Friday, July 26, 2013

That's a wrap

The car finally made it to Atlanta, and I've been enjoying it for the last couple days. In total, it took 8 weeks and 5 days for it to get from Nice, France to Atlanta, Georgia, broken down thusly:

  • 10 days to get picked up from Nice
  • 7 days to get loaded onto the boat
  • 20 days to cross the Atlantic
  • 7 days to go through CBP
  • 14 days to go through the Vehicle Distribution Center
  • 3 days to be delivered to my dealer

But the agony is finally over now and the car fits like a glove. The car cover from my last car even fits (albeit not very well) so I can keep it clear of the oak worm poo and sap from the oak tree in my driveway.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A reunion in the making?

Got word today that my car was declared "ready to ship" and should get here sometime early this week. Finally!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Now we have proof this vacation actually happened...

Been working on culling down my 1151 pictures and here's what I thought were the ones that fairly represented our trip.

Photo Gallery

Oh, the "Don Juan," the ship carrying Heike across the pond, is now in the open ocean heading to Halifax, NS, then New York, and finally Brunswick, GA on July 1. W00t!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Homeward bound

So it looks like Heike will be loaded onto the slow boat tomorrow and should arrive in the U.S. and A. on July 1. There's still basically no chance of getting it before the 4th, but I should have it the week after.

W00t! W00t!

Monday, June 3, 2013

The long road home

So it would appear that "Heike" sat under the Riviera sun for about 10 days before starting her trip home this morning.

First stop is Bremerhaven, which is ~1400km from Nice. Let's hope the truck driver has a better reason to get there than simply unloading a bunch of cars.

This delay pretty much ensures that I will not take redelivery before the 4th of July weekend, and will likely push the redelivery time out into the 7-8 week timeframe.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

How soon is too soon to call?

I feel like a guy who had a great date with a girl who's waiting for enough time to pass before calling her so he doesn't seem desperate. This phase is easily the worst part of the whole European Delivery process. You've had a little taste of your new UDM and now you have to wait in limbo until you can get whatever morsels of information that dribble out about where it is, which ship it's going to be on, when that ship is supposed to cross the pond, how long it's going to be stuck in customs. It's absolute torture. #firstworldpains

On a lighter note, I feel completely overwhelmed going through my 1100 photos. I just got through importing them all into Adobe Lightroom and have geotagged and applied basic keywords and post-processing steps to them. I think I am going to have to just go one day at a time and be ruthless about which shots make the first cut. I got a new monitor to help out with navigating through the pics and tweaking them and I think that will speed up the process a fair bit.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

If I can't be in Italy, I'll let Italy come to me

So we found out that Target sells gelato imported from Italy under their "Archer Farms" label. Guess what? They have a "combo pack" of pineapple and coconut. Yes, you heard correctly. I can now have pineapple and coconut gelato whenever I want. Schwing!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Home... Bummer

We're home. Bummer.

Landed in the ATL around 3:30 yesterday afternoon and were out of the airport; into the car (which I will be turning in on Tuesday); and on I-85 by 5:15. The new international terminal is great. It took a little longer than I would have expected to get through passport control, and the CBP lady there didn't quite understand what I wrote on our customs declaration form (I wrote "prepared foods," probably in error, referring to our trofie pasta, pesto sauce, olive oil), but net-net it was a much more pleasant experience than our previous international arrivals through the old "Concourse E."

We had dinner at Five Guys since we were both craving a cheese burger pretty bad. Mmmmmm..... cheeseburger.

We didn't even attempt to start on our mountain of laundry more than to just extract it from the suitcases and pile it up in front of the laundry closet.

It was all Angela could do to stay up until 9:30, but I got a second wind watching the replay of the UEFA Champions' League finals between Bayern and Dortmund and made it until 11:30. We were both still up and at 'em by 5:30 this morning, though. Thanks goodness we have today and tomorrow to shake the jet lag.

I feel a visit to "Casa des Waffle" this morning...

No word at all on when my vehicle (which I have chosen to name "Heike," in honor of the woman who managed my delivery) will make it up to the port. I'll probably send the shipping company a note tomorrow or Tuesday to inquire.

Friday, May 24, 2013

An anxious goodbye, and not all crepes are created equal

Our final full day in Europe started out with a little breakfast omelette down at the "da Aristide." I needed the energy since I had to schlep up the hill to the car that I parked on the street while carrying my camera backpack and one of our duffels. Let me tell you that it was much easier coming down the hill with no bags than hiking up with 45lbs of gear. As I walked up the hill, a tour bus ready to disgorge its passengers pulled in to the upper parking area. Yikes, I had to really get on it if we were going to load the car and get out of town while the streets were still relatively empty.

We got the car loaded and got out of town before the horde of locusts descended on "our" Cinque Terre. It was a pretty easy drive to Nice. I am continually impressed by the viaduct-tunnel-viaduct system on the coastal motorway. The engineering and surveying work required to get all those roadways to line up is amazing; especially when the roads are curving and changing their elevation.

After fumbling around finding the hotel (including one aborted attempt at the wrong "Novotel" which included a full unload of all the baggage), we finally got checked into our "2 room suite" (where the "rooms" are formed by sliding dividers, not actual walls) and I left to get the car washed and dropped of at the "TT Auto Transport" office at the airport. I found everything OK and parked the car, but to my shock and concern, no one was at the desk waiting to accept my turn-in. I had no idea what to do. I waited around for about 10 minutes, called the number (no answer), knocked on the door behind the counter, and was about to call my CA back in the states when a woman politely, but directly (in that French way), asked me to step out from behind the counter. Whew! Relief. Evidently, the man with whom I made the appointment failed to put me on the day's drop-off schedule. Good thing that there were two other ED drop-offs scheduled for that day or they may have called it a weekend.

