Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category
Although it was many months ago, my memories of Tuscany are as vivid as its pristine and timeless landscape. Rich in rolling green hills, with the glorious absence of billboards and suburban noise, we fell into Italian love as this destination opened its arms and drew us in. On a tip from some experienced traveling friends, we booked an agriturismo (Italian for farmhouse) just outside of San Gimignano, a beloved medieval walled town which dates back to the 10th century.
Our accomodations: Agriturismo Vaianino was everything you’d want a Tuscan farmhouse to be: secluded, rustic, breathtaking views, and generous hosts.
Even better, they are now completely generating their own electricity via solar panels, and their farm of wheat, cereals, vegetables and olive oil is certified organic (LOVE!).
Many days we clipped fresh sage and rosemary from the grounds, making breakfast potatoes in our accommodating kitchen and planning out our day.
We spent hours just wandering the estate, laying by the pool, cooking fresh local food, and enjoying the Tuscan sunset. John and I took every opportunity to photograph the landscape and each other:
…that’s not all we did…
Tuscany is all about exploring the local towns and visiting wineries. Booking a wine tour is an excellent way to get around to multiple vineyards, especially because many wineries do not accept spontaneous arrivals of guests, however I will share one that does, below. In the Piazza Duomo (main square) of San Gimignano you’ll find a Tourist office that books wine tours and excursions. We took the Brunello wine tour, taking us to the Montalcino region and it was fantastic.
Our favorite on the tour was the Abbadia Ardenga winery, whose origins date back many centuries. We were greeted by host and owner, Marco, a delightfully good-humored man with a penchant for flirting with the ladies. He and his wife provided a personal and intimate wine tasting after touring us through their museum and cellar.
I promised to tell you about a little gem we found…
…not far from San Gimignano – a family run winery and agriturismo called Casa alle Vache. We made no appointment, and found our way through the beautiful golden countryside to their estate, where we were kindly welcomed by Francesco, the nephew of one of the owners. Besides wine, we discussed how “big” everything is in America, and “how you don’t even have to get OUT of your car to eat something!” After a great tasting and engaging conversation, we bought two cases and were back on our way. There was plenty more to do and see, and safe to say it was all: driving, eating, drinking, cooking.
A few Tuscan tips…
1. Rent a car, and opt for the included GPS. I can tell we were saved by that thing! iPad and iPhone, or something similar, will be spotty, slow and just not suitable. Trust me!
2. Maps and Suggestions! Don’t be afraid to ask for maps and suggestions. You’ll want to know where the locals go, and you’ll want to know where they recommend. And paper maps of the region and wineries will really help you combined with the GPS.
3. Do your research! Trip Advisor had some great tips for us, and I personally called wineries and visited their websites to find out when they organized tastings, or if they accepted drop-ins. We brought a laptop (an iPad would work) and definitely made use of our villa’s wi-fi. Also, every town has “market day”, where vendors take to the streets – make sure you find out when and where, so you can enjoy the festivities!
4. Electric appliances – Ladies, a power converter and your hair straightening iron will probably not work. The draw on that super-hot iron is likely going to overload, smoke and melt. (yep! I was so bummed – didn’t do my hair the whole trip!) Small appliances like laptops and mobile phones will be great for your EU power converters. If you NEED your iron (like I do) – may be best to buy one that is universal or you know will work in your EU country. By the way, the converter we brought was the Brookstone.
And finally, Siena.
Just wanted to share this shot…you should make it to Siena while you are in Tuscany, of course!
Back in May, John and I traveled to Europe for an incredible 10 days of sightseeing, riding trains, driving tiny cars, wining and dining our way through two countries, and…shooting photos of everything in sight. Originally we planned to head straight for Tuscany…but after much fussing with flight times and dates, it just made perfect sense to extend what was supposed to be just a layover at Charles de Gualle, into a whirlwind weekend stay in Paris. We selected a hotel directly across from the Louvre and just a brisk walk to Jardin des Tuileries, knowing that with such a quick stay, we were better off in a more “touristy” and central area.
