We are at Lambert [Airport] waiting to board our flight to Newark. As an amateur historian, I have enjoyed growing older and watching the passing parade. Fashion has devolved into a common denominator of jeans and sport shirts. A slovenly appearance all in all, but don't think that I'm the high light of fashion. I leave that to Jeanine who is dressed smartly in black and yellow. We had an uneventful 10am flight to Newark. While we waited for our 5pm departure, we met a very nice couple, Italian Americans, heading home to Naples. They own a home there and were very helpful in their suggestions. She is a teacher and a former back up singer to the Fifth Dimension. He was a teacher as well at MIT and moved to the US when he was 19. After we had boarded our flight, we were seated in front of a gentleman who wrote about great dining experiences in Europe. He was en route to look for the exceptional dining experience to be had in the Calabria province. After hearing his conversation with a stewardess, I approached him about giving recommendations for places to eat in Italy and he has offered about 15 places he would go to. Can't wait.
Had difficulty flying and trying to sleep through a nearly 8 hour flight. The drone of the engines, children being allowed to run everywhere and people talking left us pretty tired when we landed in Rome. We left the plane dragging, but excited.
The excitement died immediately after we got our luggage, however. Leaving the group of people we had met and going among all these total strangers left us both with a sense of dread. (Jeanine says it was sheer panic) The cacophony of different languages and people gesticulating excitingly, flashing lights, everything fast, fast, fast. It must be the espresso! My first thought was we should have booked a tour (Jeanine's too. She mistakenly locked herself in the bathroom). I took classes in Italian and I couldn't understand anything. Panic was setting in. But we both knew that this trip wasn't for wimps, so we let go of that feeling and plunged on.
We made our way to the train station and got aboard a shuttle train to the Rome train station. We have way too much luggage and this will need to be adjusted. Lugging it around is going to be difficult.
[I told them to pack light! I warned them! Repeatedly!]
We needed to board a train to Naples and while we were waiting Jeanine had her first encounter with a forceful beggar but she handled her well. On the train to Naples, we met a very sweet, older lady who conveyed to us her life as a young woman and about raising her children by herself when that no good bastard ran off. Jeanine had her first experience using a bathroom on an Italian train (Augh!!!). When we got to Naples we were both pretty bushed. We had not slept since Wednesday 6am and it was now by 1pm on Thursday. Getting off the train two guys approached us about moving our luggage for us. I said OK and off we went to catch the next train to Sorrento. Bad move. Should've known better. These guys were old hands at the sleepy eyed, too much luggage tourists. When we got to our train, the bill was 20 Euros. After much arguing we settled on fifteen. My first lesson, always ask the price first, then the negotiation. The train was crammed with everyone heading to Sorrento. We caught a cab to our hotel and it went up and up and up the hills to the very top of the city. Getting to our room, we both knew why we wanted this hotel. Nice balcony with a view that is best described with our photos.
The view is incredible especially at night. We took a little nap and went for supper. Our maitre'd is right out of central casting. Good looking smooth talking guy with just the right Grecian Formula to the hair. He nearly swept Jeanine off her feet, but he couldn't match me on the dance floor as we moved to the beat of Joe Pistroni's one man band. Jeff, Michael Kelsey doesn't have anything on this guy. He even did our Barry White wedding song on his electric music machine while playing the guitar and singing.
Very romantic with the view of the Bay of Naples in the background. Kind of cheesy, but perfect. We agreed that this was the best of all nights in our life.
Up at 7, and down to the restaurant for our first Italian breakfast. I've never had salami for breakfast, but it was good. That and the cappuccino made everything very tasty. While we were waiting to board our bus, I met a couple who were from the island of Jersey. Now this was fascinating as the island was the only part of England that was occupied by the Germans in World War 2. It is part of a group of islands called the Channel Islands. He told me they just ignored the Germans. Next, though I made my second mistake of this journey. He told me he was a retired banker, so I asked him what he thought about our recent economic troubles. He went into a tirade against the Bush administration and finally stated that we deserved 9/11. I think I can have a debate with anyone over any topic, but I thought he crossed the line with that statement, so I got up and left. When he approached me again, I warned him to back off or else. Thankfully it was time to board the bus and we headed off to Pompeii.
