Vernazza, Cinque Terre ~ Italy

The last two days in Amsterdam have been beautiful crisp sunny days.    Days like this are rare as October tends to be a generally wet month leading up to the very soggy months of November and December.  We rolled our clocks back this past weekend and the days are now terribly short.  So when the sun peeks out, your spirits are lifted and you soak up every moment of golden goodness allowed by the ticking clock…because you know it’s only a matter of time before the typical fall Dutch weather rears its dreary head.

And that’s what I woke up to early this morning.  Clouds of dense fog hovering in the street as if perfectly placed for a Halloween party.  The sky is so grey I find is hard to believe the sun could actually exist beyond those layers of gloominess.  And you wonder if any minute now, the rain will begin to fall making you a wet mess on your bike with no way to seek cover.

But that’s not what this post is about.  While trying to perk myself up with my morning coffee, I read about the devastating rain storms which struck Vernazza just a few days ago.  It immediately put my “dreary” morning into perspective. To many people, it’s another freak accident procured by Mother Nature.  I realize there are natural disasters occurring at any given moment around the world.  But when you read about a town where you spent time and created memories, it tugs at your heartstrings in a completely different way.

Courtesy of the Wandering Italy Website

Before moving to Amsterdam, I heard small bits about the Cinque Terre region of Italy.   Once I moved here, it didn’t take long to meet handfuls of people who raved about the amazing hiking trails, picturesque villages, and breathtaking views.  We spent two [short] days in Cinque Terre during our summer holiday in Italy.  We stayed in Monterosso al Mare and made the round trip hike to Vernazza on the last day of our vacation.  The heat was in full swing by the end of July and I was happy to be burning the countless calories I had consumed in Lake Como, Florence, & Tuscany.  The hike exceeded my expectations and I made a mental note that this was a place I wanted to revisit in my future travels.

Cinque Terre (The Five Lands) is composed of five small villages nestled in the cliffs and overlooking the Mediterranean.  Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, & Riomaggiore. Due to the topography of this area, it’s difficult to reach by car.  The suggested mode of transportation is to hike (some are more of a leisure walk) from town to town.  Trains also run frequently along the coast line; however, I think it robs you of an experience unique to Cinque Terre.

The damage caused by the storm and landslide are still fresh.  While clean up is the immediate focus, I have faith that rebuilding and recovery will follow close behind.  And hopefully the tourists will too.  Just like New Orleans, it’s just too beautiful and unique to let it become a ghost town—as some Vernazza residents already fear.  

Click here to read more from travel expert Rick Steeves’.  And here for a before/after slideshow.

I am awestruck by the force of Mother Nature and what she can do in mere moments.  Just a few months ago, we walking around this area snacking on pizza and gelato before hiking back to Monterosso.

Click here or here for clips on You Tube. 

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Costa del Sol ~ Spain

Two weeks ago I was fortunate to spend a few days in Southern Spain on the Costa del Sol. As August came to a close, the local Dutch weather bureau noted we had just experienced “the wettest summer since 1906”. As you may have read in my last post, I have tried to maximize any opportunity to soak in the sun in an effort to ward off signs of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While some people think SAD is a bunch of hokey baloney, I honestly believe my mood is quite vulnerable to these long periods of rain and gloomy skies.

Enter my friend Barbara and her offer to spend a few days at her seaside property just outside of Marbella. How could I say no? The weather forecast was perfectly sunny with temperatures in the mid 80’s F (~30 C) all week…which I guess is just par for the course since the Costa del Sol receives an average of 320 days of sun. Compared to Amsterdam’s average of 200 days of rain per year, this was a no-brainer.

During the week, we enjoyed lounging by the pool, walking on the beach, gorgeous sunsets, and terrace dining. From the terrace, we could see across the Mediterranean to the coast of Africa. Looking west also afforded views of the Rock of Gibraltor. Throughout the week we grazed on fabulous tapas of pimentos pardon, pulpo, jamon y manchego, gambas pil pil, Spanish meatballs, and melon wrapped prosciutto— I was glad I packed my running shoes to burn off a few calories!

