Monday, November 9, 2015

Florence and Positano - Debbie Downer Here


What can you say about Florence..... The superlatives do not do it justice. The city has a special place in my heart because it was the first overseas locale Dave and I ever visited almost 17 years ago (holy crap).

We arrived in Florence in March of 1999 on a rainy night -completely jetlagged and bleary-eyed. It was the first time either of us had ever been outside of the US. We were so excited to be there, we took an evening walk in the light rain and stumbled accidentally upon the Duomo. No one else was around and the pink marble just glowed, its colors reflected on the wet cobblestones. I really felt like I was somewhere else. That moment was so amazing that I started crying right there, hello sappy.

I was expecting that same quiet vibe from 1999, where you could wander the old streets and have ancient churches all to yourself. Where you could wander into any restaurant the service and food would be amazing.

This was not the case, my friends.

Dear lord, Florence has changed. I sound like an old fuddy-duddy Luddite, which I am, but that city has changed and is absolutely crawling with Americans (gasp). You can tell they are Americans because:

  • They are wearing work out gear, like running or yoga pants, sweatshirts, baseball hats, etc. Or worse - zip-off safari pants, where do you think you are the Serengeti?
  • They are always carrying a beverage - coffee, water, soda, something. Why are we all so thirsty? Europe doesn't do to-go, sit down and enjoy your beverage goddammit.
  • They are weird about food and try to custom-order everything. No gluten, no dairy, no pork fat, no onions, no garlic......exhausting. Eat it the way it comes for chrissake, the chefs know what they are doing and you came to Italy for an experience - not to eat like you do at home.

Everything was ridiculously crowded. We didn't even bother to go wait in line for 2 hours for the Duomo or Uffuzi, instead we wandered the city looking for views and solace.

 I had to get this far away to avoid the crowds.

Following our long-standing rule "never eat at a restaurant on a square", we searched for small hidden restaurants to get away from the madness. Osteria Pepo was a highlight, but otherwise the food and service was universally unremarkable - I will blame the douchy tourists. We should have done more restaurant research. Luckily, we know how to make the best of things when all the restaurants and attractions are crowded.



I won't lie, I was pretty happy to leave Florence (something I NEVER thought I would EVER say). We took the train to Naples, the Circumvesuviana to Sorrento, and then the bus to Positano - I love mass transit. We stayed at the same hotel we stayed in when we got married 12 years ago (Villa Rosa). It was nice to be in a familiar warm place - also the views rock and the ocean is warm!

You can hate me now, it's fine. I kind of hate me for this too.

So what is up people, why are you ALL in Italy? Positano was also absolutely CRAWLING with coffee-toting Americans. You almost couldn't walk down the street because there were so many people. I was dying. I understand that cruise boats now make this town a port-of-call, and hundreds invade each day to buy lemon-scented candles or whatever for 5 hours each day. We had to revamp our plans for the week given how busy it was in town.

Luckily, Dave and I are experts at dodging crowds. In case you don't know, we use the 1 Mile/1 Percent Rule - meaning that 99% of the population will not walk more than 1 mile. So we walked the 15 minutes over to little Fornillo Beach, and as the theory holds - no one was there!  

All to ourselves

We also took advantage of all the hiking trails in the area, including the Trail of the Gods to Montepertuso, Nocelle, and Priano. Holy cow if I ever go back to this area of the world, I am staying in Priano. It is quiet, half the price of Positano, and still a cheap bus ride to surrounding towns if you get bored.

We earned this photo, loads and loads of stairs - but few people.

Hated it, not really

Dinner at the restaurant where we had our wedding reception - mushy-mush.

Next stop.......Spain, and oh man is Spain the shiz!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Oktoberfest - My Liver Still Hurts

We sadly left the Dolomites behind. We definitely could have hiked more than 4 days. If I had it to do over, I would have booked a 6- or 7-day trip in those breathtaking mountains. 

It was OK though - because the day we left the Dolomites to head to Munich, it FEAKING SNOWED.......a lot!

