Sunday, June 26, 2016

Italian Mountain Retreat

Last week I posted about a day spent driving around the mountains of northern Italy.  I thought I'd follow up that story with one place I stopped and spent a little more time exploring.  That place is the town of Cortina located in a beautiful valley and surrounded by mountains full of hiking and ski trails.  The town is well known in Europe as a winter sports area.  In fact, the population of Cortina grows from its normal 7,000 to around 40,000 during the winter months.  The town even hosted the winter Olympics back in 1956.

As we rounded a bend in the road and the view of the city opened up, the sight almost took my breath away.  It sits in a spectacular setting with the jagged edges of the Southern Alps rising above it and surrounding it in a picturesque embrace.

During the spring and summer months, the town is much quieter and one can walk the streets and admire the scenery and window shop without the jostling of crowds.  It's hard to imagine these narrow streets occupied by 40,000 people all in bulky ski clothes.

The town center is dominated by the tall bell tower of the Basilica Minore dei Santi Filippo e Giacomo.

The church is a Roman Catholic parish built between 1769 and 1775. 

Apparently the town is very Popular with "society types" and is especially known for its apres-ski social scene.  There are lots of parties and many clubs active during the long winters.  

Since I was there in warmer May, I missed out on any celebrity sightings but, I didn't miss out on the beautiful mountain splendor and the warmth of the people in the shops and on the street.  

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Drive in the Mountains

No matter where it is, a drive in the mountains is always inspirational.  The tall trees and the green hills are a perfect backdrop to some adventurous explorations.  When I visited Italy a few years ago, I spent one day doing exactly that, exploring the Dolomites of northern Italy.  Driving along the road I passed beautiful villages pressed against the mountains as though they were hugging the land in appreciation.

Some villages clambered up the side of a hill and then capped the effort with a tall tower above it all.

In other places a castle could be spotted sitting in a high enough position to watch everything that passes by its doors.

Some villages brought images of ski slopes and resorts to mind with their Alpine chalets and an occasional chair-lift.

Tiny churches clutched the edge of the road with their steeples appearing to mimic the rocky peaks behind them.

Every now and then a group of brown cows would gather at the side of the road with curious stares to go along with the clanging of their cow-bells.

Some settlements sit so precariously on the side of a mountain that I wondered how they keep from sliding down especially when the snows come.

Rounding the curves in the road always brought some new vista to admire.  Sometimes it's a green valley, sometimes the steep slope of the mountain and sometimes a picturesque village that requires a quick stop to admire and photograph the scene.

Above it all are the jagged, snow-covered peaks framed by the soft green of the pine trees swaying in the mountain breeze.  The magnitude of these grand mountains are both awe inspiring and humbling to me and following the winding roads through them was an adventure I will never forget.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Arriving in Rome

I am very good with maps.  Once I have my sense of direction, the map will help me to identify where I am and where to turn next.  But, first I have to get my sense of direction.  That is why when I arrive in a new city that I've never been to before, I first ask for someone at my hotel to point me in the right direction using my map as the guide and then I set out for a walk to make sure I've got my bearings.  That is exactly what I did when I arrived in Rome Italy for the very first time.

After a hair-raising ride in a taxi from the airport and settling into my hotel room, using my map, I asked the man at the front desk to point me in the right direction and off I went.  That first walk around a new city it always a bit of an adventure.

I found myself in awe of the tall umbrella pine trees that lined the streets and set the tone for my explorations.

I came to a monument that was not identified on my map but, the name on the plinth was Camillo Benso di Cavour, a statesmen who was instrumental in the unification of Italy.

A little further along I came to this rather grand building and my map called it the Palace of Justice.  It houses the Supreme Court of Cassation, the highest court of appeal in the country.

I learned that it was built in 1888 and is completely covered in travertine limestone.  I also learned that it's popular name among locals is "Palazzaccio" or "the bad palace".  I guess the idea is you don't wan't to end up here.

The building is topped with a quadriga sculpted by Ettore Ximenez of Palermo.  What is a "quadriga" you ask?  It's a word that describes a statue consisting of a chariot pulled by four horses.  I've seen many such statues before but had never seen that word before seeing it in my guide book.

Before long I had made my way to the Tiber River and a stroll along the river under the shade of the trees was a special treat for this first time visitor.

I passed simple bridges and bridges adorned with statues.  And when I crossed the bridge I found more places to explore and more statues and monuments to admire.

I found another bridge to cross back, confident that I had a good idea of how to follow my map and arrive at the places I wanted to see.  It was time to head back to the hotel and freshen up for a long evening walk and my very first Italian dinner! I'll post more about walking and eating in Rome another time.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Island Life

I recently saw a quote about Balboa Island, an island community of Newport Beach in California.  "Welcome to Balboa Island where the cats are numerous, fat and lazy, the dogs are spoiled, the houses are quaint and enchanting, and the living is creative and carefree."  I couldn't have summed it up any better.

Passing the flower laden light posts that line the single bridge on to the island, I enter the island's business district.  It's a good place to start the walk and peek into the eclectic collection of shops and the interesting array of restaurants.  I might stop for a milkshake or if I'm good, an iced tea to take along on my walk.

On my summer trips to California, a trip to Balboa Island is always a welcome diversion and the long walk all the way around the island is a healthy way to work off those fine-dining calories.  The island is busting at the seams with homes squeezed on to narrow lots.  I'm betting that most residents could shake hands with their neighbors out the windows of their houses.

That doesn't mean you can't build a mansion on one of those lots.  It is possible as evidenced by the one in the photo to the left.

On my last walk around the island, there were a lot of interesting things that caught my eye.  I saw mailboxes with a marine theme.

I ran into a former President and he gave me a friendly wave.

I lost count of all the picket fences.

And, I admired all the ocean-themed weather vanes.

Most of the house have front patios where residents can watch the boats as they slowly enter the marina.

Many of the homes share docks where they can party both on and off the boat.

Strolling around the island is an entertaining way to enjoy the California weather and get a taste of ocean-side living.  And, it's the perfect way to escape the Arizona heat during the month of August.  That is about the time we desert dwellers need a break from those soaring temperatures.