Here’s a few photos from a lovely day spent lounging beside the pool at Rome’s Hilton Hotel. The weather was nice – warm but not too hot – and the various pools were very inviting. Lunch was delicious, and as you can see here, the cocktails were massive.
A brilliant way to spend the day with some friends (and to wish Lorenzo a happy birthday too!)
Okay, so bear with me here. We’re getting close to the end of this little tour of Italy and France.
Driving on from the coast, we wound our way inland into Tuscany to the fabulous hill city of Siena, which sits among rolling hills of olive trees and vineyards. Details and history of Siena can be found here, while this site has a number of 360 degree views. After a number of days in the car it was a nice change to camp in a hotel onsite and just walk around.
Siena itself is really cool. It is a major tourist magnet, but interestingly the masses tend to congregate in just a few streets and once you head off down a lesser used street you’ve got the town just about to yourself. Unfortunately it’s all hills, so I got plenty of exercise shifting Sheridan and Mitchell around. But that didn’t matter. It was nice to just wander about and explore.
Sheridan had found a website with info about disability access in Siena, so forearmed we were able to bypass the huge queue outside Siena’s stunning cathedral and ducked in through a side entrance.
The Siena Palio
We discovered once we were there that a few days later the Palio of Siena would be run. This is an annual bareback horserace around the massive central square, with most of the town’s traditional clans (contrada) competing against each other. Although we weren’t there for the actual race (there’s no way we could have negotiated the massive crowds), in the days preceding there are huge parades of supporters for each contrada, wandering the streets of Siena and singing their traditional anthems. It was really cool to be sitting in a streetside cafe as a mob of yellow-clad Chiocciola (“snail”) supporters marched past signing in sort-of harmony.
After our week in Normandy we jumped in the Alfa rocket and zipped down to Italy. First stop was an overnighter in Dijon, then on to Geneva for a few days.
Dijon was really nice, and of course we bought some mustard from the famous Maille boutique (including the delicious cassis mustard). Similarly, the drive through the forests from Dijon to Geneva was quite beautiful, especially when our GPS tried to send us off into Deliverance country. It’s quite staggering when you wind up and over the peak of the mountain range separating France and Switzerland, and there way below you is Lake Geneva and dramatic mountain ranges beyond. Just beautiful.
Geneva itself we actually found quite frustrating. I recall Jeremy Clarkson once referring to “the car-hating Swiss”, and it’s immediately apparent why. Geneva is full of wonderful wide boulevards, but most of their width is set aside for trams and buses. And there’s no on-street parking. And none of the traffic lights are synced. It’s great that the city is focused on public transport, but when you’re in a car and trying to get cross-town it’s totally crap. We got stuck in a horrible traffic jam that seemed to be simply caused by there being one lane of traffic each way and uncooperative traffic lights.
We did however enjoy a nice day’s drive up along Lake Geneva to Lausanne, where we had a particularly delicious lunch. Perch fillets cooked with grapes and walnuts for me, tender lamb steaks for Sheridan, and grilled tuna for Mitchell. Yummo.
Onwards from Geneva we motored up to and through the amazing Mont Blanc tunnel. As soon as we were out the other side and into Italy we pulled over at the first highway truckstop for lunch.
Now don’t get me wrong – French food is great and we enjoyed some delicious tucker. But there’s only so much cheese, ham and eggs you can eat before becoming completely bunged up. Italian nosh on the other hand is (for us) everyday food.
So it was a real pleasure to pull into the truckstop and have fresh made tortellini cooked for us right there and served up alongside a fabulously smooth and rich cappuccino. Ooooooh baby.
Anyway, to cut a long blog short, next stop was Genova, then on to Siena via the Italian riviera and the Cinque Terre. Wow this is a beautiful coastline. Windy roads, mountains plunging down to azure waters, little fishing villages nestled in secluded bays. Of course they were all jam packed with tourists, which was kind of a drag, but it is August afterall.
The towns of the Cinque Terre proved to be almost impossible to visit. We tortuously wound our way down to Vernazza, the most northerly of the five towns, but parking proved impossible. So we then made our way to Manarola. Here we got a park near to the town (bless you disabled parking permit), but after about a hundred metres of steep downhill descent we worked out that I would never be able to get Sheridan’s chair back up the hill to the car. So she sat in the car while Mitchie and I headed downhill. Lunch for Mitchie and me was pasta (of course). Lunch for Sheridan was some corn chips, maltesers and grapes. Bummer, eh?
Of course if we’d researched things a bit more we would have seen that there’s a train connecting Genova and La Spezia that goes to the towns, avoiding all the windy roads, steep hills and impossible parking. The train trip is almost completely in tunnels though so it wouldn’t have been as scenic either.
Towards the end of our France sojourn we motored over to Brittany to check out the famous Mont St. Michel. Seen from afar it looks quite spectacular, looming up from an otherwise completely flat plain. As you get closer, you realise just how big and awe-inspiring this place is.
