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Milan, Lake Como, Bologna, Florence and Montepulciano 2022

Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Continued from the France Trip Reports forum.

Monday, May 9 (continued)

And then, suddenly, there was another nice young man to come to our rescue. He tapped Georgia on the shoulder and motioned toward the bag sitting forlornly by the Metro exit. We quickly thanked him and rescued poor frightened ‘Brownie’ then set off toward our hotel. Being an elderly couple seemed to bring out the protective spirit in the nice young men around us.

Our hotel was conveniently located near the Metro and a Trolley stop, close to an assortment of restaurants, and it wasn’t too expensive. Some of the reviews were less than stellar but La Sempione would be our home for the next several days. Our window only provided a view of a concrete patio full of air conditioners but that’s ok—we weren’t going to spend any more time inside than we had to. The room was clean, with a nice bathroom, a small but adequate shower, and a comfortable bed. And after a long day on a train, that was especially welcome.

Tuesday, May 10

I managed to persuade Georgia that we should walk to La Scalla, the Gallaria, and the Duomo, rather than take the underground. I hoped that here in Milan we could see what was on top of the ground not what was underneath it. All three buildings were in the same area. After a nice leisurely continental style breakfast we “sauntered” toward La Scala. Google did not disappoint this time. She lead us unerringly, even when we took occasional side trips to see various shopping areas and “art” streets, she brought us safely to that glorious opera house above all other opera houses. La Scala. It was everything we could have hoped for in opulence: paintings, statuary, amazing chandeliers, rich brocade. Georgia admired everything about it and especially loved browsing the collection of opera-star memorabilia on display in the museum.


I enjoyed looking around, but was more interested in sitting outside watching the real-life drama acted out in front of the house by the junior high and high-school students on their exploratory field trips—also bursting with the throes of operatic passion but without singing high notes.

As best I could tell they fell into the same general categories as all the other western societies we’ve visited. There were those “cool girls” in a tight group excluding the “uncool girls.” The uncool girls usually stood alone, or with one other—keeping tabs on what the cool girls are doing. There were then the male counterparts, cool and uncool boys with a few “mixers” who seemed able to move between the cools and the uncools—tolerated, but not really members of either group. Then there were the nerds with their strange clothes and belts worn up too high. And then the real outliers in junior high: A boy and a girl, not boyfriend/girlfriend, but talking with each other and seeming to enjoy each other’s company. I saw a representative pair listening to an ipod together sharing the wired earpieces, each with one. They were sitting close, of course, they had to. But not touching. I was absolutely charmed. The others on the excursion seemed to regard them suspiciously. And last of all, there is always the earnest young teacher hoping futilely to teach them something or help cushion their transition into adulthood. For the kids, of course, she is just part of the background static in their lives. They listen to her when they must, and maybe take notes if she says “Yes, this is going to be on the test.” But they know that she will not be part of their grownup world. She’s like Juliet’s nurse, or Maria’s sister-in-law to be, Anita. “children are the arrows we shoot into a world we cannot even visit.”

Walking to the Duomo we went right through the center of the Galleria with its glass roof and swanky stores. From those in designer jeans to the homeless man sitting on the curb begging with a paper cup, it is the very epitome of a people-watching place.

And the surrounding streets boast a smorgasbord of talented buskers, singing or playing musical instruments. We heard saxophones, trumpets, keyboards, and guitars. Then on the plaza in front of the cathedral we saw a group of Ukrainians trying to drum up support for their war with Russia. And pigeons: thousands of pigeons. Not as many as we saw in Venice, but a lot of pigeons!

Then we bought tickets for the roof view of the Duomo.

We were able to ride an elevator part way, but there was still a lot of stairs to climb. On the roof the view was spectacular, and the small details only visible from up there took my breath away. Such wonderful love and talent lavished on a part of this magnificent structure that may never have been seen by anyone but God. Certainly not seen by anyone on the ground without a telescope. Small statues, patterns carved in the stone, stones fitted perfectly together without any trace of mortar. The tangible love of craftsmen. Centuries and centuries of craftsmen repeating and handing on their secrets to the next generations of craftsmen. There is so much to be said for guilds and apprentices.



Then from the roof we walked (stumbled?) down into the crypt where they had been excavating. On the way we stopped to admire (?) the gorgeous statue of St Bartholomew wearing his stripped-off skin like a robe draped around his neck and over his shoulders.

It gave me chill bumps as did seeing the original baptistery where it is quite possible that Bishop St. Ambrose of Milan baptized St. Augustine “Oh master, make me chaste and celibate, but not yet!”

After this we found Panzerotti Luini sandwich shop and sat on the curb to eat an inexpensive meal while people-watching. Then we used our La Scala ticket again to visit the bathrooms, then we got dessert (Gelato, of course) at Grom Gelateria. Rather than the underground, we took the tram back to Repubblica where there was a Supermercado. We stocked up on tunafish, mayo, bread, gin & tonic (in cans), bottles of wine, and hazel-nut wafer cookies.

Before going back to our room we sat in the large green Piazza Repubblica in the shade, watched people enjoying themselves and listened to a very talented flautist sitting cross-legged on the ground practicing lovely solos. I adore these large green oases in the middle of huge cities where people can just relax.

Wednesday, May 11

Today we sightsee at the Pinotecca and gardens. It looks like it would be a great place to go to school. I saw a young woman working on the restoration of an old statue out in one hallway. There were classrooms full of students studying all aspects of art and the business of art.

Besides classes there is also a first-rate museum with the justly famous Andrea Mantega’s Dead Christ in which one critic thought that Mantega had painted the dead Christ with an erection to foreshadow his resurrection “from the dead.”

Be that as it may, imagine being an art student with Braques, and Rembrandt, Matisse, Utrillo, Sisley, et al. right next door to closely study whenever you want.

I can’t help but wonder what my life might have been like with an education like this. Probably not a lot different. I think I’ve mostly done the things I was supposed to have done. I’m not sure you can call it a regret, but it sure would have been nice to have gotten more background in art than just the “Jon Gnagy Learn to Draw Artbook & Art Supply set—Television’s Greatest Artist.” But it is a real joy to visit so many of the world’s wonderful museums and amazing masterpieces now, with more appreciation than I probably would have had at 18.

Thursday, May 12

Today we visited a former convent, Chiesi di San Manizo al Monastero Maggiore, built in 1503 on top of ruins from an ancient church. It’s called the Sistine Chapel of Milan. It was filled with lovely frescoes on the walls and ceilings. It was what was called a double sanctuary. There was one sanctuary for the sisters and another one for the priest and the public.

The frescoes were still vivid and the interior was filled with light. The nun’s side had a tiny fake “door” in the wall behind the priest’s high altar. There was a ¼” hole at kneeling height where the nuns could whisper their confessions to the priest on the other side of the wall. An elderly docent gave us a tour though he was much more attentive to the Georgia part of us, making sure that she saw all the interesting details and heard all the gossipy tidbits.

After the tour we headed toward Milan’s enormous castle and park grounds for more people watching. As befits its reputation as style capital of the world (which Paris would certainly dispute!) it is a joy to observe all the attractive clothes and attractive people going about their everyday lives—on the subway, the trolleys, the sidewalks, and even relaxing in the parks. Lots of pedestrians. It’s a pedestrian city, for sure. And perhaps because of this there were very few ‘heavy’ people (and I can’t help but suspect that many of them were tourists, like me.)

It was very hot again today and the park benches in the shade were really at a premium. Nevertheless, the men were dressed in suit and ties, and wearing exquisite shoes. It was 81 in the shade outside the fort. There was a slight breeze so it wasn’t uncomfortable waiting there while Georgia toured the castle. I sat and listened to a classical guitarist practicing under a tree. This is a city of students, and many of those students seem to be in one branch of the arts or another: music, dance, drawing, painting. This is definitely a young person’s city.

