Why a Pit Stop in Italy is Worth it

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Last summer we drove from Tuscany (Cortona) to the small French town of Talloires, at the shores of beautiful Lake Annecy. As the drive was about 8 hours with no traffic, we didn’t have too much time to spare. Before veering inland near Genoa, and after the marble fields of Carrara, we took a short pit stop at the Ligurian Sea to catch our breaths and sip an espresso. We found ourselves just above the top tip of Cinque Terre. Even though the pastel colored houses didn’t grip the cliffs, and the turquoise water wasn’t quite perfectly clear, the beauty of Italy is that a hot, sunny, pit-stop on a long, toll-infused drive, is a joyous thing. Italian-boats-at-the-seaItalian-travel-summerItalian-travel-summerItalian-travel-summerItalian-travel-summerItaly-by-the-seaItalian-summer-by-the-seaItalian-buildings-in-summer

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Fall at Schelenburg Castle – Germany

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The Schelenburg castle was first mentioned in 1160, and while parts of the ‘burg’ have burned and been rebuilt (in 1490), the main Gothic living quarters remain intact today. The castle is located in north-western Germany (here), a good walk from my grandmother’s house.German-castles-schellenburgGerman-castles-schellenburgfall-walk-at-a-german-castleGermany in fall is beautiful – the trees are tinged with golden yellow, the air becomes crisp, and if the weather is clear, late autumn sun warms your back. So long summer, time to put on your boots and walk among the leaves. The Schelenburg used to house a restaurant which has unfortunately closed, otherwise it would be the perfect pit stop on a long walk or bike-ride, where you can enjoy ‘kaffeetrinken.’ Translating as coffee drinking, this German event takes place at about 3 pm, and is a time to eat cake (which is almost always good, anywhere in the country), drink a strong cup, and chat with friends and family.German-castles-schellenburgfall-walk-at-a-german-castleGermany-travels-old-doorGerman-castles-schellenburgfall-walk-at-a-german-castleI took this walk with my mother a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful, still-warm day, and we thought of my grandmother, who passed away on September 15, and who will always be in my heart.

The Lake of Kings – German Alps

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In my previous post I mentioned hiking in Berchtesgaden National Park, in the German Alps. You may have asked, where did it all begin? It all started at the Koenigssee, Germany’s third deepest, ridiculously clear lake, and gateway to some seriously gorgeous hiking in Bavaria.Hiking-in-the-German-Alps-KoenigsseeThe Koenigssee is about a two hour drive from Munich, and it’s located in the last little tip of Germany, right at the Austrian border – and close to Salzburg. To reach some of the hiking trails, you step into an electric powered wooden boat. It’s more of an experience rather than a real mode of transportation: you’ll be “treated” to a bugler demonstrating the lake echo, and hear stories and facts of the lake (in German only ;-)). Almost no boats are allowed on the lake in this protected national park, and as you push off from shore the crowds fall behind and stillness surrounds you.Once arriving in St. Bartholoma, you realize that before you can embark on any hike, you need refreshment. Real refreshment. In the form of a roast with potatoes and spiced red cabbage salad. Or maybe a fresh fish from the lake with lemon and thyme. Potentially you may have a half liter of good, crisp Bavarian beer to strengthen your bones for the long hike up the hill.Berchtesgaden-GermanyAntlers-St.-Bartholomey-Berchtesgaden-GermanyMoss-on-hiking-trail-BerchtesgadenLake-Views-Over-Koenigssee-German-Alps

 

Steep Heights in the German Alps

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If you’re looking for a hike in the Alps, do this: the Rinnkendl-Steig hiking trail in Germany’s Berchtesgaden National Park. Yes, there are great Alps in Austria and France and Switzerland and Italy, and there are also great Alps in southern Germany. Why is this trail great?

View-over-Konigsee-Berchtesgaden-National-ParkHiking-in-the-German-Alps-BerchtesgadenStarting point is a boat ride across a clear, deep green lake called the Koenigssee, which magically ferries you behind an unassuming mountain into a land of Sound-of-Music goodness. Which it literally is, because parts of the movie were filmed here (also here). *Side note to all non-Americans who have never heard of The Sound of Music (stop gasping, Americans! It’s possible!) – it’s a  Broadway musical and subsequent Julie Andrews film which basically molded the stereotypical “Alps” landscape into all of our brains.* This hike offers spectacular views of the lake, mixes open cliffs with forests, and offers thick carpets of wildflowers. It also gets steep and at times you’ll have to hang onto steel cables and really pay attention to your steps. If you truly hate heights, avoid it, but if you are generally ok, be careful and try it. While the hike takes several hours, it doesn’t take all day. At the top you’ll be rewarded with fresh cake, beer, bratwurst, and salad at the Kuehroint hut, where you can also spend the night if you want to continue your hiking fun up the Watzmann mountain the next day (and yes, you’ll want to do that).Hiking-in-the-German-AlpsGoing-hiking-in-the-German-AlpsProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetHiking-in-the-German-AlpsKuehroint-hutte-Watzmann-German-AlpsCows-in-the-German-Alpsgerman-bratwurst-after-hikingHiking-in-the-German-Alps

