Category Archives: Europe

I do not sleep well in Noventa di Piave.

This will prove to be a recurring problem over our four nights here. Interestingly enough, John, who woke very early every morning at Neil's house in London while I slept like a baby, has no trouble sleeping here in Italy. I awake with sand in my eyes and slowly, ever so slowly, get up. John has already been up and gone down for breakfast: orange juice, fresh croissant, and coffee. I opt for the pillow.

Approaching Venice from the Water

Stephano, one of our hosts, has told us of one of the many options for traveling to Venezia. We had been planning to drive into Mestre and then taking the train, to avoid the parking hassles. Stephano suggests that we drive to Punta Sabbione, the tiny finger-like peninsula which is across from Venezia, and then take one of the many ferries into the city. Noventa di Piave is already halfway there, and we quickly agree that that sounds like a wonderful idea. When we came to Venezia 4 years ago, we took the shuttle boat from the airport to Piazza San Marco and it was wonderful to approach the magical city by water. We anticipate the same. On the road and out of Noventa di Piave by 10 a.m., we expect the 40-kilometer drive to the ferry to be fast. It is, after all, a Tuesday and who would be traveling these roads this early in the week? Stephano neglected to tell us that this is major beach country, that the lido along the coast is lined with hotels and pensions full of summer beach tourists. Our road is crammed with not only beach tourists but also all the tourists who have been told of this wonderful alternative for getting to Venezia. We are bumper to bumper for an hour and three-quarters before we arrive to find expensive parking and even more expensive ferries to San Marco. We cram onto a boat with everybody else and head out for a slightly overcast trip to Venezia. As we round the point and see our first glimpse of the spires of San Marco and San Giorgio Maggiore and La Salute, the impatient and curious tourists surge to the top of the boat, cameras, video cams and squawking children in tow, blocking all attempts at picture taking. The sun breaks through, hot and intense, welcoming us to Venezia.

Leaving All the Venice Virgins Behind

Our return ticket says 6 pm so we walk with purpose and knowledge of where to go. We leave all the Venetian Virgins behind to let them savour their first glimpses of the rolling gondolas and the tacky paintings, the Doges' Palace and the prize of all, the Piazza San Marco. As we pass through the Piazza, I hear an American woman say to her family, wide-eyed and full of wonder: "Can you believe that we are actually here?" We both stop and realize how lucky we are to be traveling the way we are and remember our first time in Venezia. We consciously slow our pace, trying to see this magical place through a Venetian Virgin's eyes. We join some English tourists in the lift to the top of the campanile for a spectacular view of the city and the lagoons. From this vantage point, you can clearly see how Venetia is situated and its dominance of the water. It is a lovely view punctuated by a single but very loud bell clap, announcing the half hour.

Three More Venice Churches

John wants to see 3 churches on this trip, San Giorgio Maggiore, La Salute, and Redentore, which we didn't get a chance to explore when we were here before. We agree to do the 1st 2 today and grab Vaporetto 82 to start with San Giorgio, the masterpiece of Palladio. The inside is a cool, calm white interior, so understated and peaceful, and we enjoy the quiet. We make our way down and back across the canal to San Marco and walk to la Salute, the Cathedral of Health, built to celebrate and commemorate the end of one of the many plagues that devastated Venezia. We walk through familiar streets, finding our way around easily to cross the Canal Grande at the Ponte di Accademia, and so are now in Dorsoduro. There are two major canal restorations on our way and we stop and watch in amazement the painstaking process of renewal. We walk past the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and finally, the campo rises up to greet us. Soon we are inside. Like San Giorgio, la Salute is a clean, white interior punctuated with works of art by great Venetian painters like Tintoretto, Titian, and Tiziano. It has a round interior and is not like a standard roman cross style of church. In fact,

there is no seating available to its parishioners.

 A Slow Venetian Roam

Slowly, we roam the streets and campos as we make our way back to San Marco to catch our ferry. We come across La Fenice, still not totally completed despite the reopening ceremonies held last Christmas. 4 years ago, on our last trip, the theatre was still in ruins years after it was devastated by fire, the huge sums spent to restore it disappearing into the pockets of politicians and builders, with little making its way into the actual building, until Rome took control of the project, after which it moved forward quickly.

At the ferry stop, we look at the crowd and there are so many of us that we think it will be an unpleasant, sardine-like, trip home. But halfway through boarding, it becomes apparent a 2nd ferry is waiting and will take 1/2 the crowd, so we end up with seats on the bow, enjoying the sun on our faces and the views of the Lido and Venice as we head home.

