About Elaine-iaK's Travels

As a graduate of Recreation Administration, from San Diego State University, I have made recreation and travels my career and life’s passion. After graduation, I traveled solo for one year throughout the South Pacific, doing travel photography in a wide variety of settings. Upon my return, many of my photographs became the subjects of my newly created line of handcrafted photographic greeting cards, "Exquisite! By, Elaine", a business I have had since 1986. Check them out at: http://ExquisiteCards.fototime.com . In 1983, I began teaming up with my mom, Goldie, teaching arts & crafts to cruise ship passengers, aboard Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean. In addition, I lectured on travel photography, as well as Australia and New Zealand history, aboard Princess Cruises. In 2004, I formed a new teaching team with my recently retired husband, Bruce, who serves as my "humble assistant" until 2010 when the cruise lines shifted the arts and crafts program to mostly being taught by their own staff. Currently, our favorite mode of travel is by river boat. Along the way, we enjoy poking around small European towns, meeting the people, seeking out interesting photo subjects, and always stopping at every chocolatier to make a purchase. Adding to my chocolate label and wrapper collection is a bonus! And, as a U.S. Masters swimmer, if I can find a pool to get in a swim with the locals, all the better! Cheers! Elaine-iaK ~ Believing in your dreams can be far more rewarding than living by your limitations~ -Karla Peterson

iFLY: I FLEW AGAIN

If you haven’t read my first post on iFly, this won’t make a whole lot of sense, so you might want to check that out if you are curious.

This time at iFly, Sani was my instructor; and, after quickly assessing my skills, he wasted no time in teaching me new ones.  I was taught how to move forward by bringing my forearms in towards my shoulders, and then moving backward by bending my legs and straightening my arms.

I was also taught how to move up, which entailed pushing down on my arms.  To go back down, I had to lift my arms and legs.

Turning involved a slight shift of my hands, turning the back of my hands towards the left to go counterclockwise, and right to go clockwise.  To stop, I had to flatten them back out and keep my palms facing the floor.

All of these maneuvers require subtle moves to keep from going out of control.  When I lifted my arms too far up, I landed on the floor of the tunnel.  And, when I pushed down too far, Sani had to grab me to keep me from heading to the top of the tunnel.

Throughout my flights, another instructor was in the booth outside of the tunnel flashing me signals.  At one point, he motioned to turn all the way in a circle, and then stop in front of him.  I managed to nail my 360’s a lot better than my ups and downs!  He flashed this on the computer screen:  I’M PROUD OF YOU.  That made me laugh!  I was having such a great time!

Here is one of the videos Bruce shot of my flights.

For my last flight, Sani took me for spins up and down the tunnel that were a lot faster than last time.  I screamed the entire time!  Although it was exhilarating, I was glad he stopped when he did, because I was starting to lose my sense of direction, thanks to having Meniere’s, an inner ear disorder.  My ears had reached their limit.  Next time, I’ll have to ask him to stop in one place periodically, so I can regain my sense of where I am in the tunnel.

Next time?  Yes, I’m going back!

 

iFLY: I FLEW!

Long before the movie Bucket List hit the screen and got everybody thinking about what they would want to do before they died, I had been living my personal bucket list.

My list began with a goal I had set as a school kid to travel throughout the South Pacific on my own for one year after graduating from college.  I squirreled away gift money, saved up my bartending and waitressing tips, and embarked on that adventure on August 28, 1984, following the L.A. Olympics.  (The Olympics also took place in my home city of Long Beach, so I went to watch volleyball and hang out at the yachting village with my friends from the Australian sailing team.)

That trip down under would have been THE trip of a lifetime for most people; however, it lit a fire in me that has been burning for travel ever since.  My priority in life has been about acquiring experiences rather than things, so I opted for a less expensive gold band rather than a diamond ring when my fiancé wanted me to pick out my own wedding ring.  “Let’s travel instead!” I suggested to Bruce about how to spend that money, and we have been traveling together ever since.

It wasn’t until last year that we finally got around to watching the 2008 movie, Bucket List.  It sparked a conversation that I am guessing many people had after they watched the movie.  “What’s on your bucket list?” we asked each other.

Having been regular goal-setters and travel planners, we knew where each other wanted to travel.  As a matter of fact, we already had our 2020 and 2021 trips booked!  What we hadn’t discussed, however, was what other types of experiences we wanted to have before we died.