The day before we left, Barbara drove us to Casares; a white-house village in the Sierra Bermeja with a population of about 3,000 people and beautiful views. The remains of a 12th century Moorish castle linger at the peak of the town and provide panoramic views of the picturesque town of Casares set against the mountains. The sun sparkled against the red-brown mountains which are dotted with orchards, olive trees, and cork woods. As we wandered the steep and narrow walkways nestled between the ancient white homes, the town was busy preparing for the upcoming annual festival, Feria del Cristo. Seeking shade under a patio umbrella, we enjoyed lunch at the tapas bar in the town square and noticed a few women gathered at the public water fountain chatting away. As I sat with a cold cerveza in hand and enjoyed the last few hours of warm sunshine tingling on my skin, G sent a message “Do not come home unless you bring the sun with you.” The last few days in Amsterdam had been a soaking wet and windy mess.

By some crazy miracle, I managed to fill his request. Upon my return, the weekend weather turned out better than originally forecast and the following week was filled with more sunny days than we have seen in weeks. Thank you Mother Nature.

CLICK HERE for a quick slideshow of my photos from Marbella and Casares.

If you plan to visit the Costa del Sol, check out Barbara’s property for your holiday stay. It’s a beautiful apartment with spectacular views, lush gardens, and pools all over the property with the beach only a few minutes’ walk away.  CLICK HERE to view property details.

Beethoven, Bikes, & Behinds


Cabin fever can lead to overzealous planning which later leads to physical pain.

With rain nearly every single day last week, I was like a prisoner at my parole hearing and ready to get out.  The forecast for the weekend held partly sunny skies, mild temperatures, and NO RAIN!  Finally—a rain-free weekend.  To G’s “excitement”, I was set on spending as much time outdoors as possible.  I lined up an outdoor movie, a bike ride to a nearby town, and an outdoor music concert…not once giving a second thought to the cumulative effect this would have on my behind.

August sunsets are still as late as 9pm and the perfect time for a post-dinner movie.  The Oscar nominated movie Easy Rider (1969) was scheduled for  Friday’s Vondelpark’s Sunset Film Festival so we packed a few adult beverages and biked to the EYE Museum…as did many other Amsterdamers.  Tickets (read: seats) were sold out; however, you were welcome to cop a squat on the pavement in front of the screen at no charge.  And we did.  And after 10 minutes, the lower half of my body was quite uncomfortable.  Having just run 5k in the park didn’t help either.  Fortunately we live close by and a quick trip home procured two, albeit thin, cushions making the next 95 minutes possible to bear.

With partly sunny skies on Saturday afternoon, I was not going to miss the opportunity for a long bike ride.  Oh, and photos.  I suggested Naarden for our bike ride, but with an ulterior motive.  The World Press Photo Exhibit is currently on display at the Grote Kerk and with World Photography day the day before, I thought a perfect opportunity to indulge…regardless of the fact I had already seen the exhibit in Amsterdam (shhh, don’t tell G!).

The ride to Naarden was typical of the Dutch countryside complete with our own bike lane 90% of the time…I LOVE biking in this country.  A lot of cows, sheep, goats, and farmland for our viewing smelling pleasure.   Getting to Naarden required passing through the town of Muiden.  Our ride was slowed to a walk due to their Spiering Festival in full swing on the main street coupled with draw bridge traffic from large ships entering the canal.  Another 9km stretch of farmland and we made it to Naarden.  Click here to see the route.

Naarden is small town southeast of Amsterdam with well-preserved fortified walls, an encircling moat, and a distinctive star shape best viewed from above.  Dead center in the town is the Grote Kerk (large church) rising tall above the surrounding buildings.

Aerial view of Naarden, NL © http://www.naardel.nl; photo editing by Connie Ricca

We refueled with traditional Dutch broodjes (sandwiches) and Belgium beir.  The larger Uitsmijter  for G and a smaller tosti for me.  With full tummies, we entered the Grote Kerk and enjoyed the photo exhibit.

