Monday, 25 April 2011

March 23rd, last day in Venice.

The hotel was a great place, and Venice was one of the most agreeable places in Italy, so we didn't want to leave, but had to.

Red clay tile is the "normal" roof in Italy.

Since Bob was feeling better, we headed back to the Piazza San Marco and went to the top of the bell tower. It was quite an impressive view of the city.
We took the water bus back to the termini, and boarded our train for Florence.
Alden was waiting at the station for us and we went back to our apartment, our base of operations, to talk and eat.

Alden and rachel at the "Termini"
Later that evening we went to a club on the west side of the Arno River to see our boy sit in with a great jazz group. We got to see an amazing jazz show.

 The music was the best I've heard in a long time. It was truly jazz. The guys were improvising most of the time, and doing it better than I have heard it done before.

Patrick Sargent is a very empathic and flow-oriented sax player.

I was impressed. The "Boys of Borgo Pinti" are a truly awesome group of musicians. The drummer, Jaime, is the best drummer I have heard in my 59+ years on this planet.
jaime, doing his thing on drums.

It is a very satisfying thing to see our son pouring his soul into his music, and to hear it coming out so beautifully.
We headed back to our apartment feeling very good about how Alden is doing in Italy.

It was a very good night.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

March 22, 2011

We got u, got ready and ate breakfast, then headed out to see more of Venice.
We took the river bus over to the San Marco area. There is a huge, ornate old church there, and a tall bell tower, and many restaurants and shops.

Bob in front of the ornate church at Piazza San Marco.
(restaurant chairs behind him)
We walked around the piazza and looked at the ornate architecture and the crowds of tourists. This was a great place to people watch. Bob was feeling kind of punky, so Rachel scouted out the area and reported back on activities and restaurants. The restaurants were very expensive, so we decided to leave them to the other tourists and spend our time in other pursuits.
We sat on a walkway that looked like a looooong table, but is actually one of many walkways that allow you to walk around with dry feet when there is a higher-than-usual tide.

People sitting on the unused walkway.

 We met a man who had pigeons landing on him who offered to take our picture with pigeons on us, for a price. We said "yes" and he poured some grain in our hands and snapped a shot while the pigeons went for the grain.

A picture of the picture......

We headed back to the hotel because Bob was not feeling good, and he took a nap while Rachel headed off on her own to explore the Jewish Ghetto on the Northeast side of Venice.

Our 35th wedding Anniversary

This was a truly wonderful day. We woke at our wonderful hotel overlooking the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge. The sun was shining as we opened the shutter and let the daylight in.

View out or window on our anniversary morning.

We got ready and had an excellent breakfast. This hotel knows how to cater to American traditional tastes, and there was everything from cereal to meat. We ate our fill, and talked about what to do with the day. Since Bob only had three pairs of pants (we left the rest in Florence) we decided to seek out a coin-op laundry and do some clothes.
We had to carry our laundry and cross several bridges, and walk a goodly distance, but eventually we found the laundromat. Bob urged Rachel to go and shop and have fun while he did the laundry, but she went and purchased some really good beer and came back to drop it off before she went shopping. Bob waited and guarded the laundry while Rachel went out and purchased some needed groceries. She returned within a half-hour or so, saying she would rather spend the time with Bob than run around Venice shopping.  It reminded her of when we were first together and even made going to the laundromat fun.  35 years later and half-way around the world, we still made it fun.

We finished the laundry and went back to the hotel to drop it off.
We then headed over to the Rialto Bridge. It was an amazing feat for Rachel, with Bob's help, to make it up the steep stairs of the bridge but it was worth it!

Rachel on the Rialto Bridge.

Towards the afternoon we headed  over to the gondola docks to see about a ride. They told us that gondolas were not out after dark and we should get a ride soon. We asked about a song or two and they said that would cost an extra 150 euros. They said the gondoliers no longer sang and they would have to arrange for a singer. Apparently there is a separate union for musicians. They introduced us to a young gondolier named Alesandro, who could sing.

Rachel and Bob in our first gondola.

Alesandro was a good-looking young man with a quick wit and quicker smile. He seemed very bright and happy. He reminded both of us of  Antonio Banderas.

An Over-the-shoulder shot of Alesandro

He got us comfortable in the gondola and then explained that most gondoliers can't sing. he can, but he tries not to do it around other gondolas because then their passengers demand a song and the gondolier probably can't sing.

He took us to some out-of-the-way canals and sang quietly. He had a wonderful voice and sang beautifully.

Off to the side of the side canal.

He paused sometimes to point out famous churches and other sights, and at one point said that a particular house was that of his ancestor Don Juan. We'll never know if he was kidding.

Church tower

On return to the docks he refused to take any money for his singing, saying it was a gift for our 35th wedding anniversary. We argued, and finally settled with him to take 50 euros.

We headed back to our hotel and on walking in we had a wonderful surprise.

Surprised Bob!!


      There was a huge bouquet of white roses and purple flowers

                                                             along with a tray of treats.

 A knock on the door brought chilled sparkling wine and limoncello, a powerful new favorite!!

                                                 Grazia Milo AngelaMaria and Salvatore!!!

