End of the road where are we now

October 12th, 2010 by matt

For those of you still reading, it’s wrap up time for our grand tour. Let’s finish in a suitably grand style. Can you guess where we are right at this moment?

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This is Heroes Square, a memorial from around 1900 as a tribute to this country’s history. It’s big and grand, so it’s also been a scene to various large protests and celebrations as well.

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This city is also known for it’s thermal baths. This is the largest of them and it’s quite grand indeed. Both pools on the ends are naturally heated between about 90 and 100, which is quite soothing on a cold October day after you’ve been walking your feet off around Eastern Europe. Much more about this at a later time. 🙂

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This large church took a couple of hundred years to build and complete since this country has been through quite a few wars and changes in government. Inside is kind of a guilded neo-baroque style which fits this city very well.

OK, those were the harder ones. Let’s try this one.

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This is the parliament building. It’s the largest building in Hungary and the largest Parliament building in Europe. It’s in a neo-gothic style and is situated on the famous river that runs through this city.

OK, one more. Then I’m done.

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Here you can see the parliament building as situated on a river made famous by a waltz by Strauss. Think the movie 2001 when the space ship is docking. It also divides the city in two. In fact, until the 1800s, this city was actually two cities and finally merged into the name we know so well.

It’s Budapest! Yes, our trip has ended in Hungary. Budapest is an impressive city. Everything from the metro to random buildings all over town are impressively grand. Seems like a nice way to end our trip. Actually, as I hit post on this, we are going to shut down our trusty laptop (so happy we brought it) and head to the airport cause this trip is now over! Hope this was fun to read.

Back to city where are we now

October 11th, 2010 by matt

Well, we’ve left the mountains and nearing the end of our adventure. Soon, moving and readjusting to life in the US starts again. Here we go.

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The entire old center of this city is a UNESCO world heritage site. The step-like slopes are very common in it. This is just a cool looking building with a little over-street bridge.

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This is one of the famous rivers I’d heard of but never actually seen. It runs along the southern end of the Old Town section of town.

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So I’ve mentioned the Old Town section of town. If you’ve been here, this picture should help. It’s St Mary’s Basilica and it’s the big church that is part of the largest medieval squares in Europe. It’s always busy and full of life. There’s still a flower market but a lot of it has been handed over to tourists.

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Well, Prague has a castle. So does this city (sensing a theme?). Give up? It’s Krakow. The Old Town is truly a lovely place to visit. Within such a compact site, there are wall-to-wall things to see. The main square is truly one of those perfectly well-laid out places. You could sit there for hours and just soak it in. It would be nice if the US still had the concept of a town or city square. On the outskirts is a 600 year old salt mine you can tour which was quite cool as well. We’re nearing the end of our trip (only one more of these left), but it’s been a great time. Reality beckons once again very soon. We’re sad to finish traveling, but excited for the changes already in progress.

A Mini Where Are we

October 10th, 2010 by matt

Well, we had to leave the Tatras at some point, but we didn’t really leave immediately. Time to guess where we went from there.

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The architecture of this town originally was dominated by lovely wood buildings like this style. In recent years it’s become a popular spot for the natives of this country, so more modern stuff has appeared. But there is still plenty of really nice homes like this all over the place, especially as you leave town and head into the mountains.

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We took a walk into the mountains and, unlike where we were the previous couple of days, this section had some non-alpine type trees, giving us a nice taste of fall.

Confused? Well, then this probably won’t help.

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This is the view from our hotel overlooking the valley and the mountains surrounding it. Give up? It’s Zacopane, the primary holiday destination for the Polish side of the Tatras. We simply woke up one morning, found a bus and found ourselves in a new country an hour or so later. While it’s obviously a bit on the touristy side, when you leave the main bits of it, there’s some really beautiful and interesting aspects to it. One particular road seems to have a whole lot of those nice wooden buildings with rooms to rent for your stay while others have set up ad hoc restaurants and pubs. This being the off-season and us being there for only one night, we failed to really explore that deeper. Only so much time for travel, alas. And the walk we took was through a really nice valley carved out into the mountains.

Where in nature are we now?

October 7th, 2010 by matt

Well, if you’ve been keeping up with my posts, then you know we’re in Slovakia now. The big question is, where in Slovakia are we? These pictures would be a big hint, since there’s obviously a lot of mountains.

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Here’s the view from our hotel room.

