Diary of a Traveling Friend: Tuscany

 

Amy in Siena Square

Welcome my friend Amy, who just returned from a well-deserved trip to Italy.

 

Thanks for the post, darling!

I just got back from a five-day trip to Florence, and one of my favorite parts was a day trip to Tuscany. I booked the trip (Tuscany in One Day Sightseeing Tour) through Viator, and the tour guide, Becky, was awesome. We left Florence at about 8:30am and drove through the countryside.

Our first stop was in Siena, a beautiful medieval town. We walked through the town, first stopping to see the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the oldest surviving bank in the world. We also ventured through the Siena Duomo, where four statues are attributed to Michelangelo. We also saw the Piazza del Campo, which our tour guide told us is the third most beautiful square in the world. (Piazza San Marco in Venice is supposed to be the second most beautiful, and I can’t remember what No. 1 is!) We got a bit of free time to walk around the city, and I bought a beautiful cutting board made of olive wood and some homemade doughnuts. Yum!

We then drove to an organic farm and vineyard called Poggio Alloro, in San Gimignano, another small Tuscan town. We did a wine tasting of four wines and had an amazing lunch of homemade pasta, cheeses, and salads. The food was so fresh, and we had a typical Tuscan dessert (almond biscotti dipped in dessert wine). After lunch, we drove to the town of San Gimignano and had some free time to walk around and view the amazing scenery.

Our last stop was Pisa, which is much more touristy than the other towns—but it was so much fun to see the Leaning Tower. All in all, the day was filled with great scenery and great food. I definitely recommend taking this tour if you have an extra day in Florence!

 

Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (the oldest surviving bank in the world)

 

a church

 

 

 

 

Nothing beats lunch in Italy

 

 

Michelangelo statue

 

 

San Gimignano

 

 

 

San Gimignano

 

 

Diary of a (New) Traveling Friend

The author and the object of her affection on a work trip in Brussels

Welcome my second guest blogger, my good friend (and travel buddy to Oktoberfest) Carla. After sharing this flamenco story with me via email, I felt like it needed to be shared with the rest of the world as well. So without further adu, here’s to Carla…

I’m currently sitting in my hotel room in Seville, setting of the famed opera Carmen.  This, one of the most famous operas of all time, centers on a feisty young woman whose name also begins with “C-A-R”.  There are slight differences between Carmen and me, as she works in a cigar factory, is known for her loose morals, and quite notably, stabbed her coworker in the face (actually, let that be a lesson…).

Anyway, aside from Carmen (and its famous barber, to cite another opera), the city is renowned for its flamenco.  So, I made sure to take in a flamenco show last evening, as it was my final night in the city.

But as I watched the dancers, my mind wandered back to New York City and back to a certain man, Stuart.

Continue reading

Diary of a Traveling Friend: More of India

More from my amazing traveling friend’s photo diary:

Varanasi early morning boat ride down the Ganga River

People bathing in ghats of the Holy River

Crossing the pre-monsoon season bridge

Red Fort in Old Delhi

Red Fort

Delhi by night

The gorgeous Taj Mahal

Golden Temple in Amritsar

Nighttime falls on the Golden Temple

India/Pakistan border ceremony

Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama

Happy Birthday to the Dalai Lama!

Monsoon flooding on the way to Manali

Bike ride from Manali to Nagar

Vishisht, view of the Himalayas

Talented tightrope-walking gal

Diary of a Traveling Friend: Annapurna Base Camp

Here’s a little update from my fabulous traveling friend, seeing as how I am currently grounded after my own fabulous, fantastic trip…

Start of the Annapurna Base Camp hike

First Sight of Annapurna South

Man U fans at the top of the Himalayas

ABC from a distance

The peace loving gals left signs all around the base camp

Sunset at the ABC

Annapurna South Face

Sunrise at Tatapani

Diary of a Traveling Friend: More Thailand Adventures

May 16, 2010

Just wanted to say another quick hello before we head off to trek. We got to Nepal last night and it’s a  pretty interesting city. We will be trekking for about 2-3 weeks in the Annapurna region, staying in little tea houses with no power along the way and roughing it.

The full moon party in Thailand was absolute madness. We stayed in these amazing bungalows on the Ko Phangan. The Red Bull is literally like crack and we were wired all night. The night was filled with fire jump roping, fire ring jumping, fire dancing and slides into water puddles. Everyone was all painted up and sweaty dancing messes—super fun night!

