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Amalfi Coast, Tuscany and Venice - Honeymoon For Eight

Janelt

10+ Posts
By Janel from Chicago Illinois, Spring 2005
In March of 2004, we began planning for what was initially to be a trip to Italy for my fiftieth birthday. Ideally, we thought sometime in late spring of 2005 would be perfect. Around that same time, Paul and I had begun to seriously toss around the idea of getting married. One night over dinner, we decided “Why not turn the Italy trip into a destination wedding?” And so the planning began.

This trip report was originally posted on SlowTrav.

Let's Get Married In Italy!

In March of 2004, we began planning for what was initially to be a trip to Italy for my fiftieth birthday. Ideally, we thought sometime in late spring of 2005 would be perfect. Around that same time, Paul and I had begun to seriously toss around the idea of getting married. One night over dinner, we decided “Why not turn the Italy trip into a destination wedding?” And so the planning began.

I began researching and pouring over websites and travelogs for what would be the most idyllic setting for a civil ceremony. The guest list of eight to ten of our closest friends began to take shape. Paul and I began Italian lessons with a Northwestern language student. If we were going to get married in Italian, we wanted to know what we were promising and agreeing to, at the very least!

In the beginning stages of planning, the news came that I needed to undergo open heart surgery in September of 2004. For legal reasons, we opted for a beautiful, albeit quickly put together ceremony under a 200 year old oak tree at our friends home in the country.

The surgery went off without too much of a hitch. My recovery period afforded me plenty of time to devote to planning the trip and for what would become our honeymoon, with six of our closest friends.

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Paul & Janel, 9-11-2004
 

Janelt

10+ Posts
Planning a Trip for Eight

I initially polled the other six travellers about what was important to them for their ideal Italian vacation – what did they want out of this trip? Wine tasting’s, cooking classes, big cities vs small towns, art, music, ruins, beaches, go, go, go, relax, relax, relax? Their answers ran the gamut but overall, no one wanted to feel hurried and always on the go. Based on everyone’s answers, the plan evolved into the perfect Italian sojourn for eight.

Paul and I decided two weeks was our preference. Everyone else could only commit for ten days, so for the days following everyone’s departure on the tenth day, Paul had one request – he wanted to go to Venice by ourselves. Not exactly something I was going to argue about. We finally narrowed it down to five days on the Amalfi Coast, and five days in the Chianti region of Tuscany (which included train travel) with the group and then on to Venice by ourselves.

For me, I find that one of the fun things about traveling is the planning. Using a travel agent takes the fun out of it for me, so I pretty much do all of the planning on my own. For this trip, I did consult an Italian travel specialist, Select Italy, and did in fact purchase train tickets and concert tickets through them. I did inquire about airfare through them but got a better price on the internet. In retrospect, they could’ve enlightened us about a few things we did, had I actually spoken with an agent, but more about that later.

I kept all pertinent info pertaining to the trip in a three ring binder separated by dividers for Airline Info, Hotels, Ground Transportation, Amalfi Coast, Tuscany, Venice, Misc. This included all communications from anyone I had made reservations with as well as everyone's flight itinerary. There was even a section for Slowtrav Recommendations. I had also done a little day by day log of things I needed to confirm, call about or check on once we were there.
 

Janelt

10+ Posts
Arrival in Amalfi, May 21 -22, 2005

The day was finally here and we finally all arrived in Naples from various locations, within two hours of each other. We were met by Paolo Bellantonio, our driver for the next five days. I had originally contracted with Renato Cuomo for a minibus with driver, to be at our disposal while in Amalfi. Apparently, when Renato Cuomo is overbooked, he contracts out for services and we hit the jackpot with Paolo! He was to become our knowledgeable and trusted guide for the remainder of the trip on the Amalfi coast.

He packed us and all of our luggage into our VW Transporter that he explained he had just purchased two days prior to our arrival. I couldn't imagine that all of us, our luggage, daypacks and misc, were going to fit in his bus, but it was perfect. Even Laura's monster backpack fit in somewhere.

It was either the growling of our stomachs or the grumblings from our mouths, but Paolo had a recommendation for lunch on the way to Amalfi. He made a few phone calls and took us into Ravello to what became one of our favorite restaurants, Cumpa Cosimo.

We were greeted with a warm welcome and beyond friendly service by a little canoli of a woman, Nette Bottone. I was getting excited about putting my Italian lessons to work to order our meal when Nette came to our table and took our menus away. “I order fora you.” “You lika antipasti, pasta? Si- I taka care o you!” And that she did. No need for Italian lessons for now. The house wine was flowing and tasted great. Four huge platters of antipasti were brought to the table. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better and friendlier, Nette, with the assistance of one of her waiters, brought a huge platter filled with seven different kinds of pastas and sauces, and filled each plate with a sampler of all that was marvelous Italian fare. Just when you think you can’t eat anymore, dessert was happening before our very eyes. All told, four or five (who can remember at this point) liters of wine, primi, secondi and dolci for only ninety euros - for eight of us! There was no bill of course - just Nette’s recollection of what she served us and a number scribbled down on a piece of paper.

I inquired to Nette that I was interested in purchasing an official Cumpa Cosimo plate but she said she couldn't. It was a simple ceramic plate with the Cumpa Cosimo logo in the center with simple, colorful trim around the edges. She did however, go back into the kitchen and bring back two plates with little chips in them and graciously gave them to us. More smiles and thanks for a great lunch and intro to Italy. It was a mouth watering meal with laughter to go around for all. Since our return, I found that this gem was mentioned in a travel book "1000 Places to See Before you Die."

Paolo pointed us to one of the ceramic factories a couple of doors down from Cumpa Cosimo. Ceramiche Cosmolena di Margherita di Palma was our first taste of ceramic shopping. We ooohed and aaahhhed, made a couple of small purchases and decided we would be coming back here later.

Once back on the road, we learned that Paul and Brian needed to be up front on those narrow winding stretches of coastal roads regardless of a full stomach or not. Thank heavens the other six of us didn't normally get motion sickness. Perhaps Laura's monster backpack had a cracker or two for the sicklies. As we would find out, it had that and then some.

At this point in the trip Paolo and I discussed what the schedule for the next few days would be. He was at our disposal. I remember vividly the ooohs and ahhhhhs of that drive along the coast from Ravello to Amalfi. The views were breathtaking and like nothing I, or anyone else in the van had ever experienced before. The water was the bluest of blues and the azure blue sky was cloudless and clear for miles, as far as the eye could see.

We arrived at La Bussola Hotel across from the Amalfi harbor. This is a medium sized, three star hotel managed by the same family for eighteen years. I had spoken with the manager, Signor di Lieto several weeks prior to our arrival and asked that there be a bottle of wine and cheese and crackers or bread in each of our rooms upon arrival. This didn't happen, but we were not charged for it either. I am guessing this is one of the differences in attention to details between three star hotels and four and five star hotels. As it turned out, it wasn’t necessary and it wasn’t missed, thanks to Nette!

All of our rooms looked out over the Tyrrhenian sea to calm waters and not too much hustle and bustle. We would learn later that this would change. Each room was slightly different and nicely furnished, though nothing lavish. The remainder of the day was to rest and relax, get acquainted with our rooms, hotel and neighborhood and catch up with each other. I recall, standing on the balcony of our room marveling at the views and needing to pinch myself to remind me that this was finally happening.

