A Travellerspoint blog

Eil & Jen DO Asia

The Adventures & Misadventures of two Gadabout Girls..

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Ahoy There, Sailors...

First of all..

It's been a long time coming! The last blog we wrote was in the middle of last year.. and there has been plenty of adventures had: an around Queensland road trip in September with dearly beloved friends (Facebookers would have seen the goings-in!), our very first cruise with more old, dear friends in a quad room on a P&O boat in November, then a quieter Summer season, mainly because it was too hot to breathe let alone travel. Which brings us to another Cruise!

Now, for those of you who 'poo hoo' cruises, I am here to give you such an insight that will cause you to be more alarmed than ever! For those of you who are addicted to cruising, my insights will probably not cause you any lack of sleep..

Why go Cruising?

To be quite candid, we had never even considered a cruise until our friends, Keith & Elizabeth suggested it. We are definitely more the adventure on land types. I had travelled to England over 40 years ago on the Fairstar. It took nearly six weeks and all I saw for the first three was the toilet bowl and the wild windy decks where I was safe from the poisonous smokers. Jen gets sick on a rowboat. But, we set off to Papua New Guinea for 10 days with Travel Calm tabs and wrist bands and vomit bags. We didn't experience any discomfort (except for 'stretched belly syndrome': a common complaint onboard apparently!) We travelled P&O that time.. the bottom rung of cruise lines we have found out.. we knew it wasn't the top of the pile.. but the bottom! The best part of that cruise? Seeing places we could never get to by land: Milne Bay, Kitiva and Kiriwana Islands as well as Rabaul as well as spending time with our dear friends.

How did we get to be on this cruise?? Welll, how do you resist an offer of a flight to Singapore, 10 nights cruising to Ho Chi Min City & Na Trang in Vietnam, then Hong Kong, Okinawa Islands and arriving in Shanghai 11 days later with a flight home to boot!! All for a low, low price of $2500 each with an upgrade to a balcony stateroom.. see what I mean?

First Leg

We are a little reticent to admit that, on the day before we flew out of Brisbane, we bought two new ports.. our "Travelling Light" originals were 35 litre capacity, we have doubled our volume to 70 litres and we are delighted. Knowing that we weren't going to be lugging our bags onto trains, buses and along crowded streets in search of our accommodation, we decided to splurge.. nothing more was added to the bags but everything now has room to breathe. Our flight from Brisbane to Singapore was superb. Qantas arranged for a new aircraft for us: more leg room, excellent inflight entertainment and the regular supply of food was ridiculous; 8 hours of flying pleasure.

Singapore: much more than sweating, shopping and slings

Singapore Zoo: a rare experience

It's not very often that you can get us to raving about the range of wildlife except in Africa. BUT, this Zoo is an exception. See if you can name these wonderful creatures:

Gardens by the Bay: a wonder of the natural and man made world

We wanted to come back to Singapore mainly to revisit this remarkable place. Photos just don't do it justice: millions of lush flowering plants in huge domes as big as a few football fields, incredible massive 'trees' adorned with more plants, hectares of walking tracks around lakes.. and the light show was... can't think of a word!!


So when do we talk about THE CRUISE??

Delayed gratification, it's called. just you wait for the GADABOUT GIRLS' GANGWAY GOSS..
.... there'll something for everyone!!

Posted by TravellingLight 02:48 Archived in Singapore Comments (10)

Travelling Light.. On the home front

It's all a journey..

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Back by Popular Demand!!

I don't know about most of you, but we have really missed our blog.. Not on a 'we must consider our loyal followers' basis but more on a 'we really need to keep looking at life through our travelling light spectacles' basis!! So, how have we gone?

Not JUST Appointments...

It's quite hard really to sit down and focus on our journey since we arrived back on Australian shores. It's been several weeks and, even though we haven't moved very far at all (a few trips over to the other side of town to enjoy our dear Teddy & Isabelle would have to be the furtherest), we have travelled a very long way with appointments. We will not go on about those appointments but it's amazing how, just like aging cars, the human body, after nearly 8 weeks on the run, needs a bit of a tune up. We think in the first week back, we may have broken a world record on the number of different Health Care Professionals we saw between us and the pets! Suffice to say, any hope of having a healthy bank balance to gloat over was severely dashed!

