It was the last day of October and we headed off towards Patras, Greece to get the overnight ferry to Italy. Definitely couldn’t say I was going to miss the awful weather we’d had for the week before we left – not at all Greek. We arrived in Bari to a lovely mild sunny day – the light always seems different there – somewhat more filtered, and the sky is not as quite as blue as in Greece, but still beautiful.
We’d decided to venture into a different part of Italy for our first night – something that’s getting trickier each time we land there as there are only so many directions you can head in. We booked a room in Sulmona, a lovely town set in a valley surrounded by mountains. The drive there was a little slower than expected but spectacular, and yes, that is snow in the background! Once again it was an area that would be great to spend more time in….. next time perhaps.
It turned out it was All Saints Day, and after checking in and having a wee siesta, we ventured downstairs onto the main street just in time for an amazing ‘Tutti Sante’ (All Saints) procession. The band was playing mournful, yet beautiful music and the procession of crimson robed men holding massive candelabras was amazing – we felt quite privileged to be able to see it. This is what I love about travelling – there are always little surprises to be had – mostly good ones!
Next morning, off to yet another new spot on Lake Bolseno, not too far from Rome. We had originally thought we might stay in Tivoli then decided it might warrant more time on a different trip. We drove through it instead which wasn’t such a great decision, as got stuck in a one way maze of streets and didn’t see much at all. Figured it was probably best visited on the train from Rome one day.
The trip through Italy is always interesting, and we generally scoot along through Tuscany at some stage. I always have the camera at the ready, as I just can’t get enough of the sweeping hills, which somehow look magnificent with absolutely nothing on them.
A quick lunch stop at Sienna was called for, (and to buy another new handbag!) before we headed off to Moneglia for our next stay. It almost always rains on us here, and it did again. In fact, the rain followed us all the way to the France the following day, with bad flooding. In Provence, We gave in finally and pulled into one of the motorway-side hotels near Frejus, just to be able to relax and stay dry.
Next morning as we left Provence, we also left the rain behind and when we arrived in the Languedoc, the sun was shining beautifully. One day we might get here in some other season other than autumn or winter, but it always looks so beautiful with the golden and sometimes almost leafless vines.
We spent a week or so in France sorting out paperwork for various things and catching up with friends, and then it was time to start phase two of the trip with an early morning flight up to Paris and then onto Seattle, via Minneapolis.
The stop wasn’t our choice but in the end well worth it just to see what the Central North of America looks like covered in snow. Admittedly though, my imagination doesn’t quite extend as far as living in snowy conditions for numerous months of the year.
The flight over the mountains coming into Seattle was spectacular – so many mountains in such a small area! We headed immediately north of Seattle for our first night just to be on our way to Vancouver which was a good idea looking at the traffic, and I was very impressed by the single transit lane which meant we could speed along and not be bothered with all the slowing down of exiting traffic. We had a great stay in a very luxurious, but reasonable, Best Western that night and a rather daunting introduction to the American fast food manner of eating with a meal at Dennys. My order was a huge blueberry pancake, with a separate plate of bacon, eggs and hash browns. Silly me expecting an amount that could fit on plate – how anyone could eat it all in one sitting puzzles me, and even with subsequent meals I never quite got my head around serving sizes!
Vancouver was as lovely as I’d expected. It was incredibly cold but clear and sunny. We were upgraded in our hotel and felt very at home in a stylish one bedroom executive apartment, just near Davies Street with all its restaurants and cafes. The boulangerie most definitely had the best almond croissants we’ve found outside of France, not to mention the tarte fraise!
Like all good tourists, we took the cable car up Grouse mountain and had a wander around in the snow for a while, met a buck deer, but couldn’t see any bears in their enclosure. We then met some Canadian friends we’d met in Greece in Chinatown for a wonderful late lunch. I’d most definitely like to come back here again for a longer stay.
Portland was our next city to visit and I was very happy to find that it did seem to have a ‘cafe culture’ which I’ve missed in so many American cities. We also had a great drive along the Colombia River – more snow!
but before going there we drove down the Pacific Coast. It was wonderful to see ‘real’ waves again and the big wide open beaches.
We spent a night in a town in Astoria, on the side of the Columbia River. To me it was reminiscent of Hawkes Bay, NZ with its art deco buildings – nearly the whole town was burnt down in the 1920’s and rebuilt soon after. It was an interesting place, and I got to have wild Alaskan salmon for dinner – the local salmon wasn’t running, but this was the best salmon I’d ever tasted. I loved the rubbish bins!
Over the few days we visited all sorts of nice spots along the Pacific Northwest Coast and came across lots of interesting things to be photographed…..
A few days in Los Angeles where the sun always seems to be shining, and then off to Sydney, where we had a great stay, until we hit the road again in mid February, with a drive down the coastal route to Melbourne. That will be covered in the next blog, so I’ll be back soon!