Algernon and Ilsa: in Toscana

Algernon and Ilsa spent the summer in a cottage on the grounds of Castello di Porciano in the Casentino Valley, where I joined them in late August. They were eager to do some sightseeing in the area and I was happy to oblige!

Soon after I arrived, our hostess took us on a jaunt to nearby Strada in Casentino, where Algernon and Ilsa explored the Loggia del Grano in the town center. Then it was up the hill to Castel San Niccolò, where we walked through the village and gathered windfall apples.


Left to right: Algernon and Ilsa at the Loggia del Grano; with apples on top of the Banana.

Our next trip was to Anghiari, site of a famous battle in the 15th century. Anghiari is lovely and we enjoyed our stroll around town and the views from the walls. While we were there, Algernon and Ilsa posed for a photo with their “Elka Strong” bracelet. Elka is a friend of mine who is battling cancer and her husband had these bracelets made. He asked people to take pictures of the bracelets wherever they were worn and Algernon and Ilsa wanted to participate.


Algernon and Ilsa “Elka Strong” in Anghiari.

On another outing, we went to Deruta, where we visited Antica Fornace Deruta; its shop, furnace, and museum were fascinating. Giovanni, the owner, kindly took a picture of all four of us, posed against the outside wall of the shop, which had pieces of pottery embedded in it.

Before heading back to Porciano, we made a stop at Santuario Madonna del Bagno, outside of the historic center of the town. Inside this church, the walls are lined with votive tiles, many of which depict the deceased’s manner of death. After looking at the tiles, Algernon and Ilsa stepped outside to have their photo taken underneath an ornamental orange tree.


Clockwise from left: “Elka Strong” in front of Antica Fornace Deruta; “Elka Strong” under an orange tree at Santuario Madonna del Bagno; a votive tile in Santuario Madonna del Bagno.

Another day trip was to Cortona, which was wonderful. After a two-hour drive, we took a few minutes to restore the tissues at an outdoor café before setting off to explore the town. We had a great time and Algernon and Ilsa had their picture taken in front of the Palazzo Comunale in the Piazza della Repubblica.


Left to right: Ilsa and Algernon restoring the tissues with a cioccolata calda; “Elka Strong” in front of the Palazzo Comunale.

The final excursion of my visit was to Montemignaio for the polenta festival. This was mainly a communal lunch in the town square, with different preparations of polenta being served. We didn’t have lunch, but the drive was beautiful and the town interesting.

By the time I left Italy, winter was approaching. Algernon and Ilsa were hoping to stay on the Casentino for several more weeks, but were feeling the cold. I outfitted them with hats and scarves to help stave off the chill before heading home.


Left to right: Ilsa and Algernon “Elka Strong” in Montemignaio; Algernon and Ilsa outfitted for winter.

Algernon e Ilsa: la dolce vita

By the time I returned to Florence last fall, Algernon and Ilsa had had many adventures in Italy. During the winter, they went to Venice, where their friend Donna helped them pick out the perfect masks, and to Castello di Porciano.


Left to right: Algernon and Ilsa on the Grand Canal; en masque; at Castello di Porciano.

In May, they went to Naples, where they attended the opera two nights. They loved it and Ilsa came away from the experience wanting to take vocal lessons.


Clockwise from left: Ilsa and Algernon at the port of Naples; posing with the opera house stage and orchestra pit in the background; mingling with the other attendees.

The summer was a challenge; who knew that Florence is one of the hotter cities in Italy, due to its situation in a valley? They took to their bed on a lavender-stuffed pillow, with cool cloths on their foreheads, in an effort to deal with the Tuscan sun.


Ilsa and Algernon dealing with the Tuscan sun.

With the onset of autumn, Algernon and Ilsa revived enough to make two trips to Austria, one to Vienna for the opera and the other to Salzburg.


Left: Ilsa and Algernon at the opera house in Vienna. Right: above Salzburg.

One of the places we went together was Cinque Terre. We stayed in Vernazza, where we had a wonderful dinner our first night on a patio above the Ligurian Sea. The next day, we explored Riomaggiore and Manarola, enjoying beautiful vistas and quaint villages.