The Ovidius Hotel clerk had recommended a particular restaurant for our dinner, and that's where we went.
It was called the Trattoria alla Madonna.
We had quite a nice dinner there, and got to eat some things we had never seen before. It was wonderful. Afterwards we awalked around the area looking at some of the night life and noting shops we might want to visit before leaving. Then back to the hotel for soem wine, and to bed.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Off to Venice

March 20, 2011

We jumped out of bed and had a fabulous breakfast. We then checked out of our hotel and went to the termini. The train to Venice was standing room only, so we booked the next one. On the train we met a  woman from Venice named Lola who was very kind and helpful.

A man and a young girl came by and left a bag next to us. he said they were looking for seating together and wanted to mark that seat. they then left and other folks came through and moved the package. Only later did it occur to me that they could be terrorists looking to bomb the train. Turned out they weren't, but it made me much more securiy concious after that.

When we pulled into Venice, the train was on a track in the middle of a huge amount of water. We were crossing water for quite  while before we finally arived at the Venice Termini.
Water bus, the boat with ACTV on the side.
We figured out how to, use the water bus. Got to our hotel, the Ovidious. Our room Overlooked the Grand Canal at the Rialto bridge.
View out our window in Venice

David at the front desk made us welcome right away. The view was spectacular. We skyped with Joan and Alden. Showed them the view out our window.
We did wash because we needed clean clothes. Rachel did laundry in tub, and hung the clothes up to dry in the shower.
by this time it was getting dark, so we took a water bus ride. The moon was a harvest-ype moon, huge and orange, but in spring.

We had pizza for dinner on the waterfront, where they had a heater to stave off the cold.
News flash!! Bob took a bath!!!

Snore time.

Exploring Rome

March 19, 2011
They have a great breakfast bar at Hotel Turner. We ate a hearty breakfast and then headed for the tour bus.
The arch of Constantine is not that impressive due to the fact that it is right next to the Coliseum. it would be much more impressive if it were in your back yard with nothing huge to dwarf it.
                                    Arch of Constantine as seen from 2nd story of the Coliseum
The Coliseum, on the other hand, is quite impressive. We waited in a fairly long line for tickets, and finally got them and rented walking tour players, which come with maps. You walk to the first number on the map and press the corresponding key on the tour player, and it tells you what you are looking at. We found we could use the earphones from the tour bus with these and it made it easier to hear.

Rachel and Alden walking around in the Coliseum
There was a lot of info on the Coliseum that I won't take the time and energy to put on here.
The most impressive thing about it to me was the sheer size of the structure and the system of underground tunnels and elevators used to put on the shows there.

rachel and Alden sitting on a column in the Coliseum

After the Coliseum we hopped back onto our tour bus and jumped off again at a jewish ghetto. We wanted to visit the synagogue there, but it was shabbot and there was a bar Mitzvah occurring.They wouldn't let us in. There were a great many people inside celebrating, and it looked quite festive.

We hopped back on and off the tour bus and we were at Trevi Fountain. This is supposedly one of the most photographed places in the world. It was also the site where the movie "Three Coins in the Fountain" was filmed. The legend is that if you throw a coin in the fountain you have a two out of three chance of finding true love, and a one in three chance of getting either married or divorced. 
Bob and Alden at theTrevi Fountain
We left the Trevi Fountain and wandered around a bit and stumbled upon an anti-nuclear rally. Lots of folks there being enthusiastically anti-nuclear. A great rock band playing good music (no doubt also anti-nuclear).
it was also a protest rally against the president of Italy because he was caught hiring 16 year-old hookers.

We then got on the wrong bus and went way off in the wrong direction. Some folks put us on the metro so we could get back to our hotel. Alden missed his train to Florence. He had to convince the ticket agents to trade his old ticket for a new one on the next train.  Rachel and Bob went to the Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel. When we got there we found that it had closed at 4:00, and we arrived around 6:00.
Oh, well.
We jumped back on the tour bus and rode it around the circuit to see the city lit up at night.
 We went to the "supermarcato" at Termini and bought groceries. Went home and had fabulous dinner for cheap in our room.

All Roads lead to...

March 18 2011

Our cell phone alarm went off at 6:00 local time, and we dragged ourselves out of our comfortable beds to watch the sun rise. I woke Alden, but he was slow to rise, so I told him where we would be and Rachel and I went to the upper deck to se if we could determine which direction we were headed, and thus the position of the sunrise.
We walked around a bit and figured out which spot on the horizon was the brightest and figured that for the position of the sun.
Alden showed up in the nick of time and got to sit with us and watch the sun rise over the Mediterranean Sea. It was beautiful.

After sunrise we went back to out cabin and packed up for Rome. We arrived in Rome somewhat after 9:00. We then had to take a train into Rome proper, as we were on the outskirts.