A little aside for those who like the gruesome details! (Please feel free to miss this paragraph if medical issues are not your thing!)

Jen's physical manifestation of her anxiety strangely reared its head again very soon after our arrival home.. Old habits die hard. She is working on the concept of 'travelling lightly' even though we have had quite a few issues to resolve and things to work out already.
Eil's teeth have been the subject of many embarrassing & hilarious moments (the best has to be the Straddie big wave event when her plate & her sunglasses disappeared into the surf, never to be recovered!) Only two teeth lost their fillings on the trip and, only one of them needs a crown.. How fortunate!!
Some of you will know that, contrary to all appearances, Eil has both Glaucoma and Macular Degeneration. When the Eye Specialist peered into her eyes a couple of weeks ago, he decided Laser surgery was the way forward to reduce the pressure in both eyes (rather than continuing on with the drops !! (Ca-Ching, Ca-Ching went the cash register!) If you like pain & discomfort, this is the surgery for you... Having a foreign object placed in your eye so you can't blink, followed by many excruciating laser beams being drilled into your poor, defenceless eye is not for the feint hearted! The aftermath was not quite as bad as the Specialist described ('be prepared with strong pain killers as you'll find it feels like someone is poking you in the eye for a few days!') The truth is, Eil simultaneously contracted a rather nasty cold, so it was hard to decide what was worse: the pain of a miserable virus or the throb of a laser end eye. (We warned you there would be gruesome details!!)

Life.. What does it all mean??.

You will all be aware that the France & Italy Trip was our Retirement Extravanganza. We left 4 days after 'pulling the plug' on our long and wonderful careers. Eil started teaching in 1971 after an intense two years at Kedron Park Teacher's College and, with a few years out of the profession doing other wonderful things, can say she stood in front of classes (mainly as a Teacher Librarian) on & off for about 36 years. Jen started her teaching career at the wonderful Wondall Heights State School in 1980 and kept on inspiring students to excellence for exactly the same number of years.
If you were to ask Eil what the best part was: 'the children, it's always been about the children.. Their innocence, their sense of wonder, their unbridled joy, ... The chance to mold their world into something worthwhile & inspiring.. The chance to pass onto them the wonder of reading..'

If you were to ask Jen what the best part was: 'Every day was different.. I loved the creativity of it.. the personal contact with great kids... building on their minds and having them achieve great things. I liked a lot of things about teaching.'

But now... The next part..
Those of you who have followed Eil's life journey will be as aware as she is, that semi-retirement has been her 'thing' for quite a number of years. In actual fact, she has not taught full-time for any extended period of time since 2003!! This has done wonders for preparing her for what it means to 'be retired'!! Her philosophy of life has always been.. Keep a balance... 4 legs of a chair.. Physical, Social, Mental & Spiritual (Actually, a 'five-legged chair' would be more realistic.. including Caring.) All aspects need to be nurtured for a well-rounded life. This is not an easy balance to maintain but that's been her plan.
Jen's trajectory in the last ten years has taken her from a singing, dancing, band leading, soccer coaching, multi-age level extraordinary primary teacher to a secondary teacher of all things IT (as well as an astonishing part-time career in Photography). Jen's philosophy of life has always been.. Perfection is our goal, excellence will be tolerated! (a very knowing students gave her a mug with that saying on it and it sums her up very well.

959BD770B5B1529743F4EECB1F5751E7.jpgSo here we sit, two very different people but with the very same desire: Let this part of our lives shine...

