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]

Visiting Lands Unknown – Romania & Serbia

And this is the drop-off on the other side

I think most people have an idea of what traveling to Italy, France, or Spain looks like.  There are thousands of guides on the internet, Rick Steeves books, and friends/family members/colleagues that will give you advice on what to see or do.  On the other side of the spectrum, there are countries like Romania and Serbia in which most people know little about.  This is not to say that they are less special or culturally-rich countries; the countries are just a little off the beaten path.  After spending Christmas in Budapest, we drove to Timisoara, Romania, where we visited (yet) another Christmas market and then headed on to Belgrade, Serbia, where we toured the town and met up with another Olmsted Scholar and his wife.

… [Read More]

Touring Torino

River Po

We spent two days in Torino (Turin) and we could have stayed a few more because there is a lot to see.  In 1861, the town was named Italy’s first capital city and although most of its political importance has been lost since WWII, it still serves as one of Italy’s major industrial cities, along with Genova and Milano.  Because it is a principle European crossroad for trade and commerce, you would think that Torino lacks some of the finer cultural highlights.  This would be a false presumption.  The city has a rich culture and history and is known for its numerous art galleries, top restaurants, beautiful architecture (palaces, opera houses, castles), large piazzas and parks, world-renowned theaters, and many, many museums. With near one-million inhabitants in the city limits, Torino feels much larger than a lot of Italy’s other “cities.”

… [Read More]

Piemonte Food and Wine Tour [Part 2]

I can see it....

We continued our Piemonte food and wine tour by stopping in the famous wine town of Barolo, tasting some wines at the architecturally-stunning Ceretto winery, seeing a very unique twist on an Italian church, and visiting the 14th-century castle in Serralunga d’Alba.  What we sacrificed in food in our final two days in the Langhe region, we made up for in wine!  … [Read More]

Port of Genoa

One of the prettiest fish I have ever seen

Almost two years ago, Bobby and I traveled to Genoa to attend the national soccer match between Italy and the USA.  It was a landmark game because it was the first time the Americans ever beat the Italians.  Last week, we returned to the city, famous for its focaccia bread, pesto, and enormous port, to take in several seaside attractions: the Galata Maritime Museum, Genoa’s Aquarium, and a galleon ship called “Neptune”.  Of course, we made a pit stop on the way to the port to eat some “focaccia Genovese;” I had the standard butter and salted version (you can’t ruin a classic) and Bobby chose the pesto.  Neither disappointed!… [Read More]

The Baltic Rim: Estonia

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on Toompea Hill

Before heading to Estonia, Bobby read an interesting article about how the country stepped outside of the USSR’s shadow to become an internet titan.  One commentator wrote “for other countries, the internet is just another service, like tap water, or clean streets,” adding that ” for young Estonians, the internet is a manifestation of something more than a service – it’s a symbol of democracy and freedom.”  There is free WiFi everywhere in the capital city of Tallinn – in cafes, in bars, and even in the streets.  It’s been stated that one could walk for 100 miles from the city to its outskirts and never lose internet connectivity.  We definitely can’t say that in the United States.  Even Skype, which is now owned by Microsoft, was born in Estonia.  We were certainly impressed with the tiny country.

… [Read More]

The Baltic Rim: Latvia

This guy was collecting the seaweed along the coast

Next stop in the Baltic region: Latvia!  Once again, our Latvia travel and cultural knowledge of its people was next to zero.  Although it is one of the least populous countries in the European Union, we were pleasantly surprised by its capital city, Riga.  Because of its phenomenal Art Nouveau architecture, the historical center of Riga was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and we were not surprised to find out that the city will be a European Capital of Culture in 2014.  The people of Latvia, however, suffered along with the rest of Europe during World War II.  Just southeast of Riga, in Salaspils, the Third Reich constructed a prison and work camp.  In addition to the German Jews who perished during the construction of the camp, about 2,000 to 3,000 people died at Salaspils due to illness, heavy labor, and inhuman treatment.  Additionally, it’s estimated that one half of the children at the camp died due to outbreaks of typhoid fever and measles.  After the war, 632 corpses of children of ages 5 to 9 were discovered in a mass grave at the concentration camp.  Today at the site there is a gut-wrenching monument composed of over-sized statues protecting their children or dragging themselves forward…. [Read More]

Warsaw Uprising

Just outside the city walls

Unlike Krakow, Warsaw was not occupied by the Nazis with the intent of turning it into a German state.  Instead, 84% of the city was destroyed by German and Russian bombing raids, heavy artillery fire, and planned demolition campaigns during the course of World War II.  Approximately 1,150 sorties were flown by a wide variety of aircraft over the skies of Warsaw, effectively cutting the city off at the knees.  After the conclusion of the bombing campaigns, German troops planned to take over Warsaw, but they were met with resistance from the Polish Army.  Dubbed the “Warsaw Uprising”, the Home Army consisted of anywhere between 20,000 and 49,000 soldiers.  This constituted the largest single military effort taken by any European resistance movement of World War II.  Unfortunately, they received little help from the Allied Forces due to the fact they were surrounded by both German and Russian forces.  American and British planes did drop relief packages with arms, food, and warm clothing to try and help, but unfortunately, they were eventually put down.  Those that could, escaped, while tens of thousands of their fellow citizens perished under a ruthless Nazi campaign of reprisal.  … [Read More]

Occupying Krakow

Old City walls

Poland’s history forever changed on 1 September 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded its western border.  On 6 September, the troops of the Third Reich reached Krakow and the city was quickly established as the capital of the Nazi’s “General Government,” a colonial authority under the leadership of Hans Frank.  In less than a week, the city of Krakow was officially occupied.  The Germans dismantled many statues in Krakow’s historical center, they “Germanized” street names, set a curfew for the Poles, and within six months, created a Jewish Ghetto.  Today, most of Krakow has been returned to its former glory – street signs are once again in Polish and some of the important monuments were rebuilt, but pieces of Krakow’s brutal past still linger.  To commemorate the city’s history, a portion of the Ghetto wall still stands and nearby, the city commissioned a new memorial to honor the Jews who perished within its walls.  Oskar Schindler’s (from the famed movie Schindler’s List) factory still stands in the same place, although it now serves as a (wonderful!) museum explaining the occupation of Krakow.  Bobby and I spent three lovely days in this wonderful city – walking the streets, visiting its museums, and eating some pretty spectacular Polish fare.  … [Read More]

Our 2nd Italian Anniversary

First night on the water

I know I’m a little late, but September 6th marked our 2nd Italian anniversary.  This means we have passed well over the halfway point of Bobby’s Olmsted experience.  Wow!  I’d like to highlight some of our favorite travel spots we were fortunate enough to see this year (see our first year favorites here). First though, we’d like to reiterate to the Olmsted Foundation how incredibly grateful we are for this amazing opportunity.  We never thought we’d get travel like this as a couple, nor have the chance to learn a second language while experiencing the culture first-hand.  We can’t express our gratitude enough – thank you, thank you, thank you!… [Read More]