Turtle Pottery Show at Forest Faire

Kath displayed and sold her pottery at a booth at the Vollintine-Evergreen Community Association (VECA) Forest Faire yesterday.

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This year, Forest Faire, which is held a few blocks down the street from our house, was held in conjunction with a Wolf River Conservancy event nearby, resulting in more foot traffic than in years past. Kath sold quite a few of her new pieces, but I snapped a few photos of some of them before the sale really got rolling. Here is a nice bowl.

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This is a swirly bowl with almost marble-like colors.

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Kath made some pretty nice shot (or saki) glasses.

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Here is a classic blue bowl.

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Here is the multi-colored marble effect on a coffee mug.

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The Forest Faire made for a long day, but the rain stayed away. (Thanks to Melissa and Gary for the use of the pop-over tent, just in case. Also, thanks to Marci for the offer of space to display the wares at the event.)

In other news, learn some advanced DOS strategies, follow Death on his blog, try to avoid laughing at things his dad says, and find out why I won’t read your script.

Accommodation Review: Hotel Assisi, Rome, Italy

We were sure Rome was going to be a pain. Almost every large city we’ve ever visited while traveling seems to pull more out of you than it puts back. Our goal was to just to try to have a decent time in Rome during the 2 days we had there and try to see some highlights at the end of our trip, before heading back to the States. Our stay in Rome turned out to be a lot more enjoyable than we imagined, and a lot of that was due to the centrality and comfort provided by the place we stayed: Hotel Assisi [Google map].

After all, when you imagine being in Rome, you might imagine hanging out at the Colosseum.

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However, finding a place to stay near the Colosseum, one that is also comfortable and safe and offers good links to travel beyond the city, well, you have options, but it can be difficult to figure out which one to choose. We went with Hotel Assisi, which received several good reviews online and is a relative bargain at 80€ per night for a double. Is is also located only a couple of blocks from the central train station in Rome, Termini, and easy access to the metro.

On the downside, I saw this random scene from the remains of a very localized Vespa fire a block away from Hotel Assisi and Termini, so it isn’t clear how safe your vehicle would be if you parked it in the area.

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The lobby of Hotel Assisi is where you enjoy the excellent complementary breakfast (feature all of the espresso you can drink!) and a good (if charged per hour) wifi connection. There is also lounge area with some entertaining ancient tourism videotapes of Rome from the 1970s. Don’t miss those!

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Our only complaint is that our room’s fan made a lot of noise (which the management fixed after we told them about it) and the air conditioner in the room didn’t really work to cool it (and there was no way to turn it up or change the settings – which left the room pretty hot). However, the neighborhood around Hotel Assisi is pretty quiet, so we slept well with the windows open.

The bathroom was pretty small but very clean and adequate. There are two competing and excellent Italian restaurants just outside the front door of Hotel Assisi, so getting a good meal at a decent price, even late, is pretty easy. The reception was cordial and helpful, offering advice about the best sites to see (and order to see them in, based on our time limits), as well as providing options concerning getting to the airport (which is pretty easy from the train station – there is a special train that runs every half-hour that takes you there).

All in all, Hotel Assisi was a good deal for the money. You could do a lot worse.

Contact Information:
Hotel Assisi
http://www.hotelassisiroma.it
info@hotelassisiroma.it
Via dei Mille, 29
00185 Roma, Italy

(39) 06 445 3813

Accommodation Review: Bed and Breakfast La Chica, Petrognano, Italy, in the Garfagnana Region

We were unprepared for the Garfagnana region. We thought we were just heading into a more hilly region of northern Tuscany. Little did we know that we were actually heading into some real mountains. Accessible mountains, but mountains all the same. The small community of Piazza al Serchio provides an excellent stepping stone to explore this region, and the tiny nearby hamlet of Petrognano [Google map] contains a nice place to stay while you do it: La Chica, a quaint bed and breakfast.

Unfortunately, we spent too much time taking pictures of the beautiful nature of the area that we never thought to get a picture of our room or the outside of the building. However, the central location of La Chica is one of its best attributes, as it helps to get you keep into the nature of northern Tuscany that is impossible to do if you stay somewhere like Lucca or Pisa or Florence. And vistas like this are just stunning, as you are driving up and around the mountains of the region.

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The towns are charming, too. This is Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, a few kilometers down the road from La Chica, where two come together and make their way through the mountains to Lucca. The multicolored buildings were a treat in this place.

