Compass Needlepoint Finished

Here’s my compass needlepoint project finished and framed!compass needlepoint project compass rose finished

persian needlepoint kit and pattern ancora imparoI’m absolutely thrilled with the result. It’s just gorgeous, and as good or better than I even imagined. I designed this compass rose project in 2013, hoping it would be a quicker project than my earlier Ancora Imparo needlepoint. However, once I got into the design of this compass, I realized that the number of stitches necessary would be roughly the same as in Ancora Imparo. So much for being quicker!

I started stitching this compass project in January 2014 and finished up in February 2016. It didn’t take up all of my crafting time during that period as I was working on other, mostly cross stitch, projects concurrently. This compass needlepoint even crossed the Atlantic Ocean twice! I have vivid memories of working on this project while sitting on the patio of a house in the mountains of Asturias, Spain.

This project was inspired while we were traveling in Europe; it is based on a compass rose made of tile pieces on the patio of the charming Cuq en Terrasses hotel in France. The hotel is in the countryside near Toulouse, and it’s one of our favorite places to stay in the world.

Here you can see the needlepoint early in it’s execution, next to it’s model.Compass Tile WIP #3

You can see that I made the project a little more colorful than the original, but stayed true to it’s earth tones. At that point I had outlined and partially filled in nearly all of the first row of tiles except for the four gray tiles of the primary compass directions (north, south, east, west).

One of the reasons I stitched the primary direction tiles last is that, as I did in the center circle, I wanted to use the double stitch in that area. As I discovered through this project, double stitch works great on a square area; however, in an irregular shape, it can turn into quite a challenge. To conquer that challenge, I created a helpful tutorial on how to tackle the double stitch.compass needlepoint compass rose close up 1 double stitch

Above, you can see the two colors I used in the double stitch. The long cross stitches are in dark grey, while the short cross stitches are in a dark grey-blue. When I was choosing colors for this project, I thought the blue would make a nice visual compliment to all the earth tones without contrasting too much.

compass needlepoint compass rose close up 2Above you can see that with the all of the brown flosses, I slightly blended the colors, mixing 5 strands of one color with one strand of a contrasting color. I did this to better represent the speckled color and texture of the original tiles and to add a little visual interest.

You can also see the Tent stitch used in the radiating tiles of the center square, the Hungarian stitch used in the background of the center square, and three of the stitches used in the border blocks. In total, I used 20 different needlepoint stitches. The reference book I used for the stitches is an old favorite of mine, 101 Needlepoint Stitches and How to Use Them by Hope Hanley.

To read more about the execution of this compass needlepoint, here are my posts over time: Getting Started, Update 1, Update 2, and Update 3.

The pattern for this project is now available in my Etsy shop, and it could also be made into a custom needlepoint kit as well. While I love the earth tones in the stitched example, I think this project would look great in lots of color combinations. Please contact me if you would be interested in seeing some other color options with this project.

My husband and I may not be able to spend all our time at Cuq-en-Terrasses, but now we have this compass needlepoint project as a beautiful reminder of our wonderful stays there. There are also a few more of their patio tile patterns that would make great needlepoint projects… stay tuned!

Compass Needlepoint Update 3

Once again I’m happy to share more progress on my compass needlepoint project!

compass needlepoint update 2In the last update, I had finished all of the radiating tiles and was ready to start filling in the background and the borders.

 

 

 

Here’s my latest photo – she’s looking gorgeous!compass needlepoint update 3

All of the border tiles are outlined, and I’ve started filling them in as well as the background. The four corners will be the same double stitch as the center circle and the four primary direction tiles. All of the other border blocks will have a different needlepoint stitch.

Compass Needlepoint Project WIP #6aHere you can see a bit more detail of the individual stitches. At the top, I’ve used Cashmere stitch worked diagonally. Next one down on the left is the Parisian stitch, and the Fern stitch below that.

I’m using the Hungarian stitch with ivory thread in the background of the center. It’s lovely, but it is really challenging to keep the pattern flowing in the tight areas between the blocks of color!

