Monday, May 21, 2007

Almost Done (really)

Don't worry, I'm nearing the end of The Vacation Tales.

Our last night in Italy was spent in Como, which was far nicer than the guidebooks would lead you to believe. Unfortunately, it was raining while it was light out, so we weren't able to get very impressive pictures. Then it was onward and upward through the alps into the heart of Switzerland again.
I can't stress enough how amazing Switzerland is. It has it's fair share of headaches (the parking! the prices!), but it more than makes up for them with its beauty. I've never done so much slack-jawed gaping in my life.
It was raining there on our second pass through, so I'm afraid there are no shots of the alps. Fortunately, Lucerne looks amazing regardless of the weather...

I keep hearing stories about how the Swiss are unfriendly, but that was absolutely not our experience. The people there really went out of their way to be helpful while we struggled with the typical tourist confusions. One woman actually paid our parking fee when the machine in the parking garage wouldn't accept our credit card and we didn't have Swiss Francs!

After Lucern we only had two days left before we needed to reach Paris for our flight home, so we pointed northwest and drove.
We spent the night in an unassuming town called Luneville in the coolest place we stayed in on the whole trip. We were just driving through a residential area en route to the center of town in the hope of finding a hotel, and we stumbled upon a house with one of those "Gites de France" signs on the gate. I had read about gites and have always longed to be the sort of savvy traveler who stays in them, but my sorry grasp of the language had always held me back before. My courage was greatly bolstered by the fact that we had recently had a couple challenging evenings trying to find hotels, so I bit the bullet and rang the bell. I'm really glad I did, because this was our room:

It was huge. The bathroom alone was bigger than most of the rooms we had stayed in on the trip, and the price was incredibly reasonable.

We were the first Americans to stay there, and I'm afraid I did little to improve our reputation as a nation of single-language-speakers. The wonderful woman who owned the place didn't speak English at all, but she was really friendly and communicative. My present-tense, no-irregular-verbs, charades-infused style of French was pretty entertaining to all.

The following day was spent in Nancy, which is known for its art nouveau architecture. We were disappointed to find out that their museum that specializes in art nouveau was closed - they're supposed to have a few fully furnished rooms in the style which are rather hard to come by. If you've never seen a full room of nouveau-ities that were designed as a set, it's pretty darn amazing. The ones I've seen have felt like being in the middle of an enchanted Hobbit forest.

We made do with walking around the the town and seeing some of the many nouveau exteriors scattered around.

I would love to go back and spend a couple days there in the future. It was one of those places that's an adventure to walk around because you never know what cool sight is going to spring up around the next corner.
One happy sight was a patisserie which yielded this bounty:

The deliciousness was indescribable, so I won't even try. I wanted to eat them all myself, but Davis made me share.

The following day it was back to the airport for the long trip home.
Check out the crazy tubes they send you through at Charles de Gaulle:

Here's a view from the plane, I think it's in the general area of Greenland:

Well that pretty much wraps up the trip. I do have a batch of photos of many of the creatures we saw, as well as a lot of pictures of relics and reliquaries (something of a fascination of mine), but this post is plenty long as it is. I'll spare you the eyestrain and save those for another time.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Petula Darling is one year old this week!

The birthday almost went unnoticed (much like when I missed the 100 post milestone), but fortunately I caught it in time and kept her from becoming the Samantha Baker of blogs. You all have been very patient, sticking with me despite my erratic posting schedule.

I now return you to our scheduled program: Eurotrip 2007...

After Interlaken Switzerland we dove into a seemingly endless tunnel and popped out on the other side of the alps. It was a whole different world. We drove into Italy and headed for Stresa, which we really liked. According to Lonely Planet this makes us fuddy-duddys who are possibly too old to carry their guidebook around. Shut up Lonely Planet.
Stresa is a fairly small town and there are no big sights other than the lake that it's on (which, believe it or not, I forgot to get pictures of!), but it's charming and it made a good starting point for the Italian leg of our trip.

I call this thing the Crunchberry Tree.

This is an abandoned building in Stresa that Davis and I jokingly referred to as "our little fixer-upper".

