Paul Schlarman Imagery

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A Contrarian Thanksgiving

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I decided to have a bit of contrarian Thanksgiving this year – not by not being thankful – on the contrary: by not sitting idle at home stuffing myself senseless.  Instead, I opted for a hike on beautiful Lanipo ridge above Honolulu.  I couldn’t think of a better way to display thankfulness for amazing nature all around me… the opportunity to connect with it and my true self…and a healthy body with which to see, hear, smell, taste and touch it all – as well carry me there and back.  BTW, I had the trail all to myself…

Lanipo Panorama

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A Small Taste of the North Shore

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Since I have arrived here in O’ahu, I have been itchin’ to visit the famous North Shore.  I made the hour drive over on a Friday afternoon for my first look.  Along the way, I stopped to check out gorgeous Waimanalo Beach (first two photos below) – what an amazing surprise to find I had it all to myself!

Anyway, back to Waimea Bay.  Wow.  I here for a couple of hours and was mesmerized the entire time.  Managed to catch some surfing.  That’s me with my instructor – not bad for my first lesson, huh?  (And if you believe that, I’ll make you a great deal on my beach house here).  Overall amazing place to see some big waves (Winter only) and catch some stunning sunsets.

Oh yes, I will be back…

Waimea Bay

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Uncle Paul’s World Domination Tour ‘11 Kickoff: O’ahu

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My travels for 2011 begin in island style in one of the United States in which I have never visited: Hawai’i.  I have the good fortune to live and work here in O’ahu for the next couple of months.  As a landlocked native Coloradan, I am really looking forward to getting to know the ocean.  It has long been a dream of mine to learn to surf, snorkel, and scuba dive – among other ocean sports.  The time has come!  There is so much to do in this amazing place, I can feel father time firing up the super-temporal engines already in anticipation of all the fun to be had.

My first excursion was to Makapu’u point and the landmark lighthouse situated there.  An easy 2 mile trail winds to the point affording fantastic views the entire way – even the island of Molokai is visible on the horizon.  At the point, I simply enjoyed the pleasure of soaking in the view up the Windward (East) coast and watching the parasails float above the towering seaside cliffs.

Windward Spirit

Malamapono a hui hou (take care, until we meet again)…

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Salzburg

Salzburg is the fourth largest city in Austria and the birthplace of Mozart.  The old town area was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.  And lest we forget, the setting for parts of The Sound of Music.

This is in fact a wonderful city and probably my favorite city visited in Austria.  Endless opportunities for wandering and photography abound.  It seems certain famous travel writers agree with me – I coincidentally stopped at a traffic light to find Rick Steves standing next to me busily jotting notes and snapping photos for his forthcoming guidebook.  A bit surreal.

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Innsbruck

After my weeks spent in Italy, crossing the Northern border into Austria was a bit of culture shock.  The clean, modern trains with electronic displays that actually tell you what the next stop is were a pleasant surprise.  Innsbruck is a comfortable city in a gorgeous mountain setting.

Innsbruck is the capital city of the Tyrol region.  This area has supposedly been populated continuously since the early stone age.  Throughout history, it has been an important crossing point over the river Inn.  The “Golden Roof” pictured is an Innsbruck landmark decorated with 2657 fire-gilded copper tiles for Maximilian I (of Habsburg fame), Holy Roman Emperor in 1500.  The university here was founded in 1669.

Today, Innsbruck is an ideal place for skiing in the winter and mountaineering in the Summer.  As such, it is full of very active, fit people.  I was fortunate to be able to join a “canyoning” (known as canyoneering in the U.S.) trip professionally guided by my good friend and local resident, Gunther.  The trip basically consisted of donning a wetsuit and helmet, hiking to the top of a canyon (with flowing water), and navigating down the river and its waterfalls by whatever means necessary – scrambling, swimming, abseiling (rappelling in the U.S.), or simply jumping off ledges to the pool below. That was an altogether new experience for me and very enjoyable.

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A Fonni Story

Fonni is the highest town in Sardinia.  Beautiful setting.  There is even skiing nearby.  And if you enjoy art – particularly Trompe l’Oeil murals, this is a mini-paradise.  Dozens of murals decorate a wall around every corner as you wander the steep streets.  I highly recommend this as an stop for this reason alone.

As I arrived during off-season, I had but one choice for hotel.  It was nice, but I might have to question the knowledge of the staff – explanation ensues….

