The Cinque Terre (Vacation Part 3)

Our next stop after a few days in Lugano was the Cinque Terre–Riomaggiore specifically.  Never heard of it?  Well, the Cinque Terre is a national park area in Italy that surrounds some villages along the coast.  I used to think that a couple of the villages were only accessible by foot.  After hiking there and seeing tour groups, I doubt that information a bit.  Maybe the tour groups arrived by boat.  Maybe they arrived by hovercraft.  Anyway, the villages are tucked along the cliff, and they’re beautiful.

We started with a good sunset and some food.   It’s a pretty ideal way to get acquainted with any new town, in my opinion.

IMG_0134We continued the next morning with my favorite hike of the trip.  It didn’t quite stretch between all five villages.  We started at the southernmost village, Riomaggiore.

map from cinqueterre.mrvisitor.com

map from cinqueterre.mrvisitor.com

IMG_0117I spent a lot of time guesstimating how long it would take for plants to get that awesome at our house.  I think the answer for the things-growing-out-of-rocks plants is never.  Boo for different climates.

IMG_0124The main trail along the edge of the coast was closed between the first two villages, so we hiked up and over the mountains instead of around the edge of the mountains.  It was actually pretty satisfying.  I believe this church was in Manarola, but honestly, the cute little villages all melded to one or two overall impressions in my brain by the end of the day.  They’re all nice.

IMG_0150So is this cat.  Creative use of mostly empty plant holders, right?

IMG_0153And of course there were olives next to the path.  Lots of agricultural areas outside of the towns, actually.  I decided that if Scott was out farming our plot of land, he would get a different number of visits/cold tea deliveries depending on how long the hike was from home.  Some of those plots of land were at least an hour hike from the nearest semblance of civilization.  Whew.  (If you’re wondering, the breakdown was as follows: daily visits/tea if the hike was less than 20 minutes one way, two-three visits a week if the hike was between 20 minutes and 45 minutes, once a week tops if the hike is over 45 minutes one way.  Because I’m mean and indoorsy.)

IMG_0160This garden kicked our garden’s butt this summer.  So many tomatoes!

IMG_0157Oooh, and this is the house we picked for ourselves.  Or the yard that goes with the house.  It had another large chunk of yard on the other side of the hiking trail, and it had great garden land all around the house.  And if memory serves, it was relatively close to town.  Whew.  Frequent tea delivery for Scott.  We like to get really involved in vacation.

IMG_0166We also like to look at crystal clear water.  Scott likes to dangle dangerously over said water.  I do not.  Thus only one pair of feet.

IMG_0186This lady understands my foot-dangling fears.

IMG_0180So I believe we’re three villages into our journey at this point.  The cliff-side trails were still closed to this village, so we’ve hiked and stumbled down mountain stairs and hiked some more.  It was fun, but my knees are getting old.  To console our not quite happy knees (or mine), we had the world’s best trail beverages–lemon granita and some super cold sangria.  I have never once considered drinking sangria on the trail, but it was pretty fantastic.  Don’t tell the real hikers.  I’m fairly certain granita and sangria are not athlete-approved sources of refreshment mid-hike.

IMG_0196The cold beverages did get us safely to our last stop, Vernazza.  True, we missed the fifth of the five villages.  I didn’t mind.

IMG_0211Instead of hiking to that last village, I sat by the water for an hour.  There was a constant stream of running kids behind me on the beach, and by the end of the hour, they had plucked every bit of living plant matter from the pier and placed it on their sandcastle.  I was pretty impressed.

IMG_0241And I dangled my feet some more.

IMG_0244Scott decided to be athletic instead, so he kayaked around a bit.

IMG_0238When we were both finished with our water adventures, we called it a day with some food.  Naturally.

IMG_0254And struck out for another adventure the next morning.

IMG_0258On to Modena!

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Cloudy With a Chance of Hiking

This weekend was strange.  That’s the only way I can explain it.  There were these moments of pure relaxation and summer, and there was some serious family sadness.  It’s hard to reconcile those two extremes in the space of just a few days.  Then to really confuse the matter, there were these miscellaneous everyday things added to the mix.  There was a great $13 haircut and productive projects.  I did laundry, Scott fixed our drippy shower.  See what I mean?  Everything felt pretty surreal when added together.

