Nov 26, 2006


Shameless...Andrea is part of the reason Anne and I enjoyed staying at La Casetta in Montepulciano. His mom, Pina, is a gem, a wonderful hospitable woman with a flair for decor and the ability to make one feel like royalty. She made the apartment feel like a home away from home and came by every so often to bring us something she had made that day....biscotti, pasta, jam, wine, olive oil....the lady is amazing. And she is warm and welcoming, a language that is understood worldwide. Pina, does not speak any english, but she got her message across; we were to have a relaxing and pampered vacation.

Their webpage is all in Italian, but you get the idea from their photos how lovely and welcoming it is. Andrea will be the person to call if you want to make a reservation as he speaks english. I highly recommend this place to everyone.

To get an idea of what it is like to have an olive orchard, I helped Pina and her brother in law, Moreno, pick olives. Pina took me to her brother's
house (also lives in the area) where he makes the olive oil. Fascinating thing...making olive oil. The hardest part for small owners, is the picking of the olives...the rest is all machine. I think I need to go back there about the time they are picking grapes. By the way, fresh olives taste really good too.

You have to notice Pina's home. I loved every nook and cranny...I wonder if she can adopt me. I want another house to make look as beautiful as she made hers....it would be better yet, if the house were here also, eh? Oh, and for someone who isn't too fond of cooking...I now know how to make pasta from scratch. I don't know if I will ever put that knowledge into practice again....
Needless to say...sad to leave this wonderful place.


Nov 3, 2006

Anne and Francesco

“You have to believe….” Francesco to Anne

Today we left the mainland and headed over to Sicilia via the ferry. No bridge yet. We left from San Giovanni and set foot upon Sicilian ground at Messina. A couple hours later, we were in Cefalu, looking for food and for a place to stay. We stopped at a real estate agent’s office and asked about apartments. There were several in the center and a villa on the outskirts. Neither Anne nor I are excited about city life so we chose to see what the villa was like.

The gates opened and we drove the gravel path, through slightly overgrown olive orchards and orange trees. We stepped onto red brick terrace that housed a huge wooden table and chairs that was even more inviting with the warm wind that rustled the leaves.
The kitchen was bright and modern and a much needed laundry was next to it. There were four bedrooms and two baths and two of the bedrooms upstairs opened onto a large open terrace with a view of the ocean in the near distance.

Anne had charmed everything but the pants off the agent who showed us the villa.

Francesco is a tall, sun-kissed full fledged Sicilian; his family has lived in Sicily for generations. He arrived on his silver and black Yamaha scooter and we had followed him to the villa to see if it would suit our purposes. It was funny watching him drive his scooter, pull out the cell phone, call someone and then, while holding the phone with his left hand, start making those famous Italian gestures, with his right!

Francesco has something for fair skinned, light eyed beauties having dated a Swede and now a German babe. So it is no surprise that he was taken with Anne.

If he asked a question, he asked Anne; when he handed the key over, he gave it to Anne; when he talked about his country, he looked at Anne. And when he left he gave Anne the instructions on how to get the gate closed behind him again.

In the shallow patio light, we watched him get put his helmet on as he prepared to leave. If he thought I couldn’t see him, he was wrong…As he swung the bike around, I watched him give a long look at Anne who was trying to figure out the remote to the gate. Then he caught me watching him and went back to being the Francesco who was making sure we were comfortable. He stopped next to Anne, who was poking every button that could be pushed. Still nothing. Francesco reached over as he took it from her hands and said in his wonderful Italian-tinged English as he teased her, “You know, you must believe…for it to open.”

I have no doubt it is because of his fascination with Anne that he villa was rented to us so cheaply… Euro 60/night. We could not believe our luck to run across this gem like this.


Feeling Sicily

“…to have seen Italy without seeing Sicily, is not to have seen Italy at all – for Sicily is the key to everything” …. Goethe

If it were possible to have a love affair with an island, I will have one with Sicily. I love, Love, LOve, LOVE this place. Sicily to me is earthy and sensual, an embracing warmth that comes from country and people and it reached out and fed me. It had unusually sunny October days, the hot wind from the Sahara making it even more inviting and lazy. The warmth begs me to lie down and take it easy…slow down and enjoy the moment. And I do.

It has fed me good food…Sicilian spiced food served in a local trattoria with tall, dark haired men, unshaven but finely suited sitting at the adjoining table, eyes hidden behind expensive shades (in Corleone of all places)…or at the villa, pecorino cheese and tomatoes on crostini, rubbed with raw garlic, Anne’s lentils, proscuitto crudo and lots of delicious persimmons.

My body settles into the seat of the car, muscles tensing and relaxing keeping me in place as we round every curve, pass another car or just fly down one of the rare straight stretches. This island is pure heaven for me. My arms fly one over the other to steer to the right and then immediately to the left. The road is exhilarating; the landscape picturesque, but I see only portions of it as my eyes remain fixed to the road, enjoying every mile that we eat up.

I miss the details, but the overall scene has been that of wildness…stark, bare rock jutting out of brown earth, covered sparsely with trees that adapt to the dry inland weather; and that of lush green…the land cultivated to produce wine and olives, or produce. It is like a patchwork quilt, some dark green, others light; some dark brown with freshly turned soil; or those faded to a light brown from an unrelenting sun. We go through hills and valleys, stunned by a large outcropping of resistant rock and then wowed by rounded hills of a valley beneath us.

The land is dotted with specks of white…sheep leisurely grazing among the patches of rock. Cows enjoy their pasture as much as the horses roam freely on theirs. And we were treated to a flock of goats being herded down a country road by their shepherd seated on his chestnut horse.

We’ve walked through old towns, mostly untouched by tourism and watch people in their everyday lives. This is what I want… what I enjoy seeing. This is what I call Italy. Sicilians are people with very little personal space. At no other market have I been elbowed, pushed against, and bumped into as much as here. They touch each other frequently in friendly conversation, and I enjoy seeing so many men greet each other with the kiss to each cheek. I love it. Men of all ages gather at their favorite bar, settle in one of the many (horrid) white plastic chairs on the pavement or patio and slowly take in the world as it goes by. They seem different than anywhere else and I think that the sun….washing everything in its white heat, makes it seem that time sluggishly ticks by.

Maybe it is warm, but Sicilians are not wanting for fashion. Women all wear boots that seem to be the rage right now….in 33C weather. Nowhere else have I seen the men wearing the berets that I like - they wear them here and they look marvelous…over grey suits in mid afternoon, or with work-worn overalls nursing their tractor down the road.

Best of all, the people here are lovely. They are beautiful and they laugh a lot. It must be the sunshine. We have only visited the smaller towns, but nowhere have I run across unruly, discourteous, rude, vulgar or impertinent men. On the contrary, they have been courteous, and friendly and offer help without being asked. These are people who are interested in people and I find myself completely pleased to have my preconception shattered.

Isle of Capri

I knew better but I still came. This little island off the Sorrentino coast is a regular tourist trap. The place, even in the off season is swarming with Americans, English, Dutch, Japanese…where are the Italians?

The hydrofoil let us off at the marina and we took the funicular up to the old center. There was a heart stopping moment when I realized at the top that I had left my camera at the tourist information office. I rode the funicular back down….and then back up…with the camera.

If it weren’t for Anne and her running commentary on various things we saw, I would have gone batty.

