Tuesday, May 28, 2013


View from our terrace
About 20 miles east of Genoa and just two villages away from well known Portofino is the lovely Italian Riviera town of Rapallo Italy.  Our room on the 5th floor of an older hotel opened onto the roof top terrace which provided a gorgeous view of  the city and harbor plus lounge chairs to relax in after busy days of touring.  

View over Rapallo & Margherita
Montallegro Cathedral
We seem to catch the weekly outdoor markets in every town and there was one here the day after we arrived.   We wandered past the booths set up along the seaside promenade, then took the funicular to the top of the mountain.  1,800 feet up, we had a magnificent view of Rapallo and the adjacent town of Santa Margherita.  We walked up to a beautiful cathedral that had been built here to honor an apparition of the Virgin Mary which appeared to a peasant in 1557.  
Brightly painted facades
Upon returning to town, we boarded the boat to Portofino.   Afer strolling the small, colorful town, we chose a restaurant for lunch.  As fate would have it, we sat beside a couple from Monacco who had owned a jewelry store in Palm Beach for many years.  At their suggestion, we tried the pesto linguine, a local specialty.  It was delicious and unlike any pesto dish we’ve had in the States.  Also characteristic of the Ligurian region are brightly painted facades and fake windows on the buildings.  

Then there was the morning Ron couldn’t find his driver’s license.  After turning the room upside down, we finally concluded that it was, in fact, lost.   We were told to make a report at the police station which was just around the corner from our hotel.  Afterwards, as a last hope, we stopped at the supermarket across the street to see if he had dropped it there.  Success!  One of the young clerks had found it and given it to his colleague to take to the police station.  It was there the whole time Ron was making out the lost
License returned thanks to them
report!  This time when we returned to the police station, we had to wait about ½ hour while a ‘found’ report was made.  We were so happy to get the license back that we returned to the store to thank the lovely young men who had saved the day! 

Our little Agriturismo in Levanto

After several pleasant days in Rapallo, we drove to Levanto,  just north of the Cinque Terre.  On the edge of town is an Agriturismo (combination farm and B&B) run by a sweet young couple.  They produce wine, grappa, olive oil and 32 different flavors of jams.  


Saint Peter's Church Portovenere
The area known as Cinque Terre is composed of 5 small towns linked by hiking paths.  They are overrun with tourists.   We opted to take a train and bus past the Cinque Terre to the less popular but much prettier town of Portovenere.  Stretching into the sea with a church built atop ancient fortifications, Portovenere was once a favorite of D.H Lawrence and the Romantic poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley.  

The highlight of this stop was hooking up with Monica and Lee in the Cinque Terre town of Vernazza.  We met last March at a retreat we all attended in Temecula, California.  We had discovered that they too were homeless and doing an extended overseas trip.  This was the closest we would come to crossing paths. What fun it was to see familiar faces and trade stories -- not to mention speaking English without charades!  

Dinner with Lee & Monica in Vernazza

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Sanremo's Russian Orthodox Church
Outdoor market
Flower market
Into each life a little rain must fall and for us, it fell the week we were in Sanremo, Italy.   But, as you can see we had sunny days as well.

Food market
Not far from the French border,  Sanremo is part of the Italian Riviera.  It overlooks the Ligurian Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean that extends from the southeast coast of France along the northwest coast of Italy and down to the island of Corsica.   Sanremo was once the winter retreat for high society Russians including the mother of the last tsar (Nicholas II) who held court here.  In the last few  years, the city has seen a resurgence of Russian visitors.

Fortunately, the sun was shining the day the weekly street market is held in nearby Ventimiglia.  We took the local bus there and spent well over an hour wandering what is reputed to be the largest knock off market in Europe.  However, we thought the weekly outdoor market in Sanremo was just as good.  It is next to the Central Mercado where you can find  everything imaginable to make a wonderful, fresh Italian meal -- fish, meat, cheese, wine, pasta, vegetables and fruit.  Being homeless, we rarely have reason to buy anything but we enjoy the festive air of the markets and observing the local people. 
View from roof top terrace of our apartment building
Our little apartment was right across the street from the beach, but it was quite cool even on sunny days.  Fortunately, we were able to take advantage of the beautiful 'rails to trails' walking and biking path that runs along the waterfront.   

Biking the rails to trails path

Narrow alleys lead up to high point
View from the high point overlooking the city 
We also hiked up to the highest point in Sanremo.  The beautiful views overlooking the city and port made the strenuous climb through narrow alleyways worthwhile.  

Lunch at our favorite restaurant
On rainy days, we read and watched TED talks.  These are short talks by world renowned experts on everything from technology and science to psychology and global issues. They are entertaining and enlightening. 

Fortunately, Ron is very creative in the kitchen.  On rainy days, we would trek to the market with our umbrellas and bring home the makings for appetizers and dinner.  Early on, we learned – or I should say re-learned – that we must bring our own carry bag to the supermarket or be charged for plastic bags.

Overall,  we have found the prices a bit high as we always have to add about 1/3 as the euro runs close to $1.30 against the US dollar.  Gas is very expensive.  They sell it by the litre and 3.79 litres = 1 gallon.  It comes to about $7.00 a gallon to fill our Citroen with diesel. So far we have not needed to use the car except to get from lodging to lodging. The local transportation has been excellent and easy to use.  