When you think about Paris,

which followsummer does ALOT, you probably think about the Eiffel Tower, Bateaux Mouches rides on the Seine or perhaps un café or demi-litre of white wine in cozy, cobbled pavement cafés –the usual, touristy things to do in Paris. Why not wander away from the 'usual suspects' and explore some of the more unusual things to do in Paris, experiencing a taste of what local Parisians enjoy every day. Here are 10 followsummer recommendations:

A Paris Education

Never been to Paris, or been numerous times? Either way, a visit to the Musée Carnavalet is a must. The Musée documents the history of Paris from its beginnings through modern times and will give the Paris neophyte an incredibly interesting and insightful overview of the entire history of le Capital. When your education lesson is finished, stroll over to the newly re-opened Musée National Picasso-Paris to discover some of the artist’s finest works.

High Tea “À la FRANÇAISE”

at the Four Seasons George V:  Ahhh the simple joys of a wonderful cup of tea, served in the splendour of  the Four Seasons George V, located mere steps from the Champs-Elysées. Don't let the address throw you off your quest for a little pampering and experiencing luxe Paris. Make your reservation, shine your shoes, put on a jacket or perhaps a hat, and enjoy this truly unique experience in style.Cheer yourself with a tall flute of champagne (Tête de Cuvée), and finish with a sumptuous, in-house made macaroon. Pop by La Galerie between 3-6 for afternoon tea while enjoying the light and sure fingers of the house pianist.  As you savour your experience, take in the elegance of the magnificent Flemish tapestries, and ornate clocks, originally made for the Palace Versailles. Spoil your luxe in Four Seasons serenity with their renowned service, opulent surroundings and white glove attention.

Fashion Loyalty & Royalty

A visit to the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, is a must for fashion lovers, no matter what’s on. This tour of the Yves Saint Laurent studio in Paris gives you a behind-the-scenes look at one of the greatest names in fashion history. The Fondation conserves 5,000 garments, 1,000 rive gauche models, 15,000 accessories and 35,000 sketches, all bearing witness to the fashion icon’s creativity.

Lunch (or dinner) with a View:

The 56st floor of the Tour Montparnasse offers designer and interior architect Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance's recently re-imagined Ciel de Paris' jaw-dropping views (whatever the weather) of the Eiffel Tower and the street plan of the Paris of today after Haussmann re-imagined it. Take in the view with a coupe of Deutz Blanc de Blancs Champagne and savour a fabulous lunch by Chef Christophe Marchais,  the decadent desserts (ohh those Parisians LOVE their dessert!) of Pastry Chef Baptiste Methivier and the incredible view.

Florals to Brighten Your Stay

To live like a Parisian while stopping to smell the flowers, a stroll and amble through the Art Nouveau pavilions (C 1900) plant stalls is a must. In the Île de la Cité’s Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II, experience exotic orchids, all manner of florals, plants and shrubs. On Sundays, the market converts into the Marché aux Oiseaux, where locals shop for their summer gardens and winter tables.

Off the beaten path

and definitely worth a visit are the wander-ful Les Passages couverts de Paris. Many have fallen into neglect, but are certainly worth a stroll through to view the unique shops, wine bars, petits-restos, and libraries anciens that were originally designed to give nineteenth-century Parisians protection from mud and horse-drawn vehicles. There is an extensive network that runs from the rue St-Marc which includes Les Passages des Panoramas all the way up to le Passage Verdeau on the rue de Faubourg Montmartre. Keep your eyes open as their entrances are easy to miss and many are closed nights and on Sundays.

Window Shopping along Rue des Francs-Bourgeois in the Marais

You’ll find great ‘au courant’ Parisian designs to ogle while window shopping throughout the city, then make the comparison (and much cheaper) purchase at Printemps, Galeries Lafayette or perhaps Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche. Finish your window shop/stroll at the somewhat touristy Place des Vosges, Paris’ first ‘urban planning’ project, and one of the last remaining vistas of what the Paris of old looked like. Worth a visit and a fine place to people watch from the park.

Get away

from the Grand Museums of Paris with visits to several ‘musées insolites’ (unusual) including Musée du Quai Branly for indigenous art (we totally enjoyed the exhibit 'Tatouers, Tatoués' which later transferred to Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum in April 2016), Musée Jacquemart-André for ‘Frick/Family-Style, private collection viewing, le Musée de la Magie,  le Musée du Vin,  le Musée du Perfume (also known as the Fragonard Musée du Parfum), and followsummer’s favorite, the Musée Arts-Forains with a focus on the Belle Epoque. Once inside, watch for le Théatre du Merveilleux and le Salon Vénitien.

