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.

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A Few Reasons to Venture to Umbria

Umbria in May

Umbria in May

Tuscany gets all the press, but Umbria has its own special perks. Here are a few of my favorite reasons to venture into the “green heart of Italy”.

Country roads with lush scenery and no tolls

Driving in Italy may sound intimidating, but if you rent a car at an airport outside of a city, such as Bologna, or Pisa, it can be fairly easy. If you don’t know how to drive with a clutch, you will pay more for a rental car. Once you get away from the big cities, driving is fun. In Umbria, there are hundreds of beautiful country roads that wind past the orderly vineyards and olive orchards or climb the green hills leading to historic hill towns. Stop for wine or olive oil tastings or explore a walled village.

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Day Hikes near Sulmona

Sentiero della Libertà

Sentiero della Libertà

The month of May is usually warm and sunny in Italy, but this year, it turned unseasonably cold the week we arrived in the Abruzzo Region. We decided to be flexible and were fortunate to fit in a few nice day hikes. One day we hiked in the National Forest of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise near Pescasseroli, the other day, we hiked a trail in the National Forest of the Majella.

For our first excursion, we drove through the beautiful Sagittarius Gorge that winds through the forests past rivers and lakes to the towns of Scanno, Villa Barea, Opi and Pescasseroli. Each town has its own special characteristics and history. Continue reading

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