I saw a slim young woman wearing peg-legged pants so long that they covered her platform heeled shoes. Her legs looked 5’ long. It looked like she was wearing stilts. But wearing them very attractively I must admit. Very graceful. I would be stumbling and choking, trying to recover from nose-bleeds up that high. But she had everything under control.

There seemed to be an almost infinite number of different dress configurations. There were short and long skirts and dresses. There were pleated and straight, tight and loose. And then there were those dresses and pantsuits that were very tight. And there were all those mix and match variations: tight and short, tight and long, loose and short, loose and flowing. Pleated and mid-calf, pleated and unbelievably short. And fabrics. Too many to attempt a list. Imagine any fabric, manmade or organic, natural or synthetic that you want and I promise that someone in Milan has made some sort of body-covering out of it and is walking around the city wearing it. There were many more women in Milan wearing those light and breezy 1950s dresses I remember than you would ever find in Lexington today.

You notice that I don’t mention blouses or other “tops” that the young women are wearing. Lots of variation there too, but they all seemed designed to hint (or shout) about the hidden body parts located there. Some were designed to be undergarments originally meant to augment nature’s gifts and many women seemed to subscribe to the “Let my People Go!” school of wearing-apparel. The most striking and note-worthy outfit I saw was worn by a very attractive young woman dressed as a cowboy. What a wild west it must have been. Her tiny vest had only one itty-bitty button preserving her modesty. I wish I’d had the courage to ask if I could take her picture. But my natural reticence (and Georgia standing right there beside me) argued for discretion.

To be continued


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Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Thursday, May 12 (continued)

We toured the Duomo Museum chock full of lovely statues and stained glass panels replaced over the centuries. Especially those 18-24” tall saints for the roof that humbled me with the amount of effort put into praising God anonymously, and virtually invisibly. These little gems reminded me of the frescoes we saw in the attic space of an old monastery in Southern Indiana—intended to be seen by God alone. And with these statues—in fact with all the carving—there have been copies, and copies of copies every 100 or 200 years for millennia.

In an outdoor market I bought a pretty wooden pen its maker, Allisandro Oppici, guaranteed for 12 months. I was using it to write these notes, but not entirely happily. It ‘weeps’ ink at the tip and needs frequent wiping and because it twists open and closed the pressure of writing keeps closing it. But the wood is lovely. Pretty to look at; it’s just not a very good pen.

We went to Mass in the Duomo at 5:30. They are setting up scaffolding in the Piazza for some big event tomorrow.

The columns inside the church are all “wired together” NSEW with long iron rods. I know that can’t be original. Evidently the weight of the roof is causing “thrust” making the walls bow out. The church does not have buttresses—flying or otherwise. A stone and lead roof has to be held up some way.

Back in our rooms we got ready for supper with Jamie and Madonna’s ex-exchange student, Marghie and her husband, Luigi, and their two girls. There was a good deal of apprehension in getting there. Traveling around in the tourist areas is relatively cookbook, but when you venture out into the suburbs you have an entirely different set of issues. Generally you have to know exactly where you are going in order to know which stop to get off at, and then you definitely need to know in which compass direction to go. Google has been wonderful so far, but now we’re going further than ever and there are so many ways to get there—different combinations of tram, subway, walking. Unless you’re a native it’s a crap-shoot deciding which is the best way to go.

When you ask Google her answer is always time-dependent. It judges which way is the best way now. But Now is a moving target, isn’t it? The recommended directions change moment by moment, so we started off one way only to be told we’d missed that train before we’d even had a chance to get to the station. With a good deal of luck we managed to put together (Google put together) a subway ride, a trolley, and two intervening walks to get us to their house only 5 minutes late! Meeting with local people in their homes is the real joy of international travel, and so it is also the most fraught with anxiety.

Marghie and Luigi were so gracious, with little pizza-bites for an appetizer and Lasagna with Grano Padano and Bechemel sauce for supper. He served a bottle of Candri Lagano wine. And he told us about his work for Zucciti, a fabric/decorating company he works for. Delicious fresh blueberries and strawberries for dessert then vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio gelato for dessert-dessert.

The girls had a good time oohing and aahing over their presents from America and our little souvenir stuffed horses from Lexington. Little Geneve had fun turning her gelato into a “milk-shake.”

It was interesting to get their take on the events in Ukraine. Russia’s belligerence worries them. After all they are only a few hundred miles away. They also love the school the girls attend. It sounded like that’s the main reason they stay where they are, even though they have two other places they could go in the Lake District near Como. Luigi’s favorite is on the shores of Lake Maggiore—the biggest of them all. We talked about seeing the kids riding the trains like school buses when we went through Como last time we were up north on our way to Switzerland. Marghie said she’d be nervous doing that before the children were older, maybe twelve. I told her the kids we saw were older than that and traveled in large groups of 8-10 kids. A very different situation.

Luigi recommended we see the Salvono de Mobilare and the Treemali Museum for Design and Architecture. (I wish we could have, but did manage to see the Novicentro Museum.)

They gave us several pounds of pasta and pasta sauce to bring back as presents for Jamie and Madonna’s family. They didn’t know that we try to travel very light. Then Luigi gave us a ride back to the door of our hotel. How wonderful. He drove us past the vertical forest, Porta Nuova, an apartment building with trees and bushes on the balconies of every floor. Luckily I’ve seen news pictures because it was too dark to make anything out on our drive. It took us an hour to get to their place and 15 minutes to get back! And 5 minutes to fall asleep.

Friday, May 13

Up early for our trip back to the Piazza Duoma for seeing the Novicentro Museum. Massimo Bartolini had a large striking phograph of a line of people buried almost up to thei knees in soft dirt. It was called “My Fourth Homage.” I don’t know what it signified but I like it. They are not smiling and certainly not moving. “A determination never to move again,” “My Fourth Homage is entrusted to stillness,” says the website devoted to Bartolini.

Then we saw some early Modigliani Portraits where he was beginning to stretch the neck, but not the faces yet. The eyes in each were blank. There was a Picasso from 1907 where he was flirting with African masks in blues and yellows and reds.

Umberto Boccioni was someone I was unfamiliar with but his statue of “A unique form of continuity and space looks like a very buff bronze robot running somewhere. There was also a quite lovely Kandinsky and several by Klee quite different form his familiar abstracts. “Wald Bau” is a gorgeous painting that looks like a quilt depicting a green forest on a brown background. There was also a lovely Matisse woman standing on a red tiled floor between a blue chair and some shuttered windows.

There were also statues made from a material called “Pietra di Finale” that looked just like pumice or volcanic ask. His statues looked like the figures we saw at Pompey—human beings burned away by the eruption but the shape of their bodies now preserved by the hardened ash. There was also a giant neon tube twisted into a long graceful swoosh hanging from the ceiling, and an Andy Warhol “Marilyn Monroe” done all in black that I’ve never seen before.

We went to lunch at a restaurant that Punt (a friend from our trip to Sicily) recommended. It was called Osteria de Traino. Marchie made the reservation for us though it turned out that we didn’t need it. They had a delicious local olive oil called Coluna. We shared a carafe of delicious white wine. Georgia had spaghetti with pine nuts and golden raisins. I had 3 a la cartes of zucchini, mashed potatoes and a mixed salad. For some reason Georgia couldn’t taste the anchovy in her spaghetti but we both could taste the marscapone in the potatoes. It was a good meal but not the osso bucco I was hoping we could order. They only serve that at dinner—probably because it needs to cook for so long.

After the meal we rode the tram to the canals of Milan to do more people watching and eat more gelato. So, that’s canals in Venice, Amsterdam, and now Milan, plus the “river walk” in San Antonio, of course.

Then we went back for the ear splitting diocesan youth event at the Cathedrale. We sat at a sidewalk café drinking and munching brusscetta and listening to the waiters mock the goings-on in the Piazza. I guess the church is trying to evangelize the youth though I think today’s event is more likely to deafen them.