Unfortunately, during the walk-around, we noticed some very minor curb rash on the right front wheel and some superficial scratches (like from brushing up against very stiff vegetation or very lightly rubbing concrete) on the right-front corner of the front bumper. I sure hope that doesn't delay my redelivery. I sent a note with the pics to my CA asking him his advice.

Since it was still fairly early, we decided to take the bus into the center city and stroll around "Vieux Nice" and try to find a place to eat. Angela had a craving for crepes, so that's what we looked for. Our first place had sweet and savory crepes as well as "doner's" (which I had a craving for). My "doner kebap" was excellent (of course, I was pretty hungry by then, so that might just be the hunger talking), but Angela's crepe with nutella and bananas wasn't up to scratch. Onward...

We walked along the Promenade des Anglais; amongst the stalls that get set up in the old flower market area, and through the warren of narrow streets that is "Vieux Nice." Stop #2 for crepes was a place called "L'Abbaye," where I got a savory crepe with ham, cheese, and eggs, and Angela got one with ham, cheese, onions and mushrooms. The crepe batter here was a wheat flour-based one, and Angela didn't like it at all. I actually liked the "buckwheat" style crepe, but we didn't even attempt to order a sweet crepe, even though there were a couple on the menu that looked quite tasty. Strike 2. Our final attempt was at this place called "Pinocchio" that sold crepes and gelato. I got a dark chocolate filled crepe and Angela got one with mixed fruits; except that it came out as just a plain crepe with all the fruits on top of, not cooked in, the crepe. Strike 3. You're out.

We got back to the hotel a little before 9 and finished our packing. Tomorrow is a very early morning for Angela and me. We have a 4:15 wakeup for a 6:30 flight to Frankfurt. I did manage to blow a circuit breaker trying to plug my US mini-power strip into a 240V adapter so that we could charge all of our iOS devices at once. It even took out our door locks.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Black wingtips are not hiking shoes

I'm not sure if our day could have gone any more according to plan.

First, I must make a comment about our apartment: it's not very nice. It's easily the worst of all our accomodations to date. About the only positive things I can say about it is that you can see the water and it's not far from where I can park the car to load/unload our luggage. Because of how Emmanuelle made up the rooms, and because the “matrimonial” bedroom had a double bed in it, and because Angela and I can't sleep in anything smaller than a king, I got to sleep on part of a rollaway day bed with no sheets and a jury-rigged pillowcase. With all that said, I slept OK. We are only paying EUR55 per night per room, so you can't expect that much, I guess.

Our omelettes with ham and cheese were delicious. It was so nice to have an “American” breakfast.

Angela and I took a short walk from the Rick Steves guidebook in our room around the town, out to the point that has an awesome view of Corniglia and Monterosso, and back to the waterfront where, by then, the town had been infested with swarms of tourists fresh off their cruise ships in La Spezia. There were probably 250 cruisers all down at the waterfront with their little headsets and guides with the guide paddles (Princess Pink #2, Norwegian Red #3) all cramming the small harbor area to get onto the ferry boats so they could say that they saw the Cinque Terre in 4 hours.

The train up to Monterosso was uneventful and we had some takeaway lunch that for me consisted of lasagne al pesto that was fantastic. After exploring a little of the shops in the village, Angela and I set out on our hike and gave Michele her instructions on meeting us in Vernazza later that afternoon when we came down out of the hills.

The hike was excellent. The views were stunning. I am always, but shouldn't be any more, amazed when I see what kinds of footwear people have on when hiking. I saw inch-high foam flip flops, black wingtips with smooth leather soles, and driving loafers. This trail was not a gentle stroll along the water. It was a real-life hiking trail with rough and slippery ground and narrow paths where there wasn't much room to have an issue with footing without falling down the hill toward the sea. Maybe I take it too seriously? I don't have a pair of $300 Vasque boots, but I do have a decent pair of Merrell hiking shoes that have rugged soles that offer very good traction and support over rough ground and I still had occasional issues with footing.

One thing I wasn't expecting was a guy selling jewelry off a folding card table. I thought that I might have escaped the shopping for at least a couple hours while on the trail, but alas no. I would have much preferred a guy selling water or gatorade or gelato.

Anway, it took us a couple hours to go the 3+km from Monterosso to Vernazza (there was a bunch of stopping to let people pass since the trail in several spots was really only one person wide). Michele was sipping on a Coke Light at a waterfront cafe when we found her. After a pineapple and coconut gelato, we got on the boat to Riomaggiore. It's really cool being able to see these small villages from the water. They're all really very close to each other, none separated by more than 3 or so km from the next, but until very recently, residents of the villages rarely married anyone outside their village because they were so remote. I think they must believe that the roads and trains into their little slice of Italy is a double-edged sword. Surely they love the money that all the tourists inject into their economies, but at the same time they must resent the effects that those tourists have like the inevitable inflation of prices at restaurants, shops, the invasion of privacy, the litter, the noise, etc.