[He really can have a respectful debate with anyone over any topic. His step-daughter is a commie and his son-in-law is Muslim. We all get along fabulously. I think perhaps it was nerves - being a stranger in a strange land...]
Wow, an ancient city. As we walked the streets we both wondered what it must have been like back in those days. Everyone's life normal and running around doing Pompein things, like bathing in groups, gladiatorial fights and sacrificing a bull now and then to appease a god. Isis must not have been too happy, for in 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted and rain down volcanic ash that covered the town. Bodies were frozen in time and they left their positions for us to uncover. Creepy. We spent most of the day there. We couldn't figure out why there were these large square stones in the middle of the road at the intersections until it dawned on us: That was how people kept their feet out of the shit that covered the roads from the drains and the horses.
It started to rain as we left, but we continued on heading back to Sorrento to end our day. We got soaked (what do you know, it rains in Italy), We ended up at a little pizzeria for a Margheritta pizza and back to our room.
Today we went to the Amalfi coast. We took the Siti (local) bus and it was very crowded. We met a young couple from Indianapolis who gave us some good ideas about the island of Capri. But today was Amalfi and we ride with the world's greatest drivers...the bus drivers of the Amalfi coast. These fellows are gods when it comes to handling a 40 passenger bus around curves most mortals would approach very gingerly. While Jeanine was snapping away at pictures, my thoughts were of the movie Titanic and I made an off hand remark that at least we would be the last to die as the bus went hurtling into the abyss because we were in the very back. Bad move on my part, because the gods of the road heard me and began to turn my sight seeing adventure into one of motion sickness. I fought it as far as a little village after Positano when we got off the bus to find a drugstore. Called a chemist they were very helpful in prescribing motion sickness pills and even gave us an ace bandage for my ankle that I twisted yesterday. We parked my carcass at a little hotel where Jeanine used her best nursing abilities and affixed my ankle and patted my head. While we waited for the next bus to continue our journey we met a man from St.Louis who was recently widowed. He had his wife's ashes with him and had bought her to Amalfi. Today I have brought Rosemary's ashes as well. She had said she always wanted to be left here and today was to complete her journey.
[Weird coincidence. Yes, my mother and he had planned to go to Italy the summer of 2000. She ended up spending that summer in the hospital with cancer, and died that autumn. When she was in college, she'd lived in that area for a long while studying art, and had always wanted to return...]
We returned to the bus and went on our merry way to the town of Amalfi. While the towns rely heavily on the tourists for their income it doesn't subtract from their beauty. What incredible homes built vertically and designed to last centuries. We took an excursion (open top) bus to Maori. The beach was inviting and the motion sickness pills began to make me sleepy, so I slept on the beach for about an hour. We caught the return to Amalfi and thought it was time to leave Rosemary's ashes. I walked up to top of road to a bar that had a great view of the harbor. I said goodbye to Rosemary and scattered her ashes.
Our return trip to Sorrento was uneventful. More beautiful homes, we even got to see Sophia Loren's home along the way. When we arrived at Sorrento we had just missed our hotel bus and decided to walk back. This posed a challenge as the walk was mostly up hill, but Jeanine carried me most of the way and we made it just fine.
Our last day in the Sorrento area, we decided to go to Mount Vesuvius. We had considered Capri, but it was cloudy and being a Sunday we heard the crowds were huge. We took the train to Pompei and arrived at our base of operations with two hours to spare. The language barrier is difficult for me to overcome and I took Italian and did well in class, but it must be the constant interaction that has left me hanging. For instance when I tried to ask at the front desk this morning how the weather was going to be for the next few days, the guy at the desk said "Is normal.... Average". Jeanine and I still laugh about that when she'll ask me what it's like outside. I'll say "Is normal...average".
Our tour finally began to Mount Vesuvius and we arrived at the base of the mountain at approximately 3pm. The climb was a series of switch backs ever ascending till we reached the top.