Then a quick turn through the galleria so Georgia could crush the mosaic bull’s nuts to ensure a year of good luck. The poor bull’s crotch was worn away about an inch. Lots of people are getting good luck from tormenting the poor thing I guess.

And so, off to bed.
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Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Saturday, May 14

Another long travel day. Up early for breakfast. Saw that it was raining but it stopped before we even left the hotel. Ended up wearing our raincoats tied around our waists.

We had a little kerfuffle at the train station when the ticket machine would only sell us a ticket for Varenna-Esimo. Georgia said her extensive research had taught her that there were two Varennas and this was the wrong one. So we went to the ticket office, where there was a fairly substantial line. Several people in front of us didn’t have the little paper numbers from the numbering machine to keep order. The guy behind us noticed that and tried to push past me to get one so I thought I’d better move first. The agents were in fact calling people in order so there was another upset when the scofflaws in front of us arrived in front of an agent and they asked for their paper slip. I didn’t make any complaint when one of them went when my number was called, but the man behind me pitched a fit when his number was called. Incensed! As usual, everyone in this skirmish felt completely justified. Even the scofflaws argued that they had waited patiently for their turn—little bit of paper or not! Letter of the law. Spirit of the law. There’s another homily in this.

Nevertheless, we got our tickets . . . to Varenna-Esimo as the ticket machine tried to tell us. It was right and my sweetie was . . . less than right (we never use that “w” word.) But if we’d gotten our tickets from the machine we would have completely missed a lesson in civilized queue etiquette in advanced industrialized democracies.

We’re on the train now and the sun has popped out to highlight those lovely Italian weeds that seem to flourish beside the tracks of every train station and every empty lot: Lovely cheerful red poppies that also symbolize the deep bloody sadness of World War One.

Google says there are railroad strikes disrupting travel and we’re going to have to get off at Fiumelatte, the stop before Varenna and walk the rest of the way. Unfortunately, Google was wrong and we had to drag our suitcases and our sorry selves 2.6 kilometers down a “greenway,” and along a very narrow road just for the experience. It wasn’t as serious a mistake has directing us to drive along sidewalks in Sicily, but still it was an aggravation. We didn’t learn the truth, however, before we’d had a delicious pizza and sparkling wine at a place in Piazza San Georgio in front of the village church. I re-met a marvelous concoction called Gin Limone that I had first been introduced to in Sicily. “So great to see you again!”

On our walk to the hotel the clouds rolled in and “CRACK!!” the loudest blast of thunder I’d ever heard rolled around and around the lake echoing back and forth from mountain to mountain, it seemed, forever. It started spitting rain for a few minutes and then the most lovely sunbeam I’ve ever seen appeared over the mountains across the lake from us. What a tremendous greeting. I can see why people fall in love with Italy’s lake district.

At the Hotel Montecodeno we learned the awful truth that other guests had ridden the train all the way to Varenna, no problem (sigh). The desk clerk, Jekatrina, was a Russian from Lithuania, where her family lives. We told her about Rick Steve’s recommendation. She’d never heard of him. They’ve only just reopened the hotel in the past two months after two years of Covid. She was extremely anxious to please and distressed at our walk. She and her hotelier, David, offered us free drinks while we waited for our room to be ready. David seemed nonplussed by her generosity. I ordered another gin-limone but they tried to make it from scratch instead of using lime soda—it wasn’t nearly as good. Georgia said her “sparkling wine” wasn’t as good either.

I asked “Trina” if her family was worried about Russian intentions toward the Baltics. She answered with a strange question.

To be continued

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Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Saturday, May 14 (continued)

She said “of course” they were concerned, and then asked if I was Russian. Something I’d said led her to believe that I was speaking English with a Russian accent. I laughed. That’s a first, or maybe she’s just very cautious about expressing any opinions about Russia. We did notice that there are a lot of Russian and eastern-European accents around. This must be a favorite haunt. There must be plenty of Ukrainians as well—it would pay to be careful what you said to people during the current conflict.

I assured her I wasn’t Russian but that my favorite teacher in High School was Lithuanian: Ben Sinkus—a music teacher. She said she had a recent guest who had a Lithuanian father-in-law who had taught her how to say just a few phrases. She told Trina what they were and Trina had to tell her that they were Lithuanian swear words!

The hotel room was adequate but didn’t have any charm. Two single beds side by side, leaving only 1 foot to walk by the foot to get to the wardrobe and a window, opening out onto a busy motorcycle-infested road, with no view of the lake. But it was a room with okay-beds and it was close to the lake.

We visited the parish church. It was 11th or 12th century in a block stone style with a few stained glass windows. Meh. Very pedestrian windows. There were a group of people listening to a lecture. The lecturer gestured around the church as he spoke. I figured it was some sort of Sunday school class. Then 30 minutes before Mass was scheduled they all got up and walked out. It was evidently a tour group. A middle-aged blond woman shooed us away from the seat where we were planning to sit, indicating that we should sit somewhere else. “Wet, wet” she said as she sprayed the chairs with disinfectant. She motioned for us to sit in the section where the tour group had sat. She had the voice and demeanor of one who brooked no contradiction. So we sat where she said and looked around at the church decorations.

There were only a handful of elderly parishioners left and one homeless man wandering around aimlessly. Suddenly the cleaning lady boomed out the beginning of the Rosary and everyone chimed in—including the homeless man who continued to pace around the church. Different voices would take up the beginning of each decade, but the homeless man’s mellow bass never missed a beat. Then suddenly he disappeared during the fifth decade of the Rosary.

The cleaning lady then went over to the side of the church and picked up a copy of the daily missal and carried it to the ambo and began to sing the entrance antiphon a cappella and the homeless man processed down the aisle in his vestments and kissed the altar. And so Mass began. The cleaning lady had a wonderfully clear contralto and the homeless man spoke the liturgy in a strong clear bass. He was probably in his fifties—as was she—but honestly, his features were timeless. His short salt-and-pepper hair was uncombed but not messy and his homily was not written down, yet delivered (as best we could tell with our very limited knowledge of Italian) with animation and sincerity. He didn’t pause or stumble, but it wasn’t rushed either. I so wish I could have understood what he was saying. Isn’t it odd that you can recognize a good homily even without understanding exactly what is being said. Perhaps that’s how all those Medes and Persians and the many Gentiles heard and understood Peter’s words in their own language in Acts 2:6-8.

We walked down to the port after mass to watch the little swifts darting about (I think that’s why there are so few flies or mosquitoes) and watch one ferry boat after another dock. The Stelvo evidently has a student driver—he came in at the wrong angle and crashed into the docking posts—so backed up and crashed into them a second time.

There were lots of little swifts, lots of middle-eastern head scarves, lots of longggg dresses with slits all the way up the side. Lots of English. Lots of Semitic languages, but even more Slavic languages. Not a lot of Italian though, except from the various vendors and even their Italian was heavily accented. The wealthy denizens of Como may be Italian, or some of the tourists, but the workers are all immigrants or refugees from somewhere else.

David, our waiter at the hotel persuaded us to have lobster at supper tonight in a “mixed seafood” special. I wasn’t impressed with it. I suspect that Rick Steves wouldn’t have been either.

Sunday, May 15

After a Spartan breakfast (the other places we’ve stayed have spoiled us!) we caught a ferry for Belagio, the little town situated at the crotch of the two legs forming Lake Como. We had two nice cappucini on the terrace, under a canopy of trellised sycamores cut off about 9 or 10 feet from the ground with branches trained to form a sun shade. They’ve obviously been there for years. The trunks were more than a foot thick. For decoration the owners had hung old cds and dvds to add some ‘sparkle’ as they spun and flashed in the breeze and dappled sunshine. It was a lovely place to sit and watch the lake with all the attendant comings and goings of ferries and pleasure craft.

