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Dash across Germany

16 Sep
16 September 2017.
Relatively speaking, that is, we dashed across Germany. Eight-and-a-half hours by train from Amsterdam to München. Seems long, but it is not much slower than flying when you consider time to-and-from airports, security, waiting time, etc. And it is far more relaxing. I’ll take a train over a plane any day. We read, napped, chatted, and snacked. The only challenge was the six-minute change of trains. Six minutes! We had to go from the end of one very long train, down from the platform through the very busy Hannover station, up to another platform, and run several car lengths. We made it about 60 seconds before they closed the doors. Note to self: never let Trainline.eu schedule our connections. Should’ve bought directly from Deutsche Bahn. The price was great, though.

This passed for a snack in first class on our second DB train. Expected beer and pretzels.

Germany wasn’t really in our plan, but we needed to get from Amsterdam to Ortisei and it was not feasible to do in a day by train. I last visited München in 1972, a few weeks before the ill-fated Olympics. Ric had never been. In order to make the most of our time there, we hooked up with Taff Simon (not yet born in 1972, he observed) of Dark History Tours. Taff is an archeologist and life-long student of history. He shared with us not only the highlights of München (Marianplatz, Frauenkirche, Hofbrauhaus, and so on) but afforded us an insider’s view taking us into places big groups would never go. For example, the big meeting room on the top of the Hofbrauhaus where in February 1920 Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists held their first meeting. Taff led us through historic sites related to the rise of the Nazi party and Hitler’s activities in München prior to WWII, and we were also privy to his insights on the culture, the Bavarian royal family (think of the “Kings Ludwig”), and of course beer.
Click on any photo for a larger view and caption.
We visited a bierkeller our first night, but the stand-out meal we enjoyed in München was Lebanese at Baalbek. What a delightful change from pork, red cabbage, and dumplings! Served with fine Lebanese red wine, we could not have been happier. We are also happy to be back in the habit of walking everywhere. A 20-minute walk before and after a dinner like that is so preferable to dropping into a car and carrying your new fat right to bed.
We are now in Ortisei and delighted to be back in Italia. It feels like coming home. Had great weather Friday morning, if cold (32 F/0 C), so we got in a great hike. We had to go buy fleeces: Didn’t pack them as we had not expected such cold to hit already.

 

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In Amsterdam, get away from the damn Damrak!

13 Sep
13 September 2017.
Katerina, Deb, and Catherine will be sad to hear I really did not care for Amsterdam: at least until we got away from the damn Damrak. Our first day wandering this bastion of all things commercial I was almost sorry we came to The Netherlands. The Damrak was crowded with trams, buses, bicycles, cars, and clueless pedestrians maneuvering helter-skelter around one another. It is a wonder more people are not taken out by cyclists. The mayor is now actively discouraging tourism and suggesting people go to Rotterdam instead.

Sunday by the Canal, Amsterdam. Locals kick back with coffee and a newspaper.

Amsterdam, awash in tourists and their trappings, does have quiet sectors where one can appreciate the history, the beauty, and the determination of the Dutch. Like other great cities, one must leave the main arterials funneling tourists who have not done their homework and find the neighborhoods where dogs are walked and Sunday papers are read on sunny benches along quiet canals.

Love the old tile work in the Haarlem station. “Washroom First Class.” 

We stayed in Haarlem, which is quite charming and untouristed as far as we could tell this first week of September. At least the only English we heard was from the Dutch who can switch languages in mid-sentence, so used they are to dealing with non-Dutch speakers. We were quite flattered to be mistaken for Dutch a couple of times having used a rudimentary “Morgen” or “Guten Abend,” in greeting. Even Utrecht, a day trip destination for us, seemed to harbor more travelers than Haarlem. It also harbored a terrific railroad museum where we whiled away a couple of rainy hours.

Haarlem is much more laid back. Even cyclists are less intense.

Most mornings, we traveled the 15 minutes to Amsterdam from Haarlem via commuter train with students and workers who had parked their bikes in front of the station in confusing swarms. In the evenings, we traveled “home” with the same crowd, enjoying the feeling of being temporary locals who lived in the small town of Haarlem.
We could walk a few minutes to the Albert Heijn market and try to decipher labels to stock our kitchen. We wandered the back streets of Haarlem and took in the history thanks to an obscure book of walking tours I found. The cafes and restaurants of Haarlem were excellent and frequented by the Dutch, not our own ilk. This endeared us to The Netherlands.
The Van Gogh Museum, though lovely and certainly with an incredible collection of the master’s works, was horribly crowded even on Friday night at dinner time. (My introverted and crowd-avoiding self specifically booked tickets for an evening opening that was said to be less crowded.) To our amazement, the museum was not full of English speakers, but mostly Dutch, with some German and Italian sprinkled in. I guess the American kids hanging around Dam Square had little interest in Vincent.

