Beautiful Cinque Terre

I’m going to jump ahead (will write about  Pisa and Florence in a later entry hopefully) to a day I had been looking forward to very very much – visiting the famed Cinque Terre.

We were treated to a beautiful view of the bay as we headed to Cinque Terre. On the way  our tour guide discussed the issues facing this unique area. While to a visitor it looks exotic and romantic, this is not a life that has appealed to the young of the villages. Toiling on vertical cliffs in harsh conditions to produce the wine and produce of the region has not been appealing to the majority of the young people and many of the vineyards struggle to find workers. Yet there is some good news as the trend towards locally produced and sustainable produce has started to bring new life back into ancient cottage industries.

Obviously tourism is a huge part of the local economy and this has lead to many discussion on how to protect this fragile area. The Italian government are looking at restricting the numbers of people who can visit each year in an effort to cut down the 2.5 million annual tourists. It is a difficult problem as obviously everyone wants to come here and the tourist dollar injects vital life into the economy, but it almost impossible for the locals to go about their daily lives. 

We spent some time in the exquisite  Manarola and then travelled to Monteroso by ferry so didn’t get to stop at the middle villages but we could see the crowds of people at each one. Lots of people swimming which was frustrating as we didn’t have any swimming gear with us! The ferry was very hot and overcrowded but we managed to get a seat in the sea breeze on the upper deck and enjoy. The spectacular views.

On arrival in Monteroso we were left to our own devices for lunch and we found a tiny restaurant where they cooked delicious seafood in a compact open kitchen. Beautiful scampi risotto still sizzling as it arrived at the table. Then we wandered round the medieval square a bit, rolled up our shorts and paddled in the ocean. It was warm, crystal clear and incredibly salty. Sadly time was up way to soon and we had to head to the train to get back to our coach.

Photos below are a hodge pudge of the day, hope they give some sense of how special this part of the world is.










From Pompeii to Capri

A sensory overload already and we have only been here a few days. 

Early start onto the coach that will become very familiar over the next little while.

First stop Pompeii. A stunning day with Vesuvius looking peaceful and benign. Impossible to imagine it smoking and roaring. Today several million people live in neighboring Naples and more than 600 000 on its slopes. The trade-off for beautiful fertile soil is the possibility of another eruption. Not sure I could do it, but when the inhabitants of the region were offered relocation  in 2003 , very few people took up the offer. 

Today fortunately it slumbered on as we walked the streets of Pompeii. Theatres, shops, brothels, houses, public baths, a bustling city silenced forever; now full of curious tourists bringing an odd new life to the streets. Most of the heartbreaking plaster reconstructions of the bodies are out on loan but we did see one desperate frozen figure, head forever buried in his arms. Only too easy to imagine the terror he must have felt. 



Feeling fairly somber we headed to catch the ferry to Capri. A world apart from the tomb of Pompeii, the wharf at Capri was packed beyond belief with sunburnt and  over-tired holiday-makers returning home (some issue with the boats not sailing due to the weather, and no idea of on the part of the officials as to how to solve the ensuing chaos). Pushing our way through the crowds, in genuine danger of being pushed into the water, we clambered with relief into our open air taxi.



My own relief was short-lived when I realised we were heading up to Ana Capri, over the crazily high viaduct ( you can just make it out in the photo below, taken as I muttered ‘you have got to be joking’). Wayne reassuring me I would be fine, I reluctantly got in the car, feeling sick to my stomach.I don’t have any control over when my vertigo will strike (although I can pick when it might happen) it’s quite like a panic attack and very scary.  Fortunately for me the adrenaline rush won over vertigo. If we had stopped anywhere on the mountain I would however have been a quivering mess! Hopefully the hurriedly snapped shot and the video below give a little idea of the trip we would end up making several times up and down the road. 
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Our hotel was beautiful (arriving in one piece was a bonus) and it was a delight to jump into the swimming pool – the first of our entire trip! Gorgeous views out over to the mainland.

Capri itself was a chaotic and beautiful mix of crowds, traffic insanity, sophistication and style. Scooters, buses, three-wheeled trucks, cyclists and pedestrians all competing for the same spot on roads designed for a much less busy time.  Super yachts thrown casually into ocean moorings, designer labels sold from tiny ancient shops – I expected to see models and movie stars round every corner. We were enchanted and vaguely bemused and decided we couldn’t  imagine living here.

 Over the course of our two days we explored the island, avoided getting run over, did some shopping, ate gelato and wandered around in the rain. The sea around Capri is a combination of the most beautiful shades of blue that I could not get enough of as we enjoyed a cruise around some of the grottos and the Faraglioni despite the weather packing in. 