On arrival at the train station we debarked and headed for the street. A man accosted us and asked if we needed a cab. We said "yes", and he hustled us into the street and loaded our luggage into our cab. Most train stations and airports have a cab line outside and usually and elderly gentleman at the head of the line pointing out the next available cab to the tourists. This guy was a rogue driver and a hustler who didn't abide by traditional methods. We gave him the address of the Hotel Turner, where we were going to stay. He swung out into traffic, and the next ten minutes made the pod race from Star Wars look like a kiddy ride. The guy was nuts and totally aggressive. He fought for every centimeter of space, wedging his bumper in front of other folks to crowd his way in and slamming us back into the seat with wild acceleration as he tried to gain an extra 20 meters or so that was unoccupied. We finally arrived at ur hotel miraculously unscathed with several more white hairs than we had started with. He charged us 25 euros, which was a ripoff, but I figured it was a cheap lesson in international travel, and didn't want to take up a bunch of vacation time in a police station. I gave him the 25 euros and we got our luggage out of the cab.
We checked into the Hotel. It is a wonderful place to stay in Rome and I would recommend it for anyone who plans to go to Rome. One odd thing about it was that the key had an accompanying stud that had to be inserted into a dock in the wall in order to turn on the lights. The hotel had a nice king-sized bed and a bath with a shower that had a line of jets to spray your whole body down at once. It was wonderful.
We walked to the "termini", which is the bus station, and found a tour bus. Tour buses brand you as a tourist, but many other things brand you as a tourist too. You really can't pass as an Italian without extensive study, so why try?? We paid our 20 euros, which granted us passage on the bus line for 48 hours.

Rachel and Alden on the tour bus
These are "hop-on-hop-off" buses that allow you to spend any amount of time at a particular site and then allow you to jump on the next available bus and proceed to the next place where you want to hop off and spend some time. We stayed on the bus for a tour of the city, made a list. The first was the Coliseum. We stayed on the bus and drove by the Coliseum and the Arch of Constantine. The arch was built by a guy named "Joe", but for some reason they call it the "Arch of Constantine".
Seriously, Constantine was the first christian emporer of Rome. He built the arch to commemorate his victories, and later converted to christianity. We figured it was too late to brave the crowds of tourists trying to get in, and decided to come back in the morning and actually have time enought to see things without a rush.

We got back to the hotel around 9:00 P.M., and watched some Roman tv. We saw "Celebrity Isolation" (Italian "Survivor") and French Idol.

We looked for a grocery store and a laundromat, but didn't find either.
We went to a restaurant around the corner, had dinner, and retired to the hotel so we could have a lot of daylight to nurn the next day.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Our Farewell to Alden and soon to Italy

I almost did it... I almost tried to figure out a way to get to and from a place an hour away from here so I could watch Alden play until 1 a.m. even though we have to be at the airport for the long trek home at 5 a.m. I figured we could sleep all we wanted on the plane. Bob brought me to my senses... not in the regular
way, but I knew it would be really hard on Bob and I didn't want to put him through that AND he was right; it would have been"nuts." I didn't care! I wanted to squeeze every second out of my time with Alden that was possible.

Instead, we made a quick pull off of the bandaid type of goodbye and Bob and I could comfort each other in private (or at least not in front of Alden.). No doubt we looked very odd to all the Florentines that saw us walking down the street with sunglasses on at dusk on a grey day to hide our crying eyes. We miss him already!

There is much I will miss of Italy & will miss this little apartment that's been such a wonderful home for us. I'll miss being a stranger in a strange land where I can't take anything for granted at all. I'll miss being dwarfed by history I can touch and be awe inspired by as part of my everyday life here. I'm re-reading The Agony and the Ecstasy which will help me hold on to some of this experience just a bit longer I hope.

I'm also ready to be home and not be a stranger and to hug my friends and my dog!!

Now off to finish packing.
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Saturday, 26 March 2011

Saying farewell and going to check out Rome

March 17, 2011
We got up and said goodbye to the beach, walked around a bit and had minor fiber-ball fights.

Drove into Cagliari (I'm getting used to driving like a maniac) and delivered the car to Salvatore. They took us to a huge market where they had many things that looked good to eat and other things that you really couldn't pay me enough to sample. There was a tuna portion that was a good 12 inches across.

They had clams and things they called snails that were more like mutant shrimp crossed with crawdads, octopus, BIG mushrooms,

and roe of several different species. There were actually too many things to enumerate.
After the market, we split upo and Alden and Angela Maria went to a youth concert while Rachel, Bob, and Salvatore retired to a local coffee shop to peruse photos. If you're ever in a  position where the person you are entertaining doesn't speak a word of english, (and you don't speak whatever they speak) try showing them photos. Literally worth a thousand words.
Then we went back to Salvatore and Anglela Maria's to eat lunch. Once again the lasagna was fabulous and the wine was plentiful.
They gave us gifts, we gave them gifts, and they drove us to the ferry terminal.
We went throught the obligatory security check (belt buckle PLEASE!!) and got on the ferry.

 By the time we checked into our stateroom and looked back at the docks, they were gone.
We departed around 6:00 and headed out across the Mediterranean Sea.

