On the Road Again, thanks to Home Exchange

Geneva

Geneva

This blog is mostly about travels in Italy, which is my favorite place to be. But when an opportunity to visit Switzerland came our way, we couldn’t resist. We had joined the Home Exchange community for some short trips in the U.S. then we got a nice offer from Morges, Switzerland, on Lake Geneva.

Morges, Switzerland

Morges, Switzerland

If you become addicted to travel as we have, you start to seek out ways to economize on your adventures. We started staying in apartments instead of hotels, which was always less expensive. We not only saved on the cost of lodging, but we also saved on meals that we could cook at home. We usually found a place with a washing machine, which was also very convenient when traveling. Continue reading

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Visiting San Diego—Without a Car

 

The Ferry stop at Coronado

The Ferry stop at Coronado

I was born and raised in San Diego, California, but a recent trip was the first time I explored this city without a car. The birthplace of California, and the second largest city spreads out quite a bit —to over 72 square miles. With a less than perfect bus system, it was almost necessary to have a car in order to get around. But finally, there’s a better way to explore this beautiful coastal city. It’s not perfect, but the San Diego Trolley covers a lot of important sites. Here’s how you can visit San Diego without being stuck (too much) on the freeway. Continue reading

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10 Reasons to visit Bellingham in the Summertime

Mt. Baker & Bellingham Bay

Mt. Baker & Bellingham Bay

My hometown of Bellingham is one of the best places to spend the summer. The days are long—more than 16 hours of sunlight—without bugs or humidity. The temperatures are perfect for exploring Bellingham Bay, hanging out in town or hiking in the mountains. Here’s my list of favorites:

Gato Verde at Vendovi Island

Gato Verde at Vendovi Island

1. Bellingham Bay
There are plenty of options for spending time on Bellingham Bay and the nearby San Juan Islands. Gato Verde, a 40 foot diesel hybrid Catamaran is one of my favorites. You can choose a sunset cruise or charter it for longer trips. Skipper, Todd Shuster makes any trip fun with his knowledge of nature and the island ecology.

You can also go Whale Watching with a variety of companies. During the summer, pods of Orca whales can usually be found on the west side of San Juan Island. San Juan Cruises includes a nice stop at Friday Harbor midway. It’s also easy to rent kayaks and other small boats at the Community Boating Center for a more adventurous trip on the bay. Continue reading

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Language School in Lucca

Lucca's San Marino Cathedral

Lucca’s San Marino Cathedral

The long gap between this blog and the last is due to my twelve day immersion into the Italian Language. Going to a language school in Italy is a fun way to meet more locals and get a better introduction to an area. It’s like having a host family in your town.

Classmates from around the world at Lucca Italian School

Classmates from around the world at Lucca Italian School

I finally landed in Lucca thanks to the Studentessa Matta aka Melissa Muldoon, who writes a fun blog and organizes groups to study in Italy. When I saw the trip to Lucca, I decided to sign up. I knew that Lucca was a beautiful walled town between Florence and Pisa, and not far from the western coast of Tuscany. It was the perfect base for gaining more skills in speaking the bella lingua.

In the mornings, we attended classes at Lucca Italian School, located just outside the city walls. The school offered many levels of Italian, so we joined other international students for morning classes. The classes were lively and engaging and the mornings flew by. In the afternoons and evenings, we participated in a wide variety of experiences around Lucca that were organized by Melissa and the school staff.  Continue reading

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A River Walk in Tuscany

Bridge & start of trail

Bridge & start of trail

Volterra is a short drive to the town of Colle di Val d’Elsa — a beautiful and low-key town in Western Tuscany-the province of Siena. There is an upper part, that is older and more historical, with a castle (and a moat), a museum and several beautiful palazzos. An elevator takes you to the lower part of town with more locals populating the pleasant piazzas, doing their shopping, working and stopping for lunch in tasty restaurants.

Moat & Castello di Piticciano

Moat & Castello di Piticciano

Quiet old town

Quiet old town

We chose a Monday for our visit, so almost all sites are closed in the old Centro Storico. except the friendly TI office. The upper, old town was very quiet and almost deserted. It was a great place to walk around and admire the medieval stone buildings without any traffic or tour groups to spoil your photos. It almost felt as if we were trespassing. Continue reading

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Volterra—Wind and Stone

Volterra

Volterra

My husband has a saying about gelato—the best gelato is the one you have in your hand. I could say something similar about Italian hill towns. The best town is the one you’re in.

Countryside near Volterra

Countryside near Volterra

In order to explore more in western Tuscany, we decided to stay in the hill town of Volterra for five days. It’s position high above three different valleys provides nice breezes on a hot day and exciting spring storms. And, in May, the weather can change quite rapidly. For instance, one day a rather hefty rainstorm lasted less than one hour. Then, it sprinkled a bit and soon, the cumulus clouds and sun returned for the rest of the day.

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The Gardens of La Foce

Gardens and Monte Amiata

Gardens and Monte Amiata

We were so glad we had a chance to visit the La Foce Gardens, near Chiancino Terme in Tuscany. A good friend sent me a link to the recent NY Times article by David Larkin, and it sounded too good to miss.

Garden Hours

Garden Hours

Luckily, the day we were driving to Siena was a Wednesday, one of the days that the gardens have tours (the others are the weekends).

The tours start at three, four and five in the afternoon. You don’t have to make a reservation, just show up and purchase your ticket.

Continue reading

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