Rijksmuseum before the masses descend. If you go, get a ticket in advance. I cannot believe how many people miss this simple trick at museums all over Europe.

By contrast, the Rijksmuseum at opening on a Monday morning was accessible. We almost skipped it based on our Van Gogh evening. Proving again that getting out early pays, we sailed in shortly after 9:00 and after a highlights tour returned to the main hall to find a rising tide of people as 10:30 approached. The line for those without advanced tickets was a block long outside when we left at 11:30.
We found the Joordan neighborhood as well as the area around the Stopera and Zoo to be peaceful places to roam on a Sunday morning. Re-emerging in central Amsterdam after wandering the Joordan was startling. Much like walking the Champs Elysees in Paris or making the march from San Marco to the Rialto in Venice, if you do not leave the Damrak, Spui, or Leidseplein, you miss the character of Amsterdam, and getting completely out of Amsterdam allows at least a  glimpse into how people live.

This is half of our Indonesian Rijsttafel.

I did not have high expectations for food. Outside of Italy, it can be a struggle for us to be truly happy with meals, so I must comment on some of our best meals here.
  • We were stunned to discover a truly Italian pizza in Haarlem at Pizzeria Back-to-Basics . The owner, Francesco, is a Neapolitan who came to Haarlem 30 years ago. He produces masterpieces from a tiny wood-fired oven and kibitzed with me in Italian. Even the wine was a good Italian negroamaro. (More on that soon at www.OurWeeklyPizza.com.)
  • Another night we experienced the Indonesian rijsttafel, an experience we’ve not had prior and would not mind repeating. At Restaurant Flamboyant, an array of 12 dishes was not unlike a Lebanese mezza. Each dish presented a different flavor palate from mild to spicy, from sweet to savory. Deep-fried tofu, stewed lamb, tender braised chicken, fried bananas, coconut vegetables, zippy sautéed eggplant: too many to name and each a bit of heaven on the tongue.
  • On a stormy night, we arrived soaking wet and found a cozy yet trendy interior and non-traditional menu at Popocatepetl. Pollo asado was served with sweet potato fries (side of mayo, of course!) and Ric’s birria, a lamb stew, was something we’d not seen before on a Mexican menu. The playlist varied from jazz to Mexican and the hang-out factor was huge. No wonder the place is always crowded with the young Dutch.

Happened upon a wedding party celebrating in a little side street.

We did not get to see as many places in The Netherlands as we had hoped. The weather was terribly unsettled and wet for much of our stay so we did not venture to some of the other spots on my list of possibilities. Funny that we timed this trip so we’d have some warm late summer weather in Northern Europe. September is usually amazing. But watching what happened with hurricanes in the U.S. and downpours flooding Italy, we are feeling pretty darn lucky.
Off to München!

Can you tell why this train is called a “dognose?”

I love the little sheep. If I had room in my luggage I’d place one in our yard at home.

It fits!

1 Sep
1 September 2017. How do you prepare for eight weeks on the road with temperatures ranging from 43F to 73F (06C-23C) with the added caveat that your heaviest bag cannot exceed 22 pounds/10 kilos? We will be in cities, hiking in mountains, and visiting the seaside as well, so we need to be able to adapt to hot-and-sweaty as well as possible cold-and-rainy.
Over the past 9 years I have been developing my packing-light-and-right skills. I had two bags go astray in 2008 and although I did eventually receive my luggage, the inconvenience was horrible. That taught me that carry on is the way to go.
As far as luggage, the winning combo is a 21-inch roll-a-board coupled with a day pack. We chose Eagle Creek Osprey bags to replace our aging luggage as their 21-inch case weighs only 4.5 pounds.  My last roll-a-board, which I used for seven years, weighed 7.5 lbs. Shaving 3 pounds off the bag is huge.

Almost everything on the bed goes in the 21-inch suitcase, upper left.

What exactly am I taking for two months?

Toiletries. I love the red bag because I can just hang it from a towel bar and not have to unpack everything. My 3-1-1 bag is at the upper right. We will buy body wash, toothpaste, lotion along the way to replenish.

“Medical” supplies: bandages, Moleskin, Neosporin, Tylenol, Calagel, Immodium, etc. And a couple of dozen Wet Ones, an essential in so many ways.

My wardrobe is about layering: 2 blouses, 2 long sleeved tees, 2 short sleeved tees, 2 jeans, one pullover sweater, khaki jacket, jammies & undies. Wear on the plane: black stretchy pants, tee, & lightweight jacket.

Bottom of the bag: Extra shoes and collapsible trekking sticks.

All of the clothes except my anorak are in cubes. The anorak goes in my day pack.

Clothes packs in! Ready to zip up. I do tuck dry laundry-soap sheets, Ziplocs, and a few tea bags inside as well.