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Amalfi View
 

Janelt

10+ Posts
Amalfi - The end of Day 1

For dinner on our first night, we ventured out into the town of Amalfi. We had made no specific plans on purpose, allowing for the possibility of jet lag and having time to just check out our new surroundings. Chris began his shopping frenzy with shoes of course. I was taken with the selections of long slender bottles with lemon concoctions. Paul was fascinated by the buildings built into the terrain and Rita was in search of her first gelato. Bill began surreptitiously photographing the beautiful people while on the hunt for one of several bags he would purchase on this trip. Laura was lugging the infamous backpack, taking in the sights and Brian following the crowd, was awestruck by the beauty of the surroundings.

Was it even time to consider eating again? By the time we settled on a small trattoria, in a small square in town, it was getting dark and I was fading fast. I have no memories of the rest of the evening. I literally fell asleep at the table. I am certain everyone talked and gossiped about me all night long. Before my eyelids appeared to have slammed shut, I do remember commenting how the jet lag didn’t seem to have affected me and I was sure glad I had taken the "no jet lag pills" as directed! Paul took me home and someone else had my share of the wine.

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The Amalfi View From LaBussola
 

Janelt

10+ Posts
Pompeii and Ravello - May 23

We all ventured downstairs to the restaurant in the hotel for the complimentary continental breakfast of cereal, yogurt and typical other breakfast fare. Laura found that if you waited until 9:30, one could order the American breakfast standard, eggs.

Paolo was to meet us in front of the hotel at 9:30 to head into Pompeii for our 11:00 tour. Again we had a most gorgeous day with sunshine, clear skies and the temperature in the eighties. So far, I was feeling like I had timed this trip perfectly.

While in the planning stages I had arranged for a guide who would meet us at the gate of Pompeii for a two hour tour. I found the company from googling "Pompeii Tour Guides". They are a small company of five men and they call themselves "Pompeii Cast." They too, were easy to communicate with via emails and cell phones, at home as well as once we reached Italy. Lucky for us, somewhere in the bowels of Laura's backpack was a new Blackberry, which was compatible with the European phone system, and I was able to confirm our Pompeii tour. Thank you Laura, again!

Our guide was Vincenzo Somma. The cost of the tour with tip was 13.00 euro per person. Earlier, Paolo inquired about the cost and was eager to tell us he could have secured a friend of his for only 10 euro per person. After hearing Cenzo's family history with Pompeii, it was clear we had made the right choice. He was the third generation of men in his family who chose to have something to do with the ruins of Pompeii. He was knowledgeable but more importantly, was passionate about his knowledge of Pompeii.

I feel I must mention an experience that sent my husband, Paul over the edge. As we were reaching for wallets and money to pay Cenzo, Paul noticed that his wallet was missing from his pocket. He remembered his wallet sitting on the bed but couldn't recall picking it up. He of course panicked and became just a tad irritable. I am being charitable here with my description of the deterioration of his mood. He called the hotel and requested that a manager go up to our room, retrieve his wallet and place it in the hotel safe. Being the cynic that he is, he was confident the contents of his wallet would be gone, if in fact they acknowledged finding it. Despite the positive thoughts we were all thinking, he had quite the crappy day, not knowing if our trip was coming to a screeching halt or not. More on this later.

As we walked down the streets of Pompeii, we felt like we went back in time. Cenzo conveyed so well what it must have been like and we came to understand the darkness of that day. No one asked too many questions - we were too intrigued, saddened and solemn.

He must have read the sadness in our faces or in our silence because he turned his focus on a different aspect of life that got our group laughing and aching for more. He took us to the red light district of Pompeii. Rita stopped to pose for a picture with the phallic symbol that was carved into the enormous cobblestones which formed the street leading the way to the bordello part of town. Paul and Chris and Bill and Brian wandered around looking for the photographs depicting the menu of services offered by the ladies and the men of the night. They never did find them. I think Cenzo became entertained by us at this point.

Pompeii is a must see for anyone visiting that region of Italy. Considering how hot and sticky it was that day, the two hour tour we chose was enough, however, if we were to do it again, I think I would choose to spend more time here. Most of the others agreed but felt the weather (and crowds) played a role in how long the tour should be. I got the idea that had we wanted to extend the tour, Cenzo would have been amenable to that.

Paolo led the way back to Amalfi and made reservations for us at the Ristorante Mustafa where we were to have a wonderful lunch and our first taste of Limonciello. Before stopping for lunch, he made sure we got in a few ceramic excursions along the way. At the Ristorante Mustafa we sat over the water and enjoyed the gentle sea breeze and the view. Seafood was the order of the day, which included spaghetti with clams and mussels, seafood risotto, and an incredible mixed seafood grill. After much cajoling, Paolo gave in and joined us. All told, the damages for nine of us with much wine and too much food to finish was 220.00 euro.

At this point in time, we all decided that at each lunch or dinner, one person would pay with their credit card and everyone else would pay that person in euros. Thus, it would lessen the need for everyone to be hunting down ATM's frequently and we would all be given to opportunity to pay with credit cards for the better rate. It turned out to be the perfect situation. Susan graciously volunteered to be the accountant and keep a running tally of money owed and for what.

After lunch we headed back to the hotel and the remainder of the day was spent on our own. Some of us relaxed, some napped and some went walking through the streets of Amalfi. Paul (the skeptic) was amazed to find that his wallet had been recovered and was waiting for him at the hotel desk - from the bed where he left it, with all cash and cards intact. Many thanks to an honest hotel staff. This kicked up our hotel satisfaction by about five notches.

In planning this trip, I learned of an outdoor concert venue in Ravello that everyone in the group took an interest in. Coincidentally, there was a piano concert planned at Villa Rufolo for one of the nights we were to be in the area. The picture on the website described it as a beautiful outdoor venue, nestled in the mountains, overlooking the sea from high above in Ravello. What could be better? We bought eight tickets for the concert on the internet, from Select Italy and planned a special night for dinner at Villa Maria, a short walk from Villa Rufolo.

We had nothing short of a remarkable experience at Villa Maria. There couldn't be a better settng for a special occasion. This was to have been the day Paul and I got married in Italy, had we stuck with our original plan. So this dinner was a special one. We dined on the terrace, overlooking the sea from high ab ove, cradled by the mountains as they rolled in and out along the shoreline.

The Slowtrav recommendations were right on the money and I too, highly recommend Villa Maria. Bill picked up the tab, for yet another special gift to us. After a spectacular dinner sitting on the terrace edge in the Villa Maria we ventured off for our 9:30PM concert.

Paul and I led the pack by a few hundred feet. We somehow seemed to have lost the caboose and arrived much ahead of everyone else. We arrived just as the pianist took his place at the piano, accompanied by a page turner. There were about 30 people seated in this small room in varying attire. Despite the wine I had, one couldn't help noticing we were INDOORS! Where was this outdoor theater that was described when I bought the tickets from Select Italy? I looked at Paul with a puzzled look on my face but he shuffled me off (shushing me to be quiet) to a row of chairs in the rear of the room behind two women.

We were both a little perplexed but the wine was having a giggling affect on me. Moments later, the rest of the group popped their heads up as they came up the stairs. Chris and Brian were the first ones on the stairs and spotted us in the back of the room. I quickly began a series of hand signals and sign language trying to tell them to get out while they still could. Chris and Brian just didn't seem to be getting my signals. The two women in front of us frequently turned around looking at us and I expected more shushing at any moment. We waited for an opportunity to depart and kept giggling like children in church. The music began. Chris and Brian and the rest in tow disappeared down the stairs. I assumed they finally understood my hand gestures, and all of a sudden were able to read my lips and were able to escape. Suddenly, they appeared, one by one from the rear of the venue behind us. They were led up a rear stairwell by the staff so as not to disrupt the performance, and entered quietly. They all took their seats around us, apparently not having understood one bit of my sign language. Brian took a seat next to me and began to ask what happened to the outdoor venue when I couldn't contain myself any longer and got up from my seat and promptly left through the back door they had just come in from. And everyone promptly followed me - just like little ducklings.