I do not do well in cold. It is absolutely amazing that I love to ski as much as I do. I cannot tell you how happy I was to be on the train reading a book when it started snowing in the mountains. 

Then we arrived in Munich for Oktoberfest!

Dave is so GD thrilled to be here.

We met up with the world's best travel companion, TW! 

This lady is unflappable. She is mellow, up for anything, and one hell of a lot of fun. It was nice to have a third person with us after a few weeks of the Dave-and-Amie show, that guy was getting on my nerves (kidding, not kidding). 

We did a bike tour, some shopping, ate sausage, and of course went to several beer establishments around the city. Our favorite is Augusteiner for sure.

Can she rock a hat, or what!

We met up with KR and HR. They moved to Munich with their two kiddos a little over a year ago from the Bay Area. We actually went to Oktoberfest 7 years ago with these folks so it was just like the old days, except this time Dave didn't get kicked out of the beer tent for drinking too much (amateur).

For those that haven't been, there are 14 big tents at Oktoberfest, and you want to be in one of them for beer and roast chicken! We didn't have pre-purchased tickets to any of the tents, which can make things tricky. The festival was packed and I was worried that we wouldn't get into a tent at all - nooooooo. 

We were saved by a member of the ex-pat rugby club in Munich. He had loads of extra tickets and was selling them for face-value in front of the Augusteiner tent. I will forever be a rugby fan because of this generous guy (also the giant muscly legs and short white shorts). So we got seats, beers, chicken, and whole bunch of new rugby-playing friends. 

Lots and lots of this happened.

Photos of the event are limited to protect the not-so-innocent. Let's just say there was a lot of beer and riding jenky-ass-completely-illegal-in-the-US carnival rides. I figure that since they have great national health care, this stuff is tolerated if not encouraged.

I think we spent like $200 on this ride, so FUN but almost DEATH.

This is a real thing, a human spinning nightmare. Folks from 15 to 85 were in serious competition to stay on this death trap. You have to pay 4 EUR to watch but you ride for free.


Playing tourists

KR and HR were outstanding hosts. They gave us a tour of their town (Germering), just outside of Munich. We walked over to their local farm and all were in awe of the CHEESE and MILK vending machine. Seriously, why don't we have these? I know most Americans think we know everything about everything, but the only thing coming out of vending machines in the US is total shit. I think there is a business opportunity here, neighborhood cheese vending machines! 

Cheese makes us giddy!

Our friends also took us on a little picnic, with cheese and beer -  of course. They even did our laundry and KR folded all our stuff with love. Thanks you guys, it was sooooo wonderful to have clean clothes again!

Thank you KR for the figs you hid in my bag - lifesaver after all that bread and sausage.

No, that isn't a crate of empty beer in the stroller.

We also spend a leisurely afternoon with the family at the Andechs Monastery Brewery, which is just a few train stops from their house (notice a theme here, it is Germany after all). 

The beer was made by monks so this is like going to church.

Dave was chumming little SR with coins for the horse.

Being silly, no the kids weren't drinking. That will be next year.

Next stop - Italy.......

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dolomite Hut to Hut - But Shhhhhhhhh

The Dolomites were awesome!

No, actually it sucked...... 

OK, it was spectacular. But don't tell anyone because I hate when places get "popular" and become a victim of their own success with far too many visitors, tour buses, lines, and annoyingness.  

Anyway, we started our 6-week European adventure in northern Italy with a 3-night hut-to-hut hike in the Dolomite mountains. We traveled from north (near the Austrian border) to south along a portion of the famed Alta Via route. 

First of all, let me tell you how tough it is to put a trip like this together if you are cheap like me and don't want to spend through the nose to have a company book everything for you for double the price. 

Last May I poured over books, maps, and websites to find appropriate huts at hikeable distances from each other. Then, I emailed each individual hut in either Italian or German (depending on the location) for a reservation. I had to change our plans several times since a few huts were full. Finally, I got it all booked and just hoped for the best.

And it was great. We were exceptionally lucky and had perfect weather. But our packs were HEAVY because we were carrying all our clothes for the entire 6-week trip. And also, I sort of focused on the distance for each day's treck, we did between 7 and 8 miles each day (easy, right?), and ignored the elevation change. 

