Sunday, August 31, 2014

8/12/14 Day 208 Northern Italy

A whirlwind of a trip to Italy; Julie, Celeste, Kevin and I crossed over the border from the South of France two nights ago. After a combined 11 hours of driving during the day we raced to meet Daniele and his friends at their rented house near Lake Maggiore in Arona. Twice a year they rent the place out to throw a party, and it just so happens we requested him on CS and he invited us to surf their party. Better late than never as we pull up to the house at 2:00a.m., just in time for beer pong! One of the guys goes to California every year and loves beer pong, and even made a table. We played four on four, Americans versus Italians...even though it has been years since we played, it was an easy win for us and followed with some flaming mint victory shots. The wine and 12 year aged Prosecco were just what we needed to end the night on, a fantastic night of partying to welcome us into Italy. When we finally get up and moving it is time to navigate Italian roads and motorways, a task far more difficult than navigating in previous countries. Free wifi is more difficult to come by in Italy because places like McDonalds require you to register an Italian phone number or credit card, so we are unable to re-download maps as often as we like and missed many, many turns in the process. The signage in Italy is pretty awful as well, you an never tell what highway you're getting on. After a grueling 5 hours (that should have been 3) we finally make it to Pisogne on Lake D'iseo where Michele welcomes us as Couchsurfers into his home with pasta, espresso and Italian beers! After dinner Michele took us out for some local microbrewery beers and halfway through our evening the rain started to flow into street rivers, luckily his place was right around the corner and he provided us ladies with hoodies, which were soaked along with everything else we were wearing by the time we got back. Our last day for this visit is spent laying by the lake and soaking up some sunshine after we are spoiled by a homemade Italian meal for lunch, prepared by Michele's adorable mother. Our drive through the Italian Alps is spectacular, the mountains are huge! With elevations of 3,000 meters (9,000 feet) and flooded with adorable chalets. 

Our first hiccup arriving into Italy, a 22 minute stop-light, cutting into our party time
Flaming shots
The whole crew after the clean-up party

Lake D'iseo

Michele our fantastic host who we are hoping to come back and stay with during ski season
The Italian Alps, so gorgeous
Amazing little 4-wheel drive cars, the older models are smart car sized and excellent for mountain roads
Chalet village
Green roof <3
Adamello ski resort, 9,000 feet and only an hour+ from Pisogne's glistening lake

Apple orchards cover the landscape
And hairpin turns define it

Pizza the Italian way

Saturday, August 30, 2014

8/7/14 Day 203 Roadtrip: The Coast of France

After our weekend in Paris, Kevin, Celeste and I are reunited with Julie to continue our Eurotrip, and for the duration we are heading South, onward to Toulouse for the Buddhist monastery we have been invited to visit while we were in London. We drive for hundreds and hundreds of miles through endless acres of flourishing sunflowers, and thirsty grapevines. Stopping occasionally to marvel at the turned down faces of the sun-loving flowers that instinctually reach upwards for the sunshine. We stop in Carcassonne for pizza and spend some time wandering around the huge and beautiful fortress castle upon a hill, just like in the board game. We finally reach Nalanda Monastery, nestled next to a river in the quiet village of Lavaur, some 35 kilometers from Toulouse just as dark sets in. Unfortunately for us we happened to arrive during a retreat of silence and our stay there must be diminished to a tour of the grounds, and a cup of tea with a few of the resident monks accompanied by enlightening conversation. 

Leaving Lavaur feeling radiant and full of positive Buddhist vibes the four of us continue our voyage deeper into France and all the way into the depths of Spain. The four of us split up for this weekend, with Julie and Celeste excited for a getaway to Barcelona, where Kevin and I have no desire to hit in the absolute peak of tourist season. We instead venture back to stay with Sergi, our friend who hosted us back in April when we visited Roses and Cadaques the first time. The weekend is relaxing and just what we needed, unfortunately for the ladies the Barcelona con artists got the best of them by distracting them as a group of three; two men attempted to sell them flowers and a third nabbed their purse unseen and unheard beyond the commotion. Luckily the thief obviously didn't have the know-how required to make a passport useful and dumped them with the purse in a nearby garbage can. Luckily Julie had her second card stashed away separately as you should always have your money and cards split between two places for when and if you do get ripped off. We reunite in Figueres and spend our last hours taking advantage of cheaper fuel, tapas and 1€ wine before beginning our drive across the South coast of France, the French Riviera. 

We drove through Montpellier, Nice and Cannes, with many smaller less crowded and beautiful beaches in between, stopping every so often to take a dip in the waves or to refuel with espresso. The drive into the separate country of Monaco was a split second of a journey lasting only the 4.4 kilometers of beachy width the country independently controls. The beaches on the Riviera were no doubt beautiful, but certainly not as fantastical as I have always imagined, nor as pristine and wild as the beaches in Ireland, Portugal or Spain. They are more about the ritz and glamour, fancy cars...and on the side the beaches are nice, but it was nonetheless nice to see how crowded these overrated coastlines are in height of the Summer season. I would personally take my beach vacation elsewhere, but to each his own. 

A little roadside vine tasting

Sunflowers turned down for the evening
A bit more perky
Julie and her flower
Turned up for a taste of sunshine
The beautiful grounds nestled in the woods

Oh how I have missed fruity sangria
We even returned to the Dali museum since we were short on time the first visit 

Just like in the game
But significantly larger

Some killer campsites this week

Adult juice box, 1€ Spanish red blend

Lunch break in Montpellier

The French Riviera coastline, not bad

The sunny beach of Cannes, or Nice (similarly attractive beaches)

Country number 13
Monaco license plates
Flashy architecture in Monaco

The view back towards France from Monaco
Poly's newest additions: pine cone from the Riviera and prayer flags from Nalanda Monastere