When we reached the cone all I could think about was James Mason in "Journey to the Center of the Earth" And with trumpets blaring, his incredible voice exclaims "Behold, Kraken!" The only active volcano in Europe, there is smoke still coming forth. After that strenuous climb we treated ourselves to a glass of wine and headed down.
We arrived back at Sorrento and at the suggestion of a couple from England, we ate at a little restaurant called Tassa. This was the first good meal we have had since we got here. Jeanine had fried red snapper that beat any fried fish we had ever had and I had macaroni with pork ragu. Yumm. There was a guitarist who was entertaining a group at another table, but he came to our table and asked if he could play a song for the 'very beautiful lady' at our table. I asked if he knew any Tony Bennett. I must tell you the smiles were big and the tears were flowing as he played and sang, The Shadow of Your Smile. I don't think Jeanine ever looked more lovely than she did this evening. When I tried to tip him he refused. Instead he kissed Jeanine's hand and said he couldn't because we looked so much in love.
We arrived at out dining hall for our last breakfast. Our handsome maitre'd must have talked to the guitarist last night, because he immediately came to us and took Jeanine's hand and kissed it and putting his arm around her shoulder he led us to our table.
After our breakfast we caught the hotel bus to the train stations. Today we leave Sorrento for Rome. We have consolidated the luggage a bit so it's at least down to four bags instead of the six which we were doing. Still heavy but less trouble handling. We took a Circumvenstevia, the local service, to Naples where we caught a speedy train to Rome. Met a butcher and his wife from New Zealand, asked them if they knew my nephew, David Jr. They said no. They were helpful about Rome and offered additional tips to getting around. When we arrived at the Termini, chaos resumed. We gave up on moving our luggage through the Metro and resorted to a cab. Third lesson. Always use a metered cab. It was an embarrassing amount that we were taken for the cab ride to our hotel. But not too bad.
[6 bags?! Insane! They are insane, it is official. BTW, you've not really been a bona fide American tourist in Europe until you've been ripped off by a cabbie. Weirdly, I've never been ripped off by one in America. Huh.]
The Hotel San Pietro was in a different location than the one Joe and Kay stayed in. We received an upgrade and we are very pleased. The room has been totally remodeled. with that new parquet flooring, a brand new bath and new hardware all around the room. I believe with a strong Euro, instead of exporting the Italians are investing in themselves. I see new construction and remodeling everywhere we go. This room is a treat.
Rome is incredible though and tonight is our first anniversary.
Can you believe it is one year since we have been married? It has certainly moved fast. We had reservations for a restaurant called Les Etoiles, a roof top restaurant over looking Rome. However they failed to tell us that our table was overlooking the Vatican. Quite a sight over dinner. We had the best spinach salad we had ever had, along with a split order of pasta with truffles. Jeanine had veal and I had a pork dish with mushrooms. This has been the best meal of the trip.
We finished the evening with a taxi to the Trevi fountain. Even for a Monday evening it was very crowded. Jeanine had her first encounter with a pick pocket attempt, that she managed to foil by yelling out loud.. "Get out of there" She is certainly a little package of dynamite. With that little excitement done, we settled into a long view of the fountain with several hundred new friends. We threw coins to remind us to return to Rome. Ciao.
Did we mention how beautiful the people are? We see many Italians in all shapes and sizes, but we are both struck by how beautiful so many men and women are. And do they know how to dress. You see jeans, but invariably they are designer or have been trimmed in some fashion. And I haven't seen one, not one tattoo and very few piercings. Kind of restores my faith in fashion.
We awoke late and headed out to explore on foot our area. We figured out how to take the bus and rode to the Piazza Navona. Now we have discovered that each block has its own name on each side of the block and things begin to get confusing. Unlike the states only the main thorough fare has the same name. The little street name changes from block to block. We walked for a bit and decided the hell with it and had lunch at a l*ittle tratoria that featured cheap wine and good food. We had stuffed zucchini flowers along with incredible pasta with tomatoes and bacon. Jeanine had a great dish with meatballs and beans. All very good.* We finished our food and strolled in the neighborhood until it was time for our first tour of the vacation, the ancient Rome tour. This was our chance to see the Colosseum and other sites. The tour almost turned into a fiasco when they failed to find us at our hotel (remember, there are 2 San Pietros), but we were finally able to connect and began the tour.