I can’t even remember when or where I first heard about indoor skydiving, but when I learned about iFly (www.iflyworld.com), I had immediately added that to my mental bucket list.  So, when Bruce asked me what (besides travel!) I would put on my bucket list, “Indoor skydiving!” was my reply.  I explained that it was skydiving without all the risks:  No small planes, no fear of a parachute malfunction, and no broken bones on a potentially rough landing.  Besides, I hate that feeling of my stomach coming up through my throat!  I could handle brief periods of that when I used to kayak surf, but that’s about it.  I also have Meniere’s, an inner ear disorder, so how would my ears respond to jumping out of a plane?  The thought of it makes me dizzy.

After writing up our bucket lists, I learned that iFly has a location in Atlanta, very close to Costco.  Perfect!  Even more perfect was when Costco started selling iFly gift certificates last Fall.  Bruce snatched one up, and that is how I spent my birthday.

As iFly describes the experience, “When you go skydiving, you jump and then fall several thousand feet.  At iFly, you don’t jump or fall, you fly gently on a cushion of controlled air.”  I couldn’t wait to experience that feeling.

Before getting suited up, our group was given instruction by our flight instructor, Austin, on how to enter the wind tunnel, hold our “flying” position, and exit the tunnel.  We were also shown a set of hand signals that he would be using, so we could make adjustments to our body position.   One finger held up meant, “Lift your chin up.”  Two straight fingers meant, “Keep your legs straight.”  If he bent those fingers, he wanted us to bend our legs.  If he flashed us the “ok” sign, that meant to hold our position.

Our group, which included a group of cute little girls celebrating a 10th birthday, a family, and me, got suited up in a flight suit, head sock, and helmet.  We entered the tunnel and lined up on a bench to wait our turn.  I purposely positioned myself last, so I could watch the other flyers and learn the ideal body position.  As a result, I learned from everybody’s mistakes and nailed my position fast.  (You only get one minute in the tunnel for each of your two flights, so there was no time to waste!)

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This was the perfect body position, because Austin flashed me an “Ok!”

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For the first flight, Austin kept us low in the tunnel and hung on to us while he stood up.  The second flight was the “High Flight,” where he took us up high, and then low, and then back up high again throughout the one-minute flight.  This is what you will see in the video that was included in my package.  (Doing a high flight rather than a low one for your second flight costs an additional $14; however, it was well worth the added expense.)

How was the experience?  IT WAS A BLAST!  The first flight was exhilarating and a lot of fun, as you can see by the grin on my face; but I let out a loud, “Woo HOO!” and a non-stop giggle throughout the high flight.  Austin couldn’t hear me because of the wind noise and ear plugs we were wearing, but he said he could feel the vibration from my laugh when he was holding onto me!

Would I do it again?  Absolutely!  Bruce convinced me to go ahead and take advantage of the $139 offer they made to return for ten more flights, which sure beats the $219.95 it would cost to book the same thing online.  No, iFly is not necessarily inexpensive, but it sure beats the high cost of skydiving, and it’s a heck of a lot safer!

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FESTIVE HOLIDAYS IN NAPLES, LONG BEACH

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Although I was raised Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas, the highlight of every holiday season was going out with my family to see Christmas lights.  In Long Beach, California, where I grew up, the most beautiful light displays were always in the community of Naples, named after Naples, Italy.  The community is built on three islands divided by canals which open into Alamitos Bay.

Naples is an affluent community with large homes and accompanying private boat docks that line the canals.  Each Christmas, the community sponsors a themed competition for the best house decorations and light display.  This year, the theme was, “Under the Sea.”

Until I returned home to SoCal last holiday season to see family and friends, it had been several years since I had visited Naples.  I had forgotten just how beautiful it was, and I was in awe of the beauty of all the colorful lights reflected in the still water of the canal.  It was early in December on a weeknight, so it was uncrowded—perfect for doing photography with my brother and sister.  We had fun experimenting with our cameras and trying out different creative techniques to capture the colorful lights.

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Amazed at how completely over-the-top some of the light and decoration displays were, we gawked and laughed as we hunted for the next photo opportunity.  That time with my siblings was special; a lot of fun, much laughter, and some fun photos to remember it by.

