Monday, December 18, 2017

Walking (and Eating!) the Waterfront, Somewhere in Italy . . . .

 Simple pleasures here on the coast of Italy, somewhere in Lazio province. . . After the Little Ex-Pat heads off to daycare, we're off-duty until pick-up time in the late afternoon (on the weekend, the four of us -- son-in-law, g'daughter, Pater and I -- adventured together; perhaps more on that later). We're not yet ready to try heading into Rome for the day, nervous about getting back before the daycare closes its doors for the day.
 But there are some pleasant local walks, such as this one along the working waterfront, and you can see that Pater has had to be patient as I indulged my fascination with the industrial aesthetics of well-worn fishing gear.
 There's a sad, even tawdry, beauty about the faded plastic colours of these late-modern industrial materials that we all know now are degrading into the oceans of the world, being consumed by the fish -- which we're catching in greater and greater numbers because these contemporary materials are too efficient.
 So my admiration for this evidence of human labour, skill, centuries of tradition twisted into its 21st-century manifestation, is conflicted, to say the very least. (We've watched fishermen mend their nets along this promenade, shouting back and forth to each other as they darn, just as their forebears must have done long ago.)
But it's there, no denying it, that admiration. Fascination, even . . . .

 Less conflicted, I must admit, about eating the catch in a nearby restaurant. . . I think we could get used to this routine -- a long walk or bike ride in the morning, a leisurely lunch, some quiet time back home, and then the pick-up of the Little Ex-Pat.
Today, we're going to check out the local bike routes, and see what appetites we work up and what eatery we'll choose to satisfy them. A tough gig. . .

And you, my readers, you will all be busy, busy, busy with myriad Christmas preparations. Don't forget to breathe. . . And be sure to check in tomorrow, if you can find a minute -- I have something fun for you (at least, I had fun writing the post, and I'm hoping you'll enjoy reading it).

Friday, December 15, 2017

Paris to Rome, via Zurich? By Train? And Here's Why. . . .

We're settling in at our daughter's after a week of planes and trains and four different beds, glad to be able to unpack and stay for a while. She and our son-in-law are dropping the Wee Italian Girl at daycare now, and then he's dropping her at the train for yoga camp, and Nana and Granddad are on Support Duty. We have our days free, and we'll spend this morning plotting transit and bike routes, trying to avoid using the car as much as possible for the sake of our nerves!

But I thought that before we do that, I'd share a few photos of our train ride through the Swiss Alps on the Bernina Express.  Our trip to Italy this time is centred around a three-week commitment to help with the Wee Italian while my daughter's away, but I wanted to add a special portion just for us, and something that wouldn't demand too many additional days. And, as you will already know if you visit this blog often, we prefer trains over planes for travel between European cities, when that works.  So after a full day (and two nights) in Paris to catch our breath after the nine-hour flight, we travelled from Gare de Lyon to Zurich HB -- that's us in Zurich, above.

And the next morning (early, the next morning!), we caught a train from Zurich to Chur, and at Chur we boarded the cheery red Bernina Express and began our five-hour (roughly) journey through the Alps, climbing gradually to 2200 metres before wending our way downward to Tirano, on the border of Switzerland and Italy.

The weather wasn't ideal for maximizing the views possible -- it has been raining copiously, and the route was wreathed, sometimes thickly blanketed, with fog. Still, pretty enough, no?

And then in spots, the sun had insisted on its way, the fog or clouds parted, and we got a sense of just how dazzling this route must be on a clear, cold day in January.

As it was, even in early December, there was much magnificence!

These photos, of course, are all taken through the generous windows of the Express -- for the darker portions of the trip, the reflections from the lighting inside the coach made photography's worth questionable, so I just settled back and absorbed. But it was tough not to try and record, as we'd round another corner and gasp. . . .

Especially cool were the sections where the track curved enough that we could look ahead and see the train cars in front of us drawing swoops of red on the snowy background, the snow melting its white into the more variegated light of the clouds above. . .
This valley, below. . . this elicited those gasps I mentioned above, and I'm happy that one of my desperate snaps (turn the camera back on again, then realize there's a bank of trees between me and the scene that's just gobsmacked me, then get a clear shot, then realize the camera wasn't focused, then try again, feeling the carriage curving into an angle that will deny the shot -- hurry! hurry!) captured this to share with you.