I’ll give the island this…it is beautiful. I could see someone filming King Kong here… what with the tall steep cliffs shrouded with clouds at the top, giving it a mysterious jungle like feel. It was very humid and surprisingly warm….just like how a gorilla would like it.

Everywhere there were shops, filled with things a local would never buy. I am dying here. We catch the bus to go to AnaCapri on the other side of the island and the road takes us literally to the edge and beyond. Portions of the road are supported by columns, suspended in mid air. It is exhilarating to look out the window and over the edge. This makes me think of another thing that I am not doing on this leg of my trip…I am not DOING. I am just looking and am becoming lethargic and bored.

Anne comes to my rescue again. She is game to walk back to Capri instead of catching the bus. We follow an insane set of stone steps, each a different height, down the side of the mountain, through vine covered archways, passing lemon orchards and grapevines, smelling different types of unusual shaped and colored flowers. We arrive at the bottom, pleased at our little adventure and trembling, not with the excitement as one would hope but….because our legs were now liquid mush and we just couldn’t stand to walk another stair.

Now, with a few hours to kill, we dutifully walked through several of the stores, before finally settling down at a café to just watch people. The hands on the clock inched its way around making me wonder if time doesn’t really sometimes stand still. Then rain came, beautiful, large drops of warm rain fell and cleared the streets of most of the foreign and the harbor took on a different personality for a small window of time: Quiet yet still alive, cobblestones glistening in the waning light and colors turning in for the night.


Oct 20, 2006

The Amalfi Coast

This coastline is amazing…which means the road that curves its way along its edge is amazing. This is a road for sports cars and motorbikes…but that is coming from someone who loves to hug the curves, whether in a car or a bike. Half my fun was driving and the other was taking in the sheer cliffs that plunged into the sea. We drove from Sorrento to Amalfi and took in some of the hill towns that were along the way.

There are some incredible properties with fantastic views and Anne and I stopped to soak it all in. We walked through old center after old center without tiring of the feel…knowing that the cobblestones and walls held secrets of the ages. If only they could recount history.

We ate in Amalfi, staring at a woman who seemed to have an unusual attachment to a duck. The duck swam with her, came when she called and loved to be picked up and hugged.

Ravello, which held so much promise to be extraordinarily beautiful, was somewhat disappointing to us. Lovely views were to be seen from the balcony of an expensive hotel, but we didn’t find it as captivating as other small hilltowns.

We did have some fun hamming it up for a photo overlooking the ocean and pretending to not understand an Italian hanging out of his car window asking what our names were.


Dinner at Osteria di Buonconvento

What a find! Anne and I decided to walk into town to find internet service and look for a piano bar she had read about. The piano bar was elusive, but during the search, we came across narrow, cobblestone streets filled with shops that had their wares spilling over on the sidewalks. We didn’t know where to start!

Evenings like these are a true sensory experience. There are smells of all kinds….scents of leather goods; different foods, baked bread, pizza, fruit piled high on outdoor stands; perfume from the elegantly dressed woman who passed by, or the smell of man hard at work. Street lamps stretch their yellow arms as far as they can, embracing tablewares and passers-by in their warm glow yet leaving corners in dark and mysterious contrast. Brilliant colored stones sparkle in their metal trappings waiting for willing hands to wrap them around a long and beautiful neck, bare wrist or naked finger. Colors of bright yellow sunflowers trapped in tablecloths or ceramic dishware and pared with reds, blues and greens. There are silky scarves begging to be touched, beautiful stiletto shoes asking to strut about town; furs to be caressed and worn only in my imagination.

Mouths open and strange but beautiful sounds, seemingly all vowels, soft and gentle tumble forth, one word caressing another. Strains of accordion music draw us around a corner expecting to find nothing more than a loudspeaker. We find instead a jolly man, sitting outside a restaurant with his instrument, sending musical notes to the ends of the street to beckon the curious and enchanted. We are entranced and decide to stay for dinner and indulge our last sensory experience. Steamed vegetables, seafood, soup, pork, wine and limoncella; eaten to the strains of Italian and French music. What a treat!

These will have to be some of life’s simple pleasures….good food, good company, good ambiance and a good walk to show off the limoncella.


We awoke to another amazingly beautiful day. There is a bit of a chill in the air now, but the sky was blue and the sun felt wonderfully warm on our skin.

We decided to see Vesuvius today and took off at a leisurely pace. Anne was amused by the Italian drivers and there were many to entertain her.

Somehow, we ended up on a town called Torre di Annunziata…a town we hope to never see again. It gave Anne a good idea of what non-touristy life is like. I already had my introduction by driving around the outskirts of Naples. Dirty, filthy streets with bags of garbage piled high; some spilling open to show their rotting contents. I couldn’t believe I had left such wonderful, clean country to come to this.

Lunch time caught us in town. We found a wine bar that was serving lunch and ordered some Panini. They served different types of cheese and some mushrooms and salami that they had preserved in house. The mushrooms and cheeses were delicious and we walked out of there with cheese sprinkled with truffles and the honey to pour on top of it. Who would have thought that combo would be so delicious!

On the road again, we made one more circle to nowhere before resorting to the autostrada and finally found our way. If you know me, you’d know that any winding road is heaven for me. And this was heaven. At the parking lot, the adorable Italian attendant immediately took a liking to Anne and showered her with compliments. Just to show he meant it, he paid her equal attention when we got back from our walk to the crater.

I thought the volcano was extinct….Wrong….just sitting there waiting. 1944 was the last great eruption and they are sure it is just a matter of time before it spouts again. From the top, we could get a glimpse of Pompeii, a trip for another day, and a perfect view of the dark brown haze that is covering the city. Well, brown is supposedly the fashion color for next season……


Sorrento and the east coast

Anne has arrived and it’s nice to have her with me. She had to wait a grueling two hours for me as I got a late start, traffic was horrible to start with and I didn’t realize just how far I was from Rome.

On the way back, we stopped at the Abbazia di Montecassino….where the abbey was bombed almost into non-existence in WW2. I understand why there were so many casualties….this place is literally situated on top of a steep hill. Anyone trying to attack would have been easy prey for the one’s holding the abbey.

We were outside for just a moment taking photos and trying to send a message when our neighbor came out on the terrace. She had a 5 litre bottle of wine for us…and it was delicious. We’ll finish it before the week is over.

Pina, the neighbor, surprised us later that evening when she came over with her son asking if we would help with his English homework. This would have to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve done; it was so good to help him and also learn. It was incredibly easy to talk with him…far easier than I’ve had with many adults. I hope this means I will have fun learning how to teach English…and then have even more fun actually teaching it.

And most of all, I hope I get to teach it in Europe.


Oct 19, 2006

Italian Drivers!

The first rule of thumb: there are no rules!!!

I’ve decided that Italians are really a step above other countries when it comes to driving. They have learned the art of sharing, tolerance and acceptance:

- They share their respective lanes with other cars, scooters, bikes, pedestrians
- They are not territorial and hog space, they will willingly drive on the curb to allow a fellow driver to pass, in their lane and then pull back on to putt along happily.
- Drivers that impatiently bounce back and forth almost on your back bumper are not upset at your pace; just eager to be on their way, probably happy to get to work. This is shown by their peeling off at the first opportunity they get to go around you.
- Lanes on blind corners, of which there are many, are shared by oncoming traffic….no one seems to mind. Italians take corners wide so they don’t have to turn the steering wheel as much.
- Lanes of traffic are happy to share their lane with scooters going in the opposite direction.
- There is an unspoken code of courtesy at round-a-bouts and intersections….one car pokes its nose far enough into oncoming traffic…naturally, other cars stop to let them through.
- Cars overtake on double lines, turn lanes, marked barriers…no one minds at all
- Close one lane of a three lane road; all three lanes just squeeze together, nice and close and cozy, instead of merging into two lanes. This is “sharing” at its max!

