Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy, oh my, what an amazing place! It is the hub of the Renaissance, rich with literature and architecture, and has been a top destination for tourists for centuries. I believe it was Charlotte Bartlett in A Room With a View who said, “When one comes to Florence, one must have a view.” Here is the view we had from our hotel window.

We stayed at Hotel Bigallo Florence, a perfect location for exploring the city on foot. The hotel is quiet, comfortable and comes with breakfast.

The most popular attraction in Florence is the Duomo. It is an absolutely amazing cathedral both inside and out. It was designed by Fillippo Brunelleschi and dates back to the 13th century. The combination of pink, white and green marble adorn the outside of the structure.

This famous clock was designed by Paolo Uccello in 1443, and is still a highlight.

There is so much more to see in Florence, including the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, a historic library containing ancient manuscripts and books. It was designed by Michelangelo, and finished by Tribolo, Vasari and others. I was interested in one of the many documents here, this one was written by Leonardo Bruni in the 15th century, and was titled “Oration against a foul mouthed scamp.” I guess some things never change.

Pitti Palace is another interesting place to visit. It was the home of the Medici family beginning in the mid 1500s.

It is a beautiful place to visit with some amazing views of Florence.

Florence is a large city, but easily walkable with so many other beautiful sites to see. The river Arno, cuts through the city and has with many bridges, including the oldest bridge in Florence, Ponte Vecchio.

I haven’t even mentioned the amazing restaurants and food! We had so many delicious meals, including seafood, pasta, pizza, there are too many options to mention.

Florence is a major tourist destination, it has been for centuries, and probably will be for many more years, but don’t let that put you off. It has so much to offer, and you’ll be glad you visited.

San Gimignani, Tuscany, Italy

San Gimignano is a walled village in Tuscany that is famous for its medieval architecture and towers houses, which are stunningly evident in its skyline.

We visited in October, 2017, as part of our five week European holiday. We took the train from Nice to Florence, then rented a car. It took several hours to get to the village, but the drive through the countryside was relaxing and enjoyable. Even though it was late October, the weather was warm and we were greeted by bright, blue skies.

We stayed at Agriturismo II Casolare di Bucciano, a working vineyard located in the quiet countryside not far from the village. This historic farmhouse has beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and the village.

Our quiet, comfortable room had wood beamed ceilings and a view of the vineyard and olive trees. They have a large garden and also make their own olive oil.

Breakfast is included in the price of the room, and dinner is also available for an additional fee. We enjoyed a delicious, Tuscan meal there one evening that included wine and olive oil made on site; and tomatoes and basil from their garden. The food was delicious and filling. We also enjoyed an interesting conversation with other travelers from Holland and China. I highly recommend staying at an agriturismo when visiting Tuscany, it was an enriching experience for us.

The village of San Gimignano is an interesting place to explore. Torre Grosse built in the early 1300s is the tallest tower in the village, and the only tower open to the public. There are 218 stairs to the top, but the views make the climb well worth the effort!

There are many other historical things to see in the village including Spezieria di Santa Fina which is a reconstruction of an ancient pharmacy. The Duomo di San Gimignano is a beautiful place to wander and has lovely frescos. There are many art museums, monuments, plazas, and of course, there are many shops and restaurants as well. The village is easy to walk, and offers many photo opportunities.

Tuscany and its beautiful villages are a popular tourist destination, so I suggest visiting in the off season, when the throngs of tourists have disappeared. As I mentioned earlier, we went in October, and the weather was beautiful, and the crowds had gone.

Have you been to San Gimignano? If so, please leave a comment and let me know about your time there.

A Week in Provence

This week I will continue revisiting the five week European holiday that my husband and I took in October, 2017. A week in Provence with our dear friends was another highlight of our trip. Our time there was absolutely heavenly; the weather was perfect, high 70s and sunny, the pace was slow and relaxing, and the food, bien sur, was fabulous.

One of our favorite meals was at Le 46, a Michelin rated restaurant on a quiet side street in Avignon. We ate at several other restaurants that also had delicious food including, Le Teston in Gordes, Le Terrail in Bonnieix and La Passerelle in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

We stopped for an afternoon aperitif at La Renaissance in Gordes, where the restaurant scenes in the film “A Good Year” were filmed.

Bien sur, there are many things to do and see in Provence besides enjoying the amazing, and affordably priced restaurants. There are castles, cathedrals, Roman ruins, wineries, medieval villages, shops, street markets, antique shops, and so many other things to do and see. The street market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorge is a lively and bustling market to visit with a wide variety of items to purchase, including food, flowers, linens, kitchen items, local art, and so much more.

