The Allure of Lake Como

If you need beauty and relaxation in your life visit Lake Como.

We recently spent a week in Lake Como. Loved it! Maybe because there was some real effort to get there, the final destination was even sweeter.

The previous week we visited Rome and of course it was wonderful, delicious and crowded. We had plans to visit Lake Como because we heard it was it was a special destination with expansive views, cooler weather and less crowds.

To get there first we took a train to Milan, then changed trains and went to Malpensa Airport to pick up a rental car. There my husband got behind the wheel of the very large rental car. Then the harrowing journey began. I am a nervous driver and passenger. The narrow roads and dozens of tunnels, bridges and hairpin curves along Lake Como were frightening. Together we navigated our way to our gorgeous Airbnb in Perlado. Perlado is a very small mountainside hamlet overlooking the town of Varenna on the shore of Lake Como. There were no less than a dozen hairpin turns up the mountain to get to the Airbnb. The views were spectacular, the area very quiet and the hike down into town was invigorating.

We are a competitive couple so we tried to beat each other’s Fitbit step count each day. I recently purchased a new Fitbit Versa and I have to say I just love it. It’s colorful, easy to read, versatile (lots of clock faces) and it gives me all of the information I need. Features include music, heart rate, step and mile count, calories burned and a bit of motivation. I bought mine on Amazon. To check it out just click the link below:

Fitbit Versa from Amazon
Fitbit Versa from Amazon
The road in front of our Airbnb is not for the faint of heart

The medieval town of Varenna was charming and much less touristy than it’s pretty neighbor of Bellagio. We enjoyed our mornings sipping cappuccino in the cafes along Lake Como. We found taking the ferry from Varenna was simple. For about 15 euros a day you can have unlimited trips across the lake to neighboring towns. The ferries come typically every 45 minutes and the trips across the lake were special as well.

EA4A2CA5-1A69-4761-A8B5-6AC2BC7DEEB1
The cutest little coffee shop in Varenna recommended by our Airbnb host

From our Airbnb we were able to hike down to the town of Varenna, using a picturesque route filled with flowers and stone steps.

The stone stairs that lead down the mountain to Varenna

We explored the nearby towns of Bellagio, Menaggio, Cadenabbia, Vezio and Bellano by foot, by ferry and car.  We hiked as often as possible to go off the beaten path.  Although we visited the tourist destination, enjoyed shopping and sightseeing some of our best memories are when we are on foot discovering the charm of these beautiful towns.

27C75E8A-C1B3-47C7-8D1C-707AA817E9AE
The gorgeous tulips in Mennagio
7EF31DC8-AA8F-4962-A056-F5E68A50E7C9
Wisteria hysteria in springtime.
4082B676-A180-4BA6-BAEC-41CC44A5C21B
View of the seaside village from Villa Monastero

It’s impossible not to fall in love with the beauty of Bellagio.  The food and wine were terrific and the shopping was incredible.

B730563D-0E88-4A8B-8ECC-9907BF147560
Wine at a lakeside cafe in Bellagio.
3F22B1C5-F395-4706-8FD4-5F23AFC61E74
Visiting the waterfall in Bellano

Only a short drive, with lots of tunnels and narrow roads bring you to the  steep gorges and turquoise waterfall at Orrido di Bellano.

5ABE189E-3CDA-4777-81B9-CFAE1F836830
For only a few euro you can visit Orrid di Bellano.

One of the best things about visiting Lake Como in early May is that it gave us an opportunity to rest, to relax, to breathe and to appreciate our surroundings without an agenda.  We took each day as we were given.  If it rained in the morning, we wore rain coats and adjusted our day accordingly.

E2CAEC62-CFE8-49F7-A564-05BC213F9A93
I love the look of the old church in Varenna with the fog  in the background and the trees in the foreground.

We had been traveling for nearly a month when we arrive in Lake Como.  Following two cruises with twelve ports and time in Rome it was time to recharge and live like a local in Lake Como.  Staying in an Airbnb allowed us to feel the local culture, and get a little taste of the Italian lifestyle.

If you would like to try Airbnb here is a discount link.

AirBnb Discount

Save a Horse, Find Your Heart

Aristotle said it over two thousand years ago.

“What is the essence of life? To serve others and do good.”

