Early June Garden

I know the post is late since it is almost July but I wanted to show what has been up with the garden earlier this month.

Watermelon plant is starting to flower.

Roma tomatoes start to ripen.

We have a grapefruit that has not fallen from the tree!!!!

Key limes are ready to grow again this season

Starting some baby dills that I hope will make it through the summer.

New collard is getting some shade action by the palm frond.

This might be the first year the corn makes it….only time will tell.

Beans are hanging in there.

Tuscany: Florence Day 3

During our visit to Florence we also visited Uffizi Gallery and the Academia to see famous works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaello and others. Unfortunately no pictures were allowed so I can not share my experience with you. Both museums are a must see to your visit to Florence.
We also spent time on this often photographed bridge Ponte Vecchio. The bridge which dates back to 972 has been destroyed in the past by floods but now serves a shopping district for jewelry.

On our last day of florence we visited the Boboli Gardens located behind the Pitti Palace. The peaceful gardens were a nice break from the busy and bustling tourist districts.
The gardens house many historic and contemporary artworks.

 Egyptian obelisk

Turtles holding up the obelisk?

Fountain of Neptune

Casino del Cavaliere(Porcelain Museum)

Views from the garden

Monkey business

Garden tunnel

Lemon trees at Isolotto’s Basin

Man’s best friend.

Some contemporary art

Grotticina di Vulcano grotto of Vulcan)

The Dwarf Morgante by Valerio Cigoli
Very interesting.

The gardens are another must see on your visit to Florence. As you can see, there is so much to do in Florence. Please don’t cut your visit short and rush through it in a day or two. To fully enjoy all that Florence has to offer, I would stay at least 3-4 days.
Happy travels!

Tuscany: Florence Day 2

For our second day in Florence we visited the Palazzo Vecchio

We started the day visiting the Cathedral Museum in Florence. It has a good collection of renaissance sculpture. We were able to view many pieces by famous artists. Below are pictures of some interesting works of art.

Michelangelo – Pietà

reliefs of Luca della Robbia (1400-1482) – original marble

After as stop at the museum we went nearby to visit the Palazzo Vecchio. This palace/fortress had many uses throughout the years. Now it is available to tourists as a museum and a government building to the people Florence.

On the way to the Palazzo Vecchio we took a stop at the Piazza della Signoria  to see   Bartolommeo Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus

We also came across Benvenuto Cellini’s statue Perseus With the Head of Medusa

First noticeable is the famous tower of the palace.

Inside there are many interesting ceiling patterns.

Artwork inside the Hall of Lilies.

Hall of Maps

More interesting ceiling decor.

Artwork from the Sala dell’Udienza

Sala de la Audiencia de Francesco Salviati

Salone dei Cinquecento

View from the terrace.

There are many museums to see in Florence but these should remain in the must see.

Tuscany: Florence Day 1

Upon my two prior visits I have always wanted to visit Florence. When I took humanities in college, many of the great works I learned about resided in Florence. It was the center of Renaissance and the beneficiary of many wealthy and talent residents in its past.

We stayed at the Il Ghiro Guest House. It was centrally located and not far from the train station. It wasn’t fancy but it was clean and we had a private bathroom. It only got a bit noisy at times but that is what to expect from hostels. The highlight of our evenings was coming back to our hostel and seeing “gypsies” that we had seen begging earlier in the day with sad eyes. In the evening they had beers and were all smiles.

We started our first day climbing the 414 steps of the campanile (or bell tower) of Florence’s famous Duomo.

From the top we had great views of the Duomo and Baptistry.

Look down the middle….

Also below we saw a parade go by.

And how can I forget these great views of the city.

After the bell tower we wandered around town a bit and stop to look at some statues.

Fountain of Neptune

We happened upon a flag fight.

The best part of the day is when we were there the same time as the Florence Wine Event. We decided to take part.

Carlos demonstrating the proper way to carry around your wine glass. Why don’t they have these bags at wine events in the USA?

And as the day comes to a close we head back to our hostel for a good nights sleep. Ciao!

Sightseeing in Scotland

From Edinburgh we took at day trip to see Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond and a Whisky distillery. We chose Heart of Scotland Tours for the trip.

The first stop was Stirling Castle.

A Stewart family castle, it was a favored residence by many kings and queens. This castle is where Mary Queen of Scots spent her childhood. It sits on top of a hill that helps with its fortification.

I really like the tapestries in this castle. So much display of unicorn-ry!

This lighting fixture was quite interesting as well.

And look at this dude….scary.


Because the tour was so packed of activities we were only give a little over an hour to tour both the castle and the town where the castle resides. I would have liked to schedule at least 1/2 day here.

Hamish the hairy highland Coo

After our visit to Stirling castle we drove through the Trossachs and visited Hamish the Hairy Coo.

And look at these views….

Aberfoyle

We stopped in the small town of Aberfoyle for fish and chips.

We also saw these furry guys.

Loch Lomond

So ye’ll tak the high road, and I’ll tak the laigh road, 
An’ I’ll be in Scotland before ye: 
But me and my true love will never meet again, 
By the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.

 The visit to Loch Lomond proved to be the highlight of the day. It was a perfect and clear day. The views were amazing. I felt at peace walking the banks of Loch Lomond.