I planned to depart for the East coast on a Sunday.  I carefully asked the concierge if buses ran on Sunday and which stop I needed.  I arrived at the stop dutifully and waited, and waited,  Hmmm, 15 minutes past scheduled arrival time and no bus.  No biggie, this kind of thing is common here, right?  I took it in stride and waited for the next schedule bus – and the next – for a total of about 4 hours.  I asked every passerby if this was the correct stop and if buses ran today.  “Si” accompanied by a reassuring nod was always the reply :\

It seems that even though this is a dinky little town, it is situated on a slope not very conducive to walking around apparently.  So, seemingly the entire town decided to hop in their cars and “cruise”.  All day.  Fortunately for me, my bus stop was at a key intersection, so I got to know just about every face in town intimately after viewing the quizzical look displayed by each about 50 times.  The steady stream of exhaust was quite a pleasure as well.

I eventually gave up and checked back into my hotel.  The staff was stumped as to why the bus didn’t arrive.  The next morning after checkout, I decided to find a different place to buy a bus ticket and ask them about the schedule – surely they would know.  “Oh no, the buses don’t run on Sunday this time of year”.  No kidding.  After triple-checking the stop and time, I eventually caught a bus out of town…

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Oristano

Oristano was my re-entry to city life after wandering the West coast of Sardinia for nearly a week.  While not anything to go out of your way for, Oristano was a nice place to stroll around for an afternoon and evening – particularly the city center (as is usually the case).

Medieval times saw the most action here as this city waged war with other Sardinian powers for control of the island.  The pictured statue next to city hall honors Eleanor of Arborea, known for her promulgation of the Carta di Logu – the legal code of the Arborea region that stood from 1392 until 1827.  Today, Oristano is a relatively sleepy town with some interesting shops that I’m not sure “Tigger” would be too fond of.

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Oristano

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The Dolomites: Castello Presule

Nestled among the rolling hills below the Sciliar Massif lies the historic Castello Presule.  The walk is fairly leisurely, winding through the farms and vineyards on the hillsides, affording great views of the surrounding mountains.

As peaceful as it seems, the castle itself was apparently the site of many a witch-burning in the early 1500’s – at least 9 women from Fie were burned here.  Now it offers guided tours and concerts.  I took the tour solo as no other tourists were there and my guide only spoke German and Italian.  However, she lent me a little document written in English pointing out the major attractions, so while we didn’t have much conversation, the tour was good :)

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Shorter Walks in the Dolomites

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The Dolomites: Latemar Massif

The Latemar group derives it’s name from an old Ladin (no, not Latin) description “cresta de Lac-te-mara” which roughly means “mountain ridge over the lake in a cirque”.  Ladin is an old romance language actually still spoken today by some 18,000 people as their first language.

The cirque is a lake that lies beneath Latemar is Lago di Carezza and comes with a story of it’s own (from the wooden sign by the lake):

THE MERMAID OF LAKE CAREZZA
Many years ago, the lake Carezza was the home of a beautiful mermaid. One day, the wizard of Masare listened to her singing and, immediately, fell in love with her. He used all his power to win the mermaid’s heart but she would not relent. Therefore, the wizard asked the witch Langwerda for help. Langwerda advised him to dress as a jeweler and to create a rainbow running from the Catinaccio to the Latemar.
Then, he should go back to Lake Carezza, entice the mermaid and kidnap her. The wizard followed the witch’s advice but forgot to disguise himself. The mermaid admired the colourful rainbow and the glittering gems but realized very quickly that the wizard was near and dived into Lake Carezza. Since then, she has never been seen again. Being lovesick, the wizard destroyed the rainbow, shattered it into pieces and threw all its parts into the lake, together with the gemstones. For this reason, Lake Carezza still shimmers to this day in all the wonderful colors of the rainbow.

Lago di Carezza was very full the day I arrived, with most of its surrounding path underwater.  I made my way around the lake and headed up towards the base of Latemar.  The path I took was through an area called “Labarinto” (labyrinth) that runs below the North face.  Agatha Christie once visited this area, and set the end of her thriller The Big Four on this route.  I found a great place to have a little picnic and admire the spires and rockslides.  This is a great place for a relatively easy day of hiking – not to be missed!

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The Latemar Massif
Shorter Walks in the Dolomites

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The Dolomites: Seiser Alm

There’s a chance that you may be thinking that each new place I visit in Italy is my new favorite. Be that as it may, now that I have actually left Italy, I have an official ruling. If I was allowed to only return to only one place in Italy for the rest of my life, it would no doubt be the Dolomites (followed extremely closely by Sardegna and the Northern Lakes, respectively). I have never seen such amazing mountains – and that’s saying a lot from a native Colorado boy who has spent a good chunk of his life wandering around the Rocky Mountains. Much of the draw for me is likely intangible – maybe it’s a certain combination of the rugged massiveness of the peaks and the way the light moves across the vast expanses of rock. Regardless, this place undoubtedly stirs something within me.

