Tuesday, October 23 - Wednesday, November 28, 2007
we left Sicily in late October, we still
had a few
days before Tim's birthday party
28th, so we decided to visit the towns
of Siena and San Gimignano, on
Edinburgh, Tim and
on a grey autumn day we
drove from the ferry docks in Naples up to
we admired the many different
around the walled-city
and spent a day and a half
throughout the city, just
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 and
hidden courtyards. It is such a charming area,
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 it
must have been to
visit long ago.
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
Niccone and Tim's birthday party!
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
property in Preggio, just a few miles down the road from Mercatale.
We jumped at the
and on November 4th and 5th we drove over and joined John and
several of his friends to pick as
many olives as we could reach.
taught us how to most efficiently pick the olives and gather them in the
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")
the fragile-looking trees
and clean the highest
boughs. The weather was cool
lovely, and the surrounding
ablaze with fall colors. It was a once-in-a-lifetime
experience, and we were so grateful
our hosts, who kept saying that we were doing them a favor. It was
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
to squeeze the
oil out of the olives. First they
separate the leaves and twigs from the olives, then they grind the olives
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
harvest, which is good
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 in
Umbria and Tuscany!
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 decided
to make a few more stops before leaving Italy,
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 as
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
become our favorite survival food: doner kebabs!!
Another bonus about Verona is
that the cost of
living is much cheaper than in
Venice. So one morning
we left our car at our youth hostel and caught a train to Venice for
The weather was gorgeous, and even
November the streets were packed with tourists.
people from all over the world, and had a fun time
chatting with other travelers at Piazza San Marco.
attracts quite an international population, and before boarding the train
back to Verona, we even stopped for dinner at a
Chinese restaurant! Ha!
returned to Verona late at night, and the
next day got out our maps and charted our
Switzerland, via Austria. We passed several
and very soon the landscape became quite mountainous, until
everything we saw was covered in snow. The views were awe-inspiring,
and yet Jeanie
to get worried as the temperature continued to drop and we realized we had
neither snow-tires nor chains,
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!!
to Mont Saint Michel! We left the traffic behind us and drove
northwest, through tranquil
countryside, past Versailles, to the little town of Pontorson. There
we found an inexpensive hotel and friendly people, and we took a tour of
which sits very isolated on an island of rock, where the ocean tides can
vary by 20 feet or more. These days a
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 &