Attempting to take in every last bit of the seashore, I’ve got the windows open at Gunfort Cottage, once a small fisherman’s abode in the town of Tenby, Wales. Literally, this place must have been a small fisherman’s home. It’s a pint sized apartment with extremely low doorways (I’ve got the bumps on my noggin to prove it). Although compact, it served it’s purpose well and we’ve enjoyed having a kitchen for home cooked meals. This was the first time in a while that we didn’t have a big agenda for a destination. We’ve slept in, had our morning coffee and made an egg breakfast every morning. Our view out the front door is jaw dropping and we enjoyed a nice long beach walk a couple days ago – working out all the problems of the world, of course.
After our jaunt on the beach, we stopped off at the local museum where I inquired about my family heritage. Unfortunately, the local historian who specializes in family genealogy was not in this week so I left him my contact information. For now, I’ve been relegated to the wealth of information available on the internet through the many websites offering to “find your family history here!”. To say the least, the amount of information is overwhelming and quite impossible to make sense of, much less corroborate. I’ve got my fingers crossed that I will hear from the local historian sometime soon.
We spent our last day exploring the area, driving through the myriad pastures along some dangerously narrow two-lane roads. We stopped off for a morning stroll along the Wales Coast Path which carried us through three separate tunnels once used for a small-scale coal mining railroad over 100 years ago.
The rain was unrelenting, so we broke off the uncovered shore path and headed for the woods. Muddy and soggy yes, but we found comfort in the forest as we reminisced about our time spent in Dash Point State Park in Western Washington.
Those of you who know Tarin well are probably familiar with her fascination of someday flying an airplane. A few years ago, I found a small regional airport offering introductory flight lessons for aspiring pilots. A few weeks after receiving the certificate for her first flight lesson, Tarin took to the skies with her instructor while I kept my feet on solid ground to take pictures. Needless to say, Tarin still dreams about getting her pilot’s license some day. On our way to our next destination, Tarin spotted a sign that indicated a monument for Amelia Earhart was nearby. Doubling back in our rental car, we found our way to a spire erected in the female pilot’s honor and to commemorate her stopover in the small Welsh town of Burry Port. Viewing this monument while traveling through Wales served as a reminder for Tarin to continue chasing these dreams.
This travel has been not just about experience but also about discovering; having the chance to explore the physical world and our often-jumbled inner thoughts has allowed us to bring in to focus our aspirations, both as a married couple and as individuals. For the first time in our adult lives, we have had the opportunity to ponder with no regard for necessary action.
The sun is gleaning off the tracks parallel to our Renfe highspeed train en route to Seville. Small towns and innumerable olive plantations south of Madrid fly by the window as the train and our trip whir along. Having just popped in some headphones, I threw on Neil Young’s album Harvest to help me reminisce…
We just spent three nights in Spain’s capital city. We encountered yet another brand new culture but were very thankful for the ability to speak a little, I mean poquiotitito, Spanish. Having traveled to Mexico a few times, I have become familiar with the dialect of our neighbors to the south; while helpful, it’s also made it a bit difficult for these Spaniards to understand the version of the Spanish language I know. We give it our best shot and everyone we have come across has been incredibly gracious. Just this morning, while navigating the Metro station near our apartment in the city center, I had to ask a gentleman for help. My question yielded a puzzled look and the universal gesture of confusion – a shoulder shrug with the palms of his hands held upwards. I attempted again to ask my question, he strained to understand and then the lightbulb over his head shown brightly. He wasn’t sure exactly where I should be headed but asked some of his compatriots for advice when a well-dressed woman kindly offered to walk us to a nearby catwalk overlooking signage to our platform. We found the platform and successfully made our way to the train station. The people of Madrid had a very laidback and calm nature about them, something we found to be quite different in comparison to the Italians who, at times, were a bit overly-passionate. As Tarin has always maintained, “it’s not wrong, it’s just different”. The statement could not be more true about these EU countries.
There was no particular itinerary in Madrid, so we simply treated our days as we would any Saturday spent at home. We shopped at the supermarket for daily provisions including fresh produce, meat, eggs and bread. Mornings were spent trying to figure out how to work the coffee maker, a three pieced puzzle we likened to a reverse french press. We sampled churros (without cinnamon and sugar) which is a morning snack dipped in coffee or hot chocolate in Spain. We stopped to sip on local beers and wine while feasting on tapas as we strolled the city streets. Our AirB&B host, Jose, was an older gentleman who had prepared an incredible amount of information which was separated into two spiral-bound notebooks: one for a sightseeing itinerary complete with a suggested route map and the other a collection of he and his wife’s recommended restaurants and markets. We made regular use of this info and found our way around the city quite easily. We found Madrid to be extremely walkable as most of the major destinations weren’t more than a 25 minute walk from our centrally located apartment.