Our cabin had 4 single beds, in a two-bunk-bed arrangement. We wandered the ship and figured out where the lifeboats were and how to knock old ladies overboard so we would be assured a spot in one if the ferry were to sink. Found a spa and a "video" room where you could watch Italian or german TV all night. Found the bar and were surprised to find out how cheap the drinks were. Alden spent a good deal of time doing his figure-drawing homework. Rachel was inspired to try to draw Alden. She did an okay job, but now we know why she chose social work over art as a careeer. Had a grappa and went back to the cabin to sleep. We wanted to see the sunrise over the Mediterranean Sea. It had been too cloudy to see the sun set, so we were determined to see it rise.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Last full day with the truly friendly folks in Sardinia

March 16

We slept in until 9:00, had a quick breakfast, then walked around on the beach. Found a bunch of fiber balls, where the surf had shredded plant fiber of some sort and rolled it into a few hundred oceanic hairballs. There were also several hundred dead purple jellyfish.

We went into town around 2:00 and met up with our friends Salvatore and Angela Maria.

Went to modern museum. Not my thing, so I spent time trying to update this stupid blog. I also checked emails and payed bills.
We then went to an archaeological museum and saw a bowl reportedly made 2400 years before Christ.

Alden and I walked up 121 steps to the top of a tower that is normally closed, but open this day only for Italy’s 150 year independence day celebration. It's the Santa Croce or “Elephant” tower.

We went to an exhibition hall for 150 year freedom celebration, then saw military and civilian bands play.

Went to fabulous pizza joint which served pizzas that were 14” across as individual servings.

After pizza saw a long fireworks display, primarily green white and red, which are the colors of the Italian flag.

Went home to Kala moru, had some grappa, and prepared for departure tomorrow. We're gonna miss this place. Sardinia and Cagliari are very down-home places. They'd be great if everybody didn't talk funny.

Salvatore and Angela Maria have been absolutely wonderful. What good friends.

The Beautiful Grey Mediterranean

March 15, 2011

We crawled out of bed around 7:30. Rachel wanted to go down to the beach, so she and I got dressed and headed on down there.

The sky was overcast and grey. The ocean was also grey, reflecting the dismal sky.

The sand was a nice brown, and there were some pretty flowers and heart-shaped leaves which brightened the scene a bit. We found a couple of nice cockle shells, and a genuine cuttlefish bone that had obviously never seen the inside of a store.

The waves flowing and the sound of the surf were quite relaxing. Before we knew it a half-hour had gone by and we had to hurry to get inside, bathe, dress, and prepare for the hour drive into Cagliari to meet up with Salvatore and Angela Maria. I (Bob) had never driven in Italy before, and we were a bit nervous as we started out for the city. Italian drivers tend to treat lane markers and street signs as suggestions and we were not sure how we would fare given the conditions. It turned out fine. When in Rome, drive like an Italian. You will be fine.

We got there on time and immediately headed out for a pre-Roman archaeological site about 25 kilometers from the city.

Salvatore drove, and although the ride was quite exciting we arrived safely and in one piece at our destination: Barumini.

Barumini was an Etruscan settlement on the island of Sardinia around 1500 B.C. Angela Maria was a part of the original University exploratory staff that excavated the original discovery in 1965. It was a fortress with 5 towers, fortified sometime after its original construction, with an extra 3 feet of stone around all the walls. That sounds easy, but when you consider the walls are about 100’ high and you are working with short people and blocks that weigh 7 tons, it doesn’t sound quite so easy.
We crawled all over the site, climbing through tiny passages that some of us could barely squeeze through, and learned a lot about what is considered “secure” for someone who has just discovered the virtues of bronze.

After the exploration of the Etruscan settlement, we went to a museum which stored artifacts from the Etruscan site. There were lots of primitive (by our standards) bowls and scrapers and the usual archaeological fare, plus they had a section on underwater archaeological discoveries in the Cagliari port area.

We got to see a huge collection of ceramics which held a variety of trade goods, and several different drag stones which were precursors of anchors.

From there it was off to an amazing 4 course lunch with a huge variety of local gastronomic favorites. I could not eat everything that was placed before me. The food here is simply magnificent. If I lived here I would die early, and content, for sure.

After lunch we headed out to the Zapata Palace, where another ancient dig had been unearthed after repairs to the palace were initiated. The palace was unwittingly built upon an ancient archaeological site, and when the palace fell into disrepair the state decided to do some work and discovered another pre-Roman site.
The significant thing about these two sites is that they both indicate a nation preparing for war, showing that war goes back to at least 1500 years before the Christian era, or 3,500 years before now. Will we ever learn?

After the Zapata Palace site we headed back to Cagliari, and then home to our villa on the shores of the Mediterranean, where we are treated to the wonderful sounds of the ocean, and a quick lightning storm.
We ended the night with wine, beer, cards, and conversation. This has been a very satisfying day.

Packed in like sardines, on our way to an appropriate place

March 14, 2011

We got up at 6:30, bathed, dressed and headed to the nearby train station. We caught a train to Pisa, Italy at 8:05. Finding occasion to utilize the sanitary facility on the moving train, I looked down into the toilet and saw the ground rushing by. That’s right, the sanitary disposal techniques on Trenitalia consist of dumping feces and urine directly onto the ground and letting nature take its course.