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Well, we’ve managed to climb most of the way up and too tired to smile for a photo. OK, there’s a cable car up to about 5800 feet that we took up. Then we hiked along at that elevation and made our way down to see this:

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The spot we took this picture in used to be a pine forest. But a wind storm in 2004 managed to clear cut a lot of the forests around the area. Loggers seem to be helping it along a bit. But it did give us this nice field to view the mountains from. I doubt any of this is helping if you’re trying to guess. I just love some of these pictures. Here’s that last “hint”.

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Not too bad a mirror image. That triangle looking thing is actually for ski jumping.

Give up? We’re in the Tatra Mountains. They are on the Slovak/Polish border. It’s an alpine climate, so it almost feels like the Alps, but the beer is $1.50 and it’s really Eastern Europe. It was really nice to get out of the cities a bit and enjoy some crisp mountain air for a spell.

Our bonus picture for the day is, once again, a train station. But it’s a bit different this time. In the Tatras on the Slovak side, there are a series of mountain towns/resorts. They are connected by a little electric railway so, if you time it right, you can get from one end of the area to the other in an hour. Here is one of the stations. I think it’s a bit of a change from the Plzen station.

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The lake pictures came from the next station down the line, Strebske Pleso. Our hotel was in Tatranska Lomnica on the opposite end of the valley. The monster peak from our hotel window is Lomnický štít which is 8600 feet tall and you can get up to the top of in a Gondola (we decided to take a hike that day instead of going to the summit). Lovely stuff.

Slovakia at 6am on a Sunday

October 6th, 2010 by matt

So after fending off bands of Gypsies on our overnight train (the first thing the porter told us after looking at our tickets when we got on the train was “beware of gypsies”), we left the Czech Republic (a hint for the next ‘where are we now’ series) and entered Slovakia. We arrived in a medium-sized town shortly before 6am. Our plan was to find anything that was open that had coffee, drink some of it (and eat some food) and then figure out how to get to our final destination. Traveling means not really keeping track of the days of the week and we forgot that this was Sunday. Well, this would be the town we arrived in at about 6:30am:

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That would be the high street. Dead, dead dead. And most of the cafes are closed all day on Sunday. Ooops. A little lack of foresight on our part. On a positive note, we managed to get to our final destination easily enough, get into our hotel and get some food and activities without a problem. I doubt many places in the world are awake at that hour on a Sunday. I just found this scene to be amusing 🙂

PS – no one tried to steal our stuff and, if they tried, the couchette we sprung for had a bolt lock and a chain lock, so breaking in would have been impressive.

South Moravian Where Are We Now

October 4th, 2010 by matt

So the title will give you a hint. We’re still in the Czech Republic, but we’ve moved into the lands of Moravia, which is different from Bohemia. Here we go.

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This town is an UNESCO heritage site for it’s amazingly preserved town center. Literally it’s stuck in time in the 16th century. It’s surrounded on three sides by ponds which acted as defense, fishing and water supply for the town.

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The crown jewel of this town are these well preserved Renaissance facades in the town square. We spent many an hour enjoying them. The town square was really quite nice and the town is now ringed by parks. It was a great way to spend a couple of days.

Give up? It’s Telc. Nice hotel, nice people, the chateau was really interesting and the size made it quite accessible. And in early October, it’s very very quiet. I hear in the summer it’s a bit of a mob scene. Oh yeah! The sun came out again! 🙂

And this is a bonus picture for Lisa who has been asking where the Matt/Food/Beer pictures. Here you go!

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A Where are we two-fer

October 2nd, 2010 by matt

So we passed through a couple of places, all beer themed. Time to place your bets.

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This is the tallest church spire in the Czech Republic.

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This should make it easier if you at least look things up. This is the famous brewery in town. From the train station, the smell of malt was quite strong (yum!). We took an excellent tour of it and sampled some of their famous beer brewed the old skool way.

Give up? One last hint. It’s the home of Pilsner. Yep, it’s Plzen. Great smaller city with a nice lively vibe. And the home of Pilsner Urquell.

Next up, we continue on the beer trail.

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This lovely town square is one of the largest in Europe. The town hall in the photo has some really cool gargoyles on it too.

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This is a former smokehouse that is now a restaurant tied to the brewery that makes this place famous. If you look close, you can make out the beer.