5A889AD5-A046-4EF1-8FB7-314C5363EACC

I have been lucky enough to find a beautiful place to volunteer. Kachina’s Place is a therapeutic riding center for individuals with special needs. They provide a variety of equestrian experiences to those facing life challenges. But Kachina’s Place is so much more than that. I call it my happy place.

Here I receive as much benefit as I provide. Regardless of wether I am scooping manure and feeding horses or helping a special needs client with a lesson, my life is enriched. Calm and peacefulness is everywhere at the ranch. Clients come to Kachina’s Place to practice yoga, perform barn chores, learn teamwork, balance and responsibility. They learn horsemanship skills, and perhaps most importantly, they learn to give back to others.

I believe if live well you must give well. Since I retired from teaching I’ve missed the daily contact with children and adults with special needs. Here At Kachina’s Place I am refueled. My soul is satisfied and I feel a sense of purpose.

I love each of the beautiful horses and minis at the ranch and they each have a unique story of how they came to Kachina’s Place to live a life of happiness and service to others. There is Ruby, the reluctant racehorse who didn’t like running but really loves to be brushed and is as sweet as she is beautiful.

img_3036

Then there is Kiko, the abandoned Appaloosa who is now specially trained to be ridden by very inexperienced riders. Kiko, which means Happiness in Japanese has a gift of gentleness around young children.

Because horses are animals of prey, they are keenly aware of their surroundings and can act as a mirror of human emotions. When you consider the enormous size of a horse and their heightened sensitivity and empathy for those around them and you have the perfect therapy animal.

National Save A Horse Day is April 26. If you are interested in helping a worthwhile charity that helps those that can not always help themselves please consider a donation to Kachina’s Place.

Kachina’s Place

The Secret to Smart Packing

We love to travel, but we hate to pay baggage fees, wait at airport carousels for bags that may never arrive and we are loathe to drag a massive amount of luggage through small European towns.

“Pack light” they say. Often this is much easier said than done.

I have a couple of secrets that may help. In the past I have been a slave to my suitcases, where my desire to bring my entire wardrobe has won out over my common sense. In the past I wanted to take every outfit that fit, was the right color and could be jammed into my bags. Those days are over.

We have just embarked on a five week holiday. For this vacation we will travel on an eleven night cruise to the Caribbean, then embark on a fourteen day transatlantic cruise that will visit the Canary Islands, Spain, France and end in Italy. Once in Italy we will visit Rome and then take a train to Lake Como. The temperature will likely vary by at least 30 degrees.

How the heck do you pack for all of the different locals? We will be visiting twelve ports and two cities in Italy. We will travel by plane, boat, train and car. That’s a lot of moving around.

On a Viking River Cruise several years ago I spoke to a very seasoned traveler who commented to me that she only took one bag for her cruise which also included several weeks in France following the cruise. She mentioned that she loved the travel cubes that she purchased on Amazon. They kept her organized and allowed for her to pack smarter.

Once home I researched user comments on Amazon for E bags Packing Cubes and the Amazon brand packing cubes. I ordered one set for myself and eventually ordered a set for my husband. I love the bags because they allow me to organize my packing wardrobe and unpacking is even easier because many of my items remain in the mesh bags and are placed into the drawer of wherever I am staying. They’re washable and easily stored in my suitcase when we are not traveling.

Amazon
For this five week journey I combined two strategies. I utilized the packing cubes from Amazon and I rolled all of my clothes. I also used rubber bands to make my rolled piles fit a bit more into the cubes. Dresses were placed together and rolled into two neat piles. Long sleeve shirts were combined with a couple of sweaters. Short sleeve and t-shirts were combined and rolled into one cube. When all the packing was completed I had packed 9 dresses, 11 shirts, 4 pairs of pants, 4 pairs of shorts, 2 sets of pajamas, 2 pairs of shoes (sandals and a wedge, 11 days worth of undergarments, a couple of socks and a jacket and two swim suits into ONE CARRY-ON AND ONE BACKPACK. Also included in my packing are some basic toiletries, jewelry, and jewelry-making tools such as wire, beads and a small set of pliers.

I began by placing all of the clothes that I wanted to take on my bed. In the end I edited one blouse..

I roll each set of clothing into tight bundles held together with rubber bands.

by the time I was finished everything fit. I then packed my husband’s clothes into his packing cubes and added three shirts and a pair of slacks.