Don't do that...... 

We ended up doing about 9,000 feet of climbing over the 3 days. It was death and we were not prepared mentally for such a slow daily slog. Thank you mother nature for the good weather or else I would have cried more than I did. My hands only got desperately cold one day, which is a big deal for me.

So you stay at these small, kick-ass, family-run mountain huts. The huts we chose were way nicer than I thought they would be with heat, showers, a cocktail hour, and great food. A room for two people with dinner and breakfast was about $50 per person per night. You can find cheaper rooms for about $12 a night but then you are in a dorm with potential snorers and lots of stinky feet.  

So cute (the hut and Dave), I am just going to move in..
No words - except mother effer more uphill......
The days generally went like this:

  • Breakfast
  • Hike
  • Lunch
  • Hike (and a bit of whining about the climbing)
  • Spritz or and beers
  • Dinner
  • Music, reading, chatting
  • Bed
For all the perverts out there who think a "Spritz" is something else, it is actually a very popular drink containing Aperol, Prosecco, a bit of soda water, and an orange wedge - your life is not complete until you have had one several.

Are we there yet, nope - not even close?

All "camping" should have huts with cold beers.

More hut awesomeness

The days flowed slowly out on the trail with minimal amounts of getting lost and fighting. We had a few surprises, like getting caught in a cattle drive......

A few of the huts, in addition to providing lodging for hikers, are operating farms and ranches. We got caught up in morning cow-rush-hour one day. The ranchers, wearing jaunty Tirolean hats, were taking the horses and cows to pasture. And the cows, wearing giant Tirolean bells the size of their heads, happily followed. Pretty cool!

We had to hike that trail in the background = death.

The area we hiked has an interesting history. It was decidedly Austrian until 1919 when it became Italian. We trekked past WWI memorials and ruins that demonstrate its violent past. Despite the fact that we were decidedly in Italy the entire trip, folks spoke German predominantly and the food and culture felt very Austrian. It wasn't until the last night, as we approached Cortina, that we heard Italian and got to eat our first pasta of the trip.

Also, haunting WWI ruins and tunnels

Nearly there cheerleading move

You know where you are by the beer, Erdinger = Sud Tirol, Moretti = Italy.

Next Flying Monkey installment: Oktoberfest!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

HalloCiaoHola: Europe - Here Come The Monkeys

So what is the travel plan, you ask (or not)? What does one do for 6 weeks in Europe? And further, how does one pack??????

Let me tell you:

9/16 to 9/21: We are starting with a Dolomite hut hike for 3 nights staying at places like this: Refuge Munt de Sennes, Rifugio Fannes, and Rifugio Lagazuoi. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to think about these simple mountain huts. They are just on the Italian/Austrian border so if I can't get by with my crappy German I can use my crappy Italian. And don't get me started on the food we are going to eat there. All we have to carry is our clothes. The huts provide food, water, and warm beds for a few dollars per person per night. Heaven! 

OMG OMG OMG - salami in my face now, these Italians know how to eat at the huts.

9/22 to 9/26: We are going to Oktoberfest to see the two fantastic people in the photo. We hit up Oktoberfest 7 years ago with them. I thought it was going to be lame with loads of Italians fighting Aussies and general drunk dude annoyance - but it was AWESOME. Like the UN of beer drinking.

We are also going to check out the German lifestyle in their small town just outside of Munich. General fooling around and lots of beer drinking and pretzel eating will occur. I will need to wear my stretchy pants for sure.  

9/27 to 10/4: After a little stop in Florence, we are staying 5 nights in Positano for our 12 year wedding anniversary. We are booked at the hotel we stayed at when we got married (Villa Rosa Positano), awwwww we are like 12 in that photo. There will be trips to Capri, hiking, lots of pizza eating and wine drinking, and whatever else we feel like doing. I am a bit worried about the annoying-American factor in Positano (the town was "discovered" after the movie Under the Tuscan Sun). But we will manage......somehow.