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This year, we returned on Sunday, just a couple of days before Christmas.  As it gets closer to the big day, the crowds get larger, and the atmosphere gets more festive.  None of my pictures could possibly convey the joyous mood and energy that flowed all around me.  I found myself spending more time with my camera by my side rather than in front of my eye, so I could soak it all in.

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“Under the Sea” Sweepstakes Winner

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This was just a small section of the display by the winner of the Humor Award

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This swimming pig was one of many displayed by the owner of the Naples Rib Company, a local restaurant.

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There is nothing I had ever experienced during the holiday season that ever compared to the scene I was immersed in with my brother and sister that evening.  Although the crowds grew as we meandered through the canals, everybody was laughing, gawking, and so pleasant to each other.  Joy was in the air!  Musicians were playing Christmas carols, a youth group sang, some kids were selling hot chocolate, and a man passed out candy canes to all who passed by.  Meanwhile as decorated Long Beach Transit trolleys filled with spectators passed over the canal bridges, singing gondoliers below navigated through the canals as their passengers enjoyed the views up above.  There were SUP paddlers with lit up hats, decorated Duffy boats full of partiers, and all sorts of other watercraft passing under the bridges as we looked on at the spectacle.  My brother and I just stood and stared, remarking how beautiful the reflection of the lights was on the rippled water below.

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During this most divisive time in our country I have ever experienced, it was such a delightful reprieve from the anger and hostility that has permeated our lives all around us.  Joy to you all, dear readers!

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ITALY: DIAMANTE, THE CITY OF MURALS

For my final post on Italy, we visit the historic town of Diamante, a small tourist town in the province of Cosenza that dates back thousands of years.  Strategically located between the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas, it was an important trade point through history.

Today, the town of less than 6,000 people relies on fishing and agriculture as well as their main industry: tourism.  The big tourist event of the year is the Chili Pepper Festival that takes place in early September each year and celebrates the locally-grown pepperoncino.

In addition to the Chili Pepper Festival, Diamante is known as the “City of Murals,” thanks to painter Nanni Razzetti who pitched his “Operazione Murales” idea to the city’s mayor in 1981 and won approval.  That paved the way for established and emerging artists from all over to come to the town and paint murals on the city’s buildings.  Each year, more murals are added, and there now more than 150 of them.  I would have loved spending more time there and seeing them all, but we did discover several of the murals as we walked up and down the charming streets with narrow cobblestone walkways.

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CLEVER!!!  By the way, “Diamante” translates to “Diamond.”

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Our journey home was much like our trip over to Italy, but in reverse. Instead of planes, trains, and automobiles, it began with returning our rental cars, and then taking a train back to Rome.  The next day, we took a flight home.

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Some of our group on the train ride back to Rome.

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Ciao!

ITALY: SCALEA

Located near San Nicola Arcella (where we were staying) and along the Tyrrhenian Sea coast, the resort town of Scalea is a big draw for tourists.  The old part of town on the hill has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but the lower business district dates back to World War II.  As a result, it’s a strange mix.

I didn’t particularly care for the business district, which I found to be quite drab and nondescript.  It didn’t have the charm of Maratea, and the shops weren’t particularly interesting.  Just one block up the hill; however, was another story.  More on that later…

At the far end of the beach, past the lidos, was a nice wading area in between the rocks in the shallow water that was perfect for those who wanted to play or take a dip and cool off.  I opted, instead, to go for a swim along the sandy area of the beach.  It was beautiful!  At about 79 degrees with no current, it was a perfect beach to get in a good open-water swim.

There were also plenty of lidos along the beach of Scalea from which to choose for sunbathing or a beach side lunch.  We followed our swim with a delicious lunch at a lido owned by friends of our friend.

On another day in Scalea, our group split up.  The other gals went shopping, the guys took a drive to check out the view of old Scalea from other vantage points, and I went for a hike in the old town to explore and do photography.

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The old town of Scalea is behind Bruce.  Over his right shoulder are ruins dating back 1,000 years.

I was delighted (and excited!) that just one block up from the business district, the feel of Scalea completely changed as I climbed the hill.  Asphalt and concrete gave way to ancient cobblestones.  I was in my element, and I could feel my somewhat apathetic mood towards Scalea lift as I explored the narrow, winding walkways filled with homes that were built hundreds of years ago.  Everywhere I turned, there was something unique to admire and photograph.

