Kidnapped to Kerry

Visiting Cork was the final leg of our trip. We were so excited to be picked up by bike, taken to the market and then given a quick tour of the town on the way back to our host’s house. When we arrived to his house, dinner preparations began and then 3 of Darren’s friends arrived. All three were students studying in Cork, two of the girls from Italy and one, Eve, from France. We made 3 spring salads and chatted as we set up the table as a salad buffet. Just as we were all getting very full on salad, there was a knock on the door and three more friends crammed into the small house. These guys announced they would be going camping in Kerry tonight, they stopped by to borrow tents and sleeping bags. Darren suggested we all go, everyone, let’s just go!

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Well the Italian girls were not able to join. It was already late and we were tired and had just ate an amazing meal, we had the fireplace going, pretty cozy to just run out in the cold and sleep on the ground! Well then the guys really started talking this trip up, explaining the event is actually a triple birthday and going away party, the camping will occur after we dance and party in the wilderness all night at an amazing eco resort style property with a sustainable house, hand built by the owner and his friends, the following day we will drive the Ring of Kerry and stop at incredible beaches and then a little pub for lunch… well the California kids are into that goodness! We grab our toothbrushes and we’re ready! Eve needed little convincing, just a guarantee she would be back the following evening. So, at 10:30pm we were packing up the car to take the almost 2 hour drive up to Kerry. And what a fun drive it was! The guys, Colm, Graham and Darren were hilarious, keeping us laughing all the way and promising the scenery out the windows would be incredible once it was light out.

ImageWhen we get to the party there is a big bonfire and a dance party inside the house. We go in and dance a few songs and then spend the rest of the night by the fire with Colm,whom had just drove us all out there. He shared stories and legends of Ireland and County Kerry. Somewhere between all that we set up the tent and just before the sun came up and the rain started in, we were were snug in the tent! The following morning I wandered up to the fire where Eve and other partiers were hanging out, I was immediately offered french toast and coffee, just what I needed!Image

ImageSoon John joined us and we decided to hike around the property, but first we check out the house! The place is made of Cob (a mixture of mud, straw and sand) and wood from the property. Really cozy place!

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We take the bridge across the field from where we camped and then crisscross back over later down the road.

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ImageAnother cool house on the property with a living roof!

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ImageWhen we get back from the hike the car is packed up and we take off to the house of a friend of Darren and Colm the friend is named Owen – but he is nicknamed Tiger and I kid you not, he has been wearing tiger footy pajamas everyday for years now. Last night he was a tiger, today he has clothes over the PJ’s, just the tiger hood peeking out of his sweater. He brought along his friend and a lovable boxer dog!

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We took off in 2 cars and stop at empty beaches and jaw dropping vistas all along the Ring of Kerry… Image

Here is the sweet pup Tiger is babysitting.

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ImageDarren, Sierra and Eve at the door to the ocean.

ImageOur little crew watching the pup swim in the cold water.

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ImageAfter checking out some beaches and having lunch we part ways with Tiger and friends and our little group visits a crumbling castle!

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We climb all over the crazy castle, it’s sturdy stone bones still holding up, maybe the ivy helps hold it up too!

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Next we went to a newly restored stone ring fort, just down the road, you can see the castle in the distance on the second photo down…

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After all that sightseeing we are hungry and hop back in the car for the trip back to Cork. Along the rainy/sunny drive we see an amazing rainbow, it gets brighter and more clear and then there are two!!

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We ask Colm to stop the car so we can take photos, but the rainbow is so bright and clear we just have to try and get to it! Eve, Darren and I run across the street, hop a fence and run through the field towards the rainbow!Image

The closer we get the more it fades so we admire it from afar…

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The perfect end to a couple of magical days in Ireland!