We arrived early in the morning, and while we waited for the hotel staff to ready our room, we naturally headed straight to a sidewalk cafe for breakfast and coffee, followed by a photo-taking adventure of the First Arrondissement, the geographical “center” of Paris.
There were just a couple of things we had on our agenda for Saturday and Sunday…I love to play things by ear and a little more spontaneously, John will systematically map out all possibilities and lock them into his iPhone for on-the-spot reference and guidance. We travel quite well together, and this balance of styles usually creates a rewarding, sometimes pleasantly surprising experience. The point, for us, is to always remain open, but still have some sort of plan. What definitely emerged for us as priorities were food, wine, architecture and of course, photography.
I’ll share just a couple of highlights and thoughts, then we’ll get to the real point of this post…my Paris photo gallery (skip down to gallery if the anticipation is too much). We loved how every cafe’s storefront is lined with chairs and tables facing the sidewalk and street for people-watching – this is a city set up perfectly for one of my favorite pastimes. Throughout the weekend, I paused and appreciated so many colorful and ornate doors and door knobs…really…I mentioned to John I could create an entire art exhibit around just this theme.
The hotel room? Oh yes, very small. But this you must accept with the territory. Besides, who’s spending time in their hotel room? It’s Paris! After a long day of walking preceded by the coach-cramped transcontinental flight (no sleep in between), I did manage to squeeze in some yoga and downward dogs of the “oh my God I SO need some yoga” variety. There was just enough space in the entryway between the bathroom and bed. But as you can see here…I absolutely had to get down with some balancing pose attempts in the Tuileries. This Dancer may or may not have been after some champagne (grin)…we had lots to fit in.
On our self-designed sightseeing and architectural tour, we hit Montmarte to see Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica. There was a lot of weekend leisurely activity and just a general happy sensation in the cool spring air. An impromptu jazz band was playing in the adjacent park, while kids ran around just being kids. We happened upon some street performers singing and belting it out for whoever would stop to listen. On the large sloping grassy hill and steps leading up to the entrance of the cathedral, people of all kinds gathered in couples and groups to just enjoy the afternoon. Actually, looking back, it seemed there was a mix of tourists but there was also a very local feel about the place, like all the neighborhood folks had come outside to socialize and play with the rest of us.
I have to say I thought Notre Dame de Paris, widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, was absolutely stunningly beautiful. On a sunny day, with dreamy blue skies and wispy clouds providing the perfect backdrop, the sheer grandiosity and magnitude of its architecture was shining bright. We unleashed our Canon and Nikon DSLR’s with an exuberant flurry, changing filters and lenses, and setting up for some HDR photos as well.
But don’t think this was all about daytime fun and no nightlife. For those of you that know us, you can nod your heads approvingly because although we only had one night to “party”, we found
out where the good music and young hipsters were. (Thanks to John’s research). It didn’t take long before we were mid-center dancefloor at Rex, shakin’ our you know whats. How were we feeling? Well, just look at this last and final shot from the iPhone taken exactly a half-second before it died. We found out later we were the victims of a surprise Parisian photo bomb. (Awesome!)
Finally, I wanted to share one fine dining destination that was spectacular. A little place called Le Coupe Chou, an experience of a restaurant that has been restored to a 17th century-esque interior, located off a discrete side street in the Latin Quarter, 5th Arrrondissement. I don’t have a photo…however this table , while not exactly where we sat, looks just like our spot by the entrance. The restaurant opened in 1962, and the building itself has a rich history dating back centuries. We highly advise you to check this one out!
I’m so excited to share my Paris photos with you. Some of the subjects will definitely make it into future art on canvas works. I’d also love to know: Do you think it’s worth it to spend just TWO DAYS of your trip canvasing a big international city, or would you rather spend that time in one destination? Did you ever have “the best trip ever” because you spontaneously dropped in on a unplanned destination? Watch the slideshow, think about it, then let me know what you think!