The French Riviera

Now that we are back in the States, I’m finally getting to our last Olmsted blog.  Luckily, we went out in grand fashion which eased the pain of leaving, finally visiting the Provence region and the French Riviera.  When researching the area to find the best places to see, Bobby came across a whole list of awesome places – Baux de Provence, Arles, Cannes, Nice, Eze and of course, Monaco.

The first stop, Baux de Provence, is home to a unique museum called Carrières de Lumières.  The Carrières was an active white limestone quarry around the turn of the 20th century.  It was built for the large-scale stone production need in the Saint-Rémy area and a nearby chateau.  In 1935, the quarry closed.  However, the Carrières was given new life in the 1960s when Jean Cocteau decided to film “The Testament of Orpheus”.   The transformation continued in the 1970s, when Joseph Svoboda, a famous scenographer, decided the large, smooth rock walls would be the perfect backdrop for sound and light shows.  The museum now shows famous artwork from around the world, combining the visual part of the show with custom complementary music…. [Read More]

Tour de (Southern) France

Someone lost their shoes

I haven’t blogged much lately because Bobby and I have been spending most of our last few months of our Olmsted journey here in Firenze.  We officially have just 4 weeks left.  Yikes! Last week, however, we took our last “international trip,” a five-day trek through southern France.  Initially, I wasn’t very excited about traveling again (I’ll admit, I’m a little traveled out), but looking back, I’m thoroughly glad we decided to go through with it.  We had previously driven through southern France three times without ever stopping to take in the sites, so it was nice to finally get to see the area.  We started out in Nimes, visited the Pont du Gard (a dream of mine ever since architecture school), and then stayed a few days in Aix-en-Provence.  We then traveled along the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera) back to Italy, which I’ll blog about in the next segment, so stay tuned!

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Iberian Road Trip – Guimarães, Pontevedra and Santiago de Compostela

Beautiful sunset from our hotel

Our Iberian road trip continued north, first stopping in Guimarães, Portugal before heading into Spain, where we visited both Pontevedra and Santiago de Compostela.  With spring comes rain and it seems we couldn’t escape it on this trip.  Luckily, we did have a few sun breaks, so we tried to make the best of it.

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Going Dutch

Canals of Amsterdam

We made The Netherlands the third country on our two-week tour.  About 20% of The Netherlands lies below sea level and for this reason, Italians named the country “Paesi Bassi.”  Because of the low, flat land, it is a perfect spot for agriculture and one of the reasons why the country is famous for its spring tulip farms.  I actually planned this two week trip around the tulips blooming in late March, but to our dismay, Europe had an unbelievably cold winter and on our arrival, the tulips were still hiding.  I was pretty disappointed!  Nevertheless, we saw some of the flowers in the greenhouses at the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, a pretty awesome MC Escher museum in The Hague, visited the UNESCO World Heritage windmills in Kinderdijk, and toured world-famous Amsterdam.

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Belgium’s Finest: Brussels

Bobby as scale figure

French fries, chocolate, beer, and waffles: enough said.  I think that should be the motto of Belgium, the next stop on our four-country tour.  I, like many Americans, didn’t know that French fries actually originated in Belgium, not France.  Legend has it that the tasty potatoes got their name when American soldiers arrived in Belgium during World War I and consequently tasted the Belgian fries.  They supposedly called them “French” because it was the official language of the Belgian Army at the time.  Belgian chocolate has a storied history as well, with origins dating back to the 18th century.  However, the world came to know Belgium as one of the premier chocolate producers in the world when Jean Neuhaus, in 1912, created the praline.  Waffles are a little newer tradition.  Originally showcased in 1958 at the World Fair in Brussels, Belgian waffles had their American debut in a fair in Seattle in 1962.  There are actually two types of “Belgian” waffles, one from Brussels, and one called the Liege waffle.  The Liege is most popular, as its inside is laden with tiny sugar crystals.  I mean really, who could resist that?  With salty and sweet on Belgium’s side, I truly don’t think they can go wrong.

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Il Giardino dei Tarocchi

Cool sculptural form

It was rather interesting to visit “Il Giardino dei Tarocchi” (The Tarot Garden) in southern Tuscany because it is unlike most other tourist attractions in Italy.  It wasn’t old, it wasn’t built by the Romans, and it wasn’t made from stone.  This garden, built by a French artist named Niki de Saint Phalle, is like a big kid’s playground – it’s playful, colorful, and whimsical, with a side of adult humor.  The artist created larger-than-life sculptures based on a series of 21 Tarot cards.  They represented ideas from the cards like Emperor and Empress, Magician, Sun, and Strength.  Drawing inspiration from Gaudi’s works (and specifically Park Guell in Barcelona), Niki de Saint Phalle created a park of undulating forms, interesting spaces, and a whole lot of fun.

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Becoming Spanish Conquistadors – Madrid & Cordoba, Spain

This is quintessential Spain

A couple days ago, Bobby and I celebrated our three year anniversary.  Spending it in Madrid was wonderful!  We booked a nice hotel, spent most of the time relaxing (and eating!), and took in a few museums.  Although it was difficult to leave our almost-home-like accommodations, we left Madrid after 3 days and traveled on to Cordoba, a small, but charming (and MUCH) warmer city in southern Spain.

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Cities of Water – Venice & Trieste

Grand Canal, Venice

The second part of our journey started off in the most famous Italian water city – Venice.  Then, we made our way to the far east edges of Italy to the city of Trieste.  Unfortunately, the weather turned nasty and our last few days were filled with raindrops and thick fog.  Nevertheless, we tried to make the most of it, even after a couple of (almost) disastrous hotel stays.

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The Lesser-Known Rome

Bobby and I at Villa D'Este

Mom and Dad, like any other Italian visitors, really wanted to see all that Rome has to offer.  Bobby and I, however, have been to Rome 4 times in the last 6 months and have pretty much seen all the typical tourist attractions.  There are a few sites that we can see over and over again (Colosseum, Pantheon) but other than those, we tried to find some new, less discovered attractions.  One of these attractions was the “Castel Sant’Angelo” located on the Tiber River.  Tivoli, a Roman suburb, was also on our list because it has two UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Villa D’Este and Hadrian’s Villa.  We thoroughly enjoyed our trip because the weather was absolutely perfect – mid 70s, sunny, and the flowers and trees were blooming with spring foliage…. [Read More]

Benvenuti al Sud!


In Italy, there is a clear distinction between north and south.  It’s not a physical distinction — it’s more of “oh you live in the south?” (followed by a grimace) or “oh, you are one of those northerners” (again followed by a grimace, famous Italian gesture, etc.) Benvenuti al Sud! Each region in Italy has strong pride and each region thinks it is better than all the others.  Then, the northern regions collectively band together and think they are better than the south and vice-versa. … [Read More]