Beautiful atmospheric perspective as long as you didn’t realize that the visible atmosphere was coming from all the diesel exhaust hanging over the lake. Maybe it should be called “Smogaspheric perspective.” Great for painters but not too good for lungs. All the lakes around Como are glacial lakes, incredibly deep—in fact Como is 410 meters (1,345 feet deep).

In Menaggio, directly across from our own Varenna we bought tickets for a “round the lake” ferry ride. It was likened to the “hop-on, hop-off” buses we see everywhere. I told the agent we wanted tickets for Como, the town at the toe of one leg. “You want the fast ticket or the ordinary one?” “Ordinary,” I said, because we wanted to visit all the little towns. I had no idea why he rolled his eyes.

We had an hour before the ferry arrived so went looking for supper. A couple of blocks away we found a pizzeria with a lovely view of the lake. We shared a Fungi and ham pinsa – it was like a pizza but especially delicious and irregularly shaped, which we finished just in time for a quick-march back to the dock.

The ferry visited virtually every village on that leg of the lake. Thank goodness we didn’t tour both legs! The towns were all uniformly picturesque and yet on the boat there were couples watching TV on their computers and ignoring the views. “What Philistines!” I thought as the banal dialogue from their shows provided the background soundtrack for such stupendous views. But I soon understood their being so blasé.

“Good grief,” I thought, “this is a very big lake with a lot of identical little towns!” Looking around, Georgia, noticed that everybody is napping. I thought the ones who even appeared to be awake were actually paralyzed. Even the captain and crew of this ship of fools were probably comatose with the boat on auto-pilot.

We left Menagio at 1:10. At 3pm we were only about halfway to Como. Please! Just shoot me! No wonder the ticket agent rolled his eyes when I declined the “fast” boat. We staggered off in Como at 4:30. Three and half-hours riding back and forth across one leg of the lake. Still, the mountains and water were beautiful and these were Italian mountains and water.

But, really, it was too much. It was like 5 Cinque Terres stitched end to end without the joy of site-seeing. Enough already! Basta! As they say in Italy.

Seeing my distress when we docked Georgia said we could look for a faster boat going back. Oh my Lord and buttermilk, I hadn’t even realized that we had to go back as well. I don’t suppose that a helicopter is out of the question! Maybe we could stage a medical emergency and get airlifted out?

But then, Glory Be, there was a fast boat going back, a hydrofoil in fact, and we managed to score tickets. Then we got some drinks at a nice little bar that also supplied us with a very nice snack tray with pieces of foccacia, olives, peanuts, little tomato-sauce filled doo-hickeys, sliced turkey and then Johnny Walker and Prosecco to wash it all down. Made us forget all our troubles.

And the boat was fast and only stopped at 4 or 5 villages to take on or drop off passengers. I set my exercise tracker. We were averaging 39.2 mph on the water! We got home in one hour and 12 minutes. Much better. Note to self: “Hop-on, Hop-off” only works with buses.

Monday, May 16

Breakfast this morning was interesting. There was a bowl full of eggs this morning. On the Queen Mary and in all the other places we’ve stayed there were always hard boiled eggs offered at breakfast. I’d gotten used to having one each morning. I was glad to see them and got one with my bowl of muesli. Then I saw there was also homemade strawberry and vanilla yoghurt. Definitely looking up! But when I smacked my egg with a knife it didn’t just crack, raw egg started leaking out onto the tablecloth. I showed the maitre’d the mess I’d made and apologized. He said “No problem!” and brought me a little egg cup. It made me think that maybe they were soft-boiled eggs, but I’d never seen eggs boiled this soft. I pointed out that the egg was raw. “Crudo!” he shouted, grabbing my egg and bursting through the kitchen doors. I could hear him suggesting that the cook might want to have his head checked. When he came back, still red-faced, I was laughing and told him to tell the chef to just fry the egg for me with some bacon. He did. And I ate it. And then he brought out real hard-boiled eggs and I ate one of them as well. Got my protein today. And I was going to need it.

To be continued
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Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Monday, May 16 (continued)

After breakfast I asked Georgia if she wanted to walk up to the top of the mountain behind us. There was a castle up there. She looked at me pretty much the same way the Maitre’d had looked at the raw egg. “You’ve got to be kidding,” she said. I wasn’t. I do enjoy a nice walk, as long as I can set the pace—and I always set ‘slow.’

The suggested path was up the road past the nearby train station we hadn’t yet visited. The mountain was steep so the road had very sharp switchbacks and midway along one of the straight-aways I saw a path cut off the road and straight up the mountain. I saw someone walking down and asked if this was the way to the castle. She verified the ‘shortness’ of the cut. It was strenuous but a pleasant walk—especially those parts that were off the narrow twisty road. And the views of the lake were a great reward.

At the top I found a tiny little ceramic (raku) and jewelry shop with a large variety of artwork. I asked the heavily tattooed young proprietor if she made everything. “All the ceramics,” she said. They were very good, both large and small and lots of variation in what was on display—bowls and plates and cups, but also ceramic animals and faces. I knew I couldn’t bring back a large piece so bought a small yellow owl paperweight.

The Castello di Vezio tower occupied a commanding view of both legs of the lake and the torso as well. And it provided my poor tired thighs with lots more steps to climb. The castle-caretakers also raised birds of prey, displaying falcons and owls and eagles, and something called an “eagle-owl” named Artu who looked supremely bored. There were also some crude wooden statues scattered around the grounds. They were not really very good, and worse, they were warping and splitting in the rain and being eaten away by termites. Outdoor wooden sculptures are probably not a good idea. But the view from the terrace was magnificent and I took lots of pictures.

Starting down I saw a sign that had arrows pointing in two different directions. One (the way I’d come up) to “The boat docks,” and the other to “The Monastery.” I knew that Georgia was planning to visit the Monastery garden so I headed down that way thinking I might catch her.
Georgia's photos in the garden:



It was a very rocky dirt path. Very similar to the path I walked between Ravello and the next little town in Sicily. There was a good bit of loose gravel that made the way down slippery, but still doable, though I wished I had my walking poles to help prevent a tumble. I stepped off the path when another Junior-high field-trip exploration group came giggling by. There must have been 80-100 of them, so full of life and joy at being out of school. They were friendly too, smiling and waving shyly at me. Judging by the number of school excursions I’ve seen I think the Italian educational system is more about experiences than books.

I got down to the lakeside twice as fast as it took me to go up and shorter because of the steepness. At the bottom I rewarded myself with a cup of chocolate/mint gelato with a scoop of black cherry for good measure. I decided that one of the things that contributes to the pleasure of gelato is the tiny little shovel/spoon they give you to eat it with. That ensures that you eat this little treat slowly, appreciating each and every bite.

At the bottom a hiker tried to warn me I was walking on the wrong side of the busy road: “Lei del qua!” (Come over here!), she said but I was already at the crosswalk leading to my hotel. No way I could explain that in my limited Italian. I just had to smile and nod.

Then Georgia and I headed back over to the train station to get our tickets for Bologne tomorrow. As we came in the tiny station, the extremely thin and obviously frazzled young agent was raging at the customer she’d helped just before us. He was trying to write down the instructions she’d given him on the back of his ticket which would have been fine, I’m sure, if only he hadn’t tried to use her desk or her pen to do it. “It’s MY pen!” “It’s MY office!” “You don’t use the stuff in my office!” Unfortunately, the entire building was so small the whole place was her office. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” the poor guy stammered, but she wasn’t having any of it. The damage had already been done. The coffee-can that held her pens had been disturbed and her desk had been man-handled by a sweaty customer! She kept laying into him until he beat a retreat, then she turned her angry gaze toward me! “What do you want?” before I could even answer she asked “Am I right or am I wrong? It’s MY office.” Not really wanting to debate the finer points of customer relations I did the only Italian thing I could think of, I shrugged. “Pffft!” I hoped that sounded sympathetic. After all, I was hoping she would sell us some tickets to Bologna. When I admitted that she handed me a piece of paper and said to write our first and last names on it, which I did. When I handed it to her she couldn’t read my handwriting and asked if the “g” in Zeigler, was supposed to be an “s.” Georgia and I both apologized for my appalling handwriting and she sniffed—somewhat mollified. She may not have been happy about it, but she did condescend to sell us two tickets for Milan, where we would catch another train for Bologna. She went way out of her way by selling us those tickets as well, so we were all set.

