Here We Go Again!

Last year on June 29, I wrote that we were training for another 500-mile trek (El Camino del Norte) IF we met certain criteria by July 7. The main concern last year was whether I’d recovered enough from my skiing accident 5 months earlier to endure the long, and sometimes grueling, daily hikes in Spain. My physical ability wasn’t the reason that we ultimately decided to postpone our Camino last year. As it had been since March 2020, COVID was the ultimate concern.

  • What if Spain “closed down” while we were there?
  • What if we couldn’t see my Basque family? 
  • What if lodging and restaurants were suddenly closed? 

The criteria this year (same as last):

  • We are able to hike for 4-5 hours (12-15 miles) a day by the first week of July
  • Our good health continues 
  • COVID is under control in Spain 
  • Spain allows Americans into their country 
  • We are able to make our travel plans without breaking the bank 
  • Our potential schedule meshes with my Basque cousins’ schedules 
  • We can find people to stay at our house and take care of the pups for 6 weeks 

We’ve decided that all criteria WILL be met! I’m a bit nervous about my ability to hike for 4-5 hours a day, but I’m sure that I’ll get there by July. And so, as our skiing friend Bill says: Here we go again!

It’s been 5 years since our last Camino. Since then, we moved from Manhattan Beach, CA (sea level) to Park City UT (7300-ft. altitude), where it snows throughout the spring (and sometimes into the summer). We have 2 Labrador Retrievers, Sterling and Willow, who require daily hikes no matter how tired we are. Our training will be tougher and more consistent, but we will be better able to handle the hills on the Camino. At least that’s the plan! 

I am encouraged by my lifelong friend Grace, who just completed her 6th Camino!

  • Camino Frances, which starts in St. Jean Pied-du-Port in France, crosses the Pyrenees, and continues westward across Spain
  • Camino Portuguese, starting in Lisbon, Portugal
  • Via Francigena, in Italy, from Aosta to Rome
  • Camino del Norte, from the border city of Irun, along the northern coast of Spain
  • Le Puy Camino in France
  • Via de la Plata (longest Camino), from Sevilla

Thank you for following along during our training, and our anticipated journey. Encouragement and tips appreciated!

Lisa & Mike 

Go / No-go Decision Criteria for El Camino del Norte

I didn’t anticipate being able to train for another 500-mile trek until July after my skiing accident. When I started hiking with Mike and the pups in May, I broached the subject of doing our next Camino THIS year if we meet a few criteria:

  • We are able to Hike for 4-5 hours (12-15 miles) a day by the first week of July
  • Our good health continues 
  • COVID is under control in Spain 
  • Spain allows Americans into their country 
  • We are able to make our travel plans without breaking the bank 
  • Our potential schedule meshes with my Basque cousins’ schedules 
  • We can find people to stay at our house and take care of the pups for 6 weeks 

All of the criteria except the first one, have been met.

On the Camino Primitivo 2017

The differences between training in Manhattan Beach in 2017 and training here in Park City are:

  • Manhattan Beach is at sea level ~ ~ ~ Park City hiking trails start at 7300 feet above sea level and go up to 9400 feet
  • We can walk about 20 miles on The Strand in 5 hours ~ ~ ~ Hiking 12-15 miles is a lot more strenuous in the mountains. 20 miles would take more than 7 hours on the trails here.
  • We didn’t have puppies in 2017 ~ ~ ~ we haven’t tried to hike for 5 hours with the puppies this year

We anticipate that our strenuous uphill treks in Spain will be a bit easier than we experienced in 2017 because we’re training on mountainous terrain, and at altitudes much higher than we will encounter on our Camino. One challenge here is the heat. We’re going to start out before 7:00 on hot days, hoping to hike for at least 3 or 4 hours before it hits 90°F (32°C). 

I twisted my ankle a few weeks ago, and I took a few days off to give it the “R.I.C.E” (Rest. Ice. Compress. Elevate) treatment:


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We may need to give it one extra week (Until July 7) before making the decision to start planning a 6-week trip to Europe. But we are getting closer to that “GO” decision. 

In the meantime, we’re training as if we will actually go. Encouragement and tips appreciated!

Coming out of the Dark

Coming Out of the Dark (Gloria Estefan)

It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? I’d love to hear how you survived (and thrived!) during the pandemic, and how you are feeling as the world slowly starts opening up like the beautiful peonies in our yard. Some of my disciplined friends actually managed to lose weight. I am very impressed!!

