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Florence Intensive Language Course in Florence Then Decompression in Sorrento


New Member
By Earline from Tennessee, Spring 2006
March 16 through April 6, 2006. Mother and daughter share brain-frying intensive Italian language course in Florence for two weeks, then on to Sorrento and the Amalfi coast for some R&R.

This trip report was originally posted on SlowTrav.

Before I Get Too Old I Want To . . .

In 2001 my daughter, Kristina, and I were discussing the fact that we both wanted to visit Europe, but we didn’t want to do the 5 cities in 10 days type of madness. We agreed upon Italy because we’d both seen movies that seemed magical such as “Enchanted April” and “A Room With a View”. Italy has always been one of those places I wanted visit without too much rushing around. So did she. We agreed on 2004 for the trip and we would start preparing by attending Italian language classes at our respective community colleges. By the fall when it was time to start classes, she said something like, “I’m so busy that I won’t have time to take the classes. Why don’t you sign up and then you can teach me!?!” So that is what happened.

We all are aware that the best way to learn a language is to live in the country of the chosen language and have to speak it in order to eat, drink, and do whatever else we want to do. I tried that in June of ’04 when I went to Italy for 5 weeks on a Study Abroad program. It ended in disaster after 3-1/2 days when I fell on the cobblestones near the Pantheon and broke my ankle and then returned home after only one week.

Kristina and her husband, Kurt, and I did make our long-planned trip to Italy in November of 2004 and had a wonderful time. I did teach them some Italian: her job was to order “Vino della casa bianco” and my son-in-law’s was “il conto per favore”. Worked well for us.

But I continued to think about the trip to learn to speak the language. We were planning on selling our house this year and buying another one so we were trying to not spend money willy-nilly. However, after reading ColleenK’s trip report “A Student in Florence”, I told my husband, Cal, that before I got too old I definitely wanted to do something like that.

Sometimes I really do believe in karma. He had wanted to go to Hawaii with his daughter but since it was his idea that we would try to put a lid on excessive spending (can a vacation ever be considered “excessive”?) he didn’t dare say anything to me about that possibility. He told his daughter just to forget about it – and she was even going to pay his air fare there and back! So he jumped at the opportunity for a trade off! My trip was on.

I was planning to go by myself because I had so much wonderful information from ColleenK and the ST site, but when I called Kristina to tell her what I was going to do, there was a long, long pause on the other end of the line. Then I said, “Would you like to go with me?” and I got a very enthusiastic “Yes!!!!! But I have to talk to Kurt about it. Give me a few days, OK?” I told Cal what had transpired and that I would hear back from her in a few days. I then went into the kitchen to start preparing dinner. About half an hour later I got a very enthusiastic call back from her saying that she was going with me. Wonderful!

We planned to fly separately from our respective homes and meet in Rome.

I started this as a daily journal. After a few days there seemed to be little time, energy, or inclination to write every day. The tenses change because for some days it just seems better to leave it the way I wrote it originally.


The Motto of our trip: "Life Is Too Short to Drink Bad Wine"
Getting There and Nearly Getting Left Behind

The trip started off OK with no hang ups from Nashville to JFK other than it was a small plane and there was no room for my laptop roll-around carry-on, so it got stowed somewhere. So much for packing carefully and making sure that all my bottles of stuff that might not stand up to depressurization were in my carry-on.

I had a 4-1/2 hour layover at JFK. After sitting around in the airport at JFK killing time, I went for a walk because I knew I was going to be sitting for hours on the plane. I got back to my gate at 5:15 and my flight was supposed to leave at 6:15. There were very few people there. But I didn’t think that much about it. Then at 5:45 I thought that there should be more people here than maybe a dozen or so and saw somebody who had come in on the flight from Nashville with me. I asked him if he was waiting for flight #16 to Paris and he said no that that flight’s gate had been moved. He showed me the monitor in the “real” waiting area (I had been sitting in FRONT of the waiting area) and sure ‘nuf – it had been moved to the opposite end of the airport. I was at gate 6 and my new gate was 22. Almost a mile away. I made it in 8 minutes! Suckin’ air!

I thought, “How could they move the stupid flippin' gate on me!” Then I thought, no I was the stupid flippin' one for not checking sooner! I started to get hysterical when I rounded a corner and my brief case fell off the laptop roll-around carry-on and the whole shebang went sideways. The clerk sitting at a gate nearby came over and helped me stack my luggage up again and assured me that I was close and that I would make it. I thought, crap almighty! Sitting around the freakin’ airport for 4 and a half hours and then I was on the verge of missing my flight to Paris. I boarded with 18 minutes to spare. There were actually three more people after me to board. (Note to self: don’t be so flippin' stupid again in the future – check sooner!)

I was nearly sick to my stomach. I thought what would I do if I missed that flight and Kristina would be sitting in the terminal in Rome waiting for me. So anyhow. Made the flight. Had a glass of vino.


On our first full day in Florence this building took my fancy. On via Degli Strozzi, via de Tornabuoni and via Della Spada.
Getting There: Rome -- Friday, 17 March 2006

(Made a note to self – try to avoid flying into and out of Paris airport if it can at all be helped. There is minimal signage. You just kind of wander about and finally after asking directions 20 times, you get where you want to go. Our flight was late arriving but they held the plane for us. As a result, there was no place to put our carry-on luggage so once again my laptop bag got thrown in the luggage hold.)

Got to Rome and Kristina was nowhere in sight at the baggage pick up area. I waited a while and then tried to call her. To activate my Italian cell phone I was just supposed to make one local call and it would be ready to go. Not the case. Before I left home I had all kinds of problems with SIM cards and cell phones that didn’t work. I was assured that everything would be OK when I got to Italy. Well the boogered up cell phone situation had not improved. I got a message that it was “unable to complete the call”. OK. No cell phone service. I thought that I would just look up the problem in my phone manual and then remembered that I didn’t have a manual per se. Telestial had sent me one, but it was a PDF file on the hard drive. So I hauled out my laptop and tried to find the manual. Couldn’t find it and can’t do a good job without my mouse. Don’t like the touch pad and I don’t know how to use it. Put that away with a few choice words. After an hour had passed, I decided to go outside the baggage pick up area and look at the monitors in the arrivals area to see if Kristina’s flight had possibly been delayed. While I was looking at the board, she came up behind me. Thank goodness. It turned out that she couldn’t come into the baggage pick-up area as we had arranged because of security reasons. Didn’t know that. Note to self: research each airport for quirks if meeting somebody.

So then we decided that we would make the “6 minute walk” to the hotel. Took us 1 hour. The last thing I had on my list of things to pack was “maps”. Maps were still in the folder on my work table in Tennessee. Didn’t have a proper map of Rome, but I did have the silly little thing I printed from MapQuest or some such. We were heading in the right direction, but somehow it just didn’t seem right. So we were at a corner where we had to make a decision and Kristina decided that we should turn left because she thought we had been going in the wrong direction. Kristina has as bad a sense of direction as I do (the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree), she managed to lead us six blocks out of our way. Three down. Three back. I finally asked a young woman where the Hotel Capitol was and she pointed back up the street in the direction we had come. We got back to the original corner where we turned left – shoulda been right. The hotel was right on that block. Six minutes from the train station.

I had a 22” suitcase on wheels and an 18” roll-around notebook carry-on bag as well as a briefcase type of bag about eight inches deep perched on top of the notebook carry-on. Navigating the sidewalks and streets with my wheeled suitcase and the roll-around carry-on bag with that brief case on top of the suitcase was an absolute nightmare as the slightest movement made the brief case fall off. It was tethered to my suitcase, but when it fell sideways it really was impossible to continue rolling the suitcase. Trying to get across the street with no ramps but having to bump everything over the curbs was extremely difficult with the two bags. I kept hollering out for Kristina to stop so I could put the blasted briefcase bag back on to the wheeled luggage. At one intersection, she was quite a bit ahead of me because finally I got tired of yelling for her to stop so I could put the freakin' bag back on the suitcase. I didn’t want to get further behind, so even though the lights had changed and I could see the traffic hurtling down on me, I bumped my luggage off the curb (no ramp on that one either) and while I was running across the street pulling all that luggage, that damned briefcase fell off the suitcase again and I couldn’t stop to fix it, so I just dragged the blasted thing across the street with the suitcase on top of the briefcase. It is amazingly well built. Strong fabric.

Notes to self:
  • Buy a small backpack and deep-six the briefcase type.
  • Never try to have two individual roll-around bags.
  • Take a taxi even if it is only supposed to be a “six minute walk.”
Hotel Capitol: We got there and the rooms weren’t ready, so we left our luggage and went to a little trattoria (don’t remember the name) across the street on the left hand side in the next block. Kristina had Parma prosciutto and melon and a pizza Margherita. I had white pizza with four cheeses, prosciutto and mushrooms. Very delicious. The first of my white pizzas. I love Italy! Pizza without the worry of tomato sauce because I am allergic to tomatoes. And I can get it uncut (a requirement because the pizza cutter is used on every pizza without washing it). In Italy – no problem!

Went back to the hotel. Their website said that there was an elevator and that was true. They did not lie. Unfortunately, the elevator only covered four floors and we were on the sixth floor. More stairs! Up the first flight, take the elevator four floors, then up another flight of stairs.

What a dump! Kristina had to clean the bathroom before we could use it. The TV screen had about a ¼ inch of dust on it, and it looked as if the floor hadn’t been swept since the place was built. When we arrived earlier and the rooms weren’t ready, I couldn’t imagine why not because it didn’t look like they did anything but change the sheets. Thank goodness they at least did that. There were three Goldilocks beds – one was too soft, one was too hard, and one was just right! The place sucked. But then it was only two stars.

Note to self: Remember that two stars means exactly that. Never book anything in the future under three stars.


Our first Roman kittycat of the trip
Getting There But Not Smoothly - Saturday March 18, 2006

We got up in plenty of time to get to the train station (only a six minute walk away), had a great trip to Florence. The high speed first class Eurostar was wonderful. Sat next to a really nice young Italian couple who spoke English and the guy helped us with our luggage.

At departure time we had a system where I took my carry-on bag up to the front of the car where the luggage was and parked myself beside the luggage just to make sure nobody took ours by mistake. Kristina then got the rest of the stuff we brought on and met me at the door. So we got off the train, found a taxi, got all of our luggage in the cab, and Kristina suddenly remembered that she had left her backpack on the train.

That was 10:10 a.m. She took off running, I gathered the luggage from the taxi and found a spot near the taxi stand so she could find me again. It was damned cold, so then I had to move again to get everything to a sunny spot right next to the homeless guy lying on the sidewalk (briefcase fell off twice in about 20 feet because I had to turn a corner). I looked up in my Italian notes on how to say “go away” in case I needed it.

One hour later, Kristina shows up without her bag. During this time all sorts of scenarios were running through my mind. I had about decided that she had got on the train and then it had taken off for the next stop which was Bologna about an hour and a quarter away (and the cell phones didn’t work) and that I might be standing next to the homeless guy several hours from now after he warmed up and started moving around and begging (but by this time I definitely knew how to say “go away” in Italian).

Anyhow, she had got back to the train just as it was pulling out of the station and she had been to a couple of places in the station and they found out that the back pack had been turned in and it was on its way to Bologna. We didn’t know if we would be able to pick it up at the Florence station or if we would have to get the next train to Bologna to get it. She was supposed to report back to the Customer Service office at 11:40 a.m.

