Hawaii’s “Big Island” was the first of the Hawaiian islands I ever visited, way back in 1994. That trip began a 25 year love affair with Hawaii, and while Maui remains my favorite island, I have a special place in my soul reserved for the still volcanically active Big Island.
Two years ago I went on a Mediterranean cruise as part of a study abroad experience with three of my faculty colleagues and about 25 students from my university. We boarded a very small cruise ship of only 250 passengers and went from Venice, Italy to Nice, France with stops at Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia, the Greek island of Corfu, Taormina, Sicily, and along the west coast of Italy.
Dubrovnik is truly lovely, unique, and bustling walled city that can seem overwhelming when the hordes of cruise ship tourists come streaming through the old city’s impressive stone gates, huntung for snacks and souvenirs mostly along the main street, the Stradun. But for those in the know who want to escape the crowds, and who are willing to climb more than a few of the old city’s purported 4,343 stone stairs, a peaceful oasis can be found nestled close to the famous city walls at a charming little restaurant called Azur.
Every year when graduation ends and I take my summer trip to Europe, I’m drawn back to the same places that I have grown to love so much: always Italy, usually Paris and Greece, Britain or Ireland. But I also try to add a new place to the mix that I’ve never seen before. Last year was Portugal, which I adored. This year I decided to visit Budapest, Hungary.
Last summer while staying in a rather remote area of Tuscany near the town of Vinci (of “Leonardo da” fame), I drove over the mountains in the direction of Prato and Florence and stopped for dinner at a restaurant called Antica Torre. I was one of only a few customers that weeknight, but I was blown away by not just the quality of the food, but the amazingly beautiful preparations that made each dish seem like a work of art.
Almost halfway between the famous Italian cities of Pisa and Genoa on Italy’s western coast you will find the Cinque Terre or “the Five Lands,” a collection of five small villages, some almost 1,000 years old, separated from one another and from the rest of Italy by a series of steep and rugged mountains. The only ways to get there or to go from one town to the next are to hike over the mountains, take a local train, or drive over dizzyingly curvy roads. The area is not that easy to get to, but once you’re there and have left the confines of the train or your rental car, you’ll be glad you made the journey.
Paris was the first city in Europe that I ever visited, way back in 1986. Since then, I’ve spent countless days and nights in the “city of light”, and even had an amazing opportunity to “live” in Paris for a month on University business. It has remained one of my favorite cities in the world.
Despite the fact that I am not Catholic, Notre Dame has long been one of my very favorite landmarks in the city. The Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Pantheon, and the Hotel de Ville are all charming, but all of them combined don’t measure up to Notre Dame. Its impressive facade towers over the Seine, and dominates this whole area of the city. I’ve sat quietly inside, awestruck by the rose window and the the grandeur of the Cathedral’s interior. I have climbed the perilously claustrophobic, crowded and winding stairway to the top of the towers to commune with the gargoyles that stare out across the city from up there. I’ve spent a few warm summer days reading a book on one of the shaded benches at the back of the church. listening to her bells ringing out to let me know another hour had passed.
This past week, I watched the TV coverage of the horrible fire that claimed much of “Our Lady.” It was agonizing to watch and I couldn’t keep myself from crying as the intricately carved spire and roof surrendered to the flames. As painful as it was for me to see this, I can only imagine what Parisians felt as they watched helplessly while this treasure that is the soul of their city was destroyed.
I’m sure that the cathedral will be rebuilt and restored to its former glory and that its story is not over, but still, it’s going to take awhile for me, and for the world to come to grips with what has happened. At least I can take some comfort from the memories I have and the photos I’ve gathered over the years.
A couple of years ago I had the amazing opportunity to create my own radio show for Dominican University of California’s Penguin Radio. Under the excellent guidance and with the enthusiastic encouragement of Leona George-Davidson, a Humanities and Cultural Studies major with a concentration in Communications, I developed and recorded a 10 episode radio program called, Strada Facendo which I hosted as my Italian alter-ego, “Matteo”.
Whenever I travel to new places, I try to get a sense of the culture through things such as art, food, and music. On my first trip to Hawaii back in 1994, I became captivated by Hawaiian music, which seemed to be experiencing a Renaissance in popularity as a number of young and talented artists explored traditional Hawaiian music and energized it with a contemporary feel.
Warning: Other than the title, this blog post is not about travel. It is about my long term devotion to the group Fleetwood Mac. If you’re a fan, or you want to learn about the band, you may enjoy this. If not, you’ll probably be happier back in the Travel Blogs section! 😊