Monday, May 31, 2010

The Kids

Yeah, the Kids are alright . . .

I'm putting up here a bunch of different photos, from different days while we were in the Cinque Terre. We found (and played on) 3 out of the four towns we visited playgrounds. Here are Ian and Leah in Vernazza - they've made up (see the photo below).

Apparently Leah wasn't being nice to Ian - he looks so miserable below, and Leah so contrite. They really can be pretty cute, mostly when they're sleeping ;-) .

Ian had a great time here on the playground in Monterosso al Mare. I have a bunch of photos in this series of Ian playing here on the rope and ladder.

And here Ian is standing on the front porch of the villa while I practiced my off-camera flash skills. It is so hard anymore to get him to pose, that I really am very fond of this photo.

And then there is little Miss Photogenic. It really is pretty hard to take a bad photo of Leah. Not that I'm biased.

On a side note, we are finally back on-line!!! All it took was me to rotate the little LNB-thingy on the satellite dish five degrees. That and a whole lot of frustration (some might say anger) at such a silly thing preventing internet access. Oh well, at least we're on now.



Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre. We've heard so much about it, read so much about. It'd be hard for anything to live up to that hype. But it really was pretty darn spectacular! Once again, the weather wasn't super cooperative, but it did get warm enough to go for a swim in those amazing blue-green waters!

The Cinque Terre is a remote corner of the Italian Riviera. It is a National Park in Italy and largely undeveloped. The mountains and landscape there are so rough and remote that a huge section of the hiking trails that connect those towns were closed due to recent landslides. Cinque is "5" in Italian, Terre is "land". So roughly 5 Lands or 5 Towns. We stayed in the northwestern most town, which is Monterosso al Mare. It has the largest beach of all 5 towns - which we made sure to avail ourselves of!

This photo below is a view from one of the windows in the villa where we stayed. Villa Montale. If you look close, you can see three of the other town in the photo. Corniglia is high on a hill, then Manarola, and peeking out from behind it was Rio Maggiore.

The first morning there I went for a walk in Monterosso al Mare, just to get the lay of the land. This photo is from a spot midway between Old Town and New Town looking towards New Town (just different parts of Monterosso al Mare). You can probably see our villa here, as we stayed on the New Town part.

Vernazza is the poster child of the 5 Terre. It is remote, with tiny, twisty, narrow, beautiful streets and a natural harbor. I made a couple of train trips here, as it really was a very picturesque town.

Corniglia is the only town that doesn't sit on the water of the Mediterranean. I didn't spend much time there - really just enough to climb around the streets for a bit and explore the old city center. Then it was off for the walk to Manarola.

Manarola was my favorite town after Vernazza. They all had the same tiny streets, but Manarola was perched on that rock and just rolled downhill into the Med. Even for a crappy weather day Manarola was a very nice excursion. I wish we could have had time to explore it more fully, but it we had to hoof it to Rio Maggiore.

I didn't take any good photos of Rio Maggiore itself. But I did get some nice ones of the kids. We took a boat from Rio Maggiore back to Monterosso al Mare. The kids had a nice ride, and it gave us a nice view of all 5 towns.

Once again, I hope all is well with everyone out there. Ciao!


Friday, May 28, 2010

Siena and San Gimignano

Well, we're back home. The villa in Monterosso al Mare didn't have internet so that is why I haven't written more. But we've seen and done a lot. Now to finish out the trip in photos.

I've decided to do something different here and get away from the day by day and go more for the story side of things, so bear with me.

On our trip into Siena, we decided to check out the Duomo and museum in addition to the market day - which I've already written about. The Duomo was amazing, literally every surface was a work of art: the floor, the interior walls, the exterior facade, the ceilings. Everything. The actual Duomo museum housed a fair bit of the original exterior and interior bits that were starting to show their age.

Below is a photo of everybody after enjoying a well deserved break on the steps outside the Duomo.

The museum had an excellent place to have panoramic views of the city. I've already posted one of those shots, this one below is a black and white version of another one I'd taken. There is a tiny piazza in the open space (lower left third) that had what looked like some nice restaurants and souvenir places.

