It has been lovely to relive the summer days high in the mountains of Northern Tuscany. Our final hike was to the summit of Monte Prado, the highest of the peaks in the Tuscan part of the Apennines.
It was a stunning day – just a few puffy clouds in a perfect blue sky. Once we had climbed out of the village and ascended, most of the walk was along ridges, with staggering views in every direction. I loved it. For some reason, though, I have very few photos from the day. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because my battery ran out – maybe I was just concentrating on the walking with legs aching from so many steep climbs in the week!
So here are my last few photos from my wonderful Tuscan week.
My first post about Garfagnana took in three glorious walks and plenty of sumptuous pictures of the gorgeous place I stayed. With two more walks to write about, I feel nostalgic for those hikes and the stunning scenery they took me through. My last trip to Italy had been back in 1989; after my week in July, I’m determined not to leave it so long again. When we have the whole world to explore, it’s sometimes easy to forget the riches right on our own doorstep.
Our fourth walk was another circuit; not as high as other days, as the weather forecast wasn’t so good.
The weather was glorious as we set off and climbed higher, passing through a small village where most of us stopped to splash ourselves with cool, crisp, clean water from the village tap. I love the fact that in this part of Italy, the water is so good that you can quite safely drink from the communal tap.
As we left the village, we entered woodland for about 40 minutes. The flowers were gorgeous and pausing to take photos gave me a great excuse to rest in between steep upward trekking!
We emerged from the woods onto a plateau with a vast escarpment above. There’s some kind of technical term for the glacial bowl that formed the plateau but I’ll be buggered if I can remember what that is! Anyhow, it was incredibly pretty, with little stone huts and at the far end a steep-roofed church that fitted perfectly with the trees and rocks behind.
Onward! And into more woodland. The skies darkened and a storm was threatening. Our leader, Liz, reckoned we had just enough time to walk out onto the lookout point before the storm rolled in, so those of us brave enough to go, did. The dogs weren’t happy about it though!
Fortunately Liz had planned her walk well; the promontory that formed the lookout was steps away from a refuge. We started out on the ‘back porch’ but looking at the speed of the incoming storm, we quickly retreated inside. At first we couldn’t see a thing but eventually the eyes adjusted. It was a lovely little place and eating lunch on the pews of this little chapel was great.
There’s nothing quite like the freshness of mountain air straight after rain. Somehow the colours seemed sharper too. As we descended, I was stopping every few seconds to capture the delicate, glorious flowers and baccipretti.
Join me again (tomorrow I hope!) for my final walk in Tuscany.
I started a new job in August. Blogging, creative writing and photography have all taken a backseat while I have been settling in at the Oxford Martin School, part of the University of Oxford. It’s a great job and my first big project was to launch a report called ‘Now for the Long Term’, which makes recommendations to switch political and business focus from short term pressures to long term needs. It has been an exciting time and I’ve met fascinating people, from Pascal Lamy, former Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, to Al Gore, former US vice-president.
But now it’s time to make time for my personal passions. Before I started the job, I booked myself onto a wonderful week-long walking holiday in Tuscany. A small group travelled to an area in the north of the well-known region, which is a far cry from the busy, bustling tourist Tuscany that is flooded with us Brits each year.
Our wonderful tour leader, Liz, met us at the airport and made a quick nip into the centre of Pisa, so those of us who had never been could take in the leaning tower. I just couldn’t resist the very cheesy photo…
This was a week of pretty strenuous walks; we walked steeply up into the mountains most days, seeing very few people as we wended our way up to staggeringly gorgeous views. What really made the trip was having a picture perfect base to wake up in and return to each day. Braccicorti is an agritourismo – an agricultural location that welcomes guests into the farmhouse. Braccicorti is a stunner; it is run by a welcoming, friendly family who make glorious food from mainly homegrown ingredients (or local where it’s not produced on their land). And the setting couldn’t be better. I had a room with a view and there was a fabulous swimming pool for that essential post-hike swim. Here’s a selection of pics to give you a feel for just what an idyllic place it was.
The walks themselves were no less stunning. Here’s a selection of pictures from day one, which took us pretty high up.