The Seiser Alm (Alpe di Siusi in Italian) is the largest alpine meadow in Europe. This amazing place has unlimited views of the Dolomites and Austrian Alps and is well-known for great hiking and skiing. I am finding that a piece of me is still there, stunned and hypnotized by that vast peacefulness and unexpected beauty. A return is inevitable.

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The Dolomites: Bolzano-Bozen

There’s a chance that you may be thinking that each new place I visit in Italy is my new favorite. Be that as it may, now that I have actually left Italy, I have an official ruling. If I was allowed to only return to only one place in Italy for the rest of my life, it would no doubt be the Dolomites (followed extremely closely by Sardegna and the Northern Lakes, respectively). I have never seen such amazing mountains – and that’s saying a lot from a native Colorado boy who has spent a good chunk of his life wandering around the Rocky Mountains. Much of the draw for me is likely intangible – maybe it’s a certain combination of the rugged massiveness of the peaks and the way the light moves across the vast expanses of rock. Regardless, this place undoubtedly stirs something within me.

The Seiser Alm (Alpe di Siusi in Italian) is the largest alpine meadow in Europe. This amazing place has unlimited views of the Dolomites and Austrian Alps and is well-known for great hiking and skiing. I am finding that a piece of me is still there, stunned and hypnotized by that vast peacefulness and unexpected beauty. A return is inevitable.

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Verbania Part III: Lago d’Orta

Lago d’Orta is about 40 minutes, as the bus rides, southwest of Lago Maggiore.  The primary attractions are the town of Orta itself and Isola di San Giulio nearby.  I arrived at the Northern end of the lake and took a boat down to Orta.  This port town has some beautiful old buildings and some interesting modern art on display, but I quickly grew tired of the shopping crowds and headed up the hill to the uncrowded Sacro Monte.  Here on the large, beautifully landscaped grounds was an interesting collection of churches, monuments, and other buildings.  One of the more interesting things to me was scenes from biblical stories depicted with life-size sculpted characters – very beautiful work.  Overall a very peaceful place to wander around and of course rich with photo opportunities!  I think I would spend a lot of time up here if I lived here.  It’s bit hard to describe, but I just had a certain subtle feeling of home or déjà vu here – a touch of familiarity and comfort that just washed over me at times.

Last, but not least, Isola di San Giulio is home to a monastery and Basilica di San Giulio, among other historical buildings.  I ended up not actually taking a boat out to the island as I found it more interesting viewed from Orta or from the water (my boat went by it on the way back).

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Verbania Part II: Valle Vigezzo

One of my favorite day trips from Verbania was a large loop via train.  Starting in Verbania, I headed to Domodossola where I switched to the oddly named Swiss “FART” train.  A new alternative fuel?  No, this Swiss transportation system acronym actually stands for Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinesi.  They must have a crack team in the acronym department there ;)   This train then runs through beautiful Valle Vigezzo to Locarno, Switzerland on the northern shores of Lago Maggiore.

Along the way, I got off the train at Druogno and spent 3 hours hiking up the closest mountain I could find, Alpe Cima.  The vegetation here is very dense, but I managed some pretty nice views when I reached the top.  The view from the train is also quite nice, but nothing like what can be attained via hiking, so I’m glad I went.  The towns of Druogno and Santa Maria Maggiore are also very nice little mountain towns to explore.

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Verbania Part I: Lago Maggiore Shoreline

After visiting Stresa and Lago Maggiore earlier in my travels, I decided to return for an extended stay to explore the surrounding area.  Via friends-of-friends-of-friends-uncle’s-sister’s-dog’s-master kind of connection, I rented a room from a family in Verbania for a couple of weeks.  The family was wonderful and it was a nice break to stay in one place for a little while and get to know people a little better (and enjoy some home-cooked Italian meals!).  I even got to try climbing on an indoor climbing wall (lots of fun, I can see how one can get hooked on this).  Thanks for everything Elena, Giobi, Garcia, Giulia, Loretta and Daniello (sp?)!

