of the true cross! (Our fourth for the day as we began with Mass at Santa Croce in Rome).

Then followed a delightful cross-country drive (Mick missed a turn!) through amazing scenery to our domicile - il Paggino at Radda in Chianti. Radda is a hilltop (of course) medieval village and il Paggino is a converted farmhouse half a kilometre away, We have a two bedroom apartment with kitchen and outside lounges etc. Most appropriate!

On Sunday your faithful scribe was laid low with a bad migrane (the result of single-handedly guiding the party through the perils of the journey, some local red and a restless night). Elaine spent the Sunday alternating between nursing the sick and playing Mary Moody reclining on the chaise lounge in the sun, reading. Brendan and MaryAnn explored Radda by climbing a steep and ovegrown track from il Paggino. They found another delightful place with great coffee. They returned with wildflowers for the sick!

We all rested later in the magical day with drinks (not Mick!) pasta for dinner and bed around 10!

Bellasimo multo!!

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Vatican and Robert Mugabe!!

Another lovely day! A bit of a later start and we headed for the Vatican as Liz had told us that the crowds were OK. She was right and we walked straight in. It seemed to be better than ever with more galleries open and a better arrangement for the crowds. The ability to see the gardens more closely and to peruse some of the modern art was great. The Sistine and the Raphael Rooms were wonderful if a little distracting with the crowds.

Mick was disappointed that no one commented on his WYD 08 shirt although he appreciated the Plenary Indulgence gained for wearing it into St. Peter's. MaryAnn took us into the crypt and there among the graves we came face to face with Robert Mugabe!! (He is in town for some HOG meeting)) How bizarre' meeting a murderer at the burial place of the Popes – we were too flabbergasted to take a photo even if the security would have allowed it!

A wonderful lazy walk (fuelled by the regulation beer stop) across the Tiber to Piazza Nuova and on to the Pantheon where a Nashville Uni choir put on an impromptu acapella concert – truly amazing! Surprisingly it seemed more spiritual than any of the other churches!

Home to eat and early bed (10.30!!) to do it all again tomorrow.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Couple of Great Days -and a luggage crisis!!

ROME!! Ah Roma!


Being here at this time of the year is like having two days in one. Out early/walk for ages/eat lunch .. come home around 2 and Sleep!! ... Out again about 6/ walk for ages/eat, drink, laugh, drink, wander/ stagger home around 12/ Sleep!!! Get up and do it again!

The only downside has been that MaryAnn and Brendan's luggage was lost in London (serves them right for going frequent flyer). This could have been a minor inconvenience but they we really strung along and it was never sure if the luggage would even come – lots of promises “in two hours”. It all sounds minor now that both cases have arrived but it was a long an anxious time for them,

The weather has been great – short sleeves, shorts- eating outside – hats but not too hot. Baby bear's porridge in fact! We have a great B/B with a very hospitable young host who was of great help during the great luggage crisis. We are near Sante Croce (for the purists) down the Colosseo end. Great neighbourhood easy shopping for essentials such as gelato and panini.

We have walked forever. Highlights being San Clemente, the Pantheon by moonlight, the Forum ditto, view across Rome from hill near Villa Borghese towards sunset. Other memories: standing shoulder to shoulder with the locals drinking our coffee – Mick is glad the Italian kids taught him how to strut and swagger but somehow the beer gut, shorts and Akubra spoil the look – the waiter made cowboy gestures and noises!! A lovely meal, with to much beer and wine each evening – al fresco, of course. Many churches, cherubs and ciaos.

Thursday is dawning, must away so much to do.

Paris Apartment -