Life Less Ordinary

Spend some time with the joggers and lunch time office workers enjoying their takeaway brown bags on Paris’ original older sister version of New York’s High Line, the Promenade of Le Viaduc des Arts. Starting in the Faubourg St-Antoine, stroll the elevated entire length and enjoy some classic Paris views before circling back at street level, stop and shop the many ateliers and shops nestled underneath the rose-coloured archways.

Enjoy the open markets

at the top and bottom ends of le Canal St Martin where you will find fresh fish, produce, wonderful cheeses, beautiful flowers, (expertly arranged in gorgeous bouquets 'while you wait' by a handsome Frenchman) to brick-a-brac and consignment clothing. Linger over coffee, lunch or 'une coupe de champagne' in one of the charming little cafés that ring the covered canal.

If you like this followsummer itinerary, simply click on the link below and Go on this Paris trip yourself! 

Go on this trip yourself

It's all about getting off that well-worn, tourist path and exploring some of the hidden delights of one of followsummer's favorite cities in the world.

 Paris well, my friends!

Sevilla: Full of Fan Palms, Cafés and Historic Monuments

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Sevilla, Spain

We enjoy the luxury of a 4 star hotel for a change. Purists would have our heads on a platter as we consider by-passing Sevilla altogether for the privilege of just vegging and enjoying some TV and the swimming pool. But that will come next week in the Costa Brava. Showered and dressed, the day-pack is packed and we head into Sevilla for the day. We discover a beautiful, lush city full of fan palms, cafés and tons of monuments only a 10 minute bus ride from our ‘suburban’ hotel.

City Hall and Onto the Cathedral

We arrive at the Plaza Nueva with our walking shoes on and we start to walk. Our walk begins with the Ayuntamiento, the city hall that is richly canopied and sheltered from the blazing heat, which also provides some shelter for the many caleches that ply their trade from city hall. We walk around the Plaza de San Francisco and head towards what we think is the entrance to the Cathedral only to find ourselves at the exit of the Cathedral. We must walk around to the other side of the building and enter the immense edifice that, like many churches in Spain, started out initially as a Mosque and then, when it was knocked down in 1401, its decaying state an embarrassment to the church, the officials decided to start all over again with a new and bigger building. We learn that this is one of the largest churches in the world. It is indeed a very big and confusing architectural morsel for us to digest. We walk into the main sanctuary and find a huge gothic building into which, in the middle of the main nave, a baroque folly has been added to the already overwrought gothic coolness. We unknowingly split up and focus on the intricate and many details of the cathedral.

At the Tomb of Christopher Columbus

We find each other again at the tomb of Christopher Columbus which is a folly unto itself. We find young priests and nuns kissing the monument and genuflecting. We are not sure why. We move through the sanctuary and continue our self-guided tour, which takes us to the Giralda or tower. We have seen many towers in our trip and most of them will give you a stair count and a time-in-line estimate, but there is no line and the Lonely Planet tells us that it is an easy climb. It has ramps up the 32 stories! The ramps were added in the 19th century so that the nobility could ride their horses up to the top without walking. I would hate to have to cleanup after them.

The Glorious Alcázar

We are ‘churched out’ and walk literally south across the Plaza del Triunfo where lies our next major site, the Alcázar. Although the name means that once there was a fort on this site, today there is only a sumptuous palace. We are not prepared for it. It goes on and on, most of following the Islamic model of home, where life centered on an interior courtyard. Only this palace has interior courtyard after interior courtyard. Just when you think you must be close to being through, you walk through a door and are into another complex of rooms and courtyards. We walk through them in awe. And then we go out into the gardens, lush, beautiful and huge! We stop for a coffee and then walk through the town, back to our hotel. We pass the former factory, now part of the university and looking more like a palace than a factory, where Bizet’s Carmen rolled tobacco. We cross to the Plaza de Espana, built for a 1929 exposition, a fantasy of tiles and a jumble of styles. And then through the mess of the streets, where a subway system is being built to help this city of 750,000 deal with its congestion, and finally we get back to our hotel.

Great Food and Great Wine

After naps, we take the bus back into town to a vegetarian restaurant that Greg has read about; we have both been feeling like we need a change from the Spanish focus on meat. We find it, after much circling around, on a tiny dead-end street that isn’t on our map. We have an excellent meal, absolutely delicious and even better for being virtuous. Because the restaurant is so tiny (I would say it is a hole-in-the-wall, except that of course we are sitting outside in the tiny plaza at the end of the street), tables are shared, and we end up sharing ours with 2 other travelers, Jorg and Thorsten, from Berlin, with whom we have an enjoyable conversation, comparing notes about our travels, and enjoying the great food and the Spanish wine.