With this exhibition of camaraderie and sharing, why do we think Italian drivers are crazy fanatics on wheels.

Oct 18, 2006

Italian Leather!!!! Yeah!

FINALLY! I’ve bought a pair thanks to the fellow above. I laughed so much when I tried on the pair I am not sure it was because the pants fit well, or because I liked him. Or maybe both; I don’t think I would have parted with that much money if it didn’t fit well.
He explained the characteristics of leather and how it conforms to ones form. I thought “of course he would tell me that it fit well, for a sale” but I think the week of walking in the Dolomites and the constant walking everywhere has trimmed things up a bit.

Nevertheless, as I am standing with my back to the mirror, craning my neck around trying to see my behind, I said , “the only thing is, I don’t have a butt.” I swiveled around to look at him only to see his retreating back, his head in his hands, muttering, “women, women! They are never pleased.”

I asked him about the color and his answer was this…"black is good for the discotheque but brown is the color for the next season". So the pants is brown instead of black. Then he told me that I need to wear a short top with it AND that I should not get it hemmed. I will then limit it to a certain pair of shoes. Instead, adjust and hold with double stick tape and that way I will be able to wear it with a number of different pairs.

This was the best fun I’ve had spending money. Now I have to find a reason to wear it here.

Oct 11, 2006

Siena Landscape

Siena landscape

Rolling hills near Siena, sectioned off by white roads snaking their way along the landscape; scalped brown in places and braided with straight rows of chianti in others, sentinels of cypress guarding the ridges.


Gubbio, the villa

I love this place. This is the first apartment where I wanted to get up early and go for a walk. The best part is that there are no curious and nosey old women nearby to check out what I am doing…when I come in or go out.

My apartment is at the back of the building; perfect for me as I want to leave that beautiful door open as much as possible. The door opens to a large green area with a passiagiata just a stones throw away. I’m glad the weather is still good and warm during the day.

There was an early morning mist when I walked, that made the countryside look dreamy and mystical. I could live in a place like this forever. If anyone has seen anything like this in the States, let me know – I want to add to their population.

The apartment is wonderful…a converted monastery. That pleases me as I love monasteries as Mary knows. She won’t forget the trip down some foggy road with robed figures that seemed to glide in the fog. And then having to sit in some musty room to chant and stand up and sit down, stand and sit, stand and sit. Maybe that’s really why she didn’t come along this time to visit me…Anyway, I digress. The apartment has been done with lovely tile on the floor and bathroom. Clean, bright and attractive, with little details that make me happy.

The only thing is that those tiles, lovely as they are, have been lethal. An entire bottle of apricot juice lost its life and spread its glittering and splintered body, along with its yellow blood on the ochre floor. Half the paper towels disappeared in a few minutes.

The next victim was the beautiful glass door that separated the kitchen from the bedroom. One windy day, I left open the window at one end, and the door at the other. Before I could say Jack Sprat, the kitchen door slammed shut and the sickening sound of breaking glass echoed toward me.

So, it’s not surprising then, that I was asked at one point to not leave any lights on...nice old building and all….

Not a Gubbio girl

Today my new friend was going to play ping-pong with me and take me on a tour of Gubbio.

How long has it been since I’ve played? I’d like to blame it on my lack of practice but I know he’d have beaten me anyway. We bet pizza and beer and it fell to me to pick up the tab. I did manage to eek out one win….a salve for my many losses.

I learned he had a passionate involvement with a beautiful Italian red Ducati 916 and on our way into Gubbio, made one stop along the way to drop off the tires for his bike at the garage. This is where I learned that I don’t look like a Gubbio girl….and that I look like I’m in my 20’s. I think I like this town a lot.

Gubbio is lovely and of course, having someone give me some background and history made it all the more interesting. At a museum, he lied and told them that I was his girlfriend, so they allowed me in for free (Gubbioites don’t have to pay for a ticket). I was relieved to see that here, there were paintings with a different theme. At the Uffizi, I saw what seemed like a hundred Madonna and Child, The Annunciation, The Crucifixion. Not that they weren’t wonderful, but there were so many, and often right next to each other. There’s only so many that one can take. So seeing paintings of the resurrection or with the disciples was refreshing. Another point for Gubbio.

It was early, so we visited my friend's father to see his collection of paintings. I saw some beautiful 16th to 17th century paintings…and got a tour complete with history and meaning. The room was filled with such interesting furniture that I wondered if they EVER used it. I wouldn’t if it were mine just because they were so precious.

After dinner we took a quick drive to the monastery at the top of the hill to see the city lights. And let me say, it was quick…. His car took the corners like it was a freeway. And quick, because I was cold when we got there.

After a month of exploring alone, it was really nice to have company and someone to tell me exactly where things were without spending the time and being frustrated trying finding them.

There is a legend that going around the fountain will bring madness; so I went around the allotted three times….nothing like living dangerously. Once I was baptized with the fountain water……I was one of Gubbio’s crazy people.

The thing about towns like these is that there are still artisans. I had to take a photo of the men forging pieces for a piece of furniture….at least I think that is what it was. Nothing industrial…really hand made. Too bad I can’t bring any of it home….and then again…to what home right now?

Medici Villa - Poggia di Caiona

I decided to stay one night closer to Florence since I had a 10:15 appointment and I KNEW I’d never make it from Bagni di Lucca. Along the way was the Poggia di Caiona Medici Villa. I have heard about the Medici and their wealth and influence so it made sense to see firsthand what life was like for them.

The grounds didn’t give any idea of what it was like inside. The grey staircase leading to the upper story was unkempt and they looked old and grey and dilapidated. Nevertheless, the sculptures that were sitting just beyond them were an introduction to the masterpieces and beauty that were within. I don’t think the photos give it true credit.

I was fortunate to arrive just as a guide was beginning a tour to an Englishwoman – who spoke Italian. The tour was in Italian, but he spoke slowly so I could have a better chance of understanding. It was more interesting than if I walked though on my own. I learned about the love lives of the good, bad and the ugly – enough for me to want to learn more, so I picked up a book on the Medici and their rise and fall.

I think the guide took a liking to us, removing the barriers and letting us take photos on the furniture. Sometimes it really pays to be a girl.

At the end of the tour, Moremo, our guide, suggested that we have a coffee together. He told us of a bakery on the street that prepared a delicious Tuscan specialty, like no other. By the time we got there we thought it would be larger than life. Imagine our amusement when we found ourselves staring at a doughnut!

Enoteca Coquinarius - Florence

Here is a wonderful place to eat, recommended by my friend Jen, that was conveniently situated right next to the Paperback Exchange store that was organizing absentee ballot stuff. So I popped in and was seated for a nice meal.

Naturally I ordered a nice glass of wine to go with my meal. Somewhere near the end, the waiter walked by to take an empty plate…and winked at me. Oh joy, I swear that when I smiled back my eyes swam, but in different directions! I thought “Okay, so that was attractive.”

