Monday, September 23, 2013

Interlude Post 9 from the Dordogne Valley, France

Bonjoir from central France!  Navigator remains dry-docked in Trinidad for hurricane season, and our friend Rich has arrived back at the boatyard and reports that all is well with the boat - hooray!

Since our last update, which was from the Greek ferry "Superfast," we returned to Italy and finished our Italian adventure. The first stop was Ravenna, on the east coast.  This town was one of our favorites: it is famous for it's mosaic floors and ceilings and they definitely live up to their hype.  Something about standing under centuries-old art which was created by sticking thousands of small pieces of rock, tile, or glass together leaves one in awe.

Next up was Florence.  Since we had heard the new Dan Brown book (Inferno) takes place in Florence, we figured we should read it while in the neighborhood.  I thought the book was not bad, but not the best.  However, it was really cool to see all the things he mentions in the book in real live.  For instance, without giving away too much, Dante's death masque figures prominently in the book, and we wandered across it during one of our museum treks.  Kind of cool.

In any case, Florence is famous for being the home of the Renaissance, and we enjoyed looking at all kinds of interesting art, including Michelangelo's colossus, "David." "David" was my favorite piece of art in the city, but there is so much to see it get's tough to find enough time in the day.

In the Florence area, we also drove through the Chianti region, famous for its wine.  It was really neat to see the grapes hanging from their vines, ready to be picked (harvest is right around now).  We stopped into a shop in Chianti and sampled the fresh salami, olive oil, jams, and wines.  I didn't like the wine but the olive oil was great!

After departing Florence, we headed to the coast for a few days. First up was Pisa and its leaning tower (yes it leans), but the highlight was an awesome lunch in town with fresh pasta and veggies...can't beat it. Next in the coastal adventure was Cinque Terre, which are 5 coastal villages connected by a footpath (and train), and don't have many they harken back to ye olde fishing village.  They were quite crowded, but it was nice to walk along the coastal path for the day, stopping in each village along the way for pictures or salami, or fruit.

We said goodbye to Italia after 3 awesome weeks of touring, and headed to back to France for our last leg. Along the way was the principality of Monaco on the French Riviera.  I had been there once previously on EAGLE, so it was cool to check it out again and show Kellee the sights.  The best part was the oceanographic museum and aquarium, which was once lead by Jacques Cousteau, one of our heroes.  The aquarium has a really diverse collection of species, and the museum featured all kinds of old oceanographic equipment and relics.

We also stopped by the Monte Carlo casino.  The picture shows our results...all we did was type in a 4 digit code and money came out!  Ok, just kidding, that was from the ATM.  We didn't gamble...too rich for our blood.

We did a drive through of Cannes and the south coast of France before heading inland to the Gorge Verdon, a geologic feature in southern France which is likened to a "small grand canyon" in the guidebook, which I think is an oxymoron, but in any case it was quite scenic and featured precipitous drops, so we stayed away from the edges.

We also found ourselves with a couple extra days in our schedule, so we made the 5 hour drive south to Barcelona and Figurers, in Spain, to do some sightseeing.  The Cathedral in Barcelona is still under construction (120 years after beginning), and is expected to be completed in 2040.  It's amazing...modern architecture and lighting make it a pretty neat place to be.  Figurers was home to the Salvatore Dali museum which was one of the strangest places I've ever been, but was still neat to see.

That brings us up to date.  We're currently camping in the Dordogne Valley in central France, and tomorrow we'll go see a few archaeological sites....hopefully including the Font du Gaume and Lascaux caves....20,000 year old cave art from Cro-Magnon peoples who lived here during the last ice age.

Until next time - au revoir!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Interlude Post 8 from the Adriatic Sea

Hello from the Adriatic Sea aboard a "Superfast" car ferry that is taking us back to Italy after a sojourn to Athens and Delphi in Greece.  We are a couple of days ahead of schedule, so we thought a diversion to the origin of western civilization was a good way to spend some of that extra time.  The weather has been beautiful for the last couple of weeks and we've taken advantage of it.

