Thursday: Manarola

We visited Manarola in the Cinque Terre region today. The five old towns are all linked along the Italian Riviera coastline. In good weather it is possible – and fun – to hike from town to town. This takes about six hours with few stops, but to enjoy the towns and their breathtaking scenery, at least a couple days’ trip is a better idea.

Another option to visit the towns is to take the train from La Spezia, which stops in each town. The stops are about five – eight minutes apart, so getting off the train and getting back on later is easy.

We did none of those, but still enjoyed a very nice day. Since two of the hiking trails were closed today and the others were full of mud because of all the rain the area has had in the past few weeks, hiking was off the list. Instead, we took the train to the second stop: the town of Manarola. It has arguably the most beautiful views in the region.

We arrived there at about 11a.m.(the La Spezia train station is about 45 minutes from where we are staying). We were immediately amazed at the colorful buildings of the city seemingly built into a mountain.

We walked past some fishing boats that were covered up, and I imagined they had been used that morning to catch fish for the community and the restaurants. There were about a dozen boats near the launch area.

We hiked up on the narrow trail above the sea and the view got more and more fantastic. The only people around were a large group of Korean tourists and their guides. A tour guide didn’t seem necessary though – all we did for a long time was just walk and look and take photos.

Most of the restaurants have closed for the season but we found one that looked good and we shared delicious spaghetti with seafood. Soon the large group of tourists found their way to the restaurant too, and the atmosphere became lively and fun.

I asked our waiter about the fishing boats – what time did they go out in the morning and what did they catch. He laughed and said the last fisherman died two years ago and the boats are used as pleasure boats by their owners, who don’t typically take them out this time of year.

Fantasy squelched.

We walked around a bit more, got some gelato (the owner said he is closing tomorrow for the season), met two American couples and chatted with them for a while, then took the train back to La Spezia.

photos: the fishing boats that apparently just sit there must of the time, to my disappointment; two beautiful views of the city

Thursday: Siena

We left our fabulous Scandicci villa this morning and headed to the walled city of Siena where we will spend the next few days.

It is hard for me to believe that once again we parked our car and then hours later could not find the lot. Here’s how easily it can happen in a walled city: (1) park the car, (2) walk in via the grand arched entrance (there are about five of them in Siena, I have come to learn), (3) walk around inside the walled streets with very few cars, have lunch, walk into a few shops, walk along some narrow almost-alleys to look around, (4) decide to get the car and check in at our hotel.

Attempts to retrace our steps didn’t work. We had walked all over in the three hours we were there. Yes, we had taken photos of where we parked, but that that didn’t help because there are so many entrances to the walled city, each about a 15 minute walk.

I put the parking receipt address in my phone and it brought us to a lot on the other side of the city, maybe the main lot but not where we were parked.

It rained, sometimes very hard in the 90 minutes we were searching. Finally we saw an available taxi and I showed the driver our parking receipt. He knew where the lot was located based on its name, which my GPS didn’t recognize.

It turns out it was a surprisingly long 10- minute cab ride away. I don’t know how we would have found the car otherwise. We would likely still be walking around.

We checked in at our charming old hotel, our clothing stuck to us from the rain. The receptionist, Alicia, was a gem, telling us in her very sweet English that she would give us the “best room possible” and then she walked us to it (I guess so we wouldn’t get lost).

We will explore more of Siena tomorrow. We can leave our car at the hotel and use the map Alicia gave us.


photos: bike outside a restaurant in Siena; lunch starter; this bar made me smile as we walked by

Tuesday: Barbaresco/ Neive

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We visited Barbaresco today, a small city with beautiful – but foggy today – panoramic views and plenty of vineyards. They make wonderful wine there, but it’s tough to find an espresso in town. We never did.

We enjoyed the beauty of the surroundings and the quiet solitude we felt there. Tourist season is over for sure – we may have seen three other people during our time in the center of town.

We drove to Neive, a neighboring city that’s just a little bigger than Barbaresco. We easily found coffee there and we checked out the area. A school seemed to be for students all the way to high school, and kids dashed out on the streets at lunch time.

We had lunch in one of the two restaurants in town before heading back to Alba.

20191022_09371620191022_123500photos: autumn in Neive; Barbaresco view; Tiramisu dessert!