Compass Needlepoint Project WIP #6bFrom the top of this photo you can see the Brick Cashmere stitch, the Oblique Slav stitch and the Byzantine stitch. I had to add an extra element to the Oblique Slav section as the stitch with the thread I’m using didn’t cover the canvas quite enough. It still looks great, though!

 

 

 

 

I’m still very happy that I have slightly blended the colors, mixing 5 strands of the main colors with one strand of contrasting colors. I did this to better represent the speckled color and texture of the original tiles and to add a little visual interest. This looks good in the radiating tiles, but I think it looks even better in these border blocks.

The next step is to just keep filling in the background and occasionally take a break to have some fun filling in the border blocks with interesting stitches. I would LOVE to have her done by the end of this year (2015) as I have some other very cool needlepoint projects ready to stitch. However, this one has to get finished first!

The previous updates (Update 1 and Update 2) have info on the inspiration for this pattern – a patio tile pattern at the beautiful Cuq en Terrasses hotel near Toulouse, France. Take a look!

Gypsy Ways Update 10 – QM2 and Cross Country

Gypsy ways update 10 begins with us boarding the elegant Queen Mary 2 at Southampton after a wonderful time in England and Western Europe.Queen Mary 2 Ocean Liner II

[Queen Mary 2 Ocean Liner by Gerald via Flickr]

The QM2 is a truly magnificent ship. And everyone is quick to remind you that this is an “ocean going liner” and certainly not a “cruise ship.”

I’ll repeat a bit from an earlier update – “The main reason we take the QM2 is because they offer kennel service, and if we’re doing some extensive traveling, we like to bring our dog. Transportation by water is not my favorite as I get terribly seasick (even on a lake), but as a way to get across the Atlantic with the dog and all of our luggage (as much as you can fit in your cabin is allowed), it’s a great way to go.

“The dogs are restricted to a small area on the ship (deck 12, starboard aft), and they have to learn to do their ‘business’ on the teak decking, which can be challenging for our four-legged friends. There is a full time kennel master who takes outstanding care of the dogs and keeps the kennels very clean and comfy, and we’re allowed to spend time with the dogs for various stretches totaling 7 to 8 hours a day. All the dog people get to know each other and the other dogs as we spend most of our days together in the kennels.”

In that previous update, I promised to share a few more photos, so here they are…gypsy ways update 10 - qm2 kennels on deck

The door to the kennels is open and you can see that the gate at the fore end of the kennel deck is closed to keep the pooches inside. The kennel masters bring out chairs and provide blankets to help keep everyone warm. In fact, my dog Scully is the lump under the blanket closest to the camera.gypsy ways update 10 - qm2 kennels inside

If it gets too cold outside, this is the area inside where we can sit. Scully is the black and tan one at the right. Her best dog friend this trip was Watson, the french bulldog on the chair to her left. Next to Watson was his person, Claire.gypsy ways update 10 - qm2 kennels dog life jacket

Here you can see Scully with her life jacket on (and looking a little not-too-sure about it). Behind her, scratching the Spaniel, is the kennel master. They have life jackets in all different sizes for the pets.

Like I said in the previous update, most of our day revolved around the open kennel hours. There were events scheduled every hour of every day all over the ship, but we spent as much time as we could with our dog. After the kennels closed for the night, we went to dinner, saw what was happening in the ballroom, and checked out the jazz in the Chart Room.Queen Mary 2, Greenock

[Queen Mary 2 Chart Room by Rob Lightbody via Flickr]

After eight fun, elegant nights, we docked in Brooklyn and started our US journey. For that road trip, I actually recommend that you read the first update of this trip, in which we traveled from west to east. This time, however, start at the bottom of the page and work your way back up, as that is almost exactly how we returned to the west coast.

We did visit lots of friends and family along the way, including stops in Boston, Chicago, Iowa, Omaha, and Colorado before arriving back home. One highlight was something I had never seen before – the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. I only had time for a quick walking tour of Forest Avenue, but I will go back to take a more thorough look. gypsy ways update 10 - frank lloyd wright frank w thomas house forest avenue oak park illinoisThat beautiful note wraps up this series of posts on our travels in 2014. It was an amazing trip and I’m so grateful that we have the opportunity to undertake something this extensive. However, I will say that it is always nice to come back home.