It was our last night in Varenna and we still hadn’t had any lake fish, so we made a reservation at a place on the Piazza San Georgio specializing in the same. We got three dishes: Mixed fried (lake) fish, pomme frites, and grilled vegetables. The fish included salmon and some small filets of whitefish, and tiny little fish that looked like minnows. You ate the whole thing, head to tail. The waiter told us that they were kjdjdajdsjfd or something like that, but they were delicious and the pomme frites were shaped like a “C” as though the potatoes had been stabbed by a c-shaped chisel. In my opinion they were the hit of the meal. The fish were good, but fried fish always tastes like fried fish, and deep fried salmon strikes me as sort of strange and unlikely to be found in Lake Como.

Tuesday, May 17

Up early and down for breakfast and checkout. Our Russian/Lithuanian desk clerk/owner was sad to see us go. I hope they can stay in business. They are trying so hard. I have the impression though that they don’t really have a lot of experience and may be in over their heads. But then they may be fast learners.

The little train station had only two tracks and you had to walk across one track to get to the other. There was some confusion about which track to wait on. Most people figured our train would come on track 2, the one farthest from the station. The platform between the two was only about 1 meter wide, and the multitude of travelers wanting to board for Milan did not travel light. The situation looked precarious to me. We stayed on the main platform until we could see what was happening. A train came in going to wrong way (we knew which direction went to Milan). It came on track 2, so I figured the train going toward Milan must come on track 1. But no. These clever Italians had somehow arranged it that the track handling a train away from Milan would also be handling one heading toward Milan. But waiting on the main platform turned out to be a good idea anyway. The door to our train car was situated right at the crosswalk so we were able to move straight onto the train while the people log-jammed on the narrow platform had to move crab-wise to get to the door.

We managed to score two aisle seats facing each other. Very lucky—quite a few people had to stand the whole trip. Our seat mate was uncommunicative—buried in his cell phone. There was a time you could visit with strangers on a train but that was before smart-phones.

I was expecting Bologna to be more hardscrabble than Como or the places we visited in France, but the reality exceeded my expectations. The amount of squalor and graffiti in Bologna-centrale was depressing. Luckily our hotel, Allegritalia Express was only a couple of blocks away. On the map it was directly across the street from a large park. So we pulled (that’s the royal “we”) our suitcases (one of which had a non-turning wheel) along the wide sidewalks hoping to enjoy views of the park, but this end of the park was completely covered by a bus garage and a high graffiti-covered fence. And not the interesting mural-like graffiti we’ve seen in some cities, but rather the ugly narcissistic kind of “dog-pee-I-was-here” type.

Our hotel was the Italian version of Holiday Inn Express with all the individual charm of a Walmart. The A/C didn’t work but a Russian (or Polish?) maid cleaning a nearby room opened another room for us, where the A/C didn’t work either, so she called the desk clerk and took us to yet another room where the A/C was noisy but worked. There wasn’t any soap or shampoo and only one partial roll of toilet paper, but as Jason would have said, “Oh well.” We had made the reservations last minute on the train coming here—so what do you expect? And it was very convenient to the train station.

Bologna was roasting (and I used to love fried boloney) but pulling the suitcases had left me dripping. I wiped myself down with a wet hand-towel and rested on the bed for a bit trying to make sense of Italian TV. It’s just as senseless as ever. Aljazeera was the only English-language station I could find. Meh.

After cooling down we tried to find out way to the Pinotecha which had closed 30 minutes before we arrived. One of us was seriously displeased but wanted to see the Catedrale anyway so the other someone plugged in “cathedral” on their smart phone and took off walking. The directions took us down several seedy alleyways and smack-dab through the center of the University of Bologna (founded in 1088). Students everwhere. So much chatter at the tables under the many colonnades. So much lively discussion. So much laughter. So much cigarette smoke.

We ducked into a St Cecelia Chapel with one lonely docent at the back intending to minister to the spiritual needs of the students. Evidently the students hadn’t yet discovered those needs, but along the hallway we could hear that universal feature of all music schools—practice rooms. Loved the sound, and St Cecilia, patroness of musicians was smiling, I’m sure.

Had to have some gelato as a reward, and to put one of us back in a good mood after having been dragged to a closed museum. And then we continued on our way to the “Catadrale Meropolitana di San Pietro,” which, unfortunately, wasn’t where we actually wanted to go.

To be continued

Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Tuesday, May 17 (continued)

Google kept taking us to what appeared to be the Diocesan parking lot just off another seedy alley. Someone was seriously displeased and we exchanged words to the effect that if someone had been able to read a Google map, then we would not be stuck in a graffiti-decorated alley admiring a dirty parking lot through a 12-ft tall chain-link fence. To which someone replied that IF someone had been clear about where we actually wanted to go Google probably could have taken us there.

“Okay,” someone said. “We want to be in the Piazza Magori,” which turned out to be about 100 yards away from our present location. And it fronted the “Basilica” di San Petronius, that enormous church (not “Cathedral” someone pointed out) that was the object of our search.

And after all this I’m not sure our visit was worth all the drama. The fountain of Neptune in the Piazza was okay, but with the sun going down it was just a silhouette between two overpowering buildings. And at its best it certainly was no Bernini.

I checked Google to see how to get back to our room. It was a straight shot. Only about 1.5 kilometers—piece of cake—but the Secretary of War wanted to take a bus. She had had enough walking for two lifetimes. The fact that we had no bus tickets was immaterial. The fact that the tobacconist would only sell us a book of bus tickets was also immaterial. The fact that the smallest bill we had was a ten-euro note for a 2-euro bus trip was also immaterial. She was finished walking, so I showed her where the bus stop was and told her which bus she wanted—then handed her my phone so she could chart her progress over the kilometer and a half down a straight road, while I went for a little walk-about. As it turns out, the bus driver didn’t care about no ticket, and we both made it to the same corner in front of our hotel. But by her own admission, she didn’t see “anything interesting” from the bus.

I, on the other hand, saw lots of interesting things, interesting department store display windows with new stylish fashions and I saw stylish people schmoozing at tables under the ubiquitous 40 miles of colonnades in Bologna. A couple of blocks from the hotel I saw the entrance to the park we couldn’t see for the bus garage outside our hotel. And when I entered the park the first interesting thing I saw were mommies and daddies happily pushing strollers in the late afternoon sun. Then I saw the grade school kids playing together in the dirt and grass and in the fountain and on the playground. Squabbling and playing look very much the same at that age. And their mommies and daddies let them squabble and play and settle their own disputes undisturbed. I’m not sure the hovering style of parenting common in our suburbia is any better.

And I saw a beautiful young woman absolutely smitten with her young man, kissing him so passionately, and molding herself to him so tightly, it looked as if she was going to eat him up. Perhaps she was saying goodbye before he left for some battlefield. Given the situation in Europe I guess that was possible.

And I saw a beautiful empty house/welcome center fenced off with more of that graffiti-covered fencing. And then I saw the nest a homeless man had built for himself on top of a public statue. He was dragging a foam-rubber mattress to the assemblage and just littered the big plastic bag it came in. So much for keeping your room clean, I guess. And then I saw a well-dressed young man casually relieve himself on the wall of a beautiful marble staircase built more than 100 years ago. It was probably not originally intended to serve as an outdoor urinal.

That’s what I saw. And that’s why I prefer walking to riding buses. And I prefer riding buses to riding subways. And I prefer a ship to an airplane. Always take the more immediate and personal mode of travel. Or reconsider the need to travel at all.

