TLC Travel Diary – Toulon, Provence

Toulon, Provence 

My Dad

This was our first time docking in Provence, so it made for an exciting day of exploration for us.  We had done a bit of research about the port and what’s best to do there, and of course asked a few crew members (who always have the best advice!) but nothing was really jumping out at us, so we came up with this plan:  wander and see what happens.  Lovez it!  

Now, you will know from previous posts that myself, Chris, and my Dad don’t mind this fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants type-of-travel, but my Mum – not so much – so she chose to relax in the spa.  Or, as she put it with her Cape Breton accent, “G’wan with ya and leave me some peace and quiet.”  So again, off we went to get lost in our maps. 

The seaside area of the town was quite cute, with lots of cafes and yachts in the harbour to enjoy.  Just a short walk from the marina we stumbled upon what was undoubtedly the largest open-air market we have ever seen in our lives.  We started to walk along to see how far it went, but literally it carried on for miles!  We have never seen anything like it!  It was incredibly crowded and apparently is like that every day of the week with locals buying their fresh food so it was quite impressive.  No wonder the french eat so healthy and don’t have massive supermarkets. 

Marina in Toulon

The endless market in Toulon

Excuse me Sir, do you know where we can find some olives?

After exploring the market and stopping for our daily cafe-au-lait avec people-watching, we were ready to venture a little farther.  We noticed that there was an area on our trusty map marked “Beach Area”, so with the sun shining and the temperature at around 28 celsius we thought – why not?  The taxi drivers were on to the fact that we were tourists and tried to extort the price of the ride, but they obviously didn’t know who they were dealing with, so we walked to the nearest bus stop and hopped on the next bus that said “Beach”.  1 Euro.  I love European transit.  So cheap.  So easy. 

Let's see where this bus takes us...

Look what we saw on the way! It's our car!

 When we arrived at our destination we could not believe our eyes.  Beach?  Ummmmm…..yes…..BEACH!   It was gorgeous!  Crystal clear water, sandy areas (rare in the Med), dozens of restaurants – you name it.  We strolled around for hours and Dad and Chris enjoyed an impromptu dip – what a lovely find.  

A glass of Sancerre is calling our name...

The Beach in Toulon

Toulon - click to enlarge!

 We missed my Mum that day, but the bonus is that now we have the whole thing figured out for “next time” we port there – we’ll head straight to the beach!

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TLC Travel Diary – Positano, Sorrento, & The Amalfi Coast

  
 
Positano, Sorrento, &  The Amalfi Coast
 

The Amalfi Coast

 

   Usually, when a person asks us for our advice on what to do when visiting a port of call (which happens often – and we love to share!), we have no problem giving our “top pick”.  However, for the first time, we are stumped.     

Friends, many cruise ships dock in Naples, and there are a lot of things to see from this port.  We thought that Capri was the sure thing and perfect recommendation for anyone asking for our opinion on where to venture from this (which it is!!  truly!! a beautiful day well spent – guaranteed!!)…but….we have found something else that has captured our hearts….The Amalfi Coast.    

We will try here to give a taste of the beauty we experienced in this area of the world, but we must stress that really, the photos are not in any way, shape, or form even slightly doing justice to the real thing.  The views were so magnificent and breathtaking, and the villages so perfect and authentic, that it is a place we are sure we will visit again and again, should we be so fortunate to have the opportunity to return in our lifetimes!    

The drive itself is….impossible to describe.  The cliffs are so noble and tremendous, the water so clear and azure, and the wild vegetation growing everywhere is what we in Canada grow in our Greenhouses to beautify our back yards with in the summertime.  unbelievably stunning.  Truly.    

Amalfi Drive overlooking Positano

 

Amalfi Drive - if you click to enlarge & look closely you can see the road that takes you along the coast

 

Memory of a Lifetime

 

On our drive we stopped in the famous village of Positano.  Sigh.  Gorgeous.  Positano is another notable coastal holiday escape for vogue Europeans, and it is easy to understand why.  As soon as you are in the midst of its incredible charm, the shops, narrow cobblestone streets, chic restaurants and exclusive beaches are a lure for anyone belonging to any VIP list.    

Street in Positano

 

The Beach at Positano

 

Positano - Click to enlarge!

 

Back in Sorrento we had just enough time to explore this seaside resort town, and it was filled with unique characteristics that set it apart from its neighbours and gave it an aura all its own.  The center of the town was built on the top of the cliff and had a very colonial feel to it.  The resort area was nestled down at the bottom toward the seaside, and had the most unusual beaches built up on docks – so unique!  We had never seen this type of thing before!  Have you?     