If you’re curious about other parts of the trip, Update 1 covered our trip across the United States west to east, Update 2 was our Transatlantic crossing west to east, Update 3 talked about the UK and Greece, Update 4 was in Switzerland and Italy’s Cinque Terre, Update 5 was about Italy, Update 6 covered the French Riviera, the Tour de France, Basque country and the Rioja area of Spain, Update 7 talked about Asturias, Spain, Update 8 was the Mediterranean Costa Blanca and driving north through France, and Update 9 covered some great sights in England.

If you have any questions about any part of the trip, please feel free to ask. We have some definite favorites that we are happy to share!

Gypsy Ways Update 9 – London and the UK

Gypsy ways update 9 begins with us just arrived back in the UK from our adventures in continental Europe. At this point we joined my Mom who had never been to the UK before. She arrived a few days before we did, and in that time she visited the Sandringham Estate, which is the Queen’s home in Norfolk.Sandringham House 23-05-2011

[Sandringham House by Karen Roe via Flickr]

While she enjoyed the Estate and the grounds (and their delicious apple juice), the setting is informal, and she was also wanting to see a little Imperial opulence. So we took her to Windsor Castle!

Parts of Windsor Castle truly are spectacular. Despite the volume of visitors it receives, the grounds and gardens are immaculate,gypsy ways update 9 - garden at windsor castle

and the State Apartments are stately, indeed.The Crimson Drawing Room - State Apartments at Windsor Castle England

[The Crimson Drawing Room by mbell1975 via Flickr]

In November 1992, a fire destroyed or damaged more than 100 rooms at the Castle (the Crimson Drawing Room shown in the photo above was completely gutted). There are fascinating tales of chains of people, staff and volunteers, passing furniture, works of art, and manuscripts to safety, and the restoration work is a tribute to the craftspeople who executed it so beautifully.

Mom and I spent two full days in London. We started with museums, namely the massive and impressive Victoria and Albert Museum with it’s emphasis on art and design. The V&A is so big that I asked her to pick out one part of the museum that she wanted to see in particular, and she chose the Jameel Gallery of Islamic art. In that gallery is the beautiful Ardabil carpet that no other than famous designer William Morris recommended that the museum purchase.The Ardabil Carpet on display in the Jameel Gallery, V&A

We also went to the unique and unusual Sir John Soane’s museum. He was an architect who collected objects of art and architecture from around the world. His home is full of these pieces, and “in 1833 Soane negotiated an Act of Parliament to settle and preserve the house and collection for the benefit of ‘amateurs and students’ in architecture, painting and sculpture.” It was a fascinating place. antiquities gallery at Sir John Soane's museum

[Antiquities Gallery at Sir John Soane’s Museum by Arwen O’Reilly via Flickr] 

Of course, we visited the area around the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) and Westminster Abbey.Houses of Parliament & Westminster Bridge.

[Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge by Apostolis Giontzis via Flickr]

We toured Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, the modern construction of the original Globe Theater from Shakespeare’s time. The new theater is about 750 feet from the original building that was torn down around 1644. Here you can see that much of the roof is open to the sky, and the floor of the theater has no seats – it’s standing room only!gypsy ways update 9 - shakespeare's globe theater

We went to Greenwich, home of the Old Royal Naval College with it’s twin domes designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The Cutty Sark resides there, and the Royal Observatory that houses the Greenwich Meridian at 0 degrees longitude is less than a mile away. However the real stars are the Chapel and the Painted Hall.