Arriving in Cork

From Galway we decided to go South to the city of Cork. We found a host through Couchsurfing, made plans to meet him at the bus station and then go to the English Market to get some things for dinner. We were at the pick up point, waiting for him to pull up in a car, we knew what he loked like from the photos on couchsurfing.com Our attention is grabbed by a red haired man wearing a red shirt on a tandem bike with a girl on the back and trailer with backpack behind. That’s him!ImageRight away the girl hops off the back, gives a quick hello and runs for her bus, only to come back a few moments later as we introduce ourselves and strap our backpacks on the trailer. She missed her bus so she will go with us to the market and then go back to the station to catch the next bus. Darren has another bike locked up at the station and goes to unlock it so John will have a bike to ride. 3 of us, Darren on the front pedals, the girl (whose name I cannot remember) on the second seat and me on the back. John gets set up on his bike and we are off down the busy high street to the market! There we meet 2 other girls, they live in Cork and are friends with Darren from the Couchsurfing site, they are from Italy, going to school in Cork. We go into the market and get some things for dinner, smoked herring, cheese, some greens, we decide to make a few different salads for dinner. Darren has a bike workshop near the community garden so we part ways with the other girls and the 3 of us cycle up to the workshop and garden. It’s much more comfortable to ride the tandem with 2 instead of 3, Darren tells us he has had as many as 5 on the tandem at once! Must have been quite a site, we got lots of stares, waves, shouts and laughs with just the 2 of us on the bike!ImageUp at the workshop we have to wheel out the pedi cabs and a water wheel that are stored there and help Darren find some pieces to make an adjustment to the paniers on the back of the tandem and adjust the other bike for John.ImageThe we walk over to the community garden and pick lettuces and lovage for dinner….

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ImageWe bike back through town to Darren’s house We thought we had a big adventure already, after a 4 hour bus ride and then bike ride across Cork, but no, the adventure had just begun…

Galway, and the Cliffs of Moher

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Flying from Carcassonne to Dublin, Ireland we hopped on a bus to meet up with our friend Mikey, across the country in the city of Galway. We stayed with him and his roommate/band member, Paul. They live in the neighborhood of Salt Hill in a cozy apartment, 1 block from the bay and just a 20 minute walk from the city center.Image

 

There is so much good energy in this town, with musicians playing on every corner and people always ready to engage in a chat.

 

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We had a lot of fun drinking pints of beer and cider at the old pub Neachtain’s, with him, his friends and his band – Mikey and the Scallywags.

 

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In the evenings we toured around to many other bars and one night went to a party in a little ceramics studio. We were treated to beautiful music and an impromptu puppet show!

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On one of our 3 days, we booked a ride on a tour bus to see the Cliffs of Moher, along the way we got to see traditional Irish homes with thatched roofs, like this one.

 

 

ImageWe made some stops to see a few of the many stone castles dotting the landscape.

 

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As we passed through the Burren landscape we saw hiking trailheads and caves open to tour. We really must go back someday and take more time to visit all that the Burren has to offer. Here is a earthen circle fort built in prehistoric times by Celtic druids.Image

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The cliffs were majestic, standing strong above the crashing ocean. Image

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After an hour and a half at the cliffs we had lunch and then stopped at the “mini cliffs”, they are a few miles away from Cliffs of Moher but not as high above the ocean, still pretty epic though!

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One more thing, a donkey we befriended in a little village…Image

ImageNext, off to County Cork!

  Narbonne and Carcassonne

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On our weekend off at Chateau Ventenac, we spent one day in the nearest town – Narbonne, on the other we visited medieval town/castle Carcassonne.

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Narbonne is a busy little town with a beautiful town square containing an ancient Hotel de-ville (town-hall) and  large cathedral.    Image       ImageImage

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After buying treats at the marche and walking along the canals we decided to eat a lunch at the beach, this being a 1/2 hour bus ride to the sea side village Narbonne-Plage. Our efforts seemed to be going swimmingly until Sierra noticed a strange color code in the bus schedule (that only upon asking at the tourist office we learned) ment you couldn’t get back to the city after 12:30 unless you had reserved a bus to pick you up a day in advance. This I think is a vast taxi conspiracy, that we were not going to pay into. We only saw the bus stop there while we waited for our bus to turn around and we took that last bus back into town.

dissapointing. But we did get this nice picture from the bus on the way.

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Carcasonne however that next day would not disappoint us…

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The city of Carcassonne itself is very old and very nice to walk about, also it contains many modern stores and shops for tourists. The city’s main attraction is the walled city which has history dating to roman times, it was restored in the mid 1800s to resemble a castle standing there in the 13th century.

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The castle included a whole village between its walls,

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these small streets and alleys were packed full of giftshops and candy-stores reminding me a bit of Disneyland. With a little help from a cold, windy and rainy day there were spots where you could escape tourists and really believe you were moved back in time.

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There was also a Cathedral with huge stained-glass windows. We sat and listened to a chorus of men singing Hymns beautifully!

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Here is the city as seen from the castle…

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and heres the castle from the city.