The Coliseum was awe-inspiring with its construction and the history of what went on there. Can you imagine the sound and the fury of life and death struggles as a means of entertainment? I've been to some boxing matches that were tough, but they don't even come close. The opening event for the Coliseum went on for over 100 days and covered over 5000 deaths. Of course there was more to the tour than the Coliseum, such as the ruins of ancient Rome with the Senate building and the Constantine Arch. We stayed with our group but left them to go inside the Coliseum and view the layout. Lil and Corey, I kept looking for the place where Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee fought, but to no avail.
We left the ruins to return home and ate at Osteria Sei Pontificate, the Tavern of the Six Popes, near our hotel. I read if you want to go to a place that caters to the locals, look for a menu that is only in Italian. And the food didn't disappoint either. Jeanine had a Minestrone and I a Straccilli, the best egg drop soup ever made. She followed by an incredible pizza with mushrooms and I drooled over a simple pasta with red sauce. The cooking and the ingredients are different than what we do back home. Regarding Italian cooking at the restaurants we have enjoyed: We have to walk everywhere or we will just get fatter by the minute. The food is that good. I can't figure out the sauce and the bread is to die for. We did nearly eight miles today (I have a pedometer) and will do more tomorrow if my feet hold out. We called it a night and walked the few steps to our hotel.
[It might be worth mentioning here that Paul is a true chef. I mean, he doesn't have a restaurant or anything, but I have done some fine dining in my life, and nothing compares to his cooking. In fact, I can no longer take him out to eat. He always find something wrong with the food. So it's noteworthy that he is praising the food here. The man is a first-rate food-snob.]
Let me sing praises about Ecco walking shoes. If you know me at all, you know my feet ache constantly. While my feet are tired they don't pain me like I have feared as we are hiking everywhere.
Today is a free day for us, so we slept late. We head back to Compo de Fiori (Field of Flowers) and the Piazza Navonna. We dove into the Compo, a big open air market dealing mostly in food. I love the fruit and vegetables. I saw artichokes, purple and tall, people picking over and haggling over tomatoes, butchers with meat displayed for your inspection. I agree with David, Lisa and Lillian who had remarked how much they wish they had a kitchen to cook in while they were here. Alas again, I make a mistake. I see dried fruit and believe the price was good enough for our needs. So after selecting several large handfuls of dried coconut, apricots, cherries, raisins, tomatoes, peaches, limes, guava, I passed my selection to our person weighing and he tells me 28 Euros, nearly $40. I about had a heart attack. But I was stuck. I had done the selecting by own plastic encased hand and I saw the price but it didn't compute. We did end up settling on 20, but still. Always ask the price and have them weigh things out. Joe, I'm glad I don't have to deal in gold or I would be ruined. We walked around some more and to ease my commiseration we had an excellent pork sandwich and a Heineken beer. The counter help had Pink Floyd on and we talked for a few minutes about rock. These were young guys and they still get into the music that is nearly 30 years old in a different language. The last Italian rock song I heard was "Volare" by Dino.
We left the Compo and headed north in search of the Pantheon. The largest existing Roman structure it had been converted into a church. The dome is very impressive with the light cascading down a center opening. We went outside to a fountain that is in front, where Jeanine snapped shots and I stretched out on the stairs and shut my eyes, listening to the people chattering all around. I don't think I had my eyes shut but a minute when I hear yelling and opening my eyes are two female cops. They make me stand up and I realize I'm getting the bums rush. In sign language they let me know about no sleeping near the fountain. In a show of defiance we stayed at the fountain for nearly an hour. That will show them.
[Oh great. They've taken my step-father for a bum. I guess the bums in Italy wear Eccos. Would not be shocked.]