We had time to get a taxi, take our luggage to the B&B Tourist House Ghiberti. (I was able to tell the driver in Italian that we wanted to go to the hotel, leave our luggage and then return to the station.) We rang the bell, a young woman came downstairs, I asked her if she was Christelle. She said, "Yes." We just dumped all our luggage on her, told her what was happening, and then jumped in the taxi to go back to the station. I felt sorry for the taxi driver. It had taken him this long to manoeuvre the cab up onto the sidewalk to park it and then we showed up again. Oh well, gave him something to do.

So we returned to the office at the train station and waited on the report. The backpack was returned on the next train from Bologna, the agent met the train and showed up in the Customer Service office with it. I'll probably never forget the feeling I had when I saw him cruise into the waiting area with that bag!

He needed proof that it was Kristina’s, so she opened the lock and unzipped it and exposed her camera with a six-inch long lens on it, her TREO cell phone/computer, her Italian cell phone and various other goodies, and the looks on their faces were astounding. The guy said that she would have been in a lot of trouble if she hadn’t found it. No fooling!

We decided that the nice young couple sitting next to us saw that she had left it lying on the floor and gave it to the conductor. My daughter and I truly, truly lead charmed lives! Learned a lesson here – don’t put anything on the floor and do a bag check every time you get up and move somewhere. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Check!

Since the pressure was off and we felt that we could enjoy ourselves now, we walked back to the hotel because we didn’t have to schlep the luggage. Stopped in a book store and in spite of what I promised my husband, I bought another verb book.

We ate at Il Bargello, Piazza Della Signoria 4r. We walked in and there was one waiter in a red jacket doing triple duty and we thought that it might not have been a very good idea to decide to eat there. Then all of a sudden there were two more. They were all older men. Very nice waiters. Kristina had gnocchi con patate di gorgonzola (gnocchi with potatoes and gorgonzola). I had pizza ortolana: melanzana e olive e cuore di carciofoe, formaggio, (eggplant, black olives, artichoke hearts, and cheese) and we shared a plate of prosciutto.

So we made it to the B&B and it was a really, really nice place. There were two flights of stairs, but fortunately also an elevator.

I wrote a review on the B&B, but I would just like to add here that it was an absolutely wonderful place to stay. Only five guest rooms. Each one of them had a computer with high speed internet connection, wide screen TV, DVD player and the most wonderful hosts, Claudio and Christelle (and, of course, baby Valentin!) Claudio, our host, gave us a most comprehensive orientation. He showed us how to work every piece of electronic equipment, how to work the special little bedside reading lights, how to work the shower (that is always tricky). He showed us the breakfast room and veranda, the jacuzzi, the sauna. Wow! (There are several reviews on the Tourist House Ghiberti.)

We had finally arrived! I felt like doing back flips, but that would have been awkward and ill-advised since I have a history of clumsiness. But – we were there!


Lunch on the Eurostar
What We Went There For – The Koinè School

Week 1 -- Monday, March 20, 2006 - First Day of Class

We arrived, the Assistant gave us our tests to do, showed us into a room with lots of other people doing the same thing. They had been there longer than us and were still there when we left. I guess they knew more and had more writing to do!

Kristina had completed one semester of Italian at the community college in Las Vegas. I had completed two years at Middle TN State University and was doing a repeat of the second year because we had a different teacher who was much better; he was Italian! After a few minutes, I heard her go “hummpfff” and she got up and left. I managed to have an answer for every question, albeit usually rather brief, but I wasn’t far behind her. The oral part was fairly brief also.

Kristina went into the Beginner Section and I went into the one where I had described my situation as “I have had instruction in grammar and vocabulary, but I do not feel comfortable in every day situations that may arise here.” That’s as far up the ladder as I could go because the other selections were all in Italian. Too much for me!

My classmates were a Japanese woman, a Japanese man, a Korean woman, a Korean man, and a Pakistani man who was only there for one day – don’t know what happened to him. The Japanese man and both the Koreans were there working in restaurants. They had signed up for periods of time from 12 to 18 weeks. The Japanese woman had signed up for three weeks and was a soccer fan. Her favorite team was a Milano team (don’t ask me which one; I’m not a soccer fan). She was a shop girl in Chiba near Tokyo, 37 years old, still living at home, but was such a soccer fan that she wanted to learn Italian so she could watch the games on TV. She came to the school at this time because the World Cup Quarterfinals (or some big series, I don’t know) were being played. The first weekend she went to Milano to watch and her team won. My teacher was Stefania.

Kristina was in the beginner class. Everybody in her class was American except for one German woman. She had Marco as a teacher.

The classes were conducted entirely in Italian. I found it very hard not to lapse into Japanese because I was sitting next to the Japanese woman. (We did cheat occasionally and I could tell her the meaning of a word in Japanese or English or write it in pencil and quickly erase it without the teacher catching us.) It was much easier for me to get a grasp of the meaning of new words because of English being a Latin based language, where all these words are totally foreign to the Japanese and Koreans.

OK. Brain was fried after four hours of Italian.

Since there were only four other people in my class, everybody got called on a lot. One day (Tuesday 21st) the Koreans showed up 30 minutes late because they had been drinking beer and partying starting the afternoon before. Another day the Korean woman didn't show up and the guy was an hour late. Also the Japanese woman was over an hour late because she got the wrong bus and was staying quite a distance away from the school. So I had over an hour of one-on-one with my teacher. I used my dictionary and she didn’t say anything, though I got the feeling that she really wanted to! One of the nice things about being older and being a colleague (I’m a private ESL, English as a Second Language, teacher). After my one-on-one, when the others arrived, Stefania put some jumbled sentences on the board. We needed to make proper sentences out of them. My own students hate those exercises. They are excellent excercises, but very difficult. I remember the student of mine who was in tears after one of those exercises. Yowie! I did better than the other students simply because English syntax is much closer to Italian than Japanese and Korean are. Then we had some more exercises and by the time I got out of there my brain was really FRIED! However, Kristina and I both tried to speak Italian to the waiters and shop people. Simple exchanges are OK, but when the Italian person takes off speaking at about 90 mph, I have to give up. No one was allowed to speak English or any other language in our classes. On Thursday we finished our Answers & Questions exercise that Stefania gave us the day before. When Stefania said answer with QUESTIONS, I thought every one had to be a question. It turns out that some of them only had to have comments not questions to the answers. At one point I just put my head down on the table and thought that I was never going to get it. But I finally did.

Week 2 -- Monday, March 27, 2006

We both learned lots in our classes. Kristina's teacher absolutely refused to let anyone use a dictionary. My teacher was a bit more lenient the first week, but the second week was absolutely no dictionary usage. There was no homework, per se. You just had to go about your daily business but doing it in Italian. We were regulars around there in several places by then. The little snack bar (Bar Vittoria) on the corner and, of course, the liquor store!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I got the cold that everybody had been so unselfishly passing around and left class early on Tuesday. Stefania gave us a graph type of exercise with a question and then at the bottom of the page was a list of corresponding number of answers being three per question. Then we had to answer which one was correct. Out of 18, I got 7 right! Ha! But how was I supposed to know that the most common man’s name is Giuseppe and the most common surname is Russo? Likewise that neither dogs nor cats, but il pesco rosso (red fish) is the favorite pet? Now I ask you!

This class was one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life, but it was 90% enjoyable. Some days I wondered what the hell I had in mind, but then other days were wonderful. We could actually have conversations with the shop people now. They were very impressed when I could conjugate the verbs correctly. Hell's bells -- as far as that goes, so am I. In one of our classes I had to explain purgatory to the Japanese student (Chizuru). The teacher had tried to explain but Chizuru just couldn't get it. So I tried and finally she understood. How 'bout them apples, eh?

Thursday, March 30

Our last class was, Friday 31st. I wondered what kind of torture Stefania would come up with for our last class? Unfortunately, I was the only one leaving on the 31st. The Japanese woman was there for another week and the two Koreans were there for 10 weeks total. Thursday we did reflexive verbs. I didn't really get those when we did them in English, but in Italian -- fugedabbid!

Kristina's class went out on a treasure hunt through the markets today. That was a lot more fun than I had!

Friday, March 31

Last day of class. I am so glad that I decided to do this school. It was a very rewarding experience. I would like to go back again and continue learning Italian in this manner. Friday it was just Chizuru and me. We had plan to exchange emails in Italian since she had no one in Japan to correspond with in Italian and as for me, other than Kristina, neither did I. I knew it would not be perfect Italian, but the object of language was to be understood, not to try to be perfect. If we could understand each other in our emails, then we would have accomplished goal number one.


My classmates and my teacher at the Koinè School.
Daily Life -- A Week-Long Orientation, Week 1, Sunday - Tuesday

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Cell phones still didn’t work. We traipsed all over the place trying to find the "I WIND" store and finally found it but it was closed. We decided to go there the next day. We did lots of walking. We were just walking around looking at everything and deciding what we want to do later. We also wanted to find the school since we were notorious for turning a 10 minute walk into – well, you know! We walked 10 miles yesterday, and five so far today before dinner. I saw a toy store with lots of wooden items. Bortolucci Italy, Via Condotta 12/r. In all our walking around, I never saw another store like this one. I bought some souvenirs for my second grade student and her brother.

We had dinner at Osteria Del Agnolo on Via Borgo San Lorenzo 24/r. There was a sign on the wall: “La vita è troppo breve per bere vino cattivo.” (Life is too short to drink bad wine.) So very, very true! Cin cin!

I think it was this evening that I asked Kristina what she thought about hiring a car and driver for the Naples/Sorrento/Naples leg of the trip. After schlepping our luggage all over hell’s half acre and up stairs (there never seems to be any “down”), I was not looking forward to the trip through the train stations with all the stairs to take the local train to Sorrento. Kristina pointed out that on the Eurostar there is a place for our luggage and there is limited access to it. However, the Circumvesuviana is a local commuter train with no good place to put luggage and many, many people getting on and off. So she said she thought it was a FINE idea. I contacted Francesco Marrapese, a recommendation from the SlowTrav site, and he was free and said that he would meet us at the Napoli train station on April 1. For the price he quoted, it was cheap compared with what I would be spending on the chiropractor when I returned home.

Monday, March 20, 2006

We started our classes today. I have made a separate page for this section “What We Went There For … The Koinè School”. (I’ve also made separate pages for places we ate under “Food! Food! Food!”)

Later Monday afternoon we were scheduled to go on the Local Tour from the school. Marco, Kristina’s teacher, guided us in an area around the school further away from the Duomo so restaurants and things were generally a bit cheaper. He showed us where the post office was located, a little grocery store, pointed out some historical stuff and mentioned that the Ristorante Cibrèo had killer Steak Fiorentina. We made a note because we had eaten that on our last trip and wanted it again. Since neither of us are big meat eaters, we were kind of saving that for one of our last meals in Firenze.

A further example of "the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree" was when we were going out on our orientation tour of the neighborhood around the school, we were walking down the very dark stairway when Kristina fell down the stairs. I grabbed her on her way down headfirst to keep her from being a human skateboard, but she really banged up her knees and one shin. We went on our walking tour and then on our way back to the B&B we stopped in a pharmacy to get some kind of ice pack. I found one of the kind that can be either hot or cold and can be reused. I also bought an ace bandage to hold it on. As we observed later, there were no prices on anything. The shop guy charged me €44! I nearly died! I probably should have queried it, but it was the only pharmacy open on the way to the B&B, Kristina’s banged up knees and bruises were really hurting her and I just wanted to get to the room and get some ice on them. However, it really did a good job on her bruises and today we walked another six miles and she seemed to do OK.