Then up the hill on the funicular for more spectacular vistas.



I even managed to stand right up against the railings (briefly) when we visited the Gardens of Caesar Augustus. As you can see by my smile, today was a victory over vertigo! Might seem like a small thing but I’ve had to stare down vertigo a few times this trip. The alternative is to stay down at the bottom of these climbs and miss the view, and I am determined to not resort to that!

All too soon we were throwing our bags back on the ferry and farewelling this enchanting island. Once back on dry land we were soon heading up to Umbria. 

A taste of Rome

And finally we get to Italy. 

I’m a bit behind in my chronicles as our days are so packed! Lots of photos to help remember and tell the story. As I’m sure most people have found on trips like these, there’s a fine line between taking the photos you want and taking so many you miss the actual experience. I’m not a big selfie taker but I deliberately chose one for the featured image for this post as I wanted to record how happy we are to be here despite my genuine dislike of seeing myself in a photo. (I generally try to take photos where I can get the shot with no people visible at all – not sure that will be particularly easy in such a tourist destination.)

What I am missing is a good camera! Hats off to my iPhone for taking some pretty good shots but I am aware of the opportunities I am not getting.

Our hotel was old and gracious. I felt very underdressed in my jeans and tee shirt but that did seem to be what everyone else was wearing as well so I didn’t dress up to match the decor.


We met the rest of our tour party who would be our companions for the next 12 days. To be honest they were a little older than I had been expecting – we are definitely among the younger people. The first of many caprese salads and pizza for dinner, some great introductory conversations, and then an early night as we had to be up very early the next morning.
We had been fortunate enough to be given access to the Sistine Chapel before it opened to the public. So, feeling a little guilty, we walked past the already waiting crowds and wandered through an empty Vatican Museum before entering the chapel itself. So much beauty in these corridors, every inch of them lavishly decorated.


No photos allowed in the Chapel itself, which is fitting for such a monument to the creativity of man and the glory of God. Like everyone else I was familiar with the iconic image of God reaching out to touch Adam, but that is just a small price of the endless ceiling and walls, every inch overhead and to the side packed with the narrative of the relationship between God and His creation. As there were so few people in the chapel we had plenty of time to sit and focus on individual panels.

Our time was up all too soon and we walked back through corridors of Papal treasures, down the beautiful spiral walkway and back into the modern world of cars, horns and throngs of people. 


We then headed to the Colesseum  (I did say it was a taste of Rome). A bonus was being allowed to enter through the gladiator stage which is an entrance not usually used. Very humbling to hear that the entrance and exit system was so sophisticated that they could clear the 70000 seat auditorium faster than we could empty a similar sized one today. Even with the crowds and the obligatory gift shop selling every possible Colesseum souvenir possible, it was very easy to imagine it in its prime.


We decided to skip the last of the afternoon planned activities and wandered the streets, dipping our hands in the Trevi Fountain, eating prosciutto platters and gelato and engaging in a bit of shopping. Loved the creative parking in the insanely crowded streets!


A quick dinner in a cute street-side cafe was rapidly moved indoors as the skies suddenly erupted with thunder and lightening.The rose sellers instantly becameumbrella sellers! Tried out my fledgling Italian on the waiter but like so manyEuropeans  he spoke perfect English.

What a crazy start to our trip! I still can’t believe I am here. Feeling the weight of thousands of years of art, culture and philosophy is almost too much to take in (hence the shopping break this afternoon!)

Heading to Pompeii and Capri tomorrow – the adventure continues…

A bridge, a prison and a reunion

We departed Santa Cruz with the intention of checking out both Apple and Google HQs. We were stymied by the road system around Apple, ending up on the wrong side of six lanes – twice! Wayne blamed navigation, I blame the driver. We did get a glimpse of the building and 1 Infinity Loop roadsign. Google however was a piece of cake to find and travel around. Very unprepossessing campus for a company that influences  so much of our lives. 

Then off to San Franscisco. We were congratulating ourselves on how successfully we were manoevuring around the city, and then we hit the notorious and insanely steep roads. A four way stop sign every few hundred meters (and we still hadn’t quite got the hang of the “whoever gets there first goes first” rule) and we were very glad to finally find our hotel down by Fisherman’s Wharf. Of course after dropping the bags off we had to drive back up said streets and at one point as our under-powered rental car was required to make a hill start, we thought we would slide all the way back down.