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You are also near the Ponte del Diavolo (Devils Bridge), a medieval bridge that spans the river.

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In between the larger mountains, there are serene and idyllic valleys, like this one below Castiglione di Garfagnana.

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Where there are mountains, there are often lakes, and the Garfagnana region is no different. The Lago di Vagli features great picnic spots, a free swimming pool, and a little town in the center of the lake, surrounded by water.

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Perhaps the best thing is that you will see very few tourists at all in the whole region, especially non-Italian tourists. There just simply aren’t any large buses showing up and disgorging tourists by the hundreds, as you see in Siena or the small towns in the south. You get a real sense of what I came to see as “real Italy” in the Garfagnana region.

The amenities at La Chica are adequate. The owner, Paola Pignatelli, lives nearby and really goes out of her way to help in any way she can. Note that English is more rarely spoken in Garfagnana, so be sure you have a good Italian-English dictionary if you have any special needs.

The room we stayed in was comfortable and larger than the others in the trip, and the bathroom was spacious and clean. Strangely, we never got any breakfast at this bed and breakfast, but this was probably our fault and we didn’t mind anyway. We stayed for 3 nights, and for 50€ per night, it was a pretty good deal. Again, you won’t be spending much time in your room here. The nature that surrounds you will call you to explore. And you won’t be able to resist!

Contact Information:
Bed and Breakfast La Chica
http://www.bbplanet.com/bed-and-breakfast-la-chica-garfagnana-piazza-al-serchio_s11386/en/
beblachica@libero.it
via statale, 9 Petrognano, Italy, 55035
(39) 328 705 9270

A Gravel Road, Western Tipton County, and a Couple of Motorcycles

Hey, what is this? A post that has nothing to do with Italy? Crazy! Yes, I know, but I did something pretty fun today that had nothing to do with Italy, so I thought I would write about it.

After dealing with a bad cold the past couple of days and being notified that my Advanced Motorcycle Safety Class was canceled today (not enough people signed up), I headed north with Wisch to clear my head. We ended up exploring a large swath of western Tipton County, the county north of Shelby County, where Memphis is located. (Here is a map of the area where we spent most of our time.)

Some of the best roads were around Herring Hill Road (which is partially gravel), Pryor Road, and Coon Valley Road (which is almost entirely gravel). This picture may be the first one of me with my 2006 Kawasaki KLR 650, which I’ve had since May.

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Wisch took this while we were on the Richardson Landing boat ramp, which currently ends in a very low Mississippi River. This is a shot of Wisch on his Suzuki DR650.

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Note the clearly superior riding gear. I’ve really got to get a light, bright jacket with armor sewn into the joints. What isn’t clear in this photo is Wisch’s equally clearly superior riding skill, but someday I’ll get a movie of one of his trademark wheelies and prove it to the world. His skill on the superbike track is already pretty well known.

Perhaps one of the most strangely beautiful sights I’ve seen recently is how this little road twists and turns through an area completely overgrown with kudzu. Yes, everything except the trees, the sky, and the road in this photo is kudzu.

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All in all, a very fun ride, one with several other small roads that we left to explore another day.

Accommodation Review: Casale a Poggiano, Montepulciano, Italy, in Southern Tuscany

This place was a highlight of the trip. Located only a few kilometers from Montepulciano, in southern Tuscany [Google map], Casale a Poggiano fulfills the dream of what most people imagine about a vacation in Tuscany. Nestled on a hill and surrounded by tall trees and vineyards, the pleasures of the Tuscan lifestyle are spread before you, from the quaint ancient house to the friends you meet at breakfast.

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Run by a wonderful woman named Isolina, Casale a Poggiano offers a great place to just take in the Tuscan atmosphere or as a launching pad to the many sites and towns just over the next set of hills, including Sienna, Pienza, Montalcino, Arezzo, Perugia, and Orvieto. This is the little town of Montefollonico, I think, as viewed from the backyard of Casale a Poggiano.

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And this is the view of Montepulciano, which is only a 10-minute drive away.

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Speaking of the backyard, the grounds are kept very clean and neat. (Just remember to dodge the monster pine cones that can fall at just the right time and crack you on the head. Seriously, they are dangerious…)

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Everything about the place gives you the sense that it has been here for a very long time. Check out the lichen on the tile of the back house.

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The back of the main house is covered with vines and windows that swing wide. You will swear that you have stumbled on the set of Under the Tuscan Sun.

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There are little odds and end everywhere on the grounds, including this cool little flower planter made from an old plow, sunk into the dirt.