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At the very top of the hill, there were ancient ruins that were just begging to be explored.  I found a very narrow and steep pathway that required careful footing, but I was determined to hike up and take in the spectacular views of the old town and coastline below.

Other than the disappointment and disgust I felt at the sight of graffiti that had been carelessly painted on the ruins, the hike up was well worth the effort.

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Soon, it was time to meet back up at Jeni’s, a restaurant owned by the good friend of our friend we were traveling with who had once lived in Scalea.  Making my way back down the winding walkways, I realized I had put in a pretty good workout and was craving the chocolate gelato I would soon be enjoying.

Jeni makes the best gelato!  She sources the best ingredients, including a high-quality single origin chocolate from Ecuador.  Her gelato was dairy-free, but it still had a very creamy texture.  It was pure heaven!

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That’s Jeni, between me and Bruce.

If you are curious to see more of Scalea, the new James Bond movie is being filmed there.

My final post on Italy will be about Diamante.  Stay tuned!

 

ITALY: THE ANCIENT TOWN OF MARATEA

During our stay in San Nicola Arcella, the seven of us in our group hopped in our two rental cars (we were unable to get a hold of a rental van) and headed up to the old town of Maratea, in the province of Potenza, which is in the Basilicata region of Italy, along the Tyrrhenian coast.

Known as the “Pearl of the Tyrrhenian,” Maratea dates back to 15th – 14th century BC (based on archeological findings). That’s old!

It is old towns like Maratea that keep us returning to Europe, time and time again.  There are always so many interesting things to see and photograph, and fun places to explore.

While the rest of the group relaxed in the plaza at a café with their coffee drinks and gelato, Bruce and I hiked up and down and all around, poking in and out of the twisting, narrow walkways.  It was exhilarating!

Here, then, are scenes from the old town of Maratea:

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Hey, Delta Airlines gang, how’s this for “Passport Plum”?

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Or, how about this?  David, your shorts are so well-coordinated!

ITALY: THE COASTLINE OF SAN NICOLA ARCELLA

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When I first stepped out on Villa Crawford’s sundeck and took in the view of San Nicola Arcella’s coastline, all I could say was, “WOW!”  It was absolutely gorgeous.  Sure, I had seen pictures (like the ones below), but it wasn’t until I saw it in person that I could fully appreciate the beauty of the place.

I had hoped our visit in Italy would be part “swimcation” and part vacation; however, as I mentioned in my first post on Italy, the logistics didn’t allow for a daily morning swim.  When I was able to get in a swim, though, it was fabulous!  The water temperature was about 78 degrees—perfect competition temperature, and the water visibility was good.

My plan was to swim around the rocky point to see the Arco Magno rock formation and photograph it with my waterproof camera; however, the currents were too strong to risk it.  Instead, I joined a gal from our group and hiked over to see it.  The views back down to the beach and across the coastline were spectacular!  For me, this was one of the highlights of the trip, and the most beautiful scenery of the area.

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Our hike began by climbing the stairs all the way up to the top, and then back down the other side.  The next two pictures were taken from the stairs.  The orange and white umbrellas are at Lido Nettuno where our group relaxed in the shade.

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Villa Crawford, our home away from home, was located on the hillside at the far end of the beach.  Lido Nettuno is down below.

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That’s Bruce (blue shirt) standing next to David (dark shirt), our friend who lived in the area for four years.

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Darshana snapped this shot when I wasn’t looking!

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If you plan a beach visit in the Calabria region of Italy when the air temperatures are warm, budget 10 Euro for an umbrella and lounge at one of the lidos that line the beachfront.  Each lido has a café in back where you can grab some lunch and enjoy the breeze and views of the beach.  If you choose to patronize a lido with a parking lot, they include free parking as well.

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Our group enjoyed our time at Lido Nettuno and had lunch in their café.  Check out their nifty cell phone charging station:

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The best way to follow up a day at the beach is to enjoy a delicious Italian gelato.  There is no shortage of gelaterias in Italy; they’re everywhere!  We happened to stop at Dolce Vita for a scoop, and the chocolate that I savored was amazing—dark and rich.  Yum!