Maybe I wouldn't have preferred that clear, sunny day after all . . . I mean, this drama. . .
Probably the coolest part of the day was when we hit the famous Brusio spiral viaduct. We travelled above those stone arches (built in 1908), and then followed the track around in a spiral that then looped through an archway, as you can tell in the photo below. The viaduct was built to allow a descent to happen safely, at a maximum of 7% gradient.
Wonderful photos of trains spiralling across this structure abound on the Internet, many taken by professional photographers from well-chosen vantage points outside the train. If you've seen those, mine obviously pale in comparison. But there's something about being inside and part of that spiral, looking ahead and behind to see the front and back of the train playing geometric tricks, that's worth trying to capture, at least. . .

We're already considering taking a ride through again, perhaps in late spring, perhaps even budgeting time to stop overnight along the way. The Bernina Express was a wonderful experience (in second class, great seats, lovely international companions, one very helpful attendant -- who excitedly pointed out the "steinbock" on the mountainside, a group of mountain goats, what a thrill! -- and made sure everyone was able to locate them), but the route is served throughout the day by the regular regional trains -- a slower passage, perhaps, but a more flexible schedule. 

I must mention here that I learned of the Bernina Express through The Man in Seat 61, a resource gem if you're at all interested in train travel (throughout the world).  We've been following The Man's train-travel advice for years -- he tells you how and when and what connections are most efficient or what detours are worthwhile; when is 1st-class worth the price difference and when is it not; how to get the best value for your money, sometimes by buying your ticket through a slightly different approach. He also guided us through last year's travel from Venice to Zagreb.

But now it's time to go plan a more modest adventure, one that will take us by foot or by bike to a table in some welcoming restaurant not far from the Mediterranean where we'll enjoy some seasonal specialty or other for lunch. Drink a glass or two of wine. And surely a long afternoon nap as we enjoy a quiet place to ourselves for the first time in over a week (We're hardy enough travellers, we think, for a mid-60s couple, but it's been tiring, and a few of those nights in the different beds were sleepless ones). Then the Wee Italian will be home from daycare, trailing her Papa behind her (he's doing pick-up today; our turn next week).  So I'm not sure how much time I'll have for responding to comments, but I welcome and love reading them . . . 

A dopo . . . 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Two Nights, One Day, in Paris. . . .

 The Wifi connection isn't stellar here, and I'm guarding my Paris time, but we're relaxing in our hotel room between meals, so I thought I'd post a few words and photos. Today's weather was splendid -- sunny, mild, and the rain that had been forecast held off until we were almost back from our day's meandering. (The destination was to the magical windows of the Grands Magasins on Boulevard Hausmann; I'll be sharing videos of those on Instagram as soon as I get a strong enough signal.)

The photos in this post are just a few of those I took yesterday evening, strolling in the neighbourhood after a much-needed nap. The flight had gone smoothly -- my seatmate was pleasant enough, not much more inclined to chat than I; we were 90 minutes late leaving, but only 45 arriving; I checked my carry-on case for a change, so I didn't have to worry about finding an empty overhead for it, although there was ample room when I boarded.  The lineup to go through the Border Police at CDG took about 25 minutes, so not too bad, and by the time I got through, my case was on the carousel. Almost no line-up to buy my RER ticket -- 10 Euros takes you to central Paris, and I was lucky to be on an Express with no stops until Gare du Nord, so in almost no time I was stepping out into sunshine right by Fontaine St. Michel, blinking at the bright day and getting my bearings for that sweet, sweet walk along St. Germain.
 I love being in Paris with Pater, and I was very glad he'd be joining me later, but I have to say there's something delicious about getting here on my own that makes all the trepidation worthwhile. Equally delicious is being recognised right away at the hotel, about having a favourite brasserie or two in the neighbourhood, and then strolling in a mantle of comfortable anonymity. Beyond basic civility, I have very few responsibilities in this city, and that strikes me as a welcome luxury for the moment.
 Pater, meanwhile, was taking a longer route, flying a different airline and stopping in Heathrow for several hours (his schedule requires an earlier return, so will be from a different city).  While he was enjoying a full English breakfast in the late English afternoon, I was peering into gorgeous windows and chuckling at toddlers howling wolf-style at cardboard foxes. . . .(this shop--a Chinese subsidiary, I believe, of Hermès, does the most exquisite windows -- I'll try to remember to show you more later).
 A closer view of the fox that invited the wolf howls from a very young passer-by, one of those delightful moments that serendipity delivers in this city.
 Given that I'd arrived mid-morning after a nine-hour flight on which I'd only managed a half-hour's sleep, I was quite content to spend my afternoon here strolling and then napping between meals. Lunch at Le Nemrod, a brasserie about 70 metres away, and dinner at Le Rousseau, a brasserie perhaps 20 metres further. Not particularly adventurous, but I felt modestly sophisticated, sitting on my own, looking out into a room of mainly French-speaking diners, and tucking into my Foie de Veau, with a side plate of haricots verts, and a very nice glass of Brouilly. Simple pleasures.
And then Pater arrived about 11 p.m. and the next thing we knew it was 10 this morning. A happy day of walking and looking at windows and having a very decent, rather traditional, very bon marché lunch at Bouillon Chartier. Again, simple pleasures. But what a splendid way to acclimate, to reset, after the unnatural dislocation of trans-continental air travel. We're off to dinner soon, and then an early night, so that we're ready for another day's travel tomorrow, this time at a considerably more human pace, by train.

