We left Strasbourg this morning and drove to Colmar, about an hour away. Colmar is where Frederic Bartholdi was born – the Statue of Liberty sculptor – and the town celebrates him with a museum and his name on some buildings and businesses. Since the museum wasn’topen until later in the afternoon, our plan was to visit the Unterlinden Art Museum there, but there was also a holiday market.
The museum was interesting, but the market was excellent. We got a few gifts and some hot cider in their Calmor Christmas mug.
We had lunch in a restaurant near the museum and walked around the city center, checking out the holiday decorations. It was very cold out, so we left and headed south toward Arles, where we will spend a few days. It is seven hours away, so we won’t get there today.
photos: a Statue of Liberty replica in the center of a roundabout. It was very foggy; at the Unterlinden museum; the entrance to the holiday market
I was surprised to see that Black Friday is a big thing here, and I am guessing it is “celebrated” throughout Europe. The holiday shopping season seems to officially begin today, the last Friday in November.
Shoppers were out in force throughout the city – at least double the crowds we have seen in the past few days. It reminded me of Manhattan on a busy weekend.
We headed to the Schoenbrunn Palace to escape the crowds and to see the beautiful, restored summer home of the Hapsburg rulers. The tour takes visitors through 40 rooms, each unbelievably extravagant in every way. I was disappointed that no photos are permitted inside the palace.
There was a big holiday market on the palace grounds and about a third of the things for sale I hadn’t seen yet anywhere else. I didn’t buy anything but enjoyed looking.
We took the tube back into the center of the city and had lunch and fought the crowds as we strolled around. People were everywhere. It seemed that everyone had at least one shopping bag. We head to Salzburg tomorrow.
photos: Christmas decoration in the city; The palace; rolling pins. I wish I’d have bought one
We left Eger this morning and made our way to Poland. Krakow was five-and-a-half hours away.
Along the way we drove through some small, very interesting Hungarian towns. In one, cabbage was grown on a long stretch of land very close to the side of the road (there was a car right behind us so I couldn’t get a picture). We did stop at a pekseg (a bakery) and got some apple strudel since I doubted we would be eating anything until the afternoon. The two women in the bakery seemed thrilled to meet someone who spoke English (and of course baked goods know no language – I could just point).
We neared the border from Hungary to Slovakia and needed a vignette (toll permit) to drive in Slovakia. Getting one was was a bit of a puzzle. The truck stop we walked into smelled of old frying oil and the guy at the counter was annoyed before we even approached him. He demanded to know our car’s weight and class as though we would know it. We went back out to the car to try to figure out that information, but I just suggested we leave. Not far away I could see another small store that probably sold the permits.
The woman there was kind but said that no, the Slovakia vignettes were only sold in the “blue container,” a trailer – and she described how to get to it. The unmarked blue camper looked abandoned at first, but after a few minutes we had our permit. We learned later that this can be done online now. That is not as exciting though.
We arrived in Krakow at about 4:30pm and it was already dark. We are staying by the city square so we walked around there and found a restaurant for a late lunch/early dinner. By the time we left the restaurant, the weather had gotten much colder than we have experienced since being away. Tomorrow looks to be a sunny Sunday and I’m looking forward to seeing the city in the daylight.
photos: Krakow city square wrebath vendor this evening; Poland countryside; Crazy Hungarian money. 1,000 forints = about $3.30 U.S. dollars
It was bittersweet to leave Siena late this morning. Our hotel – Hotel Ravizza – was so comfortable and a great place to stay and Siena is a wonderful city. But we will be in Viareggio for the next few days and I’m sure we will live it there too.
We stopped for lunch in Pistoia, an old city about an hour from Viareggio. It is Monday, so many restaurants are closed but we found a good place for lunch and spent some time there since check-in for our Airbnb was at four o’clock.
We drove around Viareggio and checked out the marina. The largest and most expensive yachts in the world are made here by Benzetti boatyard. They are spectacular to see, but since it was pouring rain we couldn’t walk around at all. We will do that tomorrow.
We will also take the train one day to Cinque Terre to hike and see the five seaside villages and beautiful views. We are hoping for some nice days ahead after almost a week of rain but we will make it work regardless. For now we are settling in at Viareggio.
photos: seen along the way as we drove today – a farmer apparently has a sense of humor about hay bales; this evening’s view from our Viareggio home; little round eggplants for sale
Our last day in beautiful (but still very rainy) Siena was mainly a lazy and relaxing one. We got laundry done, which took a few morning hours. The streets were pretty much empty – so different from yesterday evening.
We went back to the Boccon del Prete restaurant for lunch (we had been there a few days ago). With many places closed on Sunday, it seems lunch spots are at a premium so we felt happy to get a table and have a delicious spaghetti-with-meat- sauce lunch.
Tomorrow we leave Siena drive to the Viareggio area to enjoy a few days of exploring there. It is two hours from here and on the watee. It will be a nice change of scenery although the 7-day forecast doesn’t look great right now.
photos: Siena looking like a postcard; the book exchange – I love finding this in a place I’m staying; Siena – empty of people this morning
Today we set out to see the Villa Medici at Cafaggiolo near the Mugello region, about 45 minutes from where we are staying in Scandicci. The villa is notable because so many important events took place there during the Italian Renaissance, and its architecture is supposedly fabulous.
Although we found the huge villa, it is completely under renovation and closed to the public. We could not even get close enough to take a picture and there was nowhere around to park, but this summer home looked very impressive and perhaps we can revisit it in a decade or so when renovations are complete.
We still had a wine and olive oil tasting coupon for another wine producer not far from where we were yesterday, so that was our next stop. Their olive oil was so fresh – just made this week, and was the best ever. We got some to take home, if we can avoid opening it.
Next we went to San Gimignano, sometimes referred to as the “Manhattan of Italy.” The buildings there are tall and ancient, and there was a lot going on there. We encountered more people, mainly busloads of tourists, than we have seen in all of Italy. (Most of them were speaking English, which we hadn’t heard in a while.)
There were many small shops in the city, and we walked all over, not realizing we would have trouble finding our car. Every single time we have parked anywhere, we have taken a picture of where we are. Not this afternoon.
It took us 45 minutes through the maze of narrow streets, but we finally found it as the sun went down. Another five minutes figuring out the ticket payment machine and we were on our way back to Scandicci.
photos: our hosts set a beautiful table for us every morning and begin our day with a huge breakfast; the panoramic view from Mugello; an empty street in San Gimignano at the end of the day, after visitors left on their buses and we tried to figure out where our car was parked.
We continued to explore Alba on foot today and made plans to take a tour of the old underground city tomorrow. It should be interesting.
We had a lunch in an underground restaurant today, coincidentally. The storefront is on street level but once through the door, there are steps down.
The sand sculpture artist from yesterday was back today making an identical dog. I went for a run and passed his spot at 8am. He wasn’t there yet. An hour later when we walked by, he already had most of the dog sculpted. So it seems to be a sand art scam and he will do great with it this weekend, I’m sure.
photos: early morning in the city
pigeon on the back terrace
pigeon on the lunch menu