It's about your VALUES..
We have had a chance to formally evaluate our deepest desires and how we want to behave as human beings largely because we have both read "So You Think You are Ready to Retire by Barry Lavalley. Our dear friends, Beck & Donna, went to a QTMB Retirement Seminar while we were overseas and were given a copy. It is an excellent and thought-provoking read. We'd give you a lend of ours except it is now dog-eared and underlined!! His premise is that you need to know how you behave or act before you can then decide what your goals should be and what you are going to fill your life with.
images-1.png let-our-own-light-shine.jpgValues.jpg

Reading matters...images.jpg
Having been educators all our lives, we understand the importance and the joy of reading. We always enjoy hearing what other people are reading so
here's what is capturing our minds and hearts at the moment:
Jen: "Gut: the inside story of our body's most under-rated organ" by Giulia Enders. She is finding out that there is more to the saying 'gut instinct' than you think!!
Eil: :"Finding Grace" Anthony Doerr's first book published in 2005. (He wrote the deeply moving "All the Light We cannot See"). So far it has mesmerised her with his keen and insightful view of the human condition.
Both: Anything written by Richard Rohr (a Franciscan Father with a heart for God and a gift for explaining how to light the path for the journey.)

For those holding their breath to see more of our thousands of photos from our trip (seems like ages ago now), Jen reports that she is 'onto it'!!
A small sample: 98184FC5E80CD4C0BFEE800F354C4733.jpgP5140064.jpgP1050605.jpgP6030072.jpg
This is about where we are at in our amazing adventure... bet you can't wait for the next exciting installment!

Posted by TravellingLight 18:03 Archived in Australia Comments (7)

All roads lead to Rome...

Then it's just a short flight home!!

all seasons in one day 20 °C
View TravellingLight to France and Italy 2016 on TravellingLight's travel map.

Two Scoops is enough

While we were in Florence, we had the privilege of visiting, not one, but two very well-stocked Galleries: the Accademia, where we gazed with wonder and artistic appreciation of arguable the most famous sculpture in the world: 'David' by Michelangelo. He was a local lad made good back in the 1500s.. You MAY have heard of him. After a walking tour around the centre of the old city, we then spent the afternoon in the most celebrated Uffizi Gallery laden with Renaissance artworks and many others. Here was where we found the ethereal 'Birth of Venus' by Botticelli, an absolute masterpiece in so many ways as well as Michelangelo's only actual painting (the rest are frescoes or sculptures!)

It was here in this gallery also that we were handed the opportunity to learn a very essential life lesson. Our English-speaking guide, Angelo, stopped us all (about 16 of us) and said, 'When you go to a Gelateria and look at all the flavours, you think that you want them all.. But, two scoops is enough!'
There have been times on this trip when we have been tempted to try to have a 'scoop of every flavour' and that's been when we have not enjoyed the experience.. We left hundreds of masterpieces unseen by our eyes in both these galleries and are satisfied!
A little aside to that experience of Uffizi Gallery: Having farewelled our wise and wonderful guide, we decided to venture back through the corridors and floors of this huge collection just for another couple of photos.. bad idea. How do you get lost in an Art Gallery and not be able to find the Exit?? we made it with help from several amused attendants. (Should have just gone for the 'two scoops'!)

Choice: don't take it for granted

There are some things that we just take as part of our Australian culture, one of the big ones is 'choice'. Even in good old Wynnum, we have Italian, Greek, Turkish, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Thai, fish & chips and more! Here in Italy (and also in France), we were hard-pressed to find anywhere that we could enjoy anything but the traditional cuisine of the country. Don't get us wrong, we have loved sampling the local specialties especially the wine & the cheeses. But, today is a good example of what we mean. I walked into a Caffe and, sort of asked for a sandwich ('panino'). Having negotiated that I wanted ham ('prosciutto') and cheese ('fromaggio'), I then had the gaul to ask if they had any lettuce... no idea what 'lettuce' was in Italian!! So I threw my hands about a bit (as instructed by our dear friend, Daph) and said, 'salado'!! The response was a definite 'no'! (I should have remembered our guide Jim's advise that Italians do NOT mix their foods!)
That's the we travel though.. to experience the uniqueness of every culture under the sun.

Orvieto: what a find!!!!