Whew - we escaped that boring, stuffy room. And lo and behold the two women that kept turning around to look at us, followed us out as well.

Unfortunately, no one thought about the fact that they might close and lock the doors. So there we were, trapped in a dark room that no one knew their way around. The laughing and giggling that was going on surely must have been heard in that concert hall but we were out of control by then and now we were growing in numbers! After much scurrying around we finally escaped out into the night through an unlocked stairwell and promptly found the nearest bar and had many laughs over the concert that we never heard. Upon our return home, I learned that the outdoor venue started two days after we were there. Shame on me for not looking further into it and actually speaking to someone at Select Italy. No one seemed to mind though. All felt it was worth the laughter and chaos, and we made some new friends as well!

We sat in the piazza sipping wine and grappa and eating gelato with our new found friends. The taxi we had arranged earlier at the hotel arrived and it was time to bid buona notte to Ravello and our new friends. Of course the taxi could only fit six people. So two people had to sit on the laps of the other six for the 20 or so minute ride back to Amalfi. We laughed all the way home discussing our current predicament and our latest adventure in the concert hall. Another fun filled day and night was behind us.

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Piazza in Ravello
 

Janelt

10+ Posts
Positano - Sorrento - May 24

Paul felt the need for a more substantial breakfast than what the hotel had provided the previous morning. So we ventured out to the piazza in Amalfi for breakfast. My cappucino arrived with a special little touch of a heart floating on the foam. Do we look that much like newlyweds? This became our breakfast spot. I am sorry to say I can't remember the name of the restaurant.

This day, we were venturing out to Positano and Sorrento under the skillful driving and guidance of Paolo. Under gorgeous blue skies, we arrived in Positano and walked and shopped and people watched to our hearts content. We walked the beach, collected colorful tiles that had washed up on the beach and even ventured into the water. We were glad we added this to the itinerary however, the best views of Positano were yet to be realized. Most of the time, I found myself thinking it was just too touristy for me, as it was every bit as touristy as I had read about. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying the endless shopping so I just kept the pace.

We had a simple lunch of Pizza and beer while sitting in two places at once. Paul, Bill, Brian and Susan were already sitting in Chez Black at the sidewalk's edge when Laura, Rita, Chris and I found them. Since there were no seats left at their table, we were offered a table at the place next door. I think it was Le Tres Sorelle. So we sat next to each other seperated only by a white iron fence. Who says you can't share food between two restaurants. This was the perfect people watching spot.

On the way out of Positano, Paolo took us to several ceramic factories. The first one was Ceramiche Casola. They had the most beautifully painted table tops made from concrete. I would have loved to have ordered one to be shipped home but their prices were way out of our league. Along the way we stopped at another, Picadilly. I found them much nicer to deal with and very accommodating. One of my favorite purchases came from here. They made Paul and I a bowl to my specifications with my choice of colors and design but the best part was that they painted all of our names with the date of the visit on the flare of the underside of the bowl. After two months of waiting it finally graces our counter proudly with fresh fuit or vegetables.

Paolo directed us to the picturesque Old Sorrento he knew so well. This was his town. We loved the narrow little streets and shops and even found the Sorrento webcam. The slow walking began to take its' toll on me and Brian though and we became less tolerant of the shopping needs of the others. We grumbled along together, content with just taking in the scenes.

We did meet up with everyone at a place where they served the worlds largest beers, whose name escapes me. This was a must stop. They also happened to have the worlds shortest timer on their bathroom lights! I was caught in a rather precarious position when the lights went out in the bathroom. From that point on, I made note of my surroundings when entering a bathroom alone and started the timer again regardless of how much time was left on it. A timer on a bathroom light was a new concept to me.

Paolo was very accommodating with stopping along the way for photo opportunities along the coast. The back drop of the gorgeous blue water and sky was the perfect setting for the camera happy crew we had with us.

We all agreed to have dinner at the restaurant across from our hotel, Lido Azzurro. It looked like it might rain and rather than be caught in a storm, we thought we would keep it simple. The food was not too memorable, and the price was outrageous, however, the windstorm that happened in that place was like something on the Wizard of Oz. We laugh when we remember how we had to hold down the tables and napkins and all the waiters struggled to keep the overhangs secured down. It made getting to know your neighbors a little easier. We met a sweet couple from the U.S. getting married that Saturday on Capri. When the storm settled down, we wished them well with a toast or two and called it a night.

None of us were prepared for the early morning wake up call from the sounds of the garbage truck outside our balconies. Yikes! Lucky for us, that only occurred once for the time we were there. I think this was the same night that in the wee hours of the morning, a loud crash of glass was heard - someone hadn't secured their balcony doors and the shutters blew in against the windows, unbdoubtedly waking up all of the hotel guests.

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The Tyrrhenian Coast
 

Janelt

10+ Posts
Cruising the Amalfi Coast - May 25

This was the one day we did not have Paolo to drive us around. The plan was that we would have free time until 2:00 when we would meet at the dock to meet with our captain and boat.

Bill and Susan and the others got out early and found the walking path in Amalfi. Halfway into the walk, they encountered some asses. Mules I mean. They finally got to see for themselves the building that looked somewhat like the Parthenon sitting high up on the side of the mountain; the cemetary and numerous other finds and photo opportunities.

Laura ventured out alone back to Ravello via the public transportation. She was committed to getting back to the first ceramic shop we encountered on our first day there. She returned, having bought the most incredible set of dishes, all different in design with slight color variations, as well a few gift items for some lucky folks at home.

Paul and I planned to just start walking the streets of Amalfi to see where the road took us. Little did we know, the others had the same ideas. We started up the main street off the piazza and found a large outdoor market. Purchases were made for lunching on the boat later, and beach towels. We ran into the rest of the gang and I think Rita bought a whole new wardrobe at the outdoor market. Just beyond the paper museum on the left we found a wonderful, air-conditioned Limoncello Co-op, La Valle dei Mulini! It was about 92 degrees in the shade that day and the AC was a welcomed find. Never mind the favuoloso Limoncello!

After much tasting and discovering the interesting tastes that can be made into a liquer from bay leaves, Paul and I walked out with three bottles of his new found favorite, Lemon Cream and four bottles of Limoncello. I finally had the chance to see one of those giant sized lemons close up. The merchant must have liked us for he threw in a few of his gigantic lemons for us to take with.

We ran into the rest of our party and dragged them back to the Limoncello factory for more tastings and more purchases. Now the merchant reallllly liked us. Lemons for everyone! Where praytell were we going to find more luggage to get our purchases home?

During the planning phase, I researched how we could hire our own boat for the day and hit upon La Dolce Vita on the internet. It was to cost us 800.00 euro for all of us for seven hours. It would appear that traveling with a group our size, afforded us quite a bit of buying power.

Promptly at 2:00, Paolo (another Paolo!) from La Dolce Vita Boat Tours met us at the boat dock for what was to be our favorite day in Amalfi. Everyone was charmed by him and sorely disappointed when we learned he wouldn't be our Captain.

Just off in the distance, was our Capitano, Sebastian and our 42 foot vessel for the day, "Papa." We loaded the fridge with food and beer and a few other goodies and we were off for our adventure. The views from the sea are like nothing one could ever imagine and I can only say, you should make it happen if at all possible and within your power, when in Amalfi. Aside from feeling like you are living in the lap of luxury, the sights you behold are nothing short of breathtaking.