On Wedneday, May 22 we will follow the coast around to Rapallo, Italy.  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Place de la Comedie

Montpellier's Arc d'triomphe
Typical French park
On May 5, we said adios to Spain and bonjour to France.  First stop: a week in Montpellier. Situated on the River Lez, 6 miles inland from the Mediterranean sea, Montpellier it is a vibrant and historical city. With a population of about 250,000, it is the 8th largest city in France and the fastest growing city in the country.  

Dancing in the plaza
Water skiing competition on River Lez
Antigone area is renowned for architecture

The Moors established medical schools here in the 9th century and the University of Montpellier’s school of medicine was founded in 1220.  The city is  also renowned for its architecture, parks and plazas.  

We were ideally situated in the Antigone area.  A few steps from the back of the Citadine Hotel (where we had a studio apartment with kitchenette), and we were in a wide pedestrian area lined with outdoor restaurants and occasionally a street fair.  There always seems to be some type of celebration or outdoor activity taking place -- water skiing, biking, dancing.  

A few more steps took us to a large shopping mall that opened onto Place de la Comedie.  Anchored on one end with an opulent 18th century opera house, La Place de Comedie is no doubt the largest, most popular square.  It has been called the living room of Montpellier.  From there, you can stroll through the historical district.  Wherever you wander, there are bistros and small cafes rather than fast food joints.  And the food is fresh and quite good.
The city has a fantastic tram system
Alan joined us for a few days

At a marina next to the beach
Four different tram routes serve the city and beyond.  The trams are decorated in bright colors and various designs.  One day, we rode the blue line to one end where we found a huge outdoor shopping mall and entertainment park.   A cinema, bowling alley, aquarium and planetarium were only some of the attractions.  

Some of you will recognize Alan Suslow from the 2011 Regent World cruise and others from previous appearances in this blog.  We were delighted that he stopped in Montpellier to spend a few days with us en route from Capetown South Africa to Colorado.  Together, we toured the historical district and one day took another tram to the beaches where we found a big marina and wonderful place for a leisurely lunch.  On Saturday, May 12th, we bid avoir to Alan and prepared to leave the following day for our next destination...  

Pénitents des Mées


A tiny village in the Durance Valley, Chateau-Arnoux is between the French Alps and Provence. The area is known for quaint villages and an unusual rock formation called "Penitents des Mees" because they resemble a procession of hooded monks (so they say).
The owner/chef of La Bonne Etape shows us his garden
La Bonne Etape

While there, we visited some of the villages including Montfort perched on top of  a hill.  The roads were narrow and twisting and some, we soon discovered, were not meant for cars.  Ron did a masterful job of backing the Citroen up until we found a spot just big enough (with several maneuvers) to get us turned around.  

We would not have ventured into this region known as the Alps of Haute Provence were it not for a Luxury Link offer.  It included 3  days at an elegant 17th century post house called La Bonne Etape, a beautiful breakfast each morning and a 3 course meal one evening.  

The highlight of our visit, however, was enjoying the peace and quiet and relaxing at the beautiful pool.  

Tomorrow, May 15, we enter Italy. We will return to France in a couple of months.   

Friday, May 3, 2013


Living room of our villa
Fabulous master bathroom

Haven private Dining Room 

On April 20, we boarded Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship, the Epic, in Miami and sailed for Barcelona. The Epic is one of the new mega ships capable of handling almost 5,000 passengers.  There were only 3,000 on this sailing – still far more crowded than we prefer.  

Fortunately, just days before embarkation, we were given the opportunity to upgrade to a 2 bedroom villa in the exclusive Haven Courtyard.  (When not full, ships often offer upgrades at the last minute for much less than the original price.) The Haven consists of 75 suites with access to a private pool, gym, sunning area and dining room.  It made all the difference in the cruise being enjoyable and not just a means of crossing the Atlantic.  The weather wasn’t great but the food was excellent and we met a terrific couple from southern California.   

Bill & Kay, our new California friends
Funchal, Madeira was the only stop the ship made during the crossing, and on May 1, we disembarked in Barcelona.  We took a taxi to pick up the car we had leased.   A little research had shown this to be far more reasonable than renting a car.
Our Citroen chariot
Hotel Atenea Mataro, Spain

Our Citroen was brand new, platinum gray and had plenty of room for us and our  luggage – a duffel and carry on each.   It came with  automatic steering (not so common in Europe), a GPS and insurance coverage. Not wanting to go too far the first day, we drove to Mataro, about 30 miles north of Barcelona.  Mataro is a small city with long, lovely beaches along the Mediterranean.  

View from our room
Fishing boats along the beach
We were very happy with our  room at the beautiful, new Atenea Hotel.  It overlooked the marina and included breakfast and dinner.  As Spanish restaurants typically open at 8:30 pm, we opted to take late lunch instead.

City center Mataro

We spent 4 nights here enjoying glorious weather and long walks.  It was a perfect place to catch up on emails and create this blog. 

Now it is on to France.