After walking our legs off in Venice & Florence, we were looking forward to 4 nights in a quieter, country setting. Our dream was to have a little cottage on a hillside, surrounded by an olive grove with birds chattering and flowers blooming. Where someone else would sort out breakfast for us and we could just mosey into the village when we wanted to. Our dream came true in Orvieto! The best part about this village is it's history and the local people's dedication to remembering their long and amazing story. It's a very proud ancient walled town built on a high volcanic plug with over 1200 caves dug in underground where the Etruscans protected themselves from invaders 2500 years ago. The volcanic mixture in the caves was used to
create cement for the Duomo centuries later. Nowadays, many of the caves are used for underground cellars, restaurants or storage areas.
We were treated to a week-end of many celebrations in Orvieto. The spring Flower Festival (Orvieto in Fiore) was stunning. A Pentecost Sunday event occurred (La Palombella), like no other, where a caged dove is released along a tight wire and flies through the air to the accompaniment of fire crackers to a prepared landing place. You have to see it to believe it really!! There was a Bishop involved, waving his white hanky and the last young couple to have been married in the Duomo was presented with the poor, nervous wreck of a dove to look after it until it's natural death. (Our guess is that their job would be a short one!) The ceremony started in 1387 so they've been through a few birds!!

The dove was not the only attraction of the day. There seemed to be a strong Medieval theme as well with lots of men in tights with cross-bows and women and children in baggy tunics carrying flowers. They were heralded by more men in tights with drugs and trumpets. It was all a jolly occasion!


Civita de Bognioregio... the crumbling town on another volcanic core

The photos say it all.

Italian Cuisine... there's more....

Get some Pork (Maiale) on your Fork

We haven't really looked into the reason for this, but Italians seem to be obsessed with all things "pork": Culatello, Coppa, Pancetta, Guanciale & Lardo to name just a few. It has almost been enough for us to become vegetarians because neither of us are big on 'fat'! They even have stuffed boars greeting customers at the entrance to their 'Negozio de Carne de Maiale' (Pork Store!) There are ristorantes dedicated to pork as well! Bring on a nice chicken breast or a slab of steak for us!!


Now this is one very generous concept and one that we quickly got the hang of. There are little bars all over Northern Italy that offer this delightful apertiser before" lunchtime and then again before the italians think about eating dinner at about 9pm. It's called "sundowners" by our dear friends in South Africa, "aperitifs" in France, "happy hour" by our friends in the US, "pre-dinner drinks" by us Australians. Italian "Apertivo' involves enjoying a cold glass of any drink (not necessarily alcoholic) accompanied by usually a rather wide selection of nibbles. Now this might sound rather familiar but the point is, one can eat as much as one likes at no cost... other than the price of the drink.. One day in Florence, we must confess, we had our entire lunch at an Apertivo Bar and only drank a lemon squash!! (Our Australian dollar is not going well against the Euro so needs must!!)


Caffe Macchiato

it's an espresso coffee drink with a very small amount milk, usually foamed and we LOVE it...
You are not a true blue Aussie unless you travel with vegemite. We have almost finished our tube of it... we could not have made it through the trip without that familiar, savoury spread lathered onto our baguette or pane with any cheese selection. On the train from Orvieto to Rome, we were watched with some interest by a very cheerful family. We offered them a taste but they were not willing to give this black tar a go.

A chat is a chat in any language...

We wandered into a church (of which there are many) in Orvieto on the eve of the big flower celebrations. Everyone was frantically preparing a unique floral mosaic for display. It's a yearly event apparently and every church family works at having the best presentation. While i was taking photos and admiring this superb effort, Jen sat down beside a very elderly lady who was watching the action. They seemed to have a big conversation. When i asked what they'd talked about, Jen didn't have a clue but the warmth and grace of this old lady flowed over her and warmed her heart.



So now, after 52 days of travel we have found that 'all roads lead to Rome' and that 'Rome was NOT built in a day' so there was much to see and wonder at. We didn't need to throw 'Three Coins in the Fountain' because, apparently, about 3,000 euros are thrown in to the Trevi Fountain every day by visitors hoping to return to Rome. Thankfully, the coins are donated to a charity supermarket. We kept our eyes peeled for Russell Crowe as we gazed in wonder at the marvel of the Colosseum. There were no gladiators to be found. We also bowed our heads in contemplation at the horrors that occurred in that arena under such fiends as Nero. Legend has it that St Peter was hung there along with many others who refused to denounce their faith.
We stumbled along the Roman roads in the Forum and considered Julius Caesar's demise and the stirring speech of Mark Anthony rang in our ears, "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your eyes. I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.."