We left the Pantheon and headed to the Piazza Navonna. This is a huge plaza where all the artists hang out. The plaza is as big as four football fields and there are fountains at either end. We went into a church and then looked at some paintings.
Jeanine has turned the camera into a shooting fest. I went to Gelateria and purchased a Tartuffe, a ball of vanilla gelato, surrounded by chocolate gelato, with a dusting of cocoa for the two of us.
We next heard musicians playing and enjoyed that immensely.
We strolled away from the Piazza and headed toward the Tiber for a late afternoon stroll. The late day was hazy and we were still having difficulty with plotting our direction, so we came across a restaurant where I ordered coffee and Jeanine had to pee. The waiter waited till we had finished our events then informed us, quite politely that we were at a restaurant, not a bar and that we should leave unless we order food. So politely we moved on.
[Rome just doesn't like them.]
We strolled along the river till it was early evening. The Victor Emmanuel II Bridge is quite beautiful in the evening and many people enjoy the stroll across it. We walked to the Vatican and looking at my pedometer, I suggested 10 miles was enough for the day and took a cab to our hotel.
Today is our Vatican tour. This is our last day in Rome and we hope to get a lot in. We arrive at the beginning of our tour bus and meet our guide, Andre. We can't figure him out, but take a liking to him. He has a great wit but in no time we discover he has a great feeling about the early martyrs of the Church. He is approached by a member of our entourage who is peppering him with questions about the tour, especially visiting the underground of the Vatican. Andre tells him that he needs special arrangements and single tour guide, but the guy persists and begins to make a nuisance of himself to our guide. When the guy isn't around Andre calls him the Mongolian and derides his behavior.
The tour consisted of three parts. The Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. The museum was filled with artifacts of the early and medieval Church. The Sistine Chapel was immensely crowded and is as awe inspiring a work of art as can ever be imagined. The walls of the chapel were done years before Michelangelo received the commission to do the ceiling, but the ceiling is the event. We were allowed fifteen minutes to view the work, but it went by so fast and the event was shared by easily 1000 people. All that could be jammed into the room.
The crowning moment was St Peter's Basilica. This took 150 years to complete and is a continuing work at this time. It is immense with many side altars to conduct daily mass while the Pope will conduct mass on the center altar. We liked it so much we left the tour and went into view it a second time. Finished with that we left the Vatican and walked to our hotel for a snack and a nap.
We awoke in the late afternoon and went to the internet café in order to check messages and forward correspondence. We are certainly glad we have the ability to stay in touch as were left via email the serious news that Jeanine's daughter, Lisa, was in the hospital. (...) It was late in the evening by the time all was completed and we called it a night. Too bad, as we had wanted to visit the Spanish Steps. Oh well, next trip.
Today we leave Rome and go to Siena, the Tuscany hill country. As exciting as it is, I grew weary of the constant drone of Vespas and the crowds of people everywhere. We found the Romans to be very friendly though and helpful even when it put them out. I had brought my snoring machine, the C Pap (for you that snore, I suggest you look into it. If keeps for a happy household). The room we have lacked an outlet that would accommodate my machine and I was left with the only option of looking for an extension cord, and the Italians have never heard of an Ace@hardware store. Understanding my predicament, the clerk interrupts a workman (they were still remodeling our hotel) who retrieves an industrial strength extension cord for us to use.
We taxi to the train station and catch an express to Florence. From there we take the local to Siena. The trains run on the hour, but we still have to get reservations for the express. I didn't do that one time and it cost us about 20 Euros. Other than that, with the Euro pass you hop aboard the train to your destination and go.
We arrived at Sienna about 3pm. Today we are to rent our car from the local Hertz office. The notes say it is only 400 meters from the train station but they don't indicate which direction and no one seems to know where the office is, nor do they answer the phone.
Eventually we wind our way to the office and it is packed. Here I witness our first ugly American incident. These two ladies were traveling with one infant and an older gentleman and couldn't decide where they wanted to go or which option for renting a vehicle. This went on for nearly an hour with much arguing. Finally it was our turn. In Italian I said "Come va?" (How's it going?) and smiled. The clerk in turn shrugged his shoulders, I touched it and he collapsed on the desk crying and bemoaning his fate. I apologized for our countries bad example of tourist and we set about getting our car. He seemed pleased enough to upgrade our vehicle without any extra money and I tipped him a few ducats and told him and his friend who worked there to go have a beer on us.