We had another wine and cheese “happy hour” and ate dinner at a superb place down toward the water. We had an appetizer of bruschetta with pesto and tomatoes. For dinner, I had ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach served over a fish sauce with local lobster tails; Michele had Trofie; and Angela had a lasagne al pesto that had about 12 layers of noodles. Dessert was two different takes on Tiramisu: one the standard and one with a citrus bent. Everything was outstanding; maybe even better than “dal Billy.” We chatted with a family taking their son on a graduation trip (Auburn CIS, WDE) across Italy.

Tomorrow is our last full day in Europe. We have to be out of town by 10 because that's when the morning delivery window closes for cars in the village. We'll drive to Nice (hopefully I'll be able to find the Moyen Corniche for the last bit); drop the luggage off at the hotel; and I'll say goodbye to my new steed for several weeks while it takes the slow boat across the Atlantic.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Someone named Billy knows how to cook fish

We had a very busy morning today; got up and had breakfast and some nice conversation with the other guests at Il Salotto. One couple had come from Manarola the day before and had some good info for us. They specifically mentioned having dinner at “Trattoria dal Billy.” They also mentioned that the only coastal trail open was the one between Monterosso and Vernazza. Bummer.

We had to be out of Florence by noon in order to make it to Manarola in time for the afternoon delivery window when I'd be able to drive my car down into town and unload, so our morning was go, go, go. Angela and I double-timed it over to the Basilica di Santa Croce in order to see Galileo and Michelangelo's tombs which were scaffolded over the last time we were in Florence in 2005. They were justifiably amazing.

We met Michele back at the B&B so that I could check us out of our rooms and pick her up to walk through the Cathedral. Honestly, I was more impressed with the interior of both Santa Croce and the cathedral in Orvieto than I was with the Duomo. Now, don't get me wrong, the Florence cathedral is amazing from the outside; with it's beautiful dome and multi-colored marble facade, but the inside is dark and plain. The only exception to that is the roof under the dome; it's a beautiful fresco.

A little more shopping ensued after that since we had a little time to kill but nothing made it into the net except a can of olive oil. I was disappointed in the street art that we found since nothing “spoke” to us enough to grab.

Getting out of Florence was much easier than getting in. Alessandro gave me excellent directions and once on the motorway, we let the car tell us how to get to Manarola. Lunch at Autogrill again (a different panini every time and all of them good) and we were in Manarola by 3. We met Emanuelle at the appointed place and after doing a quick luggage change and getting a brief orientation of our efficiency apartment, I drove the car back up out of town and parked it on the street (since on street parking is free).

Walking back down into town, we spotted the sign for “dal Billy” and checked out the menu. The place looked pretty cool; with a couple terraced dining areas. We asked Emmanuelle to make us a reservation for 7:30.

We got some wine, bread, cheese, and olives and had a very nice little afternoon happy hour on our balcony looking at the sea.

Dinner was quite simply amazing. Marinated Anchovies, Trofie with pesto, and baked Sea Bass (we were able to pick out exactly which fish we wanted) with roasted potatoes and olives. Maybe the best meal I've ever had. Our waiter was very cool. He started out a little gruff but warmed up as the night went on. We had a nice conversation with an Australian couple who were on a month-long European vacation. By the end of the night, our waiter was bringing us shots of limoncello and some liquor called “Grappa.” Good stuff.

Tomorrow, our plan is to have breakfast at the little bistro downstairs, explore a bit more of Manarola, then take the train up to Monterosso where Angela and I will hike the one section of the “Senetiero Azzurro” that's open and meet Michele in Vernazza. Hopefully the boats will be going tomorrow, because we want to take the boat from Vernazza to Riomaggiore and then the train back up to Manarola. Should be a pretty full day.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

If all I could ever eat for dessert was Pineapple and Coconut Gelato, I'd be OK with that

Medieval Orvieto wasn't lacking for knowing what time it was. The main bell tower tolls on the hour and every half hour; one tone counts the hours and the another counts 15 minute intervals. This happened, I believe, all night.

We got up and had breakfast (such as it was) and were out of Orvieto by 9am; right on schedule. This was after we discovered that Maria's credit card machine didn't work. We're burning through cash like it's water on this trip. I guess Italy hasn't hopped on the credit card bandwagon.

Today, I wanted to take the scenic route to Florence since we were only 180km away, and since some of the most scenic countryside was between us and our destination. I intended to go through the Val d'Orcia and up the Chianti Road (SS222) into Florence so that we could take some of our own versions of the classic Tuscan landscape pictures, with the rows of cypress trees, flowing wheat fields, old stone houses, etc. What we were treated to instead was grey overcast and rain that didn't clear out until we were almost in Florence. I did manage to get what I think will be some nice shots, ominous clouds notwithstanding.

We flew up the Chianti Road, through Greve, and into Florence since we had to get to our B&B before 2:30. After some nerve wracking twists and turns through the "Centro Storico" of Florence, we made it. Our place is perfectly located; it's a shame that we're not spending more time here since it's literally a stone's throw from the Baptistry and not more than a 5-iron to the Duomo. Our room has a small "Pope's Balcony" overlooking Via Roma, and I can listen to the late-night hustle and bustle as I write this. Hopefully our closed doors will shut out the street noise so we can get some sleep.

Alessandro was so nice and friendly when we checked in. At first, it was a little confusing where in this building he actually is, but once past all that, we got checked in just fine. We had 4:45 appointments to the Accademia to see Michelangelo's David, so we spent some time browsing through the San Lorenzo market, which is a huge clearing house of leather and silk. I got 2 new "jeans" belts, one brown and the other black, and a euro-style change purse, which I have been looking for forever. Not wanting to be left out, Angela picked up a little red purse.