We went the comfort food and wine route until January, and then we started a “reset”, going on the Whole 30 meal program, and committing to at least 25 push-ups and 25 squats to raise money for cancer research. I created a spreadsheet with hyperlinks to plan all of our meals with recipes for each day. It was all going swimmingly until January 25th, when I had a skiing accident that landed me in the hospital for 5 days. Concussion, broken rib, “grade 4” lacerated liver….. recovery was slow, and 5 months later I have a lovely scar above my right eye, and I’m still not drinking wine in order to give my liver time to recover. All in all, I feel very fortunate, and I am very grateful to the Deer Valley Ski Patrol. I’d love to ride in a toboggan again someday, just not strapped to one while being pulled down to the lodge and the waiting ambulance.

Our 2020 plans got scuttled, just like everyone else’s. All of the ski resorts closed on March 13. Mike’s hip replacement was postponed from May to July. Our trips to Florida, New Jersey, and California to see family and friends were canceled. And our next Camino in Spain, postponed from 2019, was postponed again. We typically plan major events and trips a year in advance, and 2020-21 was no different. Our plan to get one puppy in April 2021 (after ski season) was the ONE thing that we moved up a year. Oh, and we got TWO puppies instead of just one. We love our English Labs (Sterling – a Silver Lab, and Willow – a “Champagne” Lab), and can’t imagine our lives without them.

We joined several social clubs here in Park City in January 2020:
Newcomers Club (some members have been in the club for 20+ years)
Park City Mountain Sports Club
Park City Wine Club

Not great timing… we skied a few times with the sports cub and went to a wine tasting with the Newcomers Club before March 2020, but never made it to a Wine Club event in person. The virtual wine tastings on Zoom were great fun, and we tried a lot of varietals that the club president dropped off.

Knowing that my Mom would be pretty isolated, my sisters came up with the idea of having a weekly Zoom with her. We’ve kept in touch more during this past year than at any time in our adult lives. Occasionally our nieces, nephews, cousins, and brothers-in-law join, but for the most part it’s my Mom and the 4 next-gen Power sisters. (“Next-gen”, because the original Power sisters, my Dad’s sisters, numbered EIGHT!)

I initiated an all-day “pop-in” Zoom call on Thanksgiving and invited friends and family to join as they were able. Sometimes I was cooking; sometimes we were eating Thanksgiving dinner. Our last call was while we were drinking wine on the sofa after dinner and pumpkin pie. Our friends in New Zealand even called in! So much fun to spend the holiday together while being apart.

Once we were vaccinated (Pfizer for Mike, Moderna for me) and the requisite 2-week waiting period had passed, I was on a plane to NJ for Mother’s Day and a visit with my Mom, sisters, son, nieces, nephews, and even a few good friends. It sure is nice to be able to hug loved ones again!

Our next post-pandemic adventure is a week in NJ to celebrate “Christmas in July”, an ingenious idea that my Mom had back in December. She was optimistic that we’d be able to travel and get together by this summer, and she was right. Mike and I are so looking forward to seeing all of my family in just a few weeks!

Next up: Training for our next Camino de Santiago in Spain…. hopefully later this year.

Venice: Stores, Basilica, Gondolas

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3 days in Venice
Monday, October 23, 2017

Our last full day in Venice, last day in Italy, last day in Europe… we got up early to walk around the city before the crowds arrived. Luckily the stores were all closed, or we may have been tempted to make additional contributions to Italy’s economy. We booked a guided tour to see some of the “hidden gems” of the city, as well as to get some additional information on the Basilica. Our guide walked away from us when we wanted to take a few shots of the inside of the Basilica (because photos are not allowed). The “Pala d’Oro”, or “Golden Cloth” is not usually displayed except for special days (Easter, Christmas, the Feast day of St. Mark). You have to walk behind the wood panels that face the congregation to see the ornate panels made of gold and silver, and embellished with jewels. There are 60 pounds of gold on the ceilings!

We walked through small alleys to avoid some of the crowds, saw a few more churches and Cathedrals, an exterior staircase that is known as the Caterpillar Staircase, found another gelato place…. Learned that there are large drainage spots throughout the Piazza San Marco to help drain the water. I don’t think they work very well. We also went under and onto the Rialto Bridge, and took pictures of the Bridge of Sighs. And we finally went on a gondola ride. Our gondolier, Alberto, was a terrific guide!

Then we went to the “original” Harry’s Bar, very close to our hotel. I had the famous Bellini before going back to start packing for our journey home. We were too tired to do the museums in this history-filled city. Walking was fun when we got out of the touristy sections, or early in the morning. I think that next time we’d start in Venice and end in Positano, regardless of which stops we make in between.