No, it’s not St Louis. Budweiser is actually a Czech beer. Anheuser-busch bought some sort of rights to the recipe and created a bastardized version of it. This is České_Budějovice, the original home of Budweiser.

As a bonus photo, I like train stations and here’s the Plzen Train Station. Pretty cool building.

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Off for more travels! 🙂

Take a Wild Guess on This One

September 30th, 2010 by matt

Well, it’s time for a new installment. I’ll wager this one is a bit tougher. 🙂

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This is one of those old spa towns. The town feels a bit like the movie Cocoon in that it’s full of old people (mostly Germans) stocking up on nasty-ass sulfur tasting water. These are some of the grand hotels in the center of town.

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It’s recently history hasn’t all been roses. After the Iron Curtain came down, their foreign visitors couldn’t come and visit. This building looks absolutely magnificent and, while a large part of the town has been restored to it’s former glory, there’s a lot in need to major work like this building.

So, still unsure? I doubt this will help:
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This grand colonnade sits overlooking a lovely park in the center of town. Inside is some great iron work and paintings on the ceiling. The fountain to the right does a bit of choreography to classical music every two hours.

Give up? It’s Marianske Lazne, formerly known as Marienbad. It’s about 30 miles from the German border in the Czech Republic and is one of two major spa towns in West Bohemia. Behind the town are some very pleasant walking trails as well. We spent a lovely day there, wandering around the grand buildings and strolling through the woods.

Compare and Contrast

September 27th, 2010 by matt

So we have two images, both are of the Prague Cathedral in the Castle.

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This would be the front of it at around noon time.

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And here it be at night.

I don’t have much more to add, just was amused that I managed to take almost the exact same shot 10 hours apart. The hoards of crowds was non-existent at night as well. Being able to wander around the castle grounds at 10pm was a nice treat as all the tour groups have long gone by then but the grounds (not the interior bits) are all still open. Some lovely views of the city from up there as well. Viva Prague!

Can You Guess Where we are Now?

September 26th, 2010 by matt

So, we’ve moved on from Berlin and taken up “residence” elsewhere. I’m not sure if this will be easier or harder, but here goes:

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Honestly, if you can get our location from this picture, I’m impressed. It’s just a pretty random building in the old center. The sign on top says it’s a school.

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One thing this location is known for is it’s tram system. From our limited experience with it, the reputation is justified. Very fast and efficient. Except the ticket machines don’t always work/aren’t readable in the dark when it’s raining and you have a pack on your back. 🙂

Give up? Let’s see if these are any more helpful:

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Sorry for the bad lighting. It rained all day. If you look past the statue, you can see the famous cathedral in the famous castle of this city.

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This famous bridge crosses the river that bisects this city. It’s named after Carolyn’s grandpa (really!).

Ok, it’s Prague. We were debating showing the astrological clock as well. We’re fully in Eastern Europe now. Our next locations will be a whole lot harder to figure out, I’ll bet. The weather hasn’t been perfect here, but it’s a lovely city, tourist hoards be damned! 🙂

Where in Europe are Carolyn and Matt?

September 23rd, 2010 by matt

Quiz time. Can you guess where we are? The answer will be revealed after the photos.
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This is a monument created by the Soviets after WWII. It’s remarkably large.
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This TV Tower was built in 1969 and lords over the entire city.

Give up? OK, those were semi-tricky (if you’ve never been). Here are two easy ones:
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Old part of the city gate that has since become a symbol of the city.
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It’s a wall and it divided the city. I don’t think I need to add any more than that, do I? 😀

Give up again? It’s Berlin! We’re spending a few days here and soaking in a city with a very unique history. It’s been tons of fun so far.

Tour de France

July 14th, 2010 by carolyn

For cycling fans July means only one thing each year, the Tour de France.  This year the Tour runs from 3rd July to 25th July and takes the riders from the prologue in Rotterdam through 20 stages to the finish in Paris.

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My friend from Boston was due to be in France this summer for a family holiday and she contacted me to find out if there was any chance I would want to meet up with her to do some traveling.  Knowing that she is a huge cycling fan, I wondered whether she was thinking of trying to catch a stage of the Tour.  She jumped at the idea and we planned a long weekend in the Alps to see stage 8 Station des Rousses > Morzine-Avoriaz.