I also squeezed in a foldable travel duffle bag in case we make any acquisitions along the way.  
My day pack will contain my anorak, a tiny umbrella, iPad, laptop (Surface Pro 4), cords and an adaptor, tickets and printed confirmations along with maps organized by country. Because of the carrier and class we are flying, we can also carry on a personal item each, i.e., a purse with the usual assortment of personal gear.  
All of our travel guide books are Kindle, sparing us at least 6 pounds of paper.
Ironically, now that we are so efficiently packed with everything ready to carry on, we have to check our roll-a-boards because the trekking sticks are not allowed by TSA. So now the day pack also contains a change of underwear in case the bag is delayed. 
Counting the hours to departure.

 

Tourists again

29 Aug
29 August 2017. One of our favorite things about living in Roma was telling people we lived there. When we traveled we felt just a little Continental. We could take a trip with minimal planning: except for needing cat sitters, we could be quite extemporaneous. Trains were easy and we didn’t obsess over packing perhaps because we were so at home in Europe.
We loved being able to go to Tuscany for the weekend or to stay for an entire week somewhere because we weren’t in a rush. We loved vacationing as Italians do, passing a summer month in the cool beauty of the Dolomites.
Now we will be American Tourists again. We’re going back!
One of our dreams for life-after-Roma has been to return and do long trips with long stays throughout Europe. We will go back to favorite places and visit some new-to-us places. Cat-and-house sitters are lined up for September and October. (Read about our sitters, Dan & Tracy, at their blog, Sitters on Tour.
This time it feels like mounting an expedition. We’ve never done a two-month trip before. We are committed to packing light: the same amount of stuff for 2 months as for a week, 21-inch-roll-aboard plus a day pack. And we will experience temps (based on averages) as warm as 73F/23C and as cool as 43F/6C. A packing challenge, for certain.
Where will we be?
Amsterdam, Munich, Ortisei, Venezia, Assisi, Roma (naturally), Paris, and London. We plan to fan out on day trips in many places.
Amsterdam: We have five full days and figure we will spend three in the city and take a couple of day trips, perhaps Leiden, Delft, Hoorn, and Enkhuizen. We are staying in Haarlem.
Munich: Only two nights to break up the trip to Ortisei. I was there when I was 19 and most of my memories revolve around beer gardens. We plan on a private tour to see some city highlights.
Venezia: We know the city well after eight (or is it nine?) visits and will have five full days this time. What new experiences should we add?   I am thinking of  Bassano del Grappa and maybe Chioggia.
Assisi: We visited Umbria in 2011 and want to revisit some favorites (Spello), do some hiking, and see some new towns (Norcia perhaps). We will be here for five nights, four full days, and have a full day of travel (naturally by train) between Venice and Assisi.
Roma: Planning to reconnect with the city, friends, and favorite restaurants.
With our three stops in Italy, we will overdose on the Italian food (pizza!) we’ve missed so much.
Paris: We’ve been five times for 2-to-7-night visits in the past 2 1/2 years, but the only forays beyond central Paris have been to Versailles and Giverny. I am thinking about Chartres this time. We’ll have 7 nights, 6 full days. (Never enough.)
London: Wrapping up with two weeks in London, we are staying in Westminster. We love just walking around London and will try to hit sights and sites we missed on our last three trips but we also want to do some day trips. Bletchley Park is on the list, and maybe Bath and Stonehenge with Canterbury and Dover in mind as well.
I will try to be a good little blogger and post regularly. General travel insights and experiences at www.GoodDayRome.com, pizza eating at www.OurWeeklyPizza.com, and hiking (Assisi, Ortisei) at www.ProjectEasyHiker.com. If you are not signed up for all three, consider giving me a follow on them.
“See” you from the continent!

 

 

What’s new?

29 Mar
29 March 2017. It is difficult not to think of Italy and our Italian life. I love being back in Oregon and living in a small coastal community, but Ric and I do have a fondness for things Italian and wax nostalgic about our fabulous years in Roma.

The Alpe di Siusi, Italy, one of our favorite places.

I am delighted to see new people signing up to follow this blog. I hope you find it useful in planning your trip to Italy, or perhaps you are just reading and dreaming about Italy. I do that a lot myself. 
Since GoodDayRome is on hiatus until we travel to Europe again, you can join me over at Our Weekly Pizza for commentary on our continuing search for great pizza, or at Project Easy Hiker where we are blogging about hiking. As the weather gets better, we’ll be out-and-about on the Oregon Coast adding to our hiking repertoire. 
And if you know anyone traveling to Italy this year I hope you will tell them about our new book, “Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena.” The Val Gardena is a paradise and easily experienced on foot with a series of easy hikes, suitable for children, the elderly, or anyone who wants to enjoy the alps without climbing them.
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