I need to take a moment to brag a bit about these people I had the honor to get to know :) .  Garcia is quite the climber and built an indoor climbing wall with a group of other climbers.  He and his girlfriend Giulia are also very talented musicians and play cello/sing for weddings and other events.  Garcia not only plays cello, but hand-made the cello he plays!  He also makes and repairs violins.  Giobi is a self-taught web designer (giobi.com) and guitarist.  And of course Elena is moving to California this summer to earn her PhD in Chemistry.  Yeah, you guys rock :)

Ok, back to travel stuff (it almost seems boring now ;) ).  The Lago Maggiore shoreline is dotted with many intriguing little towns that can be reached by bus or boat.  Cannobio was a particularly nice place, decorated by a port with great views.  It is also a popular area for windsurfing and kitesurfing and conditions happened to be perfect the day I was there, so I got to watch all the extreme sports fanatics.

In Verbania Part II: Valle Vigezzo, I take a train from Domodossola,Italy to Locarno, Switzerland.  Due to some unusual transportation schedules and some poor assumptions on my part, I ended up stranded in Locarno (a beautiful place to be stranded) after a day of hiking and riding the train.  Fortunately, Daniello and Loretta were very kind to come and fetch me that evening!

Unusually late rain for the season has been a common theme in Italy this year, and Lago Maggiore was no exception.  It was a matter of making the best of the clear stretches of weather.  When the weather didn’t cooperate, Daniello tossed me in the car and took me driving to his favorite viewpoints.

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My Name is Not Lucca

Sorry for this title, but I can’t help but think about that Suzanne Vega song “Luka” from the 80’s ;)

My visit to Lucca was quite spontaneous.  It happened to be relatively close to where I was at the time and I had heard good things about it.  The old walled city is an easy walk right across from the train station.  The whole town is nestled in a nice little valley with surrounding Tuscan mountains.  I liked it instantly.  The city didn’t seem overly-touristy to me and it just had an air of good living.  There is a trail around the city – I’m guessing between 1 and 2 miles – that is always buzzing with joggers, walkers, and cyclists burning off all those Italian carbs ;)

I stayed at a nice affittacamera with a kitchen in the old city.  Kind of a whacky set-up, but nice.  The woman who ran the place lived half-way down the block and when you buzzed the front door, it rang at her house down the street.  Also when you wanted to use the Internet, she had some kind of switch to turn it off at her house and on at the apartment.  It worked for about 2 hours my first day but never again after that ;)

The main attraction for me in Lucca was the architecture.  Several beautiful church facades as well as many towers.  One tower there (Torre Guinigi) has trees growing on the top – quite unique – several of the photos in this article were taken from this tower.

Lucca is a good base camp for tours of the many surrounding Tuscan towns nearby.  I’m guessing it is also quieter and less expensive than nearby more famous towns as well.

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Quick Tour of Genova

Before leaving the Italian Riviera, I spent a little time in Genova to fill the gaps from a previous extremely short visit. .  I was once again very fortunate to meet up with my trusty tour guides Elena and Sylvia (& friends) for a couple of hours.  They even bought me a Granita (basically coarse-grained sorbet) to try – yum!  I also tried some delicious Focaccia al Formaggio (very thin bread with cheese in the center) and Tortino di Polenta (corn meal cakes).

Genova has a very large city center with beautiful architecture.  Some of the notable features of the city are Piazza De Ferrari and surrounding architecture (see photos in this article) as well as the house where Christopher Columbus was supposedly born.  The port is of course a very important part of the city and houses a large aquarium.  I didn’t find the port all that attractive because of so much commercialization, but there was some interesting architecture there as well.

On a completely unrelated note, I think I have seen some kind of shop or restaurant with “Colorado” in the name in nearly every city I’ve visited and Genova was no exception (see photo).  It is human nature to notice the things most familiar to you, but I think this is a bit more than that (I don’t recall seeing any signs with “Nebraska” (for e.g.) in the name after all ;) )

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A Return to Sarzana

I wrote previously about Sarzana in Liberation Day in Sarzana.  I had stopped here before beginning my Alta Via hike and really enjoyed the town.  While there, I had noticed they were having an acoustic guitar festival the third week of May – right up my alley, so I filed it away in the “like to do” file.  After some other plans fell through, this became my agenda.