I pack clothes that are relatively light weight, wrinkle free and don’t need dry cleaning. It is necessary to have use of laundry services and or a washing machine. If I get tired of an outfit I make sure it’s expendable on the trip. I wear my sneakers, a jacket and pants on the plane. Books from Amazon are loaded onto the IPad that my husband carries in his backpack along with my camera and a few lenses. Most of our souvenirs are photographs. To view some of the packing cubes follow the link below.

Amazon Packing Cubes

Visiting Vietnam and Thailand

Highlights of my visit to the exotic and beautiful Thailand and Vietnam

We are back from a fourteen day cruise to Vietnam and Thailand and ending in Hong Kong.  To put it simply, this trip was a dream.

Vietnam may hold some very unpleasant and painful memories for those who served in the Vietnam War.  On our very first day aboard the Azamara Journey we met another couple from Arizona who told us the most interesting story when we asked, why Vietnam?  She told me her husband had served as a fighter pilot in the war and had been shot down.  He subsequently spent a year recovering in a hospital in Japan.  When they watching the Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War her husband heard a familiar voice, it was the soldier who was across the room from him in the hospital in Japan.  Immediately he said to his wife, “I would know that voice anywhere, I’ve been looking for this guy for fifty years!’  The two were able to get in touch with one another and the soldier told our cruise mate “Go to Vietnam, you will be glad you did.”   After he hung up the phone they made reservation for the trip to Vietnam.

Our first stop was the island of Ko Samui, off the coast of Thailand.  The people were polite, quiet, gracious and very peaceful.  We toured the small island and visited waterfalls, a giant gold Buddha, the beach and rode an elephant all in one day!  Another cruiser made the arrangement for the tour and it was jam-packed and perfect.

B7D88FAC-4043-4DBE-B283-A508177DBEB0
Na Mueang Waterfall

 

F06B8BAE-E451-4629-B0E4-5992FA8A1DD3
I loved riding an elephant, but next time I would visit an elephant sanctuary

Next stop was Bangkok, Thailand.  It’s a huge, crowded, city known as “Venice of the East”.  I don’t see the similarities except for canals.  We booked a cooking class in town.  We were taken by boat on a tour around Bangkok.  When we arrived at the family compound on the water our host Tam showed us around the beautiful garden and told us about the different traditional herbs and fruits they used, in cooking and healing.  The entire experience was hands on and delightful.  We thought we were taking a cooking class, however, it turned out to be a peaceful, quiet, secret garden with a phenomenal teacher and a fabulous menu.  After finishing a four course meal we left with recipes and a better understanding and appreciation  of the Thai culture, food and people.  Www.amitathaicooking.com

DB3C3826-B73D-42E4-81FF-E084BD474C32
The store comes to you on the canals in Bangkok
323F6366-005D-4633-9B33-A0839C598290
Our cooking class enjoying our delicious meal at Amita Thai Cooking School

Bangkok is amazing for shopping, Thai Massages and beautiful pagodas and Buddhas.

1581F251-D2D6-4ECA-973A-C79B472A4F64AEACF914-510B-44C2-947E-AD3E2B7BACBA

0AC2814D-F7A8-4839-AC54-46E71C07B5C9
On the Azamazing Evening we took part in the Loy Krathong ceremony where you place lit flowers in the water to allow past negativity in your life float away.

Our next stop was Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in Vietnam.  We visited the Saigon Central Post Office designed by Eiffel, saw Notre Dame Cathedral, shopped at the central market and enjoyed an outdoor concert on the steps of the Saigon Opera House with many locals.  Saigon is a bustling, beautiful city with lots of French influenced architecture.  The one piece of advice I would give anyone visiting Vietnam would be when you cross the street, cross with the locals and never hesitate. The scooters are likely to avoid you as long as you keep moving.  In Vietnam there appears to be no road rules whatsoever.  Traffic lights are merely suggestions, lane lines are ignored and most scooters are occupied by entire families.

DFD4F2A8-31D1-4033-8AA6-D1ACAAD5D5B9
The beautiful interior of the Saigon Central Post Office, notice the portrait of Ho Chi Minh in the rear.
A3ECD5CE-D1CB-414A-9EA2-3062D39150FC
Even in heavy traffic, the people are friendly and engaging.
EBCAA081-5DBC-47A5-BF0D-FE045856F904
Shopping on the street for fresh produce.
DFEA1F9B-CB35-4B84-AF62-82BFB759B2D8
A friendly family in Saigon enjoying an outdoor concert on their scooter.

