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05/22/2017

Under the Tuscan sun

I have often heard that travelers form their first impression of the visiting country by her airport. I personally form it from her taxi drivers. For instance, you quickly get that Germans and Swiss Germans are a little tight-ass, that you don’t get to mess around with the baby seat – the rule is the rule and they don’t care that the little one cries to death after traveling for 15 hours. In this spirit, Italy felt just like home: not only did the airport taxi driver did not even mention the baby car seat (just like all the other drivers by the way) but also he shoved all the bags in the car, and the five adults including Papi at the back with Baby Samurai on his lap and the stroller falling on his head. And then he drove just like an Indian, the phone in one hand, taking tight turns. It was such a soft landing for us!

In many aspects, Italians are the ‘Indians of Europe’ or ‘white Indians’. The way they are attached to their mother and family – even though here I am just talking about their reputation, I didn’t experience it myself – seems quite similar. Quite easy going, warm and relaxed with the rules people. And the crowd in the streets of Florence, it was as bad as Old Delhi, simply suffocating! I don’t have any other generality to share about Italians, except that (almost) all we met were very friendly!

We just had one incident: as I was parking, my neighbour thought I scratched his car while I just left some dust and possibly slightly scratched the varnish but really I don't see how I was very careful and my favorite Indian was watching from outside). He was yelling “va fan culo” and other insults, becoming red-faced. My favorite Indian was remaining very calm (luckily he didn't understand Italian) and if I had not been so worried watching the reactions of my husband, I would have gone and slapped this angry fellow myself! When we left, leaving him disappointed by our very calm attitude, what do you think he did? Bah he scratched our vehicle. Brrrravo!

I loved the landscapes of Tuscany, and its steaks and ice-creams and pasta. I loved the Chianti, Montepulciano and Brunello (local wines) and hated its bread which is made without salt (an aberration).

We had decided to take it easy and spend the week moving only in Tuscany. We visited a few medieval villages that abound in the region – and they are either dead (nobody except one or two oldies on a bench) or packed with tourists – but especially at night, when we had to go hunt for food. This will definitely leave a special taste to the memory of our holidays! And then we mostly got lost on dirt roads.

India,Italy,Tuscany,AgriturismoWe would decide at the last minute about where to sleep (which would not have worked well in full season I think) and would usually end up in an Agriturismo. Beware, an Agriturismo it is not as romantic as it may sound, unlike what I had imagined. I had indeed a very picturesque view of this form of accommodation, with beautifully renovated farm buildings and where the guests can milk the cows and pick tomatoes. Well it is nothing like that! If the buildings are generally quite charming, all these are working farms. The owners are very busy during the day, and not necessarily inclined to entertain the city dweller who wants to play farmer for a day. And if it is one of these farms who use tractors, well there will be noise – you can bid farewell to the nap under the olive trees to the sound of silence! And in those where they keep animals (and we’ve not seen many in Tuscany where they are more about wine and olive oil production), well you’re not in the zoo. So better be aware.

We first spent a few days in the vineyards where my favorite Agriturismo was the 7 Camici, where you can watch the sunset over the vineyards from your natural hot pool):

India,Italy,Tuscany,Agriturismo

India,Italy,Tuscany,AgriturismoWe then landed in the South, near Grosseto, in a farmhouse with a huge plot (Tenuta San Carlo) where we could see cows, ducks and rabbits, climb discreetly on the parked tractors and ride a bike to the beach, play with the dog and our Baby Samurai was happy. So we stayed there for three nights.

India,Italy,Tuscany,AgriturismoAnd to end our trip on a high note, I booked (at the last minute and it was Easter weekend) in a Florence hotel near the airport, which seduced me with his baroque style – I found it sad to spend the last night in Italy in a Novotel or an Airbnb: the Villa Villoresi. It takes some time to get used to the very ancient house, its heavy paintings, its 80-year-old owner-manager from another time, and the ‘Butler’ who carries the suitcases in a blue jacket and serves dinner in a gray one. Our room was a tiny not-so-comfortable closet but we had been warned. In short this place is a little creepy but you can start warming up to it after 2 glasses of Chianti!

05/07/2017

My photoblog is back

In this historical day (for France), I start again my photoblog. A camera problem had forced me to interrupt my series '365 days in India' at 241 pictures something...

I start again with a 'Photo tour of India in 80 days'!

 

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A photo tour of India in 80 days

04/17/2017

Head in the stars (or not)

To make my favorite Indian dream a bit, I decided to surprise him and celebrate his birthday under a starry sky – it has kind of become his thing, stars, since we watched Cosmos on Netflix!

To begin with the beginning, I googled “best places to watch stars in India” and fell upon this:

India,Uttarakhand,Nainital,stars,Observatory,Soulitude

Super excited (especially since this place was somehow accessible), I searched how to visit this thing at night. But they don’t do night visits anymore, only in daytime. It did seem kind of weird to watch stars in broad day light but in India everything was possible (and why else would they have daytime visit?), so my brain didn’t dwell too long on this issue. All the more because my colleague confirmed it was a great place and you could see the stars there!

I had to fill a form online, and be aware, you must do so at least 30 days in advance. Exactly one month before the D day, between two market visits, I managed to do it and good for me because the website stopped operating for the next two weeks! (I visited it regularly to see if my request had been accepted.) 

The next step was to book a room not too far from Nainital. Especially not in Nainital, a small crowded bustling town that is not really charming for my taste. Fortunately there are a lot of ‘boutique hotels’ in the area. Soulitude knew how to seduce me, by its name, by its website mentioning ‘star gazing’ as an activity and by its room which had glass ceilings to see the stars. And there was only one room left when I booked three weeks in advance, I saw this as a sign!

India,Uttarakhand,Nainital,stars,Observatory,Soulitude

Finally the day came to go on our trip. We managed pretty nicely the 9-hour drive separating the mountains of Uttarakhand from Gurgaon. A smooth trip, with baby Samurai quite quiet. Immediately upon arrival we went for a walk; and I was a little worried because the sky was quite cloudy. Okay Indians can do impossible stuff but even if they manage to see the stars with the Sun, I was pretty sure that clouds would be an obstacle!

The next day, the sky is a bit clear and we drive two hours to go to the Observatory. At the time of the appointment, not one living soul in sight. Ah wait, I see a guard. Who, even if he doesn’t seem to understand what we are doing here, tells us that the team is having lunch and that it might take a while because they have no car and that the dining hall is pretty far. So we offer to do the taxi.

The Chief Scientist assigned to us isn't here. Instead we have an assistant computer engineer. Showing us a little video on the history of the Observatory. Then he takes us to the beast. And... voilà! In fact of stars we got to watch a telescope. No comment.

The hotel had no human scale telescope; as activity, they had just a guest coming regularly with his own material to take pictures. But the sky was beautiful, more than in Gurgaon. Even if the end of the winter (mid-February) is not the best season to go, as clouds form with the warming of earth.

And also Soulitude is mostly just a name: it is built between two other houses, and work is ongoing. Nevertheless the hotel is very nice (especially our room a bit away from the main building), the staff helpful and the food very good.

We both love the mountains of this corner of the India, so no regrets, it was a great weekend, one of those who comes with a price (namely a 2 day drive on Indian roads)!

PS: Come to think if it, I must have mistaken between an Observatory and planetarium? 

Kumaon Hills

inde,uttarakhand,nainital,observatory,étoiles,kumaon hills

inde,uttarakhand,nainital,observatory,étoiles,kumaon hills

inde,uttarakhand,nainital,observatory,étoiles,kumaon hills