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Our last month in Europe


(When these pictures are posted, and you'd like to have a copy of the picture, simply right-click on the enlargement and "save picture as")
 

Tuesday, October 23 - Wednesday, November 28, 2007Click here for an enlargement

 

click here for enlargementWhen we left Sicily in late October, we still had a few days before Tim's birthday party on October 28th, so we decided to visit the townsClick here for an enlargement of Siena and San Gimignano,  on the advice of our dear friends in Edinburgh, Tim and Click here for an enlargementFrancis Hawarden. So on a grey autumn day we drove from the ferry docks in Naples up to Siena, where we admired the many different gates around the walled-cityClick here for an enlargement and spent a day and a half walking throughout the city, just soaking up the Click here for an enlargementambiance and architecture, sampling the pizzas and gelatos. But far more charming to us was the smaller, cleaner hill-top village of San Gimignano, with it's beautiful herringbone-cobbled streets andClick here for an enlargement hidden courtyards.  It is such a charming area, Click here for an enlargementeven a cold drizzle didn't dampen our enjoyment of it.  San Gimignano is famous for its many tall towers, and before WWII there were dozens of them.  Thirteen towers remain, giving the visitor a glimpse of what a whimsical place itclick here for an enlargement must have been to visit long ago. 

click here for an enlargementOn our way out of town, we stopped at a large vineyard and winery in Chianti, and sampled some of their excellent wines, before returning to LiscianoClick here for an enlargement Niccone and Tim's birthday party!

  Click here for an enlargement In early November, as we were making plans to leave Italy, we were invited by John Littlewood, wonderful artist and friend of Tim & Louise, to join him and his wife in the annual 2-day olive harvest on theirClick here for an enlargement property in Preggio, just a few miles down the road from Mercatale.   We jumped at the Click here for an enlargementchance, and  on November 4th and 5th we drove over and joined John and several of his friends to pick asClick here for an enlargement many olives as we could reach.   John taught us how to most efficiently pick the olives and gather them in the large nets Click here for an enlargementdraped under each tree.  We also used small rakes to pull the olives from the higher branches, and some of us were bold enough to climb (also called "monkeying") upClick here for an enlargement the fragile-looking trees and clean the highest boughs. The weather was cool Click here for an enlargementand lovely, and the surrounding hillsides were ablaze with fall colors.   It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we were so gratefulclick here for an enlargement for our hosts, who kept saying that we were doing them a favor.  It was great Click here for an enlargementfun, excellent company, and they even fed us lunch! 

   A few days after the trees were emptied of 600 pounds of olives, John called us again and invited us to watch the processing of the olives at a nearby olive press.  Although the old-fashioned stone wheel is still on display at the factory, the family now uses newer Click here for an enlargementmethods to squeeze the oil out of the olives.  First theyClick here for an enlargement separate the leaves and twigs from the olives, then they grind the olives into a pulp, run the mush through an auger, feed it into a centrifuge, which separates the pulp (used later as fertilizer), water, and beautiful greenish olive oil.  The Littlewoods earn several gallons of olive oil from each Click here for an enlargementyear's harvest, which is goodClick here for an enlargement because olive oil does not retain its flavor indefinitely, and it's best if you can use what you have within one year of the date it is pressed.  So they very generously shared several bottles of the virgin olive oil with us.  YUM!  We can't think of a better way to cap our amazing summer inClick here for Pucci & Sultan, close-up! Umbria and Tuscany! 

click here for an enlargementOn November 14 we loaded our luggage into our little car during a cold rain-shower, said our goodbyes to our wonderful hosts, and drove north.  We had decidedclick here for an enlargement to make a few more stops before leaving Italy, click here for an enlargementto see Verona and Venice.  In Verona we stayed in a fantastic youth hostel in what used to be a large private estate.  We fell in love with Verona (famous asClick here for an enlargement the inspiration for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet), and spent several days and evenings exploring this very romantic town and crossing its many lovely bridges.  We also found what click here for an enlargementhas become our favorite survival food:  doner kebabs!!   click here for an enlargement

Another bonus about Verona is that the cost of living is much cheaper than in click here for an enlargementneighboring Venice.  So one morning we left our car at our youth hostel and caught a train to Venice forclick here for enlargement a daytrip.  The weather was gorgeous, and even click here for an enlargementin November the streets were packed with tourists. We met people from all over the world, and had a fun time strolling andclick here for an enlargement chatting with other travelers at Piazza San Marco.  Click here for an enlargementVenice attracts quite an international population, and before boarding the train back to Verona, we even stopped for dinner at aClick here for an enlargement Chinese restaurant!   Ha!

 We returned to Verona late at night, and the next day got out our maps and charted our Click here for an enlargementroute north to Switzerland, via Austria.  We passed severalClick here for an enlargement marble quarries, and very soon the landscape became quite mountainous, until everything we saw was covered in snow.  The views were awe-inspiring, and yet Jeanie Click here for an enlargementbegan to get worried as the temperature continued to drop and we realized we had neither snow-tires nor chains,Click here for an enlargement and if the weather worsened, we would be stuck!  Thankfully all went well, and we were very happy to see Kirkor and Ursula Kurtugula again!  After a brief stay with them  in Winterthur, we continued driving, this time to Paris, France. 

Rule #1:  Never drive a car to Paris.  Take a train instead.
Rule #2:  Never go to Paris during a metro strike. 
Rule #3:  Never EVER drive to Paris during a metro strike!!  Enough said.

Click here for an enlargementOn to Mont Saint Michel!  We left the traffic behind us and drove northwest, through tranquilClick here for an enlargement countryside, past Versailles, to the little town of Pontorson.  There we found an inexpensive hotel and friendly people, and we took a tour of this beautiful Click here for an enlargementcastle, which sits very isolated on an island of rock, where the ocean tides can vary by 20 feet or more.  These days aClick here for an enlargement paved road connects Mont St Michel  to the mainland, but when it was constructed, getting on or off the island was completely governed by the tides.  The castle seems to grow right out of the rock, and it's a wonderful place to sit and contemplate where we've been.

~ Robert & Jeanie 


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