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Image                                                                    Carcassonne was good to us. We left the towers behind with fulfillment and gratitude. It was what seemed like the end of a perfectly long and tiring day trip for us. We toured the city center for a bit then popped into the tourist office for help finding our bus back to chateau Ventenac. The guy behind the counter was very helpful and specific about which bus we were to take. However he warned us there were many school children on the bus it being the beginning of spring vacation, and recommended we take a cab; these were clues for us but we took no notice and happily thanked our helper and headed for our bus stop. Getting on the bus also held a strange surprise for us, the ride would be free. This was taken for good luck as we found 2 open seats half way down the aisle the bus was otherwise full of kids. When we got to our destination something was obviously amiss, but we found a sign pointing the way to Chateau Ventenac and followed it assuming we were just in the village of Ventenac beyond the hill down the canal from our place… soon we discovered those signs we were following saying Chateau Ventenac were leading to and entirely different Chateau Ventenac!

We were lost. The spot we were dropped off was too small for any stores, or even it seemed people, to ask. But, we could see a town nearby, and walked into it to get some direction.

This town was to small for a tourist office so we walked into the tabac and asked about the bus, we were soon surrounded by helpful French people telling us exactly what to do and every option we had, all in perfect French. They even drew us a small map. We thanked them profusely, walked in the direction they pointed to the nearest trash can, and threw it away. We were very lost. But there was a sign showing a railroad station and the Canal du Midi running just a few kilometers there, outside the town. We would try and catch a train we thought, and set out walking through the vineyards, 25 minutes later we were approaching the station and witnessed the train whiz by without even slowing, the station was closed, and from the look of it it had ben closed for years. But now we were near the same canal our host’s home stood along. Judging by the sun we had 2 -3 hours of light left, it was late but we figured we might be able to walk; approaching the canal we could see some people parked on it’s banks in a van. Timidly we asked them for help, and we were lucky one of them spoke english and had a map. We found out from her the direction to our Ventenac but she told us that walking there would take us 8 hours or more! It was way too late to begin a trek like that, what could we do? We were lost, and decided hitch-hiking was the only option we had.

The first person to pull over was a young man who had to move his fishing gear to accomodate us. Our driver would take us back to Carcassonne and even agreed to drop us at the train station. He spoke a little english and we had a nice time chatting with him. At the station we were closer to home but there was still an issue because we knew we were too late to find a bus from Narbonne even if we did go there, and upon entering the station another problem; all ticket booths had closed and you could only buy tickets at the automated ticket machines, these machines however were only set up to take coin money or french creditcards. We had neither… in fact we came to find we didn’t even have enough cash to get us both a ticket!  But, the last train going south departed in 10 minutes. We boarded the train without tickets and decided to get off at the stop before Narbonne a small town – Lezignan, which we hadn’t been to but remembered our hostess saying it was the closest train station to the chateau. We figured we’d have a chance to email our hosts from there to procure a ride. Grateful no one had asked to see our tickets, we set off in Lezignan looking for a place with wi-fi. Watching the sun begining to set and after a few stabs at a resturant and some cafes with no luck getting internet, we were getting discouraged, so John approached a pair of men walking down the street to ask directions. Luckily they spoke good english and soon it was discovered those men were driving right to where we needed to go! They had 2 empty seats in their car so we jumped in, feeling so lucky after being so far off track. We were back home by the skins of our teeth – before the sun finished setting.

Château Ventenac

After our Italian holiday we got back to work in France. We had an overnight 12 hour bus ride out of Milan. It was pouring rain the entire time and the bus was full of characters but we managed to get some shut eye and arrived in Narbonne the following afternoon. We were picked up by our hostess Julia and her son Dominic at the station. Dominic was visiting and had 3 friends with him from London, they were winding down from a holiday, leaving the following day. So our first day at Château Ventenac was spent out on the beautiful patio playing games and enjoying the sun with 4 very fun and funny Londoners our age. IMG_7554When we were shown to our room (above) we were so excited to be able to stay in one of the rooms usually rented to guests, it was a gorgeous room with windows overlooking the garden! The view from one of our windows (below)

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The Château Ventenac is a lovely B&B and education center in the town of Ventenac on the Canal du Midi.Image

The town is quite small but has a little bakery, 2 restaurants and a winery, conveniently located next door…ImageAfter our 5 hours of work each day we would either walk around the town or take the bikes out an bike along the canal or to a nearby town.  Here are a few photos from around town…