Summer in the Austrian Alps

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The best thing about the Alps, well, one of many things, is the color of the lakes. Clear turquoise green, which scream summer. Jump in!

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The ice cream below means it’s summer. Yes, it does.

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We spent a weekend at the Wolfgangsee in Austria last summer. Though the Alps weren’t all that high surrounding the lake, we still managed a hike up the Scharfberg with an elevation gain of over 3,000 feet in a few hours. To be honest, I was beat! Unlike in the U.S., where, when hiking, most peaks are barren of people and wilderness is the rule, the Alps often have a ‘hut’ atop them. Aka, a full fledged hotel and restaurant. This means you can get schnitzel and beer and cake. Calories burned on a heart pounding run up a mountain are instantly restored. I would say both situations have pros and cons.

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The two chaps above were wearing matching outfits with Lederhosen. Because Austria!

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Look how happy this cow is. So happy! If you lived here, you would be too.

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Vis à Vis in Vis. Croatia That Is.

Old doors in Croatia

Traveling to Croatia was really my first time visiting what I’ll call the Mediterranean, even if we were really in the Adriatic Sea. Coming from California, I was curious to see if there would be similarities or differences – would the red wine be as dark and bone dry, the landscape as scruffy, the sun hot on the oleander and lavender? The answers are yes, yes, yes, but in a completely different format. The old stone building and walls, the vineyards established in Roman times, the cypress and pine, and of course (my favorite), the clear, stone dappled waters of the Adriatic: this was and is not California, the new world, but a place where the philosophers of old are still looking down on their people.

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We willingly stranded ourselves on the island of Vis for several days. This small place can be found here, a ferry ride away from Split. We visited in the off season, in May, and it was quiet. I little too quiet. The smooth stone streets were silent in the afternoon heat, the restaurants relatively subdued. But the town was beautiful, and we explored on foot. Squat palms and vines waved silently in the yards of green shuttered summer homes, abandoned in the pre tourist season. Sailboats touring the Adriatic were moored directly at the town’s edge, the drop-off into the sea looking so turquoise and inviting I had to stop myself from jumping in each time. In May, the water was still pretty cold, though we did swim (no brainer). In my memory of Vis, I remember quiet, calm, a few lonely cats outside the fish restaurants.

One day we rented a zippy little convertible and headed to a windy hill, taking in the vistas, then hiking down to a secluded beach cove. Another day we walked and walked, never intending to go as far as we did, but eventually dragging ourselves into a once grand Soviet area seaside hotel, now desolate except for us, a TV, and an grey haired man in a wifebeater, who poured two cokes from glass bottles in the shade of the veranda. We saw old forts and graveyards and Roman ruins and Tito’s hiding place for submarines (yes, that’s a thing). We listened to teenage girls sing “I cannot wait, take me to United STATE!” over and over on the bus ride to the neighboring village of Komiza, and, as we ate ice creams at the end of the day, we watched the huge, storied Jadrolina ferry cruise into port, bringing and taking tourists, commerce, commuters, supplies and bustling life in an otherwise sleepy town.

Sometimes walking around Vis I thought: “this is like Disneyland! Like Pirates of the Caribbean!” And then: “what kind of reference point is this?” Why do Americans have Disneyland as a some sort of benchmark or stand-in for exotic experiences? How have I reduced Croatia, stomping ground for Romans, Habsburgs, Ottomans, Hungarians, Venetians, Croatian Kings, and Napoleon, to a fake kingdom ruled by a mouse in red underpants?

From my experience, I would say go for 3 days, and then explore other nearby islands, such as Hvar, which is a bit bigger and more lively (a good or bad thing depending on the season). Position yourself on a beach with a good book and go for a swim. Eat fresh fish at Pojoda or these other resto’s. And while in town, grab a bench in the shade and watch local life go by.

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