Back at the hotel the restaurant was closed and we were hungry. The concierge recommended a line of restaurants back along the route I’d traveled. So Georgia got her walk after all. It wasn’t yet 7pm so most of them would still be closed, but one Japanese/Italian family restaurant was open and bustling with eaters out front. I ordered lasagna and Georgia had Tagliatella-Bolognese. I thought we were supposed to have grilled veggies as well, but they were listed as “secundo” on the menu so they were waiting for us to finish our primo piatti. I asked if we could have them now “a tutto.” When they came, they looked like soft tacos filled with grilled eggplant, zucchini, and onions. Very tasty, and the Mexican vibe went well with the Italian-take on a Margarita-sort of martini I’d ordered, flavored with both a lime twist and an olive.

Then back to the room to fall into a dreamless sleep punctuated by our groaning air conditioner.

Wednesday, May 18

We had a nice continental-styled breakfast at the hotel then dragged our wounded suitcase to the train station for our ride to Florence. Our way was festooned with those gorgeous Italian weeds again. Italy in May is spectacular.

In Florence we had to walk around the amazing Duomo to get to our convent so stopped to take pictures of the crowds taking pictures of the crowds. The pandemic is definitely over.

The Sanctuary Firenze Convent we were staying at was obviously in transition. The nuns there are Suore Oblate dell'Assunzione. It seemed to be equally divided between elderly white nuns from Italy and young black nuns from Africa. In fact, all of Italy seems to be in that sort of transition. It is, of course, producing cultural stresses and strains. Hard to say what would have become of European Catholicism without the third-world converts.

The chapel had a quite lovely dalle de verre window behind the altar, and the enclosed garden was lovely and peaceful.

Our room was clean and tidy as always, with shuttered windows opening onto the garden view.


Mosquitoes were the only downside. There were a lot of them in our room waiting to ambush us, but Italian mosquitoes don’t swarm the way “Skeeters” did in Savannah. Italian mosquitoes are more like kamikazes or solitary snipers. That makes it easy to see them lurking on the white walls and white sheets. I’m ashamed to say I had to spend a fair amount of time wiping blood stains off the walls, and I confessed to our hostess that after our stay my bed looked like a blood-soaked battle field—and it was all my blood, I’m sure. We had to leave the shutters open because I couldn’t find any way to turn the A/C on in our room. With the shutters open it was cool, though bloody. Low 80s during the day felt hot by contrast. But after we confessed about the mosquitoes we were finally given the remote that works the air conditioner unit on the wall.

There was a Trattoria Accadi on our street (Borgo Pinti) that Georgia had read about during her researches. (She’s an amazing researcher and trip planner!) The owner/host was so attentive and so very pleased to see us you’d think we were family. There was a good crowd with small rooms but all the tables were occupied. As best I could tell we were the only tourists. The handwritten menu was all in Italian though he was anxious to explain everything to us. We had already made up our minds though. For primo Georgia got the pesto Pasta and I got the Picanti tunno, hot tuna—tuna with jalepeno peppers served on homemade spaghetti noodles. Her Pesto was served on the same noodles and it was excellent. My Tuna was life-changing; my nose was running like a fire hose by the time I’d finished. Luckily we’d ordered a half-liter of white wine and a carafe of still water to put out the fire. The little bread basket was popular too.

For Secundo Georgia had little fried chicken pieces on arugula and I had a raw artichoke served with a tomato salad we’d also ordered: perfectly ripe tomato in thin slivers served with salt and pepper and olive oil.

For dulce Georgia had tiramisu and announced it the best she’d ever had—and she’s had a lot of tiramisu. I had the cheesecake with blueberry sauce on top. Oh my! Yummy. And everything for 40 euros. 5-stars in my book. We took our leave thanking the owner extravagantly.

Let me here say something else about graffiti. Bologna was the pits. Florence was much better. There was some style and intelligence as you would expect from the Florentiines: clever painted animals incorporated into tags, for instance. But in the main tourist sections there was hardly any graffiti, with the exception of some very clever modifications of those “do not enter” signs that consist of a single white horizontal bar on a round red metal sign. The horizontal bars were modified in different ways. To become an open window, or a gate, or a sumo wrestler carrying a white log, or a cat sneaking up on a mouse, or a man in a white bathtub. So very clever, and not simply destructive.

In fact, in Florence virtually all the graffiti was painted on metal, like an electrical entrance panel for instance, instead of on stone or plaster or brick. The lovely stone was not spoiled and even the painted masonry walls were off-limits I guess. I was so glad. I know there’s an excellent art school here and in our Trattoria there were some beautiful pastel portraits the owner said were done by one of the students trading his talent for suppers. He’s evidently now back home in Japan and making a good living as a professional artist. The owner thought he’d become quite famous, and I can believe it. They were wonderful. Neither of us, though, knew what his name was. I guess that’s the way it is for 90 percent of the world’s artists.

After supper we went looking for a post office so we could mail some post cards. There was one close by and a kind local woman pushed the number machine for us to retrieve our number. She had A481, and got P71 for us. The “P” must have stood for “postal” I guess, and this whole postage-buying experience would just about make me go “postal” too.

Eventually our benefactor’s number was called and she went up to a window where she had to wait a loooooong time while her clerk left another client standing at another window with his head down. Eventually, she came back from doing something somewhere. I swear I think she went on break. When she got back she had an animated conversation with the man she’d abandoned whose neck got redder and redder. Finally he just gave up and left, rolling his eyes and muttering. Our benefactor was then to be helped. The agent next to her finished with his client and called out “A 482,” the number for the person behind me. I waved my sheet at him with its lowly P71—he was supremely unconcerned. Our helper intervened, apparently telling him we only wanted six stamps for postcards; we weren’t interested in investing in the Italian stock market. He seemed to suggest to her that she might want to mind her own business as he intended to mind his. Meanwhile, the customer at the end, who had also bought some stamps turned to leave and her agent also turned to go, on a cappuchino-break or something. “Signora, signora” I said, waving my pitiful little P71, “Per favori, per favori,” I pleaded. She took pity on us, waved us over, smiled, and sold us the six stamps, and even applied them to the cards, cancelled them, and put them in the right box to make it over the big water. I think she was still in training—she hadn’t yet acquired that hauteur and professional disdain symptomatic of the Italian bureaucratic class. And she didn’t move glacially or give us the feeling that she was doing us a real favor by condescending to serve us. I’m sure that given enough time however, she’ll develop the right attitudes—if only she can hang on long enough.

To be continued
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Ian Sutton

1000+ Posts
Many thanks for this report, and great to hear someone else's perspective on Bologna.

We very rarely stay in hotels any more, and those room irritations remind me of one of the reasons why. Whereas there can be issues with apartments, those issues invariably feel easier to work around, and the extra space helps too.

Unfortunate to hit genuinely hot weather in mid May, but it's very much a risk (and we've hit such a peak in April before). We very much try to avoid hitting cities in hot weather, perhaps accepting the odd day trip into them, but very much preferring to stay in the countryside, near a lake or the sea, or up a mountain. The heat saps our energy and our mood, and can really spoil our experience. Conversely when the weather turns cooler, or even cold, there's so much to do, and always the chance to duck indoors for a coffee or some warming food.

Make sense of Italian TV? Yes that's rather difficult even without the language differences. The owner of Politian apartments in Montepulciano is so embarrassed by it, that he does not put a TV in any of the apartments (instead there's a Radio, CD player and books). Only the early evening L'Eredita word quiz game is one we'll eagerly watch.

The walking vs. bus etc. Indeed it's a very different experience. FWIW I prefer the bus/tram to a tube train, but walking is a much more interesting experience... if we have or make the time, and our legs are up to it.

Ah, the Italian postal system:eek: :cool:. I love it. It's an odd, almost archaic system, but one I still find intriguing, seeing how the different 'virtual' lines are processed, and in the process appreciating that window into humdrum Italian culture / 'counter culture' ;). Especially enjoyable are the old central post offices, with high ceilings giving them a cool airiness, and lots of people to watch.