The "Beach" at Sorrento

 

City Center - Sorrento

 

Sorrento

 

Of course, in the interest of Eat, Pray, Love…and keeping in theme with every other day of our trip so far…we had to finish off the day with a taste of the local food and drink, so we asked our taxi driver (born and raised in the area) where she would recommend for some authentic local fare.  She told us of a place where the locals love to go for pizza, but said we wouldn’t like it because it’s “not fancy, and has paper plates and plastic cups for the wine”.  We said, “THAT’S PERFECT!! – can you please take us there??!!!” 🙂    

Living the Italian Way!

 

The Best. Pizza. Ever.

 

Chris' Perfect Cannoli

 

The Pizzeria was called Franco’s…..and we are doubtful we will ever find its equal in pizza anywhere else in the world.  And, Chris found his dream authentic Italian cannoli to boot.  (His favourite!)  Another perfect end to another perfect day – in paradise.  Thank you, Universe.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.      

Another Day in Paradise

 

  

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TLC Travel Diary – Pisa & Tuscany

  

Pisa

Week 2 – Pisa & Tuscany   

What an original day this turned out to be!  For our stop in Tuscany on this day we decided to do something that none of us had ever done before – a Wine Tasting Tour!…and…in TUSCANY!!  Does is get any better than that??  We don’t think so!!    

Ok, I’ll get to that in a second, but first I have to tell you about the “adventure” we had that morning.  Since our Tuscan wine tour didn’t depart until the afternoon, we decided that we had just enough time to get in a little “road trip” to Pisa.  Now, my Mum really wasn’t too into this idea due to the fact that we were “winging it” (no organized tour – too chaotic for her), but Dad was all for it, so Mum happily took the opportunity for some quiet time on the sun deck while we ventured on our trek with no set itinerary.      

 I should say that we normally don’t recommend travelling the Italian ports on your own due to the inconsistency of the transit system (they often take prolonged breaks and go on random strikes, and you CAN’T be late when you’re cruising!), but, we decided to make an exception with this one because Pisa is relatively close to port compared to the other stops.  We also didn’t want to spend the extra money on the organized tour to Pisa because….well….there’s not that much to it, really.  We warned Dad that it was going to be quite a journey for what you get at the end, but he didn’t care, so off we went!      

On one of many buses to/from Pisa!

 

Have ticket - will travel!

 

…..After a shuttle bus from the ship to the city centre of Livorno, and then a city bus to the train station, and then an hour wait at the train station, and then another city bus from the train station in Pisa to the site of the Leaning Tower…..there it was.      

Yup, this is it!

 

 Dad’s reaction was as we predicted – it’s the same as most travellers experience when they arrive in sight of the famous monument – it’s kind of like: “Is this it”??  Yup.  That’s it.  Now, don’t get us wrong, it’s still an amazing display of architecture and history, and highly recommended on any bucket list, but it can be somewhat underwhelming when you see it.  It’s a lot smaller than you expect, and it’s a lot less to see than you expect, as there is not much else to the site other than the three structures.  So, unless you feel like taking the hours to wait in the endless lineups to go inside, it takes you about 10 minutes total to take the obligatory “I’ll hold up the Leaning Tower” photo, and then you’re done.  So we did.  Natch.     

TLC in Pisa - 1997

 

TLC in Pisa - 2010

 

  

 Summary:  6 buses + 2 trains + 4 hours + 15 minutes = 1 photo, and 1 cross off the bucket list for my Dad.  Worth every minute. 

  

Dad in Pisa - 2010

 

The wine tour that followed in the afternoon was such a glorious and relaxing treat.  The travel through the Tuscan countryside was breathtaking.  Rows and rows of grapes, olive trees, and my favourite – sunflowers.  Sigh.  I could have stayed forever.     

Sunflowers in Tuscany

 

The Vineyard was a beautiful and serene little farm that has been active for generations, and we had quite a history lesson of the farm, along with a tour of the owners’ private cellars.  We also were treated to an incredible education on all things involved with local wine & production in Italy, including growing, harvest, fermentation, and food pairing.     

Private Wine Cellar

 

(not recommended to take a bottle from the middle of the stack)

 

After the tour came the part we were all salivating for – the tasting.  After our busy day of sight-seeing, learning, and touring, nothing could have ended it better than a toast (or 10) with family on a Tuscan countryside.  Highly recommended in every way.      