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But, I’m sure you didn’t find this review to read about flower boxes… The four rooms available at Casale a Poggiano fit into the country lifestyle of the house. There are lots of classic, old touches, like the wash basin and the large armoire, create the sense that you are far away from modern life when you visit. There is even complementary local brandy and biscotti outside of your room, which you can enjoy with the complementary wi-fi, which tends to break the spell of being in the Tuscan countryside, but at least you can upload some pics from your trip thus far and catch up on some email.

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Our visit was well timed, as Casale a Poggiano is usually pretty booked, particularly in July, but with the economic downturn of 2009, we were the only people there for 3 of the 4 nights we stayed. This really helped with the illusion that we were Tuscan nobles enjoying the fine weather in our country house, with our own private (and excellent!) pastry chef Isolina to whip up some unforgettable breakfasts.

The three upstairs bedrooms are located up the staircase in this picture. I hope the dog is still alive when you visit, as it is really old but a real sweetheart.

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In short, Casale a Poggiano is a great place to stay, if you have your own wheels and don’t mind the 80€ per night high-season rate. (There are lower rates for other seasons and, possibly, other rooms. Ask when you call or email to book.)

Contact Information:
Casale a Poggiano
http://www.poggiano.com/en/
http://www.tuscany.net/poggiano/
via di Poggiano 21, Montepulciano, Siena, Italy 53045
(39) 057 871 6446 or (39) 328 732 2057

Accommodation Review: Pensione Colomba, Praiano, Italy, on the Amalfi Coast

I’ve had several people ask follow-up questions about some of the accommodation reviews I wrote for some of our other trips, so I know that the reviews are getting indexed and people are finding them in search engines. We stayed in some pretty fantastic places in Italy (all booked expertly by Kath, I should add), so I thought I would continue the accommodation review tradition by looking back at the four places we stayed in the country. Spoiler alert: To one degree or another, we liked all of the places we stayed and would recommend them. However, read on, because the details for any particular place may cause it to be inappropriate for your visit.

The first place we stayed in Italy is Pensione Colomba, which is located in Praiano, a small town on the Amalfi Coast, south of Naples [Google map]. Praiano is a great place to stay, if you value getting away from the bustle of the larger towns in the region, like Positano, when you are ready to bed down for the night. Also, as Praiano is very vertical, heading straight up the hill from the sea, almost any place you stay will have great views. Pensione Colomba is located half-way up the hill from the main road running along the Amalfi Coast, the SS163, and it is such a hike to get up to the place that they utilize a cable lift system for your bags to take them up and down from the car park, which is next to the main road.

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The stairs can be kind of brutal, especially if you have to make the trip several times a day. Thankfully, there are several ways to and from the main road from Pensione Colomba, so once you know Praiano, you will know what part of town you want to come out at and can take the appropriate set of stairs.

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Enough about the stairs – let’s focus on the view. Even when you are climbing those stairs, you can always stop and take in the view, which make the climb a whole lot more enjoyable. All of the rooms in Pensione Colomba seem to face the sea. Our room was at the top of the building, which appeared to be somewhat built into the hillside. We shared a large balcony with another room, and when the sun set, we were treated to views like this.

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Simply stunning. The air was still and clear for our entire stay, and it made the fantastic vistas available from Pensione Colomba even better. This is a view from the balcony across the sea and down the Amalfi Coast to the west. You could see for miles and miles.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pics of the room or the outside of the hotel. However, we found it very clean and more than ample for our needs. Like many hotels in Italy, Pensione Colomba features a complementary basic breakfast, served outside and facing the sea. Our room had a small bathroom but a decently-sized bed, writing desk, some chairs and such, basically a nice place to stay.

The staff really took care of us, even keeping some medicine we needed kept cold in their fridge. (The rooms don’t have refrigerators, which wasn’t a big deal.) Breakfasts were ample, and they will cook dinner for you or provide a bigger breakfast for a fee.

The key to the place, though, is the location and the view. Pensione Colomba helps you get up and away from it all, even on the busy Amalfi Coast, putting you in close proximity for day trips to Positano or Capri or Amalfi or some of the decent (but tiny) local beaches. We paid 70€ per night, which is a pretty good rate for the area, and we stayed 4 nights.

Contact Information:
Pensione Colomba
http://www.pensionecolomba.it

Via Croce
84010 Vettica Maggiore (SA), Italy

(089) 874079
info@pensionecolomba.it