The Chapel interior was originally quite plain, but after a fire in 1779, it was redecorated in the Greek revival style you see here:
Inside the Old Royal Navy Chapel

[Inside the Old Royal Navy Chapel by Nicholas Schooley via Flickr]

The Painted Hall is a real treat. It was originally intended as a dining hall for naval veterans, and it took the artist James Thornhill 19 years to paint the interior. At completion in 1727, the space was deemed far too grand for it’s original purpose, so it sat mainly unused for most of the next 70 years. Today it is open to the public and used as a space to hire for formal dinners and occasions.
The Painted Hall, Greenwich, London, England

[The Painted Hall, Greenwich by Joe Daniel Price via Flickr]

The last location we visited in London was the beautiful and sobering “Blood Swept Land and Sea of Red” at the Tower of London. One ceramic poppy was handmade for every British fatality in World War I and all 888,246 poppies were installed in the moat around the Tower gradually between July 17 and November 11, 2014. All of the poppies were sold and the proceeds were split between six service charities.gypsy ways update 9 - poppies at the tower of london

After our time in London, my Mom had to go back to the States, but my husband and I did a little more traveling in the UK before we boarded the Queen Mary 2. We visited a family member who lives in the lovely town of Bovey Tracey in Devon. From there, we drove into Dartmoor and had a pub lunch in the beautiful, tiny, and ancient village of Widecombe in the Moor.
Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Dartmoor

[Widecombe-in-the-Moor by Baz Richardson via Flickr]

We also visited a friend who lives in Meads Village, Eastbourne near the chalky cliffs of Beachy Head. Another pub lunch was had in the nearby town of East Dean, famous for being the retirement spot of Sherlock Holmes. In the photo below, the house he “lived in” is at left in the fore of the photo, and the Tiger Inn pub is easy to see with it’s bright umbrellas.
Tiger Inn, East Dean

[Tiger Inn, East Dean by Dave_S. via Flickr]

The next post will be the final chapter of these travels, covering our time on the Queen Mary 2 and our trip back across the US on our way home. Stay tuned!

(Here’s a link to the previous Update 8, and to the next [and final] Update 10)

Gypsy Ways Update 8 – Spain and France

Gypsy ways update 8 begins with us in Spain, leaving the cool green beauty of Asturias and heading south to the Mediterranean along the Costa Blanca.

Some people like the busy beaches and high rises of Benidorm, but I prefer the smaller, lesser developed towns nearby like Moraira and Xàbia (Javea) that still retain some of their original charm.
Javea - from the Cap de Sant Antoni

[Javea by Baz Richardson via Flickr]

We stay with family members who have a house in the area, and their view looking down on the Mediterranean is outstanding.gypsy ways update 8 - view from cumbre del sol

It’s a wonderful, relaxing place and a great spot to get organized for the final push and drive north back to the UK.

Driving north along the A31 Motorway between Alicante and Albacete, there are some great castles including ones at Sax, Chinchilla de Monte Aragón, and this beauty at Villena. I’m happy to say that that the Spanish government has done some major preservation and restoration work on it’s historical sites in recent years to save these from becoming ruins.gypsy ways update 8 - castle at villena spain

One building along the A31 always received my particular attention. I can only guess that it was a long abandoned inn – possibly for people traveling by horse carriage? I wish I knew! The oval shape of the upper windows is my only indication of it’s possible age. Regardless, I was always curious about the history of the building and thought it was unfortunate that the building was in such bad shape (see the before photo below on the left).

Well, last time we drove by, I was thrilled to see that the building has been completely restored (see the after photo on the right). There is now a gas station and a convenience shop and I can only hope that it is again being used as a travelers inn.

gypsy ways update 8 - old coach stop before and after

The remainder of our days driving north through Spain and France were pretty uneventful, but we were lucky to find a little jewel of a hotel – the Auberge du Port des Roches near Le Mans.gypsy ways update 8 - auberge du port de roches

The setting is ideal – it stands on one side of a small lane, and on the other side of the lane is a beautiful patio along the Loir river. gypsy ways update 8 - auberge du port de roches patioOur room was charming, the dinner on the patio that evening was excellent and beautifully served, and best of all, the proprietor loves to cross stitch!

gypsy ways update 8 - auberge du port de roches cross stitch key boardCross stitched pieces are everywhere, from the room keys

 

 

 

 

gypsy ways update 8 - auberge du port de roches cross stitch chambre non fumeurto the no smoking signs in the rooms.