We got into Pisa around 9:30 A.M., local time. We decided we had time to see the leaning tower. We took a cab to the tower to assure enough time to evaluate the degree of lean, and got over there pretty quick. I am happy to report that the tower is indeed, still leaning.
I took some photos to document, as this is one of the tasks set me by my fellow co-workers, and then we jumped into the cab to head back and catch the train for Pisa Airport. On the way we ran into a snag. A car had parked just far enough away from the community dumpsters to make it impossible for a bus to make the turn onto the narrow street, and said bus had it’s butt sticking out into our street and we were going nowhere fast. A cop came along and wrote the guy a ticket, but still we sat there. We decided to walk the last ten or twelve blocks to the train station with our assorted luggage. About three blocks from the scene of the crime we were passed by the bus and another bus and a gaggle of traffic. A lesson in the virtues of patience.

We got back in time to catch the airport train, and headed into the airport to catch our flight.
Alden and I went over to the counter to check two pieces of luggage, and Rachel waited for us. The two pieces of luggage cost us 101 euros to check. I noticed that nobody else was checking luggage.
We came back to Rachel to find her comforting a young woman. Her name was Lucia, and she had had her wallet stolen from her purse while on the train to the airport. On a side note, we have been advised that pickpockets are rife in this area, and if you don’t pay particular attention to your wallet, it will leave you for another’s company with no compunction. Hers had done exactly that, and she could NOT board her flight without a printout that would cost her 40 euros. Rachel tried calling her mom and dad, but since it was 2:00 in the morning at her folks, they did not answer. We gave her 50 euros and exchanged our phone and emails, and wished her well. We found out later that we helped her get to Nice, and she arrived safely.

We boarded our Ryan Air flight and flew over the Mediterranean Sea. We couldn’t see it because of clouds, but I imagined it very clearly. On the flight there was no free anything. Beverages were sold by the flight attendants with an accompanying radio commercial being played over the loudspeaker. The sound was of a drink being opened and poured.
They sold Ryan Air lottery tickets where you could win 1 million euros, watches, and even perfume.
When we finally de-planed in Cagliari, our luggage was the only two pieces of luggage on the belt. No one else had been inexperienced enough to have to check luggage. We grabbed our luggage and headed out the door. Salvatore and Angela Maria were waiting for us with a “welcome” balloon and an Italian flag, and after the traditional two-sided kiss greeting we headed into the city.

It was the usual thrill ride to a palatial house in Cagliari and lunch with spumante, welcoming toast, octopus, roasted balsamic tomatoes, lasagna (artichoke, mushroom, wine, parmesan), ciabatta rolls, and roasted baby pig.
We finished up with a huge platter of marzipan, special Sardegna cakes, and almond brittle.
We had red wine with the main course, and dessert wine for dessert.

Salvatore took us on a tour of town where we saw buildings which were built in the 1500’s, bomb sites from 2nd world war, and panoramic views of city and Mediterranean Sea.
They brought an extra car to the beach house, which I am apparently expected to drive into the city tomorrow.

The beach house is a villa located on the shore of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. We can hear frogs croaking and the surf with the window open.
The sky is cloudy tonight, but we are hoping for sun tomorrow.

We ate, then we went somewhere and ate, then we went somewhere else and ate.

March 13, 2011

Got out of bed at 9:00. It was Marie Louise’s birthday, and she had won her election to village council of Etoy, Switzerland, so we had reason to celebrate. We were not sure if we had to set our clocks back. Turned out Europe doesn’t start daylight savings until the end of the month. Bob made great breakfast of sausage, omelet, toast, kiwi, Alden joined us for “brekkie”. Headed out to wine tasting event around 1:00. Tasted an assortment of wines, cheeses, meats, and balsamic vinegars, olive oils, and sweets until 5:00. Or so. Alden stayed with a couple of his jazz friends and we left.

We proceeded to 4 lions (Quattro Leoni) for a great dinner of filet mignon, octopus, and sweets. The cheesecake was unique and most excellent. They put a candle on it and we sang “Happy Birthday” to Marie-Loise.

Alcohol and church don't mix

March 12, 2011

Got up at 7:30 to go to store, clean apartment, and get ready for Marie-Louise and Pierre, from Switzerland

Alden came in and we met them at the train station at Noon.
Have not seen them for 11 years.
Made great lunch for them at our apartment.

Went out to take bus to Sienna.

                                        Church that Alden, Pierre, and marie Louise attended.

Alden, Pierre, and Marie-Louise went to church and saw monks chanting and a duomo, Rachel and I went to an Irish bar. Some guy wanted to take his picture with Bob because Bob is “big”. He was small and drunk, so I let him put his head on my chest and the barkeep took his picture
Had Italian beer bar and watched spirited rugby match between Wales and Ireland. Ireland won.

Rode back on rocky roads (filling falling out?)

Got back in time for 9:00 dinner reservations and had really good dinner.
Jazz was so-so.

Went to The Effizzi and saw statues of many famous figures including Galileo (above).

Walked home and got a guided tour from Alden.

Alden went home and we \went home and set up hideabed for Marie-Louise and Pierre.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

St. Marco Piazza

Spectacular church with lines a mile long! The waterfront sparkles! I couldn't resist getting our photo taken.