Our next stop was a tour to Hoi An, a gorgeous artistic town teeming with history and beauty.

2AEAFA5C-105A-40D0-B149-F6F88FA3F41E
Silk lanterns decorate the landscape in Hoi An
22EF5CB2-FCCF-478D-8595-9D0C9097DE6C
The Japanese Bridge in Hoi An
312A5CE7-4232-4F35-B332-490A8F610577
One of the large Buddhas on Marble Mountain

One of our final stops was Halong Bay.  This gorgeous bay contains spectacular landscapes and many caves used by the North Vietnamese for weapon storage during the war.

E9C25B05-AE82-4570-98FD-9B88F29AC4DA
Halong Bay
93241AD7-D8C2-4F6B-834E-0AE87F05DE57
The interior of the caves in Halong Bay
EDBB657E-9E81-4A7A-BD03-0CF99FAD4905
I fell in love with the colorful boats in Vietnam.

Visiting Vietnam and Thailand was a special time for us.  Meeting the amazing warm and kind people was a gift.  The best thing about taking a cruise is that it gives you a small taste of a region or country that you may want to see more of in the future.  That is how I feel about Vietnam and Thailand.  I want to see more elephants, cook with more people and get to see more of the countryside and get to know more about the amazing Thai and Vietnamese people.  I know I will return and I look forward to getting to learning more about Vietnam and Thailand.  I am already richer for having visited and for that I am thankful.

 

Singapore Surprise

Discover a different side of Singapore during the Christmas season.

We spent three days in Singapore walking, tasting and exploring more of the city we visited earlier this year.  We are here in Singapore because we will be leaving in a few days for an Azamara Club Cruise to Thailand, Vietnam and ending in Hong Kong.

F3BC0920-E4FF-4CC3-8131-D7FB55E7B1CC
Shopping the tourist stalls in Chinatown

 

Singapore can be a very expensive city, but there are so many inexpensive options to explore the city.  We walked and took the MRT (subway) all around town for only a few dollars.  We avoided Raffles, the iconic hotel and home of the Singapore Sling because we don’t feel a need to spend over thirty bucks for a drink.  We enjoyed shopping (of course) and eating at inexpensive hawker stands with locals in Chinatown.  We tried a ramen bar, tasting the most delicious noodles and soup that don’t remotely resemble the Top Ramen I enjoyed during my college years.

00C22CC4-F4DF-4B74-9783-709A1B439B1C
Delicious ramen, a very tasty treat

On our final night in Singapore we visited Orchard Road, home to gorgeous high end retail and hotels and restaurants.  We were so surprised to see the opulent Christmas decorations.  As we walked past Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany we were delighted with the sights of Christmas everywhere.  At a Christmas village set up outside a mall we were treated to a Christmas violin concert by school children.  Singers were eveywhere singing Christmas songs and top hits.  The lights and sounds with the magnificent backdrop of the architecture  were such a treat to us and a true Singapore Surprise.

F5931EDA-70BC-463B-BC94-EAA0082A35E7
High end stores on Orchard Road decorated for the Christmas holiday
066E55D9-65BA-4CAD-B7DE-B1362A8AC0DA
The holiday lights along Orchard Road

Follow me on Bloglovin’ or subscribe to this blog on WordPress.

Barcelona, Scenes from The Street

Street art in Barcelona

Follow me on Bloglovin’

Whenever I visit a new city I like to pick a photographic theme. Barcelona was easy, the view of street art was everywhere. There seems to be an unwritten rule about graffitii in Barcelona, it is mostly limited to the doors of shops. The artistry varies but it is always colorful.  As we walked through the city you get a feel for the neighborhood and the people.  When you look at the street art, you see the people and businesses that are the neighborhood.

I have tried to include a good variety of artwork and if nothing else, I hope to encourage others to look around and take notice of the art around us.  Recognize the artistry along with the creative graffi. Often the doors advertise the business behind them.  To catch much of the art you must get up early  before the doors open and the artwork is hidden from view.

A back street in El Raval neighborhood
I’m not sure who this fellow is but I love his eyes
A side alley near our Airbnb
Every flat surface is a canvas
Beautiful door showing the handmade shoes sold here