 

 

 

 

Here is the proprietor with some of her pieces (her signs say “closed Sunday evening and Monday.” “Open Tuesday at 5:00 P.M.”). You can see she also has some small cross stitched and framed monograms for sale on the wall behind her. gypsy ways update 8 - proprietor at auberge du port de roches and her cross stitch

I couldn’t imagine a nicer way to complete our time in continental Europe!

The next update will start with some adventures in the UK before our trip back across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 – stay tuned…

(Here’s a link to the previous Update 7, and the next Update 9)

Gypsy Ways Update 7 – Asturias

Gypsy ways update 7 covers our time in Asturias, the beautiful central part of the north coast of Spain. To the west of Asturias is Galicia and the pilgrimage destination of Santiago de Compostela. To the east is Santander, Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Basque country. But in between, roughly centered around the city of Oviedo, is the lovely province of Asturias.

Many people envision Spain as being dry and hot. While parts are like that, Asturias is part of what they call “Green Spain.” It has beautiful ocean beaches that quickly sweep up into magnificent mountain scenery. It’s climate is wetter and cooler than most of the rest of Spain, and that makes it a great place to be for the hot summer months.La puerta a la melancolía. / The door to the melancholy.

[La puerta a la melancolía, by O.M.A via Flickr]

We stayed in the tiny mountainside town of Carrea, outside of San Martín de Teverga. This is what the town looks like from a higher spot:gypsy ways update 7 - the tiny village of Carrea, near san martin de teverga, asturias

In this photo, the village looks bigger than it really was. If you consider that at least half of the roofs seen are for barns and other structures, the village probably consisted of not more than 30 houses.

This was the view from the front of the house, looking over our neighbor’s patio and the roof of her barn over the valley and the mountains further inland. gypsy ways update 7 view from the house in carrea asturias

We had lots of friends roaming around – cats, dogs, chickens, horses, cows, a goat, and these noisy but cute donkeys:

Within easy drives there was outstanding mountain scenery. This was on the border between Asturias and the neighboring province of León (my photo doesn’t really do it justice):gypsy ways update 7 - view on pass from Asturias to Leon

Just above Carrea is the tiny Santuario de Nuestra Señora del Cébrano, and we happened to be there for their annual procession.

The bread and flowers that are on the poles are auctioned off along with other items later in the afternoon and the proceeds go to support the Sanctuary throughout the year. In the background, you can see the bouncy castle for the kids. What you can’t see is that behind the sanctuary to the left, there is an enormous bar tent. As is typical of events in all of Spain, the party for this event went until the wee hours of the next morning – we heard the band shut down at about 1:00 AM, and the party sounds finally died down at about 3:00.

Asturias has more than just mountain scenery as it has a very beautiful coastline as well. There are beaches, such as this one – the Playa de Poo (really!) near Llames. gypsy ways update 7 - the playa de poo near llames, asturias

For me, the most beautiful scenery along the Asturian coast are the places where the land meets the sea most dramatically.gypsy ways update 7 - near the bufones de pria, asturias, spainI took the above photo on a day with calm seas… however when the seas are rolling, this area gets pretty interesting. Over time, the ocean has carved tunnels of different sizes up through the rock to the surface. These holes are called “bufones.”

On a calm day, you will hear the wind rushing through the fissures and it sounds like the ground is breathing (pretty creepy, actually). You might see a little water vapor once in a while. But then there are days like this:

The video gives a much better sense of the scale of the cliffs and the people on top of them. It’s awe inspiring!

Fabada AsturianaLike all areas of Spain, the Asturians are extremely proud of their land, their culture, and their food. While their meat and fish are superb, I enjoy their Fabada Asturiana immensely. It’s a delicious mix of beans, spices, sausages and meats that you won’t find anywhere else.

 

And then there’s the sidra. The climate of Asturias is much better suited for growing apples rather than grapes, so instead of drinking wine, you drink sidra (cider). Ah, but you don’t just pour it into a glass and drink it slowly like a beer… you want it to get some bubbles in it first. This is the way…

They pour about an inch of sidra at a time, and you drink it right away. If you don’t drink it fast enough, it will oxidize too much and be spoiled. Most bars have buckets or drains to pour off the extra. You could study the whole culture that revolves around sidra for years!