10/5 to 10/8: Girona, Spain. Thanks N.G., we are finally getting there after your recommendation a few years ago. I rented a 3 bedroom house called Can Vidal for like $60 a night (Spain is really cheap). If anyone wants to join us, there is room!

10/9 to 10/11: San Sebastian, Spain - just to eat. Seriously. OK there may be some surfing and sightseeing, but mostly eating.

10/12 to 10/20: We are walking the last part of the Camino de Santiago with some friends to purify our souls and drink Bierzo (yes K.M. I am hooked after a tasting at your house). The trip normally takes at least a month to walk, we are just doing just 5 days from Sarria to Santiago. We booked through Mac's Adventures and are being wussies by staying in hotels without bedbugs and having our luggage transported. But whatever.

10/20 to 10/28: We are whirlwinding through Porto and down through Andalucia (Seville, Ronda, and Granada for tapas, tapas, and more tapas). That is Ronda in the photo there, seriously sickeningly beautiful. How do places like that exist?!?! 

Yes, Porto is a bit out of the way but Dave put his foot down because he reeeeeaaaaaaally wanted to go and taste port. I can't argue with that. 

Then it is back to Tahoe for job searching in November and December. Ugh.

But I don't want to think about that yet. Instead I will focus on my crappy German, Italian, and Spanish. 

More to come.......

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

So What's Going On

A lot actually......some good things and some not so good - such is life.

We have exactly the same color blue eyes.
This handsome guy (my baby bro) got married in Morris, Illinois in June. We drove there from Rocky Mountain National Park. Yeah, it turns out that there isn't much in between Western Colorado and Illinois. We had planned to stop and enjoy the drive, see the sites along the way - but there isn't much there to enjoy. Sorry Nebraska and Iowa, you are really flat and boring.

Just a note to anyone not yet married - if you don't rock out at your wedding, what the hell is the point.

Rock it out!

After the wedding, we drove through two other fairly pointless states - North Dakota and  EASTERN Montana - on the way to Glacier National Park. Holy crap, Glacier is amazing. We did a 3 night/35 mile backcountry trip and it was spectacular, aside from the rain and snow.

At the top of Ptarmigan Pass

Oh and the giardia....... Turns out those little protozoa are highly resistant to iodine, which was our main form of water purification while in Glacier National Park. HOW DID WE NOT KNOW THAT GIARDIA IS IODINE RESISTANT! Thank god we didn't, uhmmmm how shall I say this, exhibit symptoms until we were out of the park and in a hotel. Lesson learned, and guess who bought a fancy new water purification filter for future use.

So ugly

Make it stop.

Post hike - yay for clean clothes, a shower, and a great view from the hotel.

After Glacier, we drove a few hours north to Canada for a visit to Banff and Lake Louise to see more spectacularness and beauty than your eyes can take. Also, loads and loads of tourists. Next time we will go in the off-season.

Handsome Ashton men

Turns out it can be freaking cold in Canada, even in August.

Moraine Lake, crazy water colors

We took a day trip to see the fast-melting Abathasca Glacier. Despite the cold week we had while we were in Canada, the glaciers there are quickly melting. Go see them now before they are gone. That is some scary crap.

Me getting clobbered by Canada.

Family togetherness, also huddling for warmth

Lately we have been in Tahoe. There is much working on our golf game and generally fooling about. Dave has been perfecting his homemade pasta and ice cream, and I have been working on my German and Italian for our upcoming trip to Europe.

We also managed to fit in a last-minute, absolutely amazing 3-night backpacking trip in the Emigrant Wilderness with our friends J.P.M. and C.M. It was 30 miles of tough terrain, alpine lakes, evening campfires, and beautiful surroundings. All this spectacular wilderness is about 100 miles south and west of Tahoe, and we had never been there. Who knew?

A typical campground, just beautiful

Dragons were slayed and dinner was had, aw look at Dave's wee fish.

Not lost, really

So what is next? We leave for Europe on Tuesday. It should be quite a trip. We will be gone for about 6 weeks. But more about that later.......