Counterclockwise from top left: Ilsa and Algernon on the train to Cinque Terre; at dinner in Vernazza; on the cliff walk in Riomaggiore; on the prow of a boat in Manarola.

Where will Algernon and Ilsa travel to next? Stay tuned!

Algernon et Ilsa: la vie est belle

In September of 2012, Algernon and Ilsa moved to France. Their first stop was Paris, where they visited a patisserie and did some sightseeing.


Clockwise from left: Ilsa and Algernon admiring pastries; visiting Notre Dame; on a bridge over the Seine.

In the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Ilsa was overcome by the existentialism of it all.

Ilsa and Algernon at the grave of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

Ilsa and Algernon at the grave of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

After a few days, it was off to Narbonne, where they would be living for four months. Narbonne is in the south of France and even in October, it was warm, sunny, and adorned with flowers. Here, Algernon and Ilsa enjoy an excursion on the Canal de la Robine, which runs through the town.


Algernon and Ilsa at the Canal de la Robine.

In November, Algernon and Ilsa came to visit me in Florence, where I was staying for several weeks. They loved it and by the end of their week-long stay, they were looking forward to moving there early in the new year.

Top, Ilsa and Algernon with the Ponte Vecchio in the background. Bottom, on top of the Campanile di Giotto, with the dome of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in the background.

Top, Ilsa and Algernon with the Ponte Vecchio in the background. Bottom, on top of the Campanile di Giotto, with the dome of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in the background.

Back in Narbonne, there was still time for a lot more sightseeing. On one day, they went to Marseillan, which sits on a large lagoon, the Étang de Thau. The highlight of their morning came when a gentleman allowed them to try out his motorcycle.

Clockwise from left: Algernon and Ilsa on the motorcycle; with the Étang de Thau in the background; and having wine with lunch.

Clockwise from left: Algernon and Ilsa on the motorcycle; with the Étang de Thau in the background; having wine with lunch.

At the end of January, 2013, it was time to say goodbye to Narbonne and head for Florence. A planned one-night stay in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin turned into a two-night stay (due to the exhaustion of the driver – me!), so there was time to visit Monaco.


Clockwise from left: Ilsa and Algernon at the hotel in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin; on the yellow submarine at the Musée Océanographique de Monaco; on a bird sculpture in the nearby Les Jardins St Martin.

When I left Florence a couple of days after our arrival at their new apartment, Algernon and Ilsa were ready to start their Italian adventure.


Ilsa and Algernon at the window overlooking Florence.

To be continued…

On safari

This post is a little random in that the topic dates back to safaris some years ago. However, being in Texas very often reminds me of being in the Serengeti—the flatness, the enormous and sometimes dramatic sky, even the smell sometimes. That prompted me recently to revisit my photos from those times. Without wanting in any way to make it sound like I’m rubbing this in, I want to share something of my experiences of safari. For those of you who have considered one, I hope it’s an impetus; for those of you who haven’t, I hope you’ll enjoy the virtual journey, here and through my photos.

What do I remember from my safaris?

Going for a guided walk with a park ranger in Arusha National Park—I don’t know how to describe it other than to say it was like walking into a story. There was something very different about being at ground level and not in a vehicle. At one point, I was quite close to a male giraffe—other giraffes had moved away when they saw us coming, but this one stayed where he was. It was incredible!

Driving through the town of Karatu and buying rice for my bean bag (used to rest the camera on for stabilization) and finding not just fruits and vegetables in the open air market, but all kinds of rice and grains.

Seeing wildebeests and zebras spread across the plains of the Serengeti during the migration – the first time I ever understood the phrase ‘teeming with life.’

Becoming fascinated with birds—I’d never been a birder, but I like watching and taking pictures of the birds in East Africa (what can I say—grey crowned crane vs. city pigeon). It helps that many of the birds are huge and spend a lot of time on the ground—much easier to take pictures of them there!

A kori bustard in the Serengeti.

A kori bustard in the Serengeti.

The iconic image of acacia trees against a sunset sky.

