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From Eze, France . . . to Italy!

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July 11 - July 14

 Click here for an enlargementDetermined to get to the ocean and see the French Riviera, we arrived in Nice at around 5pm.  Mistake!  We’re here during rush-hour and holiday click here for enlargementtime . . . duh!  Being in traffic at a standstill we looked for signs to get us to the freeway, but finally decided to find a less-traveled road.  We chose a residential street heading up into the dramatic cliffs.  As we climbed & climbed, Robert’s eyes caught a sign for the town of “Eze”, and off to Eze we went.  This is a town where Robert &Click here for an enlargement his daughter Victoria had stayed in the spring of 1990, in a click here for an enlargementlavish room in Chateau Eza, dramatically located on top of a steep hill overlooking the water.  The hotel is now under corporate ownership and had lost some of its charm, so we took a few pictures, walked around the grounds, and purchased some food at the local grocery for an evening picnic in a local park.  Sufficiently revived, we headed for the toll road and for the fastest way to get to Italy.  There wasn’t much to see on theseClick here for an enlargement Click here for an enlargementstraight, fast roads besides lots of tunnels and speedy cars, with occasional glimpses of ancient coastal villages far below, but they sure get you where you’re going faster than the winding, two lane village roads.  After camping overnight near Genoa, we got onto a scenic route along the Italian coast, stopping along the way in seaside villages with names like Nervi, Lavagne, and Sestri Levante.  In the Click here for an enlargementvillages we stopped at, we sampled some fresh fruit or gelato, and admired the beautiful scenery, and the exuberant,  smiling people.  More than once we stopped, drawn by the lovely clear water to go for a swim.  Very helpful with directions or information, theClick here for an enlargement locals made us feel very welcome and relaxed.  In the city of Sestri Levante we spent the afternoon walking through town and along the click here for an enlargementpeaceful waterfront.  So different from the crowds in Nice!!  Finally at midnight we positioned the car in the harbor parking lot in Sestri Levante so that we would awaken the next morning to see all the moored boats.  Very tranquil.

Saying goodbye to the Italian Riviera, we began our trip to Tuscany Click here for an enlargement~ no more rain and cold winds here!  We pointed the car in the direction of Perugia, on the Tuscan/Umbrian border, since the small town of Mercatale in this area would be our eventualclick here for an enlargement destination. 

We noticed along our route that the city of Pisa was nearby . . . an obvious city to visit.  The leaning tower of Pisa, actually a bell tower Click here for an enlargementfor the town cathedral next to it, is probably the most famous tower in the world.  We arrived in Pisa in the afternoon (after another ocean swim), and happily played tourist with hundreds of others (more Americans than we’ve seen since May!).  We looked in our “Lonely Planet” guideclick here for an enlargement book and found “La Tana”:  a restaurant in town that got great ratings for fabulous pasta dinners at a great price, however, they Click here for an enlargementwere closed for “siesta” until 7pm!  We strolled through town for a few hours and returned promptly at 7pm, and had an excellent meal of fresh pasta, rustic bread with fresh olive oil, and a local chianti wine, all for 15 euros.  Worth the wait!  Click here for an enlargement

After dinner we decided to push on towards the historic mountain click here for an enlargementvillage of Volterra, where we slept in the car for a few hours, and woke to a breathtaking view of endless valleys rolled out in front of us.  We drove into the center of the village for coffee and a walk around someClick here for an enlargement ancient Roman archeological ruins, an amphitheater and surrounding pillars.  At midmorning we headed down the Click here for an enlargementmountain, past hundreds of acres of sunflower fields, to the lake near Mercatale called “Lago Trasimeno”.  We checked in at a campground on the lakeshore, La Spiaggia, had a swim in the lake, followed by a long siesta in our tent, and dinner at a local restaurant, LaClick here for an enlargement Pescatore. 

On Saturday morning we decided this would be a good chance to explore the outlying areas around the lake. As we traveled about Click here for an enlargementthe lake it was obvious that this was the area we wanted to spend our time.  We had read about local craftsmen who make mats and things from the cane reeds that grow along the edges of the lake, and as we drove, Robertclick here for an enlargement noticed a sign leading to the workshop of one such craftsman.  We pulled into the driveway and were greeted by Orlando, who has been perfecting this craft for over 50 years, since he was a young Click here for an enlargementboy.  Despite our language differences, but encouraged by his warm smile and pleasure at having rare visitors, we spent an hour talking with him and watching him work.  We bought a few things, said Arivaderchi,Click here for an enlargement and continued on our way.  We bought a watermelon and some goodies from a local deli, and picnicked in a shady park along the lake road. As we finished our snack, we began the planned trip click here for an enlargementover the mountain to meet up with our hosts for the next two months in Mercatale, Louise Anderton & Tim Hudson. We had only met them over the phone after responding to their ad in the Caretakerclick here for an enlargement Gazette.  Tim & Louise own a home in the hills above Mercatale, which they share with their three dogs and nine semi-feral cats!  They had requested a house sitter to keep an eye on their place while they go on holiday, and they chose us for the job.  So  here we are!

click here for an enlargementMercatale is a rather small village on the border between the regions of Tuscany & Umbria.  Farmers in this area grow olives, corn, tomatoes, squash (our fridge is full of zucchini that friendsclick here for an enlargement have given us, and I've already made three batches of zucchini bread), grapes, and further down in the valley, they grow huge amounts of tobacco.   From here it is a 90-minute drive from Florence (to the north), a 2-hour drive to click here for an enlargementRome (south), and 30-minutes to Perugia (east).  So, you might ask, how often do we travel to these wonderful cities?  Never! It's too hot!click here for an enlargement

Seriously, we decided since we will be here through September, and it has been over 100 degrees every day since we arrived, and it is busy holiday season, we are concentrating on click here for an enlargementstaying near the house and enjoying the Italian lifestyle, and we will venture out to the cities in September. 

As for our hosts, we couldn't be more blessed.  Tim & Louise areclick here for an enlargement from York, England, and have traveled extensively before choosing to settle in Italy.  They've even lived in click here for an enlargementseveral US cities.  They are warmhearted, generous, funny & very kind people, and have made us feel very welcome and useful.  Robert has done several small projects around the house, and I have been in my element feeding & playing with their dogs & cats, and especially the 3 young kittensclick here for enlargement who we are all trying to socialize and tame.  The cats sleep above the pizza oven in the front yard, and they are very entertaining.  We call it "dog TV", because the dogs can sit watching them, completely engrossed, for hours!

Unfortunately, there is no wifi connection near the house, so our internet access has been limited to a parking lot in town, 4 km down the hill.  (This is why we haven't updated our webpage in almost a month.)  But we are having a wonderful time, and are looking forward to exploring central Italy, and hopefully learning some Italian, for the next few months!

 Robert & Jeanie


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