We took one day to drive to San Gimingnano, the "Medieval Manhattan". Supposedly there were almost 70 of these towers back in the day, only about 14 still stand today. San Gimignano is home to the best white Chianti - Vernaccia di San Gimingnano. We definitely tried some and enjoyed it.

And here is a fun little shot of Leah. We were waiting for the ladies to get done shopping. I've spruced it up in photoshop a bit, nothing major though.

I hope all is well out there!



Friday, May 14, 2010

Ahhh, Siena . . .

One quick post before we leave Tuscany and then bask in the glory of the Italian Riviera: Cinque Terre!

Another panorama of the villa where we are staying. I have literally loads of these, so I'll stop posting those here. I'll probably post some on my Flickr site when I get around to it. I've included the vineyards that are next to the villa (mmmm, Chianti).

Wednesday we took a trip into Siena, which was pretty amazing. We timed it for Wednesday because that is a market day. There were sooooooo many vendors out there selling everything from clothes, to leather goods, to fresh cheeses and veggies. I can't remember everything we picked up, but Catherine found some deals (like there was any question there!).

Below is a panoramic of the medieval/old city of Siena. You can see Il Campo adjacent to the tower (just left of it).

And here is everyone enjoying a picnic lunch on Il Campo - the giant piazza at the heart of Siena.

I figured I'd give you all a head's up on what is coming next: GELATO!! Maybe not next, but certainly in the next couple of posts. Is it good? Oh yeah! Ian and Leah will give their endorsements that is irrefutable evidence of the tasty deliciousness that Italy has perfected.

Oh yeah - in case you forgot (or never knew) just click on the photos for a larger version.



Tuesday, May 11, 2010

To Toscana Cooking Class

Catherine and Christina took part in a cooking class way out in Poggio San Polo - way out in the remote countryside of Tuscany/Chianti. They had a blast, and while they were learning to cook authentic Italian meals, Nancy and the kids and I explore Radda which was just an awesome little hill town in Chianti. We had a great time exploring the old city, and playing on the playground.

We were in Radda for couple of hours, then made our way back to Toscana Mia for a delicious homemade 4 or 5 course lunch. I can't say enough good things about Toscana Mia, they seemed wonderful people.

This is a random photo from the day before, Ian and Leah playing with Shelley at our villa - Shelley belongs to Holly and Luca who manage the place and live right next door.

While we were waiting for lunch to be served, Ian and Leah passed the time blowing bubbles, which never really seems to get old with them.

After lunch, Ian and Leah again were blowing bubbles, so I decided to get some nice photos of each of them. Ian is a tough bird to photograph anymore: he likes to make funny faces while he says "cheese", so I'm glad to have a couple of keepers from this day.

Leah is still a joy to photograph. This one wasn't my favorite for technical reasons, but for her smile is easily my favorite.

I hope all is well out there. Ciao!



As many of you know, Catherine and I have been planning a special vacation to Italy for some time now. It's special because we invited her family to come stay with us. We didn't deliberately choose Mother's Day weekend, but I know it was a special one for Nancy.

Nancy came early and stayed with us in Germany for a couple of weeks, then we all drove to Italy last Friday. We slept on the Swiss-Italian border (Switzerland is drop-dead gorgeous mountainous countryside), then drove to Pisa to pick up Christina. From there we made our way into Pisa, which is waaayyyy smaller than I would have thought. Basically a decent sized town, not even a city.

Below is a shot of the Cathedral and the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa poking out from behind it. It was a pretty nice day while the sun was shining, cool when it hid behind some clouds.

We then drove on to our villa which is in the Chianti region of Tuscany between Florence and Siena. I've probably burnt about 3-4 hours stitching together photos in Photoshop, it's just a country that lends itself well to panoramic style photos. Beautifully dramatic. There really isn't a straight road in the region, which is fun for me while I drive but not so much for Catherine and Christina who tend for the car/motion sickness thing.

Anyways, here is a photo of the villa where we are staying. Smack in the middle of some olive groves and Chianti vineyards. Yummy!