I continue to be inspired by the amazing photographs captured by photojournalists and documentary photographers.  Each photo at the exhibit is like reading a short story.  Each photo captures so much information, detail, and history that I could spend hours at the exhibit.  And at least one photo, even if you only glance at it for few seconds, will resonate with you after you leave.  A new exhibition begins each April so try to catch one in a town near you.

After satisfying my sweet tooth with some ice cream, we were back on the bikes ready to conquer another 25km to head home. But no time for a leisure ride home.  The Prinsengrachtconcert was starting at 8p and we hoped to arrive early enough for a nice spot canal side to enjoy the live classical music.  With a quick change of clothes and a stash of adult beverages, we arrived 45 minutes early…nearly half the town of Amsterdam was already there.  Once again, we plopped our behinds on the pavement (sans cushions!) and enjoyed the people watching until the concert began.

Despite a physically worn out body come Sunday, I was mentally rejuvenated and prepared to take on another rainy Amsterdam week ahead.

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PRIDE on the Amsterdam Canals

[click on any image to view larger]

In NYC, the Pride parade marches along 5th Avenue. In New Orleans, its the streets of the obvious French Quarter. Always on the street, always in June.

Hop on over to Amsterdam in August and experience the parade on the water. Come on, its Amsterdam…you had to figure it was a bike or a boat, right? The parade of barges and boats begins at the top of the Prinsengracht and then cuts up the Amstel River before ending around the Oosterdok. And this is when living on the canal (or knowing someone who knows someone!) has advantages. We were fortunate to be a +2 add-on with our friends and enjoy the parade from their colleague’s canal house.  This meant the luxury of a clean bathroom and not having to improvise our own vantage point like these two.

We missed the parade last year as we were stateside, but I heard it was a washout with rain. This year, the day began with sunny skies—quite a rarity this summer—and the Prinsengracht was packed with spectators along the canal walls on foot and boat.

Some had choreographed dances…

Some a color theme…

And several with confetti…

And if you were a large barge, you required a boat on the front to steer:

And one on the back to push:


A good time was being had by all, and then Amsterdam had to be AmsterDAM[n].

However, the celebration on the boats continued!


After about 15 minutes of hard rain and high winds, the clouds moved on and the umbrellas were folded.

The week was filled with various events around the city, but the Saturday parade was certainly the highlight.  The night before, we also attended the Drag Queen Olympics.  Quite interesting!  I did’t have my camera on hand (shocker, I know), but you can catch some great photos and video posted on my friend’s blog by clicking here.

All fun times come to an end, but I’ll leave you with some other parade fotos…and a promise to have updates from Italy posted soon.  CLICK HERE for foto slideshow.

A Halve + A Kwart = Pain

On Sunday, G and I were up at 7.30, out the door by 8.30, and knew it was only hours before we were subjecting ourselves to torture.  I’m not sure about the exact temperature yesterday, but I am certain it was not above 40F/4.4C.  A few months ago, we signed up for the Egmond Halve (half) Marathon.  I’ve had a half marathon on my bucket list for a few years (for me, a half is my “marathon”) and while training in October and November, I was getting really excited about crossing that one off.  Then December came.  And went.  And I didn’t run a single day.  I’m not making excuses, but two trips to the States and a week of being sick didn’t exactly help keep me on schedule.  Fortunately I didn’t have to be a total quitter and there was a kwart (quarter) marathon race before the halve to which I could switch.  While G’s December training regime was almost as non-existent as mine, he’s wayyyy better conditioned as a runner than I am so he still ran the halve marathon.

The quarter run is 6.5 miles/10.5 km and the half is 13.1 miles/21.1km.  My course is outlined in black, G’s continues with the black and white dots:

Given the Netherlands is a relatively flat country, they like to kick it up a notch in other ways with their road races.  The Egmond race was in January (brrr!) and part of the course was on the beach (read: major winds from the North Sea).  And after you have given your heart and soul pounding the sands of the beach trying to keep your race pace, you are required to run/hike/crawl—whatever means will get you to the top—up one heck of a sand dune hill.  Seemed more like a mini-mountain to me.