We visited the Royal Palace, current home of the recently appointed King Felipe VI as well as the rest of the Royal Family. My favorite section of the tour was the Royal Armory which housed examples of nearly 600 year-old tools of war used to lead the Spanish conquest carried out over the vast oceans and seas of the world (turns out the world isn’t flat) as well as throughout Europe. It was quite interesting to see how quickly the materials and techniques used progressed from armor strictly war-purposed in the early 1500’s to plate armor covered in goldleaf, more fashion than protection as the weapons progressed during the late 16th century. The latter provided a physical representation of the rise of the Spanish kingdom in the 16th century; as a result of their gold-lust born out of their exploration in the Americas, as well as their conquest of Europe. The Royal Family’s use of their wealth was ever-present as we visited the rest of the 2800 room palace (only 51 rooms were available to the public for viewing). Each room presented a new form of opulence which the Spanish obtained throughout their kingdom. It was simply overwhelming to see how gaudy the Royal Palace had become in a relatively short period of time. Clearly, they needed a room completely made of porcelain (and I mean COMPLETELY – not even a wooden seam is visible), followed by a room with silk walls, hand-woven rugs depicting the Spanish conquest, and gold-adorned furniture, clocks and mirrors not to mention the hand frescoes upon the ceiling of every room. They commissioned the most skilled craftspeople of their time to complete this palace which represents work from the most well respected artisans of the 16-19th centuries. Aside from my obvious distaste (I laid it on a little thick, eh?) for the over-the-top nature in the construction of the palace, the Spanish Royal Family holds an important place in the documentation of art throughout this time period. Their concerted effort to collect the finest artwork and materials still encourages the youth of today’s Spain to carry this component of their culture forward as these works of art continue to be displayed and made available for public viewing. The collection was nothing short of impressive and the quality of workmanship was magnificent.
We awoke on our last morning in Madrid to learn of recent terrorist attacks in France, and we have started to explore the option of removing Paris from our travels. While it may seem like commonsense to avoid an area which has succumb to several terrorist attacks this year, we are left with something we began to hold very near to our hearts as we executed the planning of this travel: we will not let fear rule our lives or make decisions for us. Fear of not having something, fear of failure or fear induced by others cannot control us. We will not allow this to shape who we are or where we will be physically.
As we disembarked from of our last 10+ hour plane journey, we were thrilled to arrive in a country where we may know a bit more of the customs and culture. Italy is a country I have been to, so I was thrilled to be back and have a considerable amount of time in the two cities I loved after I first visited. This journey with my husband has been vastly different than any other travel. First and foremost, I am not travelling alone and I am also not guided by a tour group. My partner in crime and I have to plan every step, read every map and (try to) learn every language in a short amount of time in order just to eat and drink! We are grateful for our teamwork coming into this travel, and knew it would present new challenges but we weren’t concerned.
We spent three nights and four days enjoying the lovely sights, sounds and wonder that is Roma. We stopped and stared at the historical structures with what seemed like every turn. We had very specific plans in Rome including seeing a champions league soccer match (Nick will be posting later about his dream story regarding our Champions League game), tour the Coliseum, visit the Trevi Fountain, and of course see the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. All of which we accomplished with both of our dreams becoming reality. For me, the Coliseum and the history around the building was a piece of our visit for which I couldn’t wait. This was a major factor in my wanting to return to this city and it really didn’t disappoint. I was also thrilled to make time to tour the Trevi Fountain not only in daylight, but again at night. Many of you know that my personal passion is photography and I have a particular eye for night photography. Thankfully, I have married someone who is interested in watching me pursue my passions, so our second visit to the fountain at night was exactly what my photographers’ heart needed. I feel so much more passion when something is lit at night. I feel as though certain objects are best served when photographed at night – it gives the viewer a better understanding of its strength, depth and it offers more emotion than daylight.