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Monday, 21 March 2011

What an amazing surprise!!!

Bob and I luxuriated this morning then explored more of Venice. When we got

back to our room, there was a huge bouquet of white roses and purple flowers

along with a tray of treats.

A knock on the door brought chilled sparkling wine and limoncello, a powerful new favorite!! Grazia Milo AngelaMaria and Salvatore!!!
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Sunday, 20 March 2011

Kosher and Catholic on the same day

Kosher and then... March 11, 2011

Today we took the tour bus for the second time, but this time Alden was with us.

We listened to the same spiel regarding the various sites, but they were out of sync with the trip. Tour buses are kinda hit and miss here, and a lot depends on the staff.

We hopped off at the grand synagogue and went for a look inside. We had to go through a metal scanner and put our keys and stuff in bins, just like the airport.
Inside, we entered the garden outside the synagogue, and it was pretty nice, but nothing to write home about. Inside the synagogue was a different story. The walls are very ornate and have tiny designs all over them. The walls are also HUGE . It must have taken years to make all those designs on them. There were chairs upstairs for the women.

This is the only synagogue in Florence and it's a Sephardic one and very Orthodox. Women have a covered section on the main floor or they are allowed to be upstairs during services but we were allowed free range for viewing.

There was also a museum that had many, many old artifacts and Judaica of major life cycle events, like births, Bar Mitzvahs, etc. One special and very fancy “dress” was for Bris. It looked like a doll sized extra long wedding dress. We all wondered why they'd make it so hard for the Moil to do his job.
We stopped at Ruth's Kosher vegetarian deli for lunch and were served by Ruth's husband as Ruth was busy getting ready for Shabbat. It struck us also how few Jewish people there are in Florence.

A bit later, we all shared a cow stomach sandwich for a snack which is considered authentic Tuscan food according to Alden. Clearly NOT Kosher. I think Alden wanted to see if we were adventurous enough to try it. It seemed similar to pulled pork without the barbeque sauce but tender on a soft roll. Not bad actually but wouldn't want to eat it on a regular basis.

Bruce Gibbs had recommended that we see a particular crucifix. We went to the church to find it.
It was a gift to a priest from Michaelangelo. The priest had allowed Michaelangelo access to the church morgue so he could dissect the corpses and study anatomy, thus making the more realistic sculptures and paintings that he was known for.
The crucifix was in a separate vestibule all by itself. It was a pretty good work of sculpture, but something always turns my stomach when I see a representation of a human nailed to a cross.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

March 10, 2011

March10, 2011

We got up late. I made a great breakfast from the groceries we bought yesterday, and we headed out.
Near our house is a piazza called “Santa Maria Novello”. Around the corner from that is the “Duomo” which means “Big Dome”. The duomo is attached to a very architecturally ornate church.
Here was a large crowd of folks around the duomo, taking pictures and eating and doing tourist stuff. A young, apparently healthy woman approached us and begged in her best heart-breaking voice for money. She rattled a can with coins in it and generally did a good job of begging. We wanted to give her some money, but all we both had was 20 euro notes, and that was too much. We went looking for change. All the tourist souvenir stands were too expensive and they wouldn’t give us change unless we bought something, so it took us a while. When we finally had change, the young beggar lady had vanished.

Rachel wanted to shop, so I sat on a bench for awhile. A couple came up speaking German, and the guy sat down next to me, and his wife went off. He and I commiserated about shopping wives and bored husbands. He spoke a limited, broken version of English, and all the German I know comes from war movies, so communication was limited.
Rachel returned and I said goodbye to my benchmate, and we went to the central market of Florence. At the market I was amazed to find that every clothing vendor had the perfect sized fake leather jacket for ME!!

After shopping we looked up a tour bus. They have busses here that go around the same circuit all day and for a price you can hop off at any stop, stay as long as you want, then hop on again. The busses also have a narration running that you can hear in your own language in earphones. The narration tells you everything a good tourist should know about all of the attractions. Of course, this leads to extreme information overload, so I don’t actually remember most of it.

We have a hard time figuring out which way is up, here. We started out to take the jazz kids out to dinner at a place called Acqua Al2, which was recommended by Rabbis Gary
and Laurey. We walked a long way and then figured out that we were headed in exactly the wrong direction , so turned around and headed in the other direction. Ended up still beating the boys to the restaurant. Jazz folks are generally laid back, so they are frequently late, and not bugged by that fact.
We had a great dinner and wonderful conversation with the guys. I am trying not to call them “kids”, after all they ARE 19 or 20 and are getting along in a foreign land on their own. Anyhow, many of them are wise beyond their years, and great story tellers.
The dinner ended up calling us much lees than it should have, due to a
gift from Rabbis for our family which we extended to jazz kids.
At the end of the wonderful evening we went our different directions and eventually made it home.

Friday, 11 March 2011

So, what happened in our NEXT exciting episode??