Not sure whether I'll post again here before we get to Rome, but do check in on Instagram to see what city we land in tomorrow as well as to share in my admiration for Paris Christmas windows. And know that even if I don't find time to respond, as sometimes happens when I'm travelling, I'm reading and appreciating any comments you are kind enough to leave.  

Friday, December 8, 2017

Time to Zip It! My Travel Case, That Is: One Carry-On, Five Weeks in Europe

 I'll be heading to the airport in a few hours, so it's time to show/tell you what I've packed before I zip the bags closed. I'll be away for five weeks: three weeks and a bit at our daughter's (with laundry facilities!) and then ten days involving train travel and four different hotels. If you're curious about packing for carry-on-only travel, you might also like to check out this post, where I've collated links to earlier trips.

Temperatures will be warmer near Rome, our main destination (currently mid-teens, Celsius, but could dip below 10). When I land in Paris, it looks like rain, perhaps heavy rain, and quite cool-ish, although not quite freezing. Going through the Swiss Alps, though, might be quite chilly, and I'll be glad of the cashmere, merino, down, layers, although we'll mostly be in the train or hotel. Turin is holding out the possibility of greeting us with snow for our overnight visit. . . . So comfort was definitely a consideration, even while wanting to be dressed well enough for Paris and Rome and Zurich.

Above, my Rimowa carry-on, the contents neatly controlled in Eagle Creek packing bags. I love these very thin, light bags for the way they allow me to unpack and repack easily if I'm only staying one to three nights at a place, and especially if I'm doing a sequence of short stays.
 But I realize that this method doesn't let you see what I've packed, so for the first time, I've written lists of what each bag holds (I think this might be useful for me as well): In the red bag above, I've packed: A navy velvet dress; black microfibre pants; black floral print silk blouse; black lightweight cashmere cardigan; black tights; black merino knit pencil skirt. And yes, that's a lot for a bag that size -- they have a slight compression effect, very handy, and in the corners you can see my black runners

The blue Eagle Creek bag above holds my new black cashmere turtleneck, as well as a silk scarf.

In the corners of the compartment you can see my black runners (stuffed with underwear, socks). You can't see the electrical adaptor, nor my sunglasses, nor the three picture books and little dress I'm bringing my g'daughter. I've also slipped a couple of exercise resistance bands for the workouts my trainer planned for me (30-minute circuits that can be done with very little equipment to keep me on track with fitness goals even while I'm traveling). I've also found room to tuck in a mini-paintbox.

Below, you can see that I've packed a small, light cross-body bag for days when my shoulders can't deal with my larger one. Along the outside edges I've packed my black-gold metallic Oxfords, one stuffed with my red scarf, another with a small fascial-release ball.
 And another red bag in this compartment, as you see above,  holds my running/exercise gear -- sports bra, running tights, and long-sleeved technical T. It also contains a pair of jeans, a lightweight paisley-print merino pullover, and a cat-print ivory sweatshirt. This last item is a bit of a wild card for me -- I rarely include sweatshirts as they're just too bulky for my purposes and really, cotton isn't a versatile fibre for winter. But I suspect the lifestyle I'll be stepping into at my daughter's home might require something a bit more relaxed, even, than my jeans and sweaters, and a sweatshirt is much easier to launder than a cashmere or merino pullover.  . . 