Then I started giggling and the more I tried to stop, the more uncontrollable it became.

One glass of wine!

Oct 10, 2006

Volterra, San Gimingnano, Buonconvento, Abby San Antimo, Abby Monte Oliveto Maggiore.

My little drive around took me all the way down to Volterra, a perfectly preserved medieval town that is not as visited as other towns. It is mostly known for the Balze cliffs, where it is eroding away, and one basilica with it. I came during a car show – naturally, the red sports car caught my eye, but the very tiny fiats were adorable as well.

San Gimingnano was a short drive away. I decided to stay the night here so I could see more of southern Tuscany. The monastery was the least expensive choice, but they didn’t answer either the door or the phone!!!! I must have caught them all during their moment of silence. I called a number I had for a room and was welcomed by a wonderful retired couple. (My Italian got a kick-start here as we sat around their table and talked for a short while. That gave me a boost of confidence.) They were only a short distance from the free parking I’d found. Amazing! I walked up to the walled entrance and the woman in front of me turned around and stared at me with a “how dare you” look as she backed away from me, and I wondered if looked dangerous or insane or like her dead mother.

Town was full of wonderful quaint shops and lots of gelato. One of those night photos is of one shop that was open and drawing customers – including me. There was a trio playing their music on one of the streets - classical chamber – perfect for those surroundings. I now have their CD. The church was amazing with frescoes of scenes from the bible. There was a woman giving a tour in English and I listened in on her lecture. One of the frescoes was of the wealthy donors to the church – who had themselves painted as the chosen going to heaven.

Next day, it rained…lovely. This means I’ll have to come back so I can see southern Tuscany with blue sky.

Buonconvento was my lunch stop. I had a delicious typical tuscan lunch – barley soup and venison. It’s different in the country than in the city where they bring you a glass of wine if that is what you ask for. I got an entire bottle! But I was reassured I only paid for what I drank. I felt like a native with that bottle sitting grandly in front of me. I’m usually done for after only one glass, so this looked good.

The Two abbeys. I like abbeys, probably more so that the grand churches. And I like the chanting…..very soothing. I was sorry that they vesper at the first abby – San Antimo was going to be too late for me to stay for. I was pleasantly surprised that they were in service when I arrived at the Monte O. Maggiore. This is supposed to be the grandest abbey still in existence.

I had a nice long drive back to Lucca, even with the freeway. They are tolled and although I’ve been through them before, I couldn’t find the slot for the ticket. The frustrated voice kept saying in English “Put it in the box” but the box seemed all wrong – too big for my little ticket. Finally, I dropped it in and since nothing happened I asked mysterious voice “what now?” No answer… The agent materialized out of nowhere and asked “What’s the problem” or was it really “What’s your problem?” before fixing it and sending me on my way.


Sep 23, 2006


I’m told that the process of life, the getting to where you want, is where most of the enjoyment is, and not just the acquisition of your goal. I’m inclined to agree, because it is the process of achieving something, or trying to, which is the meat and substance of living. Reaching the summit, so to speak, is just the icing on the cake.

Now scratch all of that regarding my trip to Bologna.

Forget enjoying the process of getting to Bologna by train. That pleasure ended when the train was delayed 45 minutes and then I missed getting on it since my language skills didn’t prepare me for platform changes. Silly me. I blame the sandwich I stopped to grab, since I wouldn’t be having lunching pleasure in Bologna, not realizing that while I was happily munching away, the train was boarding. When I realized what was going on, I dashed up to the new platform and figured out pretty fast what the attendant meant by “ha partito già” when I stared down a deserted platform.

A very helpful and pleasant ticket agent helped me get another fare without wasting the ticket I had in hand. So sweet of her. She would never have guessed that that train would also be delayed….and what should have been a two hour train ride from Lucca, stretched into FIVE. Yeah, I’d say the process of getting to Bologna was beginning to test me.

So, in the end, I spent an evening only at Bologna, and didn’t get to sample their fine dishes. Dinner at any of the restaurants I checked would not start until too late and I needed to catch the last train back to Lucca. So on this shortened trip, I took in the main sight, the Piazza Maggiore. And, damn, there are some fine looking folk out there. Granted, they were probably dressed from their work day, and that is probably why they looked so good. I accidentally walked through a private party at a bar – it’s when I noticed they all had the same drink, which would be odd on any given day, that I realized I’d pushed my way through the entrance of a private celebration…it’s a WEDNESDAY – maybe someone was being promoted.

My “excitement” at the train station didn’t disappoint. I asked the train information if I was to wait at platform 1. He says “You can take the 19:20 to Rome with your ticket”. That wasn’t what I asked, now was it? Not to mention it was 20:02! So I asked again, “which platform?” Mr. Very Helpful comes back with “It’s on the board outside” and dismisses me.

Very much like dejà vu, by the time I deciphered the board and found the platform I was to head to, I arrived just as the rear of the train disappeared around the corner. Bastard Italian. By the way, on the board, just about every train was delayed….ranging from 15 minutes to 3hours.

Three hours later, when I finally arrive at the parking lot, I realize the only cash I have is 50 euro and change – of course the machine will take any combination but NOT 50 euro bills. With a sigh of relief I note the large credit card icons on the front and fish out my VISA. But I discover this is only a cruel joke and it really won’t accept credit cards. (I am now enjoying the coke I bought at a nearby bar (which really is a bar at 11:30pm))

Useful Trenitalia link


Sep 17, 2006

Bagni di Lucca

Bagni di Lucca

Saturday the 16th.

I arrived in Bagni di Lucca in the middle of a rainstorm. The cloudy skies didn’t help the poor little house I encountered. It has good bones still, but has suffered over the years and the owners must have thought that the cracks and peeling paint were somehow part of its charm. Unlike my last place, which had everything imaginable for comfort, this little home lacked many basics, right down to the kitchen towel. No kettle, no coffee pot (gasp)! The lighting is sad, luminescent bulbs hanging so high the rays barely light the room. The bathroom bulb cover reminds me of the kind they use in mines – to protect the bulb from being accidentally smashed by tools. I hope when it gets sunny again on Monday, the house will cheer up.

What I do like are the stone sinks. There are two in the farmhouse kitchen, but only one is functional. The 6 burner gas stove is going to be wasted on me, except to boil water in a saucepan for my coffee. Maybe it will grow on me…at least, the price was right, and I should be out and about for most of my stay here.

I met Mr. Casanova today. I hate to think that I look like a desperate female, but it’s the only reason I can think of why I got this attention. Check out the photo of me next to the bridge. This is what I looked like!!!! I looked like some scraggly creature the cat dragged in. Casanova started chatting with me as we waited for the rain to stop. I had JUST arrived and was looking for a place to eat before I unpacked my stuff. Tony took over, made sure I got a table, got his friend who owned the place to bring my order. He brought me up to date on what was going on, or not, as the case was at the time in Bagni di Lucca. In general he was quite helpful and friendly which became TOO friendly. But Mr. Casanova, managed in the half hour over my lunch (I alone was eating – he took it upon himself to join me) to compliment me on my eyes, my hair (hellooooo), my diet; reassured me my car was fine parked where it was, even if I left it overnight (now why would that be of interest to me?!!!) told me of numerous places to see, all of which he would take me to; suggested we might fall in love....