Next we went to Karbi and Ton Sai beach, which had amazing rock climbing, both with ropes and over the deep water. We took a ferry to a mini-bus to a bus (then the bus broke down and another one came 3 hours later) to a bus to a tuk tuk to a train to a taxi and we made it to the North (Chiang Mai) 48 hours later. Chiang Mai was really nice, but still a bit touristy, so we decided to go off the beaten path and head to Chiang Rai, which was 3 hours away. In Chiang Rai we went Hill Tribe treking, which was a crazy experience! We trekked for 3 days in 100 degree heat and stayed in bamboo huts and experienced local culture. Our guide was from the Hill Tribe we visited on the last day, so we were able to meet her family. She actually suffered from insomnia and had a ceremony scheduled to get her spirit back, so we got to see it. First they slaughtered a pig, chicken and dog. Then they prayed for 1.5 hours, then shook a bamboo stick and flipped some leaves, at which time the spirit doctor told us her spirit has returned…which was obviously great news. Then he prayed for 1.5 hours more, and we feasted on all the animals that were killed. Yup, I tried dog. Just a little piece though, and it wasn’t that bad with a lot of rice and chili paste. In Chaing Rai we also rented bicycles and biked to some temples. They pretty much don’t have any traffic laws in Thailand, so it was a pretty scary and cool experience. We also wore helmets, and all the locals were laughing at us because a) we were tourists biking everywhere and b) no one wears helmets. Also in Chiang Rai we ran into some Spanish boys we met in Chiang Mai (from the Canary Islands). We drank with them and went to a Thai disco where we were the only Westerners. The disco was a bunch of Lady Gaga type performers and Thai’s swaying their little booties……

Diary of a Traveling Friend: More of Gorgeous Northern Thailand

While I unfortunately missed a Skype call last night to discuss in further detail how my friend’s amazing trip has been, I do have more fantastic photos to share. Look, and envy:

Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai

Doi Suthep Temple, Chiang Mai

Being a faithful Buddhist follower

Chiang Rai at the start of hill tribe trekking

Elephant Trekking

Up close and personal

trekked in 100 degree heat to Lahu tribe village

having stare downs with the local cows in rice paddies

White Temple Chiang Rai

Diary of a Traveling Friend: A Photo Essay to Envy

Courtesy of my amazing traveling friend, take in the gorgeousness that is New Zealand and Thailand, seen through her eyes:

From New Zealand:

Auckland City

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

New Zealand sunset

Bay of Islands in Northland

A funky New Zealand bathroom

Ta Mahuta Kauri trees

Mauri Temple

Hot Pools Rotorua

And on to Thailand: Locations include Baan Dada, Erawan Falls, Koh Phangan, Ton Sai

View from Bungalows

Ton Sai beach

Deep water soloing = climbing on rocks without ropes (also = my nightmare)

As an aside, my traveling friend and her traveling companion also happen to be volunteering at orphanages and clinics along the way which, as you can imagine, also allow for some amazingly adorable photos of kids. However, for the sake of the kiddies privacy, I have refrained from posting those particular photos. It was hard. They’re adorable.

Bis bald, friends!


Diary of a Traveling Friend: The Beginning

Traveling down hill in a plastic ball filled with water? Sign me up!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a friend who is currently traveling around Asia volunteering, camping and just generally having the time of her life. Before she left, she mentioned that I could post some updates on her travels from time-to-time. So let this be the first in a series of email entries from her months-long adventure:

Date: 4/26/2010

Just wanted to write a quick e-mail while waiting for the bus and update you girls on my travels. New Zealand was amazing! Totally beautiful (both landscapes and boys). We rented a camper van and cruised around the island in it, camping in random spots along the road. We spent a good chunk of time in the central part of the North island and went on some really nice hikes, bungee jumping, ATVing, Zorbing (where they put you in a plastic ball with water and roll you down a hill), went to some wineries and saw some Kiwi birds!

Thailand is really cool and really, really hot! The minute you start moving (or not moving), sweat is pouring down your back. We went to see some really cool waterfalls where the fish nibble at your dead skin on your feet, so I got a cheap pedi. Also went up to see a friend who is working at an orphanage on the Burmese border and spent a few days up there hanging with the kids. They were all little monkeys, climbing on everything, including us. Hanging out in a small town outside of Bangkok now, which is nice and not extremely touristy. Leaving in about an hour to head down south for the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, so should have some interesting stories after that.

Miss ya girls, and would love for you to join us at any point!

Muchisimo Besos xoxox

I’ve emailed said friend back, imploring her for photos and as much more info as her little fingers can type (because, you know, I’d like to live vicariously through her!) Although she can’t call or text with her international phone, she can receive texts, so I’ll be sure to remind her of my need for constant updates.

Till next time, bis bald friends!