Ever have a really bad travel day (like a bad hair day, but with trains)?  Well my trip from Bergamo to Sarzana would qualify.  Sarzana lies about 1.5 hours almost due South of Bergamo as the crow flies.  However, it lies about 5 hours, 3 changes, and a big “C”-shaped route as the train goes.  Miscalculation #1.  On the train, a “ticket-cop” was busy chasing down a woman who conveniently decided she had to go to the W.C. when she saw him walking through the car.  Lucky for me I happened to be sitting near the W.C. when this man was in grumpy “enforcement mode”.  As fate would have it, for some stupid reason, I totally spaced validating my ticket.  As a non-feminine person, I wasn’t getting out of this no-way, no-how and was offered two tantalizing options: pay 50 euro now or 200 euro later.  Hmmm – tough choice.  So, what I thought was going to be around a 10 euro ride to Sarzana was now nearly 80 euro.    Upon arrival in Sarzana, I found all accommodation near the city center full.  Miscalculation #2.  So I ended up paying 20 euro for a taxi ride to a rather dumpy hotel an hour walk outside of town (the bus didn’t run after 8p.m. and I didn’t ever get back before midnight).  Only 100 euro to get from point A to point B – good thing I’m rich!  I think the only thing that kept me sane was all the nice people I met along the way – a woman from New Mexico with whom I enjoyed witnessing a good 30 minute “heated discussion” between a couple and a ticket cop over an improperly booked ticket – a nice older gentleman from Santa Margherita on his way to listen to a friend give a lecture in La Spezia – and last, but not least, the taxi driver with whom I had to finish watching the last 10 minutes of “Braveheart” (in dubbed Italian of course – they don’t do subtitles here).

These kind of things often make me wonder if the something is trying to tell me I’m not on the right path.  I sucked it up and headed to the guitar festival to see if this was all worth it.  Was it ever.  Turns out I was on the right path – I guess sometimes you just have to be persistent (and maybe plan a little better :) )  I have never seen so many talented guitarists and gorgeous guitars in one place before.  Did I also mention the whole thing was set in a medieval fortress?    Somehow that 2 a.m. walk to the hotel was a piece of cake now.  There were 3 concerts with an amazing array of talented musicians from Europe and USA.  Among my favorites were Massimo Varini, Peppino D’Agostino, Alex De Grassi, Giua and Armando Corsi, John Gorka, Victoria Vox, Eileen Rose and Rich Gilbert, Massimo Bubola, and of course Jackson Browne!  There was also many new artists there – my favorite was Giulia Millanta.  Also check out my HD video of an open-mic performance by Giulia Millanta and Paolo Loppi.

An overall inspiring and amazing experience.  I must admit I was feeling some travel blues before this and the openness and kindness of the people I met here set me right again.  I miss my guitars..

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Bergamo

Situated at the base of several valleys, Bergamo is a great base for exploration.  The famous San Pellegrino terme is located one of these valleys.  The city is divided between a lower and upper (Citta Alta) town.  Citta Alta is walled and offers the most interesting architecture as well as some great views.

I was again fortunate to find a great B&B – B&B Amalfi ran by an extremely nice and fun couple.  They make a mean cappuccino – I had to have two every morning ;)   They also run an attached ristorante.  Pasquale is a great cook – everything from pizza to desserts.  He is originally from Ravello on the Amalfi coast, hence the name of the establishment.

I spent many hours just wandering around and shooting – especially in the Citta Alta.  I also took a couple of bus trips up the valleys – one to Lago d’Iseo and another to a town called Clusone.  The lake was pretty, but not especially noteworthy in my opinion.  Clusone had some interesting architecture and grand vistas.

While walking around Clusone, a man stopped to talk with me a bit and I asked him if he knew of any trails close by.  He said he did and offered to show me the way.  So I followed him up a path to a locked gate.  The path continued, so I said goodbye and turned to be on my way.  But he stopped me, entered his code, and directed me through the gate to what..a short cut?  I didn’t see the harm, so I followed him into a little courtyard in front of some sort of retirement home or institution.  Here he said were lots of beautiful things to take pictures of, bid me farewell, and disappeared into the building.  I took a couple of shots to humor him and quickly made back for the gate. One small problem -  I don’t have the code and can’t get out.  Ok, there must be other exits – yes one…two…both locked.  Great.  I’m in the Twilight Zone.  Then I see a car pulling up to the main gate and quickly squeezed through as the car entered – whew!  I wasn’t too keen on having to go in and explain that I needed to get out :)

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A Day in Milano

Elisa was the main reason for visiting Milano and the concert was great!  The first time I saw her in concert was in Denver at the Soiled Dove and there were probably 50 people in the audience.  That was truly a pleasure.  This show was of course huge, complete with thousands of crazy Italian fans.  A completely different show as expected – very enjoyable, but I sure prefer the small venue.  Regardless, it was a great way to ring in another year for the Schlarmeister.  Special thanks to Steven, Massimo, Paolo, et. al. for  the opportunity to meet Elisa again – such an amazing person!  If you are not familiar with her music, visit Elisa’s official website at ElisaToffoli.com.