Now driving in Italy is as bad as everyone says it is. I wouldn't insure anyone here. They all are aggressive and pay no attention to any rules of the road that I know. With that in mind, we proceed to do as the Romans do and with the aid of our Garman navigation system, we plug in the address and head off to our hotel.
The Villa Scacciapensieri is located on a hill overlooking Siena. It is gorgeous with an English style garden set off to one side near the two buildings that house 50 or so guests. There is a restaurant in the hotel where we dine that evening enjoying a great risotto with zucchini and shrimp followed by a chicken and sage dish. We leave the dining hall for the bar which has a fireplace and enjoy whiskey and wine before turning in.
We awake early and go for breakfast. Now, each of our hotels we have stayed at provides our morning meal, but this is the best with fresh baked croissants, ripe pears and excellent salami. The caffe latte is good too.
Today we leave about 10am to head north towards Florence to shop and explore the hill country. And hill it is. I have never dealt with more switchbacks in my entire life. It isn't too long before my hands are cramping from gripping the wheel so tight. People driving up and down the hills will not give you a break as they will pass you even on a curve, but I don't want to distract from our views. The countryside is beautiful. Farm houses dot the valleys and hillsides and we watch as people are busy tending grapes. The soil is so different from the Midwest. It is gray almost white. There are olive trees and even some lemon trees. In the towns you see very few homes, mostly apartments. Some homes even hug the roadway with no walkway between. We stopped at a little pizzeria and had a snack and some wine. Also to use the toilets. Going to the john requires some planning if you don't want to use the facilities that are free to the public. Most of them are atrocious and that is really when I'm glad that I'm a guy. I really do feel for you women in this area. Bring TP when you come here.
[I find the pamphlets they load you down with upon arrival work ok in a pinch... hahaha.]
I wanted to see the town of the seven towers, San Gimiginano before it was dark. Following the Garmin guide we headed in the general direction and even with that we made wrong turns. By the time we arrived dusk was gathering and I was tired. We shot a few photos from a distance and headed back to our hotel arriving about 9pm.
PERUGIA AND ASSISI
We journeyed out of Siena today to visit the towns of Perugia and Assisi. Both are in the Umbria region, which is next to Tuscany. Perugia is the finest example of a walled city to be seen in Italy. The Romans were the first to build here anchoring the valley. The history of Italy in this region during the middle ages and renaissance is one of incessant regional and city warfare with the occasional peace. For nearly four hundred years, until the advent of the cannon, defense was the name of the game and Perugia is a fine example of that perched upon a hill overlooking the valley. We parked the car near the base of the wall and took an entrance that was probably an exit because we climbed and climbed then we reached an escalator. This wall is well over 100 feet high and we are even more impressed.
The old town is laid flat and overlooks the surrounding community. We admire the view from the defending positions. There is a flea market going on in the small piazzas. I spy two baseballs (8 euros and not even autographed. Sheesh), and pick one up. The booth operator and I start to converse, but how do I explain my feelings about baseball and missing a little of the game (glad Milwaukee made it). Laying the ball down I say "St. Louis Cardinals". A guy at the next booth says "Pittsburg Pirates" and he and I strike up a conversation and I tell him what I know and he tells me what he knows. You never know who you will run into. We continue to walk looking at the narrow streets, Jeanine searching for another place to shoot. There are children everywhere and I know Jeanine would take a little boy home if she could.
We leave the battlements and continue onto Assisi. This is St. Francis' home town area and is very well preserved. You close your eyes for a minute and you are in the 12th century. We take in the basilicas and they are remarkable for their posterity. In spite of interminable warfare of the time, St. Francis offered a renewed sense of what a Christian life should be and continues to offer inspiration to those who accept it.