Dinner was at Zio Gigi around the corner from the B&B Ghiberti: A wonderful meal and since I’m allergic to almost all desserts, Ana our waiter suggested Borghetti coffee liqueur. It was wonderful. It wasn’t cloying sweet like Kahlua, but had a real coffee taste like the caffeine was removed, sugar was added and it was concentrated. Yummy! Kristina went for a brandy. I guess you get as many calories in liquor as you do in desserts, so in my opinion, it was a wash.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

After class we had lunch at Yellow Bar, Via del Proconsolo, 39r. Cantinetta – Pizza – Restaurant – Bar. I read good reviews on this place but it certainly didn’t strike a chord with us. The seats were incredibly hard. They ran out of white wine, so the waitress brought a 1/4 liter pitcher of vino bianco and two tall wine stems in case we wanted to order vino rosso, which they apparently had plenty of. So we had a glass each of that also. Our food was very nondescript. Would not go there again.

Then we went to the laundromat in the afternoon. Are you ready for this? What would have equaled two sort of average size loads in my washer at home was ... €40.00! I remember now that when I went on my first trip to Italy with the Study Abroad program, the planners told us to take clothing that could be washed out every night and wouldn't wrinkle because the laundromats were very expensive. I decided that from now on I would just be washing in the sink every night and hanging it on the towel dryer.

Electricity in Italy is very expensive, so the lights are usually on timers and there are very few lights in some very dark stairways, which is why Kristina fell. The food was wonderful and even though I have had several pizzas since I got there, I had not gained any weight because of all the walking we did. Not to mention the stair climbing since there were no “down” stairs there.

We bought a bottle of Vernaccia wine and Kristina found the following information about it on Wikipedia.com:

”Vernaccia is the white wine grape grown to produce wine near the Italian hill town of San Gimignano in Tuscany. Wine has been being produced in the area for hundreds of years, perhaps even as early as the Etruscans. Since the Renaissance it has been considered one of Italy's finest white wines. It was the first Italian wine to be awarded DOC status in 1966.

Vernaccia is mentioned by Dante Alighieri (Purgatorio XXIV) as leading to Pope Martin IV's gluttony. He ate Bolsena eels pickled in the wine.” “Eeeewww.”

We had dinner again at Zio Gigi and I ordered the shrimp with white beans and arugula. It was the same dish as the night before, but the shrimp was raw. I told Ana, the waitress, that I liked sushi, but I would prefer my shrimp cooked! We each ordered a beef dish and we sat and waited for about an hour. We thought the cook was mad at us because we complained about the shrimp, but Ana said he offered to make us another dish of shrimp with arugula. However, I knew that would be too much to eat with the beef and all the bread I had consumed. When we got them, the beef dishes were to die for! I had Beef with Rosemary and Kristina had Beef with Tomatoes.


We had a gorgeous view of the city from San Miniato church above the Piazzale Michelangelo.
Daily Life -- A Week-Long Orientation -- Week 1: The Rest of the Week

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

We've decided that we were going to eat our big meal after class between one and three and just a light meal at night because most of the restaurants don't reopen until 7:30. Last night it was 9:00 by the time we finished dinner. I’m just a redneck woman and that’s too late for me. I couldn't even eat all my lunch today at Osteria dell’Agnolo. We had eaten there several times because it is open all day. I guess since it doesn’t adhere to the lunch and dinner schedule of most of the restaurants it would be considered a tourist place, but the food was really good and the service was always great. (Something we learned to avoid on our other trip were restaurants that advertised "Tourist Menu"!)

Last night, I ordered a cheese plate and brought half of that home with me. I wondered if it was permissible to ask for a doggie bag since you never see anybody carrying them out of a restaurant. But, hey, that was way too much good cheese just to think about it going in the garbage. So I asked and the waitress made no indication that it was not acceptable. That was our dinner tonight. We split what was left, I had some pistachios left over from my travel snack bag and Kristina had some chocolate and we split a bottle of Proscecco Villa Sandi Valdobbiadene D.O.C. extra dry. Last Christmas we priced a bottle of Proscecco at our local liquor store and it was $28. Well, here you can get a really good bottle for about $8. Yesssssss! I bought my husband, Cal, a bottle of the Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico that he wanted. I bought him a bottle when we were staying at the Borgo Scopeto Fornacino in '04 and he really enjoyed it. We found a liquor store that had one bottle, so Kristina said I should probably go ahead and buy it. That was good advice as we never found another bottle of it. Tonight was an early night. The first night we were there we got 10 hours sleep, and every other night it had been about five. I was finally running a sleep deficit. We thought that we didn't have to be locked down in our rooms after dark because we felt very safe walking around town -- two women alone. No problems.

Thursday, March 23

We wanted to go to the Mercato Centrale (the Central Market) where we went when we visited Florence for one day in 2004. I found out that the Mercato Centrale closes at 1:00 or thereabouts each day and is closed on Sundays, so there was no way we’re going to be able to go there. But we walked up there today anyhow because a lot of the stores have stalls in the street. I found a pair of really pretty turquoise colored earrings (probably not turquoise, though. Found some leg warmers since I only had one pair of long socks and I had to wash them out every night, but I didn’t get them. I’ll had to think about them. Got some pashminas for souvenirs. A street vendor (or maybe since his stuff was on a blanket on the ground I should call him a “Sidewalk Vendor”) was selling little wooden trains with the cars being made of individual, large wooden letters. I couldn’t resist getting this for the 5-year-old brother of my second grade student.

We had lunch at Trattoria Pane e Vino, Via dell'Agnolo 107r with two of Kristina’s classmates, Tamara and her daughter Nicole. The restaurant was on the tour route that Marco took us on. He said the restaurants in the area beyond the school are a lot cheaper than around the big tourist areas. It was a family run place with about 10 tables and the waitress didn’t speak English. A lot cheaper, too. I had crostini e porcini and it was wonderful. I ordered patate fritte, but I never did get it. It was just as well. I had plenty to eat.

On the menu there was an item: Uccelletti. I looked it up in my handy SlowTrav (thank you, Colleen) menu reader and it was translated as small birds wrapped in bacon on cocktail sticks. That was a definite "eeeeewwww". I'm trying to envisage what kind of small birds. Are they baby birds? Are they some special kind of small bird raised just to be put on a stick?

I know I’m skipping ahead, but when we went on our wine tasting trip with the school, one of the instructors said that she thought the "small birds" was referring to white beans. But I wondered how they would get white beans wrapped in bacon and put on a stick. We wanted to go back to Pane e Vino and order it, but we ran out of time. According to Alice Twain on ST, “If they were on a stick they were probably uccelletti scappati, birds that ran away. This terms refers to small meat rolls prepared as one would prepare a small bird. The theory says that when hunters could not catch any bird, the wives prepared "uccelletti scappati". Fagioli all'uccelletto are a completely different recipe, with white beans cooked in a sauce with sage and a little tomato.”

After much traipsing around to different phone stores, we finally found one Wednesday on Via Condotto where we could buy SIM cards that worked. We had discovered this store on one of our earlier traipses. Kristina didn’t have her phone with her because we didn’t know we were going back by the phone store that day. Sometimes we walk in apparent big circles and recognize places that we had wandered by on another day. I mean, why bother to carry the phone around if it doesn’t work? I bought a SIM card and when we got back to the B&B I tried mine in hers and it worked, so today we went back and I bought another SIM card. Pauline told me that Ken at Telestial had said that he would reimburse us for SIM cards we had to buy in Italy to replace the faulty ones. Is five days a record to try to activate an Italian cell phone?

Friday, March 24

After class today we had lunch at Trattoria Pane e Vino again but didn’t try the Small Birds Wrapped in Bacon on a Cocktail Stick. The food was excellent once again.

Well, Kristina was now laid up with a cold. First the lost camera bag, then she fell down the stairs, and now she has this god-awful cold. Maybe since things seem to come in threes, she would be good to go from then on.

We were supposed to be going on our wine tasting tour to Greve tomorrow. I called the school tonight and was told that it couldn't be cancelled on such short notice but on their authorization that the lady at the winery would "give us a very nice bottle of wine." Kristina said, "at that price (€95 for the tour), they should give us THREE nice bottles of wine!" But I guess something is better than nothing.

Dinner was a very simple event this evening. I went to the Bar Vittoria around the other corner from the B&B and got us a foccacia each. They are made fresh and toasted while you wait. They were very good.


Giotti Tower at the Duomo gave us quite a workout by climbing the 414 steps. It was worth every step!
Daily Life -- Week 2: Sunday and Monday, March 26 & 27

Sunday, March 26, 2006

We finally did some “tourist stuff.” I’m not listing all of the things we did on a daily basis, but instead I’ve listed the places we visited separately in the section: "Tourist Stuff."

We shopped at the Mercato di San Lorenzo again. Kristina had a big day today. She bought a leather coat and a leather wallet. It's all about the bargaining. She was trying on the coat and the salesman must have thought that I was buying it for her because he told me it was $500 but he was going to let us have it for $250. Then I told him to go talk to her. As I was sitting down and resting and holding all the bags and stuff, a young woman customer standing at the cash register said "haggle with them." So I told Kristina I wanted to look at it to see how it was made. I was asking the guy questions about the thickness of the leather and I got the story about the Leather Police (reference the "chianti wine police" from our trip to the winery in Greve) and what good quality it was, blah blah blah. It seemed to be constructed well. Of course there was no way for me to determine the quality of the leather. Anyhow I told him $100. He said $200. I said $100. He said $120. It seems to be a nice leather coat for $120. On the way out the door I remembered to ask for a receipt. The old guy at the cash register acted like he didn’t want to give us a receipt. Didn’t get the significance of that. For what it’s worth, they were not Italians.

We stopped for our afternoon prosecco break in a bar somewhere. I have pictures, but no other details.

Monday, March 27

After class we walked in direction of “Marco’s tour” and found a restaurant very near Cibreo for lunch. Osteria Il Pizzaiuolo, via De’ Macci, 113/R, Tel. 055.241171. According to Stefania, it is the only place in Firenze where you can get real Napoli style food. The spelling on the menu and the business card was Napolitano dialect, e.g. muzzarella, pummarola, core e fatica so’ e’ Napule. We talked about the pronunciation in New York City that is different from what we are learning in class and realized that it comes from the Napoli dialect, and that Pasta fagiul (fazool) in the song “That’s Amore” is actually Pasta con Fagiole (pasta and beans).

We cut back on the food intake. When we first got there, it was a big lunch and an even bigger dinner. Now it was down to one course per meal and it was still plenty of food. Pizza, bread, pasta, etc. etc. but no weight gain because of the amount of walking we did.

One of my great purchases just before I left home was a good, small, digital camera. I got a Canon PowerShot A410 and I just absolutely love using it! Kristina thought it was so neat that she quickly learned how to use it and then taught me. That made it easier for me to not to have to deal with the book thing.

I had problems with getting money out of the ATM. One thing I learned is not to deal with the Bank of Florence (Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze S.p.A. Firenze. I emailed Cal and he was so paranoid about me losing my debit card that he called the credit union before he had all the details from me and as a result they cancelled my card. He told them the ATM kept my card when in reality it didn’t. I was able to use it a couple of hours later at the Piazza Della Republica. However, when I tried it on Monday I went to three different ATMs and on the third try, it DID keep my card. After many emails between me, Cal, and the credit union, it seemed like that has taken up most of my time since Friday. Finally I was able to get money by using my alternate ATM only card. Between the phone cards and the ATM cards, I hate to think about how much of my vacation time has been taken up with those problems!