Venice: Mass, Marathon, Murano, Gelato

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3 days in Venice
Sunday, October 22, 2017

We started our day at Mass in the Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica), a stunning example of Italo-Byzantine architecture. We enjoyed the beautiful gold mosaics throughout the Basilica during the sermon, since we don’t understand Italian. After Mass, we took some pictures of the interior; glad we did, because during tours to the public they don’t allow photos. The ceiling is beautiful, as is the floor. The floor is extremely uneven, and one woman almost fell as she was going to communion. We’ll post the interior shots on Facebook ~ we didn’t want to be disrespectful by bringing the camera to Mass, so we limited the pictures to our cell phones.

During Mass we could hear the cheering outside; after taking in the beauty of the Basilica we joined the throngs of people welcoming the runners who were finishing up the 10K in Piazza San Marco. We continued to see runners and walkers throughout the day, doing half or full marathons. Between the rain the night before and the high tide, the square was a little flooded. The solution? They put up planks for people to walk on. Since we had changed into our waterproof trail runners, the same kind that we wore on our Camino de Santiago, we just walked through the water. The more elevated section of the square was where the runners finished their races. I’m sure they appreciated not having to slosh through 6 inches of water to get to the finish line!

The concierge at our hotel highly recommended a “complimentary” boat trip to Murano Island where the glass is made, since the weather was still not great. Given the crowds of people in the city between 3 huge cruise ships and the marathon, we decided to take a tour of one of the Murano glass studios. A very charming man, Nicola, met us at the boat, and took us for a private tour of Linea Murano Art Glassworks (“when the sand turns into glass, and the glass becomes art”). Then he brought us up to the 2nd floor to see the beautiful glass art. Note: the 1st floor has “less expensive”, hand-made, every-day glassware (drinking and wine glasses, plates, bowls, vases, etc.). Naturally we fell in love with a few pieces on the 2nd floor. The tall blue and orange vase is the one that will be shipped in a crate to California. I loved the glass pyramid, but that was entirely outside of our budget. Mike loved the gorgeous plate, which was maybe the most expensive piece in the studio. We took pictures of the pieces that we didn’t buy, and joked that we’d make prints of the photos and hang them up.

When we got back to Venice we went on a hunt for a gelataria that was recommended: La Meda Verde. Our guide in Florence practically swooned when we told her that our last stop was in Venice. She advised us just to “get lost in the city”. And that we did! Looking for one very small place with very delicious gelato! It was well worth it! Mike had pistachio; I had cherry vanilla. As far as we can tell, people usually get more than one flavor of gelato. I tried that when I got the crème caramel and dark chocolate in Florence; I decided that I prefer just one flavor at a time. The guy who was serving the gelato was confused when I asked for 2 scoops of cherry vanilla; he was waiting to see what my next flavor would be.

We continued our walk, over to the Cruise Ship port, and when we finally meandered back to what we thought was Piazza San Marco, we realized that we were on the wrong side of the Grand Canal. Well, at least we “walked off” our gelato!

Last Stop: Venice

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3 days in Venice
Saturday, October 21, 2017

We still had the car, and we drove from Portofino to Venice, almost entirely in a light fog. The start of the drive was a little stressful, lots of twists and turns. I was glad that Mike was driving! We hadn’t planned ahead to do any side trips (I kind of wanted to go to Parma, Bologna, and/or Verona), and we toyed with the idea of stopping, but decided to just get to Venice.

Dropping the car off at the airport was very easy, and the signs to get the water taxi were clear. This was the most unusual approach to any city that we’ve ever been to. Seeing pictures of the “highway” on the water doesn’t capture being on a boat that is hauling people all over the place. It was a pretty amazing “drive” over to the city of Venice. The taxis are cash only, and we needed to stop at an ATM, so the driver pulled over on a canal once we got to the city, and Mike hopped out, got some cash, and we continued on our way to our hotel.

The city is amazing! Our water taxi driver gave us a tour of the city on our way in. Mike took a ton of pictures, but we can’t remember the importance of some of the buildings. We saw the Aman Canal Grande Hotel where Amal Alamuddin married some American actor (George Clooney), a huge sculpture of hands rising from the water, called “Support”, by Lorenzo Quinn (to bring attention to the climate change that is threatening this beautiful city), a golden tower (named “Golden Tower”), and of course plenty of gondolas.