It was going on towards evening and we left Assisi towards home. This being our last day with a car till France, I wanted to check out a great trattoria that I read about in Perugia. If you have a GPS system you know that it gives you the most direct way to get to your destination. A little informazione about driving in Italy: There are very few stop signs. Instead they erect roundabouts at intersections where we would place stop signs. You have to slow down, but you merge with the traffic and turn as you need. Keeps you attentive at the wheel, though. With all the intersection roundabouts we keep coming across we follow the path designated and turn up a road that narrows into the smallest alley I have ever seen and it's uphill to boot. Jeanine is clutching my arm as I wriggle the vehicle quickly upwards. Her next statement is, "Let's not do that again."
When we arrive at the destination, we can't find it. It may have closed, we don't know but in frustration we head back down the hill and out of Perugia. We are on the highway headed back to Siena and I know we are both hungry and tired. I plug in the program that displays nearby restaurants and discover "Osteria de Olmo" on the northern part of Perugia...and it's in the valley.
We arrive and are greeted by the maitre'd who provides us with a table. Finding out that we are Americans, he next brings out his American chef named Chris. We all chuckled over that and he tells us he is from Rochester, NY and has just graduated from the CIA, the Culinary Institute of America and is here as an apprentice. He tells us it has been a long time since he has spoken English or seen an American. Next month will be better for him when his girlfriend comes to visit. He then goes back to the kitchen and presents us with our next finest meal, a warm platter of potato gnocchi with black truffles followed by a basket of fresh seafood and the broth it was cooked in, kind of like a bouillabaisse. A local wine was fantastic. After we finish Chris returns with the chef of the house and we praise them for their craft.
We get back on the road about 11 pm. The highway is virtually deserted. There are no lights. There are no all night road stops. Trucks pull off and drivers go to hotels. Very quite on the road home.
We head out to the town drop off our car (our man was pleased to see us that he put us ahead of everyone else and said we could go).
Siena is a city that rivaled Florence during the Renaissance until a plague wiped it out. We go to the Il Campo, an. immense half moon plaza in front of the Duomo. The face of the building is full of animals, real and mythic. Inside the church are immense pillars that are striped black and white. The artwork is exquisite. While not as extensive it rivals the Vatican in many ways and we favor it over St Peter's. This building is one of the first in the Renaissance to deal with secular issues.
There is a room, room 10, that displays a partially damaged fresco from the 1300's that displays the benefits of good government and the damage brought on by bad government. The bad government ruler even has horns on his head. Kind of reminded me of Clinton.
[See what I have to live with?]
Siena is known for a dish called panforte, a kind of dense fruit cake. We have a slice and enjoy it. We are still bushed today and decide to head home. There is a daily chore that we have to do; washing our underwear and socks. We are a good team. Jeanine gets to wash and I rinse then we hang then from a rope that I bought just for this purpose. Wish we had brought along clothespins instead of more clothes. Tomorrow is Florence.
We are up early and catch the bus to the train station. Boarding that around 9 we are surrounded by high school students. They are young and fresh and full of life.
Florence is immense and was the seat of early Italian government of Victor Emmanuel II. Our first stop was to the Academia. While noted for one thing only, I was impressed with the mural depicting the unification of Italy which is in the first room. Next is Michelangelo's David. Seeing it in person we appreciate its vibrancy and depth. It is pointed out that the hands are out of proportion to his body. You look at the face and you can see him measuring Goliath for the kill. Confident, which is what the Renaissance was all about; a renewal of life and the triumph of humanity.
[I don't know where this picture was taken, but it looks Florency, eh?]
We head to the Bapistry of St.John and the Duomo in Florence.
The Bapistry is dates back to Roman times and was believed to be pagan altar. The Duomo was similar to the one in Siena and just as immense.
We head to our final appointment of the day, the Uffizi museum. Wow is all we can say as we walk the halls of the finest examples of the Renaissance. It is immense and we probably need a week to do it justice. The Birth of Venice and numerous Adoration scenes are so wonderful.
We are exhausted from our walking and head to the train station. I thought I know where we are headed, but get lost. A gentleman walks a block out of his way to put is on the right path. The people can be so friendly that it makes me feel good all day. We have met few **holes.