The detail even on the outside of the Duomo was absolutely amazing.
Daily Life -- Week 2: Tuesday and Wednesday, March 28 & 29

Tuesday 28 March 2006

I managed to catch Kristina’s cold (can’t really say “Kristina’s” because it seems like half the people in the classes have had it, have it or are coming down with it.) I felt bad for a day and kinda punk for another day.

After class we had lunch at Zio Gigi’s, but today only water to drink. We finally figured out the system to the seating arrangements in Zio Gigi’s. There’s a fair number of tourists that eat there, but there are also a lot of locals. There was a big table near the front that usually had locals at it. Then there was another table at the back of the front room that usually had some rather important looking locals at it. Then there was the bar area and beyond that another “back room.” There were always a lot of locals there. Late 20’s thru late 50’s. Always men.

Today we went to the Duomo, the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Flower. (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) then stopped by our favorite snack bar (Bar Vittoria) near the Duomo and we had this wonderful conversation -- 98% in Italian. Two guys run the place. Giovanni, (we call him Zio Giovanni, but not to his face) the elder one, is the hook man. He stands at the front door getting people to come inside. The younger one (we forgot to get his name and didn’t get a picture of him. He seemed a little shy.) is the behind-the-counter-man preparing the food. We got pictures with Giovanni pouring me a glass of Prosecco. One thing that amazes a redneck woman from Tennessee is that every coffee shop and snack bar here sells liquor, beer, and wine.

The morning routine of the locals (men mainly) seemed to be to stop by the bar, have a shot of espresso in a tiny cup that was served right out of the machine at drinking temperature, don't know how they do that, then followed by a shot of liquor and then off to the day's business. Maybe not everybody in Italy does that. Maybe there are only two people who do that and we just happened to see them both! :)

It turned out the younger guy's hobby is photography. He showed us some pictures he had taken of mimosa in bloom at a castle somewhere in Toscana. He and Kristina had a great old conversation. The next time we go she intends to take her camera and they can talk about that. Incidentally, there a "camera" is not a camera as we know it but a "bedroom". A camera is a "macchina di fotografia" -- or a machine for taking pictures.

I wanted some tissue paper to wrap my souvenirs in. In Hawaii I bought some tissue paper with stylized turtles on it which was perfect for souvenirs. Here I can't find tissue paper. Just regular wrapping paper, which was stunningly beautiful, but rather expensive. So I said that we should save the tissue paper off the bottle of wine we buy each evening. So then when we went into the liquor store, I asked the owner how much to buy a few sheets of his wrapping paper. He asked me how many I wanted, I said about 10, he counted them out and then said no charge. I told Kristina that we couldn't have done that a week ago. No. 1 -- my Italian would not have been good enough, No. 2 -- I wouldn't have had the confidence that I do now, and No. 3 -- we weren't regulars yet!

After the days activities, we stopped in Osteria dell’Agnolo just for a drink. Kristina had brandy and I had Grand Marnier. Kristina took a bunch of pictures of the drinks. Very artsy.

I don't have nearly as much time to type up all my notes as I thought I would. We were trying to remember yesterday where we had had lunch the day before -- big blank. Fortunately, my new "system" was to keep a business card from each place and write down the date and what we ate on it. Seems like most of my notes concern food! Surprise??? We usually had a nice lunch and a nice dinner. Each day in class Stefania had each of us tell what we did the day before. My presentation always involved a lot of good food and drink, so everybody was always quite anxious to hear what we ate the day before.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Lunch again at the Trattoria Gabriello for the Ribollita alla Toscana for Kristina and the Zuppa di verdure for me. Not nearly as busy today, no families out for Sunday lunch. Then we went on to the Piazza Della Republicca to find a cash machine and none of them would accept my card today. We finally found one near the Duomo. I must write that down (yeah, right!) Then after stopping in the rooms, back to the school to meet Marco for our tour of the Palazzo di Medici. We got there and it was closed today. Normally it wasn’t, but, hey, this is Italy, for some reason unbeknownst to the average person, it was closed. There are two parts to the museum. One was closed, the other one wasn’t. So we’re going to try it again tomorrow.

Since Marco's tour to the Medici Palace was off and we said we wanted to go to the Science museum that was on our list of things to see, he walked us over there. Anyhow, while we were walking to the Museum, we told him that we were going to Sorrento and he wanted to know if we were going to Pompeii. We said since we had already seen Pompeii that we were thinking about Herculaneum. He said Pompeii is by far the better place and that they are constantly opening up new stuff. So we decided to do Pompeii again. (After the Fact: It turns out that they are closing more stuff than they are opening there.) We also want to do the Naples underground tour. So many things, so little time.

We were meeting Birgit, another of Kristina’s classmates who is from Germany, for dinner. Kristina wanted to have Bistecca Fiorentina at the Ristorante Cibrèo that Marco recommended which is about .5 km from the school. So we met Birgit in front of the school, walked down there and I remembered that Stefania had said that we should have dinner in the trattoria rather than the ristorante as it was much cheaper. So we went in and were seated at a table where there were three different groups sitting. The place had room for about three tables and they had at least 10 in there. Really crowded. They gave us the menu and it was only handwritten for what they had today. There was no Bistecca Fiorentina on it. Kristina asked the manager who said that even though they had a Florentine style kitchen, they did not prepare the beef and neither did the Ristorante. So after a brief discussion and since they had not served us anything, we got up and left.

Thought we would go to Osteria Dell’Agnolo again, but we were walking by Zio Gigi and decided to go in there. Tonight even the manager said buona sera to us. We all three had the bistecca di Fiorentina and it was wonderful.


Prosecco and cappuccino at our favorite Bar Vittoria near the Duomo (see cup).
Daily Life -- Week 2: Thursday and Friday, March 30 & 31

Thursday, March 30

We had another great lunch at Trattoria Le Mossacce. Kristina had ribollita and I had spinach and beans (spinaci e fagiole). They were both very good. This was the tiniest little restaurant I think I have ever been in. There was barely room to wait for a table – no, wait a minute – there was NO room to wait for a table. We were standing in a tiny spot and a waiter came in from the kitchen with plates of food and actually pushed me out of the way to get to the table. There was also the world’s tiniest toilet. Even tinier than one on an airplane. You walked in the front door, there was a table for six, then a sliding door on the right hand side. The sliding door was the toilet. You go inside and there was a half a basin (didn’t know you could make half a basin) separated by two folding doors from another room with the toilet. I left the folding door open after I made sure the sliding door was securely closed because there wasn’t room to do squat (pardon the pun) with the door closed. Kristina had the unfortunate experience of not closing the sliding door securely! Oops!

Then our table in the back was right next to the open kitchen and the waiter’s work area. He was cutting bread and drinking his glass of wine in the same spot. We had a communal bread basket on the table. When we sat down there was, of course, another two people sitting almost right next to us. There was a basket of bread on our table that they were eating out of. When they finished and left, the bread basket was still there. So we ate bread out of it. When it was nearly empty, the waiter replaced it with a fresh bread basket. So now we know.

I couldn't believe that our two weeks are almost up in Florence. This has been a great trip so far and we still had lots of things to do, places to go, and people to see. Our last class was the next day. When we started the classes after the first day, I didn’t think I would make it this far and now I wish I could stay longer.

Maybe tomorrow night we would have dinner at Ristorante Zio Gigi. The manager now welcomes us along with all the other locals and the waitress, Ana knows us quite well (she snatches the water glasses off the tables and says something like “They don’t want water – only wine!”). Kristina wants to have "bread" soup (ribolitta) for lunch tomorrow at Trattoria Gabriello and "chocolate mouse with puff cream" for dessert at Zio Gigi (far tastier than it sounds. That was Ana’s translation of “cream puff with chocolate mousse”).

We went to our other favorite restaurant tonight (Osteria dell’Agnolo) and got quite the song and dance from the head waiter about how I am allergic to tomato and I can't sit near a dish with tomato on it. The manager there remembers us quite well also. I’m really gonna miss this place.

And then there's Giovanni at the snack bar. We stopped there for a cup of tea and an espresso on our way to meet Birgit for dinner. I learned how to say "we are meeting a friend for dinner" in Italian (Andiamo a trovare un’amica. Or if “we’re meeting OUR friend: Andiamo a trovare un/una nostro/a amico/a.”) The young guy came out to look at Kristina's camera and they had quite a conversation. He was impressed. Her's is digital. His is 33 years old. Though he has a bigger lens than she does. She showed him the previews of the pictures she had taken today and he knew all the places. I am so pleased with the progress we had made, thanks to the Koinè school and the teachers there. I hope to keep the momentum going when I get back home so I don’t forget everything I have learned. (Insert “roll eyes” icon here!)

Friday, March 31

We had lunch with Birgit at the Trattoria Gabriello where they have the good soup. Then Kristina and I walked up to the Piazelle Michelangelo.

Our last dinner in Florence at Zio Gigi’s and after ordering the beef dishes again (Beef with Rosemary and Beef with Tomatoes), today we had an epiphany concerning them and why it takes an hour to get them. Today another diner ordered the same thing at the same time as we did and he sat there for an hour also. Duh! Everything is prepared fresh for each diner and these were marinated dishes. I certainly didn’t mind waiting for something that good!

We walked back to the room, took some pictures with Cristelle and Valentin the baby, then walked to the Mail Boxes, Etc. store to mail back a bunch of stuff. Ah ain’t carryin’ that crap no more! I think it was about 15 pounds. That is 15 pounds out of my suitcase. Cost an arm and a leg, however. €71.19 ($86.29) but I got a 10% discount because of the hotel we were staying in. More points for Tourist House Ghiberti!

There are so many things there I am going to miss. The awe-inspiring churches, the hyperactivity and pulse of just living in a city again, the narrow sidewalks where I nearly got clocked with the rearview mirror of a bus because I was walkin’ and gawkin’. The markets, the variety of people and customs. I would like to think that in one of my past lives I had been a Florentine citizen and had a part in the wonderful artwork that this city so beautifully preserves and presents to the rest of the world.

I have so many reasons to return to Florence!


I never get tired up staring up at the incredible art inside the domes. Here at the Duomo.
Tourist Stuff

When I look at the museums, art galleries, churches, etc. we saw, I realize that for having spent two weeks in Florence we don’t have much of a list. We went about this time in Florence in the SlowTrav mode. We spent time just hanging out, eating, drinking, walking around, taking pictures, listening to conversations of others in passing, practicing what we were learning. I don’t regret that after two visits I still haven’t visited the Uffizi Gallery because I plan on doing that on a future trip. We had seen David at the Accademia before, and as spectacular as it is, I don’t regret not seeing it again because there were so many other things to do.

I think that one of the easiest guide books to use is the Rick Steves’ Italy because it has concise lists that make it easy to find what you want to see and do and then it follows up with more detail in other sections.

We went to the Bargello Museum and saw the Donatello bronzes and they were also having a special exhibit of artifacts from ancient Rome and old Firenze. Saw the Giambologna exhibit. He was the official sculptor of the Medici family.

We climbed the 414 stairs up to the top of the Giotti’s Campanile at the Duomo Cathedral. Whew! My legs shook for about an hour after we got back down. Beautiful views. Got lots of good pictures. We could see where we had been, where we should have been, and where we wanted to go. It had been sunny earlier but by the time we got to the top it was cloudy. Still we had a good view. We opted for the Campanile over the Duomo for a couple of reasons – 1. There were about 50 fewer steps, and 2. I thought the view of the dome would be more impressive than being inside it and looking at the campanile.