I left London Friday after work and flew from Heathrow to Geneva (1 hour flight) to make it to Switzerland by 10 pm (amazing).  We planned to head up into the mountains on Saturday morning via a shuttle ride to the Morzine-Avoriaz ski areas in France and hoped to camp along the route.  The ride from Geneva to the Alps was beautiful and we saw amazing chalets, cyclists and Tour paraphenalia all along the route.  I particularly enjoyed these cyclists with their baguettes on their backs.

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We got dropped off at the very top of the mountain in Avoriaz and site of the finish line for stage 8.  As we drove up the mountain where the cyclists would be riding on Sunday, some big black clouds rolled in.  We passed caravans and tents all along the road and rain started pouring down.  Fortunately, we took shelter in the visitor centre (decorated like the maillot à pois rouges the polka dot jersey for the King of the Mountains) and figured out our plan.

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When there was a break in the clouds we popped across the street for some wine and olives to watch the end of stage 7, Tournus -> Station des Rousses.  Once the rain stopped we walked back down the cycle route, past the finish line and staked out a spot to pitch our tent for the weekend.  We had a lovely picnic dinner (the first of many) of cheese, bread and wine.  We were about 2 km from the finish line.
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Needless to say, camping on the side of one of largest cycling events in the world is quite an experience.  All night long there were vehicles traveling up to the finish honking horns and people up to all hours celebrating.  We woke up on Sunday eagerly awaiting the arrival of the cyclists.  We walked back up to town to get some more food for the day and had a breakfast of crepes!  Miraculously, overnight the barriers, advertisements, finish line and road markers had been set-up.  That explained all the noise on the road keeping us awake.  It was amazing to see how much goes into the logistics of the Tour and how many vehicles are necessary – lots and lots of petrol being used for a cycle race.

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Sunday was very very hot and sunny so we found a shady spot for another picnic and waited for the riders.  They were expected at the finish about 5:30 pm.  We met other cycling fans from all over the world while we waited – England, France, America, New Zealand, Holland, Germany and many more.  We also were visited by French cows with very melodious bells around their necks.
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About an hour ahead of the cyclists, the caravan comes through.  The caravan is essentially a parade of many of the advertisers involved with the tour coming through and tossing out a bunch of free stuff to the fans on the side of the rode.  It was a very bizarre experience but I ended up with a polka dot hat so was happy.

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Finally, the riders started to make there way past us on the mountain.  Although they were tackling a significant climb and were only kilometers away from the finish, I was still amazed by how quickly they went past.  Just as I was figuring out who was going by they were gone.  The first group came through including eventual stage winner Andy Schleck.  As we watched more and more cyclists go by the big news was where was Lance Armstrong?  And we still hadn’t seen the yellow jersey wearer or the polka dot jersey wearer.  It turned out Lance had had a very rough day including 2 falls.
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I was surprised to see how spread out the groups were and who was in each group.  After the main groups went by we walked back up to the finish area to get some dinner and see if we could see any of the cyclist up close.  Amazingly, many of them started cycling back down the hill to Morzine before all the others had even finished the climb.  We made it up to the finish area and they were pretty much already starting to take it down in preparation for moving on to the next stage.  As we made our way around the back of all the set-up we literaly ran into Phil Ligget and Bob Roll.  They are television announcers for cycling and the Tour and my friend was literally star struck to have the chance to meet them.  She has some photos of us with them so maybe I will add those later.  As we made our way around all the semis and cables we saw a small group gathering and were told some of the winners were just finishing up interviews.  We saw Cadel Evans ride off in the yellow jersey and Andy Schleck meeting with the media.  Little did we know that Evans had suffered an elbow injury meaning trouble in the next stage.

After such a long day you would think we would be heading straight off to bed but now.  But no, 11 July was the World Cup Final so after a picnic dinner of takeaway pizza we headed back down the mountain as the sun set.  Near our campsite a small chalet had set-up televisions in a tent on the side of the road and we were able to watch Espana finally become campeaones – World Cup Champions!  It was great to be apart of an international crowd watching the match even if it was a rough and tumble final.

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Monday was a rest day for the Tour so we had a leisurely morning packing up the campsite.  We headed back down the mountain via ski lift and cable car into the town of Morzine.  Apparently Annecy, France including Morzine/Avorinaz area are bidding for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

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I spent the day wandering around town watching all the cyclists and cycling fans.  It was super hot and my pack full of tent and sleeping bags was weighing me down but I saw some Quick Step cyclists and a former top tier cyclist.  The Tour would be leaving from Morzine on Tuesday but unfortunately, I had to head back to Geneva on Monday night to get back to London and work for Tuesday.  All in all, it was an amazing weekend in a beautiful setting that I will never forget.  I have always enjoyed the Tour de France but I think I may be a convert to a true fan now.  I will be watching over the next few weeks to see how these amazing athletes finish out the route.