Rachel and I needed to experience some of this new land for ourselves, beyond buying groceries.  I got up and dressed and we went to the public market. We were approached several times by vendors who had "just the right jacket" for me. Some of the vendors were quite aggressive, and were laughed  at profusely by their compatriots when we refused to enter into negotiations with them.  We managed to make it through the market without being extorted out of any hard-earned cash.
We went up to NYU Florence to visit our son. He had given us directions to the campus which included a small amount of walking and a short bus ride. It turns out he's been here too long, because the walking was interminable and the bus ride was rough and much longer than we expected. It's funny how "civilization" tends to make one soft. What I mean is: Americans have a very cushy, soft life. We don't have to do most of the stuff that keeps most europeans in much better shape than most of us (bike enthusiasts excluded).
                                              That's Bob in the lower left corner of the photo.
On arriving at the NYU campus we were told that Alden had to come sign us in, and he was in class for another 1.5 hours. We settled in for a long wait, but then saw Vinnie and Jaime walking down the driveway. They re Alden's rommates, some of the "boys of Borgo Pinti".
They signed us in and left us free to wander the campus. We went to the main building and met an Italian guard who treated us very well and sent us into a vey nice room with couches to wait.
I immediately passed out and Rachel took pictures on me with my mouth hanging slackly open and looking so much like Homer Simpson that I don't want to elaborate further. I deleted every damned one of them when I found them.

We walked around the NYU Florence campus and found it to be utterly gorgeous.There are gardens behind walls, gardens in front of walls, and gardens within gardens. All of the gardens have interesting sculptures of naked people doing sometimes incomprehensible things.

                                   Naked stone people doing incomprehensible stuff

 Holding jugs of wine, dogs, swords, and all kinds of stuff. I am sure that these sculptures had heavy meaning for those who commissioned them, but much of that meaning is today lost without extensive research into the life of the individual who commissioned the sculpture.

Part of the  extensive NYU gardens

 Kinda reminds me of the "behold my works and despair, o' ye mighty" scenario. Look it up if the reference is lost on you. Anyhow, gorgeous campus, 5 different villas consolidated into the campus. Lots of olive trees, which I have never seen before.

Another shot, different part of the gardens.

We headed back down the hill with Alden to Borgo Pinti, his home in the city. Getting around was much easier since he knows the city.
Once at Borgo Pinti we got to meet his roommates, Patrick, Paasha, Nathaniel, Jamey, Jared, Vinnie, Pierre, Casey, Stephen, Daniel, and Mario.
Alden cooked us a fabulous dinner of chicken satay, Prosciutto tortellii, and raw broccolli. Quite tasty. He's almost as good a cook as I am.

A Great dinner!

After visiting we took a cab back to our apartment to sleep and get ready for tomorrow.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

And on the first day........

This portion of the blog will be a little long. In our excitement at being in a foreign land we neglected the blog for a few days. I will attempt to catch up in this one section, so be prepared for some long-windedness.

We were very impressed by the starkness and lack of efficiency of the Munich airport. The plane had to taxi for what felt like miles before we finally reached the terminal. Upon arriving at the terminal we walked a loooong way, ascending several floors before plunging back to the lowest floor. There we walked again until we finally arrived at our gate. There were few chairs to be had. The few chairs which were not occupied were single chairs between people. I snagged one and hung out waiting. After a while the person sitting next to me got up and left, and Rachel had a spot to sit.
Eventually we boarded a bus which ran us around the terminal and up to our plane. The plane was tiny, but we had some nice views of the alps on the trip to Florence. As we approached Florence we started seeing groves of what we later confirmed to be olive trees. The landscape went from jagged alpine mountains to gently rolling green hills. We were surprised at the lack of any kind of customs examination. The only formality was that a drug/explosives dog came over and sniffed our luggage and had to be pulled away by the guard.
We walked out of the baggage area and were greeted by Alden.  He looked really good. Italy seems to be agreeing with him on all points. He walked us out to a taxi zone and we boarded our first thrill ride in Italy. It was a taxi, but it turns out that a taxi is a thrill ride here. The driver swerved in and out, narrowly missing bicyclists, pedestrians, and large trucks and busses with equal skill. Sometimes we came to a rapid halt when confronted with imminent collision. Other times we were slammed back into out seats as the driver accellerated to take advantage of some temporary void in the traffic. To her credit, Rachel didn't scream once.
Upon arrival we thanked the driver (we both said "Thanks", Alden said "Grazzi". )

Alden has been taking Italian courses since he's been here and is much better at speaking Italian than Rachel or I.

We entered our new domicile and proceeded past the guard, and took the elevator up three floors to our apartment. The signs indicated a few business names, but nothing like the name we were looking for. We tried going up and down all the floors but nothing matched the apartment we were looking for. We called "Chiari", the lady who owns the apartments, and she assured us that she was waiting in our apartment to welcome us. We explained what we had done, and she laughed and told us that we had taken the wrong elevator, and we were on the other end of the building from the apartment. We went down to the bottom floor and went to the other end of the building. Sure enough, when we went up to the third floor on this one, the apartment was there and Chiari was there to welcome us. She showed us the apartment and went through common operational protocols so we would know how things worked. We have a clothes washer, but no dryer. All drying is done on a clothesline or on a drying rack in the bedroom in the event of wet weather.
The King sized bed is actually two singles pushed together, so usually one of us "falls in the crack" during the night. The view out the back window and from the balcony (where the washing machine is located) is of a beautiful garden.