We went to the Pitti Palace for a tour with the school (there were five of us) and saw some wonderful paintings and the rooms in the palace. Absolutely gorgeous. Since Kristina felt kind of bad, she bailed out and just waited for me outside.

We went to the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Flower (Duomo) Museum (Museo di Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore). The entry ticket says: “Arnolfo, The originals of the Florence Renaissance”. From Rick Steves’ book: “It has masterpieces by Donatello (a gruesome wood carving of Mary Magdalene clothed in her matted hair, and the cantoria, a delightful choir loft bursting with happy children) and by Luca della Robbia (another chori loft, lined with the dreamy faces of musicians praising the Lord). Look for a late Michelangelo Pietà (Nicodemus, on top, is a self-portrait), Brunelleschi’s models for his dome, and the original restored panels of Ghiberti’s doors to the Baptistery.”

We went to the Duomo, the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Flower. (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) The "flower" refers not to an actual plant but to Christ who is considered the flower. Another legend is that it refers to the lily which was the symbol of old Florence, Fiorenza. It is the third largest church in Christiandom depending upon which book you read. We went into the place downstairs where the old cathedral was excavated and where the old books were found that we learned about when we visited the Duomo Museum. Kristina wanted to go back and take a picture of the clock with her camera. It was so dim that she couldn’t hold my camera steady enough. We never made it back though – something to do on our next trip.

We went to the Science museum, but by the time we got there after our classes and lunch, we didn’t have much time as it closed at 5:00. I would really like to go back there and spend more time as I am fascinated by the types of items housed there. It has Gallileo's telescope and lenses as well as his forefinger and lots of other ancient scientific stuff (well, I don’t guess the finger is considered “scientific” but it was gross enough to deserve mention).

Marco, Kristina's teacher, took us on a tour to the Medici Palace. It is a beautiful old palace in the cubist style (even back in the Renaissaince) and had the most elaborate paintings on the ceiling of the ballroom. In the old houses of the very rich, the ground floor was for visitors and servants, the third level was servants quarters, and the second level was the rich family's quarters. The ballroom was called the piano nobile -- the exceptional floor. It is so elaborate! The ceiling painted (I can't remember by whom, but I have it written down somewhere) in complicated scenes depicting the family. The bedrooms were not on view. Don’t know why not. The walls of the family chapel were totally covered in paintings that had so much symbolism that Marco, our teacher, said that he could not begin to explain it in English. Beautiful paintings.

We walked up to the Piazalle Michelangelo. We were going to get the bus, but by the time we got to the river and saw where the bus stop was, it just made more sense to walk there. It was only about 1 km from the B&B. Great view of Florence. We climbed even higher and went up umpteen dozen steps to the Church of San Miniato which is high above the city. Marco said that it was the most beautiful church in Italy. Well, Marco tends to exaggerate sometimes. It was stupendous, but then so many of the churches are that I find it difficult to say which is the best.

There are markets in just about all the major piazzas and around the Central Market, around the church of San Lorenzo, and there are covered markets in the Piazza della Repubblica. We visited several of them several times! At one of the pashmina stalls, I was buying several and finally made up my mind. I said, “vorrei comprare questo, questo, e quello.” (“I want to buy this one, this one, and that one.”) The stall owner’s husband said that in the Fiorentine dialect we would want to say “. . . questo, codesto, quello”. So he grabbed a paper bag and wrote it down for us since I said I would only remember it about half way down the street.

We visited the Ponte Vecchio again, simply because it was on the way home from the Pitti Palace. We spent more time there on our other trip, going into a lot of the stores. However, the prices there are way out of my league – give me the markets any day!


The piano nobile in the Medici Palace.
Wine Tour to Greve

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Claudia from the Koinè school and Barbara from the winery met us at the school. Kristina had a cold and was unable to attend. I know she felt really bad for her to miss the wine tour! The other students on the tour were Tamara and her daughter, Nicole, Jilly (from England here for a one week course) and me.

Barbara drove us to Greve where we parked and went into the centro. She wanted to take us to the Macelleria Falorni butcher shop there . She said it smelled so good. Which it did. But they had big bins full of blocks of lard. Claudia said that it sounded so bad but she tried it when she first arrived and she really likes it. I’m not ready to try a block of lard! There were several kind of weird things there. I bought some soft pecorino cheese. They said to try it with honey. We went into the cellar where they aged their cheeses. On our way back to the car I saw a sign at the “Chianti Slow Travel” agency and was glad the the idea was catching on.

Then we drove to the winery Fattoria di Montagliari in Montefioralli. Barbara gave us the tour. It was a beautiful setting with a view of Michelangelo’s house not too far away.

What I learned from my tour: The black rooster is the symbol of Chianti Classico wine. The symbol is a red circle then a black cockerel on a gold background. For the Chianti Classico Reserva which is aged several more years, the symbol is a gold circle, then a red circle, then the black cockerel on the gold background. In October, the Chianti Vino Polizia come around to each winery and issue pink slips and labels with the rooster on them to each winery. The pink slips go around the neck of the bottle and then the labels go on. The number issued is based on the fact that the CVP know how many hectares of vineyards the winery has and how many bunches of grapes it takes to make one bottle of wine. With that information, they calculate the number of bottles of wine a winery can produce. Therefore, a winery cannot bottle more wine than they have pink slips for. This keeps the purity of the wine because it can’t be watered down. If you lose one, you have to go to the Wine Police and fill out forms, blah, blah, blah. Very serious offense. There was a guy putting the pink slips and labels on one by one. I said what a difference it was from the Jack Daniels’ distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. There they have a conveyor belt and people system.

You cannot “add water” to the vines, i.e. you cannot water the plants if there is a dry spell. If you have a year when there is not enough rain to make good grapes, then you either dump the entire crop and you do not produce wine that year or you have a year that does not produce memorable wines. That is in keeping with the traditional purity of Tuscan products. If it cannot be made as nature intended, then it is no good. Occasionally because of lack of rain there are particularly bad years for the wineries. 1984 and 1992 were not good years. 1997 was an excellent year and there are now some very expensive 1997s. People have bought them up and they are getting scarce.

All the casks are made from oak trees from France. A small cask costs about €500 and will last several years. The huge ones last 40-50 years. They get dark with age because the wine seeps into the wood. There is a glass stopper on the top of each cask. This allows air to get in as air is necessary for fermentation and aging of the wine. Also, this can be removed to allow the vintner to taste the wine as it ages.

Aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar) ages up to 30 years. It is very expensive, but you only need a teaspoon for flavoring. We went into the Aceto Balsamico room and, to me, that was the best fragrance of the day.

Our wine tasting was a Chianti Classico (€15/bottle), a 1997 Chianti Classico Reserva (ca. €80/ bottle) and a Brunesco which is 100% Sangiovese grapes (ca. €28/bottle).

Barbara showed us how to taste wine.

After you pour some in a glass, then you warm it slightly in your hands, then you twirl it around the glass. You wait while it forms arches on the sides of the glass. The more distinct the arches, the more tannin in the wine. Then you look at the color. Dark color is good. Then you taste it. Then you buy a bottle! I bought Cal the Brunesco.

They also sold honey that they made there. I bought a castagna (chestnut) honey. Tamara and Nicole had bought a jar of another flavor, then the boxes slid around in the back of the car after bouncing over the dirt road on the way to and from lunch, so we just hoped we got the correct ones. (After the Fact note: Yes, I got the right one!)

Lunch was at la Cantinetta di Rignana, Greve in Chianti. We traveled over a rutted old dirt road to get there. It was definitely off the beaten track. Beautiful view from the dining room. We had a set menu to which I was allergic, so the waiter brought me some prosciutto instead of the primo piatto of pasta and meat sauce and ravioli. All the pasta was homemade, so I couldn’t have any of it. Then the secondo piattto was ribs. They were OK but I’m not generally crazy about ribs cause there’s no damned meat on ‘em. They were very salty (Stefania told me on Monday that that is typical Tuscan fare – the food is very salty and the bread has no salt at all – sort of a yin and yang thing). Tasted OK but I had a hard time getting around the salty taste. I nibbled the meat off four of them. Then I looked on Barbara’s plate and she had eaten every scrap of meat and fat off them (and she doesn’t appear to weigh 100 lbs. wringing wet!). Her ribs were eaten clean as a whistle. I wanted to take a picture of our two plates, but by the time I thought about it, got the camera out, figured out the settings, the waiter came and took the plates away. Oh well, that’s another reason I did not take up photography as a profession!

We talked about the baby birds on a stick. I told them about our lunch at Vino e Pane when we had lunch with Tamara and Nicole and we saw a menu item was there which I translated as “baby birds on a stick”. Claudia said it wasn’t really birds, but my menu reader says it is. She suggested we should go back there and try them! She thinks they are white beans.

When I got back to the B&B Kristina was feeling better and her cold had just about gone, so we went out to dinner at Osteria dell’Agnolo. She had minestrone. I suppose that would be the Italian version of chicken soup. It certainly made her feel better.

Since last night was too late to cancel Kristina’s tour for today, I was told that the lady at the winery would give her a “nice” botttle of wine. Well, she did more than just give her a nice bottle of wine. Barbara made her up a carrier with an inexpensive Chianti, a medium priced Chianti and a bottle of Fattoria di Montagliari Chianti Classico Riserva 1997. So they more than repaid her for her cancellation!


Our Tour Guide, Barbara, showing us the fine points of tasting wine.
On The Road Again – to Sorrento

Saturday, April 1, 2006

We got a taxi from B&B Ghiberti to the train station. Uneventful boarding. We’re getting better on positioning ourselves for the location where our car will stop. Had a sandwich from the bar and some wine for lunch on the train. There was a dining car we could sit in after we bought our sandwiches. It was so peaceful sitting in the dining car watching the incredible scenery flash by.

We had to sit on the side rails for half an hour so we arrived in Napoli half hour late. Our hired driver, Francesco Marrapese, met us as planned. He looked at Kristina and then looked at me, he looked at Kristina again and said, “I will take her luggage”. Cool. We were asking him questions about tour guides to Pompeii, the bus trip to Amalfi, about Ercolano, etc. He then suggested that instead of going straight to Sorrento, he said that since he was free that afternoon, he could drive us down the coast through San Pietro (I also remember driving through Angri) and then to Ravello for lunch, then thru Amalfi and on to Positano and then to Sorrento. After some minor discussion, we decided to do that. We decided that it was only money and without husbands to look at us and say, “Do you REALLY need that?” we decided that we really did need that.

We had lunch at the Ristorante Garden in Ravello. I had carpaccio di tonno con punkin (raw smoked tuna with pumpkin slices) and Spaghetti Vongole. Kristina had the fixed lunch menu of pasta with clams and zucchini, sea bass with orange sauce, and a lemon cake for dessert. Excellent meal. We were getting up to leave when the waiter brought our receipt along with two glasses of limoncello. With our experience of limoncello from the last trip, we both sort of looked at it and wondered if we really wanted to try it again. The waiter told us it was excellent for digestion. Since Kristina was feeling a bit stuffed, we decided what the hell. She downed hers in one gulp, I made it in two. This meal ranked high in the Top 10 for our meals in Italy.

At about 3:15 while we were eating there was a boom in the little town we were overlooking and quite a large puff of smoke. We asked Francesco about this later and he said nowadays everybody celebrates everything with fireworks, and that is probably what it was. Everywhere there was a smoky haze hanging in the air. Francesco told us that it was the season for burning all the prunings from the lemon trees.

