A Travellerspoint blog

Yes, it is nice in Nice!

sunny 28 °C

The interesting thing about coach travel in Europe is the amount of time spent on the coach. Yes, it does take time to get for point A to point B. However on this Med. Highlights trip we are fortunate to have two days in most cities and no more than 3-4 hours on the coach each day. Compared to 8 hours days on the coach with last year's trip this has been easy for coach travel.

This doesn't mean we haven't been busy. Travelling out of Italy and into France yesterday required a shift in iur greetings, thank yous, etc. yes, we are more at home with French yet we still found ourselves saying 'si', grazi'. Thankfully the French are patient.
One of the things on the bus that we do to pass the time is to learn about the next country. So yesterday we had our French lessons. This included some history, geography and some little known facts. For instance, it is illegal to name a pig Napolean, swimming shorts (North America style) are banned at French swimming pools (only European Speedos please) and it is legal to marry your betrothed if they die before the wedding. Seemingly this is so the living spouse can gain benefits. The French also have the world's highest paid vacations, topping out at around 8 weeks. No wonder tourism is strong in France.

Arriving is Nice was like hitting the sunshine and great weather head on. Palm trees and flowers everywhere. The deep blue of the Med water is just a few blocks from our hotel. We had a free afternoon to explore before our group dinner. The group had to stop at this fountain for a photo. Everywhere you look in. Nice is an architectural masterpiece.

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A whole free day awaited the group today. Activties included sitting on the beach or rather on the rented beach chairs as the Med beaches are more rocky than sandy. Some went parasailing, shopping and generally hanging out in this picturesque beach city.

Tonight we got dressed in our best clothes and headed to Monaco, the second smallest country in the world. Also one of the richest with almost 30% of the population being millionaires. Along the way we stopped at a scenic lookout and our tour manager, Emma and our driver p, Firo treated us to some champagne. How sweet of them.
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The city is setting up for the upcoming Grand Prix race so it was fun to see that and it will be fun to watch it at the end of May. After a quick visit to the front of the palace and the church we had a great 4 course dinner. Then it was off to the Monte Carlo Casino. 10€ will get you in the first two rooms. Gambling was extra. It only cost a cool 5000€ to get any further into the casino. A few tried the James Bond Martinis and some went to a slighter less upscale casino to try their luck. they even had an unexpected fireworks show in the harbor. What a surprise. The group got to check out some of the hot cars parked in the Fairmont Hotel Parking lot, located right at the most famoms hairpin turn.. They certainly love their cars.
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Off to Avignon tomorrow then on the Spain. Stay tuned for more.

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Posted by jonaway 15:40 Archived in France Comments (0)

How did these villages come to be built here?

sunny 22 °C

Ciao from Northern Italy! We headed north this morning with our first stop being Pisa. We travelled past what we thought were snow covered mountains. It turns out it was actually the white marble of Cararra. Oh my gosh. We passed along the storage and shipping facilities for the marble. Millions and millions of dollars of marble.

Most people may not realize that Pisa is and was an important shipping port. The wealth of the area came from Pisa's geographic location. Pisa, however, is known more for its failed engineering project, the Tower! Funny how something that went so wrong has created a tourist attraction that brings so much money to the city. Quite a contrast to the days when Pisa made their money from shipping.

The church, baptismal and the tower are stunningly beautiful, all covered in Carrara marble. Of course, the most fun is to take some kind of goofy picture holding up the tower!
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Driving to our next stop was not for the faint of heart. Narrow winding roads provided surprises of oncoming traffic at every turn. Our fearless driver had to hope not to meet an oncoming car, bus or motorcycle. Co-operation is the name of the game as many times our coach or someone else had to back up to let someone pass. This was complicated by the triathlon that was being held.

We headed to the boat that would take us to the Cinque Terra, the five famous towns of the area. I am not sure what possessed them to build these 5 towns in such a remote part of the country. Perhaps it was the spectacular views! Our boat made short stops in each of the towns before dropping us off at the furthest town, Monterosse. Some of the group departed for the hike between Monterosso and Varannsa. Others took the 4 minute train. Next stop was Veranazza,the largest of the towns. Unfortunately, a devastating flood of 2011 had devasted the area and if has taken considerable time to repair what nature destroyed. The colourful houses definitely need a good coat of paint.
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Each town in the Cinque Terre is known for a different food item, anchovies, honey (which makes tasty gelato), and pesto. Seafood is the main menu feature.
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Back on the train for a quick 20 minute trip we were reunited with Firo and our coach.we checked in at a ours little hotel in Portverene and had the first truly full night's sleep in a long time.

