Tuesday, May 31, 2016


When we returned to our ship after our day in Florence, which also included viewing of the freshly cleaned Duomo complex (4 years ago it was covered with scaffolding), 
Kee, Valerie, Chris and Bob are in the lower left corner!

two problems presented:  1)  my new camera...I've always been a faithful Canon fan, and have replaced schlepping around my 35mm with hybrid point and shoots...well, I jumped ship and bought the latest, highly touted Panasonic DMC TS100 (the horror) Lumix with Leica lens and guts, just a few days before our trip.  I knew nothing about it, and dug myself into such a deep hole with the menu/options button, that my pictures were out of focus, etc...luckily I found the reset button several days later, and solved that problem. Unfortunately, I didn't get the quality I wanted on the first few days of the trip.  And I do like the camera.  And 2), the weather. Stormy in the Mediterranean region...we knew this, brought umbrellas, it did rain a little in Florence, but we would rather have cloudy skies than beating down sun.  But, because of rough seas, (the boat rocked, which I thought was fun), our ship couldn't get into the planned Corsican port, so we segued to Sardinia, to the port Olbia.

Lots of granite and mountains, just like home.

There were scads of fishing nets in the harbor...sardines?
Sardinia had some interest to me, as my father was there in WWII, and one of my favorite authors has used the island as a locale in his books.  But, oh dear, I had to pick a new tour, was presented with three choices, no internet or planning...so I chose door #2, a combo tour of The Costa Smeralda, Nuraghes, and a local winery.
Our tour guide, Renata, with a thickly rolled R, yet distinctly eastern European accent (she was Polish, married a Sardinian) told us the story of Costa Smeralda.  It seems the Aga Kahn needed a new playground, so he and his buddies bought all the sheep land around a beautiful bay,

The first of many mega yachts we saw.
Pucci Boutique, one of many in the shopping center.
and made an exclusive resort community.  It was beautiful, and the beginning of the conspicuous consumption we witnessed.  We drove by many discos, restaurants, and the Billionaire's Club.  Can't get in there.  Heard stories of Bruce Willis, Leonardo di Caprio...paparazzi's heaven.  We continued our quest for the best espresso and gelato in Italy, and were not disappointed with Costa Smeralda's offerings.
Typical real estate.
Back on the bus, as we drove into the countryside/mountain region, Renata began a 30 minute drone (for me, her accent was difficult because it was such a mishmash, her voice without inflection, and I wanted to understand what she was saying, because I had never heard of a Nuraghe) on the history of the Nuraghes.  The Nuraghes, some 7-10,000 of them, were constructed approximately 2000 years BC, during the Bronze Age, and their purpose is unknown.  Some believe they were used as a means of communication, because if you set a fire in the most southern one, it will only take 45 minutes to pass a signal to the most northern one, about 1000 miles away. Other people, including Renata, believe that they were used for religious/medicinal purposes. She told us people would take drugs, hallucinogenics, and incubate at the Nuraghes till they were cured, felt better.  Hmm.  We finally arrived, and saw the conical structures.  

Conical shape.
Looking up at the top of the cone.
Nuraghe base.
They were double walled, with a stairway up between the walls.  If you take stones out, the cone will not collapse.  Sophisticated architecture.
Stairway between walls.
We were standing outside a Nuraghe, listening to Renata, when someone from the group says "what's a Nuraghe?"....I looked at Robert like 'what the ?"  and had to put my head down and bite my lip to keep from laughing hysterically.  There was an audible collective gasp...where had this person been for the last hour?
Next stop was a local winery.  The wine was so so, but the grounds were pretty with 700 year old olive trees!

The winery grew Vermentino grapes, used for white wine, which they fermented in concrete casks...we had never seen this before.
Their red wine was from Carignano grapes, again, not a fan.  Back on the bus, we saw some of the Sardinian countryside on our way back to Olbia.