The green bag holds toothbrush, dental floss, hair pick comb, etc. and will also hold all the liquid cosmetics currently sequestered in a zip-loc bag for security screening. I decided I have enough room to bring along that little roller you can see in the top right corner -- I just KNOW I'm going to miss my big foam roller so much!

I haven't bothered photographing my backpack with its contents, but it's a very manageable daypack with zippered compartments that organize my MacBook Air, my iPad Mini (both in lightweight cases, the latter in an M0851 pouch that doubles as a clutch).  I have the iPad loaded up with e-books on both the Kobo app and on my OverDrive app (with Vancouver Public Library books), so I don't need to pack print books. I have a Uniqlo down jacket in its very small pouch packed in here -- doubles as a neck pillow, very handy. A small pouch with my knitting: a few rows of a soon-to-be sock on wooden double-point needles. The adaptor for my iPhone. My Moleskine notebook. And a wool beret and mini-umbrella.

There, I'm ready to go, right?
Here's what I'll be wearing, as snapped in a changeroom the other day. A pair of skinny jeans because they work so well with boots -- and yes, I've decided to take these Fluevog boots, despite their definitely-not-neutral acid-green. I've just been enjoying their comfort so much lately (and honestly, always getting positive comments from complete strangers) that I decided to take a chance on them for travel. Wearing them here with the Aritzia sweater that's also been getting so much play because it's simple and comfortable and chic enough. Just barely enough, maybe, for Paris, but it will do, especially when worn underneath this coat (scroll down) which is also coming along.

Oh, and the new sweater I tried on in that changeroom, and bought, and packed?
I know, you can't really tell with all the black, but mmmmmmm, like wearing a hug. . .

And speaking of hugs, here's a big good-bye hug for all of you, and I'll post soon from a city full of Christmas sparkle. xo
p.s. as usual when traveling, I'm likely to post more on Instagram than on the blog. Feel free to Follow me there or just pop in for a look occasionally.

p.p.s Am I forgetting something? Anything? Better not tell me now, right? ;-)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

OOTD (When The Jeans Are All Packed For Travel)

Just one more day now . . . I'm guessing I'm not the only one who experiences anxiety the day before a flight.  Luckily, it's the transition time, the anticipation, that I find a bit tough, and once I'm through the Boarding Gate, I'm usually pretty good.

No anxiety about the packing. That's all done, and I'll post a list of what's in my carry-on case and what's in my (small, day) backpack tomorrow with a photo or two to testify that it all fits.

Meanwhile, these last few days, with my favourite daily go-to garments packed (both pairs of best jeans! my cosiest sweater!), I've remembered how much I love wearing this winter skirt. Sue (at High Heels in the Wilderness) posted the other day about her well-curated wardrobe perhaps needing a wild card now and wondered if a midi skirt might be the answer. In reply, I had to say how much I've enjoyed wearing this one -- some ten years old now, bought at The Gap, surprisingly enough,  and worn regularly every winter since. Shall we call it Bluestocking Chic? Remarkably comfortable to wear, and I like to think that any possible fustiness (the grey flannel pleats, the buttoned-up cashmere cardi) is mitigated by the shoes. . . and then my worn leather moto jacket. . . and perhaps that red scarf. . .

The small, simple crossbody bag, by the way, is the one whose zipper I mended a couple of weeks ago. It's a gem for urban walking, and is definitely coming to Europe with me.

The curls are coming as well, but they will be shorter and perhaps a bit subdued after today's visit to my stylist.  . . . (now if only I could subdue those pre-travel jitters . . . )

So one more quick post (tomorrow) before I'm off the ground and reporting to you from a certain Christmas-bedecked city. . . meanwhile, I'm curious: do you have a "Nothing to Wear" moment once your suitcase is packed? Or do you leave packing 'til the last moment for that very reason?

Monday, December 4, 2017

'Tis the Season . . . To Leave Town?

First Monday in December, and I look back to see that this time last year we were still jet-lagged, preparing for a first Christmas in our new home, a condo we'd only lived in for a few weeks before heading off for ten weeks in Europe. Waves of reality were crashing: we had no dining table or chairs yet, despite our plans to host Christmas dinner, and I grumbled about not being able to find my boots. . . or the scissors. . . . or . . 
These Nandina domestica -- Heavenly Bamboo -- berries are so festive. If only, they weren't so toxic to birds. . . .