We walked up to the Accademia and said "sucker" to all of the schmoes standing in line to get in without a reservation. We basically walked right in, got our tickets, and went about our business. The David is something to behold, but I was also really looking forward to seeing the 4 "Slaves," unfinished works that look like the characters are crawling out of the marble. Besides "David," there's not too much else to see. Some byzantine-era wood panels and some other larger paintings, but "David" is the main attraction.

We spent the rest of the afternoon just wandering around the old town; the Ponte Vecchio; Palazzo Vecchio and the loggia outside the Uffitzi (in which there is an amazing sculpture collection), and finally over to Piazza Santa Croce where we had dinner at a place called Boccadama. We enjoyed bruschetta, Spaghetti Carbonara, and "Bistecca alla Fiorentina."

With no joy at the Furla store ("Whew!" I said to myself), Angela wound up finding a very nice caramel colored one at one of the small leather stores on Via dei Calzaiuoli.

A word about the gelato here in Florence: there are so many gelaterias here it's almost comical. The quality, however, blows away anything we've had to date. I had the most amazing combination of pineapple and coconut ever. Little chunks of pineapple and toasted coconut in every bite.

Tomorrow, we're planning on a quick walk over to Santa Croce so I can see Galileo's tomb and a walk through the main Cathedral before getting out of town by noon. We have to be in Manarola before 4 so that we can get into the city center to drop off our luggage.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ciao, Antonio

We left the Antonio, the Parsifal, Ravello, and the Amalfi Coast today and began our trek back north. The drive was easy; mostly motorway the whole way. Originally, I had wanted to focus more on country roads and driving through the smaller towns, and that works for the most part. But when you're staring 400km in the face, and you want to get some sightseeing in at your destination, you just can't afford to take 8 hours on the "scenic" route.

We had lunch somewhere near Rome at another Autogrill. Our focaccia sandwiches were good, and so was Michele's grilled vegetable plate; with eggplant, zucchini, and yellow bell peppers.

We got to Orvieto around 2:30 or so, and after fumbling around the old town trying to find the piazza on which our B&B was located, we got all checked in to the "B&B Le Soffitta e le Torre." The proprietress, Maria, was very welcoming. The B&B is on the top floor of a building overlooking the Piazza del Popolo. The rooms seemed to be very recently renovated and showed the beams in the ceiling. I figure this building was built at least 3 centuries ago.

Now, Orvieto doesn't have that much going for it, but it does have a first rate cathedral with some absolutely amazing sculptures and frescoes inside. One of the side chapels has a series of frescoes by Luca Signorelli that just take your breath away.

Orvieto also is somewhat famous for all the caves that were dug into the soft "Tufa" stone under the city. The city offers a tour of 2 of them and we were all three very pleasantly surprised. There are over 1200 known caves under the city and if your house or building has a cave entrance, the cave is yours.

We had dinner in a small trattoria. I had papardelle with wild boar ragu again (yummy, again).

We retired fairly early. Driving up to Florence tomorrow via the Val d'Orcia and the Chianti Road. We are on a bit of a time crunch because Alessandro, who runs our B&B in Florence, leaves at 2:30 to go manage another property.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

You can have Capri, I don't want it

First, an addendum to last nights journal entry: we were treated to a fireworks display last night from a church about 3mi away across the valley. Apparently there is some sort of pilgrimage going on this weekend and the fireworks are part of it. It was a nice touch to our dinner out on the terrace. In fact, as I sit here writing this, I can hear the fireworks again tonight.

Another day, another failed attempt at getting to Capri. Again rushing to catch the bus to Amalfi, but apparently on Sundays, the bus makes about 10 extra stops in small villages like Scala and Pontone. We were afraid that our 8:25 bus wouldn't make it down to Amalfi in time, but it did. Interestingly enough, we saw the same guy for the 4th time on the bus down. He always gets off at the bottom of the hill in Atrani. Where he goes from there, I have no idea, but he wears the same fading blue fishing hat and carries the same satchel every day. I assume he waits for the bus from Amalfi to Salerno or other points east.

Anyway, back to our Capri saga. We get down to Amalfi only to discover that no boats are running today, either. WTF do we have to do to get over to Capri? Anyway, we consider taking the bus to Sorrento, but the 9:30 bus is full before we even know it's loading up and we do not want to go to Sorrento for 1.5hrs in SRO on a bus. Back up to Ravello we go. Clearly someone somewhere doesn't want us to go to Capri.

Today apparently is some sort of festival day celebrating the patron saint of Ravello, so we were treated to a small concert from the local band (about 35 musicians of all ages) playing some nice instrumental music. People watching at these events is always a treat and today was no exception. Now, I do not pretend that I "blend in" with the locals (although I will proudly admit to being stopped and asked about stuff by "locals" on past European vacations), but some of the Americans on display in the main square were just ridiculous. Sometimes it's little things like trying to get into a church wearing wife beaters, workout shorts, and flip-flops. Sometimes it's watching people fumble around like idiots trying to work the bus ticket kiosk. Sometimes it's just not even _trying_ to say hello and please and thank you in the local language.