And then we were free of the car and grabbed some lunch and a hop-on-hop-off bus to orientate ourselves. We pretty much fell in love with San Francisco from the time the bus started winding its way through some pretty iconic architecture. Through the gorgeous Golden Gate Park and then there was that bridge. The temperature must have dropped about ten degrees as we crossed but it was worth it for the views on the other side.

We had arranged to catch up with Christian for dinner and made our way to the stunning Yelp HQ in the heart of town. Slightly disconcerting to see him come out with all the other hip young coders looking more grownup and self-assured. The bandage on his hand had been replaced with a sci-fi looking  splint and he proudly showed us the pins sticking out of his healing finger. So good to put my arms around him and give him a real hug. Dinner at the Ferry Building and lots to catch up on. 

I had a brainwave to solve the tea issue and wandered to a nearby Walgrens to buy some tea bags. Feeling that some post breakfast burrito exercise was needed I decided to tackle Lombard Street (Wayne decided to stay back and watch soccer).  According to Fitbit that is 22 flights of stairs – must be very long flights! Mission accomplished and it was a wobbly legs walk back down to find the elusive tea bags. There was only find one box of Liptons  tea amongst (and I am not exaggerating) three shelves from top to bottom of coffee and coffee-related drinks. Should last Wayne a while! We then had a fun morning spent in the Haight and Ashbury hippy district. Some tie dye may have been bought, as well as a cute hat to replace my stupidly left-behind Panama. Hipster spotting also took place…
Then time to join the younger generation at MoMA  (and another real hug for a loved young person as Sophie was now with Christian) to spend the  afternoon soaking up the treasures within. After waiting so long to seriously travel, the impact of seeing such stunning creativity was quite overwelming. Burgers for dinner and a cable car ride rounded the day off nicely. 

Sunday we had a bit of a treat with a foodie tour around the permanent market at the ferry building. Delicious food and lots of background info about some of the producers. Local sourcing and sustainability  is so common now, but San Francisco was doing this long before many places so it was good to get some of the history (and taste it!). Fresh sour dough baguette, gooey cheese, perfect macarons and the most amazing autumn fruit pastry still hot from the oven.


This was in stark contrast to our afternoon – Alcatraz. History of another kind carved into this forbidding island. Tales of attempted escapes, most ending sadly. The ranger who told us these stories commented that the punishment wasn’t Alcatraz itself, that the prisoners were treated fairly well. It was being able to see, hear and even smell normal everyday existence so tantalisingly close that drove people to try and make their escape. 

I wonder what it must have been like for people in the city as well when the prison was open. It is unusual to have a prison so clearly in  view. Not only would the prisoners have been able to hear life on the mainland, I would imagine that the sound of gunshots and sirens would echo across the bay from time to time. Did they worry each time this might be the time someone escaped successfully? 

We spent the evening with a delicious  dinner at Waxman’s celebrating a raft of things – Christian’s upcoming birthday, his great first year results and Sophie’s acceptance into a prestigious UK university. Conversation ranged broad and deep – they seem much older than their teenage years and I was excited to think of where they might go and what they might do.

Monday we discovered a great little breakfast place that felt like home, and I had a San Francsico favorite, a  lavender latte (yum). In the afternoon we were privileged to get to visit Christian  at his internship. Had to sign a non disclosure agreement so can’t really say anything except that it’s a pretty cool place to spend your summer break. 

We finished our visit with the San Franscisco classic of clam bisque in a sour dough bowl (with a side of fresh sour dough…) perfect way to end and we were sad to say good bye to this beautiful city. Vibrant and funky, I hope we will get back.

Looking forward to New York – it has been a dream of mine to visit this city for a long time. I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

 A castle, a boardwalk and some seals

Travelling around an unfamiliar country means you aren’t sure what you should go to see and should miss out. To be honest I’d never heard of Hearst Castle before researching this trip but as it was basically on our way up the Coast we decided to give it a visit.

The morning was foggy as we drove into the already fairly full car park. We bought tickets and got on a bus, having no idea that the castle was high on a hill. As we drove up, the excellent recorded commentary started to weave a magical story of a castle, a zoo, acres of gardens, and of William Randolph Hearst’s desire to create something perfect from a childhood memory (Citizen Kane anyone?).

To be honest we were expecting something a bit tacky, but as the first glimpses of the castle were revealed we realised this was way more than we had been expecting. We emerged from the mist into a perfect sky marred only by a hint of smoke from the forest fires devasting the area.