Which explains the thousands and thousands of cars all converging on the same spot.
Our first attempt to visit saw us arriving at midday, along with everyone else in north-west France. So we detoured to Saint Malo only to discover that this was where everyone else not at Mont St Michel had already congregated. We managed to find a nice creperie and enjoyed delicious savoury galettes, Normandy cider and then I had a fab chocolate crepe flambeed in Grand Marnier. Perfect!
Anyway, we finally made it back to Mont St Michel later in the afternoon, and as you can see here, it was absolutely bucketing down. Mega rain. Biblical rain. Which is kind of appropriate given we were visiting an abbey that had withstood every English invasion attempt.
Although the rain and time of day had seen a thinning of the number of visitors, the cramped main street meant that it was still chock a block. God knows how tight it was at midday!
Unfortunately the Mont is not easily negotiable for those with limited mobility, so Sheridan sat it out in the car. Which was a real bugger given we’d driven for several hours to get there. Nonetheless, at least she was spared the several thousand steps (or so it felt) up to the Abbey proper.
Okay, back at home now and able to edit then post some photos of our holidays. We had a great time in France, Switzerland (briefly) and Italy. Over the next few days I’m going to post some photos from our journeys.
This lot is from our week in France. The gite we stayed in was lovely and quite old. Unfortunately it wasn’t as close as we would have liked to many of the sites we wanted to visit. Nonetheless, we had a great time catching up with the Zwiers and just relaxing with some much needed greenery around us!
A quick update post from an internet cafe machine in sunny Genova.
We’re having a great time thus far. Scored a great bargain on the hire car when we arrived in Paris – was originally going to be A$2000 for a passat wagon one way to Rome, but the car hire place found an Italian car (Alfa 159 diesel wagon) which needed to be returned to their Rome office, so we got it for $800! That’s just over $40 per day for an excellent set of wheels.
Anyway, we’ve had a nice time in Chartres, then at an old villa (a gite actually) in Normandy, where we got to spend some time with the Zwiers. Mitchie loved running around in the garden playing with Jonathan and Andrew.
Since then we’ve been making our way south, stopping in Dijon, then Geneva, and now Genova. Tomorrow we’re driving on to Siena and will spend some time exploring around Pisa, San Miniato etc. Should be cool. After a week of omlettes and crepes full of cheese and ham (about all you can get in Normandy) it is sooooooo good to eat some good pasta!
I’ve got lots of pics but can’t upload them on this computer. Will get them online when we get to Rome in a few days.
We’re heading off to Europe for a few weeks of fun. First stop is a week at a gite in Normandy, followed by a leisurely drive down to Rome via the Alps and the Cinque Terre. Can’t wait to frollick in the forests, eat great pasta and gelato, and generally enjoy a bit of sanity for a few weeks.
As always, Mitchie’s very excited about going on a plane. It’s a shame kids aren’t allowed in the cockpit any more, as I fondly remember trips up to the pointy end when I was a kid and thinking that it all looked pretty easy.
Posts on the website might be a bit less frequent over the next couple of weeks, and we won’t do much monitoring of emails either. Blissful isolation! Just us and everyone else enjoying their summer holidays in Europe!
After four months back in Beirut we figured it was about time we got away from it all. So we left the sea-side sunny Mediterranean city of Beirut and headed for the sea-side sunny Mediterranean city of Limassol in Cyprus for a four day long weekend.
Yet while Cyprus is only 20 minutes flight from Lebanon, it has a completely different feel and pace. The roads are excellent, the traffic is sensible, shops sell British products (sausages!!!) and it has a much more European feel – which is just as you’d expect from an EU member – demonstrated by the huge number of British retiree expats, cashed-up Russian tourists and Eastern European guest workers.
We stayed at the Mediterranean Hotel in Limassol, which was really nice and recently renovated. As you can see from the pictures, it has a bunch of nice pools and a stretch of beach frontage. Though I’d have to say that all the photos we’d seen of Cyprus beaches have obviously been doctored. In reality the beaches are pretty ordinary, especially if you’re used to the golden white Australian beaches as we are.
Not that we were swimming in the Med, as it was still way too chilly. The hotel pool was cold enough!
Of course we haven’t seen enough Greek and Roman ruins here in Lebanon, so we did a little bit of exploring around Pafos with Mitchell “Indiana Jones” Fraser leading the way through the Tombs of the Kings.
For the most part we did some shopping (we bought 10kg of English pork sausages and brought them back frozen in an esky – thank you Mediterranean Hotel for the use of your deep freeze), ate out a lot, and lounged by the pool while trying not to marvel at the pasty lumpy Russians and Ukrainians wearing distressingly little in the way of swimwear.
Oh, and Mitchell obviously had a great time. He was so excited about the flights, and about having ready access to a beach and a pool and a grassy kids play area. Perhaps I was a bit unduly harsh in my last post suggesting he’s become a terrible twos monster.