He thought he had a resemblance to Sean Connery – all I could think of was Gary Pringle…

Sunday the 17th

Lucca: Busy town with an antique fair, regular fair (with ferris wheels and rides) an open air market AND a local football game. Rain doesn’t stop anything here. I liked walking around town, saw about five churches within the walls…..I think one would have been enough for that size area. They are celebrating Mozart’s 250th as well. There will be a performance on Sunday that I’m considering attending. I got a ticket for Puccini’s La Boheme for Saturday. Seems like the thing to do as they are celebrating their home town fella.




Monday: I had more errands to run that I could imagine on a holiday. I made sure I had an appointment for the spa on Saturday afternoon. It would be a good way to rejuvenate after running around during the week. All estheticians are closed – all over Italy – on a Monday. So there was no way I could make that appointment. So, off to Pisa I go for the afternoon as it is very close.

When I read the story behind the leaning tower, my first thought was that the architect or engineer responsible for it must not have been a Christian. After all, we are instructed to wisely build on solid ground. Someone did not do his homework and the structure was built on sandy soil. This did NOT stop building over the years – higher and higher, 8 stories up, with the lean getting worse at each attempt to rectify, until modern times.

The whole area is a compilation of majestic buildings, most of which were closed…surprise, surprise. The baptistery was open, but I wasn’t interested. Half the people with strollers were heading in there.

The cathedral was beautiful and had its rightful commanding presence. I can’t figure why everything was so huge though. The doorway itself could fit a giant’s giant. In a country where the people are crammed up next to each other, that is a lot of valuable space holding nothing but grandeur. I must be missing the point.

I thought “I have to get myself in ONE of these photos”, so I set up the camera on the little lion detail and proceeded to nonchalantly walk out in front of the cathedral. Um, not enough light. I tried twice in other areas, but the photo didn’t take. Did I ask anyone – oh nooooooooo; couldn’t get my lips to utter a sound. But finally, I had to break down and ask…it turns out I see I got a photo of the guy I asked. Photo #14 has one fella in a burgundy shirt facing the other way from everyone. He didn’t look busy so I asked him. He says “Are you going to hold up the tower?” Of course that would have been fun-loving, light-hearted kinda thing to do, so naturally I said “no”, and went back to being the extraordinarily dull person I been over the past few months.

There’s still time to snap out of it….

Sep 15, 2006

The Terme and the Castle

The Terme and the Castle magnify

The Terme and the Castle

On one post rainy day, I headed out to see what was directly around Il Viano. I wanted to use the baths at Equi Terme but was afraid there would be some stroke of lightning just when I was in the pool. I figured there will be other places.

I was supposed to have lunch at the river-side ristorante, but the owner came out and in French of all things, told me they would be open in the evening. I think he thought I was French, not because of my pouty French lips or anything like that, but because that day, I was wearing a red T-shirt, with “le monelle” written on it. Who knows what it means…for all I know I’m walking around with “money” scrawled across my chest – just asking for trouble.

Well, Mary, at some point I passed that invisible line where things close for the season. Everywhere I go now, it’s “last week, if you were here” – it’s always just out of my reach. BUT, I’ll have you know that since I had to buy face cream (thanks to airport restrictions, I didn’t bother to pack any) I naturally chose La Roche Posay – out of spite.

The Castle was closed – the tour guide mysteriously didn’t show. The owner was there though and the couple who got there before me was there on business so I got to see the place as she showed it to them. I was impressed with her renovation. The dining room had under flooring heating. That is pretty much up to date as it gets. I was fascinated with the roof – slate rock stacked, but I don’t know how it stays in place. The skeleton was found during renovation – of a knight who must have died an unfortunate death to be there alone like that. The real skeleton is in a museum somewhere. I think they saved some cash on the fencing around the outdoor courtyard – very cheap but nevertheless sturdy, what do you call them…the things used strengthen concrete structures. Anyway, not very aesthetic but it worked.

It took her 10 years to reach that point and she stressed “it’s not yet done”. When I told her that it really never reaches completion, she laughed and agreed.


Sep 13, 2006

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre magnify

I left the apartment at SEVEN THIRTY to get to the port in Lerici by 9:30 and it’s less than an hour away. Judging from my previous experience here and Dad’s advice, everything takes longer than expected. By 8:30, I’m sitting in traffic, sirens blaring…an accident up the road. On THESE roads, where two-way traffic passes each other on one lane roads, that means almost a complete standstill for both directions. I took a photo of a house as I sat there, just for kicks.

It clears and I’m on my way. It’s 9am and I might just make the ferry if all goes well.

It doesn’t. Parking again….blasted parking issue. I ask around and after walking in circles and moving the car a couple of times (and seeing 9:30 sail by) I finally find an open tourist information kiosk and ask their direction.

The young thing wearing a white bra and black see-through chiffon top tells me in broken English that I can’t take the route I planned….better to go back and take the train (PS no stations in Lerici…ding, ding, ding, ding)

I decide to follow the original advice and totally ignore this chick. I just asked about parking and once that was settled, I was on my way to the port. And guess what! I can do the route I wanted!!!!

The 10:30 ferry takes me to Portovenere. Lovely name – it just rolls off the tongue. I don’t stop here though as I want to walk the walk, and I’m getting a later start than expected. The plan is to walk from R to V, take the train to M, spend some time there waiting for the ferry back to Lerici at 5pm. 5 ½ hours seems adequate.

Riomaggiore – entering from the port side was breathtaking. The water was crystal and extremely inviting. Today was a one helluva hot day and a dip would have been great. Guess what…I left my swimsuit in the car. I can be so clever sometimes. Bathers dotted the rocky shores, claiming their spot in the sun with their towels – another thing I didn’t bring. I’d have had to drip dry and all that salt would have had me burn to a nice 5 foot 3 inch crisp. I chose to rest (I know I only just got there) at the hilltop bar to get something to eat and drink. I didn’t realize at the time that this would be the only rest I’d get for the day. Thank goodness I took SOME time to enjoy the view and the village. I took a couple photos of me trying desperately to look beautiful.

You have to love the ticket takers at the Lover’s Path entrance. I want a dog again!

Lover’s Path, the via dell’amore, is covered with graffiti. “Stephano amore Maria” etc etc is still graffiti and particularly so when it’s covered partially by the insensitive Marco loving Julia….and the layers continue. Oh well, what did I expect anyway, bouquets adorning the walls? I still am not sure why they call it the Lover’s path, unless it’s the chosen place where couples or stilted lovers throw themselves off to their death. I’m having fun with this, really….I’m sure it has this name for some legit reason but I don’t have the frame of mind today to really appreciate it.

Manarola – Just as lovely as R. and I looked at this place with more interest as I’d been trying to find a place to stay here when I was looking earlier in the year. Reason? Cheaper than most of the other 5, and more rooms available for rent.

I got bogged here for 45m as I needed to get online to take care of some business. I paid mostly for the computer to think its way to the next frame. I know they do this on purpose!

I made my way to Corniglia, confidently walking past the entrance to the train station. I approached the stairs and as I got closer, I started looking for the other entrance to the station. I was NOT up for this and walked the entire length of path, back to the entrance. It was 3pm and a half hour later, the train left for Vernazza. (I could have walked up the blasted steps after all!) I foolishly looked at the schedule AFTER I got off at Vernazza and not BEFORE I got on the train at C. There was that sinking feeling one gets when they realize something wrong; like, the last train to Monterosso that would arrive before 5pm was the same train I just got off.