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Nutella is popular throughout Europe, so most of the gelaterias offer it as a topping on their gelato and waffles.  I chose that option on a scoop of chocolate gelato at another gelateria one evening after dinner, and this is the huge jar they pumped it from:

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The European Nutella is darker and tastier than the Canadian-made Nutella we get in the U.S.A., so I brought a jar back with me to enjoy at home.  I’ll be sad when that’s gone!

 

In my next post, come along with me to the town of Maratea.

ITALY: SAN NICOLA ARCELLA

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San Nicola Arcella, in the province of Cosenza, and the region of Calabria, has a history dating back 1,000 years; so, it was quite photogenic and fun to poke around.  It was small (less than 1,400 residents), so the entire town could be seen on foot.  It was quite hilly, though, so it would not be the easiest to navigate for those who are less mobile.  The cobblestones also would make it difficult for those confined to a wheelchair.

For me, this is just the type of town I love to explore.  I got a good workout in while doing photography and enjoying the visual stimulation.

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There were murals throughout the oldest part of town depicting San Nicola Arcella’s history, which I found to be quite unique and charming.

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At night, the town comes alive with tourists and locals strolling the streets and dining in the cafes.  I especially enjoyed how pretty the old, colorfully-painted buildings looked with the lights shining on them.

We were fortunate to be there at the time of a festival celebrating Saint Nicola.  As it so happened, while we were exploring the town on foot, we turned a corner and saw the procession coming our way from the church above and headed for the stage set up in the plaza.  Talkin’ about being at the right place at the right time!

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Our timing was perfect as well for our 7:30 PM dinner reservation at Johnny’s Pizzeria.  After the blessing for Saint Nicola ended at the plaza, the procession continued down the pedestrian street, so we followed along with the crowd.  When we arrived at Johnny’s, it was exactly 7:30 PM!

We hadn’t done any research on restaurants in San Nicola Arcella, but we liked the ambience of Johnny’s (and the great smell of the pizza!) each time we had walked by, and the menu looked enticing, so we gave it a try.  As it turned out, it’s the top-ranked pizza in town (on Trip Advisor), and we enjoyed our pizza and appetizer very much!

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By the time we left the restaurant, the blue and white festival lights were glowing above.  Beautiful!

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Everything about that night in San Nicola Arcella was magical.  Just the two of us, exploring on our own, observing the town’s festival, dining on delicious pizza, and enjoying the nightlife; it was perfect!

Next up:  San Nicola’s beautiful beach and coast.

ITALY: PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES

We have a friend, a Delta flight attendant, who used to live in southern Italy and returns each year to visit friends.  He books the Villa Crawford, in San Nicola Arcella, and then aims to get all of the rooms rented by friends.  When he asked if we wanted to join him and rent one of the five bedrooms, it sounded like a great opportunity to be shown the area by a former local who speaks the language and would be able to show us around.  It sounded like a great adventure!

Even though we live near Atlanta, Delta’s hub and the busiest airport in the world, we knew getting to San Nicola Arcella, in Calabria, Italy would not be easy.  It would require a flight to Rome with an overnight stay near the train station, and then a four-hour train ride the following day to a town where we would be renting two cars for the seven of us.  We would then drive to the villa, which (thankfully!) wasn’t too far away.

A plane, train, and then an automobile.  After our week at the villa, we would be doing the same thing in reverse.

What we didn’t realize last year when we made the commitment was just how much flights to Europe had gone up in price!  A September economy-class flight from Atlanta to Rome was almost $3,700 for the two of us before purchasing travel insurance.  Our Delta friends got to fly free.

In all, between the cost of flight, rental car, trains, and accommodations; the per-day cost of our ten-day trip was quite a bit more than a small-group tour with a highly-recommended company such as Vantage Travel (which we have traveled with and would recommend) or Overseas Adventure Travel (which several of our friends have traveled with extensively).

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If you do go to Rome and need a comfortable accommodation at a reasonable price (for Rome), stay at the Aelius Guest House, conveniently located within walking distance to the train station.  At about 100 Euros per night with continental breakfast, it was a great value.

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The view out our window at the Aelius Guest House, in Rome.

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Another view from our room.

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Upon arrival, we walked around the neighborhood near our guest house, so we could stay awake and get on Rome time.