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ImageHere are soe photos from the nearby town of Canet…

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ImageLooking across the canal at the Château and gardens, plus one of the many cool boats we saw during our stay…

ImageThe patio was bursting with wisteria! It smelled heavenly and provided nice shade we had our lunch there just about every day!Image

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We had a lot of outdoor work at the Château, helping the hosts to prepare for the spring and summer seasons when they will have classes or rent the entire place out to vacationers. I sanded and stained all the wood patio furniture, sparking inspiration to refinish some pieces of furniture when we return home, can’t wait to refinish the coffee table! ImageImageJohn was put to work in the garden, above is the grotto, he helped to clean it up and put in the rocks as a floor so that it can be made into a space for guests once a table and chairs is added. He also patched turf on the lawns, layed down mulch and wood chips and carried countless buckets of rocks to fill in spaces that needed it. I weeded so much that I was tempted to continue weeding the weeds coming out of cracks in the concrete in town, after work. We also painted some rooms in the house. My favorite daily assignment, and perhaps the most important, was to walk along the canal to the Boulangerie to buy fresh baguettes every morning. I loved this daily ritual! Image

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Some after work activities, ping pong, taking photos around the property, sightseeing around town, biking on the canal and simply laying in bed after dinner drinking wine and reading!Image

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ImageThis was our last Workaway and it was the most posh atmosphere of them all. The Languedoc region of France is lovely, rolling hills of vineyards, the canal and the sun! A great way to end our workaway experience and welcome the warmer months to come!

Milano

We had 2 separate visits in Milan, both of them brief. But we made the best of our short times there.Image

Our introduction to the city was by rather blindly scrambling off the tram that we couldn’t seem to find a way to pay for, seeing this huge beautiful building and being magnetically  drawn through it’s marble arch-ways.

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To our surprise we found ourselves surrounded by graves and tombs. big and small, all incredibly ornate and seeming to multiply with each step we took, it went on forever, even climbing up to a balcony the angels and crosses stretched to the horizon.

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Overwhelmed we decided to leave the cemetery and find Duomo;  the fabeled “most beautiful cathedral” in all of europe. But we had little idea which direction to take and feeling burdened by our heavy packs, we had to ask for help. We asked the right person, Vincent could speak little english and didn’t know the directions himself but he made it his mission to get us there! He and his sweet dog escorted us to the metro, even stoping at a cafe near the station entrance to buy us coffee! then helped us get our metro tickets and asked the station agent to give us specific directions.

the metros here were all very brightly decorated by street artists. they were also very tightly packed, like sardines.ImageImage

But Vincent had guided us well and soon we were standing on a very impressive doorstep!

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Next to the Duomo was the entryway to Milan’s high end shopping area, where the worlds fashion elite come to buy their clothes.

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Hearing a rhythmic and energetic chanting we followed or ears and turning a corner found a large group of people singing, playing instruments and dancing in circles around an ancient well. We found a good spot to sit and enjoyed the festivities until we ran out of time, having to go meet Michael and Carrie at the airport.

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That was the end of our first day in Milan. When we came back by bus a few days later we were dropped off at milan’s train station, and a very impressive station it is!

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From there we took a long walk into the Brera, or the design district of town. This was the really fun part of the city with street musicians playing, and bustling with design exhibits behind every doorway. Making our way through the crowd we entered into a very old looking building and realized it was a university, this is a picture of that college’s back courtyard containing an early example of an observatory.

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Beyond the school campus we found an amazing castle!

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The castle now housed several museums, and we ventured into an exhibit on ancient egypt full of info and treasures including mummies and sarcofagi.

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Just behind the castle was a huge park.

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We had to zigzag around all the models posing for fashion photographers throughout the park.

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Passing this cool tent sculpture we headed for the biggest building in town

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Into the heart of the financial district. There were more beautiful sculptures to see. Like these sound tubes!

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Then we headed off to catch our bus to Narbonne back in France to begin our third and final work-away at chateau Ventenac. It was going to be a long ride, indeed it was 12 hours long! And with a real set of characters to ride along with us.

Goodbye Milan, was nice knowing you!