But now, our Roman Holiday is ending. We have followed the good advice "When in Rome, do what the Romans do!" We have eaten pizza and pasta until it's coming out of our ears. We have driven around the Colosseum on a Vesper with Gregory (in our dreams). It is time to say "Arrivederci Roma, Good-bye, Good-bye to Rome" because "We still call Australia home!" We fly home this morning!! Ciao!!


PS... on Travelling Light..

We are very proud to announce that we are returning to Australia with the SAME amount of baggage as we left with.... the weight of these bags is another story!! Thank you to all who have followed our travels with interest. It has been a special privilege to have been able to share such a long but glorious trip with you. We thank God for His protection over us every step of the way... we have been incredibly blessed by this adventure but we are SO looking forward to being HOME!!

Posted by TravellingLight 21:27 Archived in Italy Comments (12)

Northern Italy

We love it..

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Travelling Light... The truth weighs heavy on our hearts!!


We sat down before we started this Blog and asked ourselves what we would call it: 'Jen & Eil DO Europe' (not true), 'France & Italy Immersion' (sounded as though we might drown in it!), or simply France & Italy 2016 (too boring). We then considered our focus: not to burden ourselves with things that we have to cart so we are weighed down rather than able to move around easily. Hence the aspiration, 'Travelling Light'. Having spent over six weeks now in the same sets of clothes and shoes, we are convinced we could live far more simply at home as well. What has become evident through our time on tour with Glen & Mary-Anne is that we appear to also 'travel smart'! Jen has been knick-named 'Dr' because every time there was an ailment, Jen could produce a remedy: aching ankle (heat rub), upset stomach (QuickEze), hay fever (Zyrtec), backache (panadol), chest infection (Bisolvon Chesty Forte + lozenges). What a woman!! (Jen's dad, Howard, would be SO proud!) Glen & Mary-Anne were very impressed with many of our 'travelling smart' ideas which we thought were pretty basis: blowup hangers, our Scrubba, sealable plastic bags, clips and even our little coolie bag with snacks in!
This is where the confessional must begin: check out the photo of what we have added to our luggage to bring home so far!! We brought an extra soft bag just in case we had a blow out... Needless to say, it's in use!!

Best Bits lately

Cremona : the home of the violin makers (best known is Stradivarius, after whom an impressive museum on the art of violin-making is named). Eil took on the challenge of climbing the highest bell tower in Italy (502 steps up and 502 steps back down!) She was very impressed with herself, however, 'pride goeth before a fall'. When she went to take a selfie to honour the moment she reached the dizzy heights, her camera battery took a well-earned rest.

Bologna : the home of many towers (180 of them during the Middle Ages), porticos (80 kms of them), a very risqué statue of Neptune, cuddly putties (cherubs without wings) and 4 rather sensuous women and a long history. We had Amalda take us on a walking tour around the old city. She was delightful and very informative. She also shared her home city of Parma with us the next day.

Cavazzone : our farmhouse experience in the hills behind Reggio Emelia was a refreshing and picturesque change from our nights in the middle of the same old city. The photos say it all! Our knowledge of the painstaking method of making true Balsamic Vinegar (unique to the Emilia Romagna region) has improved as well!!
The Big Pav..
There are Italian icons and then there is Luigiana Pavarotti. Italy mourned for months after his sad death from pancreatic cancer in 2007. His second wife has given Pav's country house, situated just outside his beloved hometown of Modena, to the world. It's as if Pav has just stepped out for a singing engagement when you visit, with amazing, intimate and invaluable items in every room (we even checked out the dear man's bathroom!!) Glen bought a Pav hanky and it suited him perfectly.. So, hence forth, Glen has a new name..