Francesco had two options of things for us to look do while we were in Ravello. One was a church and the other was the villa where Greta Garbo "roomed" with Leopold Stokowsky. It has a balcony that is called the Balcone dell’infinito (Balcony of Infinity) which is built out over the cliff. We opted for that over the church. It was a mind-boggling villa. We took many pictures. When we got to the Balcony, it was right straight down to nothing. The villa was absolutely spectacular! Part of the mind-boggling part is to realize that something this size and this spectacular was for one or two people to live in.

It was about a 15 minute walk to and from the villa and then we did quite a bit of walking around inside. After all this, we decided that the limencello definitely was beneficial and aided our digestions. Have to have some more of that stuff.

Then Francesco stopped at a scenic outlook above the Hotel St. Peter which had just opened for the season that day. The hotel built an elevator shaft down through solid rock so the guests would not have to get too much exercise getting to and from the beach. We tasted a special lemon grown here. It is bigger than a grapefruit. The pulp is slightly sour, but you eat the white stuff around it which is about 1-1/2 inches thick. It was quite smooth tasting. However, the pulp still tasted like lemons. Then we stopped for a view of the 400-year-old church and a view of Positano clinging to the cliff. He also stopped so we could have a view of the “Vertical Town” of Positano. Sensory overload!

We declined his offer to stop at the church in Positano. We said we’d seen enough churches (and also we didn’t want the tour getting to be TOO expensive). We said that we decided that we would get the bus back down on Monday to Positano and have lunch there. On the drive into Sorrento I noticed a few agriturismo places. Might be something to keep in mind for our trip there when Cal goes with us.

The long, beautiful, interesting drive from Naples and combined with a wonderful lunch was the perfect start to our decompressing after the language school. The mind and spirit will only take so much punishment and then they need rejuvenating. Sorrento is the ideal answer.


Francesco Marrapese, Private Driver -- English Spoken. Somewhere between Ravello and Sorrento on our leisurely trip from Naples to Sorrento.
Sorrento, Pompeii, Ercolano

Sorrento - Saturday, April

We arrived at Casa Astarita in Sorrento after passiagiatta had begun. On Saturday and Sunday the main street is closed to vehicular traffic (unless you live there and then you can drive your vehicle, so one still has to watch for vehicles). So Francesco had to park in the taxi stand in order to help us with our bags to the front door. There was a handwritten sign on the door telling incoming guests to go to the store next door, Casa Astarita Living. Francesco left us with the lady who came out of the store, Anamaria, and then when we went inside we saw THE STEPS. I could have sworn there was supposed to be an elevator there because I didn’t book anything without an elevator if it was more than one floor up. Anyhow, we kept going up and up. I counted the steps later and there were 63 steps to my room. Fortunately, Anamaria carried my bags most of the way. We went past the sign that said “Casa Astarita” and continued up another flight of stairs. We went into a foyer next to a sitting room and then up more steps to the first room. I put my stuff in there, and then the other room was up even more steps. Kristina took that one. Anamaria said it was just the two of us in those rooms. These rooms didn’t even faintly resemble the ones we had seen on their web site and that we had booked. First impression was that this place more or less sucks. I wrote a review of this hotel.

We went out for dinner to Bar Monna Lisa. We ate there twice and it was good. I see from their business card that they also have an internet cafe there where you can enjoy drinks or coffee while surfing, a gelateria and a pasticceria. I had yet another white pizza! We also had buffalo mozzarella with mushrooms and a seafood salad.

Pompeii - Sunday, April 2

We took the train to Pompeii. We hired a guide outside the gate. His name was Gennaro, which he said was a very common name in this area. He formed a group of seven people at €10 each for a two hour tour. We started at the main entrance and wound up in the ampitheater, which we never found last time.

In the theatre next to the ampitheater there was a spot in the very middle of the floor that was sensitive to sound. You could stand there and feel the vibrations of your voice. Gennaro made quite an eloquent, reverberating speech and I sang a few bars of “Santa Lucia.” Very enjoyable and worth the money.

When we toured Pompeii before, we spent most of the day there and even though we had the audio guides, we still felt like we missed a lot. Also, the guide knew what was opened and what was not. There were many houses and areas that were closed then that were open when we were there before. Gennaro said that they were closed because people were touching things they shouldn’t and even leaving modern day graffiti. That’s really sad that as usual a few bad apples spoil the barrel for everyone else.

Hind sight being what it is, I learned what I would do differently if I had it to do over again. I would plan to spend the entire day at Pompeii starting off with the 2-hour guided tour and then spending the rest of the day revisiting things that we didn’t have time to really savor on the trip through the city with the guide. He told us up front that it was not a picture-taking tour, that he planned to keep it moving. Then with the aid of the guide book available from the ticket window (it was free two years ago – I don’t know about the present) and knowing which things are not open at that time, you could really do a good job of covering the entire area. I mentioned that we never found the ampitheatre on our first trip there, but in trying to find that we found the tomb area which is outside the city. So wandering around does have it’s good points.

We left after the tour, went back to Sorrento, had lunch at La Lanterna. When we were there before I had the most wonderful frutti de mare pizza! It had mussels (still in the shells), clams (ditto), shrimp, roasted vegetables and cheese on it. I was terribly disappointed in it this time as it had the toughest crust I have ever tried to eat. I couldn’t cut it so I asked for a sharp knife. That was a little better but I still couldn’t do much good. Kristina finally cut my pizza up for me. Role reversal, eh? It tasted good, but I can’t imagine what they did to the crust. Kristina had the seafood risotto. Pretty good. We won’t go there again. We did some more shopping. So many neat little shops here.

Thinking about our experience with the limoncello after lunch in Ravello yesterday, today when we finished lunch we stopped in a bar and had another limoncello each. I don’t think I would ever like to just sit and drink it, but it definitely can grow on one.

Our rooms were extremely noisy. Another complaint about the hotel was that they advertised double pane windows for noise reduction. We don’t have those in our rooms! What with the middle school pep rally that lasted for two hours, being on the patio side of the English Pub, and the church bells going off every 15 minutes, it was extremely noisy. Kristina needed to borrow some of my earplugs.

Ercolano - Tuesday April 4

We went to Ercolano. We had thought about the Napoli Underground, but decided against it for a number of reasons. No.1: I am somewhat claustrophobic. No. 2: It would have involved a trip to Napoli and we weren’t prepared for that. We wanted to spend our time in Sorrento and area.

Ercolano was very interesting because so many things were preserved so much better than at Pompeii. I’m really glad we decided to go there. It was so easy to get the train to both Ercolano and Pompeii.

Pompeii was covered in ash, but because Ercolano was covered in a mud slide and then hot lava, there were absolutely astounding mosaics and other items still intact. The women’s bathhouse in particular was unbelievable. There was a huge marble tub still intact (it was probably 20-25 feet long and at least 6 or 8 feet wide). You could have really had a party in that baby! There were doors and staircases that still had the burn marks from the fires. Absolutely amazing stuff.

We had lunch at a place recommended by Hank Henning of Red Glove Tours. Hank was the leader of the group that took over all the rooms at “Casa Astarita” (the REAL one, not our part). The Restaurant was right next to the ruins, one block away next to a grocery store. The name was equivalent of a U.S. restaurant named “Eat” or “Food.” I wish we had got a picture of the bill. It was scrawled on a piece of paper about 6” x 8”. I wanted to keep it but the waiter grabbed it up with the money, then stuck it under the cutlery tray. I guess that was their accounting system. The menus were the most dog-eared ones I have seen in many moons, and the waiter’s clipboard looked like it was about to peel apart. Nothing elaborate here but the food was quite good.

Kristina wanted to send some stuff off thru Mail Boxes Etc. She saw one on the way back from Positano on Via Corso, the same street our hotel was on. Originally she was just going to run down there herself because we were going to be pressed for time and she can walk a lot faster without me being along. But our trip to Ercolano didn’t take as long as we thought, so I said I would like to walk down with her. I’m so glad I did, because on the way back we walked on the opposite side of the street and she saw a kind of strange looking sign. I read it and it and it was something about gardens. We went in and, lo and behold! It was the Limencello orchard that we couldn’t find the last time we were there. Neat place – no fumes no noise – an absolute oasis in the city. There was a little kiosk at the end of the trail where you could taste all the different kinds of limoncello. We each bought a small bottle – Kristina bought orange flavor and I bought lemon (mainly because she bought the last orange one!)

The last time we were there in November we wanted to go down to the marina for dinner. We walked all the way down there. When we were almost there we went past a lady standing in the door of a shop, she spoke to us as we went by, we got down to the restaurant and everything was closed. So we slugged back up the hill, went by the same lady, and then she told us that it was closed on Tuesdays (off season)! Thanks a heap!

So this time we decided that we would take a cab to the Taverna Azzurra at the Marina Grande. We decided we’d had enough with the walking already. The taxi driver showed us the case in front of the restaurant that had all the fresh fish in it. Good lookin’ eyes in the lot of them. We decided to share a fresh grilled bream. The waiter brought the fish out for us to look at before it was cooked. It was delicious. I also had boiled shrimp, but ick! Heads and guts. I gotta remember that I don’t like that and before I order shrimp again, ask if it has to be peeled. If it does, then that means that the guts are still there and I can’t deal with grit in my food regardless of whether it is dirt or shrimp poop. It tasted good, however. (The shrimp, not the poop!) Kristina said it tasted like lobster and it was really, really good. I also had the mixed roasted vegetables which were wonderful.

I saw a person (I thought it was a woman) wearing a t-shirt with some interesting writing on it, but I couldn’t see the whole thing. So I went over and asked if I could read the t-shirt and the wearer was about a 15-year-old boy. The t-shirt said, “Flower sniffin’, kitty pettin’, baby kissin’ corporate rock whores.” Non so la significa! I haven’t the faintest idea what it meant.

We were ready for dolce and couldn’t decide what we wanted. There was a couple at the table next to us and the woman recommended the lemon crepes. So Kristina had that. She said they were wonderful. The joy of communal tables is that we started talking to them and had a very interesting conversation. He was from Holland and she from Israel. They had lived in Toronto for 23 years and now lived in Israel. Very interesting people. At the beginning of our trip, Kristina wasn’t usually too happy about how close together the tables are in most of the restaurants. She likes her space. But after nearly three weeks, she’s having great conversations with total strangers at the nearby table.

While chatting with the cab driver on the way back to the B&B and telling him about our activities and plans for tomorrow, it turned out he also knew Francesco! ‘Tis truly a small world we live in.

We finally had our gelato. It wasn't really high on my list but we thought we shouldn't leave Italy without having at least one gelato. Kristina said hers was very good. I had limoncello flavor because it was the only one I could get without egg, but it was basically lemon sherbet. I didn’t care for it, but then I’m not crazy about sherbet. Gives me an ice cream headache.


Limoncello on the hoof. An oasis of solitude in a busy city.
I Looked Into the Eyes of the Angel of Death and Saw That It Was Our Bus Driver!

Positano Day Trip - Monday, April 3, 2006

We took the bus to Positano. As we were walking toward the train station I was leading (Kristina gave up her role as leader after the “6-minute” walk to the Hotel Capitol in Rome) and made the first turn where I saw a sign with an arrow to the train station. Kristina said she didn’t think it was correct, but since I was in charge, we went on any way.