Scotch Whisky Tasting at  Glengoyne Distillery

We finished out the day with a whisky distillery tour and tasting. The distillery was Glengoyne and we couldn’t wait for our samples. No cameras were allowed on the tour due to fears the cameras would spark flames due to the all the alcohol in the air. It was an interesting tour. We got to see the process that goes into making scotch whisky. At the end we got to taste some single malts – 15 Y ear Old and  18 Year Old. Until this trip I never thought I liked whisky. Now I realize I enjoy high end single malts. We had fun trying out scotches after we returned home from this vacation!!!

The tour was a long day but very enjoyable. I recommend it but you may want to spend extra time at Stirling like I did so perhaps a tour that is more castle centric might be for you. Cheers!

Tuscan Towns: Montalcino & Abbey of Sant’Antimo

During my Tuscan adventure we took a day trip to the small town of Montalcino and the Abbey of Sant’Antimo. It is an easy day trip from the town of Cortona where we rented a house.

Montalcino

Our trip to Montalcino was so short that I don’t remember much about it. What I do remember is the meal I had there. I can’t exact remember the name of the place we ate but I can tell you it was amazing. It was a meat dish cooked in Brunello wine. I have never had anything quite like it since.

Abbey of Sant’Antimo

As part of the day trip we stopped at the Abbey of Sant’ Antimo. This romanesque church was once home to benedictine monks. If you are lucky you can catch the monks today singing Gregorian chants.

Look at these olives. Yum! I wish I could just pick them off the tree.

After this easy day trip we returned back to our villa and made a home cooked Italian meal using fresh ingredients. I sure miss the villa.

Normandy

Normandy is a fabulous place to visit not just because of it being in France but because of the huge amount of history you can learn about there. During our last trip to France we stayed for couple days  in the city of Bayeux.
After reading many reviews I chose the Aggarthi B & B or here as our home for the stay. When we arrived off the train in Bayeux we had just completed a long journey (12h 35m flight travel time from US and another 2 hours by train). I am not sure if any cabs were waiting but for some reason we decided to walk to the bed and breakfast with our backpacks. We were both tired and both cranky. Carlos was especially tired since he has a hard time sleeping on flights. I had a badly designed map and we headed down what we thought was the right direction. We ended up getting confused and going the wrong way. After stopping to rest for a little bit we headed off to finally find our B & B. The owners greeted us and we knew we had found the right place.
Our room was in a building separate to the main building and contained 2-3 rooms and a small kitchen. I believe every room was an ensuite. Our room was on the bottom floor and had doors that opened into the courtyard. We would open it occasionally for the fresh air but kept it closed mostly because of privacy and security concerns.
Onsite was two dogs (one named Sushi), cats, and some bunnies who kept the grass cut and maintained (see below).

Sushi was adorable
We enjoyed waking to breakfast in the courtyard where we fought honey bees for our food (they are harmless so we were ok). Over breakfast conversation we talked to some German tourists about history and WWII. They felt the need to apologize for Germany during the war. We told them that was way in the past and does not reflect on Germans now.
Later on in the day we walked over to Bayeux Cathedral to admire to stained glass windows and inside the church.

We enjoyed medieval style buildings.

Buildings with pigeon nests.

The cathedral was luminous for a night light show.

The next day we took a D-Day tour with Victory Tours. This Dutch expatriate loved the area and history so much that he decide to stay and start a tour company.

Mulberry Harbor
We started our tour with a visit to the Mulberry Harbor which was created at  Omaha Beach and Arromanches in Normandy. We saw pictures of how it looked when it was constructed. This harbor was developed by the British to assist with unloading cargo during WWII.

We saw some guns used in battle.

Omaha Beach

Where the Americans were to take the Germans during D-Day.

Our tour guide told us to take back a rock from this beach to remember the occasion.

US WW2 Cemetery at Colleville
We had a solemn visit to the cemetery that honors American troops who died in Europe during World War II.

We visited Pointe du Hoc where 2nd. Rangers Battalion scaled the cliffs.

Bunkers

Angoville-au-Plain

Church that was used by army medics as an aide station. There are now stained glass windows to commemorate the 101st Airborne division who treated both American and German soldiers here.

This stained glass window honors the paratroopers.

After the visit to the medic church we stopped in the town of Sainte-Mère-Église.  We were there during market day. We had some time to walk around and see the produce at the market.

By the market in Sainte-Mère-Église lies the church of the paratrooper. There were many casualties in this town for the paratroopers who landed here early on around D-day. Many were shot down in air or caught hanging on trees. The church here memorializes those whose live were lost. There is even a “paratrooper” hanging from the church today.

We heard stories about the war on our tour. One was story about two soldiers, one American and one German. One spared the others life while he was retreating from battle. Somehow they found each other many years later in France and were thankful. A story like this paints a human picture on what was a horrific war that many lives were sacrificed for.
Coincidently it is the 70th anniversary of D-Day and this paratrooper is going to parachute back into Normandy, well because he still can. He is a 93-year old vet of D-Day.

Later we had dinner at this restaurant call La Rapiere, which I thought had a real funny name. Turns out I guess it means sword in French. Nothing much exciting there.

The last day we visited the Bayeux tapestry (no pictures). It was my second visit there (I came once before during a tour in 1995) but it is still amazing the second time around. It tells the story of the Battle of Hastings from the Norman point of view. The events leading up to battle are woven in detail. While it is not certain when this woven cloth (not actually a tapestry), 70 meters long, was made, it is assumed it was made around 1070. The cloth today is in a museum and an audio guide takes you through each section. It is like a history lesson of the Norman conquest of England…in pictures.
I highly suggest Normandy be added to your next French adventure. There aren’t many areas that can rival the rich history you will find here – and the views of the coast aren’t bad as well.