After Florence we headed to Venice. The weather turned grey and wet, which probably made Venice feel much wetter than it really is. The grey clouds didn't stop Wendy and Rich for getting us on a Gondola to celebrate my 30's. Thanks! I was serenaded by the gondolier and I even got to ride the gondola :).
In general I didn't love Venice. It is wet, musty, falling a part and to me it seemed like a place that doesn't belong to anyone. The main streets are incredibly crowded and although there are plenty of peaceful side streets they always end up in a canal  without a bridge :). The cathedral is amazing and it's sinking! We went during high tide and the water was up to the ankles, kind of funny. I did love going out to the water, I think it makes for a much more pleasant way to appreciate the city
Here is a short clip from me as a captain of the gondola. The clip is overexposed thanks to Rich :)
 
 
I absolutely loved this city. Its colors and planning. No many cars are allowed in the center, which really allows for a great atmosphere to contemplate the sites. Although the are crowds, we all fit. You are also not being overwhelmed by vendors trying to get you to buy a group tour, at least not as in your face as in Rome. We stayed 20 minutes or so outside of the city near the town of Donnini. Our airbnb site was a private and super cozy Tuscan country house. We liked it so much that we extended our stay one day

The Sounds of Florence

 
 
We spent a couple of days in Rome. Suffice to say that two days are certainly not enough in a city with so much history, but they are plenty for the legs. I've never seen so many great art, architecture and history at once.  The lines are long, sites are crowded, but this ancient city has a place for all. Our days started and ended standing on Rome's dirty and unique metro. We visited as many of the sites as we could - and again, I really wished I had my SRL camera.... :(

The Colosseumm and the Forum

The Pantheon

There are many things that are really special about the Pantheon. Here you are not visiting ruins, or a site that belongs for history books. This is a place that is as much part of Rome today as it perhaps was 2000 years ago. Magnificent yet there is something ordinary about it. A site that stands on its own and not because of our efforts as a society to preserve it. An spiritual experience, where history is a feeling as opposed to a story written in a book.
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The Vatican:

I certainly have no words to describe the amount of great art at the Vatican. The sculpture collections are so vast, the murals so rich and large, and St. Peters so enormous and golden, that it is really hard to believe that this is all in the same place. In many ways it was personally overwhelming to me. The feeling that all this art, history and beauty belongs to a single religion is unreal and impressive.  It is well more over the top, than "over the top" can embrace. The place is magnificent as it is every piece of art inside.

 
 
Wendy deserves all the credit for taking us to Orvieto. Despite us taking longer than expected around every place we went, Wendy insisted that we must see the beautiful cathedral in Orvieto. The cathedral is absolutely amazing. Its large scale, highly ornamented facade and stained glass makes for a "must see" place. I was really sad I only had my phone to photograph this place.
Our stay in Orvieto was accompanied by two wonderful surprises. The first was the lovely Agritourismo Cioccoleta. This farm house is a lovely place to stay and the host is super nice. The breakfast was also amazing and made to order!
Our experience around Orvieto ended with a cooking class in Sagra in Casa. Our teacher Simona was super nice, warm, and with a great sense of humor. We had a fun group of people, made amazing appetizers, parmigiana and panna cotta. We learned many interesting italian cooking tips and drank several glasses of local wine that Simona kindly offer. Her farm is very cute. Definitely, recommended! Unfortunately, I didn't take many pictures because I was to busy giggling with the local wine and deep-frying the eggplants! I'll soon get some pics from dave or Wendy and hopefully the recipes too.
 
 
During our stay in San Vincenzo, we also visited the near-by medieval town of Volterra. Small streets, ceramic shops, cafes, interning churches and the remains of Roman theater make for a good Tuscan afternoon.
Since all roads lead to Rome, this was our obvious next destination. We left San Vincenzo and planned to spend one night in Orvieto before diving into the full Roman experience. On our way to Orvieto, we stopped in Montalcino looking for a cafe with internet for Dave. This medieval town was nice, calm and with plenty of possibilities for wine tasting.
 
 
Wendy and Rich arrived and that meant it was time to head down to Italy for some good italian food and sunshine. Our trip started in San Vincenzo, Tuscany. We stayed at Podere Santa Rosa. This lovely Tuscan house belongs to Marco, a fellow sailor friend. Nearby, there are great beaches, some Etruscan tombs and the cute Acropolis of Populonia, where you can enjoy a peaceful meal and a great sunset. The only bad news about the trip is that I forgot my SRL, so we'll have to document the trip with my phone and it's filters.
 
 
It is never too late for the sun to come out! This was our last day and by far the most spectacular. We dried out, wore shorts, made a friend, got a panoramic view of the peaks, the moon and everything around us. We took a ride on a self operated lift, took the train from St-Niklaus to Zermatt to get a view of the Matterhorn and got to sweet home at 2 am. Phew quite the day!
 
 
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From Meidpass, we were supposed to go down to the valley and then back up. To help our knees a little, we took a slightly longer path through the Turtmannsee lake, which is topped by an amazing glacier. We had lunch by the lake and head up - I don't recall the pass. Dave and Michael found an amazing camping site, with a ice cold bath and a bed of fluffy flowers :).

 
 
A white sunrise was waiting for us. We got quickly moving as it was quite chilly. Our numb hands made the packing process a little painful. We moved through the frozen wanderweg around the lake, explored a bunker and made a quick descent to Leukerbad, the town of hot springs! It was a shame we didn't have time for a bath as Dave was waiting for us on another time and we were running a bit late. We took a bus, a train and a bus again and ended up in the super cute (but a bit smelly) town of St. Luc. We met with Dave, took a cable car, hiked up to Pas du Boeuf and looked for a site to camp near Meidpass. The night was rainy and quite cold. The spiced sweet chai just kept getting better.

 
 
Soon into the descent we encountered the Oeschinensee lake. A truly beautiful lake a little below the tree line and surrounded by great mountain faces. There is a cable car station at the lake and a restaurant so you may encountered tourists. I mentioned to Michael that I don't really believe I've visited a lake unless I've swam in it .... but I'm also a a tropical flower who quickly gets discouraged by glacial water. Well too late, Michael was truly determined to jump in!
The descent to Kandergsten was long, not great for my knees, but quite spectacular. The trail down I believe was man made on a vertical rocky face, and off course up to Swiss standards, i.e. rail, steps and benches.
The town wasn't particularly interesting to me. It seemed like a prefabricated vacation town without to much character, so we didn't stay to long.
The hike up to the Dubensee lake was longer than expected with some rain and emergency on-road scotch sips too keep our spirits up!