The next update will cover a bit more of Spain, and then our travels back north through France as we start our way back to the UK and toward home.

(Here’s a link to the previous Update 6 and the next Update 8)

Gypsy Ways Update 6 – France and Spain

Gypsy Ways Update 6 finds us moving north west out of Italy into France and then south west from there into Spain.

We passed quickly through the Italian and French Riveras. Although the scenery is beautiful, driving on the motorways in the area can be pretty intense. As I usually describe it, it’s “bridge tunnel bridge tunnel bridge tunnel bridge tunnel…” as the mostly two-lane road cuts through the mountains and valleys along the Mediterranean coast. Below is the best photo I could find that encapsulates the E80 Motorway experience…IMG_0080

 [image by Tim Twelves via Flickr]

Just west of Nice, we cut up into the hills and stayed overnight in the lovely village of Le Rouret before heading further west through the rugged canyons and beautiful scenery of the Parc Naturel du Verdon.gypsy ways update 6 parc naturel du verdon canyonsOur next destination was the area around Douville so that we could see a stage of the Tour de France. The penultimate day of the 2014 Tour was an individual time trial that started in Bergerac and ended in Périgueux. The individual time trials are, in our opinion, the best days to watch the Tour as the riders go past one at a time, rather than in one or two big groups. This video gives you a taste of what the experience is like:

The publicity caravan that precedes the race itself is hilarious! Here’s a few of the vehicles from a previous year (bear in mind these are not parade floats – these things fly by at about 25 miles an hour, flinging samples out at the crowds):gypsy ways update 6 tour de france publicity caravan vittel 2014

gypsy ways update 6 tour de france publicity caravan st michel chickengypsy ways update 6 tour de france publicity caravan xtraThis last one for Xtra laundry detergent is outrageous. I’m not sure if you can see them, but this “float” features scantily clad young men pole dancing (and yes, they are wearing safety harnesses). The publicity caravan is a lot of fun!

One of my favorite finds of the summer was very near our hotel. There is a nice little campground with a lake, this is one of the signs around the lake:gypsy ways update 6 french sign translation failThe English part of the sign really means to say “Swimming in the lake is prohibited,” so one can only assume this is just a spectacular web-based translation fail.

After the Tour, we were lucky enough to spend a few nights at one of our favorite hotels, the charming and relaxing Cuq en Terrasses near Toulouse. There one of my work-in-progress needlepoint projects was able to meet its inspiration (click here to read more about the project).Compass Tile WIP #3

From there we went over the Pyrenees mountains into Spain. Just before the tunnel that forms part of the France/Spain border, traffic was stopped by a flock of Basque sheep.gypsy ways update 6 basque sheep on the road through the pyreneesThe drive through the Pyrenees and into Jaca, Spain is full of gorgeous mountain scenery. Jaca itself is a lovely small town with a well-preserved star-shaped fortress that has a dry moat frequently visited by deer.
ciudadela 1

 [Ciudadela by Angel via Flickr]

From Jaca we moved on to the beautiful Rioja area of Spain, famous for its wines. Other than the city of Logroño, the area is mostly small towns surrounded by thousands of acres of wine grapes. A good spot to survey the area is the hilltop town of Laguardia. On a fall day, the colors run everywhere from dark brown and purple to gold and light green. The grapes go on seemingly forever.gypsy ways update 6 rioja spain in the fall

A few other highlights in the area include the town of Cenicero (which translates to “ashtray”), where, during the grape harvest, you will never see so many tractors loaded with grapes going back and forth through the middle of town. Navarette is a town along the pilgrimage Way of St. James, and the gilt baroque altarpiece of it’s church is impressive.

One of Rioja’s most striking features is quite modern. The Hotel Marqués de Riscal was designed by Frank Gehry. Some might argue its stylized grapevine shape is out of place in the ancient village of El Ciego, but I disagree. Regardless, its curves, colors, and textures are intriguing and vary from every viewpoint.gypsy ways update 6 hotel marques de riscal el ciego spainNext update will have more interesting places in Spain!

(Here’s a link to the previous Update 5, and the next Update 7.)