Since arriving in Venice, we walked for two days all through the alleys and bridges, admiring the gondola riders and marveling at the boat driving skills of some of the delivery barges while we worked our way through the city, visiting various churches and the impressive art hidden within.  We camped on a peninsula that let us take a ferry into the city, making the trip very easy.

After Venice, we spent a couple of days in Umbria, the central part of the country, and drove through some of the hilltop villages, including Assisi, where we happened to be on a Sunday and got to experience hearing an Italian mass in St. Francis of Assisi's resting place basilica.  We really enjoyed it.  From there we made our way to Rome.

We found an awesome campground with a restaurant, pool and store to call home for a few days and it was such a treat to come back at the end of a long day to refresh in the pool.  The trip into Rome was a bus then metro, and we seemed to catch commute traffic every time, but it was much better than trying to drive around.

The first day we saw the ancient sites of the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palantine Hill and visited the Capitoline Museums.  We also visited a church that had been excavated to find an earlier church under it, still intact, and a roman house and pagan temple again under THAT; talk about the "weight of history," it was dark and a little eerie, but pretty unique. That night, we took a night bus tour of the city and it was neat to see the sights lit up.  The tour walked for about an hour by Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and other sights, so we got some cool night pictures.  We stumbled into bed after our late night adventure and woke a little later the next morning and took in some of the other sights, including the large Piazzas and going into the Pantheon, one of the world's oldest buildings.  All along our forays, we tried pizza, tortellini and other local pastas, each delicious.  Our favorite are the caprese lunch panini sandwiches...just tomato, basil and mozzerella, simply delish!

We finally got our football (soccer) tickets, only to find they had moved the game from Rome to Palermo...Sicily, 12 hours away!  So we zoomed through the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica in the morning, (yes, the Sistine Chapel does live up to its hype), and started the long drive south.  A short overnight stop had us on a campsite high on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean at sunset.  We ate our bowls of pasta watching the sky grow dark and the ships going by, and we got a bit nostalgic for the Navigator. The next day we hopped aboard the crazy anything-goes ferry to Sicily and finished our drive to Palermo.  The soccer game was awesome.  Italy played Bulgaria in a World Cup Qualifying match and won 1- 0. "GOOOALL!!!!" reverberated through the 80% filled stadium and shouts of "Italia (ee-tal-ee-ya)" helped to cinch their invitation to the World Cup.  It was an awesome experience.

Back on the road the next day and back across the somewhat sketchy ferry to mainland Italy and we made our way to the Almafi coast.  Chris did a great job white knuckling the cliff-clinging narrow roads despite oncoming buses and suicidal scooter drivers that thought they owned the whole road.

The next day we toured Pompeii.  Again, awesome.  A whole town that has been dug out to reveal ancient roman baths pretty well intact, amazing mosaics and even their version of fast food lunch stalls.  The information gleaned from all the bits left behind is astounding.  The excavated area was huge and we got lost a couple of times but managed to find most of the highlights, including the brothel with intact frescos that made us blush.

The next morning we drove the Almafi coast to see lots of olive and lemon trees clinging to the cliffside and then headed across to the east coast and Bari where we boarded our overnight ferry to Patras, Greece.  We opted for a deck level ticket, which treated us to lots of noisy neighbors for the night (including a 2 a.m. kick to the side of the head), so we drove to our camp north of Athens and crashed early.  The next day we adventured into town and checked out the sights, it was hot, sunny day, so we took it slow but enjoyed the new Acropolis museum before exploring the temple of Zeus and the Acropolis hill with its temples to Athena and the infamous Parthenon.  Lots of (re)construction going on up on the hill, the museum really helped to bring it to life.  We found some delicious soulvaki for dinner and called it a night.  Today we drove up to Delphi, home of the ancient oracle and legend dictated as the center of the world in the time of ancient Greece.  The temples to Apollo and Athena on the hillside were impressive but we didn't have time to linger before finishing the drive back to the ferry.  This time we opted for a bunk and are looking forward to a good night's sleep!