Venice. : home of the gondoliers, canals, UNESCO-protected masterpieces, Casanova, Marco Polo, the glittering mosaics of the Basilica de San Marco AND 30 million visitors every year. We have an AirBnB apartment on the ground floor (no steps!) right in the middle of the islands of Venice. Every time we walk out the door, we seem to get lost in the maze of narrow alleys and countless bridges over the canals. We've only disagreed a few times over which way to go!


'Spending a Penny' costs..

Venice has excelled itself in many ways in our hearts and minds but it must be said that it is also a winner when it comes to the cost of everyone's basic need of going to the loo.. They hit the jackpot with €1.50/person entry.. That's $2.25 approx just to use the facilities! The other option, of course, is to find a Cafe but one has to then imbibe for the privilege. We found a Maccas at a train station once but so had about 50 others. (There are not many Maccas around Italy. They have far too much of their own wonderful cuisine to bother with American fast food!)

'Good Health is an essential'
Jen is very humbled at everyone's concern for her health. She is still very stuffy with her infected sinuses but is battling on with her antibiotics' support! Eil is healthy! Both of us are probably a couple of inches rounder (great food and wine consumption) and possibly a couple of inches shorter (our legs having been ground down from walking on the ancient paths in Italy... So many of them solid, unforgiving marble!)

Some Reflections on Italian life...

We've had a few minutes to do this activity since we finished our amazing 12 day tour of Northern Italy even though we feel our brains have turned to mush nearly as quickly as the food we have eaten has turned to fat!!

The thing about the Italian people is that that are definite, defined and decidedly dedicated folk. Because they are so definite, they hold onto the things of importance to them with both hands. Family, food, coffee, wine and their history are the biggies. It has been a wonder and a delight to us to begin to understand more of this strong tie. In some ways with so many Australians those ties with our roots have been weakened or even broken completely. The idea of a 'fresh start' enforced, from necessity or from the sense of adventure caused so many to 'neglect' their heritage to look forward. The pain was often too great at the loss and the knowledge that they may never see their homeland again. We can be ever thankful that many migrants to our Great South Land have brought some of their culture with them and we can enjoy so much variety of food, wine, cars, coffee, designer clothes, pasta....

As our friend Mary-Anne (known to some as Carol!!!) said on tour "our strength lies in our diversity". As much as the Italians' strength is in holding on to tradition, our strength as Australians is opening our arms to a 'fusion of ideas'.... And, boy, can we be glad of that!!
Iconic Italy:
- Cars - Ferrari, Lambourgini, Fiat
- Motor Bikes - Piaggio, Vespa (Jen's personal favourite)
- Coffee - Illy, Lavazza, Vergano (and at least 1000 more regional varieties)
- Pasta - Barillo Brand but... A different pasta for every region
- Cheese - Parmigiana Reggiano (and that's just the one famously and proudly produced JUST in the Reggiano Region)
- Wine - every region has it's specific grape variety and produce unique wines.


This is where we are going to introduce the word 'parochial' which can foster a negative response for some (lack of tolerance; unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect opinions or beliefs contrary to one's own), but here in Italy there is immense pride in being 'parochial' (original meaning: from a specific Parish!) This is where the 'defined' Italians come into it... There is NO WAY that you would claim a cheese, a wine, a pasta dish as yours unless you were from the exact region it was grown/discovered/developed there. It's quite uncanny...

The Weather...

We haven't had to mention the weather lately but we are in glorious Spring in Northern Italy (not so good for those with allergies to pollen). The air is thick with flying blossoms from great white chestnuts, plain trees and every flowering shrub. The hay is being harvested in every field along the highways and the temperature has been a perfect 20 degrees about. The sun has even shone its radiant light most days.
The countryside is picture perfect.. A great time to visit.. As we flew along the expressway to Venice, we casually watched the snow-clad Alps in the distance, the rolling hills covered by the odd castle or church and the plains covered in vineyards or hay bails.... Not trying to make anyone green with envy.. Not really!

And finally...