Gypsy Ways Update 5 – Italy

Gypsy Ways Update 5 starts with us near the Cinque Terre (Five Lands), and has us moving on to Tuscany!
Terre Toscane

[Terre Toscane by Filippo Marchi via Flickr]

The Tuscan landscape is beautiful. We stayed in an agriturismo about a half hour drive East from Siena. It’s a perfect location, off the beaten path, but central enough to make easy day trips to a number of historic and scenic locations.

Close by, there are popular places like Montepulciano, Pienza, Montalcino, San Giminano, and Monteriggioni. Monteriggioni is one of my favorites. It’s a medieval village and it’s towers and walls remain intact.
Volando sopra Monteriggioni

[Flying over Monteriggioni by Angela Massagni via Flickr]

As you can see in the photo, the town hasn’t grown past it’s walls and it retains the charm of a small, unspoiled, hilltop village.

Pienza is also a favorite of mine as it’s small and not too heavily touristy. The view of Pienza as you drive to it from the West is stunning.
Pienza in Tuscany Italy

[Pienza, Tuscany by Steve via Flickr]

A little further away are the beautiful and historic towns of Volterra and Assisi. As for bigger cities, there are always Florence and Pisa, but Siena is definitely my favorite. Siena has the enormous and beautiful Piazza del Campo, unique with it’s shell shape and home to the Palio horse race. gypsy ways update 5 - siena palio jockeys before the race

Siena also has it’s Duomo, which is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. You can look at the photos of it’s facade, the ornate floors, the alternating black and white marble columns… but photos can only capture some of it’s beauty.

One highlight is the amazing Piccolimini library which holds precious illuminated musical manuscripts in a richly decorated room. Libreria Piccolomini

[Libreria Piccolomini by Steffen Ramsaier via Flickr]

gypsy ways update 5 - gorganza, tuscanyThere are also some lesser-known spots that are just lovely and not very touristy. Places like Gorganza – an entire hilltop village that is now a quiet self-catering hotel. It has a great restaurant, perfect for lunch after exploring the town.

 

 

 

 

 

gypsy ways update 5 - rome sign in buonconventoBuonconvento is another virtually unspoiled town on the road to Rome.

 

 

 

 

gypsy ways update 5 - serre di rapolano town hallSerre di Rapolano is near travertine marble quarries (thus the gleaming town hall you see here) and the natural hot springs at Rapolano Terme.

 

 

 

gypsy ways update 5 - norcia, umbria, italyLucignano is also worth a look around, and if you go south out of Tuscany and into Umbria, the towns of Norcia and Amelia are well worth the visit. Norcia (pronounced nor-cha) is famous for its meats and sausages and for pasta with truffles – yum!

 

 

In the next update, we’ll go into France and Spain. Stay tuned!

(Here’s a link to the previous Update 4 and the next Update 6.)

Gypsy Ways Update 4 – Switzerland and Italy

Gypsy Ways Update 4 starts with us leaving the UK and heading quickly through France on our way to Italy (fans of France, don’t worry, as we will return to France later). However, we did take a quick stop to visit Montreux, Switzerland.gypsy ways update 4 - montreux, switzerlandThe photo above is from a gorgeous path that follows the lakeshore. It really is a lovely town. It is home to the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival, held annually since 1967.

Montreux has had many famous residents, but the one who brought us to this beautiful town was Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen. Queen isn’t necessarily to everyone’s taste, but Freddie had amazing charisma on stage. There is a statue of him overlooking Lake Geneva, and people to this day leave tributes to him there. gypsy ways update 4 - freddie mercury statue in montreux switzerland

If you want to see him in action (and see one of the best live performances by any band EVER), watch the video below, where he has the entire audience at the old Wembley Stadium in the palm of his hand.

Freddy was amazing!

From there we drove over and through the Alps on the spectacular Col du Saint Bernard into Italy.