We spent an enchanting hour touring the castle and its magnificent art works. Hearst had bought whole ceilings from 16th Century Italian and Spanish churches and installed them here. Crazy arrogance but ironically now available for countless visitors to come and marvel at.

 It wasn’t hard to imagine it as it had been when Hearst entertained the powerful, the beautiful and the famous. The renowned Jupiter pool had been drained for repairs but the stunning indoor pool with its gold and Murano tiles more than made up for it.

We came down feeling that we had had a glimpse into a world that no longer exists. A well-chosen stop!
A couple of miles down the Coast and we took a brief stop to marvel at the elephant seals basking in the warm sand. Such a contrast to the manicured opulence we had just left.

Then on up the endlessly winding and spectacular Pacific Coast Highway. It was still very foggy (and smoky) but we were treated to glimpses of the craggy shoreline and endless crashing surf. On the way we passed several fire staging areas and saw fire fighters merging from the forest from time to time. It was a very sobering thought to think that not too far away from where we were driving people were losing their homes.

We were planning on spending some time in Carmel-by-the-Sea but had managed to chose the week of the Monterey Car Show. After a slightly nerve-wracking drive through the narrow streets trying to avoid Lamborghinis, Maseratis and Aston Martins, we grabbed a quick burger and heading back onto the relative peace and quiet of the open road. We arrived in Santa Cruz for one night in a delightful renovated Victorian Villa. Gorgeous. 

I knew that Santa Cruz had a board walk so we ventured out to see it. I was thinking of a boardwalk like back home – a nice walk along the beach, maybe see some more seals and other wildlife. To my delight it was a completely over the top carnival space – wooden roller coaster, merry go round, gondola, sideshows, arcades, lights. I love stuff like this! It was like being transported  back a hundred years.

A delicious cioppino at a funky restaurant on the wharf – fresh lobster, mussels and crab and I was in a very happy (if messy)place.
We walked back though the now packed board walk, resisted the urge to try and win an enormous teddy bear, grabbed a root beer float and decided we liked Santa Cruz very much. 

So the adventure starts…

And we are off. After a surreal 24 hours where we were completely packed, my insanely long to-do before we go list was all ticked off, lots of meals in the freezer for the young man left behind  (so that theoretically he won’t exist on pizza alone), hugs given, grandkids kissed, and goodbyes said – we set off on our longest time away ever.

Great flight to LA (love our national carrier). 

First challenge was on arrival. It was a  biggy: learning to drive on the wrong side of the road as we headed up to our first stop, Santa Barbara. We would find over the next few days that driving and navigating unfamiliar territory while ignoring every instinct to drive on the left is a very good barometer of your marriage health. We came out pretty well with only a few tense/terse moments. We drove up the coast and the weather was glorious, the sea sparkling and the car staying on the correct side of the road!

Slightly jet-lagged we got to our first rather quaint inn. Larger than life and very friendly hosts lifted this above its old fashioned decor and noisy fan (no air-con). A quick change and out to explore the beautiful waterfront. Coming from winter to this just made our hearts sing – so balmy and a stunning sunset. Breakfast in the morning was a very quirky and slightly random collection of pastries and cereals with our hosts proudly showing us the Vegemite. Guess we are going to have to get used to being mistaken for Australians! Unfortunate his experience with the habits of Antipodeans didn’t extend to much of a selection of teas rather than coffee.
The morning was still and misty and we spent a couple of hours walking along the almost deserted beach, enjoying the shrouded shapes of boats moored along the way. The pier loomed towards us as the sun started to come out and we decided it was time to get back on the road.
And then we were back on the road – a little more confident this time. Road trip music was added. We drove up through the hills which were magnificent. Steep climbs revealing deep valleys and dramatic drops. Everything was brown and dry due to the drought.

San Luis Obispo was our next stop. Slightly inland, dry, hot – wine country! And that was the order of the afternoon, some lunch in the very pretty town and then a spot of wine tasting. We did choose the first vineyard purely because it was a right hand turn in from a very busy road, but it was an excellent choice. Pretty nice day to sit and enjoy delicious Californian wines. Giant pizza for dinner (just a tad overkill on the toppings) and then we were delighted to find Olympic coverage of some NZ athletes on our TV. 

Breakfast again was very eclectic. The inn was run by an English lady so we had scrambled eggs added to the collection of pastries and bagels, along with salsa. Again Wayne was discriminated against by being a tea drinker. This was to become a familiar experience as our trip progressed. 

And then we were on the road again heading up to Santa Cruz via the famous Pacific Coast Highway. But more about that next time.