The next day was spent wandering around the city with local friends and tour guides extraordinaire, Elena and Sylvia.  Thank you so much!  Milano is no Rome, but it has some beautiful architecture (i.e. the Duomo was all sparkly-clean and scaffold-free!) and parks, not to mention some crazy looking birds and parades full of retired military guys dressed like birds (they are officially called Bersaglieri (grazie Elena :) )!  Apparently these heavy steel bikes (see photo below) were part of the standard issue for these fellows back when.  Everything reminiscent of military or law enforcement was out in full force.

(Click on a photo to enlarge and view descriptions)

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Stresa and Lago Maggiore

This has to be one of my favorite locations of this trip so far.  So much, in fact, that I’m planning on going back before I leave Italy.  Maggiore is my favorite of the Northern Italian lakes.  Somewhere between the extreme-sport heart of Garda and the luxury of Como, Maggiore seems to suit me best.  Beautiful lake, gorgeous mountains, great climate, outstanding architecture, and on top of it right on the border of Switzerland.  Yeah, this doesn’t suck.

The standout of the three islands on the lake to explore is Isola Bella, famous for its fabulous palazzo and gardens.  This is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in Italy.  Always a kind of surreal experience to actually visit a place that you’ve previously only day-dreamed about from photographs.

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Italian Riviera Part II: Santa Margherita and Portofino

Santa Margherita Ligure was the base camp for the Riviera exploration and turned out to be my favorite town on the coast.  It just had a good feel – hard to put into words – not too small or large, a beautiful port – just right.  The weather was cooperative with only a few spotty showers here and there.

I know nearly nothing about sailing, but some of the boats here were really making me drool.  I see this in my future….:)

Hiking was great in the area.  There are plenty of nice trails to Portofino that offer great views.  The chosen path on this adventure had an unexpected surprise.  On the final descent into Portofino, another world emerged: it felt like a Costa Rican rainforest (although I’ve never been) rather than Italy.  There was also the ruins of an old milling settlement nestled in this area.  It was really transporting to be in such an isolated area and imagine how hard these people once worked here.

Portofino itself was smaller than I had envisioned for some reason.  For all its hype, I didn’t see that it was any more special than any other coastal town.  I’d say it’s the Aspen of the Riviera.  It was of course beautiful, but lessened somewhat by the ridiculously huge expensive yachts docked in its tiny port.

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Italian Riviera Part I: Cinque Terre

The day planned to explore Cinque Terre fortunately broke the previous days’ weather pattern and actually was warm and sunny.  However, upon arrival at Riomaggiore, the plan to hike the trail to the other 4 towns was quickly dashed as all but the first segment of the trail had been closed due to the recent rain.  So it turned out to be a day of spending an hour to catch a train that took 10 minutes to get to the next town.  The Cinque Terre have a way of making you forget trivialities, however.    See for yourself…

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After the Rain

It seems I exited the Alta Via trail just in time as my following 4 days in La Spezia were filled with constant rain.  However, there is always a silver lining to every cloud.  I was once again amazed how I am always taken care of.  I ended up the only guest staying in a little B&B ran by a very nice family who were also staying in one of the rooms because there home on the first level was being renovated.  They said they had never seen rain like this as late in the season and wondered if there were living in London now :)   I enjoyed my stay regardless because it was more like I was a guest in their home.  Lots of great little Englitalian discussions over beer and dinner.

The rain finally cleared and I took an all-day hike down to Portovenere.  The first section of my hike was to the top of a mountain above La Spezia littered with bunkers and artillery from WWII.  Along the way I saw a small group of wild hedgehogs – my first encounter with these odd creatures.  Unfortunately they did not stick around long enough for me to take a photo.  I’m probably lucky to have seen them at all given that they are regularly hunted here.  The remainder of the trail was beautiful, but quite difficult as it was on a very rocky and sometimes slick trail that required a lot of scrambling.  I passed a group of English women on the way who thought I was quite crazy to be enjoying the hike as they most decidedly were not.  Portovenere is mostly a shopping town, but very charming and complete with medieval fortresses.  A must-see in the Gulf of Poets.  La Spezia is quite nice, but lacked that certain something for me.  Maybe it’s because I spent more time there than I wanted to involuntarily.

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