Found a Tabacchi at the top of the street to buy our tickets for the bus. I asked him where the bus stop was and he pointed to the right. We walked until we passed the train station and could see no way to get down there. True to our usual modus operandi, we continued walking. Kristina asked a guy passing where the bus stop was and he said on down the hill to the right.

We definitely felt we were going the wrong way and then Kristina saw the bus to Positano coming around the corner. She turned around and took off running. I lost my job as leader (and for good reason apparently!). We ran most of the way back to the train station because we only had about seven minutes to catch it. I was suckin’ air again, but I didn’t complain because it was my fault we were that far out of the way. We got to the FRONT of the station (I had led us to the BACK) and saw the bus stop. Kristina managed to get on right away, but I got caught in a crush (literally) of people and couldn’t get on. A bus was trying to make a right hand turn and it was obvious that the plan was to just going to keep going until it ran over someone or everybody moved. So everybody eventually moved and I nearly had a panic attack being crushed in between all those people. Everybody let me get on the bus before I passed out.

The bus was full and there were still 20 or so people waiting to get on, so one young woman got off again because there were no seats. The sign said “47 passengers seated. 0 passengers standing.”

We started off and the driver stopped at the very next bus stop to pick up more passengers and proceeded to continue stopping and picking up passengers. That accounted for the answer we got from the earlier guy. The bus stop was indeed just down the hill and at that point in time we were almost there. However, if we had continued on down the hill to that particular bus stop, we would not have got a seat. The passengers the driver picked up from that point on had to stand all the way to Positano! The driver kept taking on passengers until there were people standing on the steps!

Kristina was on the aisle and a woman was standing next to her and when she took her coat off, I thought Kristina was going to pass out from the BO. Neither of us had anything perfumed in our possession. The best I could do was to offer her a Tic Tac and have her breathe through her mouth. However, there was spectacular scenery out the right hand windows where we were sitting.

Finally we made a stop where the driver hollered out “Positano,” then resumed driving. We thought we had missed our stop, so I asked the people sitting in front of us and they told us that there was another stop at Sponda. We got off at Sponda and walked down the hill towards the water and looked in little shops all the way down to the water. Last time we were in Rome we both bought the "Attenti al gatto" ceramic tiles. This time I saw one with a little fluffy kitty "Attenti al micio" and it looked just like Rex. That was my gift from Kristina.

Positano is a beautiful town. Very expensive. We priced all the restaurants on the water front and decided that we would try further up the hill to see if we could find something less expensive. We found the sign to another restaurant, but it was closed and had been for quite some time. However, just past that was a very nice public toilet.

It was cloudy and looked like rain so we decided that we would just find some place for lunch and then return to Sorrento (insert music notes here!). We kept walking up and up and up and finally found a restaurant beyond the bus stop. Ristorante Adamo ed Eva, via G. Marconi, 110, 84107, phone 39 089 8123454. It was absolutely outstanding!

I had a plate of smoked tuna, salmon and swordfish, a contorno of spinach. Kristina had smoked provolone melted between lemon leaves and an insalata di mare. And the gabinetto! Bellissimo! It was worth a review all its own. Everything worked, there were lights that worked, hot water and towels! Not to mention toilet paper!

A lot of things in the area opened up for the “season” on April 1st or 2nd. This place was open, but for the entire lunch period, we were the only people there. The waiter wore a black tux, the assistant was dressed nicely, they were both so polite and helpful. The waiter held the door for us when we left. I felt badly for them that there were no more customers. I hoped that things pick up when more tourists arrive. This meal ranked high in the Top 10 for our meals in Italy.

After such a wonderful lunch, we wandered back down to the bus stop. On the way to Amalfi, the bus stop is on the ocean side where there is a sidewalk and a shelter. On the way from Amalfi, the road is smack up next to a rock wall with about 18 inches between the wall and the edge of the road. It is also on a curve. There were some steps going up to somebody’s house, so we all stairstepped ourselves up those steps to wait. The guide book said to be at the bus stop 5 to 10 minutes early because the bus may be running early and since the bus stop certainly was not my idea of what a bus stop should be, the bus didn’t have time or a place to sit and wait. Bus stopped. You got on. Bus departed. All in about 20 seconds it seemed. You had to stand on that side of the road because you would not have time to get across the road when you saw the bus coming around the corner. That was the first death-defying act of the trip back to Sorrento.

The bus was early.

That should have been an omen of what was to come. There was a reason he was early as we would come to find out. To make this simpler, let’s just call him the Bus Driver From Hell (BDFH)!

The Amalfi road is certainly a challenge to the drivers and I would believe it if somebody told me that they lose a few people each year off that road. BDFH was hyper. Finally he just went nutso. Going through town he was yelling out and talking to people in the street (did he know them? I don’t think so), and he must have fancied Asian women because he was trying to pick up a couple of them walking down the sidewalk (fortunately – or maybe not – he remained in the driver’s seat). They had the good sense to ignore him.

A little white Renault cut in front of him from a street coming in from the right. The BDFH got up as close as he could to it going as fast as he could and blasted his horn at the driver. He was traveling so close to the little white Renault that I couldn’t see it and we were only sitting in the third row behind the driver. Using absolutely no common sense at all, I actually stood up and looked down at the front of the bus because I thought the little white Renault was caught on the bumper. At the next available street on the left, little white Renault took off like a bat out of hell to get out of the way. And then another car pulled out in front of him (these silly drivers thinking that since they are in little cars they can be more maneuverable than a big bus!). He ran up as close as he could get and yelled “Boom.” By this time he was starting to get a definite reaction from the passengers and then he was in his element. He knew he had a captive audience.

He sang. He gave his opinion regarding other drivers, he drummed his fingers on the dash, he nearly hit pedestrians. They would run between the bus and a car (reference “silly drivers” above) to get across the street and he would speed up and holler “Boof!” Then as he’s driving, he gives out with this really big yawn – all the time keeping his speed up. I know that it is almost impossible to yawn that big and keep your eyes completely open. Apparently that didn’t bother him at all.

On the road between Positano and Sorrento he considered that he always had the right of way. The bus was too long to go around some of the curves without going over into the oncoming lane. He didn’t stop or slow down. He just laid on his horn OOOHGAH! OOOHGAH! OOOHGAH! OOOHGAH! OOOHGAH! OOOHGAH! OOOHGAH! OOOHGAH! And went on around the curve without regard for what might be oncoming. This was where I saw the Angel of Death. I started counting up all the times I had nearly bought the farm and wondered if I could count on as many lives as a cat. I think I’m getting close.

When we got to Sorrento a pedestrian was crossing the street and he nearly hit him. The pedestrian jumped up on the sidewalk and started yelling at the BDFH and giving him the sign with the closed fist and hitting the inside of his forearm with his other hand. I was pretty sure I understood what he meant. So BDFH just stops in the middle of the street (and I do mean “the middle.” I could tell because he was straddling the center line!) opens the door and starts yelling back at the man. Then he slams the door shut, takes off, muttering something that it was probably just as well I couldn’t translate.

I told Kristina that I didn’t care WHERE in Sorrento we were, we were getting off at the first stop! Fortunately it was the one we wanted. It was supposed to take an hour from Positano to Sorrento. We made it in 45 minutes!!!

I’m sure that somewhere in the driver’s lounge of that bus company there is a perverse bulletin board with times on it for the quickest drive. I am positive that our driver won every day. He was good!

Back at Casa Astarita: on this night the noise was coming from the pub. The World Cup semi finals were on and it sounded like they were all watching the World Cup and it was raucous. I put earplugs in and finally got to sleep.

I'm not sure, but I think the Angel of Death appeared in my dreams that night.


Positano. What did the builders hang on to while they were building all these houses?
Food! Food! Food! Florence and Greve

When I was reading trip reports before my trip, I printed them off and then highlighted the restaurants and bars that were mentioned. Although I have included these in other sections and have done restaurant reviews on the ones that I can (I didn’t write down enough stuff about some of the places), I thought it would be nice to have a synopsis of the places we ate.

Most of the restaurants close after lunch at 3:00 and then don't open up until 7:30. By the time you get there and get waited on, dinner might not be finished until 9:00 p.m. Too late for us. So we have had dinner several times at the same place where they are open all day Osteria dell’Agnolo. I guess it is a tourist place since they are open all the time, but they don't have a "tourist menu." It is about the only place that is open all day and we don’t have to wait until 7:30 to eat.

When we find a place we like, we go there repeatedly instead of trying a different place for every meal. This is one of the ways of Slow Travel. Get to know those around you!

(Stars: * = Bad through ***** = Absolutely Fabulous! These are strictly my ratings.) I’ve only listed the items we actually ate.

****: Ristorante le Botteghe di Donatello, Piazza Duomo 27 rosso. Corner Via de’Servi. The outstanding dish was Carpaccio of Pecorino Cheese, Walnuts and Rocket (arugula).

****1/2: Osteria – Pizzeria Zio Gigi, via F. Portinari, 7/R – 50100 Firenze. Closed on Sunday. Outstanding dishes: pasta with pomodori, grilled pork chop, raw salmon with pink pepper, shrimp with white beans and arugula, beefsteak Florentine, Beef with Rosemary, Beef with Tomatoes, "chocolate mouse with puff cream" (Ana’s translation: It was actually a cream puff!) They have a set menu for lunch. I had Risotto con artichokes and ham (rigatino – a lean pancetta from Toscana) and fritte patate (French fries). Kristina had meatballs and insalata mista.

**: Yellow Bar, Via del Proconsolo, 39r. Cantinetta – Pizza – Restaurant – Bar. I had shrimp with arugula and parmesan cheese. Kristina had the same but artichoke hearts (no shrimp). Both were rather nondescript. Would not go there again.

****: Ristorante Il Bargello, Piazza Signoria 4R Firenze 50122. Gnocchi, Pizza Ortolana (Pizza with roasted eggplant, artichoke hearts, zucchini and porcini)

****: Trattoria Pane e Vino, Via dell'Agnolo 107r. Inexpensive. We had mozzarella and prosciutto; carpaccio; the most wonderful crostini e porcini. Very reasonably priced family run place with about 10 tables. Not much English spoken. Ample servings.

****: Osteria Il Pizzaiuolo, via De’ Macci, 113/R, closed Sundays. Napoli style pizza. Very good.

*****: Osteria dell’Agnolo, via Borgo San Lorenze 24/r. (across the street from Ristorante Giannino)Minestrone; salad with shrimp, white beans, cheese, and arugula; seafood salad; spaghetti vongole; cheese plate. Good wine and great service.

*****: Ristorante Giannino in S. Lorenzo, via Borgo San Lorenze 35/37r, Lunch for 2 -- €40 Bistecca Fiorentina and roast pork w/potatoes & spinach

****: Lunch at Trattoria Le Mossacce. via del Proconsolo, 55/r. Lots of locals. Kristina had ribollita and I had spinach and beans (spinaci e fagiole). It was all very good. I was extremely interested in the surroundings. Very interesting place.

*****: Lunches at the Trattoria Gabriello, via Condotta, 54/r, 50123. The very best Ribollita alla Toscana (“bread” soup) and Zuppa di verdure. Lots of locals eat here. *****: Bar Vittoria de Rossi Giovanni, via Proconsolo 34/36, Firenze (Zio Giovanni ) Wonderful panini made fresh for each person. Giovanni your amiable host. Don’t pass him by when he beckons you to come inside!

*****: Cantinetta di Rignana, Greve in Chianti. It was a gorgeous setting overlooking the Tuscan countryside. We sat in an area like an enclosed patio setting. It was spectacular. We didn’t have anything off the regular menu since we were there with a group, but what we had was very enjoyable. I would go back again to try the regular menu. Wonderful service.