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The islands of Lago Maggiore

After enjoying the gardens and home at Isola Madre we hop back on the ferry,Image

Imageand over to the cute and colorful Isola Pescatori (Fisherman’s Island) for lunchImage

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Quick jaunt over to Isola Bella…Image

Where we toured the home and gardens of the Borromeo family…Image

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The amazing grotto…Image

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A gorgeous attention seeking white peacock was strutting his stuff on one of the lawns…ImageImage

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ImageIn one of the greenhouses…

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Approaching the Monastery of Santa Caterina del SassoImage

The monastery is built into the cliffside so it is most easily accessed by boatImage

Sierra and Carrie checking out the view!Image

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Some of the frescoes…Image

Super old grape and olive pressImageImage

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Cannot remember the name of the guy below, but that is an actual corpse, and it was so creepy!Image

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Isola Madre

 

 

Our second day on Lago Maggiore we had perfect weather! We bought ferry passes allowing us an entire day to visit all the ports the ferries go to. First stop Isola Madre. An island with a beautiful home surrounded by perfect gardens and exotic birds.

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ImageWhite Peacocks and many colorful birds of all sizes and colors wander freely around the gardens…

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ImageInside the house there was the typical old beautiful furniture but more interestingly there were many rooms dedicated to puppets and entire stages built for puppet shows…

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Lago Maggiore, Botanical Gardens and Villa Taranto

Next stop Lago Maggiore. After leaving Scaparone and Alba we drive to Verbania, Michael has an apartment there so we will stay there for the next few days. We arrive in the town late in the day, the lake is covered in mist and fog, stunning mountains with snow soar above the lake and it’s pretty islands. We want to explore but it is already too late in the day so we head into the mountains for another spectacular dinner. Image

We save the adventures for the following day, Michael and Carrie will visit a friend in Switzerland, about a 2 hours drive away. While we will visit the botanical garden and the town of Taranto.

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We start the day early and walk to the Villa Taranto Botanical Gardens, they are set just off the shore of the lake and have amazing views, winding trails, beautiful flowers and trees…

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ImageThe gardeners get around on scooters.

ImageOur picnic, some treats from a local shop Michael pointed out to us.

ImageLooks like we were a few days early for the tulip labyrinth. After a few hours wandering around the garden we walk along the lake to the next town.

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We go into a church and the organ is being played, we stay and listen for a while. It starts raining so we go into the Museo de Paesaggio and admire sculptures, paintings and artifacts from the area.

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When we come out of the museum the sun is shining again, throwing beautiful beams of light onto the lake…

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We continued along the lake back to meet with Michael and Carrie. Passing abandoned homes and beautiful homes along the way.Image

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ImageSeeing the ferries out on the lake we are excited for the next day when we will visit the islands!

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First taste of Italy

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At the end of a very long tunnel out of France we were greeted with sunshine! Something we had come to miss during our stay in France. Although the French Alps may be as beautiful and majestic as their Italian counterparts, we couldn’t tell you because they were hemed in by cold grey clouds. Here on the Italian side they stood proudly and their snow caps shown bright, announcing the true arrival of spring. It was obvious from the start – we were in love with Italy!

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At the end of the 6 hour journey out of Lyon, in a packed to the gills VW Golf, our Slovenian driver, her Slovenian navigator and young Columbian woman that has lived in Italy for most of her life (she taught us some basic Italian on the way) dropped us off at a train station outside of Milan, after some confusion we hopped on a tram and made our way to city center, we were only in Milan for a few hours (more on Milan later!) and then we went to the airport to rendezvous with Sierra’s good friends Michael and Carrie. After much excitement about us actually pulling off an international rendezvous so seamlessly, Michael picked up the car he had rented and Carrie filled us in on the days they had just spent in Paris. ImageWe were then whisked off through the Italian countryside, with many more stories of Paris and sharing our travel stories as well, while admiring the changing sunset backdrop. Surprise to us, Michael had plans to take us to one of his favorite places, an incredible Bio-dynamic winery/restaurant/hotel- Casa Scaparone…

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When we arrived we were quickly enveloped by the beautiful place and a glorious six course dinner was served. Really, the best food and wine we have ever tasted! (sorry not to have pictures of the meal, just couldn’t be bothered to put down our forks! Yum!) Everything was perfect and our host, Luigi was charming and excited to share stories and insisting we “Relax… you are in Italy!” Carrie and Sierra were the only diehards, finishing off the meal by sharing a huge slice of Tiramisu! Image

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ImageAfter stuffing ourselves full again on a scrumptious breakfast buffet, fresh cakes, yogurt, granola, many house made jams, fresh bread and of course coffee for all! We headed on to explore the near-by city of Alba.

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