One of the significant revelations we have had while travelling here in Italy is that, so often, the external appearance of an historical building (and there are ample of them) can often be a plain disguise for the extraordinarily ornate & decorative interior. We came across many churches that looked fairly ordinary on the outside but we walked in to find priceless treasures of paintings, sculptures and relics, hundreds of years old, in every nook & cranny. Our Venetian guide explained that this was symbolic for Christians in that what is on the inside is more important than what is on the outside. This reflects a Bible verse that says: "Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart!"

P6090003.jpgP6080251.jpgP6080243.jpgThe glorious inner sanctuary

The glorious inner sanctuary


No wonder the artists of all ilks
flocked to monasteries across Europe,
to make visible
the infinite dimensions
of the invisible God
and work there yet in its pursuit.
They devoted themselves to this end.
They believe as we do
that spirit is greater than matter,
but matter is the starting point.

(Joan Chittister 'The Monastry of the Heart')

Posted by TravellingLight 11:39 Archived in Italy Comments (8)

Attempts at being Culturally & Culinarily Delighted..

Touring In Northern Italy with our Guide Jim & dear friends

sunny 18 °C
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The Tour!!!

For those of you who know us well, you will know that we have an aversion to 'organised' bus tours. We prefer the more 'relaxed' form of travel where we stumble along ourselves and pick up day trips etc. Why then is there a 12 Day Cultural & Culinary Tour of Northern Italy poked into our itinerary, we hear you say?? We were asking ourselves the same question until we settled into our 9-seater van with two Western Australians, Glen & Mary-Anne and our driver/guide/Italian speaker/great Aussie bloke called Jim. We have not had a dull moment since then!
Jim runs these very small group tours from his home base in Melbourne and brings folks to these parts of Italy that he knows so well. He grew up in Australia but has a strong Italian heritage. His dad grew up in a little town not far from here called Varzi. He has a huge love of Italian culture & cuisine and loves sharing it with us.
(Note to the Duggan family: there are times in our recent travel in this spacious van with only 5 occupants, that we remember with great fondness our 8 incredible days with you all and miss the warmth & commerardery of being sardines in the one can (oops.. We mean van!)

Finding Jim

It sounds very easy; 'meet me at Time Cafe outside the train station at Melpansa Airport between 12.30-1pm...'. Sometimes we make it harder than it needs to be! We both needed to go to the only toilet on the station where we left from in Milano which happened to be at the exact opposite end of this massive station. Then we thought that Platform 3 had mysteriously disappeared when we eventually made it there... Note to fellow travellers.. Sometimes Italian train stations have TWO numbers on the ONE platform.. No-one told us!! Needless to say, having run around lugging our bags like a pair of old boilers (this included shouting at each other rather bewildered suggestions!!!), we missed that train.. Thankfully, someone put us right about the situation on use of platforms and we caught the next one out to the airport. This, however, made us later than we expected and so, when we got the the airport we thought we'd make it easy on ourselves and just politely ask a random airport employee where this Cafe was!! Well, we ended up asking 3 different employees, seeing most of the airport, went up and down the lifts to the suggested places a couple of times.. Nearly gave up hope.. Then happened upon this Time Cafe... About 20 metres from where we got off the train.. We could have kissed this tall, warm Aussie bloke called Jim when we found him... Right on Time.. 1pm!!


Best Bits so far..

A dusting of snow on the Italian Alps over a gourmet lunch in Castillo Toblino..

Now, remember we ARE on a rather 'la-de-da' sort of tour.. But, to go to a 12th century castle in the middle of Lake Toblino and be treated to heavenly food in the warmth of one of the renovated rooms then to look up and see snow falling from the heavens and covering the mountain tops was very special..
We were 'on top of the world looking down on creation'
With apologies to the Carpenters

You hear about the Italian Alps but to actually SEE them, not just from the valley looking up but from the top of the world looking down and across is a rare sight. When we arrived at the cable car station in Machione alongside Lake Garda, we could see clouds over the top of the mountains like a blanket so our expectations were low. But, as we rose up the 2250 metres, the clouds dissipated and we felt that we could see forever..it was -3 degrees up there so our exhilaration almost turned into hypothermia!!


