Happy New Year from the Outer Banks of North Carolina! It's lovely here in the off-season and I'm grateful that I was able to travel this year after spending last year in solo lockdown.
It was a strange and sad year for some things, but a beautiful one for others (seeing my family again, being able to travel, embarking on my new solo projects, etc.). Here's a look back at some of the wonderful things I've seen in 2021!
The Outer Banks was also the first place I went when the long lockdown ended last spring. We had been confined to our city limits for almost 7 months so I was happy to go anywhere, but my first trip was to see my parents and get a vaccine since they weren't available in Italy for me yet. From there I went down to Miami to visit my niece. We had a nice trip to see the murals of Wynwood Walls (you can see my original post on Miami here).
After Miami I spent a week in Manhattan since I had to fly out of JFK to return to Rome. I hadn't been to NYC in years and wanted to take advantage of the pandemic to see the city relatively empty! I was there the week they opened the new "Little Island" park, and I loved the impromptu sidewalk dining due to Covid. I did a whole post on green spaces in the city that you can see here.
Meanwhile, back in Tuscany... spring had sprung and I started traveling again.
I spent a few days along the Tuscan coast and discovered an amazing natural spa with indoor-outdoor pools (and no sulfur smell)!
I also found time for a swim 🙂
I returned to the U.S. in the summer and decided to transit via Lisbon since there's a direct flight from there to DC, so I had a two-day stopover in that beautiful city. You can see my post on that here.
We had a long-awaited family reunion and spent many hours sipping cocktails and admiring the sunset from the dock. We got surreal reflections when the water was calm!
En route back to Italy I decided to stop in the Azores islands. They're in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and are spectacular! Flying out of Horta (Faial Island) I had an astounding view over the volcano on neighboring Pico. And on Pico they grow wine grapes between low walls made of volcanic rock to protect them from the elements! Read more about that here and here.
August found me in Umbria. Here's the wide plaza by the church dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi.
I also spent a few days in lovely Perugia, which has beautiful medieval and Renaissance architecture as well as a massive Etruscan arch!
Back in Tuscany's Val d'Orcia I spent a few nights in Pienza, where outdoor dining spilled out into every square and alleyway.
By September I was back in Greece!
I love island-hopping by ferry, even when high winds make it a bit dicey (but I had that little rainbow during the whole journey). 🙂
I loved discovering this 1,000-year-old church on one of my walks.
By the Fall I was up in Venice, hoping to find fewer crowds and a kind of "pandemic peace," but instead I found a city full of visitors (mostly European). But it's easy to get off-the-beaten-track and there's a lot to explore away from the tourists.
I saw this at a glass-blower's shop on the island of Murano. I think I need a spiky glass bra to confront the challenges of 2022! 😄
Just an hour's drive from Venice are the rolling vine-clad hills of the Prosecco region. And it's just been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site! Cin Cin!
We stopped to visit a beautiful cloister:
After Venice I went down to Naples and took a ferry to Ischia, "sister island" of nearby Capri. This massive castle sits just off-shore and was built when the region was under Spanish Aragonese control.
I also paid a visit to tiny (but so colorful!) Procida Island:
One last trip to the U.S. had me transiting through Lisbon again, so I took the opportunity to go to Sintra to see this fascinating structure. I had often seen it identified as an "initiation tower for the Knights Templar" so I was intrigued! Was it centuries' old?! What secrets did it hold?! I was surprised to find it was actually built in 1910 for a Portuguese businessman who wanted to fill his garden with Romantic and symbolic elements. This inverted tower sinks 27 m (88 ft) into the ground and reflects elements of Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, and the Tarot deck. Read more about the Quinta da Regaleira here.
I didn't eat at restaurants as much as I would have on a normal year for obvious reasons, but I still found plenty of good food to celebrate! Here below: a giant "raviolo" filled with ricotta and then fried that I had at an family-run farm near Pienza; a burrata and sun-dried tomato pizza in Naples (where pizza was born); fresh spring vegetables and spinach tortelloni from my organic vegetable delivery service; a fruit vendor at the Christmas market in Siena; a fresh Greek salad (one of many!!); a flight of wines on Pico island (Azores). Buon Appetito! (and as always with multiple photos, if you're reading this on your computer you can click on each one individually see it full format)
BACK HOME IN FLORENCE...
It seems surreal now that we in Italy were all confined to our city limits from November 2020 to the end of April 2021, and I have lots of photos like this one, taken on Easter Day. The city was eerily quiet even though people were allowed to go outside (but large family gatherings were banned and restaurants were closed).
One sad lonely evening, just me and my bike...
But it's such a beautiful city I never ran out of things to see and do. ❤️
And eventually the tourists returned....
I set out to explore as much of my city as possible this year. I climbed to the top of the cupola of the Duomo:
It's fascinating because you climb between the two layers of brick that allowed Brunelleschi to build the massive structure without it collapsing in on itself! Read more about that here.
I went to almost every museum: the Palazzo Pitti, the Uffizi Gallery, the Bargello...
I went to the Archaeology Museum and saw this amazing bronze "Chimera" that goes back to Etruscan times!
I also saw some fabulous art on my travels (a lot of which I've already posted here!), like this stunning gold death mask in Athens. Usually they're depicted with eyes closed but this guy is facing the afterlife with a smile and wide eyes! May we all be that joyful when the time comes! 🙂 (see full post here)
While I was in New York I spent two fabulous days at the Metropolitan Museum, which has an extraordinary Greco-Roman collection (you can see my post about it here):
And I fell totally in love with their Asian wing! I haven't even had time to post about that yet but here's a preview:
I ended the year back in Florence with a celebration of holidays lights.
I also enjoyed the light show that I got from my little 5th floor balcony! ❤️
And all those hours in lockdown allowed me to focus on the little things, like this single water droplet that formed every time I watered my monstera plant.
I'm going to have to learn how to tell the seasons using my personal "Duomo-henge" 😉
I've flooded my social media feed with nature pictures so it's hard to choose just a few, but here goes. One of the things I love the most about where I live is being able to take walks in the woods so close to home. It's beautiful in all seasons. ❤️
All the colors, through all the seasons!
All my little winged friends!
All of those green rolling hills... ❤️
I've never felt far away from my family but the gulf seemed insurmountable during the early days of Covid. Once the borders opened in the spring of this year I immediately went to see everybody. Here's my sister, my mom and I in July. ❤️
I'm so glad my parents live in an unpopulated area where they have lots of open space to themselves.
I'm grateful for my friends 🙂
I'm grateful for my four-legged friends too =^+^=
I loved stumbling upon the Gay Pride parade in Athens, and meeting this awesome dog-walker in Manhattan, and seeing this woman enjoying the open-air spa at Bagno Vignoni, and applauding this kid who defended his family from a marauding seagull with his bow and arrow. 😄
All in all it was a good year, although I was finally fired from my full-time job and now face an uncertain future. I head into the new year unkempt and wind-blown, but with an open mind and a full heart.
Please stay in touch, and consider joining me on a tour some day (you can read all about that in the Travel Services tab in the menu bar). Donations to keep my passport stamped and this blog fresh are welcome but by no means required (click here). 🙂
Thanks for joining me on my journey and