Addendum:  Julia shared our photos with Phil Ligget and Bob Roll so here they are.

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Cinque Terre

May 10th, 2010 by carolyn

Over the May Bank Holiday weekend, we had made plans to meet my parents in Cinque Terre, a series of 5 villages in the Italian Riveria.  The towns are accessible via train, boat and walking path but only a few can be reached by car.  My parents were going to be traveling in Italy and we arranged to meet up in Monterossa where my Dad and I hoped to hike the Cinque Terre trail, something we had talked about doing together “someday.”   Unfortunately, my parents were grounded by the Iceland volcano eruption and were unable to make it.  Because everything was booked and our flights were still scheduled Matt and I ended up going on our own.  We flew into Genoa and took a bus to the train station where we hopped a train to Monterossa.  We arrived on April 30th to beautiful sunny weather by the sea.

We set about exploring the town, had a fabulous seafood dinner and made plans to attempt the Cinque Terre trail the next day.  Saturday was another good weather day and we knew that the trail was shut down at times for bad weather so we jumped on the chance to get walking.  We started out from Monterossa and headed out to the next town Vernazza.  This is a view looking back at Monterossa from the trail.

It was amazing to see just how many people were out on the trail.  Matt had visited this area in 1998 when he was studying abroad in Florence.  That was before the area was designated UNESCO world heritage site.  Since its designation, the trails have been revamped, there is an entrance fee and the crowds have only increased (according to Matt).   When Matt was here in 1998 he walked most of the trail but ran out of daylight and had a bit of an adventure making it to the final destination.  I think he enjoyed revisiting the scenes of his old adventure on the trail, like this one.

After wandering by olive trees, grapevines and lemon trees stacked deep on the steep slopes, we arrived with in view of Vernazza.  It was a beautiful town with an arching harbor, loads of gelato and full of tourists.  All 5 towns are connected not only by the walking trails but by train as well.  You can catch a glimpse of the train in some of the shots as it peeps out from its path cutting through the mountains.  Its mostly in ground along this route.  The road is several miles up and doesn’t come to each of these towns, part of what makes them so unique.

Pretty huh?  After a quick stop in town we headed out to the next stop Corniglia.  This town is perched at the edge of a pretty big cliff and also is full of the colorful buildings seen in each of the towns.

Next up?  Manarola.  The trip between Corniglia and Manarola was a bit easier than the other two walks.

And finally we walked along the Via Dell’Amore a nice flat paved path to Riomaggiore.  The main feature here are lots of locks decorating the walls to signify peoples love.

The trail is about 10 km and takes 4-5 hours to complete.  We were pretty tired after reaching the end and planned to take a boat back to our origin point, Monterossa.  It was amazing to view the towns we had just passed through from the water.  We were super lucky with the weather also.  Just as we boarded the boat the clouds came in and some drizzle started to come down.  Here is a view of the towns from the water.

Riomaggore                                                       Manarola

Corniglia                                                               Vernazza

Monterossa                                                      Boat Trip

For dinner on Saturday we took the train back to Manarola and tried out another pasta/seafood place on the water.  It was a dreary grey night but still super enjoyable.  And we got to check out the Christmas decorations set up on the terraces, not lit up, but waiting for the holidays.

The next day, the day started grey.  We decided to try a shorter hike near the hotel.  Of course, once we started the walk the rain really came down.  We had a great time anyway and saw a very difference view of a cloud covered Cinque Terre.  Turns out they closed the path due to the weather so there was no hiking to the 5 towns that day =).

Before the Hike

The view from the top of the straight up hike we attempted……………

Enjoying wine after the workout

Bon Voyage Nic, Clint and Jezebel!

April 27th, 2010 by matt

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So tomorrow afternoon, this lovely car and her owners, Nic and Clint, will begin a 4 month adventure driving around the wilds of Europe. Nic has been working with Carolyn for almost 2 years and we’ve had a lot of fun times with them during their time in London. Alas, it’s time for them to move on. We will miss them both and wish them lots of fun and adventures in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Croatia and wherever the road may take them. Good luck guys!