My favorite thing about the weekend is that despite the strangeness and the sadness, the beauty was striking.  We hiked by this:

photo from mathprofhikingblog.blogspot.com

photo from mathprofhikingblog.blogspot.com

The weather was perfect.  We’re talking early spring day with fog and cool breezes and little moments of sunshine (in the middle of June!).  We needed a nap, so we took a nap in the car before the hike.  Dream come true, right?  We woke up in the warm car and hiked 3.3 miles.  Then we got some homemade peach ice cream at our favorite country store and picked up some fresh peaches and pepper jelly while we were at it.  It was summer at its best.

Today I’m grateful that beauty and peace don’t disappear when things get tough.  They can be hard to find, but they’re still there.

Chicken Posole for a Cool Fall Night

I think Chicken Posole might be my new favorite substitute for chicken noodle soup and chicken tortilla soup.  I used a recipe from The New Way to Cook Light, and you can find that recipe here.

It looks like this in the bowl:

photo by John Autry

photo by John Autry


It tastes like flavorful chicken goodness.  Using the chicken from a rotisserie chicken is nice (read: convenient), and the lack of additional sodium is extra nice.  The radishes on top are surprisingly tasty, too.  Oh, and this is the recipe that calls for tomatillas that got me to the stuffed peppers with tomatillas awesomeness.  Thanks for the inspiration, Cooking Light!

We had the chicken posole on the first really chilly night of the season, and it kept me all warm inside.

Then we went for a hike yesterday to see some fall colors, and I got all cool on the outside.  Also good.
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Fuzzy foreground fingers, but at least the sign is nice and crisp to go with the air!

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We even got to see one spot with the trifecta of awesome tree colors.  All I could ask for later was a warm bowl of chicken posole.  (Too bad it only makes 4 servings.  I’ll be doubling the recipe next time.)

More Puppy Gang, (Plus!) Anniversary, (And!) Waldorf Salad

It’s been busy around these parts since the last post.  First, we had some family guests on Friday night–our very first guests at the new house.  There are definitely still piles of stuff that aren’t where they should be, but all in all, I think the house worked just fine.  That was nice to see.  The flower garden even provided some pretty for the table at dinner:

ImageThen there was much family fun to go with the flower(s).  We even used our captive audience to convince four people to love Duck Dynasty.

And today?  Today is Scott’s and my second wedding anniversary.  Woohoo!  We celebrated yesterday, since it was the closest day off to the actual day.  We started with a beautiful hike at the periphery of the Wintergreen ski resort.  I have to say, I should really start reading trail info more carefully before I start a hike.  Halfway through our proposed piecing together of short trails, I realized that we started with the “More Difficult” trail (which was the most difficult rating, I believe) and moved on to the “Difficult” trail.  Next time, I might pick something more along the lines of “Moderate.”  Next time, I need to be smarter.  Scott’s used to toughing it out and all sorts of outdoorsiness, but I still need to work on my cardio a bit before I can tackle what he can.

 

It was a good hike though.  Steep, but beautiful.  The only real catch came about 3/4 of a mile from the end, when Scott got stung by a yellow jacket.  Then I got stung on the bum by a different yellow jacket, followed by a quick sting to the ankle.  I felt pretty unladylike trying to soothe my sting on the bum.  Not a major injury, but still mildly embarrassing.

 

Dinner was delicious though.  We went to Devil’s Backbone, a local brewery just down the mountain from the resort.

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We nursed our wounds with food and beer and air conditioning.  Before I completely destroyed every bite of food on my plate, it was a caprese grilled cheese sandwich.  There was delicious cheese, red and green tomatoes, fresh basil and a tasty dressing.  Mmm.  The bread was exactly crispy enough, and there was definitely a hint of butter on the crust.  Mmmm (again).  The beer was good, too.

Happy anniversary, Scott!

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Whew, there’s still so much to say.  We ran into the puppy gang on the way home from church on Sunday.  I’ll let you judge the cuteness through my truly terrible pictures.  I blame the photography on the cuteness of the dogs.  How was I supposed to just stand there, taking pictures, when they were running towards me all wagging and hoping for pats?!