Sebastian pointed out Rudolph Nureyev's island, goats grazing on the side of the cliffs and took us as far as the boat would go into a few caves. Close up, the caves were varied with color striations and immense stalactites and stalagmites and coral the color of orange neon at the water level.

We headed west towards Capri not really caring which direction we were going. The day was one of the best we had so far with regard to the weather. Not that any day was cloudy, but for some reason, that day had a particularly deep blue sky. Sebastian got us to an area just off the beach at Capri and explained in his broken English that if we were going to swim, this is where we should do it. Paul was the first one off the boat, followed by Chris, then Bill, Susan and Laura. Rita, Brian and I decided to keep Sebastian company. Before we knew it, all you could see were little heads bobbing up and down heading closer and closer to the rocks. They were heading for the beach! (OR they're going to Capri without us!) They swam to Capri just to say they were there and thanks to the photographers that stayed behind on the boat, we have pictures to prove it.

Upon climbing back on the boat, Paul found he cut his foot pretty badly on the coral of the rocks he stopped at on the way to the beach. Thank heavens for Laura's bottomless backpack and the bandaids and antibiotic ointment. What else could possibly be in there?

We headed away from Capri, our swimmers exhausted from the swim back to the boat. We took in our last views of Positano from the water. They were nothing short of sorprendente. (This happened to be one of our Italian words of the day). We lazed around the boat taking in all the delicious sites and views.

Paolo, the boat's owner, had arranged for us to be taken to the little fishing village of Nerano for dinner. A special treat awaited us.

We motored into a little cove that apparently was too shallow for our boat. We were met by a young man in a little motor boat ready to take us to the restuarant. He very graciously helped us all into his little boat and wisked us away to the restaurant, La Conca del Sogno. With his limited English and my "getting better everyday Italian," we learned he was only twelve, the son of the proprietor and his name was Cristo.

We were greeted by the exhuberant and extroverted Franco. We appeared to be the only ones there except for a few locals. This would also be on the top of our list for fabulous food and ambiance. We sat at the waters edge, watched the sun set and ate and drank like it was our last day on earth. Exhausted from the fresh air and sun, we leisurely took in our surroundings, the good company and the wonderful food.

Franco graciously showed us some rooms that had just been finished for renting, in hopes we would tell our friends and be back for a longer stay. This made my list for a place to stay next time. Each room had a private terrace, was tastefully decorated and was large and comfortable. The lucky folks that could rent these rooms had the benefit of a beautiful beach off to the side of the restaurant amidst a lush tropical like setting.

We boarded the "Papa" again for the short jaunt back to Amalfi and Sebastian returned us safely to our dock conveniently located across from our hotel, La Bussola. The combination of fresh air, good wine and much laughter made for the best sleep so far on the trip for all of us. The timing for this excursion was perfect. I couldn't have planned a better day - our last day, on the Amalfi Coast to see the amazing view of this land. On to Tuscany tomorrow.

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A View of the Amalfi Coast
 

Janelt

10+ Posts
The Best Laid Plans - May 26

A new adventure awaited us on another hot, sunny day. We would be meeting Paolo in front of the hotel for him to get us to the Naples train station for our 11:00 train to Florence. Goodbyes were said to Paolo with many thanks when he dropped us off at the station. I remember feeling a little tense and wished he could come with us, like a security blanket of sorts.

There appeared to be some sort of delay with our scheduled train as it wouldn't come up on the board. I muddled through a conversation with a train employee who kindly instructed us to follow him. He guided us through a side door and out into a parking lot muttering something about a bomb on the tracks between Naples and Rome. He pointed to a long line of buses. My heart sank. So much for getting our first class train tickets ahead of time. Paolo Come Back!!!!!

We got a taste of how Italians queue up in a line. They don't. Everyone was shouting and yelling and pushing and shoving and all we could think was "Paolo Come Back!". After a little more than hour delay, we were finally shuttled to the Rome train station in buses. I was able to call our driver who would be waiting for us in Florence and let him know of the delay. This is when I came to understand the importance of having a cell phone and now wouldn't travel without one.

Three hours later, we got on the first train that would get us to Florence. This was the first time in the trip I felt a little ferklempt with my duties as a planner. I was the only one that felt that way though because of course, it was beyond my control. Lucky for us, Laura knows how to pack a picnic; Wine, cheese, bread, Salami, crackers and sandwiches. Bring on the backpack girl! The window curtains were flapping in our faces, the hot breeze pummeling us from the open windows and squeeling tracks piercing our ears. No one else in the group seemed to be bothered by our misfortune. My mantra was bring on the vino! I was only too happy to see that train ride end. Thank heavens I was with a bunch of easy going friends that didn't get bent out of shape easily.

Fortunately, Fabio, who was to be our new driver in Tuscany waited it out and was there to pick us up, albeit three hours late.

I had found Fabio's company, ABC Noleggio, on the internet when researching about whether to hire a car with driver or rent two cars. The price seemed right and they assured me, via emails that their drivers spoke good english and knew their way around the Tuscan countryside. For this leg of the trip, we decided that in addition to the car with driver, we would also rent a mid size car. We concluded that we didn't want to be limited to all of us staying together all of the time. Well, by the time we got into Florence, the car rental agency was closed and we couldn't pick up the car. The plan thus far was that we weren't going to go back into Florence at all. As I mentioned earlier, one of the many great things about traveling in a group is that you have alot of buying power. So it would seem, we would just lose our deposit on the car. It would come out to about $25.00 per person. No one was distraught about it. We were all on the same page about getting to our destination, Borgo Argenina somewhere in the Tuscan countryside.

I sat up front with Paul and Fabio in another VW Transporter van to lay out some plans for the next several days. It wasn't too long into our one hour and fifteen minute ride to the B&B before I discovered that sitting up front next to our driver would be an olfactory challenge and it wasn't my husband's cologne I am talking about.

I can recall winding our way through the streets of Florence in heavy traffic with horns honking, and bicyclists weaving in and out of traffic thinking, "I am so happy, we decided to save this city for another trip." I think Laura might have been the one holdout who really wanted to see the sites in Florence for a day or so. That could've been possible if we had two vehicles as planned. I personally, needed the country atmosphere. During the drive to Borgo Argenina, Fabio pointed out San Gimignano in the distance, and Siena as we touched the outskirts.

We arrived at Borgo Argenina, just outside of Gaiole and immediately we were all transformed from weary travelers to relaxed visitors.

We all just stood on the loggia taking in the incredible views and fresh air and sunset. We were greeted by our most gracious hostess, Elena Nappa, her dog Bianca and Toby, the cat. She warmly welcomed us and showed us to our rooms. All of the rooms were charming but different. After having had the tour, we picked our rooms and settled our belongings in. Paul and I shared a suite with Bill, though each of us had our own rooms with baths. Each room had two wardrobes, a frig, tiled shower and what seemed to me to be luxuriously soft towels. We also had our own sitting room outside of our bedrooms that connected to the mainhouse. Rita, Laura and Susan shared a room that was more like a studio with a good sized kitchen and sitting area and double bedroom, on the second floor. Chris and Brian had what I considered to be more like a hotel room as we know it, with private bath.

Elena had made arrangements for dinner at the wonderful La Grotto Della Rana in San Sano. As luck would have it, Fabio was gracious enough to take us and pick us up a few hours later. The dinner was so relaxing and amazing. We sat outside in the courtyard with not an empty table in the place. I learned that this was a family run restaurant - mom in the kitchen, dad running around doing a host of duties and David, the son as the sole waiter. We were charmed. I had my first taste of Tagliata, a delicious version of steak with my favorite green, Arugula, amongst a few other tasty morsels. I was finding that the Italian lessons were definitely going to be helpful here. Fabio was there when we were finished with dinner and got us home safe and sound. We finally got settled in and got some much needed rest.

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Paul, Bill, Chris, Laura & Susan relaxing at Borgo Argenina
 

Janelt

10+ Posts
Joyriding in Chianti - May 27

We met for our first breakfast at Borgo Argenina at the massive wooden table under the Pergola. The pergola was covered in Wisteria and was just outside of the breakfast room, overlooking the vineyards. We helped ourselves to a delightful breakfast of homemade butter coffeecake, homemade yogurt with various selections of granola and cereals, fruits and juices. We would come to know this as the standard every morning of our stay. Elena was kind enough to set up this table with a view, for our larger group of eight, rather than the small tables in her breakfast room. Everyone toured each other's rooms or suites and found they each had their own unique character with furnishings that were perfect and comfortable.

Elena invited us up to her apartment on the second floor for a briefing. We sat around her kitchen table with her at one end asking us what we wanted to see and do with our time in the hills of Chianti. She gave us her recommendations and drew out a plan with maps and all and neatly put it all in a plastic page protector. She recommended a place for dinner again just across the vineyard. She had really come through with the first recommendation in San Sano so we were willing to go with her suggestion again. She again, took care of the arrangements.

Off we went with Fabio as planned. Our first stop was to be Castello Di Meleto. There was a private reception and unfortunately, we were not allowed in. Onward. Next stop, wine tasting at Enoteca Del Castello Di Brolio. Elena had mentioned that her place, Borgo Argenina was originally a parcel of land owned by the Ricasoli estate. Much wine was purchased here, although I was more taken with the olive oil.

We came upon this little boutique out in the middle of nowhere, Maniera, Handmade in Tuscany. Purchases of leather, pottery and linens were made and off we went again. Fabio was great about stopping anywhere we wanted but we came to understand that we wouldn't be getting any suggestions from him. We were on our own or left to the recommendations of Elena. Many times he pulled over onto the side of the road at a moments notice just for a photo op. How could you not take a moment to drink in the poppy fields and cypress lined roads?

We stopped for lunch at Badia a Coltibuono for something light. We were not disappointed. Unfortunately, we had not made prior arrangements for a wine tasting so they couldn't accommodate us. Onward. We spent the remainder of the day wandering around Gaiole taking in the sites and sounds of the small town we longed to explore and get lost in.

Dinner was at Solissimo, in the Castello di Lucignano, a stones throw from where we were staying and just across the vineyard. Fabio was there for us again to drop us off and pick us up. We were discouraged from walking home in the dark across the vineyards, one of the smartest pieces of advice we had taken to date. We were greeted and seated by our German host, Gerd Schue and his American wife. The setting was stunning, and the sunset before our eyes incredible, but the food was disappointing for the price, which was around 75 euro per person. The photo taken with the wine glasses and decanter were worth the price though.

We went back to our B&B and sat around the sitting areas chatting about our finds that day and what the next day may have in store for us.

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Janelt

10+ Posts
Radda, Montalcino, Panzano, Greve, - May 28

The plan for today was more wine tastings, small town charm and as much of the beautiful countryside as we could see. I really had wanted to get to San Gimignano but I guess I didn't convey its charms well enough to everyone and I was outvoted. I looked at it as just another reason to have to come back someday, which was quite okay with me.

This was the day that Paul and I had to change rooms from our double room to the Little House. When I booked all of our rooms, a booking mistake was made and we were asked if we minded switching to the Little House on the same property on the second day of our stay. Not a problem.

As it turned out, there was no change in price since the booking error was their mistake. Again, our new digs were perfect. We had an even better view of the countryside, our own little patio and a wonderful two room suite, completely seperate from the main house. The little kitchen facilities were complete with dishes, and pans and even had a basket of fresh herbs from the garden for our cooking pleasure. We decided that morning over breakfast, that since we had the use of a kitchen now in our "little house", all of us would make dinner tonight back at our place. So the plan was for us to pick up a few things in our travels for a nice dinner back at the B&B.

Our first stop was going to be trying to see Castello di Meleto again, which had been closed the first time we stopped. This time, on the long winding drive up to the parking lot, we noticed what seemed like a Mini Cooper convention. Mini after mini after mini lined the road and the drive. Apparently they had another private gathering and again we were turned away. I was gathering that making reservations was a better plan than just going by the seat of your pants.

Our actual first stop was a wine tasting at Rocca di Castagnoli. They were friendly and welcomed us warmly. At this point, Paul was bored with the wine tastings, not being a drinker and all. Thanks to him, though, we have great photos of many of the places the rest of us were too busy tasting at and not shooting photos of.

Everyone loved Radda. There was something about that place that just charmed us all. We found a simple little bar for a bite to eat and some local wine to wash it all down with. My Italian was getting better by the day in these small towns. I was getting more confident all the time.

Then it was on to Montalcino. The first stop was the Fortress. Together we all all walked the long entryway into the fortress. I can recall seeing the outside of the fortress and marveling (for the umpteenth time )once again at just how advanced they really were for their time with respect to their structures. The little girl in me drummed up visions of masses of people holed up inside for protection against the enemies. Once inside (and back in the 21st century), it was hard not to notice that there were plastic blue chairs strewn about here, there and everywhere. It was quite a disconnect. How dare their tarnish my vision! Oh well.

Onto Panzano. We stopped at Enoteca Zaldi and struck up a conversation with a woman from the states that now lived and worked in this establishment. A story we heard often from her was that students came over for a vacation and, like she did, liked it so much they stayed to learn about the wine business. She suggested we stop at one of the local wineries, Casaloste. She called ahead and made a reservation for us.

At first glance when driving up, it seemed a little run down; the road was unpaved, very rough and the surroundings not much to look at. We were greeted by Amelia, the owners wife. She told us the Cinderella story of how she and her husband came to own the property. We learned they drove from Naples every weekend with three small children to restore the property, while her husband finished his agriculture degree. They lovingly brought the vineyard up to speed and made it a fully operational and as of late, quite successful winery. Her command of the English language was excellent, having lived in England as a teen-ager. We were charmed with her stories of having won awards for their first production and we were dazzled with the tasting. They were even featured in Winse Spectator. Needless to say, our group of eight did heavy damage here with purchases of wine and olive oil and considered ourselves lucky to have fallen upon this winery.

Continuing on down the S222, our next planned destination was Greve. This was where, by chance, we would hopefully find some delicious treats for our dinner for tonight. Everyone had a mission. We found wonderful, crusty bread and foccacia from the only bakery in town (I think). We put together a nice selection of numerous antipasti from a shop a few doors down from the bakery. And then we fell upon the wonderful Antica Macelleria Falorni with the beautiful cooked pig sitting atop the butcher block outside the door of the shop. Funny how no one wanted pork for some reason after that! We picked up a few variations on salami and some delicious cheeses to finish off our dinner purchases here.

One of the places I lingered in was a small gallery, Materia Crea. The bold, colorful ceramic pieces caught my eye. Once inside, I was enchanted with the unusual plates and turned vases and set my sites on one piece in particular. It was a softly rounded but squared ten inch platter with a simple scrolled design. I picked it up and put it down about three times, finally relinquishing the piece to its resting place. I couldn't justify another gift for myself with still a few days to go in Tuscany and three days more in Venice. We then stopped for a few beers and a couple of glasses of wine and we were ready to call it a day. We stopped at the co-op on the outskirts of Siena for some frozen yogurt for dessert and headed home. Finally, Fabio had a night to himself without us.

Back at the ranch, we lazed around in what was left of the sunshine, sipping some of our days liquid purchases and showing each other numerous treasures that we found. It was going to be a race to the finish to see who would buy more shoulder bags, Bill, Chris or the girls.

Thoughtfully, someone had replenished our fresh cut herbs that were in the basket in our kitchen. We made the dinner a group effort, which has in the past, turned into something dazzling. Tonight was no different. The menu consisted of salad greens with fresh tomatoes and herbs and balsamic vinegar and olive oil, assorted salami and cheeses, bruschetta, vegetable antipasti, fresh mozzerella and tomatoes and pizza. Laura, being not too adept in the kitchen department, sorted through the bottomless backpack.

After dinner, Susan, who was the only one that didn't come to our wedding, gave us that beautiful platter that I had taken a fancy to in the gallery in Greve. Somewhere along the line, she made herself scarce and went back and bought it for us. This was her thank you to me and Paul for including her in this fabulous trip. The card was half written in Italian and everyone got alittle teary eyed, mostly me.

We consulted the map for tomorrow's adventure over wine and frozen yogurt.

We decided here that everyone had acquired a little something that they wanted to give to each other or had been collecting that they really didn't need. Our last night here, we would raffle those items off. Top of the list - the extra plate from Cumpa Cosimo.

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The S222 in Chianti
 

Janelt

10+ Posts
Crete, Bagno Vignoni, Pienza, May 29

We were headed south today with the intent to relax a bit at the hot mineral springs, Bagno Vignoni. Paul decided he was not feeling well today and opted to stay behind, although, isn't that the best reason to go to the mineral baths?

At breakfast, Elena our hostess, inquired more about how I had put our trip together. Previously, I had extolled the virtues of SlowTrav and she had apparently been doing her homework. She asked me for assistance with her SlowTrav Classified Ad sometime before our departure, and Paul was kind enough to offer to help her while we went and played in the Tuscan countryside.

We carefully went over the plans with Fabio when he arrived around 10:30, being intent on seeing the different terrain of the Crete and the sites of the Abbey at Monte Oliveto Maggiore and Bagno Vignoni.

There were short stops for photo ops along the roadside. The rolling hills with their carpet of poppies and soldier-like cypress trees quickly changed to the more desolate looking Cretian terrain. Since none of us ever had to pay attention to the driving, I can't say we ever had a good sense which direction we were headed at any given point. On one hand, leaving the driving to someone else was great and this was a good thing. On the other hand, I wish I had paid more attention.

The first stop was Monte Oliveto Maggiore, described to us by Elena as an important church with significant history and beauty and the first abbey of the Benedictine Order. She, of course was right. Brian and I got into a little trouble with another tourist at the beginning of our tour of the abbey. We were, as others were, taking a few pictures here and there with flashes off. As we were walking past a couple sitting taking in the views of the frescoes, I overheard the woman make a comment about Brian in Italian that was very insulting. I knew enough Italian to translate but felt awkward about responding in the church setting - so I just let it go. But we had a good laugh about the fact that learning a few vulgar slang words had actually come in handy! We marveled at the pristine condition of the frescoes and ancient artifacts kept on display. Finally, a little culture amidst all of the shopping and imbibing.

We were ready to be healed, or at the very least, more relaxed. Fabio got us to the entrance to the mineral springs but rather than jump in, we opted for a quick, light lunch. We found a nearby outdoor lunch spot, San Buona Ventura and Brian won for the most delicious lunch of the day. Pasta was shared, cold fresh salads were shared and Brian even shared his delicious grilled vegetables. I couldn't wait to get home and experiment with grilling the different vegetables he found on his plate.

We found the original mineral spa from ancient times totally deserted. This was one of the few places that there wasn't a tourist to be found. We did, however heed the warnings not to go in.

We found our way to the desk where a gentleman explained everyone was required to wear a bathing cap of sorts (unless we had our own.) A quick 14 euros later for seven assorted and various colored and striped caps and we were off to the changing rooms. We were quite surprised to note how crowded the pools and the grounds were. We all emerged with those ridiculous looking caps on and picked a place in the shade to spread our towels and belongings. The pools were incredibly soothing and slightly cooler than a hot tub. If you were lucky enough, one found the spout where the curative water poured soothingly onto your neck.

Some of our more humorous pictures were taken here with those silly caps on and our very own Bill appearing much smaller than he actually is for some odd reason. Perhaps the water had shrinkage abilities as well.

We romped around in the water and sunshine and meandered over to the original mineral springs. I guess I was expecting more flowing water but what I saw when I climbed down was merely a trickle. I never did get an answer of whether the water was diverted but expected that was the case.

Fabio graciously waited while we climbed around in the sunshine. Next stop was Pienza.

Onto the perfect town. We were all a bit tired and quiet during this ride, thanks to the water and sunshine. I do remember reading a little bit about how this was designed to be the perfect Renaissance town back in its' day, some five or six hundred years ago. We walked around Pienza taking in the sights and sounds. I was a bit over the sightseeing at this point and wished I was back at the B&B relaxing with my husband, but like a good traveling companion, left my thoughts to myself.

We arrived back at Borgo Argenina later than planned, around 7:00 PM. Paul was starving so we all jumped at the chance to go back to La Grotta della Rana again, which happened to be the closest restaurant to the B&B. Paul had already taken care of the reservation for us and into the van we went for another delightful experience at our favorite Tuscan restuarant. This time we took more time to look around the place, only to discover they had a wonderful little grocery attached with wonderful produce, pasta's and the like. We shared our stories with Paul and he with us about the quiet day he had over eight servings of Tagliata. Yummy! Tomorrow, our plan was Siena.

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Local Color
 

Janelt

10+ Posts
Siena - May 30

The gathering place for breakfast was again awash with sunshine and warm weather. Elena served her delicious breakfast and stuck around and chatted for awhile. We were pleasantly shocked and delighted when she invited all of us up to her apartment for dinner that night. She took a liking to us. We made her laugh and she wanted to show us a true homemade Tuscan dinner.

I was hoping she would share her stories of how she came to find and restore this piece of property.

Fabio was prompt as usual and off we went to Siena. It was only a 20-25 minute ride to our dropping off point but again, we all were glad Fabio was behind the wheel and not one of us. I remember how I felt when we entered Il Campo from the vic. San Paolo off the Via delle Terme. I just had to stop and drink it all in; the hustle and bustle, the architecture, the sounds. We all split up with the intent of finding each other around 1:30 for lunch at a designated spot. Paul and Laura and I went one way and the others were off in their own direction. We hit a few ATM's which we had no trouble finding and Paul and I headed for the first church we saw. Niether of us are very religious sorts but after all I had read on the beauty of the Italian churches, we knew we wanted to take in a few whenever we could. We lost Laura at that point.

This was where I became enchanted with the churches. Paul and I took in several, whose names escape me at this point in time, but it doesn't matter. I truly feel that if you enter any large Italian church, you won't be disappointed. Those memories are etched in my mind. In between churches we shopped and meandered around despite the crowds. Tourist season was officially on and the crowds seemed to be increasing by the day.

I recalled a recommendation for a restaurant that was given to me before we left on our trip. I remembered that this person had drawn a diagram of the where it was from Il Campo. There we were, leisurely walking around and I looked up and there it was, Il Sasso on via dei Rossi. We met up with the others and explained that I found a place that had come highly recommended. It was another easy decision maker. We were taken to a table for eight in the downstairs dining area. Everyone seemed to love the ambiance and decor - a little more sleek than anywhere we had been previously.

By this time we were getting to know a lot of the wines on the menus and feeling comfortable about our selections. A few bottles were ordered along with a few choices for antipasti and we were off. One of the more memorable bruschettas I had anywhere, was served here. It was a hearty gogonzola and celery bruschetta that everyone seemed to love. Chris raved about his trio of spinach mousse and Paul was favorably satisfied with some version of a stuffed roasted rabbit. No one left here hungry or dissatified.

We walked off our lunch and saw more of the sites. For me, sitting in the campo was a relaxing pleasure and we shared a gelato and people watched.

We were back to Borgo Argenina a little early and settled up our bill with Fabio so that neither he nor any of us would have to do that at the ungodly hour we would be seeing him again in the morning. He was kind enough to split the bill and take any credit card we wanted to use. There had been no deposit required, which seemed strange to me, but true. The bill per person came to 170 euro without a gratuity. Again, this didn't seem like alot, considering that some days, this poor guy didn't get home until close to midnight. It was definitely worth the price and all of us were in agreement, we would pay it again without a second thought.

The evening was beautiful with the sun setting before us and made for some great photo opportunities in the rose garden and other picturesque corners of the property. Our photos burst of the incredible hues and textures of Elena's flower garden. We chatted with other guests trading stories of where we had been and some ideas to consider and others to pass on. Brian went out and picked some wild flowers to bring to Elena for dinner a little later on. Wonderful aromas began floating down to the terrace from Elena's kitchen.

A few at a time, we made our way up to her apartment and heard the story of how she came to find Borgo Argenina. A couple of us pitched in and helped with dinner and heard another Cinderella story of how she found the hamlet in 1993 and lovingly, and with a lot of hard work, made it the place that came to be known as Borgo Argenina. Ironically, she opened for business exactly 100 years after the earliest mention of it in any legal documents she could find. Her photo books carefully documented the total disrepair it was in and its slow transformation. She showed us the Italian version of Travel and Leisure in which "Villa Olivera" was featured. Now we all wished we had splurged and stayed in that hot spot! Just like the Chicago Cubs, there is always next year!

There was much laughter again as usual and she made us swear we wouldn't tell anyone she invited us up for dinner. It just wasn't something she usually did with her guests. (Sorry Elena - it is a fond memory and this recollection wouldn't be the same without it!) We dined on a delcious zucchini and pasta dish, fresh salad greens from the garden and a fresh mozzerella and olive salad.

We had settled our bills with her earlier in our stay so we bid her farewell and everyone congregated to our place for the last of the wine and our little raffle. Names were placed in a container and numerous items were bickered about. It was all in fun and a great way to end a perfectly wonderful trip (or honeymoon!)

Fabio was kind enough to offer us two separate jaunts to the airport and train station. Chris, Brian, Bill, Susan and Rita were flying out at 6:15 AM and Paul and Laura and I weren't leaving until 10:30 AM. We were the lucky ones that got to sleep in until five or six o'clock. We bid our farewells to Chris and Brian, Bill, Rita and Susan that evening and we all went to our respective rooms for last minute packing .

If there could be a perfect group of eight to travel together, we were it. Everyone was sad that this wonderful trip was coming to a close but it had ended on a wonderfully intimate evening together, sharing funny and special moments through the evening.

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Paul & Janel in the garden at Borgo Argenina
 

Janelt

10+ Posts
Venice - May 31

We were awake by six to finish packing and get on the road back to Florence. The plan was to drop Laura off at the airport and head to the station for our train to Venice. Promptly at 7:00 AM, Fabio was back in the driveway to pick us up.

Laura was the first stop to the airport. This would be my last chance to call Ca Bernardi in Venice for directions to the B&B with Laura's phone. To our dismay, Amelia alerted us that there was a one day vaporetto strike and we would need to either walk from the train station, approximately 20 minutes, or take a private water taxi at approximately 50 euro. Now we had something to contemplate for the train ride.

Paul and I were the last ones to be dropped off and we thanked Fabio a million times for the long hours and his graciousness about it. We wished him well in his upcoming nuptials. We were finally able to pull a little something out of him about himself after all.

By now, my Italian was pretty good if I do say so and we found our way around the Florence train station quite easily. We crossed our fingers that our first class tickets would get us into something other than a bus or a loud, rickety old train making its last trip to nowhere. Finally, we were headed for Venice. The train trip was uneventful and we got some quiet time in with a little reading and snoozing.

When we walked out of the train station, it became quickly apparent that there were an awful lot of people standing around waiting. The scheduled vaporetto strike was defintely on and the only vaporetto going anywhere was to the Rialto station. A quick consultation to the map led me to believe that this was close enough that we could walk to our destination in San Paolo, that is with Paul lugging my suitcase! So we purchased a three day pass after I was assured the vaporettos would be running for the next three days. It was another gorgeous day with the sun shining in our eyes and romance in our hearts and we were finally in Venice, together, and alone.

We got off at the Rialto stop and learned we had to cross the bridge to get to our San Paolo B&B. Yikes! This would be testing Paul's patience. So we switched luggage again because mine was too heavy and I couldn't lug it up the steps of the bridge. As I recall, I had all the wine and Limoncello in my bags. We found our way over to the San Silvestro vaporetto stop and figured we would start from there since this was the stop we had been directed to get off on originally.

Paul's patience was on the fritz and he plopped himself down at the first available seat in a restaurant and encouraged me to go look for Ca Bernardi while he waited with the bags. Sounded like a good idea to me. After ten minutes of walking, I got a little frustrated with not finding it so I wandered back and sat down with Paul. The waiter approached and asked if I would like to order something and rather than attemtping my Italian in frustration mode, I tried English. Much to our surprise, he spoke perfect English. I asked if he knew of a place called Ca Bernardi and he said we must be looking for Miss Amelia and he would go and call her for us. Paul and I just looked at each other in total disbelief.

At about this time, two strolling musicians came by and began serenading us. I had my first glass of vino here while Paul sipped Diet Coke and we munched our first Margherita pizza in Venezia. All was well.

Amelia, the owner of Ca Bernardi and her mother Deborah, strolled up to our table about 25 minutes later. They showed us to the apartment we would be staying at for the night, just a few blocks from where we enjoyed our serenade and pizza. Again there was a booking issue, (which until now had definitely worked in our favor), and we were unable to stay at Ca Bernardi for the first night. Amelia assured us we would be comfortable here, and conveniently, it was located right above one of the restaurants I had tagged in Chow Venice as a place of interest, Osteria Vivaldi. Amelia and her mom showed us around the rooms and quickly familiarlized us with the house phone and communal kitchen. We learned later that this was the last time she was renting this property as she had just sold it.

We took a short, street-noise interrupted nap and relaxed a bit. When we awoke from our nap, we found we didn't have any electricity and heard our neighbors coming in. They were three younger women who had been there a few days already and were somewhat familiar with the place. A call to Amelia was placed with our plight of no electricity and she was promptly there to try and figure it out for us.

Paul and I ventured out to our new surroundings and leisurely strolled the streets of San Paolo. Paul was still not convinced he wanted to "get lost" in our new neigborhood so we didn't venture far. We ended the evening with a great inexpensive meal at Vivaldi's as Amelia and Deborah and Chow Venice had recommended.

We ended our first night in Venice about midnight and came back to our room and found the lights working and AC cranking. So far, Venice seemed to be everything we had read and hoped it would be. What charm!

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Our first view of Venice
 

Janelt

10+ Posts
Venice - June 1

We awoke later than usual and headed over to Ca Bernardi for breakfast which was in the neat little courtyard that Amelia's property had the rights to.

She had wonderfully fresh croissants and breads with fruits and coffee and tea. We got the story of how Amelia came to Venice and how her mom followed her here. When they learmed we were from Chicago, they were eager to tell us they too, had lived in the Chicago area, right in the same north suburban location I currently work in. We found ourselves in that same small world again all the way over here in Venice!

Walking and shopping was the order of the day. We got sucked into taking a trip to the island of Murano from a little kiosk touting a grand tour of the factories of Murano. Buyer Beware! Read the small print. For 15 euro each, we were taken by private water taxi somewhere around the Fondamente Nuove vaporetto stop, with approximately fifteen other people, to a back entrance of a factory, and not a very nice looking one at that.

There was a demonstration given by a glass blower but we weren't at all interested in the types of glass animal figurines he was making or anything else in the shop that was for sale. The store was wall to wall glass crap covered in an inch of dust, which was evidenced by the fact that no one else bought anything either. Is it time for a glass of wine yet, or maybe some gelato? We decided that tomorrow we would see Murano on our terms.

We were close to the hospital and I thought I would like a closer look, so we wandered in behind a large grizzly looking cat that seemed to know his way around. Further in, the cat kept going like he owned the place but we turned around and left when we found ourselves in the clinic area of the hospital. Nothing too interesting there except for the cat.

San Marco square was an easy find and we took in the sites and sounds. Perhaps it is living in the big city all my life but I couldn't see the attraction in letting pigeons land on your head and arms. That sight never ceased to amaze me, but everyone was doing it.

Paul and I shopped our way around the perimeter of the piazza and sat down at The Caffe Florian. We were entertained by an animated character of a musician in the orchestra playing to the crowds. We sipped a diet coke and iced tea and scribbled off a few postcards, knowing full well we would beat them home. I even toyed with the video feature on my digital camera here and captured our animated entertainer doing a rendition of New York, New York. All for a mere 26 euro! 10 for the entertainment, 6 for the iced tea and 6 for the diet coke.

We found our way over to the post office and took note of the fact that the following day was a holiday of sorts, which apparently meant some things would be closed in observance.

There were a few cichetti bars in our travels and we stood and munched like locals. Secretly, while winding our way through the neighborhoods, I was checking out the gondoliers for anyone with a sweet voice that we could come back to in the evening and hire for our romantic evening for two. I was striking out though.

We headed back to Ca Bernardi and took a nap. Our room was the camera giallo, nicely decorated and comfortable, with a window off a quiet canal. Everything seemed newly rehabbed and clean as a whistle. Both of us agreed it would have been very easy to stay there for a week or so. Already, Paul was saying how he loved Venice and wanted to come back, something he usually isn't inclined to do. Sign me up!

We headed out late for dinner without much of a plan and ended up just stopping in a place out of convenience to location. There was nothing extraordinary about it and I did not make note of the name of the establishment. We were getting to be late night types and turned in about midnight again.

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Welcome to Venezia
 

Janelt

10+ Posts
Venice - June 2

We slept well in our comfortably appointed room and went down to breakfast in the courtyard. We had a nice conversation with another couple from LA who were there for three days as well. We traded stories and tips and found we probably wouldn't be getting into San Marco on this trip. The couple told us they waited in line for a long time only to be turned away because they were carrying a small daypack. For us it seemed logical to carry Paul's small daypack to venture out for a long day of sightseeing.

We decided to take the vaporetto to Murano and spend some time there. I had made tentative plans with a friend from Chicago who would be there on this particular day and we had hoped we could at least try and have lunch. So it was off to Murano.

On our way to Murano, we passed the cemetary island, Isola di San Michele, and surprisingly to me, many people got off at this stop. Then again, it was a holiday of sorts.

Once on Murano, we weren't able to visit any factories due to the holiday but we befriended a shopkeeper at Vivarini. As luck would have it, he had family in one of the western suburbs of Chicago not far from home, so he immediately had a connection to us and took us to rooms not open to the public on this particular day. To us, they seemed to have had the most unusual items we had seen thus far, most of what would look great in our home. It was easy to decide that we wanted something from this gallery. So he showed us around, telling us that his two daughters were active in the design and production of the beautiful pieces I was contemplating purchasing. We settled on a beautiful vase and several hundred euro later, we were out of there and heading for lunch.

We never did run into my friend and her husband so we dined alone at the water's edge on fresh fish and vino. We had a primo seat watching the locals and their families going to and fro on the main canal in their family boats.

Once the vaporetto reached the Fondamente Nuove stop, we got off and decided it was okay to get lost today. We were getting the lay of the land now and feeling quite comfortable in our surroundings. We walked with no particular direction in mind and found ourselves on the doorstep of the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. I stood in awe of the sheer immensity of the church and marveled that such an accomplishment could have been built so many centuries ago. I remember having the same recurring thoughts in each church we went into. It was mind boggling to me. Paul was eager to point out differences and certain characteristics from one church to another.

We wound our way back to San Paolo on the prowl for a friendly gondolier for our planned evening ride. They must have all been off for the holiday. The pickins were slim. Hopefully, we would find an empty gondola close to our B&B. We decided to drop off our treasures back at Ca'Bernardi and clean up for dinner. We had decided on one of the restaurants on the San Paolo side of the canal, along the canal. Several times over the last two days in passing, the food looked scrumptious and the patrons looked satisfied. We were seated right at the water's edge - the perfect location. We ordered a seafood platter for two, that in retrospect, could've served four or five. The clue about how big this platter would be should've been evident when they cleared an empty table between us and the people two tables away.

Our dinner platter was enormous and filled with a medley of seven or eight different fish cooked in varying methods, and was absolutely incredible. I am sorry to say, I don't remember the name of this establishment. Too bad, because the food was wonderful and the service top notch.

We walked a short way and found our gondola with a congenial gondolier willing to take us for a moonlit ride for the going rate of 80 Euros for a half hour. Neither myself nor Paul were willing to negotiate. I had one too many glasses of wine and Paul just wasn't into negotiating. We got his story that he was the third or fourth generation in his family of gondoliers. I tried convincing him to sing, but he wasn't having any of that.

To me, a gondola ride is one of those things that you have to do just once. I was happy to hear that Paul, who doesn't particularly like going back to places once he has been, was eager to return to Venice, for there is so much to see and do. We will forego the gondola ride on our next trip back.

Amelia was kind enough to arrange a private water taxi for us at the sharp hour of 6AM the next morning. We needed to be at the airport by 6:30AM for our 8:15AM flight to Milan. Our only other choice was walking. Since we had to purchase more bags to lug all of our purchases with, walking wasn't an option. We would have to bite the bullet and pay the required 90 euro for our 20 minute ride to the airport.

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Rialto Bridge for our Gondola
 

Janelt

10+ Posts
Home

We were both ready to be home, yet sad we only had three days in Venice. The trip was officially over and our honeymoon was coming to a close.

The trip home was long, as they usually are, but it was the perfect time for reflecting and jotting down the highlights of the trip. I finally pulled out the leather bound journal I had bought in Amalfi for just that purpose. Many "next times" were thrown around in conversation, I am happy to say. I reflected on our harmonious group of eight, for a better group to travel with couldn't be found.

Perhaps next time we will see some big cities and more city culture, but if not, that is okay too.

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Paul, Chris, Janel, Rita, Bill, Laura, Susan & Brian in Ravello
 

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