A Mouth-watering display of fresh food at the Ristorante Giannino in San Lorenzo
Food! Food! Food! Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast and Ostia-Roma

*****: Ravello: We had lunch at the Ristorante Garden. I had carpaccio di tonno con punkin (raw smoked tuna with pumpkin slices) and Spaghetti Vongole. Kristina had the fixed lunch menu of pasta with clams and zucchini, sea bass with orange sauce, and a lemon cake for dessert. Excellent meal. We were getting up to leave when the waiter brought our receipt along with two glasses of limoncello. With our experience of limoncello from the last trip, we both sort of looked at it and wondered. The waiter told us it was excellent for digestion. This was one of the best meals we had in Italy.

****: Dinner twice at Bar Monna Lisa and it was good. I see from their business card that they also have an internet cafe there where you can enjoy drinks or coffee while surfing, a gelateria and a pasticceria. I had yet another white pizza! We also had buffalo mozzarella with mushrooms and a seafood salad.

*: Sorrento: Lunch at La Lanterna, via S. Cesareo, 23-25. I had the La Lanterna special frutti de mare pizza with the toughest crust I have ever tried to eat. I couldn’t cut it so I asked for a sharp knife. That was a little better but I still couldn’t do much good. Kristina finally cut my pizza up for me. It tasted good, but I can’t imagine what they did to the crust to make it so tough. Kristina had the seafood risotto. Pretty good. We won’t go there again.

*****: Sorrento: For our last dinner in Sorrento we went to Taverna Azzurra da Gennaro, via Marina Grande 166. We decided to share a fresh grilled bream. The waiter brought the fish out for us to look at before it was cooked. It was delicious. He fileted it at a little table right in front of us. I also had boiled shrimp. Kristina said it tasted like lobster and it was really, really good. I had the mixed roasted vegetables. Dolce: lemon crepes for Kristina and I probably had limoncello!

****: Ercolano: The Restaurant was right next to the ruins, one block away next to a grocery store. The name was equivalent of a U.S. restaurant named “Eat” or “Food”. I had Lettuce with arugula, insalata verde and Kristina had insalata pomodori. They got the orders kind of mixed up, but she said the salad was really good. Basically a dish of cherry tomatoes cut in half with an olive oil dressing. Then she had Macaroni alla Napoli and I had tortellini with crème sauce and mushrooms (tortellini con panna e funghi). Unfortunately, from Napoli southward the mushrooms are usually canned. Not fresh like in Toscana. Kristina’s macaroni was very good. It had a fresh tomato sauce on it. My tortellini was mediocre, but I’m just not big into pasta with cream sauce on it.

*****: Positano: Lunch at Ristorante Adamo ed Eva, via G. Marconi, 110, 84017 Positano. It was absolutely outstanding! I had a plate of smoked tuna, salmon and swordfish, a contorno of spinach. Kristina had smoked provolone melted between lemon leaves and an insalata di mare. And the gabinetto! Bellissimo! It was worth a review all its own. Everything worked, there were lights that worked, hot water and towels! Not to mention toilet paper!

*****: Ostia-Roma: We had a really great dinner at Ristorante Falco D’Oro near the hotel Lido at via Delle Tartane, 57. I had Salmone fresco alle erbe and Pasta alla Vongole. Kristina had Affumicati misti di pesce (a variety of smoked fish) and Ravioline di Pesce. It was all excellent. For dessert we had limoncello. Now that we have developed a taste for it, it’s darned good!


Our waiter at Taverna Azzura in Sorrento with plates of fresh grilled bream and shrimp.
Getting Back

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

When we returned to the hotel after dinner the night before, Anamaria had shown up with a message for me to call Francesco. He had told her that there was a train strike on for Wednesday; the day we were scheduled to leave! He had been trying to get in touch with me to tell me about the strike and in a throwback to the cell phone SNAFU – I had given him one of the 2,000 phone numbers I had been given by Telestial while we were trying to the get cell phone screw up sorted out and it was the wrong one. Imagine that! Anyhow, I gave him our Eurostar train time. He called and checked and the Eurostars were not affected. Thank you Jesus! He had another couple who was going to Napoli, so he said we could double up if we would like and he would knock €20 off our return trip. Good deal!

This morning, Francesco arrived and since I told him the day before that we were 63 steps up, he came up and got our bags and carried them down for us. Wonderful man.

Nice trip back to Napoli. The other couple was from New Orleans. Interesting conversation with them.

In my infinite wisdom and experience in trip planning :)-D), I decided that instead of staying in Rome and driving to the airport from there in morning rush hour traffic, we would stay nearer the airport. Well, after pricing hotels actually near the airport, I kept looking further and further out until I booked a room as far on one side of the airport as Rome was on the other side. I didn’t notice this until the day before we were leaving Sorrento and I saw that the estimated time from Rome Termini area to FCO was about 45 minutes. And the estimated time from Roma-Ostia to FCO was 45 minutes. What’s wrong with this picture, I asked myself. I decided that it would still be an easier trip to the airport from the less congested side of the airport. But then sometimes I don’t make very good decisions.

So we arrived at Termini and we had already decided that we were not going to get the Leonardo Express to Fiumicino then a taxi to our hotel because of all the steps. So we got a cab and when we told him where we were going, he said that it was going to be about €120. I told him that we had taken a cab to the airport before and it was only about €40. He said it was this much because we were going to another city so we had to pay for his trip back to Rome! He wanted us to get a room nearer the airport so he could take the autostrada and make it a cheaper trip. However, when I looked up my room reservation, we were not able to cancel without paying the entire amount for both rooms. So we pressed on. Between Kristina and me we only had €100 but we still had some US$. When we told him about our financial situation, he telephoned and got the current rate. Because of my recent intensive course in Italian, I understood the conversation (which he probably thought I didn’t), I sat there and worked out the increments of US$ to € and when he told me how many dollars to give him to make up the difference which was WAY over what it should have been, I showed him my chart and we agreed on the correct price.

We figured out that with the excessive cab fare Rome/Ostia-Roma/Rome and then paying as much cab fare from the hotel in Ostia-Roma to the airport as we would from a hotel in Rome, that it would be cheaper to get a €250 room at the Sheraton at the airport with a free shuttle. (Total my plan: €357. Total Sheraton plan €290. I just fired myself as tour director!)

We stayed at La Riva hotel on the Lido in Roma-Ostia. It is apparently a summer resort area for locals. We had dinner at Ristorante Falco D’Oro near the hotel. Our waiter was Romanian and he was thrilled that he finally had somebody to speak English with. Before the meal started, he brought out two tall glasses with some pink stuff in it that we hadn’t ordered so we didn’t know what it was. Holding steadfastly to my policy of never tasting anything that I can’t identify all the parts of, I waited ‘til Kristina tasted it and she said “Eeeww”, or something close to that. It was thick and pink with a musty taste. I smelled it and it had a smelled like a toilet – you know, that musty, sweet smell that seems to be the favorite fragrance of “Tidy Toidy” manufacturers. We asked the waiter what was in it – he said it was an aperitif made of blood oranges, Prosecco, and Campari. Well, blood oranges – good. Prosecco – good. Campari – bad. So I tasted it. And it tasted like it smelled. A toilet. Not that I’ve ever actually tasted any of the stuff in the toilet, but it tasted like I would imagine how it would taste if it smelled like a toilet.

Anyhow, dinner was great. I had Salmone fresco alle erbe and Pasta alla Vongole. We discovered raw smoked tuna at the restaurant in Ravello and had smoked fish several times since then. Kristina had Affumicati misti di pesce (a variety of smoked fish) and Ravioline di Pesce. It was all excellent. For dessert we had limoncello. Now that we have developed a taste for it, it’s darned good!

Hotel was sufficient – no complaints. Three stars. The rooms were so small, but the bathroom was nice. Wonderful staff!

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Breakfast was good and put on early for us because we had to leave early. Took a cab to the airport. We found our check in desks and Kristina’s was the first one we came to. We had to say our goodbyes there. Bittersweet. Who knows when I would see my beautiful daughter again? We had had a wonderful trip together.

My flight was two hours late taking off because of a sudden strike by the French air traffic controllers in sympathy with the rioters that were tearing up France. I’ll keep my opinions on this to myself since it could border on the political! Needless to say, they did NOT have my sympathies. Our pilot along with probably every other pilot heading in our direction was trying to find another flight path south of French territory, get more fuel, refile a flight plan, etc. We took off two hours late, but wound up arriving at JFK half hour earlier. No complaints about that. But then the nightmare began.

We had to go through immigration, then retrieve our bags, go through customs, recheck our bags and continue our flight. I'm still fighting the bag stacking arrangment. There were X number of international flights all arriving at the same time so there were XXXXX number of people trying to all get through the same lines at the same time. I thought I was never going to get through immigration because I was directed by the person in charge of lines to get in the lines for permanent residents, not US citizens. Bugger! Do I still look like an immigrant? It seemed like this was the day that everybody felt like being rude to everybody else!

We were one hour late taking off from JFK just because of the air traffic and congestion so I was half hour late arriving at Nashville. My husband and his daughter were picking me up from the airport on their way home from Michigan and we had decided before I left for Italy that we would have dinner at Milano’s Italian restaurant in Murfreesboro for dinner. Sort of a winding down thing for the world traveler here. I was exhausted by the time I got to my gate at JFK, so I called him and nixed that. By this time, I just wanted to be HOME. So they picked me up a sushi carry out from Fresh Market which I ate when I got home. Perfetto.

Arrivederci Italia!

It was a truly wonderful trip and I just can’t wait to return!


Schmoozing with the street mannequin who was saying, "We're having fun. You will return! You will return!"
Putting It All Together

My stay in Florence was one of the most personally rewarding things I have ever experienced. I’ve led a varied and interesting life and for the last 20 years since I seriously started studying languages, I have wanted to go to the target country to immerse myself in the culture of that country. It seems like there was always a reason why I couldn’t do it. But finally I just decided that “before I get too old . . .” I was going to do it come hell or high water.

When I was 14 years old and living in a very small town in Tennessee, I memorized the words to "Volare" and "Santa Lucia" in Italian even though I didn't know the meanings and had no access to an Italian dictionary. I loved the lilt, rhythm, and musicality of the Italian language. I eventually learned some of the words and felt so proud of myself and of the fact that I was the only person in my school who "spoke a little Italian".

And then, my interest was once again piqued when in 1971 I marveled at the full-sized Michelangelo's "David" on tour in Australia. It was in the atrium at David Jones’ department store (in Elizabeth Street, if my memory serves me correctly). I would spend my lunch hour riding up and down the escalators so I could look at it repeatedly. I thought that if I just stood there gawking people would think I was strange and also that the security guards would make me move on. If I had known then what I know now -- that in Florence people do just stand and sit around the sculpture gawking at it, I would have done just that. Gazing upon that statue made me want to learn about Italian art, and understand the earlier Italians' contributions that were still influencing art and style at that time.

Possibly my first Fellini film also gave me a feeling for the effervescence of Italian life and the heart wrenching tragedy of a relationship that was terribly flawed, but yet tragic and loving.

I’m so glad that I finally had the opportunity to realize a dream that I have held for many years.

Sono innamorata dell'Italia (baci e abbracci!)


Ciao tutti! Dressed to see and be seen. Kristina the cool dude.


Francesco Marrapese Private Driver
The Koine Center

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