|Travelogue: Postcards from Italy 2000||
The flight over was fine even though I was in the middle seat of the middle section in coach; luckily, the young women on either side of me were quite petite! As usual, I was able to sleep any time they werenít feeding me so I only suffered minimally from jet lag.
My first afternoon in Rome I did the Spanish steps and Trevi Fountain. I also got to see the King and Queen of Spain arrive at their hotel. It was quite fun because a large crowd had gathered to greet them.
The morning of my first full day in Rome, I followed the Rick Stevesí advice and got to the Vatican before 8 am. There was almost no one in St. Peterís at that time of day and when I climbed the dome, there was only one other couple up there. It was magical. I then scooted over to the Vatican Museum, checked out the Rick Steves art guide Mona Winksí highlights and got to the Sistine Chapel by noon. The Chapel was even more awe-inspiring than I expected although I could have done without the guards yelling "shhh" and "no camera" constantly.
I sneaked out a side door with a tour group (thanks again to Stevesí advice - avoiding backtracking all the way back to the entrance of the Museum) and took a taxi to the Colosseum. The afternoon was spent visiting it, the Forum and the Pantheon. I was accosted by gypsies, aged about 12 and 14 just outside the Forum. When I slapped them away and yelled NO, the girl asked me if I was Italian. (I guess they donít target Italians.) I then watched them get a passport of one of a group of Asian men. The man retrieved his passport which had been knocked to the ground but somehow the girl got hit in the mouth and was crying. Geez!
The next day, I went to the Borghese Gallery (thanks, Darrin!) which reminded me a bit of the Hearst Castle but filled with priceless art. The Bernini statue, Daphne and Apollo, is so incredible it was worth the whole stay in Rome. I first learned about this piece from Sister Wendyís Grand Tour, the nun who did the PBS art program. The marble is so fine itís more like air than stone! I also went to the Villa Giulia which is full of Etruscan treasures, newly restored, and also labeled in English (very rare!).
I then taxied to the train station. Itís official: I hate train stations. They are full of thieves and are confusing as hell to boot! I had no problem catching the train to Florence but since Iíd been taken by some unlicensed taxi drivers on arrival in Rome, I was particularly wary. ("Taken" involved being charged the equivalent of $25 for something that should have cost $8, which was still a lot less than the $40 they requested!)
After three days in Rome, Holly and Billís house in Florence feels like home and sanctuary.
Holly, Bill, Tyler (6-1/2), Rachel (4-1/2) and Alex (3 in April) are all well. We had a wonderful, quiet day yesterday just hanging out together and playing games. Tyler is a darn good Scrabble player!
The weather is sunny and in the 50s, very pleasant. Many flowers are blooming but the trees have not yet begun to leaf out. Itís a wonderful time to be here.
From below-freezing temperatures in the early morning to nearly 70 degrees in the afternoon, Florence is captivating meóagain!
Iíve spent lots of time with Holly and Bill doing the kid drop-off, kid pick-up kinds of activity and itís a nice way to get a feel for the culture. Itís also very fun to see friends of theirs whom I met last year. They are a very social bunch.
I visited one of the museums in the Pitti Palace one morning and caught some churches I missed previously. Today, Iím going back to the Uffizi hoping to find where the original theatre was to take a photo for Randyís son Josh (and also intending to enjoy that gorgeous place again!).
Yesterday, Holly, Bill and I took a drive into the Chianti region which is full of lovely, small towns perched on hillsides surrounded by vineyards. Based upon the experience of Kim and now seeing it myself, Iíd say itís the place to stay in Tuscany. You can get a city bus into Florence but itís so-o-o quiet and peaceful. The mother of two of Tylerís and Rachelís friends has a dress shop in a very small town, Radda in Chianti, that is called Buongiorno Principessa (ala Roberto Benini in Life is Beautiful). The shop is about 15 X 15 and is full of beautiful, stylish clothing and accessories. I couldnít resist - I bought my own souvenir of Italy, a violet wool scarf with silk flowers! And, it was 50% off! :-) We had to hurry off to lunch but Theresa, the owner, dropped by some clothes that evening that Holly had wanted to try and she chose some of their winter sale items right in the comfort of her home. Today, we will return the items she didnít choose back to the shop via Theresa (itís about 45 minutes from here). What service!
Tomorrow the six of us are off to Venice. I, the snorer, will be in a room with one of the coughers (Tyler or Rachel). Wonít be quite as restful as the wonderful room I occupy in their house. The guest room is cool, quiet and very dark. Iíve been sleeping like a veritable log and waking up wondering how I can duplicate this sleeping experience at home (stone walls?).
Our heroine (giggle!) last left you in Florence about to depart for Venice. I wasnít certain I would like Venice because of what I had read about huge tourist crowds but I was more than pleasantly surprised. Only around San Marco did the crowd feel oppressive. Overall, I was charmed as people have been for centuries. No cars, no scooters. Very quiet unless on the Grand Canal where the vaporetti (water buses) and motor boat taxis ply their trade.
Holly, Bill, Tyler, Rachel, Alex and I stayed on one floor of the Santo Stefano Hotel, a charming 3-star hotel about a 10-minute walk from San Marco. Each floor of the 5-story hotel had only 2 rooms. Very skinny and cute. The room I shared with Tyler for 2 nights (until he got tired of my snoring!) and Rachel the 3rd night had fabric covered walls and padded closet doors - did they know I was coming? The Santo Stefano was run by 2 women who did everything from changing the linens to fixing breakfast and unlocking the door. Wow!
