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Europe 2013

Sometimes the personal touch is the thing

And sometimes not.

Have you noticed how tourists like to help each other out by taking each other’s pictures? That way everyone can be in the picture. And with easy digital cameras and phones its pretty easy to do without having in depth knowledge of how each and every camera works.
However, as this picture of us taken at San Gimigiano shows, relying on other people can lead to having towers growing out of your head.

We thought we had this one sorted – we got ourselves a monopod to attach the camera to – activate the time and away we go.
Sometimes it works.

And sometimes 

Not so much
Categories
Europe 2013

The category is – towns that start with P

In 2007 we visited Positano, on the Amalfi coast. Awhile back we were watching a television program with Andrea Bocelli and David Foster. And we kept saying that Positano looked different than we remembered. Until, that is, we figured out that the concert was filmed on Portofino, not Positano. That would be different. And now we’ve been to Portofino.

From our apartment in Santa Margharita we could walk along the coastline for several kilometres. Being Italy said walk was along a busy narrow road, and at times the sidewalk was canted out over the water – pretty dramatic!

The beaches along here are mostly stone  but in a few places there were sand beaches. In the summer season you have to rent a chair on the beach – at the sandy beach at P….. It costs €100 or more to do so. Summer ended on October 1, so the beaches were free again. It was a pleasant enough day, but even a €100 discount wasn’t enough to tempt us.
Eventually we were able to hook onto a walking path that took us off the road and up and into Portofino. It is very pretty but much smaller than I expected. A clue to the usual visitors came from the shops – in addition to the usual tourist stuff there were Dior and Hermes. I was expecting Valentino, but no….

There was a cruise ship in the harbour, which kept things lively in town. The cruise people were mostly staying in town and we had the walk up to the lighthouse pretty much to ourselves. At the end of the walk, in addition to the lighthouse there was what may have been the most picturesque cafe ever – perfect spot for a drink with a view!

(That’s the barista, checking his messages high above the town)

Categories
Europe 2013

Rick Steves has a lot to answer for.

Part of our trip to Italy was a visit to the Cinque Terre, the 5 hill towns on the coast south of Genoa. Once upon a time the only way to get to the towns was by boat. Eventually came the train via a series of tunnels, and much later came road linkages. But a large part of the claim to fame of the towns is the  fact that they are linked by walking trails. 

I expect that the towns were a pretty quiet backwater when Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) stumbled upon them back in the day. The towns were probably slowly dying. He began to write about them in his guide books, and soon the tourists began to show up in ever greater numbers. Many guidebooks hardly even mention the region – a page, maybe, as a side trip from Genoa. But Rick’s faithful followers come in droves and the area is over run with tourists. Its quite astonishing.
A further oddity of the area is due to a natural disaster. Two years ago there were torrential rains in the area, causing landslides and flooding in two of the towns. It has taken a huge amount of work, but Monterosso and Vernazza have been able to repair the damage and remain open for business. Both towns have wound up with an oddly Disney like air to them – everything is spiffy and new. The old buildings have been repaired, so they are still old buildings, but the paint is fresh and clean and everything looks just a little too perfect. A trip to the harbour to take pictures of the rustic old fishing fleet reveals a small flotilla of brand new shiny boats. 
Hordes of tourists and a certain unreal charm – that may be true. But it is a beautiful part of the world.

Pretty, huh? I guess we’ll forgive Mr. Steves for sending the whole world to visit.
What’s that? Did we hike the famous paths between the towns? Well….. not so much. Paths are still susceptible to landslides and erosion. The most level path – the Via della amore is currently completely closed and awaiting repair. We arrived during a cycle of tremendous rain storms, which meant all the other paths were closed until the morning we were leaving. Greg made the 90 minute walk up and over from Monterosso to Vernazza. The rest of us enjoyed the vineyard walk above Manorola and left it at that.

Categories
Europe 2013

Dear Italy

Why are you afraid of towel racks? Perhaps you were frightened by one as a child? Do you leave your wet towels on the floor? Are you assuming that Mama will always be by to pick them up?

We ask because we care.
Signed,
Tourists in your lovely land
Categories
Europe 2013

At the Museums

Amsterdam has all kinds of museums – I expect that you could do nothing but museums for day after day. Heck – the Rijksmuseum alone has 8000 artifacts – practically a lifetime of looking just there.

We decided that we needed to be selective so our brains would not over fill and decided on the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum, both of which have recently been extensively renovated and recently re-opened.
The Rijksmuseum is a celebration of all things Dutch. It is full of a wonderful selection of paintings, ceramics, furniture, and sculpture, not to mention the astonishing building itself. One huge draw are the Rembrants, the highlight of which is probably his ‘Nightwatch’. As is so often the case the sheer size of it is surprising. Being familiar with a painting from a book does not prepare you for the impact of the size of the actual painting. The opposite is also true – some of the paintings are surprisingly small.
One thing about a museum of this stature – there is never an off day, a day of peace and quiet. There are always swarms of people clustering about, taking pictures of the pictures. So we didn’t really take any pictures in the museum. Well one. Of a boat. A pretty big boat. On a table.
Perfectly to scale, perfectly detailed.
We did stop in the museum cafe for some fortification:
Classy cafe, with sculptures and everything!
In the afternoon we visited the Van Gogh museum. It is really beautifully done and ranges both widely and deeply through Van Gogh’s life. We learned a lot about him, the artists that he knew and admired, how he worked, the materials he worked with. It was really very well done. And the, of course, there were the paintings. If you really want good pictures of his painting the web is full of really good ones. But here are two that we particularly liked: