December 2011

Frohe Weihnachten from Switzerland

Christmas Morning

Week 47 of 52

After leaving the sunny coast of Italy, we hopped on our last Eurailpass train in Florence and headed north over the fantastic snow-covered Alps to Zurich, where Sarah welcomed us home. Here we are with our hanai (adopted) Swiss family before sitting down to our Christmas Day brunch. To Harrison’s left are Hallie, Amelia, Sarah, Sharene, Isabel, and Amelia’s husband, Phil.

You could call this the “BEFORE” photo: before we opened up presents and got a lot more silly and comfortable. Below, a couple of “AFTER” brunch photos!


We have been celebrating the holidays since we left Amsterdam at the end of November. The photos below show just a few of the incredible light displays we saw as we traveled through Frankfurt, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Venice, Rome, and Tuscany. Europe really knows how to show off its cities, big and small, during the holidays with sparkling lights and Christmas markets everywhere.


Holiday Collage


We sincerely hope your holidays have had bright lights with friends and family wherever you are celebrating these special days.

A hui hou and Merry Christmas, Buon Natale, Frohe Weihnachten, Veselé Vánoce,

Sharene and Harrison

Buon Natale!


Week 46 of 52

Porto Venere

Porto Venere, Liguria, Italy — truly a picture postcard town!

After 45 weeks of travel, we weren’t sure Italy could really be as picturesque as everyone told us. After all, we came from Hawaii, spent time gazing out at Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, hit many scenic highlights across Canada and the northern U.S., landed in perfect Switzerland where we were surrounded by Alps, lived in scenic Amsterdam, and were amazed by monumental Prague.

However, after touring the Italian countryside for the past few days, we have to agree, Italy is spectacular! Florence and Tuscany didn’t disappoint us (more on them below), but on our final day we looked at our map and decided to drive just outside Tuscany into the region of Liguria, where we discovered some amazing Mediterranean coastal towns including Tellaro at the top of the page and Porto Venere at right. We hadn’t seen the sea since last June and forgot how much we love that combination of ocean and hills. We were also very lucky to have a beautiful sunny day with clear skies (on December 19!) to enjoy these special places.

Seeing an ocean wasn’t the only thing we hadn’t done in six months. We actually rented a car… the first time we have driven since June 4th! Actually, Sharene drove because Harrison navigates, and getting out of a big, old city with narrow streets like Florence and avoiding crazy Italian drivers is no easy task. But once we were out, we had a great time exploring the smaller villages of Italy. We love the big cities and traveling by train, but when you have a car you can really have fun on the back roads and discover out-of-the-way places.


Our time in Tuscany began in Florence, its capital and the birthplace of the Renaissance. The place is nirvana for lovers of Renaissance art and architecture, but after seeing so much of that in our travels over the past six months we suffered a bit from art and architecture overload and limited ourselves to a few of the most famous buildings and art collections. Perhaps the most famous sculpture of all time is Michelangelo’s David, and it’s so popular that Florence has three! The original, created between 1501 and 1504, stood in the public square Palazzo della Signoria but was moved in 1873 to the Accademia Gallery where it’s now more secure and out of the weather. The original location now has a replica, and there is a copper replica in Michelangelo Square overlooking the Florence skyline.


After renting the car, our first night was in charming Cortona, a old city built around the 13th century. The fantastic B&B we found was built MUCH later… in the 15th century! Casa Chilenne was a wonderful experience and Jeannette Wong, the innkeeper, is originally from San Francisco! Her hospitality reminded us that B&Bs really can be a much richer experience than a hotel; we highly recommend her inn and the town.

The upper two photos above were typical scenes we came across as we drove through Tuscany. Rows of grapes and olive trees everywhere — this vast area makes Napa Valley look like a modest roadside stop — guarded by ancient walled villages on the hilltops.

The lower two photos are of the Torre Pendente, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and of course no trip would be complete without this popular photo op!


Lit TreeEven though we had lots of sunshine and clear skies for our visit to Italy, everywhere we went we knew it was Christmas! Every little town and village has lights and trees decorating the streets, especially in the walled villages with town squares. Very beautiful to see but they simply cannot be captured by photos.

We thought this tree was especially festive, and since our next newsletter won’t be until Christmas Day, we will take the time here to wish each of you a magical and peaceful holiday week, which we hope you can spend with loved ones.

We cherish every one of our friends and extended family and it’s been an honor to share our journey this year with you.

A hui hou and Buon Natale (Merry Christmas),

Sharene and Harrison


Venice Gondolier

Week 45 of 52

Many years ago when we owned Bed & Breakfast International, we remember a telephone conversation (no Internet back then!) with European guests who were coming to visit San Francisco. We proudly told them we had a charming turn-of-the-century Victorian available, to which they replied, “Lovely! Which century?”

Well, now we truly understand that they weren’t kidding. We have been in three Italian cities this past week, and they aren’t just old, they are ancient cities with ruins, buildings, artwork and sculptures dating back thousands of years. It’s mindboggling to see such magnificent and often gigantic structures built by master craftsmen. Then, there is the art inside! Paintings, marble and granite sculptures, and fantastic painted ceilings. And all created to hold up over centuries… a far cry from the “throwaway” culture we live in today.

There’s Nothing Like VENICE

Thin Venice Blonde

Sunny day, picturesque canal, beautiful blonde… just your typical Venice scene!

The roads are waterways, the streets are alleyways, the cars are boats and gondolas, and the buses are boats called vaporettos that pull up to the dock to take commuters, locals, and visitors where they need to go.

Our hotel, Hotel Al Duca di Venezia, was fantastic and we highly recommend it! We took a short walk from the hotel our first night to dinner at a small, family-owned Italian (what else?) restaurant. Watching the people who worked there and locals who came in was like watching a scene out of the movie The Godfather. Attention all casting agents: just have a cappuccino here and you will have all the characters you need for your next project! Another thing about restaurants here, if you don’t order vino with your meal, they look at you suspiciously…

Of course we’ve seen Venice many times in movies, but nothing can compare to the real thing. The smartly dressed gondoliers like the one at the top of the page really do stand up and maneuver these boats by oar-power alone along canals large and small.

How they built this city not on but in the water, we can’t figure. Sure, we read about how they did it, but we are still amazed it hasn’t completely disintegrated after hundreds of years in salt water. We had a pool that needed to be replastered after only 10 years of fresh water!

TODI – Built by Hercules???

Todi View

View from our room at the San Lorenzo Tre

So, how’s THAT for old? According to recorded legend, Todi was first built by Hercules way back in 1330 BC. We think our hotel was built not long after that! But we loved it, and if you ever get to Todi and want something different from a Holiday Inn (and rated #1 by TripAdvisor) check out the Residenza D’Epoca San Lorenzo Tre. The charming town of Todi is set way up on a hill overlooking one of the valleys in Umbria. It was built as a medieval fortress complete with several magnificent cathedrals and a busy town square.

Keith and Robin were our main reasons for a diversion to Todi. They also left Hawaii about the same time we did but decided to travel for two years, mainly in Europe. A tiny rural Umbrian village near Todi has been their home for the last few months, but they are off this week for sunnier weather in Spain. We have been following each other’s adventures along the way so it was fun to meet in person. And we happened to pick the evening of Immacolata Concezione (Immaculate Conception), a major Italian holiday, when they lit the huge Christmas tree in the Todi town square!

We had a very nice dinner with Keith, Robin, and Robin’s mother who was visiting, and we toasted our mutual friend, Luigi, who introduced us. Those of you who have been following our travels since the beginning might remember that Luigi was our friend from Hilo who owned our favorite restaurant there. He passed away suddenly and much too soon last February just after we left the Big Island. The four of us all had hoped he would come visit while we were on our mutual trips. Aloha and arrivederci, Luigi.

ROMA!! Two and A Half Thousand Years of History!

Rome is the 11th-most-visited city in the world, 3rd-most-visited in the European Union, and the most popular tourist attraction in Italy. We cannot even begin to imagine the crowds in the summer, because we think all 4.2-million visitors are here this week!

When you are a city with the Vatican, the Colosseum, fountains (including the famous Trevi Fountain above) and a history no others can beat, you expect it to be crowded. But even for us — two big city people — it’s just a bit too much. However, being here and seeing these places that were created so long ago is humbling and we know of no other place on our planet to see art displayed as it is here in Rome. We also have had fun listening to groups of 3-4 Italians in animated rapid-fire discussions — all talking at the same time!

We’ve had a great week in Italy. We always manage to meet nice people, we ate some good Italian food, and we had mostly blue skies and temps in the 60s (that’s above 15 C) in early December; guess that’s another reason people LOVE Italy! We still have more to see in Rome and then it’s on to Florence and Tuscany.

Until Week 46,

A hui hou, ciao, and arrivederci!

Sharene and Harrison

One Week—Three Countries—All Amazing!

Prague Castle at Night

Week 44 of 52

Weiden, Germany

When we left Berlin last week, we headed south on the train into Bavaria to spend one night visiting some friends who relocated to Germany from the Big Island two years ago. Manu is originally from Germany, but this has been a new, exciting experience for Jeff. Manu just opened a brand new real estate office in the center of this charming old city and Jeff is hard at work learning fluent German. Too bad we don’t want to live in a sweet German city of about 45,000 people (with the feel of a village); if we did, we would be as captivated by Weiden as they have been. It was great to see them looking so happy, healthy, and excited about their future. When we asked Jeff if he ever missed the Big Island, he replied that the only thing he missed was his daughter; other than that, he is quite happy in Europe, “thank you very much!”

Prague, Czech Republic

We had heard for years about the picturesque and amazing city of Prague… often ranked in the top five most beautiful cities worldwide. Still, after all we’ve seen this year and on previous European trips, we weren’t prepared to be so impressed by this incredible place with its castles, palaces, and other historic architecture as well as all its cultural and entertainment attractions. (Now we know the inspiration for Disneyland’s “Magic Kingdom” — the photo of Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral at the top of the page is just one example.) Prague was almost overwhelming with so much to see, and of course being here during the holidays, we had the added beauty of Christmas lights, Christmas markets, and Christmas music everywhere.

For those we can convince to put Prague in their future travel plans, we highly recommend our hotel, the Hotel Pinot, one of those sweet old European hotels that is walking distance to Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, and into the other old parts of the city. Thanks to our friends Tony and Hanne for the recommendation!

Beethoven Score

One of Beethoven’s original scores, on display at the Lobkowicz Palace Museum

We spent one afternoon at the Lobkowicz Palace, a privately owned building in the Prague Castle complex. The Palace, along with other large properties throughout the Czech Republic, is owned by the Lobkowicz family, who tell visitors to this museum a fascinating real-life tale about the six-hundred-year history of the Lobkowiczes, including the dramatic story of how the family lost everything twice and got it back — twice. The properties and contents are now managed by 50-year-old William Lobkowicz, who was born and raised in Boston. In 1989, he moved to Prague to begin reclaiming his family properties that were taken from them first by the Nazis, then by the communists. It’s an amazing history. Some of their most valuable and prized treasures are original scores and manuscripts by Beethoven and Mozart, including Beethoven’s 4th and 5th symphonies and Mozart’s re-orchestration of Handel’s Messiah, on display in the museum. Seeing these originals with the composers’ own handwriting took Harrison’s breath away!

Charles Bridge Vendor

Music vendor on the Charles Bridge

Prague is a city for walking and we were so fortunate to have several days of blue skies… it was cold but clear. The historic Charles Bridge connects both sides of the city and walking across the river is magical. The bridge has towers at both ends and many vendors (including the man with the monkey!) to entertain you as you stroll across and admire the views in every direction. As usual, we took in some interesting events, heard some great music, and met some wonderful people during our time here — thanks, Carolina, for a lovely walk and more!

Our advice: Put this one on your list of places to visit! Five days wasn’t nearly enough time to see it all so we know we’ll be back.

However, unlike many of the beautiful places we have visited this year, Prague is one where we didn’t immediately say, “We could live here!” That’s because we are chagrined to admit that we would never be able to learn the Czech language… it’s pretty to listen to but impossible in every other way! We would like to say “thanks for a great time” in Czech, but this is how you would say it:

Děkuji Vám za skvělou návštěvu!

And we thought humuhumunukunukuapuaa was a mouthful!

Vienna, Austria

We ended our week in Vienna, another city on architectural steroids. We have been to Vienna before so this time only came for the weekend and could not do it justice, but we jammed as much as we could into our one full day here.

We went to a Christmas concert Saturday evening at St. Anna’s Church and today we went to three museums and ferreted out all the Klimt artwork we could find. At two of the museums with unbelievable collections of art work (the Kunsthistorisches Museum and Belvedere Palace), we couldn’t decide which was more magnificent, the art or the buildings!

Seems there is one surprise after another for us at every stop. We have another interesting week ahead of us in three very different places, but only one country… to give you a hint, we will leave you with this:

Ciao, and a hui hou!
Sharene and Harrison