As this is our last day in Italy I should tell you about the game we have been playing. With Italy being known for the Mafia we have been playing a little game of Assassins. The premise is that each person is given a name of a victim. Their job is to slay their victim without anyone else seeing. This means lots of people sticking together so they are 'offed'. The assassins have come up with many imaginative ways to lure people away. The game has continued through Italy and wound up today with Emily as the winner with 14 cards. Her prize, the coveted Godfather bobble head.
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We are leaving Italy and heading to France today. The sun is shining and it is a beautiful day to be in Europe.

Posted by jonaway 05:22 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Is that really you David?

sunny 25 °C

Florence is one of those cities that you visit once but love forever. It might be described as Rome's much prettier and smaller sister! Yes, both have a lovely river, incredible outdoor art everywhere, spectacular churches and the Italian culture of outdoor dining. However, Florence is more quaint and the views from the south viewpoint is breathtaking. You can walk the main part of the city easily and take in some of the Renassaince art that appears around most corners.

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We had a reasonably late start to the day. First stop was at Leonardo's Leatherworks for a demonstration and then some shopping. All genuine leather, unlike some of the street vendor products, and beautifully hand crafted.

We enjoyed the company of our walking tour guide, Nico, who toured us through the streets, showing us the 'fake' statue of David outside of City Hall, walking past the statues of other famous Italians outside the Ufuzzi Gallery and then on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, the most iconic view of Forence. It was off to the Duomo to marvel at the beauty of the outside of this masterpiece. There was some pretty excited people when we found out theat .tom Hanks was inside the Baptismal, filming the latest Dan Brown thriller, Inferno! For fans of the book, yes, there is a new film coming out. A good part of the book happens in Florence.

We had a full free afternoon. Some headed off to see the real statue of David, to visit the Ufuzzi Gallery or just explore the streets. One of the really cool and unusual things in Florence is their street sign graffiti. Here is a look at one of them,
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A quick stop on the south side of the city for a group photo and we were off to the countryside for our Tusan wine tasting and dinner.
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Thanks go out to the SAIT 100 Club for sponsoring thes evening. Il Palagio was the destination and getting there was half the fun. Imagine a coach that takes up most of the small two lane road, twisting and turning. Now imagine oncoming traffic. Our fearless coach driver, Firo handled things very professionally and got us there safely. The hosts took us to their wine cellar where we saw the Chianti Classico up close! The Italian feast consisted of crostini, pecorino cheeses, red pepper jelly and olives served with a refreshing Pinot Grigio. The pasta course of spinach ravioli paired nicely with the Rose and we finished with the meat and salads accompanied by a full bodied Chianti. The meal was topped off with a dessert wine and tart. The ambience of the evening was magical, dining outside under the Tuscan stars. Magnifico!
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Last day and night in Italy tomorrow with a visit to Pisa and then on to the scenic Cinque Terre.

Posted by jonaway 22:04 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

When in Rome.......

sunny 25 °C

The sun is shining and the birds were chirping at 4:30 this morning. There have been a few issues of not getting a full nights' sleep but most of our travellers have adjusted well to the time changes. Our busy, busy day yesterday helped some to sleep.

Everyone was up bright and early for our last few hours in Rome. After maneveouring 34 pieces of luggage in one elevator we were off for our visit to the Roman Forum and the Colliseum. Our guide patiently told us more about the Roman history. The students should be adequately educated about their European geography before that class starts in September. Her candidness in telling us how lucky it was that "they" lost the war. "Imagine Europe today if Hitler, Mussonlini and Stalin won the war" were her exact words.

A few interesting facts:

  • the Coliseum was constructed from 72 AD to 80 AD.
  • only 40%of the original building is still standing. Another 20% has been replaced with brick work.

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A quick lunch and we were off to Tuscany. The students are experiencing the first real day on the coach, being introduced to the Contiki day song. Our song is The Nights by Avecci! Great message for our intrepid travellers.