It’s a beautiful village situated along the Sorgue river and is famous for its antique shops.

Provence is a large area with many cities, town and villages. Do some research before you go to determine what area you would like to focus on visiting. I advise renting a car, since many of the small towns are not accessible by bus or train.

We have always found the people in Provence to be warm, welcoming, helpful, and patient with our limited French. Spending only one week there was not nearly enough time to experience it’s magical beauty, but who knows, maybe one day we’ll live there! J’espere!

From Bath, UK to Robion, France

It has been a nice trip down memory lane to revisit the five week European holiday my husband and I took in the fall of 2017. Many of my blog posts have been about our time there, including our first stop, Loch Ness. We wanted to get acclimated to the time difference before heading to The Backies where we stayed with some friends for several days. From there, we drove to Edinburgh where we met up with some friends who had just arrived from the U.S. Castle Douglas was our next stop, and from there we had a long drive to Bath. See previous blog posts for more information about these places.

After leaving Bath, we drove to Bristol to turn in our rental car. We had an early flight the next day to Nice, so we stayed at a hotel by the airport. We arrived early enough in the day so we could spend a little time seeing the Harbourside and Old Town areas in Bristol. We had a delicious lunch at Paco Tapas, wandered though a street market, and visited an old church.

Bristol is a vibrant city with an interesting history, and spending only an afternoon there wasn’t enough time. If you visit, be sure to allow at least several days to see the highlights.

The next morning we were up bright and early for our 6:00 flight to Nice. There are numerous small airlines in Europe that offer cheap tickets, EasyJet being one of them. We paid less than $100.00 for our two tickets. We have flown with them on several occasions and had good experiences each time.

We arrived in Nice on time, rented a car and drove to Aix-en-Provence for lunch. The iconic, tree-lined boulevard, Cours Mirabeau is a beautiful place to stroll and people watch. There are many restaurants, shops, fountains and monuments to see along the way.

Aix-en-Provence is another town that you will want to spend several days visiting since there is so much to see and do.

Our next stop was to find our Airbnb in Robion. We had a little challenge along the way at a toll booth. The directions said to insert un billet, but we didn’t have un billet so my husband pushed the call button to get some help. I tried to communicate in my limited French, telling my husband (who was in the driver’s seat) to tell the man “je n’ai pas un billet” but it came out as “je n’aime pas un billet.” Rather than “I don’t have a ticket,” it came out as “I don’t like a ticket”, sigh. In the mean time, the cars lining up behind us were honking and people were yelling, when my husband noticed someone approaching us with a credit card in her hand. He quickly put his card into the machine, and voila, the gate opened and we were on our way again. Pas de probleme!

Finding our Airbnb in Robion was a bit of a challenge as well. We ended up parking the car and wandering around the neighborhood’s narrow, twisting streets on foot until we finally found it. Our hosts were very friendly, and invited us in for a chat and a glass of wine. They spoke no English, but my limited French helped, and we were able to communicate without too much difficulty. The apartment came with a friendly cat that seemed to love everyone!

Robion, is situated close to Gordes, Rousillion, Bonnieux and many of the other villages in the area. See my other blog posts for information about these places.

Traveling and adventure go hand in hand, and the experiences we have along the way enrich our lives. Getting stuck at the toll booth was stressful at the time, but it’s one of those memories that we now look back on and laugh. I expect that the assistant is still laughing about it as well, “I don’t like a ticket” rather than “I don’t have a ticket.” Crazy Americans!

More on Bath Spa and Batheaston

Bath Spa and Batheaston are such lovely places to visit that you will not want to leave. I have visited the area many times, and at the end of my holiday, I always wish I could stay longer. I have found a wide variety of hotels, bed and breakfasts, Airbnbs, pubs and restaurants in the area; there is something for everyone! In addition, the bus service that runs between the two towns is quick, convenient and inexpensive.

One of my favorite places to stay is Brooks Guesthouse. This elegant bed and breakfast is close to Royal Victoria Park and the Royal Crescent. It is quiet, comfortable, the breakfast is delicious, and the staff are pleasant and helpful. I have stayed here twice and would stay again in a heartbeat. I don’t have many photos of Brooks, except for this little apple tree that grows along the side of the building.