For Mother's Day, we had reserved a table at the Enoteca Fortezza in Montalcino, of "Brunello di Montalcino" (wine) fame. Amazing wines, good food. And a beautiful hilltop city. The photo below is through a little alley off a main road looking down over part of the city and into the Chianti countryside beyond.

This is another panoramic (I told you the countryside lends itself to this type of photo), but this time of the city of Montalcino taken from the Fortezza (a partially ruined castle).

Could anyone go to Italy and not try the gelato? I guess so, but that wouldn't be any fun. So here are Ian and Leah finishing up their delicious gelatos.

I'll post again later today from our second day in Tuscany. I hope everyone is doing well out there.



Saturday, May 1, 2010

Leah's Recital and Last Shot of Holland

Okay, so I really should have planned this out better and wrote in blogging order, not chronological since all posts are going up today. Oi. You'll get the point.

Last weekend, Leah had a short recital. They had extra practices and special costumes - Leah was pretty excited about it. And she was perfect! She knew all her moves and of course looked like a princess. My little girl . . .

Finally, here is a last parting shot of Holland - this one was from the extreme back-roads trip along the dikes. I love how they line their roads with trees, it is just so visually appealing to me.

Next up is a trip to Italy for a couple of weeks. We are staying in a villa for a week in Tuscany, then go to the Cinque Terra (Italian Riviera) for a week after that. I know, please feel sorry for me ;)




The Keukenhof Gardens has been very high on my list of places to visit for a long time. Especially after almost a year in grey/brown (colorless) Iraq, the amazing colors were quite the feast for the eyes! We chose a chilly day to go, and I wish we could have gone back 2-3 weeks later, but it was still amazing.

Here are Ian and Leah in front of one of the many plots of flowers. Despite the chill, they had a pretty good time. Between the water, the swans, and the glass maze, there was lots there to interest Ian and Leah.

A quick shot of Leah during one of our break stops, this one at a cafe.

Below is one of my favorite photos from the bunches of photos I took. I have some post-processing plans for this one, but the "river" of blue flowers in contrast to the green and splash of yellow was pretty amazing.

Here are Catherine and the kids enjoying a bench by some water. Just a couple of minutes later a swan or two swam by which really captivated the kids.



Our new place

Like I said in my earlier post, we have recently moved. We live out in the sticks, so no internet (yet). It is a work in progress.

Anyways, this is the view of the castle (ruin) from our living room window and patio. It never gets old.

Out behind the house is a paved trail or road (mostly for the farmers) that heads up and out. It is a pleasant walk, and I'm guessing it links up with some bike trails, but I haven't tried it out yet on my bike. Time will tell on that.

A quick shot of the kids just outside the castle. They both have a great time exploring the place. And since it is so huge there is always something a bit new to find.

Here I was just having fun with Leah on the trail behind the house.

I hope all is well out there. Cheers,


Wow, It's been awhile . . .

A lot has happened over the past month since I've last posted. We've celebrated Easter, made a trip to Holland, moved houses (some things never change . . .), and are preparing for a BIG trip to Italy. Whew! Not all of these can be covered in a single post, so more will follow.

First up is Easter. Just a quick photo of Ian and Leah in their Easter finery before we made our way to church and the Easter Egg hunts.

On our trip to Holland, we stayed at a holiday park on the coast due east of Haarlem and Amsterdam. The park was pretty cool, it didn't allow cars inside except on Fridays and Mondays in which people were able to take luggage to and from their cottages. Pretty cool. After our trip to Zaanse Schans, an outdoor museum of sorts, I took a walk to the beach and found some wind surfers. The water must have been crazy cold, but these guys were enjoying the sun and the fun.

Here are Catherine and the kids in the middle of Zaanse Schans. It had several windmills, a cheese-making "factory" (DELICIOUS!!!), a wooden-shoe-making "factory", and several other nifty places to explore.

We had a GPS mis-hap. In the parking lot of Zaanse Schans getting ready to go home, we tried to start it up, but no dice. It was a scary 10 minutes or so where I thought I was going to have to navigate us back to our cottage with no earthly idea of how to get there.

It turned out okay - Catherine found a tiny reset button and away we went. Plus we took some tiny back roads home that literally followed the dikes and canals. It was the long way, but definitely worth the effort!