Salute!

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TLC Travel Diary – Rome: Week 2

Week 2 – Rome 

Arc De Triumphe & Colosseum - 1997

 

Arc De Triumphe & Colosseum - 2010

 

Our second day in Rome was as glorious as the first, but in different ways.  The first week we spent mostly strolling the outdoors and admiring the beauty of the streets, architecture, and landmarks, while this time we focused mostly on the rich art and tradition found at the Vatican Museum.  We planned it this way on purpose, as to truly appreciate the Vatican Museum you really need a full day (at least) dedicated solely to it, as every single square inch of the place is a feast for the eyes – so you need to savour it. 

Ceiling of one of the many hallways full of art in Vatican Museum

 

Another Ceiling....

 

See? Every square inch!

 

 When you reach the end of the museum you reach the pièce de résistance – the Sistine Chapel.  The structure itself is usually a bit of a surprise to some, as it really just is a “chamber” of sorts:  four walls – that’s it.  But….the artwork takes your breath away.  Michelangelo’s The Creation (the ceiling) and The Last Judgement (back wall) are among the many great pieces of art that this Genius created, and are a must-see to anyone who ever has the chance.  Bucket-list material for sure.   Mark it down.  Make yourself a promise.   In the meantime, do yourself a favour some afternoon:  sit down with a cup of tea and Google this man.  His achievements in his lifetime are so astonishing it will move you – without a doubt. 

Now, you are not allowed to take photos inside the Chapel, and the reason may surprise you.  Most think it is because it will fade and damage the paintings, but that is why you can’t take flash photography, and no one should ever, ever, ever do that.  But the real reason that you can’t take photos even without the flash is because 20 years ago a Japanese company donated a substantial amount of money to fund the restoration of the Chapel, and in turn owned the rights of any images of the interior.  So…basically if you want a photo you have to buy one.  Unfortunately, our camera went off by accident while we were holding it down by our leg…. 

Michelangelo's The Creation - Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

 

Michelangelo's The Last Judgement - inside the Sistine Chapel

 

After the Vatican Museum we ventured off on foot again (we walked easily 10 miles a day on this trip!), as we still had a few things to cross off the list before the day was done.  Thankfully, my parents and my husband trusted my navigation skills and vague memory of our whereabouts from 12 years ago, but nevertheless, we still spent a lot of time “in the map” just to be sure.  (ps – if you get the reference, leave a comment – bonus points for you!) 

Us in the Map in Rome

 

A visit to Rome would just not be complete without a stop at the Colosseum – another must-see, and one of my personal favourites.  The Colosseum is just so impressive.  There it is, standing majestic and proud since 72 AD, so much history took place within its walls and chambers, you can almost feel the roar of the crowds when you stand overlooking the animal’s dens.   And then across the street is an electronics store.  Life goes on, I guess. 

Colosseum

 

Another fun thing is the “Mouth of Truth”.  Legend has it that if you put your hand in the mouth and you are not a truthful person, that the Mouth will bite your hand off!  This sculpture was also famously featured in the movies Roman Holiday and Only You.  (Great films, by the way!)  Naturally, I suggested Chris give it a go…. 

Testing Chris at the "Mouth of Truth"

 

As always, it was imperative that we finish off the day with a hearty helping of Italian carbohydrates and white wine, and as always, it proved to be a glorious way to top off our visit .  Salute, Roma! 

A Taste of Italy

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DWTS – Season 11 – First Thoughts

 Dancing with the Stars – Season 11 – The Cast 

First of all…hurray!!  DWTS is back!!  And second of all ….WOW what a cast this year!!!!  

When ABC  announced this season’s roster we were so incredibly intrigued, as this is by far the most “Star-Worthy” cast they have ever lined up.  Now, this makes us very excited for two reasons:  1) participating in the show & ballroom dancing is becoming increasingly attractive to the celebrities, and 2) with lineups like this, it will intrigue even more hot celebrities, so that means the show is only getting hotter and isn’t going anywhere for a looooong time!  Wheeee! 