After 2 nights there we headed towards Parma, making a stop in Cremona (below) which was very charming.

From Parma we went to one of the towns in Cinque Terre (below) which was far too crowded with tourists for my taste, but still very pretty. It was quite warm, so I even went for a swim. That water was soooo salty! It was seriously floatastic and really fun.

From there we headed to Pisa...

I originally had no desire to go to Pisa ("Why do I need to see a leaning building when I live in one?"), but it was on the way. I'm really glad we did - the sight was far more striking than I would have thought.

From there we went to Florence.
Aaahhh....Florence.... the most overrated of all cities.

Here are the two main sights:

Hordes of tourists and...

Lots of very tasteful items for the tourist throngs to buy.

It's not that Florence is so awful, it's more that it's a huge letdown after all the buildup it gets. If a person had never been to Europe before and their only stop was in Florence, I could see how they'd think it was pretty great. The thing is, there are many many towns that are much prettier with far fewer hassles that I would recommend over Florence. Of course, it's possible that my opinions are colored by the fact that I had to wait over 2 hours to get into the Ufifizi and 3 and a half hours to get into the Accademia. To keep my head from exploding while standing in line, I took to composing poetry about the experience which caused me to elicit evil laughter. I shall refrain from sharing it, since I don't want my readers to leave with a bitter taste.
Fortunately, we discovered the secret to washing away the annoyances of a day lay deep inside a carafe of red wine. We saw the bottoms of many such vessels during our days in Florence.
edited to add: From what I've heard, the tourist industry in Florence has grown exponentially in recent years, and it's likely that we were just too late visiting here. If you visited and enjoyed it, I certainly didn't mean to insult your taste in travel destinations. If anything, you should take it as recognition of your "I did it before everyone else hopped on the bandwagon" coolness.

I do want to say that I was really impressed by the kindness of the people we met in Italy. When I think of how people here in "Vacationland" treat tourists by the time Labor Day rolls around, it gives me a great appreciation for the tolerance shown by the locals in towns where tourist season goes on and on and on.

I shall end this looooong post with a picture of two of the many delectable cappuccinos we had in Italy. Their coffee is soooooo good that I'd dream about it at night if I didn't think it would keep me up.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Home, where my fox is sleeping*

Aaaahhhh....home at last.
The trip was fascinating, fabulous, overwhelming, exasperating, exhausting, amazing, etc... as such trips are wont to be.

Before I did much travelling myself, I imagined going abroad to be akin to entering some sort of dreamscape, where everything glowed in a soft haze of marvelousness, and I'd float around with my feet never quite touching the ground. Imagine my shock when I found out that, amid the marvelousness, it also entailed the occasional evening of going from one hotel to another in a desperate quest to find a bed, arms waving around because I only know 12 words of the local language, all the while wearing some ridiculous outfit comprised of the only cleanish clothes available. Anyway, sorry for the long absence, we're alive and well - things just got a little too hectic for blogging.

Lots of fun was had with lots of food eaten, wine drunk, miles covered and art seen. I have many tales to tell and also many pictures, but in order to get the blog rolling I'll just offer up this one of me in Parma. I'm the least photogenic person ever, so I'm afraid this is the most flattering one taken on the whole trip. It doesn't help that I expanded as the trip went on (seriously - I outgrew one of my skirts). Oh well - it was totally worth it, even though it's a little painful re-adjusting to life without pastries and butter slathered on everything in order to fit into my old clothes.

More pictures will be coming soon!

*I love to speak in song lyrics. I'm also prone to getting the lyrics wrong. My childhood love of Simon and Garfunkel led to many a mondegreen that amuse me even to this day (songs about "silence like a casserole" and "camembert shirt"s never grow old). In my wee-est years I thought the lyric referenced in this post's title (from the song Homeward Bound) referred to Paul's pet fox that I envisioned curled up by the hearth. When I got older and realized that it was unlikely that he kept a pet fox in his New York apartment, I concluded that the "fox" was actually late-sixties terminology for his lady-friend (also envisioned sleeping by the hearth).
I have neither pet fox nor foxy lady at home, but I do have a case of jet-lag-induced silliness.

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