Me during my bad decision to toss G my gloves

It was absolutely grueling and I was cursing every four letter word I could think of at myself for having failed with my training schedule.  I had breathing cramps in my sides, not enough potassium in my body which caused my leg muscles to lock up, and ice blocks for hands since I dumped my gloves prematurely.  During the last mile, nearly every step was painful since my knee was throbbing and I was eager for the finish line.  My time certainly wasn’t a personal record, probably more like a “personal worst” if I cared to compare it against prior race times.  As I crossed the finish line and was handed my partcipation medal,  I promised myself to find another half marathon this year AND properly train for it!

G waiting to start and the wind fills his jacket

G’s race started after mine, but since my finish line and his start line were a good distance from each other, I wasn’t able to see him start the race.  And he didn’t realize my race’s finish line was different than his race’s finish line, so he didn’t see me finish the race.  He and our friend A were at the half marathon finish line wondering “where the heck is that slow-poke R?” and thinking maybe I had fallen into the North Sea and was floating out towards the east coast of England.

Thousands of runners waiting & shivering

G didn’t have a great race either.  The wind was equally as brutal, his sinuses were a mess, and his right foot had major pain towards the latter part of the race.  Not to mention he was running twice the distance I just ran.  A and I waited just in front of the finish line and high-fived G as he whizzed by. Afterwards, G and I were both walking at a much slower pace and I’m sure A thought we had morphed into an oma and opa (grandma and grandpa).

G (red hat) was so fast that my photo was from behind

Faking a smile to mask the pain

Thanks to A for braving cold temps to cheer us on!

Since I had a few hours to recover (and ran the shorter distance), I offered to drive home.  Sounds like an easy task except for the fact our car is a manual shift, my legs were in pain, and we hit gridlock traffic along most of the A9 en route back to Amsterdam.  I just can’t win.

34 miles/55km until we get home:

 

If you are new to the blog, you can click here and check out photos from our 12k in Zandvoort (March 2010) which had similar conditions.

No more snow!

It’s official.  I have a love-hate relationship with snow.  Growing up in Louisiana, snow was a very rare sight.  We were lucky if we had snow once every 5-7 years.  When we did, the entire city shut down.  Schools were closed and people were encouraged to stay home and off the roads.  But this usually only lasted one day as the temperatures soon turned the snow to water.

NYC was another story.  We were guaranteed to have snowfall every winter. Some winters worse than others.  The snow started out as a beautiful white blanket, but soon became dirty black sludge piled up on the corners so pedestrians could navigate the sidewalks.

While Amsterdam is even further north, heavy snowfall is not typical for The Netherlands.  With the country at sea level, the weather tends to be humid and if the snow does fall, it usually doesn’t stick very long.  Last winter proved to be quite an anomaly as it was the snowiest winter in 30 years” and it looks like this winter might be on the same track.   This past weekend, G and I were going to meet up in London for a quick holiday weekend before heading to the States to visit our families for Christmas.  I was really excited about my first trip to London; however Mother Nature had other plans for me…

 

5:10am – A persistent beeping from my alarm clock warns me to get up or be late.

5:15am – Call to G to make sure he’s awake in Paris to catch the train to London.

6:55am – Out the door (5 minutes early, a miracle mind you) and off to Schiphol Airport.

Note:  Half way to the airport, a mad flurry of snow begins to fall.

7:20am – Baggage checked in for my 8:40 flight to London.  Bag weighs only 10.5kg, another miracle.  KLM staff confirms the flight is on-time.

8:40am – Sitting at the gate with a white blanket outside the window.

9:00am – Boarded and the wait begins.  Wait. Wait. Wait.

10:40am – Plane is finally towed to a de-icing station.

11:05am – Captain’s Update:  “De-icing is finished, but the tarmac is full of snow and we are waiting for it to be cleared.”  Cleared?  For what…does he really think we are taking off?  Just cancel the flight already.