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All of the oohing and aahing over the cuteness does make me feel a bit disloyal to our own dog.  So here is some more cute, compliments of Mr. Peanut, who turned 8 last week:

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And last but not least, I have a pretty spectacular recipe to recommend.  I made this Waldorf Salad from Cooking Light early last week, and it was only an average kind of tasty the first day we ate it.  Then it became awesome tasty as leftovers.  Food that gets better as leftovers is always good in my book.

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photo by Mary Britton Senseney/Wonderful Machine, styling by Cindy Barr

I used extra radicchio and grapes, and perhaps I used a tiny bit of extra blue cheese.  I couldn’t find Sherry vinegar, so I substituted red wine vinegar for that.  The texture of the steel-cut oats and the nuts and the creamy cheese blended together with the flavors to make delicious Waldorf salad perfection.  It had more bite than normal Waldorf salad, too.  Oh, and I added some chicken to the mix to make it a more complete meal.

Hiking and Other Things

That title doesn’t have enough excitement in it, but it will have to do for now, because if I changed it to “Hiking and Other Things!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I might lose all respect for myself.  I blame my mom for that.  She loves grammar.  Anyway, here’s a really good story (in my opinion, which is totally biased):

I woke up early on Saturday to go celebrate a belated Mother’s Day with Scott’s mom in Blacksburg.  It’s a long-ish drive, so I took a short nap complete with head-bobbing sometime near hour two of the drive.  During that time, I kind of half heard a phone conversation between Scott and his sister, who said that their car had broken down, and we would celebrate at dinner instead of lunch.

The plan* was to hike on the way home from Blacksburg on Sunday, but that was going to make time tight since I had to be back in Norfolk by 6 to help lead youth group.  After the change of plans for lunch, Scott suggested that we hike on Saturday instead of Sunday.  Sounded like a great idea to me, so off we went towards the trail.

The hike was nice.  There was plenty of cloud cover to keep things cool, and there was fog in the valleys that made views even more dramatic than usual.  It was a good time.  Then somewhere near the end of the trail, Scott started running.  I think he said something about, “See you at the top!” as he ran away, but honestly, I didn’t register that until we talked about it later.  I just saw him sprinting up a mountain.

My thoughts at that point were along the lines of, “There’s no way I’m running up that trail.  Surely he’ll stop.  He’s not stopping.  He’s not coming back.  [Shrug.]”  I kept hiking, taking the wrong trail at one point, then getting back on the right trail pretty quickly.  Then I saw a picture nailed to a tree.  It was a picture of Scott and me on our first date.  I started to understand what was going on, and my pace may or may not have increased.  There were more pictures–my front porch that we love to hang out on, the two of us hanging out in our respective hometowns together, hiking at Thanksgiving.  And near the end of the trail, there was a letter instead of a picture.  It’s a good letter.

I should have stood there and read the entire letter carefully like a good girl, but darn it, I wanted to get to the top of the mountain.  Instead, I read a few sentences, skimmed, and walked some more.  (In my defense, the letter jokingly told me to keep moving.  You could say I was just following directions.)  When I got to the top, Scott and one of his good friends were standing there together.  Josh looked up, saw me, said, “Oh, crap!” and ran off.  I wasn’t supposed to know he was there.

Since I hadn’t finished the letter yet, Scott and I stood together while I did that.  Then he asked me a pretty important question.  He asked me to marry him.  About a quarter of a millisecond after he finished that question, I said yes.

We celebrated with some prayer and my favorite beer, Shiner Hefeweizen, and we got to enjoy talking and being happy while Josh, who is a great photographer in addition to being a great friend, took pictures of the happiness.  I have no idea how those pictures will turn out, because the last thing I was thinking about was looking good for a camera.  I had just hiked 3.5 miles in fairly warm weather, then had a life-changing moment.  Double not thinking about smiling pretty or what I looked like.