When we got back to the ship, a letter delivered to our cabin told us that our Cinque Terra boat tour had been cancelled, due to weather.  We hadn't been to Cinque Terra, this was a site we were really looking forward to visiting.  Disappointed, I got on the internet - we were connected while in port - to figure out an alternative plan...we would still dock in La Spezia, and a train could take us to Cinque Terra...tomorrow would be an adventure.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Europe 2016...Florence

We decided to take a 10 day cruise to catch up on some ports in the western Mediterranean that we had not visited.  We flew into Rome, 
and transferred to the Hotel San Giorgio in Civitivecchia, Italy.  Quaint, older hotel with comfortable beds and an excellent seafood restaurant.  It was recommended on Trip Advisor.  
Hotel San Giorgio is somewhere in those buildings.

Hotel lobby

View from our room
The next day we boarded our ship, The Nautica, and off we went...first stop, Florence. We traveled with my cousin Bob and his wife Christina, and our friend Kee.  
Happy travelors!
We had all been to Florence before, so I arranged a docent led tour of two gardens through Context Travel, the BEST tour group ever...the docents are art historians, art majors, historians, architects.  They arranged for a van to pick us up at the Livorno port, and transfer us to our first stop, the Pitti Palace/Boboli Gardens. 
Pitti Palace
We did not have enough time to visit the Palace...maybe another trip!  Our docent, Valerie Niemeyer, told us how the palace became a country estate for the Medici family, and the gardens, created in the 16th,17th,18th centuries are known to be the first formal Italian garden.  The Medici family symbol of the turtle, which illustrates their motto of "hurry slowly", or "slow but steady wins the race (The Tortoise and the Hare) was prominent throughout the gardens. 
There are 4 turtles holding up the obelisk.
11 acres in size, it's like a hilly park with an amphitheater, sculptures, fountains, floral gardens, buildings, a 360 view of Florence and surrounding countryside.
Garden is shaped like a triangle.


Entry to amphitheater

Bob standing by one of the many modern sculptures.
Tea House
The garden is symmetrical in design, and branches off into rooms and walkways.

My favorite was the peony and rose garden, which was in full bloom.  How lucky for us, as they were gorgeous.  

Our next stop was the Torrigiani Garden, a private, multi generation family owned, 17 acre walled garden not too far from the Boboli.  Because it is private, an appointment must be made, which our docent Valerie had arranged ahead of time.  We were led through the garden by Vieri Torrigiani, who is restoring the garden and slowly opening it to the public.
When entering, there is a statue of Osiris, holding a tablet of garden rules!

Entrance to garden
Alley with recently discovered plantar on left...it was covered with foliage..
The lower garden was 4 sections, representing the 4 seasons.  The buildings are family homes within the property, the original building being the one straight ahead, which is being converted to a bed and breakfast.  In this building, we saw the grandmother, who ran inside as soon as she saw us!  She'll love the B&B.

There were several of these mounting blocks around the lower garden, to assist horseback riders.  So civil.
In Italian, Torrigiani means tower, so the family built one.
Ceramic pot from the 1700s.

 There were huge trees, including this rare tricolor Beech.

Biggest Ginko I've ever seen.
Massive oak.
The original walls with bricked up entrances.

All sorts of beautiful, different flowers.
White hydrangeas.
These were a Russian flower...I didn't understand the name.
 Sculptures and statues.

A "new" building (probably 100 years old), made to look old.

A modern solar panel equipped greenhouse, used for events.
One of the previous family members, several hundred years ago, built a tomb for himself, but never used it.  We were lucky enough to enter.

Oculus with original paint.
Trump l'oeil decoration.
A secret passageway.

After the tour we were invited into Vieri's home, where we had wine and refreshments.   Here I am, trying not to embarrass myself while talking with this kind, generous nobleman.

Our last stop of the day Hosteria da Ganino, for Bistecca Florentina.  Our guide chose the restaurant, we crossed the Ponte Vecchio, and walked into the medieval area of Florence.  We ordered steak for 4, and the waitress brought out a 2 inch slab of T-bone which fed all six of us, plus enough for Valerie to take home.  Our friend Kee ordered a Tuscan dish called Black Cabbage and Lard, which was so good...the lard was cut from pork loin fat, and it was delicious.  I'm glad she was adventurous!
Our perfectly cooked bistecca!

Then back to the ship....five tired travelers.