Rather than mess with hassle of extra luggage at the airport, we got into the habit of posting 'goodie parcels' back home to ourselves. We'd usually wait until the last day or two of the holiday, and ask for the slowest post option, just so the parcel wouldn't beat us home. The system is in keeping with the general Poste Italiane vibe, of turning up to buy a box (and occasionally bubble wrap if they had it - we discovered over time that generic houseware shops were the best place for it) and also pick up the customs declaration form which never has enough space to write on. We'd then return with the constructed and packed box, with completed customs declaration, and go through the whole ticketing malarkey again (though secretly still enjoying that experience!), plus the 'review' of the quality of our declaration.

We've certainly experienced staff who make it clear they don't want to be there, and were unhappy about it, wanting to share that dis-satisfaction. Others who get exasperated. However there have also been some supremely helpful ones and we've even shared a giggle on a couple of occasions. It feels *very* Italian, and I love it for that.
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Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
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Wednesday, May 18 (continued)

We visited Santa Croce and saw 20-30 students with drawing pads making sketches of various things—often each other. I really can’t even imagine what it would be like to learn art by being able to copy the work of Donatello, Michelangelo, and the other giants in my local church and the museum, just a brief stroll from my classroom. No wonder the Italian schools emphasize field trips over lectures.

At 6pm we went to a side chapel of Santa Croce for Mass. There were more than 20 people there—5 young women, one wearing a mantilla and another serving as lector. What a beautiful clear voice she had. The rest of us ranged in age from 25 to 86—most in our 60s. The priest looked like a diminutive William Frawley, of “My Three Sons” and “Fred Mertz” fame, but not even 5 feet tall. His sacristan was at least 6 feet. They looked like Mutt and Jeff processing down the aisle together.

We walked around our neighborhood near the convent and bought a bottle of Beefeater’s Gin and a large bottle of Lime Soda so I could make my own Gin Limones while lounging in the garden with all the little swifts. I love their squeaking and random flights—governed only by the evasive maneuvers of tiny little bugs they chase. You can’t see the bugs so the birds look like they’re playing tag: “You’re IT!” “No, I’m not, you missed me!” I borrowed a coffee cup from the kitchen and sipped my libation. Made me think of Jackie Gleason’s cup of “coffee” at the end of each show: “How sweet it is!” he would exclaim. And it was. Getting the munchies, we bought some chips popular in Italy: Lime and chili potato chips. Ugh. And some other ones called “Pesto flavored.” Double Ugh! Puleeze. The only good thing about them was that they were crunchy.

Thursday, May 19

Up for a breakfast of cake, cornflakes, and croissants in cellophane. No protein of any kind in the kitchen. Bleah. Added an apple to my cornflakes for some color, at least. The only bright spot in breakfast was the coffeemaker that also had a milk steamer.

We met a couple heading for the Boboli gardens. I suggested they carry water and be prepared for a climb.

Out on the street I saw a girl ride by on her bicycle. She was wearing a crop top that exposed her lower back where she had tattooed those cello-scrolls on either side of her spine, like Man-Ray’s portrait of KiKi “Le Violon d’Ingres.” Very stylish. What else would you expect from Florence, a city dedicated to the arts?

Florence is not a good place for someone allergic to the smell of roses. They are everywhere and May is the month dedicated to Mary. Roses are her flowers. They were especially fragrant outside the ancient monastery of San Marco, where Fra Angelico painted murals in every room.

It was also filled with a fieldtrip of teenagers. They hiked from room to room more interested in each other than in the glorious murals. The smell of hormones was also everywhere.

Outside the Academia there were huge crowds hoping to see the original statue of David by Michelangelo. Our tickets showed our assigned entrance time. Groups gathered themselves behind signs announcing each 15 minute interval: 9:00, 9:15, 9:30, etc. The guards trying to organize all these individuals and tour groups were as frustrated as cowboys herding cats. New huge groups appeared every 15 minutes plus all the people who came early, plus the people who had no reservation but hoped to enter anyway. I think I would hate tourists if I had their job. There was one of those airport magnetic portals which I walked through and set off an alarm. No one cared. Too many people, too few security personnel, too remote the threat. As I said—huge crowds every fifteen minutes. People are so ready to travel again after the covid lockdowns. The quarantines must have been devastating for the museums. And for Italy itself.

Inside, the first thing we saw was his unfinished statues. It was quite humbling to see those magnificent figures emerging from the rock. “Take a piece of marble and just remove everything that doesn’t look like a person” he said.

THE statue itself was stunningly good. The man was a genius to have seen this colossal figure in a block of marble that everyone else rejected. I know it’s heresy to say, but the first thing I noticed (besides that David was apparently uncircumcised) was that his right hand was almost freakishly large. His head is oversized too but that was probably so that as you stand at the bottom and look up the head doesn’t seem too small. But the hand? I wonder if the original pedestal was taller than this one so that the hand seemed smaller. (And a quick Google search revealed that circumcision was different in David’s day—only a tiny piece of skin was snipped off.)

And bye the bye, it seemed to me that the female tourists spent a lot of time behind the statue closely studying the great man’s “but-tocks,” as Forest Gump would say.

On our way back to the room we stopped for a little smackeral at The Enotecha di Giusti in our neighborhood. The waitress (or part-owner) didn’t have an accent, or had an American accent to be more precise. We’d tried to guess where she was from. I thought Denver. Georgia said Ohio or Indiana. But no, we were both wrong—Miami. She’d been in Florence now for 8 years and said her Italian was coming on. I think she and her partner (husband?) own the restaurant. We ordered two sampler plates. A cheese board where she picked out the cheese for us: Marsolino, Pecorino (two kinds), and a 24-month aged Parmesan; all served with jam and honey. She also brought something very traditional in Florence. With its multitude of tomatoes each summer they peel them and squeeze out the seeds then grind them up with parmesan and dry bread to make a very thick tomato “soup” that is not runny at all. We also got a brick of chicken-liver terrine with a vin Santo reduction on top to be eaten with warm toast. It was all amazing.

It all made for a very nice (but expensive) meal.

Out in the garden again during sundown we sat and sipped and listened to the swifts twittering and playing ‘tag’ with the mosquitoes. Eat that skeeter Bubba!

Friday, May 20

This morning my bed looked like a blood-spattered battlefield. The swifts let me down. They left some skeeters and those skeeters found me. Little dive-bombers buzzed me all night long and I tried to shoot them down. Obviously I got some of them, but not before they got me. And I had even put on bug repellent and tried to sleep with the sheet covering me. Georgia, of course, was unscathed except for a bite or two on her exposed face.

Walking up and down the stairs between our room and the first floor it occurred to me that when I was a kid I never walked up and down stairs. I always ran and never really thought about them. Now I walk slowly and I have to think about each and every step.

We talked with Ann at breakfast from a small town in Germany near the Polish border—definitely East Germany. I asked about attitudes towards what’s happening in Ukraine. She was hopeful that Russia would let Ukraine go in peace but was surprisingly non-committal. She was old enough to clearly remember her grandparents shock at the fall of the Berlin wall and Russian was her first language. She teaches English now to grades 1-6. She has a 16 year old daughter. We laughed at the struggle of helping them through the teenaged years. Sounds like her daughter is going to be okay. You could tell she was very self-conscious about her English, until she relaxed. I just tried to listen patiently as she sometimes had to search for a word. She loves the Cinque Terre and Portofino. I sang the praises of the movie Enchanted April. She said she’d look for it.

After breakfast we set off for Boboli Gardens. On the way we passed an outside bar already open and doing a land-office business in college students. Overheard an obviously 3-sheets-to-the-wind young man listing heavily on a low barrier wall talking quite loudly to someone on his cell phone, “I didn’t know whaaat I could dooo, duude, the phone wasss dead . . .” I don’t think I’d really like to hear the rest of that story.