Acacia trees in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Acacia trees in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Being in the Serengeti / Ngorongoro Conservation Area at the time of the wildebeest migration—it’s not just the wildebeests and zebras one sees, but the big cats, who are following their food source and the vultures and scavengers, who are doing the same.

Parking near a kopje and watching a group of lionesses and cubs interact.

A day that was all about cats when I saw a group of lions before breakfast, had cheetah cubs use our vehicle for shade on the pre-lunch game drive, and had a leopard go under our vehicle on the evening game drive. Unlike the cheetahs, who moved out from under the vehicle when the motor was started, the leopard did not and I got a fabulous photo of him when we pulled away from him. Tesha (my guide) and I could not stop smiling and exclaiming on our way back to the lodge that evening.

A four-hour thunderstorm in Ndutu one night that brought the wildebeests and zebras back into the area within 24 hours. There were sections of the plains that were literally black with wildebeests.

Taking a picnic breakfast with us on a dawn game drive so we could stay out longer. That was the morning we witnessed a cheetah hunt (from a distance so as not to interfere) and then spent hours watching the cheetah mum and cubs eat and play. No cup of tea has ever tasted as good as the one I had that morning in the open air.

Clockwise from left: a cheetah cub uses a tire for a perch; cheetah mum "Eleanor," renowned for producing a first litter of six cubs in 2008; Eleanor and one of her cubs.

Clockwise from left: a cheetah cub uses a tire for a perch; cheetah mum “Eleanor,” renowned for producing a first litter of six cubs in 2008; Eleanor and one of her cubs.

Meeting Tesha, who has been my guide three times—I feel like he is my brother.

Driving into the Serengeti and encountering a herd of over 200 elephants. I love elephants and I was so overwhelmed, I could hardly take photos. I had tears in my eyes at seeing all these elephants and I just kept saying ‘omigod, omigod, omigod’. There were young of all sizes, including babies that were barely higher than the grass, and I was trying to look everywhere at once. It still gives me chills to think of it.

While I hope to eventually to explore more safari locations, it is the Serengeti that has resonated with me since my first trip and the place I dream of when I think of going back to East Africa. I know it’s part of a larger ecosystem, and I know it’s just a line on a map, but still, when we enter the Serengeti, my soul is at peace.

Algernon and Ilsa

By the time I met Algernon and Ilsa, they were already world travelers. Algernon began traveling in 2002, joined by Ilsa in 2006. Separately or together, they traveled in the USA (Arizona, Louisiana, New Mexico, Ohio) and to England (Cornwall, London), France (Paris, Normandy, the Loire valley, Provence (nude sunbathing in St. Tropez!), Italy (Naples, Sicily, Venice), and Vienna, Austria.


Clockwise from top left: Algernon in Paris; Algernon and Ilsa in Naples; Algernon in Taormina; Algernon and Ilsa on the London Eye; in the Loire Valley.

Algnernon even went to Antarctica in 2011; here he is in Ushuaia, the point of departure for his Antarctic cruise.


However, it wasn’t until I went to Morocco a couple of years ago with one of my best friends that I had a chance to travel with the two of them. Although I am not used to traveling with other people, it was really quite fun!

Our first stop in Morocco was Chefchaouen, where Ilsa acquired the traditional hat of the Berber women. It was a moment of international goodwill and humor when a group of small boys and a woman saw me taking pictures of Ilsa wearing her hat – there was much smiling and laughing.


Clockwise from left: Ilsa and Algernon with Chefchaouen in the background; Algernon points to Ilsa’s hat; Ilsa posing against a blue vase.

After a day in Fes (Algernon got a fez) and a day in Meknes and Volubilis, we went to Erg Chebbi, where we took an excursion into the dunes of the Sahara.


After visiting the dunes, we drove to a Tuareg depot. There were pottery, rugs, and clothing for sale and my friend got a lesson in how to wrap a long scarf into a turban. We went back to the auberge for a leisurely lunch in the outdoor dining area.


After a night in the Sahara, we headed to Skoura. It was when we were enroute that we realized Ilsa too had learned how to tie a scarf into a turban.


Our trip ended in Casablanca. We had dinner at Rick’s Cafe, where Algernon and Ilsa showed off their hats.


To be continued…