Col du Grand Saint-Bernard, Italie

[The Col du Grand Saint-Bernard by ClearFrost via Flickr] 

The first place we stayed in Italy is a very small town near the Cinque Terre (Five Lands). The towns of the Cinque Terre are beautiful, but extraordinarily difficult to reach by car, so we stay in Mattarana, a mountain town off the beaten track.gypsy ways update 4 - mattarana italy

Mattarana has one hotel that also happens to be a great social hub for the locals. It opens at 6:00 AM, closes at 11:00 PM, and is always full of people eating, talking, drinking coffee, playing cards, and arguing. It’s a great place to watch the world go by.

The drives to either La Spezia and/or Levanto are relatively easy, and both have stations for the train that runs through the towns of the Cinque Terre.
Sunset over Manarola, Italy

 [Sunset over Manarola by Joel Bedford via Flickr]

Although the five towns of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore are spectacular, some of the other nearby towns are fun to visit as well. Unlike the Cinque Terre towns which have narrow harbors rather than beaches, Bonassola has a sandy beach that is better suited to swimming and sunbathing – and best of all, it’s GREEN sand – how cool is that!gypsy ways update 4 - green sand beach in bonassola italy

Stay tuned for the next update with more Italian adventures!

(Here’s a link to the previous Update 3. And here’s the link to the next episode, Update 5)

Gypsy Ways Update 3 – United Kingdom and Greece

Gypsy Ways Update 3 starts after the elegance of the Queen Mary 2 and finds us on the dock in Southampton, in the cold wind and rain waiting for our car to arrive. The south of England, on a sunny day, is one of the prettiest places in the world. However, in the cold wet wind, it can chill you to the bone. Next time, I have to remember that when disembarking, less elegance and more warm layers are a more practical approach!Blowin' up...

[Blowin’ Up at Southampton Docks by Del Robertson via Flickr]

The next few days in the UK were a whirlwind of organization and catching up with friends and family. A real highlight of this time was a trip to Wembley Stadium in London to watch the Queen’s Park Rangers (QPR) vs. Derby County football match. QPR happens to be my husband’s favorite team as he grew up just a few miles from their home grounds in Shepherd’s Bush, London.

This particular game was incredibly important to both teams as it determined who would be promoted to the English Premier League division and the roughly £120 million(!) in additional team revenue that the promotion represents.

The trains we took to Wembley Central station were loaded with QPR fans, young and old. Some were in costumes, some carried bullhorns, but all were singing the songs of praise for the beloved team. gypsy ways update 3 - new QPR friends on the train to clapham junction

[Fellow QPR fans who befriended us on the train to Clapham Junction]

[The train platform at Wembley Central tube station]

The match was incredibly close, but in the 89th minute QPR scored. It was incredible… unbelievable… indescribable! Below is a quick video of the highlights of the match. Keep in mind that although blue and white are QPR’s home colors, they were playing in their “away” colors of red and black.

After that, it will be hard to ever match the elation of that moment again (at least when it comes to a sporting event!)

We went to Greece next! We left our pooch for a few days with family in the UK, flew to Athens, and then drove from there to the island of Lefkada.

I had not been in Greece in nearly 20 years, and it had been an even longer time for my husband, so we were both curious to go back. What a lovely place it was! We didn’t have any plans other than relaxation to break up our UK whirlwind tour, and relax we did.gypsy ways update 3 - greece view from the hotel beach

[Sunset view from the hotel beach]

gypsy ways update 3 - greece view from the marina wine bar

[View of the harbor from a from a lovely little wine and champagne bar]

The hotel was simple but spotlessly clean, and Greek locals ate at the attached taverna, so you know it was good food. It was early enough in the season that the town wasn’t overrun with tourists, and there were plenty of locals out enjoying themselves in the evenings and nights.

We found a great restaurant (photo below) that didn’t have a menu. We would just say if we wanted meat, fish, seafood, or a vegetarian menu, and the chef would cook whatever he had fresh and best that day. It was incredible.gypsy ways update 3 - nidri greece our favorite restaurant

One of the most appealing things we found in Greece was the genuine friendliness of the Greek people. If you’ve never been to Greece before, I can only recommend it to future travelers.

We returned to the UK, had a happy reunion with our dog, and then got ready for the next part of the trip…

(Here’s a link to the previous Update 2. And here’s the link to the next episode, Update 4)