We had pizzas for lunch in the Vittorio and were not disappointed. It was here that Angela and I and Michele parted ways. Angela and I went to Villa Cimbrone to tour the gardens (which we didn't get to tour on Thursday night). On the way there, she got fitted for some custom sandals. The gardens at Villa Cimbrone were amazing. Much more impressive than Villa Rufolo yesterday. The views from the "Infinity Terrace" were stunning; 180 degrees from left to right up and down the Costiera Amalfitana.

We had a bottle of Ravello "Rosso" on the terrace and had a nice conversation with a British couple here on holidays and went to dinner about 7:15 at this local place called "Trattoria Cumpa' Cosimo." Apparently this place is pretty famous (although we had never read about it, so it's not _that_ famous), and it got packed by the time we left. We tried flash-fried anchovies (amazingly good), and I had a plate of spaghetti with different kinds of shell fish like clams, mussels, squid and shrimp in a garlic fish sauce. Angela and Michele split a mixed pasta plate with pesto, bolognese, ham and cheese crepes, marinara, and canneloni. Needless to say, it was excellent.

Tomorrow we leave Ravello and Antonio and the Parsifal for Orvieto and points north. It should take 4-6 hours to get there, and I am hoping to leave by 10am which will give us the afternoon/evening to enjoy what Orvieto has to offer. Finally get to sleep in, too, since there are no buses or boats to catch or be cancelled.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

I knew it was big, but I didn't know it was BIG

We had booked a private tour guide for our day in Pompei. It was worth it. She was so friendly and knowledgeable; and we weren't straining to hear her or having to fight with headsets and all that. I have to remember to give her an outstanding write-up on TripAdvisor.

The place itself was massive; much larger than I expected, even though a number of people I know who have visited Pompei say it's big, you just don't expect it to be that big. It's so well preserved, too, however most of the best frescoes and statues and whatnot have been removed to the Naples Archaeological museum. There are a few specimens of human remains in poses of absolute terror; and several frescoes that are still in excellent condition. It was all a little overwhelming, if I must say. The site is so big that everything just starts to run together. Our tour was 3 hours and by the time we were finished with Lucia, we were all “ruined out.” We had lunch at a surprisingly good place just outside the main gate to the site.

The afternoon was spent meandering through Villa Rufolo and among the small alleys of Ravello. Villa Rufolo dates back to the 13th century and has seen mulitple renovations in varying architectural styles. It has a very nicely done garden that spans several levels. The views are, of course, spectacular, but they're really no different from what we get at our hotel.

After Villa Rufolo, I sat in the main square of Ravello while the girls got their shop on. After about half an our or so I retired to my room at the Parsifal and I think I took a little nap.

We had a lovely dinner on the terrace here at the Parsifal. Angela had squid ink spaghetti served with stewed onions and some sort of cod-like fish bits. Michele and I had grilled white fish served with local tempura fried vegetables. My fish was amazing. Perfectly cooked and with great flavor with what I think was some lemon and olive oil.

I think we're going to try to do Capri again tomorrow. Antonio assures us that the weather will be good and that the boats will go. I think we'll have him call to make sure before we waste our time and money going down to Amalfi. I sure would like to sleep in one of these mornings, though.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The reality of the Amalfi Coast isn't matching up with the fantasy

Today, Angela and I wanted to go over to Capri. I woke up early to make sure that the boats would be running, and was assured by Antonio that the sea wasn't too bad and they should be running. We had to catch the 8:25 bus from Ravello down to Amalfi in order to make the 9:30 boat to Capri. Everything was going according to plan until we got down to Amalfi and the ferry ticket office and were informed that no boats were going to Capri because of the angry sea (like an old man trying to return soup at a deli). Bummer. I think they just didn't sell enough tickets and therefore cancelled the ferry. I hope no one got stranded on Capri. First lesson: always have Antonio call to confirm that the boats are running, and on what schedule.

What to do now? Do we take a bus somewhere else, like Positano? Do we head back up the hill with some wine, cheese, and bread and play the day by ear? The decision was somewhat made for us when the skies opened up and it poured rain for a good 45 minutes. Since Angela left her umbrella at the hotel (again, on the assurance from Antonio that the weather looked good), as soon as the rain let up, we got some wine, bread, cheese, and olives from the same shop as yesterday and caught the next bus back to Ravello.

The weather here changes faster than Lady GaGa changes outfits at the MTV Music Awards, and by the time we got back to Ravello, the skies had cleared enough to warrant going with "Plan B," which involved hiking the "Sentiero degli Dei" (the pathway of the gods) from Bomerano to Positano along the cliffs about 2000ft above the sea. Another bus down to Amalfi, lunch at the same sandwich shop as yesterday, and still another bus up to Bomerano where we caught the trailhead.

The trail itself is amazing. The views of the sea and cliffs and terraced vineyards are stunning. I liken the area to the Napali, but with roads and buildings. The trail is about 4 miles and we covered it in a little over 2 hours. Unfortunately, we weren't finished and had to descend about 2000 steps down just to get to the road that would take us into Positano.

Now here is where the reality begins to depart from the fantasy. After walking all the way down to the beach, we discover that the last boat left for Amalfi at 3:45, when the schedule said that there should have been one at 5 and 6. We got there in plenty of time to catch the 5pm boat, but on a whim, all the operators cancelled their boats. The seas were calm, so hiding behind the weather is a lame cop out. They just didn't want to run partially full (read: people not crammed in like sardines). Back up the hill we climbed to get the bus to Amalfi and then the bus up to Ravello.

After one failed attempt to board (Angela got on, but I was left out, so she got off), we finally got back to Ravello around 7. What a long, crazy day.