We only have a few minutes to catch our 7pm train. *Thank God for McDonalds, as we are sick of pizza. We both have a Royal with Cheese (see Tarantino's Pulp Fiction) with fries.
"I came to Venice. My dreams became my address" -Proust
We leave Siena for Venice by way of Florence. The ride is uneventful. We make it a habit of meeting strangers and talking. I guess the common experience of being on the road is what connects us. We instinctively latch on to new people and talk about our lives. I guess in some ways it is like you get to tell people the best that you know you are and leave with a feeling of accomplishment for what you are doing beyond seeing wonderful sights and eating great food.
When we arrive it is crowded at the train station and the bus depot. There is only one line to get bus tickets. The ticket clerks called a day long strike. We are in line over an hour and the girl handling the tickets isn't happy. And she hates my Italian to boot. After much mio di spiacce, we get on the water bus. It is an amazing place to see. You probably realize that Venice is surrounded by water and you either go by boat or walk. To get to our hotel we followed a map that was provided. I didn't want to pay for a nearly 100 euro taxi ride but Venice is very confusing with the canals and dead ends. It isn't too long before I'm berating myself for being a tightwad, but Jeanine is beaming and I realize she loves this place as I do. I am about to go look for a guide when out of the blue appears a man in his early 70's. He was not a man but an angel, come to deliver worldly travelers from their confusion. He asked us where we were staying and said follow me. He explained he was recently retired but found his life fulfilled by helping tourists find their way around the island. We were both very suspicious of his attitude, but after a few moments he seemed genuine. When we arrived at our hotel, I tried to tip him but he refused and was off.
We entered the lobby of the Hotel Scandinavia and climbed to the third floor. We have a small room but who cares, we are in Venice.
Following a guide book provided by Dave and Lisa (thanks guys) we spent our first night in Venice at a wonderful restaurant where we dined on shrimp, an excellent risotto with more shrimp and a John Dory, a white fish with peppers. We then walked the city streets not sure where we going or really caring. About 10pm the streets we walk are deserted. The city is well lit and we don't fear for our personal safety. We listen to our steps and talk. It's almost like we are guarded against trouble and fear. The temperature is in the 50's. We reached the Rialto Bridge. This is a magical city.
When I get up I try and to be quiet and let Jeanine sleep. We are both beginning to tire easily. Outside our hotel, a stall is set up to sell fruits and vegetables to those in the neighborhood. The bar across the street is opening up to sell coffee and rolls. Merchants are sweeping in front of their stores. There are no vehicles at all. Everyone is walking on cobblestone streets. The garbage men are pushing boxy cages with large wheels and collecting bagged up garbage. Parents and children are walking hand in hand to school.
We leave the hotel around noon and head for St. Mark's Square. We take the water bus as a means of sight seeing and getting to the square. The square is awesome. Venice must have been a great power in the middle ages. On top of a pillar is a lion with wings, the symbol of the city (Don't mess with us as we will strike at you swiftly). The Doge's palace is immense and the square is beyond huge. It could easily hold 100,000 people. We wander the streets for a while. Stopped in a trattoria. Jeanine ordered a great vegetable soup and I had a cold dish of marinated sardines and onions with polenta.
We went in search for a gondola ride. This was a time that I wanted to enjoy but with some apprehension. I knew the price could be staggering and we debated the cost, but love won out and we went in search for our ride.
We found a gondolier away from the racketed crowd who offered a fairly reasonable price for a long ride. He was a handsome man who told us he had been at his trade over 17 years. The boats are beautiful to look at and very comfortable to ride in. He took us up and down many canals, which are the small streets of Venice. We also rode past St. Mark's Square and then under the Bridge of Sighs, so named as the last view of Venice that prisoners had before being locked up. As is tradition, like lovers before, we kissed under the bridge to bring us good fortune to return to Venice. Jeanine says it was like being on a magic carpet ride and it was just like how she dreamed it would be as a child. At sunset we ended back at St. Mark's Square and walked to our hotel.