Sunday: Alba

Today was the International White Truffle (or as they say here: Tartufo Bianco) Festival in Alba. We spent a good part of the morning and early afternoon there until the crowds and then rain became too much.

The festival had all kinds of food – boar roasting on a spit, chicken, ribs, kebabs – and plenty of other selections. It was too early for any of that, so we checked out the games set up around the city center. All of them looked as though they had been used for decades – worn, but still good-looking Skittles tables, bows and arrows, a dart board, ring toss to win bottles of wine, and many other games that seemed well attended with prizes, mostly wine, handed out to winners. It was fun to watch.

We made our way to the truffle tent, where dozens of vendors were selling their white and black truffles. It takes forever to make a sale since they add the cost each truffle individually and they have to wrap them carefully. There is an official judging area for those who are skeptical about the value of what they bought. So there were lines of people everywhere and the whole place was very busy.

(We bought just one truffle with the plan to slice it up – there’s a special truffle slicer in the kitchen drawer here – and mix it into scrambled eggs, as suggested by our host.)

The tent, although huge, became so filled with people that it was impossible to walk, so we left. We continued to walk around the streets for a while but there were people and umbrellas everywhere.

Eventually we got out of the rain and came back to enjoy the tartufo scrambled eggs. They were very good.

photos: white truffles for sale

below: a game of Skittles. I watched for a while but didn’t see anyone win.

wild boar cooking

Sunday: Lyon

We left Clermont-Ferrand this morning and drove to Lyon. The city was just over two hours away, but we had to take our time because check-in for our Airbnb was not until 4pm.

We stopped a few times along the way, most notably about an hour outside the city of Roanne, which was described online as having some delicious restaurants. Not on Sunday though. We drove through the town and nothing at all was open on Dimanche.

I found an open restaurant in a town about twenty minutes away. Yes, it was open but no, they couldn’t serve us. They were packed. I asked the woman who turned us away if there was anything at all open. “Not on Sunday,” she told me in French. Okay, we would wait until Lyon.

So we drove into the big, busy city, located the parking garage suggested by our host, and found dozens of restaurants open along the river and beyond. We ate, then found our rental apartment, then went back to the car to get our luggage. All the walking helped us get our bearings.

The tiny apartment is great: centrally located so we can walk everywhere, and super-cute in a very old building.

We will have fun discovering Lyon this week.

photos: A small part of our pretty drive to Lyon

below: used books for sale along the Rhone

The River Rhone

Tuesday: Bordeaux

We had an early flight to Paris this morning, so were on the hotel shuttle to the airport at 4:30. The shuttle runs 24/7, about every 25 minutes. I was glad we just had a five- minute wait.

The Dublin airport was wide awake even if we weren’t, and we got to our flight and on to Charles de Gaulle airport quickly (or maybe it seemed that way since we mostly slept for the 90-minutes).

Once through French immigration, customs and baggage claim, we figured out how to get the leased car from Citroen we will use to drive around France and beyond. We set off for Bordeaux, six hours from the airport, during a rainstorm.

We finally made it to our destination. After our hosts greeted us, I took a quick picture of our castle lodging before we set off for dinner. Long day and we are very hungry.

photos: dinner in Bordeaux

the castle where we are staying.

vineyards as we drove

Monday: Dublin

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It is a rainy day in Dublin but we still made the most of it. First, I was happy to see a 24-hour gym directly across the street from where we are staying. I was there at 6am and on the rower for 45 minutes, my first good exercise (aside from a ton of walking) in a week. It’s a nice place and well used. Tomorrow I’ll remember a towel!

I sat in a nearby coffee shop after that and was happy to read my book before going back to the hotel for breakfast. It’s always interesting to see what Breakfast Included ends up meaning, and this was a fine selection of coffee, tea, and cold food.

We walked to Trinity College after that, where my traveling companion/husband saw the Book of Kels (I had been there before) and the very impressive library there. I walked around the city and popped into some shops before meeting up with him again an hour later.

We walked to the river and checked out some places near there, then had lunch as it poured outside. We went back to the hotel where he left me so I could do some work.

photos: above – a pigeon staying warm on a light. below – breakfast; gym rower is perfectly positioned under a nice cool open window

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