11:30am – Captain’s Update: “We are cleared for take-off; flight attendants, take your seat.”  Ok, so now I’m a teeny bit optimistic.

11:42am – Captain’s Update:  “The wings are frozen and won’t operate properly; we need to go back to the gate so an engineer can fix it.”  Fix the frozen wing?  No thank you…can I deplane now?

12:12pm – Captain’s Update: “Schiphol is starting to close down, but we are still  working to get the wing fixed for take-off.” Whyyyyyy?

12:20pm – Captain’s Update: “I’m sorry, Schiphol has been closed and this flight is now cancelled.  [And to add insult to injury] There is currently no one at the gate, so please remain seated until we are able to deplane.”

1:05pm – Four hours after I boarded, I am finally walking off the plane.  Little did I  know that trying to get home was going to involve more drama than trying to get to London.  The arrival hall was a total circus and I was advised to try to recover my bag tomorrow.

1:15pm – Outside and waiting for the bus as airport personnel advised the trains were delayed or cancelled.

2:00pm – After standing in the freezing temperatures and unending snow fall, the bus finally arrives.  Unfortunately it says “geen deinst” (no service). I turn to look at the cab line which shows 30+ people in line and no cabs in the queue.

2:08pm – In line for a train ticket.

2:15pm – Mad dash down stairs for the 2:19 train.

2:19pm – I slump down in my seat and breathe a small sigh of relief that I’m en route home.  The train from Schiphol to Centraal Station is on average 17 minutes.  Given the weather, I anticipate it could take up to an hour.

2:30pm – Train stops.

2:55pm – Conductor’s Update:  “We have a switch problem and will be delayed indefinitely.”

3:25pm – We haven’t moved.  The snack cart rolls by and I purchase my first meal of the day.

Green tea and cashews...gourmet dining, huh?

4:30pm – Finally begin moving, only to stop again just 500 meters shy of Centraal Station.

5:10pm – Arrive at Central Station, nine minutes shy of a three hour ride.  After ten hours in transit, I anticipate the trams are not running and mentally prepare myself for a 45-minute walk home.  Did I mention that it is now below freezing and my heavy hat, gloves, and scarf are in my checked bag that is somewhere in the chaos of Schiphol’s basement?

5:22pm – I catch a break and board the tram.

5:55pm – Eleven hours later, I’m back home.  I don’t have my luggage, but I do have a sore throat and fever.  Fabulous.

Over the next few hours I cancelled our hotel, worked on a refund for my flight and tried to get an update on my luggage while drinking a cup of Thera-Flu.  G was able to change his flight and leave London, but we were not sure if the plane would actually take off.  After a few hours of delays and a slippery drive in the snow, he made it home just after 1am.

No Fun-in-London for us.  Instead, I spent the weekend eating G’s homemade chicken soup, emptying boxes of tissue  and wondering if my luggage would ever surface from the madness at Schiphol.

Snow White

Yes, you are seeing snowflakes fall on the blog site.  Kinda cute, huh? Apparently a new feature WordPress has until January.  I thought appropriate to enable as I learned it is a winter wonderland back in Amsterdam.  We had some flurries on Saturday morning when I left town, but everything had vanished by the time my plane took off.  Talking with G over the last few days, it sounds like it is very KOUD and WITTE all over the city.  Despite the fact that I’m in the South right now, the temperatures are expected to drop below freezing for a bit overnight.  Thankfully the the sunny days bring warmer temperatures around 65F/18C.  But I best not get too used to it…back to the real winter in the North next week for me.

Last winter, the snow started in mid-December and hung around through February.  I felt like every photo I took during my first few months was a total white-out.  So, until I return to capture some of the Winter Wonderland, I’ll leave you with some scenes from last year…

[remember, you can click on any of the photos to view larger]

 

Vondelpark

Vondelpark

Vondelpark

Amstelveen

City Centre

Vondelpark

Vondelpark

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