Tomorrow we're going to Pompeii. We have a private guide booked for 3 hours at 9:30 am. We have to leave a little early so I can put gas in the car. I was going to come back to Ravello via Sorrento and Positano, but not now. We're coming back exactly how we get there, directly over the mountains. I might try to go to Herculaneum and/or Vesuvius, but I'm not holding out much hope for more ruins besides Pompeii.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sleeping in is wonderful; and I will not drive my shiny new car on the Amalfi Coast road

This was the first day of the trip that we haven't had to get up for anything. It was great. Our plan was to take the bus down the hill into Amalfi and see what it had to offer. Turns out, not much. I cannot imagine the crush of people down there during the height of the season. At one point I had thought about possibly driving the coast road from Pompeii through Sorrento and around the point and back up to Ravello on Saturday, but after seeing what really goes on, that's not happening. Even a 3 Series is borderline too big to fit with all the enormous tour buses, city buses, delivery trucks, etc.

We did have a really good lunch right inside the pedestrian zone, though. Have I mentioned how good the food has been on this trip?

Amalfi has an absolutely gorgeous church right in the main square. We walked through the cloisters, down into the crypt, and then into the main church buildings. The frescos and ceiling decorations were just stunning for a church in a city this size. I guess the Amalfi Republic was something to be reckoned with during its heyday.

Also in Amalfi is a museum dedicated to preserving and demonstrating the techniques used for making paper from cotton, hemp, and other natural cloth fibers. They have some machines dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries for breaking down the fibers before they can be pressed into sheets and set out for drying. Their water wheels still work and the guide demostrated the evolution of the paper making process up until the mill closed down. It was the oldest paper mill in Europe; dating all the way back to the 13th century when the techniques were learned from the Arab world, which learned them from the Chinese.

Back up in Ravello, we had a nice snack of local wine, bread, cheese, and olives on the hotel's terrace, overlooking the Gulf of Salerno. It was fun people watching as they strolled by on the street about 50 feet below us. We watched the classic “bump” method of parallel parking executed to perfection.

Today was our 15th wedding anniversary, so we booked a table at Villa Cimbrone's “Il Flauto di Pan” restaurant. It was super-expensive, but worth it. The presentation was just amazing. We had a variety of dishes ranging from tomato soup with buffalo mozzarella to “gratinated” lobster with cheese fondue to fish soup that had in it grilled octopus, squid, some sort of fish filet, oysters and other “frutti di mare.” Villa Cimbrone itself has got to be the jewel in the Ravello Crown. It sits on the most amazing piece of property and has a commanding view all up and down the Amalfi coast. The gardens are amazing (they charge EUR6 for “the regular folk” just to walk around), and the hotel itself looks like it came from the set of a movie.

Tomorrow we want to maybe go to Capri, but the weather is iffy for the boats to run. If we can't go to Ravello, then we'll do some hiking on the Sentiero degli Dei (Pathway of the Gods) from Agerola to Positano.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Even Italian rest stops serve gourmet food

We got on the road from Cortona around 10am after eating a nice breakfast up on the 4th floor enclosed terrace. It had a terrific view of the Tuscan countryside. There were hundreds of swallows darting this way and that chasing after bugs. It looked like a WWI dogfight.

The drive to Ravello was pretty long. We did have an amazing lunch at a roadside rest stop near Avezzano. The chef/owner/waiter spoke very little (read: no) English, so we resorted to ordering dishes for which we recognized the name, like Arrabbiata or Gnocchi. Evidently we missed out on the specialties of the house, which are various grilled meats cooked over a wood-fired grill.

Our route of travel took us around Lake Trasimeno and Perugia, through Terni, past Avezzano and Cassino (site of a vicious battle during the Italian Campaign in late '43 and the first half of '44), down around the East side of metro Naples where we got off the freeway in Pagani and proceeded to cross the range of mountains that helps to define the Sorrentine peninsula before finally arriving in Ravello, a small town about 1200ft ASL right above Amalfi.

After fumbling around looking for our hotel, the Hotel Parsifal (the SatNav maps we got from BMW are not terribly good, especially in the Point of Interest category), we finally found it and were met by Antonio, the proprietor. He's so friendly. He helped get our bags out of the car, helped re-park the car somewhere with more room, helped get us settled in. Everything you expect from someone running a small B&B type hotel. The property is very nice; situated in an old convent that dates back to the 13th century.

The views from the hotel's terrace are amazing; looking west right down the coast.

Dinner was pizza in a small restaurant called the Vittorio. I have two words: Molto Buono. We have eaten so well on this trip I almost feel guilty. There are no signs of it stopping, either. I was too full for my after dinner gelato, and that's saying something.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Under the Tuscan Sun, and it's good luck to get pooped on, right?

An addendum to yesterday's entry: I got pooped on by a bird on the Rialto Bridge yesterday morning. I think it's supposed to be good luck, but maybe that only applies when it happens in St. Peter's Square in Rome. Thankfully the bombardier was a little wide of the mark and only got my shirt.

We had a decent drive from Marghera to Cortona today. Left around 9 and rolled in to Cortona by 2:30 or so with a half hour for lunch, a gas/bio break, and more than plenty truck traffic between Venice and Ravenna. Our hotel in Cortona, the "Hotel Italia," is very nice and right in the middle of the "centro storico." Had to park the car outside the walls and schlep some luggage up the hill to our hotel, but we planned for that by putting our overnight stuff in a small duffle.