The view out our back window
The windows have an intersting option that I have never seen before: a wooden blind that draws down from outside and completely obscures all daylight.

Chiari left and we settled in. After a long trip, one of us had to go to the bathroom right away. I won't mention any names. Anyhow, after I had "done my business" I found that the toilet didn't flush. I worked on it for a bit, but since it was a "yank tank" variety with a push buton and I didn't have a ladder, I had limited options.
Rachel wanted to call Chiari right away, but I made her wait until I had time to fill a bucket from the utility sink and manually flush the toilet.
After airing the place out, we calld Chiari, who sent the handyman right away to work on the toilet. He fixed it in less than 5 minutes. I wish I'd had a ladder to watch him work.
Now that we had a flush toilet, life was good.

Rachel was burnt to a crisp, so she went and took a nap while Alden and I went out to procure supplies.
We went to a public market located near the "Duomo".  I picked up a belt at the first stall, and Alden cautioned me that I would regret it. Sure enough, half a block later there was another stall selling the same belt for 1/2 the price. We went into the food portion of the market and found what most americans would probably consider a nightmarish scene.There were major body parts scattered all about the cooler case. Lungs, stomache, tongue, backbone; all lay exposed to the eye. You can order pieces that look like the meat back home, and the butcher will whack it off for you, but you will generally have to confront the sight of a good-sized chunk of what was once a living creature in order to do it.

I bought bread and wine and Alden did the same (legal drinking age in Italy is sixteen). Outside the market we said goodbye and he went home to Borgo Pinti and I went in search of further rations. I found a small store front labeled "Supermarket". Alden and I had poked fun at it when we walked by, because it was only maybe 8 feet wide, and could hardly be a proper market of any kind. I entered, and found that the "Supermarket" consisted on a single aisle that stretched on for a long, long way.

I went through and picked up several useful items. I made my way home with my bounty and made our first supper in Italy, consisting of sausage, cheese, bread, and wine. We then both passed out from sheer fatigue (18 hours of travel), and woke up when it was dark. We figured it was the next day, but it was actually 7:00 P.M. We went back to bed and slept until 5:00 A.M. the next day.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

3:45 a.m. and so it begins,,,

I'm not sure I really slept, but the startle of alarm's ring suggested otherwise. Our bags were packed and at the door when the shuttle came to get us at 4:15. We zoomed to the airport in relative silence as we geared up for the long trip. The brightness of the airport kept our sleepy eyes more attentive as we re-juggled items to balance our suitcases for weight limits. Now help me do the math... We were 4 pounds over in one suitcase but when we switched items, we lost 6 pounds from both without losing any items. Hmmmm...

The flight to DC was packed... Bob and I had chosen a window and aisle seat hoping no one would want in between us, but no luck.  They were nice though and the time went fairly quickly.

Then the big trip... 5:30 p.m.DC to Munich. We splurged by buying seats with 7 more inches and boy was it worth it. We had two seats to ourselves and settled in for the duration. My doctor had given me meds for my back so I was fairly pain free and the excitement of it all was really starting to sink in as we watched the map on the screen in front of us detail our trip.

We had some wonderfully fun flight attendants-Kelly and Ernie.  When I was waiting for the bathroom, Kelly asked me about our travels. I told her and she seemed excited for us.  When I returned to my seat, she and Ernie had brought our dinner with an added surprise... a big bottle of French champagne!! Bob and I were blown away by their kindness! We clinked our glasses as we once again kicked off this trip of a lifetime!!
Bob's viewer wasn't working so we took turns watching movies- The King's Speech and the one with Robert Downy Jr. on a road trip. We dozed,

watched, read, talked, played angry birds, and watched the map. We arrived in Munich at 7:00 a.m.

More to come...


Home from SF and we hadn't arranged for a ride as we figured we'd take the Max.  While we were waiting for the train to leave, we got a message from Gary saying that they were leaving for the airport and would leave their car for us. Instead, I had them drive to drop off where we exchanged hugs- they got out with their gear and we got in with our gear and left. Sometimes the "magic" just works!

San Fran

Much love to Gary for getting us to the airport before the break of dawn to start our amazing weekend! Got to see lots of family and friends, hear great music, celebrate Andy's 60th and fund-raiser for the Children's Book Project (they made over 3.000 in donations) and Bruce made a long drive down to see us and join in the fun. Tony took Bob to the  beach

Tony's nice car

while Vickie and I got to catch up and get ready for Friday night dinner with the traditional brisket (my mommy's recipe) we brought with us. Martha flew in from DC which was a real treat too.  Gail not only picked us up, she gave us her bed, and even took us to the airport at 5:30 in the a.m. What a gift!!

Even though we were on standby status with coupons given to us, the only way we could have done this trip at all,  we were able to get there and back with NO problems in time to leave Monday for Florence. The flight attendant even made a fun surprise announcement congratulating us on our 35th anniversary trip.  What a great start to our adventures!!