In sharp contrast, this first December Monday sees us packing up to head to a small town near Rome.  Other than planning and packing for the trip (lists, lists, and more lists!), this Christmas promises to be the least stressful/easiest ever, although I've yet to know how I'll feel about leaving our three families here to celebrate without us. Our condo will be full while we're away: first, one family will take refuge from their kitchen reno; then the out-of-town crew will use it as a home base for their holiday visit; and on Christmas Day, our kids, their partners, and the grandkids will cook and enjoy their turkey dinner in our kitchen. Who knows,  there may even be decorations here, perhaps a tree for Santa to put a visiting two-year-old's gifts under, but all my Christmas boxes are staying in storage.

Nor am I rushing to buy and wrap gifts to be opened in my absence. Santa is always generous to these little ones, and I've decided that we give enough through the year to give us a Free Pass this Christmas. I am going to try to pick up a few picture books for the Italian Three (there's obviously a dearth of those where she lives and they don't take up much space), and I hope to make a trip into Rome to drool over toys at Al Sogno (finally, thank you Georgia!) where I'll be happy for an excuse to buy something for a girl I rarely get to see open her presents.

I expect to enjoy Christmas decorations in the various cities we'll pass through on our way to our destination, and I'm excited to see how Rome gussies up for the holiday, but meanwhile, this morning my short run in the neighbourhood took me past these baubles on a trees bare limbs. Of course, the photo sent me searching back through previous posts -- to the Christmas before last, our last Christmas on our little island, where our neighbours decorated similarly albeit in a much different setting. So many changes in that relatively short span of two years, some of them wrenching. But overall, I'm happy to report, I feel very lucky to be heading off to visit our family in Europe, and I know that when I get back in January, this urban condo will welcome me home.

For now, though, I've got those lists. And lists. . . .Only four more sleeps. . . .

Friday, December 1, 2017

Time to Pack, Carry-On Only

Okay, this little one isn't coming in the suitcase, but I have no other Visuals for you today, and I couldn't resist posting a photo of the little doll I knit for a certain redheaded granddaughter's birthday this week. Giving in, on Sunday, to the impulse to make her, managing to complete her on time for the Birthday Dinner Monday evening -- yep, that's put me behind schedule all week. Well worth it, I must say (and I still found enough time yesterday evening to watch Home Alone -- again! -- with the Newly Nine. Priorities, right?)

But despite the detours and the distractions, I'm closing in on the packing for next week's travel.  I think I've pulled together all the pieces I need, and now I just need to spend some time testing presumed combinations to see if they really work, then work out the laundry timing so that the garments I'm not ready to pack away yet are ready to go by the time I leave for the airport and that my carry-on actually closes and is a manageable weight (it's a Rimowa, in case you're curious, the Salsa Air, ever so light).

Once I know everything works and the case can be zipped, I'll post on what I'm bringing, but meanwhile, a reader asked me if I could point her towards some of my earlier posts on travelling with only carry-on luggage. This seemed a good opportunity to gather these together, so here they are:

From way back in 2008, this one and this one, when we travelled for three weeks late May, early June, Paris-Portugal, no washing machine.

for a 2010 trip, I took a few photos of my nearly-packed carry-on as well as of some of the outfits I planned, for three weeks in London, Paris, and central Portugal, late spring

in 2011, I showed you how I managed the issue of carry-on restrictions for cosmetics and hair care products, and here's the inventory of what I packed for that 6-week trip, but without any photographic evidence.

this inventory of what I packed, again sans photographic proof, from 2012 trip to Amsterdam, Bordeaux, and Paris in May. . . laundry facilities in Bordeaux.

this one from 2015 a 7-week trip that spanned September in Bordeaux and then three weeks in Italy, and during which we had access to a washing machine much of the time.

and then the real challenge, those Ten Weeks, One Carry-On, last year in Bordeaux (and Paris, and Berlin, and Rome, and Florence -- that was a great trip!)

Of course, many of you already follow Sue at Une Femme and you know that she's much more organized than I am, but for those who might have missed her 12-piece travel wardrobe posts, here's a link to what she packed for her most recent trip to Paris, a week in fall and another for a 12-piece wardrobe she packed for two weeks in Scotland and England in the spring.

And as long as I'm larding this post with links, I will let you know that I've posted again to my reading blog.

Happy Weekend!

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