In Batheaston we stayed at an Airbnb called Coronation Cottage. This delightful cottage has a stone fireplace, wood beamed ceilings, spacious kitchen, a spiral staircase that leads to the upper floors, and a lovely outdoor sitting area. Our host, Nick is terrific, and even hurried over one evening when we had forgotten the key. It is located in a quiet area, and the Gather Cafe, just over the road as they say in the UK, is a good spot for breakfast.

The neighborhood is lovely, and is a nice place to stroll and take photos.

From Coronation Cottage, it is a nice walk to the Bathampton Mill, a pub that has creative and delicious food in a beautiful setting next to the river.

Photo curtesy of theTravelsketcher.

In Bath, we had a delicious lunch at a French restaurant called Raphael. We enjoyed a bottle of chardonnay over a long leisurely lunch. Hey, we were on vacation!

There are old photos on the walls, and I found this one of what the building looked like in 1912.

A few of our other favorite restaurants in Bath are Pintxo de Bath, a great place for tapas, and of course, the Pig and Fiddle, is a favorite place among the locals.

As a side note, you will find many talented buskers in Bath. It seemed like every time we turned a corner, we heard another one.

Sadly, I did’t get her name, but she has a fabulous voice!

Have you visited Bath and Batheaston? If so, please comment below with your favorite places to visit.

Bath Spa, UK

After visiting Castle Douglas, the next stop on our trip, or holiday as they say in the UK, was Bath Spa. Bath is a picturesque city that is situated along the River Avon in the county of Somerset, England. The Roman Baths, built in 60 AD, are a major tourist attraction. There are many other sites to see, including Bath Abbey, the Royal Crescent and the Assembly Rooms. You will find many examples of Georgian architecture in the city. Bath is an easily walkable city, which adds to its appeal.

The Roman Bath were built in approximately 60 AD, during the Roman occupation of Britain. It is a very interesting place to visit, and is filled with history, artifacts and amazing engineering feats. Check the link above for more on the history of the baths. I suggest visiting first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.

You will find costumed characters at the baths.

Bath Abbey was built in the 1600s after several other churches that occupied the site were ruined. One can attend services at the abbey; my husband and I have attended the Friday evening service on several occasions.

The Royal Crescent is another must see attraction. This row of thirty houses are a beautiful example of Georgian architecture.

Royal Victoria Park is a beautiful place to visit, in particular the Botanical Gardens are a pretty place to stroll.

There are many great restaurants in Bath, one of our favorites is The Pig and Fiddle, also referred to as “The Pig”, it is a popular place with the locals.

Creative ideas for planters!

Bath is a lovely place to visit, and it is quite popular and draws large crowds of tourists in the summer months, so I suggest going in the off season. We have visited on several occasions in October, when there are fewer tourists.

Have you been to Bath Spa? If so, please leave a comment with your favorite activities there.

Wildlife Photography

Most professional wildlife photographers use burst mode to capture images of animals in their natural habitat, and using this method results in some amazing photos. Their work benefits and enriches our lives, when we get to see the habits and rituals of various animals. I have managed to take some photos of wildlife over the years, using the old-fashioned method of point and shoot (my camera, never a gun), along with a lot of luck, and being in the right place at the right time. Below are a few of the animal photos I have taken over the years.

One of my favorite photos is one I took of an orca. I sat on the hillside in Lime-Kiln State Park for what felt like hours, getting only images of splashes of water, when I finally managed to get this photo.

I also enjoy watching birds of prey, eagles, hawks, and owls. I took this photo in Meadowdale Park, not far from my home.

This beautiful hawk lives in eastern Washington, near VanArnam Vineyards.

This owl attracted a huge crowd in downtown Seattle one spring day a few years ago.

In the town where I live, we have an abundance of deer. I got on the bus one morning, and the driver said, “look, there’s a herd of deer!” Just twenty feet behind me were five deer, munching on some bushes in the bank parking lot.

The image below was taken in Brookings, OR where the deer roam all over the town.

At American Camp on San Juan Island, the foxes will come right up to you, and not skulk as they often do.

I saw this beautiful swan in Kensington Gardens in London.

This little critter joined us for a picnic at Paulina Lake, near Bend, OR.

This coyote in Death Valley, CA, was quite bold.

Another picnic crasher, this time at San Juan Vineyards.

This little critter was sunning itself on a rock in the Nezu Museum Gardens in Tokyo.

These bison were roaming through Grand Teton National Park.

But one of my favorite animals was this sweet guy.

Our sweet Bogey.

When taking photos of wildlife, be sure to keep a safe distance. They need their space, not human contact. I hope more conservation efforts will be put in place to help animals in need. A world without animals would be a sad place indeed.