Roman ruins

Australia is an ancient land but such a young country when it comes to much physical evidence of past culture so to experience Roman ruins over 2000 years old is always a treat. On the shores of Lake Garda on a peninsular, there are remains of an aristocratic Roman family villa which would have made some of those Gold Coast mansions pale in comparison in it's era. It was a magnificent photo opportunity for us: blue sky, glacial blue lake and lots of rubble.


'Where for art thou, Romeo???'
With sincere apologies to Shakespeare !!!

Juliet would have had great trouble locating Romeo amongst the sea of faces on the day we visited the scene of that great tragedy in Verona. The quantities of people trying to stuff themselves into the small courtyard under the balcony was crazy. The purported location of that famous scene has almost a cult following with love messages being left all over the walls of the area as well. Shakespeare never walked the marble pathways and alleys of Verona but we are sure that he would 'rollover in his grave' if he could see the effect this love story still has on so many centuries later!!


Was that in Cremona or was it Verona, no it was Mantua...

We have been trying not to let all the amazing cities and villages that we have been visiting in the last few days to blur into one big melting pot of
elegant palaces, architectural masterpieces, gob-smacking frescoes, and awe-inspiring duomos (cathedrals). Our photo collection will certainly help! Our memories of some of these places may fade but our memories of a friendship forged will never fade. We have loved sharing our lives with Mary-Anne and Glen. They are warm, genuine people, both educators, both retired, both very well-read. We have created some very special shared memories.


Did we mention that this is a cultural & CULINARY tour??

Where do we start with the culinary delights we are devouring?? Jim loves his Italian wines and foods and we are attempting to keep up our side with experiencing some of this region's best. To be brutally honest, we are taking more in via our stomachs than via our brains. Was that salami, prosciutto, pancetta or just sausage? Was that tortellini, ravioli, cannelloni, fettuccine or just spaghetti? We are also becoming accomplished at the wine varieties from each region we have been in... tasting them is not a problem.. remembering their names is more of a challenge!!


We have had SO much fun with Glen & Mary-Anne

Time (and your interest levels) is not sufficient to tell the stories of our days with these two wonderful people. Suffice it to say that we know a LOT about each others' lives... and mainly for our memories:... 'don't mention the war!', 'I left him over the garden hose', 'we called him Giovanni, why didn't he tell us he was Gustavo?', 'we thought Counte Moretti was going to eat you, Mary-Anne'!!

Agony Aunt is here to help...

Dear Agony Aunt:
We have left this to the end of this particular blog because we couldn't really get our heads around what was wrong and how anyone could fix it but we are sure that, if anyone can sort us out, you can!! Now, we mentioned that we are surprised to find ourselves on an organised tour... the truth is, dear Aunty, we have come to the point where we are still asking ourselves the same question. You are probably wanting more information to flesh out the issue. It's hard to put it into words or pictures and we think that's it!!!! We have found that we are not the type of travellers who are happy to 'blink' at the destination we have been so kindly driven to then happily stuff that spot into our memory bank or photo bank, then move on. We are more the 'sit & ponder' variety... hence the dilemma. We are being brutally honest here but we need help.
Ah! We humans are so slow to learn who we are and how we best operate... and that learning goes on our entire lifetime. All i can say to you both is.
.. value the wonderful aspects... you didn't have to negotiate those mad Italian highways, you met two people who will always be your friends, you have seen places that most people could only dream of seeing, you have tasted local cuisine of the highest standard and.. you are still willing to learn life's lessons.

A personal note about Jen..

She has been quite sick these last few days with a cold that has turned into infected sinuses (thankfully, we have antibiotics to hit it!) However, she was already overwhelmed with all the photos we have taken and need sorting through but, with her not feeling great, she is far behind with selecting some photos to put up on her site...

Teddy turned 3 on 29 April.. Can't wait to give him a birthday hug!! And Isabelle a great big little sister hug


A thought worth pondering, thanks to a woman who knew this truth in her heart..

Posted by TravellingLight 01:38 Archived in Italy Comments (5)

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