I choose to think though, that chickening out was a blessing in disguise. I feel that if I’d dawdled on the stairs, pausing to take the 100th photo of the same scene because I couldn’t breathe and didn’t want it to be obvious, I’d not have checked the times at the V station soon enough. As it was, I now knew that I had to book it to M or I’d miss the boat.

Thus began the quickest tour of V, and no photos to show for it, and the walk up the path to M. Thank you for such a blazing hot day too. I rounded a corner and my heart sank when I saw how far M was still. The pace increases to a brisk walk, up more stairs, down more stairs, round another rocky corner and up more stairs. I’m grateful I wore the hiking shoes instead of vainly wearing the dainty sketchers. I’m bounding down stairs, praying I can count on my shoes, as my legs are untrustworthy. The path check station tells me it is a quarter to five and I see the ferry far below me coming in to port.

15 minutes.

I can do it, I can do it. I remember that from somewhere, not too long ago.

And I do, thank God, but when I arrive, I’m not just slightly blushing from exerting myself, nor am I sweetly perspiring with beaded brow. I am profusely sweating, my arms look like I’d dipped them in the ocean and then walked to the boat; rivers rolling down my face. I thought it appropriate, as I’d been trying to look so beautiful at the beginning of the day, to take a photo to document how lovely I looked now. BUT!!! I was on the ferry back to my car. Mission accomplished!

Without a doubt, if I had to do this trip over again? I’d do it all over again….differently.


Sep 12, 2006

On the way to Il Viano

Il Viano
Il Viano magnify

It’s Monday and my body told me it had to rest. Considering the madness from selling the house, packing up stuff in a hurry and trying to tie up loose ends before leaving; and then getting on a plane (the only time to really do nothing) getting jet lag, but slogging on anyway to do a trek in the Dolomites, twice; and then driving to get to Venice only to turn around and head back to the west coast….I’d say it took it’s time to crash. But what good timing.

If Italy is anything like France, nothing was going on here on Sunday. After getting my stuff to the apartment, I relaxed. You know what happens when you relax. You get SICK. And so I did. I woke up Sunday with a slight fever, runny nose and headache. You might say I “hit the wall”.

I would have liked to stay in Marostica and check out the live chess players. But as it happens when you travel on the fly – sometimes there are no rooms available. So on I drove – to Verona, searching for a room with internet service. Usually, I don’t mind the challenge of searching for something on a map…but this night I’d had it and I settled for the first room available.


The next morning, I checked out Juliette’s tomb on my way out. Juliette’s tomb is now a museum for any and all silly romantics like myself. After all, the story, although it seems to have come from real life, from a couple who were not called Romeo and Juliette, didn’t really become famous until Shakespeare got a hold of it and that’s that! But there I was, feeling really sorry for stone figures!

Speaking of romantics, Juliette’s tomb is a popular place for weddings…well, not in that superbly lit, musty, freaky room with a concrete box and no lid. But in one of the museum rooms, I think they hold civil wedding ceremonies. Brides come adorned in their wedding regalia…some gowns being downright horrible (and I hoped they had better taste in husbands). I saw some finely dressed Italians…not for just one wedding but for three, one right after the other. The cars were decked out with white ribbon from front to back. Believe me, it was a perfect day for a wedding and by mid-morning, I counted six happy couples along my route who had tied the knot. My favorite car was the baby blue VW convertible bug wrapped in white ribbon.

Once out of Verona, I took the long but pretty road to my first apartment in Il Viano. The road was curvy and picturesque – just the way I like it – and just the way every man on a motorbike likes it. I saw two trattorias along the way with their parking lots spilling over with bikes – all racing – I hardly see any cruisers here. That must be an American thing – thanks to Harley Davidson, eh?

This mountain top village had a party on Saturday night. I’d have loved to go – you know me, I just love those crowds – but I was stone fatigued from the day’s driving and staying up late on Friday – so I crashed, literally. I slept most of Sunday, taking a moment to sun out on the patio, do my nails and read a little. I got up feeling much better, so I made breakfast and did some laundry and now I need to do my nails again!!!! What’s with that?!

So that’s my story so far and now I’m going to go out and check out La Spezia. Tuesday, I plan to check out the Cinque Terre – hopefully, by then I’ll be back to normal.


Il Viano

Entry for September 12, 2006 Il Viano magnify

The day has been somewhat washed out by the rain. I had left the upper windows and didn’t want to ruin their furniture so I’m glad I didn’t make it to the Cinque Terre today. As it turned out, there was hardly any rain – yet. I keep hoping for torrential rainfall while I’m holed up here where it’s warm and wonderful with a great view of the valley. On my way back, I was lucky to witness an A M A Z I N G lightning display. There must have been about 20 bolts at the same time across the panorama. Beautiful!

Rain is in the forecast for the next couple of days, according to the ladies at the corner. They were wonderfully friendly – I wish I spoke better Italian because it would have been nice to just hole up with them and chat. But it was nice enough to have that small conversation.

One thing I need to get used to – and that is that it is an oddity for a single female to travel alone. I think places like Italy and Spain are getting more open and used to it, but the places I go – to the smaller villages, it is still a bit unusual. However, I did run into a similar soul as I was coming back into the walled village:

My footsteps resounded on the stone floor, announcing my arrival before the ladies, who were seated comfortably in their porch, actually saw me. I could hear their voices, when suddenly there is a hurried whisper (they don’t know yet that I don’t understand a single word of Italian, even shouted from the mountain top) and as I round the corner, I see a little head straining over the balcony, trying unashamedly to stare at the newcomer. I love it – they are curious about the single woman staying at the English rental at the end of the street. It’s my moment of notoriety…..something I find I enjoy and dislike at the same time.

A few days later, that same woman, seated on her balcony as I passed by, greeted me and we exchanged “hellos”. We established that she could say anything she wanted to her friends as I walked by and I wouldn’t be the wiser. But in our short exchange, when she asked if I was alone, she commented that it was a good thing. I didn’t expect it from an Italian woman her age. There must be a multitude of women who have grown up with dreams and desires that far outstretch their cultures and they remain caged – only living with what they’ve been handed, rather than spreading their wings to get at what they would truly love.

A little about the village….It is one of many medieval villages in this area. Lunigiana has the largest concentration of castles, about a 1000+ and it’s not a large county. There is no castle here, but the characteristic tower is still apparent. It has been turned into a buffet area when they have events in the plaza. So, the plaza is now a dance floor, with planks of wood held together with aged and rusted screws along the periphery pretending to be seating. The tower now houses the buffet table and refreshment stand. There’s more little lanes branching out to different parts of the village but as they are so narrow, I don’t want to go nosing around where I ought not be.

This house has been wonderful in the sense that the view is incredible and it’s peaceful beyond measure. However, I have not been alone here. And what would I expect from a building that is this ancient? One of the largest spiders that I’ve ever seen appeared in my bathtub one morning. It got washed down the drain. Later that day, I again noticed it back up, with a broken leg, in the tub. Normally, I don’t kill creatures of any kind and I’d find a way to help them escape, but this bugger was fatter than I’d like and there was NO WAY my hand was going anywhere near it, nor did I want to think of it wandering back in to kiss it’s thank you’s on my poor body. It had to die….and down the drain it went again….and then I did some more laundry…..and had a bath.