Below are our humble opinions of how the teams made out on their debut week.  BUT, we have a few disclaimers:  1) my mother always taught me if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all, so there won’t be any bashing on this blog.  If that’s what you want, read somewhere else.  Everyone has strengths to celebrate and weaknesses they can improve on, so if that’s what you like to learn about, read on…and 2) we must be honest and disclose on the outset that we will always be a bit biased toward Mark Ballas, Corky Ballas, and Derek Hough, as there is a bit of a 6-degrees of separation between us:  Mark Ballas & his family (including his dad Corky, mom Shirley, and friends-like-family Derek and Julianne Hough) are the very close friends of our very close and special friend, Alan Grundy and so we support them no matter what.  Sorry, can’t help it.  Friends help friends. 🙂 

 

Audrina Patridge & Tony Dovolani : This girl really surprised us.  She seems to have a lot of potential, and has a cute personality.  It was nice to see her smiling throughout her entire routine, and that body!  Holy legs, Batman!  If she uses them to her advantage to create some great lines and learns to point her toes consistently, she will do very well.  But Tony is truly an amazing teacher and one of our favourite pros, so no doubt he will make that happen.  Btw – we are so happy that Tony has been given a good partner this year, as he usually is stuck with the ones that need “work” because he’s so nice.  Remember Kate?  Ugh.  What a waste of Tony that was. 

 

Brandy & Maksim Chmerkovskiy:  Here’s another one that has an infectious smile and very likeable personality.  Look forward to seeing more of her, especially as she gets more comfortable in the dancing.  And…well…she was teamed with Maks.  So….that’s all I can say about that…because…well, I’m married. 

 

Bristol Palin & Mark Ballas:  We have vowed to give this girl a fighting chance, and here’s why: 1) her mother is not her fault, 2) she is the ONLY celebrity with absolutely NO experience with performing or showcasing their talent on TV in front of millions of people, and there are no words to describe how challenging that must be for her, and 3) well…we mentioned it earlier…it’s Mark! 

 

David Hasselhoff & Kym Johnson:  Ummmm….well….he’s gone, so that’s that.  (Phew!) 

Florence Henderson & Corky Ballas:  Yaaaay, Mrs. Brady!  We always support the more “mature” contestants because they just damn well deserve it for getting out there and doing it.  And also, it’s Mrs. Brady! It’s everybody’s mother!  You kind of have to!  Actually, we have a bit of a six-degrees-thing with Florence Henderson too:  she is the best friend of our friend & boss from JAR Productions, Jean Ann Ryan.  We met Florence on a number of occasions when they would pop in to rehearsal and watch, and we are more than happy to say she is truly a lovely lady and every bit as funny and delightful in person as you see on TV!

 Jennifer Grey & Derek Hough:  Derek has to be the luckiest Professional on DWTS – he always gets a great partner!  Jennifer did amazing, and obviously has the potential to go very far, as we all know she has dance training behind her through her iconic performance in Dirty Dancing.  Since the desire to be “Baby” is the reason why so many girls (myself included) started dancing in the first place, she plain-old deserves respect just for what she has done for the dance world.  I don’t even need to comment on the disappointment we all feel about her plastic surgery so I won’t. 


Kurt Warner & Anna Trebunskaya:  Truth be told, we always secretly root for the “Sports Guys”.  Their involvement in the show has done SO much for the sport of Ballroom Dancing we can’t even tell you.  Plain and simple: they remove stigma, and make it “cool” for men to try ballroom dancing.   For that we thank them, along with millions of wives and girlfriends around the world who want to dance so badly but their guys won’t.  (Hopefully someday this will cease to be the reality.  C’mon people – it’s 2010 for god’s sake!)  My favourite comment of all is when some of the NFL players et al say things like, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done”.  Kurt did very well too, and shows a lot of potential if he keeps up the hard work and keeps that endearing personality he displayed on the floor!

Kyle Massey & Lacey Schwimmer:  Ok, we’ll admit it – Lacey really isn’t our cup of tea (sorry to all of her fans – we don’t know why?  Too much “edge”, not enough “lady” maybe?) , but nevertheless – her partner sure is!!    This guy is personality, personality, and more personality, and as a bonus – he can dance too!  We were so impressed by his sharpness and lines (Lacey gets our credit for that, of course) and easily took our “Performance” award out of all of the competitors.  Amazing!

Margaret Cho & Louis Van Amstel:  A note about Louis: he always takes our “creativity” award.  This man is the Ballroom Dance world’s “Madonna”.  He always pushes the envelope, and sets the trends for style, choreography, and performance.  As the weeks go on, watch for this in his performances – especially when he dances with other Pros.  It’s amazing.  Now, admittedly his choices didn’t wash on the first night and we agreed with the judges.  It was just too soon, and Margaret should have stuck with her story and kept it serious, because it was working, and pulled at our heart-strings.  When she added the jokes it took away from her performance, but we know Louis will fix that for next week!

