Thursday, June 9, 2011


All excerpts and photos credited to G.F. Waters unless otherwise specified

My parents are home safe now! I was very happy to see them but sadly, this is the last post about their trip and sorry no pictures this time. 

May 23 

We had to do some grocery shopping today so we went in to Tavarnelle Val de Pisa - this is a boring, little town near to our lovely accommodations at Torri. It is, however, remarkable for it's number of roundabouts - I think that there are five on route to Torri.  Shopping is efficient and we decide to go to Panzano to pick up porchetta and salumaria from Dario. 

The GPS led us on quite an adventurous route - fun to do once but just once - dirt roads, narrow cliffside roads without any card rails, and as long a stretch that we have done without a house in sight since coming to Italy. We headed back to Torri to wait for our friends Jacques and Marina. They arrived at about 4 pm and were, at one point, very lost. We ate in and made plans for the week - tomorrow back to Sienna.

May 24

We make it to Sienna in good time. We had a leisurely stroll through the city and show Jacques and Marina the cathedral and the Campo. I am again taken by how tight it must be in there for the Palio. We were told by some Canadian students that were there last year that it was hot and overcrowded with people passing out. The Italian police made an announcement that they took to be an order for some people to vacate. What they were really telling people that in five minutes they were going to further compress the crowd to get more people into the Campo.

We had a nice lunch of antipastos and bruschettas with a nice bottle of white wine for lunch and inevitably a gelato in the afternoon. The temperature is over 30 c and so we decide to head back to Torri for a swim. The pool here is beautiful and it is good to have a slow late afternoon. Tomorrow, Jacques and Marina want to see Florence and we are going to drive in.

May 25

We drove into Florence and we were very fortunate to find parking at one of the main lots overlooking the city and then used buses to get around the city with a day pass. I felt very much at home and I surprised myself with my ability to show Jacques and Marina around. I even found the small restaurant used by the working locals and art students that our tour guide had taken us.

One day does not do justice to this fabulous city but it was an introduction for them. After yet another gelato, we headed back to Torri at about 4 pm with a stop in Panzano for Salumari, cheese, bread, fruit, and wine. It must have been 35c in Florence and we cooled down before dinner with a refreshing swim.

May 26

Today we headed back to San Gimignano and today we found the recommended restaurant - Chiribiri. It did not disappoint - everybody's food was fabulous, fresh, served quickly and hot. It was market day in San Gimignano - I am not quite sure how they manoeuvre those trucks in and out of the ancient squares but they do. This gave us a different view but disguised the main square with all of the towers from Jacques and Marina. It is another hot day and we head back to Torri for a swim.

Tonight we had a wine tasting and four course dinner but on by Torri that showcased their wines and olive oils. It was fabulous value - for € 30 each we tasted five different wines before dinner and then each course had different wine service, all topped off with Vino Santo and then Grappa to boot.
I need to get to bed to recover.


May 27

We had a slow start today due to last night's excesses but we are in Castellina by 11 with Marina and Jacques declaring they will never eat again. We hit Panzano at 1 pm and they see the signs for Dario, and they forget they are not supposed to be hungry and we sit at the inside common table this time for a carnivore's feast. We visit the butcher shop afterwards but we are so stuffed there is no desire to buy anything. We have to leave Torri tomorrow and we have more than enough food for one last night. We also introduce Marina and Jacques to Greve and Radda where, believe it or not, we have Gelato.

I have also introduced them to some more of Tuscany's side roads. Marina has seen some terra cotta pots that she has to have and she intends to stop and buy some on her way home tomorrow.

Back to Torri - the atmosphere is subdued. We go our separate ways in the morning and there remains the tiredness from the previous evening. It is an early night.

May 28

We say goodbye to Jacques and Marina at 9 am. We have a 500 km drive to Nice, a 4:00 pm delivery appointment for the Megane, and a flight  to Paris. The drive is spectacular even though we are on the autoroute for almost the whole trip. Massa, Carrara with endless marble finishers with raw materials stacked outside and the white cliffs in the distance, numerous little towns hanging onto cliffs, and then back to the ocean at Sestri Levante. We have the blue Mediterranean on the left and mountains on the right - that is when we are not going through tunnels. Signs seen and towns and villages glimpsed include Genoa, San Remo, Roqueburne, Monaco, Menton, Imperial, and, of course, Nice itself. We went into Arenzano, a small town just to the west of Genoa, for a quick lunch and a stroll on the oceanfront. Not really much of a beach - pebbles instead of sand - but a tiny public section was jammed and the private sections filling up.

The drive finally wore me down. Miles and miles of sheer cliffs, narrow autoroutes, going from the bright sun into tunnels - and then a struggle to find the drop off spot - I was happy to leave the Megane at TT. I was congratulated by the attendant for being one of the very, very few to bring back a car from Italy unmarked. Indeed, he said that I may be the only person in his experience to have spent over three weeks there and to bring back a car without dents, scratches, or broken mirrors.