As if large arachnids are not enough, I had a bat fly in the bedroom window one night. I was up reading and in flew a large black creature, down the stairs into the darkness and back up into the room a couple of times before finding the way back out the window. That was startling, but not frightening, even if I had been thinking of Transylvania earlier in the day.

What did get my complete attention, was the small creature making a mad blurry dash from the curtain to under the bed. It did not have a spider’s gait, it seemed almost translucent, but I can’t be sure and it scurried fast. Everything that touched the floor came up on the bed. My feet no longer went close to the bed – actually, I acquired the habit of jumping on it from a short distance away….and then taking my shoes off.

Shoes were kept on the heater and tapped in the morning….geez, it’s just like camping!

I’m getting used to the church bells. About three different churches ring their bells in the area, seconds off of each other. They ring on the half hour….what I haven’t figured out is why at odd times, they ring profusely, not chiming. Anyone know? Several mornings, I hear hounds baying in the morning. At first I associated the hounds with the “shots” I heard at night. Odd time to be hunting (another reason Transylvania had come to mind – why else hunt at night? Except this is Italy) I still don’t know what the sounds are but they consistently go off every night so it can’t be a mad hunter.

Well, this is long enough. I can see though, why people who have grown up with this all their lives would choose an ultra modern apartment to live in. Clean, straight lines.


Thoughts on Family


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I woke up later than I really wanted, but I told myself I’m on vacation so it’s okay. No hurry.

I got to Aulla train station at 9:30am, heading to La Spezia and then on to the Cinque Terre. I’d better not be in a hurry….the next train out is at 1:30!! I could drive there and back several times before the train departs. So why don’t I just drive? Well, I don’t want to look for parking there. It’s easier here in the small town.

So I change my mind and decide I’ll hang out in the area and go to the five tomorrow or Thursday. I visit the tourist office for ideas and end up having a nice chat with the lady there. She might move to Santa Rosa, CA to be with her fiancée and get married. Her dilemma? Leaving her family back here….and Italian families are close. There are memorials all over the place, erected solely for mothers. What will she do there? Who will she know? Americans aren’t known for their friendliness – at least not like here where you go to a bar twice and you are “friends”, invited to gatherings, parties, dinners.

She thought how fortunate I was that I didn’t have as many ties as she (she also had a young son to think of). And in many ways I am lucky. I am free right now to go where I want, when I want and how I want. But human nature is that we are always wanting something that we don’t have. Those tied to partners, jealously eye those who seem to be free. And those who are alone, crave the companionship that comes with having a partner.

I seem to have made something of a circle. I’ve enjoyed a single life, the companionship of a husband (now ex) and a man who I thought would be with me until I got old. But I find myself on my own again. Full circle; with one thing constant - family. I am glad they have loved and supported me through all that I’ve lived through. If there is one thing Italy shows me, it’s that family is important. It has been a backbone throughout the ages. And in that respect, I am very fortunate – very fortunate to have a great family.



I didn’t make it to the Cinque Terre on Tuesday after all. Just as well, it rained on the coast. I was inland, at the Castle in Fosdinova, looking out at the ocean and saw the rains come.

I woke up with every intention of hitting the road. And in Bev time, getting to the station at 9:30 was early. The timetable I’d checked the day before had several trains going to La Spezia and continuing on to the 5. But not today. The next train was going to be at 1:30pm. Uh huh. I could drive….but that parking situation didn’t appeal to me.

The tourist office told me of a route I could take the following day and gave other suggestions of things to see in the area. Armed with that info, I headed off to explore the neighborhood and ended up at Fosdinova. It’s still amazing to me that people still live in these buildings. Yes, they have been renovated, but the bones are still in great shape. Well, except for the huge crack on one side of the towers….

I have a knack of arriving at some place right during siesta so the pictures look deserted.

I stopped long enough to have a torta di verdura – supposedly a local dish - looks like a quiche. This area is mountainous and the views just calm your soul. It pays to stop and just look and be still. I hammed it up for a photo there and then watched the rains start on the coast. Things like that I never took the time to notice….because I was in a hurry to get somewhere or do something. This is really what taking time off is all about for me.

On my way back, navigating hairpin turns and marveling at the Italian method of taking the turn from the blind opposite lane, I could swear I saw white. And I know what that means! Europe doesn’t have sheet lightning, but the nice forked kind that tries to reach down to lick something on earth. I stop and wait…and wait, and am rewarded, with a flash of fingers streaking from top to bottom, unfolding from the west to the east; so magnificent, I thought I was going to die.

A couple seconds to feel ever so minute, helpless, of no consequence and mortal all at once.


Sep 10, 2006

Only a Day in Venice....mistake

A day in Venice
A day in Venice magnify

A Day in Venice:

Okay, Venice was on my agenda only because it would be a shame to come to Italy and not see it for myself. I imagined it would be just like most cities, even smelly, dirty, crowded.

It was all that, at one point or another, but I love this city. I couldn’t get myself to leave.

After all, Venice was good to me. I accidentally got into the Basilica di San Marco for free, had a tiramisu and ice-cream for lunch and later hooked up with three other women who wanted a gondola ride and split the cost. Our guide pointed out the house that Marco Polo lived in….it put that game in a whole new light to me…no wonder we only played it in a pool.

I really loved the colors here too or maybe that’s because so far I’ve been seeing a lot of architecture with the Germanic influence and not the medieval character that I’ve been looking for. Well, it’s here!

One thing I would have liked to attend, but will miss…Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” that will be performed on Friday evening at one of their beautiful churches.

Movies for “armchair” travelers: The Italian Job came to mind when I saw boats racing out from under bridges; I thought of The Courtesans when I was on the Rialto Bridge; and who wouldn’t think of The Da Vinci Code – this is Italy. I’ll think of Bread and Tulips when I get to Florence.

Informative links to Venice

Sep 9, 2006

Rifugio Col di Baldi

Rifugio Col di Baldi
Rifugio Col di Baldi magnify

Okay, so I decided I am a sucker for punishment; I had to go back in, but this time I cheated.

I took the chair lift, saving me from a three hour steep uphill hike. I ain’t no dummy.

I did have to pay my dues getting to the rifugio, but it was worth it. I asked if they had a bed free for the night. Yep, they did. And 19 other sweaty people kept me company. I can’t remember the last time I smelt so much BO.

By the way….I noticed that many of them carried large packs, stuffed to capacity and I wondered just what on earth could they have stored in there since they don’t have to carry stuff for cooking or food. We are required to stay at the huts and can’t camp like we do in the States. They don’t think twice about bringing up full size toothpaste, large fluffy towels, slippers, everything but the kitchen sink. I on the other hand, made sure I had lightweight, backpacker stuff – anything to take an ounce off or two. I’m a wimp, what can I say….

I had a nice conversation with a guy from Germany after dinnertime. He isn’t a mountain person but came along to see what it was like with his friend. He just about died after a 10 hour day hiking. He was glad to have someone else to talk with ( I was glad to have someone to talk TO) and as a thank you, he unloaded some of his gear by giving me a T-shirt of his. Ahem....how do you say ‘no’ when there are a thousand reasons to say ‘no’ without seeming mean or something? I have his shirt and I don’t even know his name.