Cortona itself is lovely. Very small, but lovely nonetheless. There are tons of Americans paying some sort of homage to "Under the Tuscan Sun" and pretending to know about "Super Tuscans" and truffle oil. The town itself dates back to pre-Roman times when the Etruscans had a settlement here.

I had wild boar in a ragu over Pappardelle pasta for dinner at this place called "Ristorante Loggetta" that came recommended by a gallery owner we met. I've never had wild boar before and it was very tasty. Angela had canelloni stuffed with meat and bechamel baked in its own dish and that was pretty good, too. Michele had mezzaluna pasta stuffed with spinach and ricotta and a beef sauce. We all shared a mixed plate of bruschetta; one piece was the "standard" kind, one had grilled radicchio and cheese, and one had shaved truffles. I only tried the one with the radicchio and while a little bitter, it was still very good.

One of the benefits of travelling is getting to have nice conversations across the table with very interesting people. Tonight was no exception. We chatted with a woman who's producing her own travel show to air on PBS in the new year. She's been living in Florence part time for several years while getting her show off the ground. We had a really nice time meeting her. Her name is Tracy Rosensteel and her show is going to be called "In Pursuit of Passion."

Like most of these small hill towns, Cortona goes to bed pretty early. Even the gelato stands were closed when we finished dinner.

Tomorrow is a pretty long drive down to Ravello, but after that we can basically put the car away for a couple days since we're going to be there for 5 nights.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The most expensive Coke I've ever had

The weather today was absolutely glorious. We got into Venice proper around 9:30 and spent the majority of the morning meandering through central Venice towards the Rialto Bridge and on to Piazza San Marco. We had a semi-private gondola tour scheduled for 2:30 and had to be back to the train station gondola pier, so after taking some pics of the square and buying tickets for the Doge's Palace for later in the afternoon, we started meandering back towards the train station by way of the "Strada Nova" and had some fantastic paninis at a small osteria. The obligatory afternoon gelato followed and I had my own version of a gelato Pina Colada with Coconut and Pineapple gelato. Mmmm Mmmmm good.

The gondola tour was OK, but not great. It was hard to hear our guide over her wireless mic (our group was large enough to require 2 gondolas and she was in the other one). There were times when we could only get every other word. Anyway, those Gondolieri are very good at what they do. They can steer those boats through some very tight turns. It's cool watching them go all "Parkour" and use their feet against the walls of the buildings to help with the turning.

The tour ended up back in Piazza San Marco and by then Angela and Michele wanted some coffee. Where else to go but Cafe Florian, where they've been making coffee longer than anywhere else in Europe. This was cool and all, and they're _very_ proud of their coffee, but 55 Euro for an espresso, a cappuccino, a COKE, and a lemon mousse. Now, 18 of that 55 was basically a cover charge (as if that makes it all better), but my 10oz bottle of Coca-Cola was, wait for it, EUR9.50!!!! You read it right: EUR9.50. I realize that coke at restaurants in Europe is pretty expensive, but that's absurd and I don't mind saying it.

The Doge's Palace was really beautiful. One bonus was an amazing collection of medieval arms and armor. The prison cells were appropriately dismal and dark and lonely; and the governmental rooms were appropriately ornate and extravagant.

After going up the campanile and getting a whole different perspective on Venice, we decided it was time to meander _back_ towards the train station and our hotel. We had a wonderful dinner at Taverna san Trovaso in the Dorsoduro district. I had spaghetti with clam sauce, Angela had carbonara, and Michele had bolognese. All of our dishes were excellent and our dessert of Tiramisu and a house lemon cake with pine nuts was similarly delicious.

We have a reasonably long drive down to Cortona tomorrow. I think that we can get there in time for a late lunch if we get out of here by 9am or so. We'll see. Weather down there is supposed to be sunny and 73. Molto Bene.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ahhh... Venice

Yesterday was a total whirlwind.

We landed in Munich a couple minutes early and were through customs with our bags and meeting our car service driver within 20 minutes of landing. German efficiency at its finest.

We made a bee line for our hotel to check in; drop our bags; and pick up Michele only to find when we got there that Michele had already gone over to the Welt.

The Welt is an amazing place and they've redone it a little since the last time we've been there. Now, it's a complete brand center for all of the brands under the BMW umbrella; including Mini, Rolls Royce, and the new BMWi sub-brand.

The actual delivery experience is top shelf. Our associate, Alexander, was very thorough and you could tell that he really enjoys his job. He's a classic BMW owner and his personal collection consists of a '94 E34 5 Series and a 97 840i. Nice garage.

The car is a stunner. Estoril Blue in person is just gorgeous. It took me a little while to find a nice seating position. The steering wheel feels like it telescopes much farther out than the previous 3er. Either that or I am just adjusting to the extra length of the new car and don't have to slide it out as far anymore.

We had a nice dinner at the Augustinerkeller with all of the FC Bayern fans who were downtown to celebrate their Bundesliga championship.

When we got back to the hotel, I was so tired I couldn't sleep. It took me several hours to fall asleep and today was a loooong day of driving to get to our first official stop...

Our route of travel took us over country roads to Zell am See, Austria, where I was going to make an executive decision as to whether we would go over the Grossglockner and risk (a) snow, and (b) visibility so poor as to make it a total waste of time. I wound up choosing to take a parallel route a little west of there and went _through_ the mountains rather than _over_ them. I think it was a wise choice. We had decent weather most of the way, but you could tell that at higher elevations, it was very cloudy.