Nick and I have always loved getting in a car to take a drive. We love to view our surroundings by wheels so when it was time to plan our travels, Nick was insistent on renting a car in Italy. We chose to rent our car leaving Rome headed North to Florence and drive the countryside to hopefully visit a winery….or four. We requested an Alfa Romeo, and couldn’t wait to drive an Italian car in Italy. To our dismay, when we arrived at the rental car company we saw a bright orange Jeep Renegade waiting for us. Seriously?! If this was the car, couldn’t we just drive our real SUV back at home? We sucked it up and realized we were happy to have our own transportation for the first time in weeks and were ready to jump on the road. Now, some of you may be thinking, renting a car in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language or understand ANY of the road signs, are you crazy? The answer is yes, yes we are. However, we are also very strong minded and knew that we could make it happen. Now this is where the teamwork comes back into play: Nick in the driver’s seat and of course me as his co-pi (co-pilot for those of you unfamiliar). We had the pleasure of discovering one of the most picturesque towns in Italy, Cortona, by accident. I wanted to visit a Tuscan winery on our way to Florence and heard about this town where there could be a winery we could drop into. We placed the City Center on our GPS and headed that way. On the drive out, we had not realized the town we were photographing out in the distance, was in fact the town of Cortona. It was as if we landed ourselves on a movie set. We only had a little bit of time in town as we were headed to Florence and were meeting with our AirB&B host. But, it was such a pleasure discovering a gorgeous place with no intentions prior to plugging it into our GPS.
On to Florence. As mentioned, Renegade was outfitted with a GPS, but it of course did not know the intricacies of the Historical District, which was the neighborhood we were to stay. So, I had the paper map in-hand to direct Nick’s every move as he tried to not hit the tourists, other cars, or the lovely mopeds who didn’t play by the rules of the road. It was extremely stressful leaving and returning to our apartment, but we came out every time safe and high-fived one another for not killing one another, or someone on the street.
We had a few day trips out of Florence (hence the car rental) to Cinque Terre and Modena. I had heard countless times that Cinque Terre was a beautiful grouping of coastal villages not to be missed and my tour book had also suggested a hike between the five villages. We didn’t realize until we arrived that two-thirds of the hike was closed and the rest of the hike was rather poorly marked. We were quite surprised with the lack of information available to tourists, given it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. Even in the face of some unhelpful locals and the poorly marked signage, we still enjoyed our cliff drive through three of the villages and had an ocean-side picnic lunch. It couldn’t have been deemed a bad day with those two pieces, just a different day than anticipated. Modena was our next day trip, just north of Florence; the car buffs probably already know why we headed here but for those who don’t, this is where Ferrari and Maserati were born. Nick’s favorite car manufacture since childhood has been Ferrari, so this was a no-brainer when planning our Italian adventure. Having this part of the trip was to be another one of Nick’s dreams coming true. He will be posting later about this.
We rented our first AirB&B apartment and really tried to use all of it. Even the 2×2′ kitchen provided! We really made ourselves at home, grocery shopping, eating in and enjoying our open windows and hanging out. It was nice to make a place feel like a home. We were in desperate need of some normalcy and I think we found it during our five night stay in Florence.
Given that Nick and I have a love for cooking, I knew that while traveling through these countries rich in food traditions, we needed to jump at the chance to learn the authentic ways. So, what better way than to sign up for a pasta making class! We had a great time, learning how to make three different pastas and three different sauces. Our chef was a young gentleman who did a great job of explaining and giving us hidden tips throughout our evening. Nick was slightly disappointed that the company we chose, Mama Florence, didn’t in fact have Mama Florence as our teacher – whom he had imagined as an old timer who had been in the kitchen all her life \, showing us her home town traditions… and maybe even a little sassy to boot. Regardless of age or gender, the chef left us excited to make pasta, so long as we can import that to-die-for Italian Chianti Classico. Who would like an invite to our next Italian party?
Some are probably wondering of our post title:
Of my short time visiting Italy in 2009, I really thought this could be a place I could see myself living. After this most recent trip, realizing that every other breath from an Italian must include a pull off a cigarette, there is no possible way we could live there. It was an awful smell and very confusing to see such a developed country with blatant disregard for their own personal health, let alone other people or even their very own children standing next to them. We come from such a progressive area in the U.S. with tobacco laws in place which are in stark contrast to our experience in Italy. However, everyone smokes, so it really shouldn’t bother anyone, right?! It’s only everyone’s health…no big deal.
Enjoy the pics, we finally have some decent wi-fi and know that we haven’t been posting as much as we would like! Hopefully this fills your travel dreams.