Day two saw us climb higher – to 1,754 metres to the summit of Mount Sumbra. Another stunning hike.
Day three was a hot one but I didn’t mind at all, as we took a circular walk in the valley – no uphill climbing means I can cope with any amount of heat! Revisiting these photos in depths of late, chilly & dark, autumn is a joy. I am transported right back into the fields, villages and heat of those July days.
After three days’ walking, we were due for a break. I had been to Lucca in the past, so I decided to stay local and go to the local town – Castelnuovo. The rest of the group did too; I think everyone was too knackered to get up for an early train! It’s a sweet town but I failed to take a single decent photo apart from our gorgeous lunch – a deli just outside the town walls put together a great plate of cheeses and nibbles for us.
Two more days’ walking to come but I’ll leave that for another day!
It’s hard to believe that it’s already two months ago that I was anticipating the arrival in San Francisco of my dear friend Heather. The wonderful thing about blogging after the event is that it gives me a great way to remember every laugh, every bit of sight-seeing and every glorious glass of California red drunk!
There are many fab things to do in SF and I would put The Japanese Tea Garden right up there near the top of the list. It’s a glorious little corner of delicate loveliness. To get there, we walked up through Haight Ashbury, as we had to have a little look at the ‘hippy’ area.
It was a really bright day, so my pictures of the Japanese Tea Garden aren’t brilliant but hopefully these will give you an idea of how nice it is.
We also sauntered around the Botanical Gardens. I like the way the gardens are divided into the world’s regions, so that you step from one type of flora to another.
The next day’s sightseeing was to Mission Dolores and to see the Mission district murals. The first is San Francisco’s oldest building. It’s thick adobe walls mean that it has withstood all the earthquakes. It’s a wonderful chapel with a cathedral next door and I’m glad I visited.
The murals are great. We didn’t have much time, as we were heading off to meet my Aunt and Uncle, flying in from Atlanta that morning, but what we did see were wonderful.
And then it was time to reunite. I have the most welcoming family imaginable in the states and they all ‘re-adopted’ my friend Heather in super quick time (it had been many years since she had visited Boston with me).
Thursday dawned bright and clear again. No San Francisco fog for us at all! After a morning at the Asian Art Museum, we headed off for Sausalito, for gorgeous ice cream and a very hospitable bar, The Wellington Arms pretending (and failing in the best way possible) to be an English pub!
Friday was Dave’s birthday and it was off to Alcatraz for us. I had underestimated how interesting it would be. The culture snob in me couldn’t figure out what could be so fascinating about a prison. I stand corrected. It was superb. Great location with amazing views back to the city and an audio tour that immerses you in the prison stories. I highly recommend going. Alaz (see what I did there?!?!), I forgot my camera.
The day finished with an undoubted highlight of the trip; supper in a private dining room at Restaurant Gary Danko. Great food, pretty place and the best company.
The menu was mouth-watering.
I started with Lobster salad, moved onto the scallops, main course was seared tuna, then cheese and finally a lovely dessert that I failed to snap!
I have signed up to a great street photography community. I haven’t had a chance to take any new photos in the past couple of days (a woman has to put her nose to the grindstone, don’t ya know), so I have been revisiting older photos.
I have always loved this early one in my street photography ventures. I was shy of taking people’s photos but plucked up the courage to motion my camera at this chef taking a break, next to the back entrance of Arlington Arcade in London. I love the easy smile he gave me.
This was taken long before I had a good camera and photoshop, so I had a little play to see how I could improve it. I am so pleased with the results. I selected him and adjusted the lighting, contrast and sharpness on him in a new layer. Then, in a duplicate layer I reversed the selection and darkened the background as well as reducing the saturation. Finally I created a third layer and used a mixture of the clone stamp, spot healing and copying to get rid of the steel joist distracting the eye just behind his head.
I was in London at the weekend, to go to the excellent play, Peter and Alice. I didn’t get much time for photos before meeting my friend and I was disappointed by what I did snap. To make up for the lack of good photographs, I decided to have a truly creative play with one that I did take.
I won’t claim that the end result is a great photo but it was a good foundation from which to play.
It’s a ‘spot the difference’ for amateur photographers and burgeoning Photoshop Elements editors out there.