He drops us at the Nice Airport and we have a long wait for our 8:45pm flight but I have never been to so picturesque an airport - not because of the building but because there are mountains on one side and the sea on the other. Air France leaves on time, gets to CDG early, and the luggage hits the carousel 15 minutes ahead of the announced time. French taxi service is efficient but certainly not courteous. Our driver took his Mercedes down the Champs Élysées at about 100 km an hour - I thought we may end up like Dodi and Diana.

The Lutetia is a great old dame of a hotel with jazz in the bar, a brasserie, and tons of character. It is two minutes from the Le Bon Marche department store. We had a drink in the bar so that I could un-wind from the 14 hours travel day. We are in bed by 2 in the morning.

May 29

We are at breakfast by 9:30 and walk out into a Paris street market. It goes from about 4 blocks along Blvd. Raspail. All of the food stuffs are advertised to be bio / organic and it certainly is an appetizing display. We just buy a few things to have in the hotel room - nuts and fruit

We head off on one of our endless roams around the city that we enhance with a hop-on, hop-off bus ticket. It is hot in Paris and we cover many kilometres. I love this city - despite the taxi driver I couldn't help but smile when we arrived the night before - the twinkle of the Eiffel Tower, the crowds at the Arc de Triomphe and along Champs Élysées, and, just the excitement of the visitors to be here. I get more of that feeling as we roam the city.

We try to repeat the experience of our last trip here when we picked great neighbourhood restaurants five out of five nights. Luck has to turn on us occasionally and tonight, while the food was passable, the place just didn't cut it. There is always tomorrow to get it right.

May 30

Another hot day and our 29th sunny day out of 30 days in Europe. We visit Le Bon Marche - not so bon marche - and then some little shops around the hotel. I finally get a pair of those elusive blue suede shoes. 

We have promised ourselves to do Printemps and Lafayette. Printemps is just outrageous - the brands, the prices, but it is an experience. Galeries Lafayette is a much more reasonable experience and I succeed in finding a couple of Linen shirts for myself but Nicole wasn't so happy with the things she tried. We eventually get her some things in a little boutique near Blvd.Haussmann. We make the 40 minute walk back to the Lutetia stopping twice for Citron Presse and 1664.

We are off for some oysters and seafood this evening.

May 31

We head off to find a store but Google Map lets us down. A 30 minute walk becomes a 90 minute walk but we find what we want and head back. It was never a 30 minute walk but we could have done it in 40 minutes if we had gone the right way in the first place. 

We bring our purchase back to the hotel before heading to Musee D'Orsay just to find a ridiculous line up so on to the Rodin. We are in quickly and it is impressive but once you have seen Michelangelo's work nothing is ever the same. I am distressed by the poor condition and really the squalor of the Rodin. If this had been in Florence there would have been at least a couple of restorers working on site with maybe a section closed off. Every visible surface would be shining. 

The garden is beautiful and tranquil and we take our time before going inside. The Monet / Rodin letters are charming in their context and the Van Goghs and the Renoir are unusual treats. The last time I came to Paris I looked high and low for Rue Babylon without luck, this time I almost tripped across it and it took us to Raspail and the Lutetia quickly. 

I finally sat to undertake serious people watching and it was fun. A woman in six-inch heels, 50 necklaces, with lots and lots of yellow; maids with one child in the carriage and one on the hop-up platform on the back of the carriage; the working girls and The Working Girls; the dog lovers;  the dog haters once they have stepped in it; the working guys in the ubiquitous white trucks; rumpled businessmen and well- pressed business men - an ongoing sea of humanity. 

 Tonight we chose to eat light- a shared cheese cheese platter and champagne followed with some red wine. It is hard to believe but tomorrow is our last full day and we are having dinner at Chiberta - a Michelin-starred restaurant.

June 1

A funny day today - the last full day in Europe and I am wanting to go home but not really. I am not sure that I am ready. We had some chores to complete - a few things to buy and a few things to see. We headed back to Galeries Lafayette by a new route following a route determined by my I-Phone and it was very efficient. I have to make sure that I get the right 3G card the next time in Europe.

We then made our way to Willi's Wine Bar for lunch. Again, the I-Phone made it easy. We had a very light lunch and a delicious bottle of dry white and just kind of decompressed. We walked back to the St-Germain area through Les Jardins de la Palais Royale. It is another sunny day in Paris and there were hundreds of Parisians eating their lunch in the shade, in the sun, with feet in fountain pools, and as they strolled down tree-lined galleries. There was a group of men playing petanque on one of the path ways. They had their "linge" with the - this time it was to deal with pigeon droppings versus the peacock droppings we dealt with when we played in the south of France.

There are huge crowds outside all of the museums once again and the number of gypsies in the city is growing as Paris heads toward it's peak season. We had to chase off one yesterday. He had a neat trick - he pretended to find a wedding ring on the ground to show and get close so that he could pick your pockets or grab your bag. He was unhappy that we made a public display of chasing him off and he had to run off to find a new place to work his game.

It is two o'clock and the Parisians are at lunch. It reminds us of the old businessman at Les Deux Magots complaining about the number of French statutory holidays and how un-interested the average Frenchman is in working.

We have been packing up slowly and checked on travel times to the airport - just getting the logistics right. There will undoubtedly be two hours of Airport boredom - I think private jet may be the only way to avoid this. We will be home the next time I send out this update.

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