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.

India: New Delhi & Noida Part 2

Since we didn’t get to see much of New Delhi on our previous day trip (See India: New Delhi & Noida Part 1) we arranged with our hotel to have a car for the day to take us from sight from sight. It was a rip off at $80 but we felt like we didn’t have much choice since our hotel was far from the city center and there is a lack of public transportation. Note if you do stay in the city center I have learned you can be taken around to all the tourist sites for as little as $20 a day.
We started early and the fog was still thick. Our first stop was to Humayun’s tomb.

Humayun’s tomb

We visited the tomb of the Mughal ruler Humayun. It was impressive but I was interested more in the smaller, older tomb nearby: The tomb of Isa Khan Niyazi (see picture above). The tomb had an erie feeling to it and kept luring me in.
Mosque next to the small tomb

Beautiful pathway around the smaller tomb.

Interesting looking structure we could see from walking the walls of the smaller tomb complex.

Stairs that just appear out of nowhere. Be careful!

And then we move on to the tomb.

It was here that we first encountered the “friendliness” of locals. An older man offered up many stories and took us around the tomb. We hadn’t asked for his help and really couldn’t understand much of what he said but he had his hand out for a tip. It is something you need to get used to in India. Either politely say no to people when they offer their help or expect to tip. You will be tipping all the time in India. I think there was only a couple times I was able to go to the bathroom without tipping.

After the tomb we had a quick stop at the Lotus temple. The Baha’i House of Worship of the Baha’is of India is more commonly known as the Lotus temple.

Lotus Temple

It is a place of peace and you can tell when you enter. Like many other temples, no shoes are allowed.

Next stop on the tour was Qutab Minar.

Qutab Minar

This tall stone tower was built in 1193 by Qutab-ud-din Aibak and sits next to the first mosque to be built in India.

Carvings and verses from the Qur’an.

Wall scriptures in different lanuages.

Alai Minar

Another tower was built but never finished.

Part of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque

Our driver dropped us off for lunch at Pindi. One other thing about India is that typically your driver will just drop you off at a lunch place of his choosing. Mostly because you don’t really know where you are and if you did have place in mind, you wouldn’t know how to get there. Plus the “yelp” of India isn’t really that helpful to tourists. Fortunately this place was good. I ordered butter chicken and wow was it filling.

After lunch we got caught up in the first of the shopping emporium time suck. Partially my fault because I told hill I wanted to go back to the Dilli Haat to shop a bit since it was closed on my last visit. He takes us to the Dilli Hut (even though he knows what I meant), I get upset but he insists it is good quality stuff. We go in and product after product is put in front of us. I am anxious and annoyed and cannot shop when people are talking to me non-stop. It was here that I first discovered I am unable to shop in India. I am a slow shopper who needs time to digest my choices. I don’t even think I got anything at this place; I can’t remember for sure. This scenario repeats itself over and over again our entire India trip.

After losing 2 hours with shopping nonsense we arrive at the Jama Masjid mosque to find it has just closed for afternoon prayer and would no longer be open to non-Muslims for the day. Ok, kind of annoyed we lost that time shopping.

This is what we could see of the mosque.

Outside the mosque.

Last stop in New Delhi is the Red Fort. But guess what – it is closed as well. Because of the shopping time suck, we missed out on two attractions. The lesson here kids is to just say no to shopping.

We finished the day with a stop at the the Askshardhm Temple Complex near our hotel. Majestic at a distance, this new temple is like a Hindu Disney World. There is boat ride (which I think was closed while we were there) and a bunch of vedic exhibits. They spent a lot of money on this complex. I think there is a musical fountain (which was also closed while we there there). You know what wasn’t closed? The gift shop. Lots of interesting stuff in the shop. Lots of Ayurvedic vitamins and body products can be purchased there.
This is the best picture I could get of it. It was foggy the whole time and they don’t let any cameras or phones in the complex.

That concludes our last day in Delhi. The next day we were off to start our religious experience on the Ganges.

India: New Delhi & Noida Part 1

Earlier this year I was sent to Noida, India for a work trip. Noida (New Okhla Industrial Development Authority) is a small city just outside of New Delhi. This city is a home to numerous outsourcing IT firms.
I was there because my company is using resources of a local company there to help us with some of our IT support. I invited my husband to come along with me. He worked remotely in the hotel while I went to the office. After my work assignment was complete, we planned a tour of parts of northern India.
We only scheduled a day or so for seeing New Delhi. One day was not enough to see the main attractions; partly much of our time got sucked up in shopping emporiums (I will talk more about that later). I recommend spending 2-3 days max in the city. New Delhi is crowded and highly polluted. The city just topped the list in the poorest air quality. Your lungs will thank you if you only spend a couple days here.

One of the first local trips we took was with a bus load of co-workers of mine to the Dilli Haat. The Dilli Haat is a market that features rotating craftsman. You can go here to get some deals on Indian made goods. But you have to haggle – they will always start really high so you need to start low. I am terrible at haggling so probably got ripped off most of the trip. Unfortunately the market was closed for a holiday when we first chose to visit. But that didn’t stop us from viewing the few vendors set up outside the market. Some in our group chose to get Henna done while we were there.

I did make it back to Dilli Haat later to buy a couple of pashmina shawls.

Many things were closed for Republic Day while we were out on our first tour. Republic day celebrates the day India adopted their constitution after British rule was ended there. Everyone takes to the streets. There are parades and celebrations.

Celebration at the India gate

Traffic was quite congested that day. While it didn’t make a great day for sightseeing, it was great for people watching. People in India are quite skilled at the art of carpooling.

Some more pictures of things observed around town.

During the week we walked over to this mall. It was a large mall with many stores you would find in the US and some others specific to India. My co-worker called the walk there “running the gauntlet” because once locals noticed westerners coming, they would send their kids over to harass you for money until you made it to the mall.
More Noida – you will notice things don’t look quite finished around here.

More to come in India: New Delhi & Noida Part 2