Michael Bolton & Chelsie Hightower:  This girl has really grown on us.  She has matured so beautifully, and has just the right balance of preserving her youth while acting as a professional and a lady at the same time.  We feel the casting of her with Michael Bolton is unfortunate, as the match is just kind of uncomfortable to us.  Michael has a lot to work on, but if he really puts his mind to it he can certainly improve.  Lucky for him, he will also have his vast fan base behind him so that’s always a bonus.

Mike Sorrentino & Karina Smirnoff:  The Situation was a unique Situation, in many ways.  He was immediately at a disadvantage as he only had 5 days to prepare compared to the 3 weeks that the other celebrities had,  so or this we will give him a break, and see how it goes next week.  But, we must admit that if he pulls out more of “the Situation” and brings that unique “confidence” to the dance floor, it will be pure entertainment to watch in a train-wreck-kind-of-way.  Where does one get cahones like that, anyway?

Rick Fox & Cheryl Burke:  This guy gets our sports kudos that we mentioned above, is absolutely gorgeous to look at, and danced really well to boot.  Cheryl really deserves an honourable mention for how well she covered the very obvious height difference.  The behind-the-scenes of this is: it is an amazing challenge to work with a partner that is not matched height-wise, so we were very impressed by that.  Four-inch dance heels?   Damn, Girl!

….and that’s today’s TLC.

ps – did you watch?  who’s YOUR favourite?

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TLC Travel Diary- Rome, Florence, & the French Riviera

   

Vatican City

 

     Day 3, 4 & 5 – Roma, Firenze, & La Cote d’Azur      

Rome and Florence were beautiful days from start to finish, full of incredible architecture and artwork every time we turned a corner, all standing majestic and strong even though they are from centuries ago.  (Insert irony here that we in Canada can’t build a stadium that will last us past 30 years…)  The Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Panthenon, lunch in Piazza Navona, The Vatican, and more all got crossed off the list in Rome- the Colloseum and Sistine Chapel will be next week .      

Rome 1998

 

Rome 2010

 

   The stunning Statues of David, Goliath, and Neptune all had lunch with us in the Piazza in Florence before we visited the Duomo and the sculptor’s tombs at Holy Cross Church – great days.        

Statue of David (et al) Florence

 

   Chris and I were both surprised how quickly the surroundings became familiar again – it really felt as if we never left, and we were showing Mom and Dad around our “neighbourhoods”.       

Mom and Dad in Rome

 

Speaking of neighbourhoods – on Friday we returned to the place where we someday dream of being able to actually call our neighbourhood – our beloved Villefranche.       

Ahhhhh…Villefranche.  Words cannot even explain the beauty of this place.  Friends, you must, must, must put a visit to the French Riviera on your bucket list. It is truly magical.  There is so much splendour to take in here, and we really want to share as much of its beauty as we possibly can with Mom and Dad in the short time that we have.      

      

We decided to start off with a visit to the stunning Monaco and Monte Carlo (the inhabitants of which making the uber-rich of Capri look like middle-class bourgeoisie), and then topped off the day – literally – at the top of the Cote d’Azur in a little village called Eze .       

Eze

 

This special place is one of our favourites of all of our travels, and it is where Chris and I were engaged.  We took Mom and Dad back to the scene of the crime – a beautiful restaurant nestled on the side of a cliff overlooking the Riviera called “Le Chevre d’Or”, ordered a bottle of Sancerre, and toasted to our marriage and to my Mom and Dad’s 45th wedding anniversary.  All at the exact table where it all happened 12 years ago.  Yes….I cried a little bit….      

Our Engagement - Eze 1998

 

Celebrating our Marriages - Eze 2010

 

 

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TLC Travel Diary – Naples & Capri

Day 2 – Naples & Capri   

In Naples we took a ferry over to Capri – it was absolutely gorgeous.  Very scenic and luxurious – obviously a play town for the uber-rich.    

His & Hers

 

 We hopped on a local bus and travelled (by “travelled” I mean hung on for our lives as the driver zipped along the edges of the cliffs) to the very top of the island to a town called AnaCapri – it was stunning and the views were breathtaking.    

Capri

 

 We toasted the day with a picnic of local wine and some fresh pizza pastries warm out of the oven from a little boulangerie…mmmm…..   

Capri Happy Hour

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