We had fun feeding the pigeons at the Piazza San Marco. Just being there I felt like Katherine Hepburn in "Summertime" (I define lots of experiences by movies Iíve seen!). Holly cracked up when I was talking to the kids and described St. Markís Basilica as "The Big Church by the Pigeons," and said I had to tell everyone what touring with kids does to your point-of-view. St. Markís was awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, I didnít save time for the Doge Palace. But I did take a gondola ride - not something I would have done if I had been in Venice alone.
The highlight of the trip to Venice was a boat trip to Torcello, a nearly uninhabited island with a wonderful old church full of mosaics, and a stop on Burano, the island known for its lace-making and colorful houses. The day was warm and sunny and on Burano, we had lunch at a cafe outside on a small plaza, which works out great because the kids can run and play while the adults finish their meal. Alex and Rachel were playing with a pay phone and their photos (especially Alexís) will be going home to Japan and a number of other foreign countries as tourists took their pictures. We kept wondering if they thought Alex (who is half African American and half Indian) was Italian! Rachel and Tyler, on the other hand, not only speak fluent Italian but could pass for Italian coloring-wise, too. Rachel and Tyler befriended a street artist who was painting watercolors - watching over his shoulder, checking out his supplies and Tyler was playing with his calculator. We think we got the artist some sales with his charming assistants! We ended up with watercolors from Burano, too (and, I canít wait to see my photos!).
We were in Venice from Friday through Monday mid-day when we all went to the train station. Bill, Holly and the kids returned home and I headed east.
My first stop was in Trieste which is mostly known as the site of WWII peace talks. Itís a beautiful port town on the Adriatic with many Roman ruins right in the downtown area. The high spot for me was a towel-rack/radiator in the bathroom that dried all my clothes within 12 hours of my rinsing them out (ah, travel!). Really, I was glad I stopped there; the Jolly Hotel had a great restaurant which served potica for dessert (something my Slovenian grandmother used to make and so do I, and I enjoyed being in a city that is part of Italy but which should really be part of Slovenia geographically.
Wednesday morning, I took the train to Ljubljana, the capitol of Slovenia. My hotel was near the train station so I went to a bank to get some tolars (known as SIT, the Slovenian currency) first. Mistake. My bag weighed only 11.8 kilos (I was really getting into being European - thatís about 24 pounds) but walking more than a few blocks really wilted me. I arrived at the Holiday Inn, a nice, 3 star hotel, right? Wrong. That particular Holiday Inn was where Bill Clinton once stayed, the best hotel in town. I donít think theyíd ever had anyone walk in before. The bellman instantly relieved me of my burden and put both my suitcase and day bag onto a trolley.
I went on a walking tour of the Old Town, a wonderful castle, lovely squares and churches. Youíve got to love a country where the national heroes are Preseren, a poet, and Pleznik, an architect! I had dinner in a 200 year old restaurant and chatted with my cousins about arriving in their town the next afternoon.
My cousins are three brothers, Franci, Milan and Jani, and their families. Their grandfather and my great-grandmother were siblings. Jani and his wife, Neva, and their 2 daughters, Mirjam, 13, and Eva, 11, are fluent in English and were my hosts. Let me tell you they will never forget me even if I never take my promised trip back. First of all, they couldnít believe I stayed at the Holiday Inn (what did I know?) and teasingly called me Judy Clinton. Then, this is too silly, I took a cab from the Holiday Inn to their town, Metlika, a distance of 90 kilometers (60 miles). I had not had any intention of that - I was taking a cab to the train station because it was poring down rain. The driver, assuming I was a rich American I guess, told me heíd drive me to Metlika for US$100. No, thanks. Then, he said $85. No, again. He then asked if I had my train tickets. No. It was a nice Mercedes Benz cab and it was warm and comfortable. I offered $50. He said $70. I caved. My driver, Tony, spoke only a little English and no Italian and I speak almost no Slovenian but somehow we communicated. My cousins could not believe it when I showed up at their door 2 hours before they were going to pick me up at the train. They teased my unmercifully. (But they did admit I got quite a bargain cab fare!)
Jani and Neva had not understood when I had told them when I called from America that I would stay 2 nights - I think they were thinking 2 weeks. I hated to disappoint them but they adapted and took Friday off of work to take me to Lake Bled, a charming place on the opposite side of the country (2 million people, half the size of Switzerland - not really all that far!). It was a wonderful day and they left me at the train station to make my way back to Venice, where I flew home on Saturday.
Only one sour note: my bag was broken into somewhere between Venice and Seattle. The only thing taken was the Italian fountain pen I was bringing home to Randy (almost the only thing of value in the bag) and they did cut the lining of the bag. SAS will be hearing from me!
A few random observations about Slovenia: No AT&T operator. Cell phones very common. Very few Yugos anymore but lots of VWs, Audis, Renaults (which are assembled there) and Mercedes. From Jani and Nevaís house, you can see Milanís house out one side and Franciís out the other - all within three blocks of one another (not the American way, but quite nice). Metlika is just across the River Kolpa from Croatia. Jani and Milan make fabulous wine from their own small vineyards although neither one drinks. The brothers have a cousin who settled in Osooyoos, last name Dragovan (Celia, does this name ring a bell?). Italian TV is all dubbed into Italian no matter where the program originated but in Slovenia the programs are shown in their original language and subtitled. (I got to see Oprah!) I really thinks that helps with the language fluency.
Na svidenje - good bye in Slovenian, for now!
© 2000, Judy Brandon
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