We had lunch in a very smoky restaurant in a town called "Matrai in Osttirol" with a couple families there celebrating "Muttertag." I enjoyed my wienerschnitzel, and Michele had what appeared to be a take on "Porkchop Cordon Bleu" that was quite good.

We got to Marghera around 6:15pm and met Lorenza, the proprietress of our hotel. It didn't take long before we hopped a train over to Venice and made our way to find a place to have dinner. We found ourselves in a nice pizzeria off the beaten path (but packed with Americans, go figure). It was excellent and you'd never believe that it was anything other than a locals hangout.

The compulsory gelato followed suit with a rainy walk back to the train station and back to our hotel. I sure hope I sleep better tonight. The Ambien should help out with that, I think.

The weather is not so great here right now, but the forcast for tomorrow is for sun and a high near 70. We'll see how that plays out, but I sure hope it's right because I found out that my water-proof hoodie is only a little water-proof.

Friday, May 10, 2013

T-8 hours until takeoff

We're almost all packed up and just waiting until it's time to head down to the airport. I'm excited to see the new International Terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Weather for our arrival in Munich calls for rain all day tomorrow and temps in the high 50's. Yuk. Looks like we'll have to nix the "enjoy the nice biergarten under the chestnut trees" part of the itinerary. Maybe the Augustinerkeller will have some availability in their "Lagerkeller" basement.

There is a huge street party in downtown Munich tomorrow at the Marienplatz to celebrate FC Bayern Munich winning the Bundesliga German "Fussball" league. Not sure Angela and her mom want to get involved in that, but I think it might be fun. FC Bayern are my "adopted" team in European soccer and I have really enjoyed watching them dominate the Champions' League this year. Hopefully they can finish what they've started.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A hitch in the plans already?

T-32hrs and counting...

We haven't even left yet and already I think I'm going to have to change some plans. My original plan had us crossing the Grossglockner on our way down into Italy. The weather forecasts have gotten progressively worse for that section of the Alps as the week has gone by, though. Like 2-4" of snow worse.

Our only two options are to go completely around the alps and down the extreme eastern border of Italy and Slovenia, or go over the Brenner Pass which is a very heavily trafficked road and not as high as Grossglockner. Neither of those two alternatives are very appealing to me, however.

I might just say "F" it and take the Grossglockner anyway.

On a better note, it looks like we might be able to get all of our stuff in 2 suitcases with an empty duffel in one for souvenirs (read: wine and olive oil). We'll see; we still haven't tried to pack up the "health and beauty items" yet.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Is it uncomfortable to ride with a suitcase in your lap for 7 hours?

Only a couple days until we head out. We did a test-fitting with our luggage this weekend when we signed the purchase contract for the new bimmer. It wasn't good. We're going to have to rethink our packing strategy in order to have room in the trunk for luggage for 3 adults for 2 weeks. As inconvenient it might be, I think we're going to have to take more smaller bags in order to provide more flexibility in the trunk.

Weather forecasts are looking good; especially once we get to Venice and points South. We might get a spot of rain (and possibly snow) on the way down from Munich; maybe even enough to warrant eliminating the Grossglockner from our route. I hope not; but what good is it taking a supremely scenic route when you can't see 100 yards in front of your hood?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Can I trust these 10-day forecasts?

So the 10-day forecasts for Munich, Heiligenblut and Venice look promising for next weekend. I wonder how much they'll change between now and next Friday?

The Grossglockner looks to be pretty damn cold on the 12th with a chance of some snow. Yowsa! Fortunately, that's the coldest the entire trip will be and it'll just get warmer and sunnier as we head down towards Amalfi.

T-7 days and counting.

The BMW automated production tracking system this morning says that "Your vehicle is being transported to the port of exit," which is code for "we've put it together and now we're towing it across the street from the factory to the BMW Welt."

Going to sign the paperwork tomorrow.

A few segments of the "Sentiero Azzurro" should open up before we get to Manarola on the 22nd. I don't think we'll be able to hike the whole length of the coast, but we should be able to hike most of it.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

And so it begins... again... for the 6th time

We're now into single digits, and can start getting long range weather forecasts for the towns on our route. I am ready; and I know that Angela is, too. The guest room bed is loaded up with pre-packing stuff; final clothing purchases have been made; all the hotels are set; Angela has been researching the best Gelato places in each city we're staying; tours have been arranged; it's all over now but for the shouting.

This year is a little different in that we have invited Angela's mother to come with us. I think that everyone will have a fantastic time, and now, if Angela wants to go shopping, I have an "out" and can do something else while she gets her "shop on" with her mom. There is no other part of marriage that I hate more than meandering through a shop (or series of shops). I'd rather do his and hers root canals than do that. Now, I may not have to. Good times.

This year, we're going to go all the way down from Munich in our new Estoril Blue 328, over the Grossglockner and down to Venice. From Venice to Cortona and ultimately all the way down to the Amalfi Coast. Then we're back up the western side of the boot to Orvieto, Florence and Cinque Terre and finally ending in Nice, France. Lots of driving, but the long days on the road are generally followed by multi-night stays at the destination.

The hiking in Amalfi and Cinque Terre is supposed to be almost epic. Amalfi has the "Sentiero Degli Dei" and the Cinque Terre has the "Sentiero Azzuro," which I hope is open by the time we get there.