After beer and pictures, we hiked down the mountain again with Josh and Eric, another friend who helped out with the preparation and picture-taking.  As soon as we started hiking down the trail, it started to rain.  Apparently, there had been a 70% chance of rain in that area all week, which made Scott less than relaxed about the whole hiking situation.  But it worked out perfectly, and I think the rain on the way down made everything more fun.  It felt like we were all on an adventure together.  Also, not much could have changed my mood from ecstatic.

Goodbyes with Josh and Eric happened at the trail head, and then it was on to The Homeplace, a delicious/beautiful/awesome family style restaurant between the hiking spot and Blacksburg.  I could gush about the good food and the conversations that we had about the afternoon and the fact that we’re going to officially be a family soon (Family style restaurant… get it?  It took me a minute.).  But you don’t want 800 more words about that.

We’re happy, plain and simple.

If you want Scott’s version of the story, I have a feeling that it might appear on his blog someday.

*There are lots of things about “the plan” that were faked to make important events a surprise.  “The plan” refers to the plan I knew going into Saturday.

Hiking the Washington Ditch Trail

Scott and I decided that it was time to go hiking this weekend.  We both like being outside and that sort of thing, so why not?  It seemed like a fitting way to celebrate the last three-day weekend for a few months, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous.

Hiking is kind of a tricky thing to do in the Tidewater area of Virginia, however.  It’s really more of a beach-swamp-water sports area than a mountain-forest-hiking area.  We wanted to go for it though, so we went to the Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge to hike the Washington Ditch Trail.

There are all sorts of words in those titles that should have keyed us in to important facts.  “Great Dismal Swamp” is a start.  Then there’s the phrase, “ditch trail.”

It was fun to be away from town and to walk in quiet and trees for a few hours.  I really thoroughly enjoyed the day.  But it was 4.5 miles in each direction of straight trail.  Very straight trail.

Everything else was good though.  The lake was pretty.  It’s one of two natural lakes in Virginia, and it looks like this:

 

photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Most of the lake is open and doesn’t have a high density of cypress trees.  There were also spots like this around the edge of the water.  I got to see a few box turtles, which made me happier than it probably should.  Heard a bunch of frogs.  Walked farther than I’ve walked in a couple of years (in one go, that is).  Saw little kids swinging from vines in trees, then saw Scott swinging from vines in trees.  I’m willing to declare it a successful venture into the great outdoors.

Weekend Decompression

Okay, it was a big weekend.  For one thing, it was four and a half days long.  For another, it involved meeting lots of new (to me) people and going to lots of new (to me) places.

“Good” would be an understatement for the weekend as a whole, but I haven’t had a chance to mentally sort through everything yet.  At the moment, I’m drinking a Diet Dr. Pepper, eating a York Peppermint Pattie, and answering tech questions for folks at work.  That’s about all my brain can handle until tomorrow.

That happens to you sometimes, right?  (Please say yes.  It’ll make me feel better.)  Your brain can soak in whatever is going on, but it takes its time organizing that information.  Until all of that mental filing takes place and a story or two can be formulated about the weekend, here are some of the things that happened:

  • There was a football game in which the team I was cheering for soundly trampled the other team.
  • There was a hike that involved me making it to the top of the mountain (it’s been a losing streak on that front for the past few years).
  • There was a delicious Thanksgiving meal that seemed to have endless leftovers, which was a good thing.
  • I discovered that flavored creamers are in fact amazing, and my addiction to diet soda could be at an end.  You can ignore that reference to Diet Dr. Pepper earlier.
  • I ate what might be the best doughnut I’ve ever had.  Further proof will be required to verify that claim against Krispy Kreme.
  • There were mountain views out the wazoo, complete with crisp air, burning firewood smells, and sunsets and such.
  • There were awesome people.

The people part was important.  It was a trip to hometown de boyfriend, after all, so he and his friends and family played a big role in the weekend.  I’m hopefully going to refrain from totally embarrassing said guy and will just say that it’s awesome to get to know somebody beyond the basic information that you gather about so many people.  All of those stories about when they were little kids and that one embarrassing thing they did at such and such a time.  I like those things a lot.  If Great Aunt Lou is telling stories about you and you want to cringe, just be happy for whoever else is around to hear.  They’re having a great time.