Villa Crawford, in San Nicola Arcella, was beautiful, reasonably priced, and had breathtaking views.  It was even less expensive than our Rome accommodation and included a fabulous breakfast that we enjoyed each morning out on deck with incredible views.  Andrea, the owner, was also very accommodating and couldn’t have been a nicer guy.

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That’s Bruce waving from the sun deck (below).

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The view from our room

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The most enjoyable thing about staying at Villa Crawford was enjoying the sunsets.  Wow!

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The villa’s location did present some challenges, however, due to the extremely steep road leading in and out of the villa and down to the beach.  Knowing that ahead of time, we agreed to go only if we would not have to do any of the driving.  As it turned out, though, the location also made it difficult for us to be more independent.  My hopes of a daily morning swim in the beautiful Mediterranean Sea below were also logistically not practical.

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Our neighbor’s house down the road from us.  Cool gate!

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A very steep climb back up to Villa Crawford!

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Our first dinner was on the patio at Fa Tu, where we enjoyed delicious pizzas that were reasonably priced at about 8 Euros each (see below).

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Fa Tu’s inside dining area.

 

In my next post, I will show you around San Nicola Arcella, a charming town that I really enjoyed exploring on foot.

 

CHATTANOOGA: BLUFF VIEW ARTS DISTRICT & THE NORTH SHORE

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While you are in Chattanooga, make sure to visit the Bluff View Arts District.  Why?  For starters, click on the link and check out the aerial shot, so you can get a feel for the location and views.  There are some nice views from the bluff, so the district was aptly named.  In the lower right corner of the photo in the link, there is a small park with sculptures.  It was really nice strolling around the park, enjoying the sculptures and views.  These are some of the things you may see while you are there:

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For details on the galleries, museum, restaurants, and shops; the website describes it quite well, so have a poke around the site.  I can tell you that when we were there, there was plenty of free parking, and it was a wonderful place to see on foot.

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Hunter Museum of American Arts (also located in the modern building to the left)

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This sculpture by Deborah Butterfield stands in front of the museum.  It looks like driftwood, right?  We thought so and actually had to touch it to believe that it was cast bronze, as was stated in the plaque.  Amazing!

We were also pleased to see that just beyond the Hunter Museum of American Art, we were able to access the beautiful Walnut Street Bridge, one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world.  Built in 1891, it has such style and was quite photogenic!  Accessible only to pedestrians (and their dogs!) as well as cyclists, it was a safe and enjoyable way to get in some exercise while taking in the views of downtown Chattanooga and the North Shore while crossing over the Tennessee River.

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A view of Walnut Street Bridge from the Hunter Museum of American Art.

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We took this bridge that crossed over the street to access the Walnut Street Bridge.

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The view from the street bridge of both the modern building of the Hunter Museum and the Walnut Street Bridge.

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After crossing the street bridge, we came across this handsome fella.  High paw!

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A view of the Hunter Museum from the Walnut Street Bridge.  I loved this walkway they built to take pedestrians all the way down to the river!

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Bruce, checking out the view form the Walnut Street Bridge.

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A view of the North Shore from the bridge.

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The city did a fantastic job developing the area where the bridge begins, as you can see in these photos.  It is very pedestrian friendly!

Across the river on the other end of the bridge is the North Shore.  You will get a nice view of Coolidge Park.  Make sure you spend some time checking out the fountain and the Coolidge Park Antique Carousel before you head into town.  I’m willing to bet you have never seen such an interesting variety of animal and reptile species represented on one carousel!  Bring your cameras; it’s a hoot!

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The North Shore has a very hip, cool, and artsy vibe, so allow some time to poke around the shops and grab some lunch at one of the restaurants.  Although I am known in our household as the “Aqua Dog,” we passed on the hot dogs at Good Dog and opted instead for some unusual tacos at Taco Mamacita.  The various taco combinations offered on the menu were so tempting, but we ordered just two different tacos a la carte for a light lunch.  Delicious!

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Want to dance off your lunch or learn a new dance step?  If you don’t mind learning in the middle of the sidewalk as pedestrians pass by, there are instructions on five different dance steps located right in front of the shops and restaurants in the main part of town!

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Our time spent in Chattanooga was so enjoyable that we are planning to return in May when “Nightfall” (described in my previous post) starts up again.  It was a great getaway spot!