The view from our balcony at the Hotel Bauer Palazzo included the Grand Canal, and the Santa Maria della Salute Basilica. We were a short walk from St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), which is almost always bustling. We did a little shopping (more wine en route…) and went to dinner at Club Doge in the Hotel Gritti Palace (inside, because it was raining).

“I Found My Love in Portofino”

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3 days in Portofino
Wednesday & Thursday, October 18-19, 2017

Beautiful Portofino

It’s been almost 7 weeks since we’ve driven a car. We did ask for advice on the best way to get around Italy. (“Don’t drive in Positano. Take a train from Naples to Florence. Drive from Florence to Portofino, and ditch the car before you get to Venice.”) Renting the car and driving to Rapallo: painless. Making it up to the Belmond Hotel Splendido was another story. We were about one mile from the hotel, according to Google Maps. Half an hour later, after making a few U-Turns and driving around in circles, we made it to what has to be one of the most beautiful hotels in the world. Not kidding.

After enjoying a light lunch and some Champagne, I took a nap and Mike went for a walk down to the small town of Portofino. He mapped out a walk for us to take on Thursday, checked out the shops, and asked for advice on restaurants from the concierge. We stayed at the hotel for dinner since it was our first night here, and we enjoyed a lovely dinner and the twinkling lights below us.

We woke up to the most beautiful sunrise! I opened the outer doors and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Having an early breakfast on the terrace downstairs was a special treat, followed by a hike (walk, really) down to the town, and up to the Castle and Lighthouse directly across from our hotel. As we have found in most places in Italy, nothing opens until at least 10:00, so we were able to enjoy the tranquility and beauty on our own.

Built in the 15th Century, Castello Brown was a fortress that was purchased by Montague Yeats Brown in 1867. He transformed it into a stunning villa. Subsequent owners sold the villa back to the city of Portofino in 1961. The top floor of the villa has a film set to music, the first time I’ve heard the song “I Found My Love in Portofino”. Mike and I loved the song; I hope you do, too!

The lighthouse (Il Faro) is a short walk from Castello Brown: more beautiful views of the turquoise water below. We saw some S.C.U.B.A. divers ready for a dive just below the lighthouse as we were leaving.

This is a place to totally relax, maybe do a little shopping. Not a lot going on, unless you want to go to Genova or Cinque Terra for a day trip. It sure is beautiful here on the Italian Riviera!

Historical Florence and Uffizi Gallery

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5 days in Florence
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tour of Historical Florence and Uffizi Gallery

Our guided tour of Historical Florence started at the Piazza del Duomo in front of the Cathedral. We learned about the history of each of the buildings (Baptistry, Cathedral, Dome, Bell Tower), and then our guide, Ulisse, pointed out many of the towers that made up the old city, the city “gates”, and the piazzas. We spent some time on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, continued under the arches that lead to the Uffizi, and eventually went through the Gallery itself.

The story about the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, Palazzo Pritti, the Uffizi and the Medici dynasty was fascinating. Ulisse tied everything together, and seeing all of the buildings while hearing the history was very interesting. I must not have been paying attention in World History class….

It was worthwhile to take a tour with a knowledgeable guide; she pointed out details that we would have definitely missed, and she made sure that we saw the “important” paintings and sculptures in the museum. Definitely a worthwhile afternoon!!

We ended our day taking a few more photos at sunset, getting huge cones of gelato (dark chocolate and crème caramel for me, coffee for Mike), and charging all of our electronic devices in preparation for our trip up the coast to Portofino tomorrow.

Florence: Duomo, Bell Tower, Chianti

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5 days in Florence
Monday, October 16, 2017

Piazza San Giovanni (Piazza del Duomo), Chianti Classico Wine Tasting

We woke up very early to get pictures of this beautiful city before too many people were out and about. It was 45 degrees! We had the 15€ ticket to enter all of the Piazza del Duomo buildings, but we didn’t realize that there is a secondary process to get into the dome itself. We figured it out, and then went into the Baptistry of San Giovanni, and then the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore. A stairway leads down to the excavations of the ancient Cathedral Santa Reparata, where you can see the remains of Roman houses on which Santa Reparata was erected in the 5th Century AD, and portions of early-Christian mosaic pavement.

We then decided to go into Giotto’s Bell Tower. There are no signs at all telling you what to expect. Nothing in the brochure. As we started ascending stairs, we figured it out. They sell a T-shirt (after you climb back down) that says “414 steps. No Lift”. The steps weren’t so bad, except for the triangular-shaped spiral section toward the top. It made the climb pretty treacherous for Mike and his size 12 feet. But it was worth it, and we had some pretty spectacular views of the city.