Emma entertains us with games, songs and activities to pass the time on the coach. Stops are 'services'. Is most important and today we hit our first one. It is always a unique experience to purchase local items, today the focus on snack food. Some tried the Fonzies (an albino version of Hawkins Cheezies), Grisbi cookies (lemon shortbread filled with lemon creme), and Haribo candies. I am most excited to try the Ferrero Pocket Coffee, espresso filled chocolates, for those needing a caffeine fix!
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We even had the opportunity to celebrate Katelyn's birthday with a hand crafted birthday card courtesy of our tour manager, Emma.

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San Gimignano is one of the many medieval towns in Tuscany. In the prime of the city it boasted over 70 towers, unfortunately today only about 10-14 remain. It was aquatint little town to explore, climbing high up the winding roads for that perfect Tuscany photo.
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From there we headed to our next two night stop, Florence. Yes, it is the land of the Renaissance.

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The artwork and sculptures are a feast for the eyes. We arrived in the early evening, viewed an outstanding sunset and headed off for dinner. Our group dined in the oldest trattoria in Florence, in business since 1865? We could have had the Florentine steak, a local specialty, but opted for more pasta options. Paperdelle and wild boar was my choice and probably topped off with the best tiramisu I have ever tasted!

More adventures have happened today. I am a day behind in posting! They are keeping us busy. I will write on the bus tomorrow enroute to Cinque Terre with today's fun and with good Wifi have another post to you shortly.
Ciao! And Go Flames Go!!!!!!

Posted by jonaway 16:12 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Who knew making your own dinner could be so much fun?

Bonus post today. It is early morning in Rome and we have a bit of time before breakfast so I thought you might like to hear about our last night in Rome.

With barely time to run to the room to drop off purchases we were off again for our pasta making dinner. A short walk to the bus we crowed onto an already full bus. Imagine 34 people descending on these lovely Italians. and yet again, another senior Italian gentleman looking for someone to talk to. Carla was the lucky one this time.

Our dinner was at Fooxia. Downstairs we headed and after a good hand washing we donned our red aprons and started to learn the art of pasta making. Half the group made fettuccine and ravioli pasta with wheat flour and egg. That is it, no other ingredients. The other group worked on the pasta for the cavatelli. I am not sure that is the name but my Goggle search showed something by that name that looked just like what we made.
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Next step, lots of kneading until the pasta had a consistency of play dough. And hen the fun begin. Rolling the sheets out for the fettuccine involved about 15 students walking through the restaurant with this one giant sheet of pasta. Teamwork was crucial to making sure the pasta didn't tear or rip. Some fettuccine sheets were cut early to have it stay thick. Then the remaining pasta was put through the machine several more time to make it extremely thin for the ravioli.

Sheets were passed through the pasta maker and fettuccine appear. Student had the fun of making pretty little and well sealed ravioli and then on to making the cavatelli. This pasta is hand made, first rolling out a thin string of pasta, cutting it into little pillows and then rolling with your thumb. Of course, the experts can do them in a second. For us rookies it took a bit longer.

The pasta was all gathered up and sent to the kitchen. After that hard work it was time for a nice glass of Italian wine and the start of our dinner. We were starving after all of that work.

First course was bruschetta and some type of calzone slices. And then to our second course and our handmade pastas. A large plate was transformed into our meal. Fettucine with a cream sauce and artichokes, the cavatelli in a simple tomato sauce with Parmesan and the ravioli, stuffed with spinach and ricotta and served with a tasty cream sauce. Dessert was something delicious. Our Baking and Pastry Arts student was puzzled by the ingredients. Whatever it was it was a nice end to a wonderfully fun night.

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Not wanting to miss an opportunity we managed to find our way to the Spanish Steps, which were actually built by the French but named for the Spanish Embassy just down the street. It was a beautiful night for a run to the top of the steps. Only during a couple months of the year are the steps filled with flowers and we were lucky enough to see them out in full bloom.
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A quick trip back to our hotel and to bed for most! Not too much jet lag going on with our travellers!

Now who is that ghost that photobombed my shot of the subway graffiti?
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Posted by jonaway 21:05 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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