Friday, May 12, 2017

Lucca, Pisa, and a little bit of Tuscany.

In 2007 Ana and I spent a couple of days of our honeymoon in Florence, Italy. That particular trip didn't leave the best impression on us because it was miserably hot plus we didn't quite know how to travel abroad on a shoestring budget. Here we are a decade later back in Tuscany (sans Florence this time) taking in everything we missed the first time around. We picked Lucca as home base only because there were several interesting looking villas listed on airbnb. If it looks good, then it must be good, and that was good enough for us. 

We rented the middle floor of a villa outside the city wall in the Santa Ana neighborhood. The area was charming and easy to navigate. The city's wall was a short 5-minute walk...for Ximena it was like she landed in a town especially created for her. The abundance of playgrounds teaming with excited kids hoping to converse with her in Italian tickled her. Lucca is family friendly for sure. My favorite features of the city wall was the 4 km path above it perfect from bicycling, running or taking a stroll. 

Just in case you're not sold yet, Lucca has vineyards nearby in the hills, Pisa is 15-minute drive while Florence is less than an hour. Modena, Parma, and Bologna are also about 2 hours away-ideal day trips. If you want to experience breathtaking landscapes, small villages, and hairpin turns, might I suggest the two-lane road between Modena and Lucca-sure it takes twice as long compared with the highway, but you're on vacation and just make sure you have a full tank of gas.
Center of Lucca
Roman Soldiers added to the Palm Sunday and G7 Summit build up.
G7 Summit Protesters with Ximena breaking down the wall.
The kitchen at Ristorante Vipore seated in the hills of Lucca. Amazing food, bummer 4 EURO/per person service charge.
Pisa, at least we didn't take obscene photos with the tower like the college boys next to us.

Phone home.
That scenic, windy, and somewhat scary wet drive between Lucca and Modena.
Yes, delicious balsamic. We even tasted the 100-year old bottle. Free tours too.
I was the only one in our clan stoked on the sweet all vegetable/nut Torta Verde di Lucca

Ximena's birthday cheese cake was the winner. 
Outside the Lucca walls.
Inside the Lucca walls.
We did hear some minimal protesting of the G7 Summit. Helicopters were buzzing above and there were some broken bottles and shots fired.
That path on the wall I mentioned.
We can never escape Egypt.
Inside the wall.

Aged Balsamic-perfect for steak or ice cream.
Buzz yourself in.
Might have to go back for this concert.
Cardboard chimp and baby.
Stalking some Italian boys.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Lago di Bracciano: Anguillara Sabazia, etc. Lazio, Italy

Anguillara Sabazia, ever heard of it? We hadn't either. One of the best features on airbnb is you can search for places within a certain radius. We were hoping to get a place by the Med for a couple of nights, but that didn't work out so we had to look inland and thankfully we did. The little villages surrounding Lago di Bracciano were fantastic, low key, and non-touristy. We got to roam around Anguillara Sabazia, Trevignano Romano, and Bracciano. There were other villages and campsites along the lake. An added bonus is that both Rome and the FCO airport are 30-minutes away. Our luck would have it is that we arrived on Good Friday and took in a nightly procession that started at the cathedral on the hill. It was an ideal area to spend a couple of days. 

Anguillara Sabazia
A view from the cathedral.

Takeout box from Vapoforno Anguillara-excellet food.

Bracciano-Castello Orsini-Odescalchi

View from Bracciano.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Dahab, Saint Catherine, Sinai, Egypt

Dahab sounded like the right destination to escape for a long weekend. Thanks in part to the sizzling hot deals on Egypt Air and the short distance made it the best "escape from Alex" option. It was a hard week indeed that involved miscommunications between a student's art project and "The Man." Yes, that is code. You can read all about it in my one-day-to-be-published memoirs. As for now, it's a little too hot for social media...but I got a preview of what life will be like under Trumpism if the red team gets full rein of making the USA a police state.

Most of the gang we traveled with played it safe and stayed on the shore skipping out on the world famous diving at the Blue Hole and snorkeling. Wind plus cold=no bueno. We took advantage of Indian, Thai, pork, and other food options that Alex largely lacks. A half-day trip to Saint Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai and the home of the burning bush made famous in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:1-15) happened as well. 

The company, food, setting, reflexology session, and the lack of internet connection was what the doctor ordered. Below is the evidence.    

Dahab Paradise Hotel, our home away from home. We were well taken care of.
Back view of the hotel.

Scott and Jen directed Ximena towards the puppies that were born under the giant LOVE sign in the back of the property.
Nope, we skipped this part.
X doing her impression of Swan Lake
Photo from the back of the pick-up
A sad reminder at the Blue Hole of the potential hazards of diving. The makeshift "tombstones"

A bridge to the hole.
"Toilet" in blood red letters.
Jeep and camel races are all the rage.
Illegal in all 50 states. Riding in the back of a truck.
The next set of photos are along the shore across the street from our hotel.

Saint Catherine's Monastery taxi
We drove two hours each way to spend an hour at Saint Catherine's Monastery. We didn't get to climb around or see all that there was to see within and outside the walls. Time was an issue as we were assigned to a convoy on the return drive to Dahab. We thought it was strange since we didn't have a police escort there. As our friend Brandon said, "I guess the kidnappers work on only one side of the highway." Maybe so.

The bush on the right is the burning bush...the least the original site of it.

Saint Catherine's Monastery
Our police escort.
The drive between Saint Catherine's Monastery and Dahab had a wide range of landscapes including the White Canyon that we only saw a little part of.

More beach shots in Dahab.