We bought a sketch of the Piazza from an artist named “Dorotea”. When I told her my mom’s name is Dorothy, she told me that it means “Gift of God”. It seems I’ve heard that before.

It was nice being in the city before everything was open. When we got to the square behind the Uffizi (Piazza Signoria), it was clear that they were preparing to film something there. We didn’t ask, but there was some guy dressed in gladiator garb, a carpet that was covered with sand, lettuce strewn near a wagon, and people sweeping the sand. (When we had a guided tour of the Uffizi the next day, our guide said that they were filming ‘Michelangelo’, which she said promises to be “Fantastic”.)

Afterwards we changed into lighter clothing and got ready for a tour of Chianti Classico wine and EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil). We made 2 stops; our favorite was a very small winery, Casa Sola, where we tasted two Chianti Classicos and one “Super-Tuscan”, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese. Our shipment should arrive in Manhattan Beach after we’ve returned home.

Firenze: Piazzale Michelangelo, Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

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5 days in Florence
Friday~Saturday~Sunday, October 13-14-15, 2017

Arrivederci Positano, Ciao Firenze

After a tearful good-bye at Le Sirenuse with Leonardo, we left for the train station in Naples, and on to Florence for the next 5 days. We’ll do a little more research on the process next time…. When we arrived at the train station, we were looking at the reader board, trying to figure out where to go. Some random guy practically ripped the tickets out of my hand to see our itinerary, and then motioned for us to follow him. He showed us where the large schedule was, and the track where our train would arrive. Mind you, we had our very heavy backpack, a carry-on sized suitcase, a large suitcase, and wine that we schlepped from Spain. This guy didn’t lift a finger, but he did get us to the right track…. Where we waited for about half an hour before our train arrived. As we were sprinting to keep up, I asked Mike if he had some money for a tip. He handed the guy 5€, but he was saying that we owed him 10€. Mike asked if he had change of a 20. He handed us our 5€ back, and took off. Rookie mistake! Later, I did a little research where we found that we could get help from a porter for 5€, which included help with our luggage. Or “check” our luggage and have the employees deliver it to the right car for a little more. Anyway, we were happy to get on the right train.

Now that we’re in Florence, we’ve been walking. A LOT! Not Camino-walking, but enough to feel it in our legs and feet at night. We started out by climbing to Piazzale Michelangelo for an amazing view of the entire city. The morning was foggy, which made the short walk nice and cool, and the crowds non-existent. The pictures look almost mystical due to the fog. We also discovered Giardino delle Rose, a wonderful rose garden on the way up the hill.

This city is beautiful, filled with art and history. We went to the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, walked all around the Duomo complex where the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral (usually just referred to as the Duomo) is, as well as Giotto’s Bell Tower and the Cathedral Museum.

We also set out to find some very comfortable walking shoes (for me). What better place than Italy, right? I googled “shoe stores in Florence”, and we ended up at a shoe store that specializes in custom-made shoes. Not for women. For men. Mike’s shoes will be arriving in 5 to 6 weeks. We went to a few more places with no luck until we found a great store where I bought MY shoes. During this search we saw a lot of the city, going from Piazza Pritti to Piazza Duomo to Piazza della Repubblica and back again. Ate pizza, drank wine, disagreed about the crowds here vs in NYC…. My theory is that the streets and alleys are much narrower, and the people “stroll”, so if you want to get someplace in a hurry, it takes twice a as long. But the density of people in New York is much higher.

Michelangelo’s “David” was the highlight of our self-guided tour of the Accademia Gallery. It was the most crowded, as you would expect. I also enjoyed the Musical Instruments exhibit at the Gallery:

“One of the most precious works exhibited at the Accademia is the one-of-a-kind tenor viola made by Antonio Stradivari in 1690. The viola is built in red spruce and maple wood of exceptional quality, decorated with the Medici crest in mother of pearl, ivory and ebony inlays. The tenor viola was part of the top five instruments used by the “Medici quintet”, a unique group of five string elements exclusively built for the Grand Prince Ferdinand and dated 1690. The Viola is an outstanding masterpiece, the only one entirely conserved in its original splendor.”

We’ve crossed the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, filled with jewelry stores, several times (haven’t bought any jewelry yet), went to Mass (in English) at the Church of Santi Apostoli, and then went to The Leather School (thanks, Patty!). Scored some purses, a few wallets, and some belts. We stumbled upon Martelli’s, which is a fabulous glove store recommended by my friend Claudia. And ~ finally ~ we went for Gelato at Gelateria La Carraia. It was worth the wait!!