I got a few photos of myself in this round – Anne, I think of you everytime I use Burts Bees – thanks for the tube – it has come in extremely handy! I hung out at the lake waiting for the sunset. Two men came by and walked up the side of the hill like it was a walk in the park. I knew t would have an awesome view from where they went, but I also knew I would never make it up.

The photo of the elderly woman – I had to take it; I bet she could out-walk me any day.

And the ramshackled buildings? Yes, people live there. Must be summertime lodging judging from the roof.


Sep 1, 2006

Brenta, the second day

9/1/06 Brenta Dolomites Part 2
9/1/06 Brenta Dolomites Part 2 magnify

September 1, 2006

The Via Ferrate: Brenta Dolomites

This getting up very early in the morning is getting old; especially after a very bad night’s sleep. It’s seven but worth getting up to see the sunrise on the granite tops. Nature really is amazing.

Some of the photos in the album on the second day of the trek show what the path looks like from the refugio. Psychologically, I was ready for it, as I previewed the distance and the gradient. Physically, I was back to the “I can, I can, I can” with each step. I think I doubled my lung capacity and I could only imagine that I’d be superwoman by the time I went back down to sea level.

Delio, on the other hand, smoked like a chimney and probably took years off my life.

The Beginning:

Alimonta to the via ferrate. The first ladder was un-nerving; I didn’t look anywhere but the rung in hand. Once I was on the ledge I was okay. There were some places where the snow was still melting and icicles hung above the iron rope. It was an experience for me to walk paths that were created for soldiers of the Great War. I just can’t imagine it with a military pack and weapons hanging off your shoulder!

I absolutely loved this trek. It was exhilarating, peaceful, challenging and scary at the ladders (there’s nothing but a rung at your feet, body in mid-air!!!). Delio kept saying, “Stand up and lean back to look for your next step down.”

“Oh yeah, riiiight” But I know that makes sense to climbers. It just doesn’t come naturally.

The Middle:

Taking a snack break. My legs were already starting to complain about the different exercises I’d put them through climbing down from the ledge. I can understand why climbers have great bodies. And speaking of such, as I munched on my Snickers, down the rope came that group of heavenly bodies. One in the group stops and asks his friend something. “Qpe wvne vro oha wnvmc?” Incredulous gibberish was the reply.

There’s a chuckle or two and a snapshot is taken. More shuffling. I’m trying to not notice because I’m slouched against the rock in the background and don’t want to intrude on the photo. Suddenly, there’s feet in my view and I look up to see a man bending over asking me something about a photo. I think he wants me to take the photo of the two of them. “Great! Sexy and gay” Surprise, surprise – he wants a photo with me. (That would be him in the orange shirt starting the run down the slope.) Notice, he is the “runt” of the group – no tall, dark, chiseled man-god for me but nevertheless, good-looking, and he made my day; even if he just said thanks and disappeared without another word.

My imagination conjured up wild stories I figured he’d be telling his friends back home. Or maybe he’d got wind of that lie Delio left hanging around at the refugio. He never set them straight.

I saw Mr. Orange at the refugio where we had lunch. He came over to show me the photo and we instantly fell into each others arms and passionately kissed. No, sorry, wrong version. We instantly realized we couldn’t understand a word the other was saying. But I at least got a photo to bring back with me so, as you can see, live in an imaginary world. By the way, his two friends are in the background grinning from ear to ear…they weren’t quiet about it either.

The End:

This couldn’t come fast enough. I didn’t know going downhill could hurt so much. But what goes up must come down and it was the same grueling distance. Suddenly I wanted to be going up-hill! It belabors the point when I say that I was dismayed when around every corner, there were yet more stairs or rocks to climb down. I think a slope alone would have been easier, but nope…

Today, I feel I have newly developed leg muscles and my butt has risen three inches, but I dare not use any of them.


Aug 31, 2006

Brenta Dolomites

8/31/06 Brenta Dolomites Part1
8/31/06 Brenta Dolomites Part1 magnify

August 31, 2006

Okay, so I didn’t notice that I lost an hour driving from Nice to Borzago. I got up at what I thought was 6:30 and it really was 7:30am. I was having breakfast still when Delio, my guide came to meet me. Talk about being on time. Alas, he was not a young, dashing guide. Nevertheless, Delio has one of those faces that I seem to have seen before, weatherworn and friendly. He was very nice to suggest that we not rush; believe me, I was tired of rushing.

First snag for the morning….the first Bancomat would not take my card. The second one did, but I only took out what I needed thinking it was a limit thing that was working against me.

It’s chilly and I sadly realized I’d left my gloves in the car.

We arrive at Rifugio Valinesella and start the hike. It’s immediately uphill. BAM – first step and you are going up. Average age of the people around me….55 and up. I am the only one huffing. It gets worse when you try to hide it.

Rifugio Casinei is the first stop. I don’t notice any cold anymore. Ten minutes…Delio takes a smoke.

Up, up and away…I’m getting used to the monotony – the path really only goes one way – up. But what did I expect!! It’s the Dolomites! Thankfully the average age is going down.

We arrive at Rifugio Tuckett, a place notorious for bad food and smelly rooms. I bought the most expensive water yet – Euro 4,00 (something like $5.30)

Instead we hiked down-hill (reprieve for only a moment) and then back up-hill to Rifugio Brentei for lunch. On the way I smell something stinky and think “Man, I need a bath” Only a few seconds pass when Delio turns to me and comments “You smell that bad smell?”

I think, “I must REEK!!!!”

He continues, “It’s the kaka from the deer.” I couldn’t be more relieved.

At the refugio, there is a memorial dedicated to climbers who have lost their lives over the years. The few I looked at were all in the 20 – 30 year range. So sad but I guess I'd rather die young doing something I was passionate about.

The last hour to Rifugio Alimonta was the toughest. It was after a meal; it was all uphill; it was on gravelly rock; at the end of a long day. With each step, I kept saying, “Posso, posso, posso” - oh forget bloody Italian! My body understands English “I can, I can, I can.”

Alimonta was a pleasant surprise – right down to the lie Delio told the owners. He was taking a famous American actress from California on a trek. It explains why they stared long and hard at me when I came in. They were having trouble placing my face.

The rooms were more than comfortable. Down comforters and sheets already were provided. Newly renovated bathrooms and eating area. And yes, I loved the hardware. If only I had a screwdriver…..

I met Eddie, the only other English speaking person there….traveling alone from London. How can I describe Eddie…think of a rabbit and you’ll get a visual. But that’s where the comparison ends. For all Eddie’s dweebishness, he was fearless and self assured, taking on the ferrate on his own…knowing he’d had vertigo in the past. Talk about conquering fears.

By the way – cell phones work up in this wild and forsaken place. Wish I’d carried mine along….

There was a general stir when a bunch of climbers came in towards the end of the day. I’m sure every woman noticed and just about every man envied. They were mostly tall, dark and good-looking. They were in excellent physical shape and it didn’t hurt that several were not wearing shirts. It was really hard to not stare and then every time I did look over, Delio would start talking and I’d have to look away to pay attention to him. At least he did me a favor and helped me keep from drooling.

I wish I could say I slept well and was refreshed for the next day’s journey. NO. A very large German slept on the bunk above mine and snored in ascending notes practically the entire night. When his wife joined in I knew it was going to be a long night.