Passed over the River Arno and watched the racing sculls. So peaceful.

But Google let us down again. Boboli Gardens are very big; several acres situated on a hillside. There are apparently several entrances and exits. The closest one to our convent was at the top of the hill at the Belvedere Castle. And the hill was very steep and the road was very narrow.

One of us was very unhappy to be climbing this hill and kept complaining that we were supposed to be entering the Gardens at the Pitti Palace. When we arrived at the Belvedere Gate it was locked with a sign attached saying we needed to enter at the Pitti Palace. Someone I know with a perfect memory remarked, “I told you we didn’t have to climb a flippin’ mountain to get in the last time!”

Sigh. Obviously we weren’t the only ones to miss that memo though. A large group of high schoolers were trooping up the mountain as well. We met them on our way down. I asked if they were wanting to visit the Boboli Gardens. We told them the Gate was locked and we were going to have to go to the Pitti Palace to enter. They couldn’t have been more shocked if I had told them a space ship had landed at the castle. “You say what?” I had to show them the new route on Google. But it was Google that had led them astray. They wouldn’t believe any authority but Google. A vicious Catch-22. When your ultimate authority is wrong, what do you do? We left them chattering loudly among themselves. Then a middle aged German couple came up to see what the commotion was about. I told them the same thing. Being older, they were able to believe that Google could be mistaken, “We can follow you?” he asked. “Sure,” I said, “but I don’t know whether these new directions are right or not.” “But at least they are downhill,” my sweetie said. And the directions did turn out to be right this time. When we arrived at the ticket office the German couple were very appreciative that they hadn’t tried to climb all the way up the hill to get in. “We’re still going to have to climb the hill to see the garden,” I said. “Yes,” Georgia said, “but now we are inside the Garden!” And so we were.

The Gardens themselves were just as glorious as we remembered though we are now later in the month of May than we were last time and the peonies are past their prime. But the roses are coming on strong and almost at their peak. And we did see a lovely fountain and water feature that we somehow missed when we visited in 2005. And this time we walked through the shady woods more than we did before. It felt good to get out of the bright sun. The views of Florence and surrounding area are still breathtaking and have been for millennia, I’m sure.

How in the world have they managed to hold the ‘slash and burn’ developers at bay for so many centuries? We can’t seem to manage it for even one generation. There are always wolves waiting to appropriate public spaces for private gain in America. Somehow Florence has resisted that.

We saw gardeners carefully trimming the boxwoods in the “gentlemen’s garden.” Their pride shows in the job they do. Saw a large wooden(?)sculpture of a head that looked like a relic from the lighthouse at Alexandria.

And we saw two large fountains; well, one large, and one huge fountain. We’d not seen the huge one before. There was a lovely flower-covered island in the middle with its own walkways.

The bridge over to the island was blocked, but we could still appreciate the care that was lavished on this lovely space.

Hot and tired, we decided it was time for another little spot of something to eat.

To be continued
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Georgia & Zig

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Friday, May 20 (continued)

After touring the Garden we went to the nearby Trattoria Boboli where we got more snacky-sorts of food. There was a plate full of toasts with 3 different Terrines on top. One was mushroom and one was chicken liver, and one was ground beef cooked in wine. All were delicious; and with carafes of ‘still’ water they were just what we needed. Dessert of gelato would come later. The olive oil on the table was local, with a “grab at the back of your throat” vibe. Chiecino olive oil. Special.

After lunch we visited the Chiesa De Santa Trinita with the “Adoration” by Domenical Gheilandocio, painted in 1485.

Here, as elsewhere, all of the choir monk’s or nun’s seats were empty.

Why? Are people less religious now” If “Religious” is synonymous with church attendance then the answer is obviously yes. People are much less religious than they were. There are so many other things to act as the center of their life than there were in the 1400s. But judging by the churches we’ve seen in Europe, (except for the youth gathering we saw in Milan) the church is still speaking to the sensibilities of our great, great, grandparents. I think that is exactly why Pope Francis is calling this world-wide Synod to try to initiate a conversation among the faithful: “What is the modern religious sensibility? Where is the Holy Spirit leading us today?” He wants us to speak to the aspirations of today’s youth, not yesterday’s. After all, they would be the ones to fill these empty seats. He (and I) believe that God is still calling humanity and they will respond, just as their great, great, grandparents did. There are still so many who are trying to fill that “God-shaped” hole in their empty lives with something else. It won’t work. It has never worked, and it never will. And even if religion is nonsense, it is important nonsense.

Saturday, May 21

We had breakfast with another student staying at the convent with a group of other students. She was majoring in chemical engineering and was studying the chemicals used for the restoration of statues, buildings, etc. She was from North Carolina and we talked about Ashville’s reputation as the moonshine capital of the world and Robert Mitchum in Thunder Road. I told her that it had been filmed while I was living there.

When she had to leave we talked with another student from Grand Rapids. He was studying Dante and wanted to be a high school literature teacher. He said he’s sick of teaching “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I asked what book he’d really like to teach. He said he thought “Things Fall Apart” by the Nigerian Chinua Achebe was a real masterpiece. I had to confess that I’ve never read it. It obviously spoke to him if he wants to share the experience with his high school classes. His enthusiasm will be infectious, I know. I’ll need to read it as well to see what impresses Gen Z intellectuals and their teachers. Bored with “To Kill a Mockingbird?” Huh.

We had the sisters call for a taxi at 10am. He was right on the dot and very irritated that we wanted him to drive to the Hertz rental place. He didn’t know where that was and it ticked him off something awful. He obviously just wanted to run people back and forth to the most familiar places. We had the address and he knew where that road was but that didn’t mollify him. Out on the road he stared at his GPS, drove like a bumper car demon and provided a master class in aggressive driving. He leaned on his horn at tourists crossing his street or driving their motorbike where he wanted to go. I think if he could, he would have honked at us for asking him to drive to Hertz. When we got there I told him that now he knows another place he can take tourists and gave him 25 euros on a 23 euro fare. He even smiled at me. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

The Hertz agent, a pretty young dark-haired woman had put up a sign reading “Back in 30 minutes.” She must have put that up 15 minutes before we arrived because we only waited 15 minutes. Another 15 minutes of paperwork and she was showing us to our little red roller-skate, a Fiat Panda. I liked it. Five speed standard transmission and a turning radius that lets you do a U-turn in an Italian bathroom.

We were quickly on the A1, one of the major roads of Italy. Their rest areas have restaurants, grills, gas, oil, etc. We stopped at Autogrill, and I forgot the routine. I wasted time trying to order first. I needed to pay first. So after I saw what we wanted I went to the cashier and told her what we wanted and paid for it then carried my little slip receipt back to the grill to hand it to the “chef.” Definitely not as smooth an operation as Wendys or MacDoodoos, but they are trying to speed it up: There was now a cashier stationed next to the chef’s counter and not on the other side of the store.

There was a German couple on a motorcycle out in the parking lot. I offered to take their picture, a small kindness that can mean a lot in remembering a trip. And inside the Autogrill he warned me before I walked into the ladies restroom. A little kindness that kept me from visiting an Italian hoosegow and meant a lot in remembering this trip fondly.

The little red roller-skate was easy to drive. I’ve driven other 5-speed manual-transmission cars where it was hard to find the middle gears. This one was smooth, and reverse required you to lift a collar on the stick so it would be hard to accidently shift into reverse. Google was clear as a bell until the very end when I drove half a mile past Sant' Antonio Country Resort and Nico and Elana’s gate. We had to stop in another driveway and call them. Nico ran back to the road from his place and waved us through his gate and onto his driveway.

Oh my gosh! This is much more than a simple agriturismo. This is a RESORT with a dozen or so rooms—actually separate apartments.



Nico is in his early forties, I think, fluent in six languages, speaking English with a South African lilt. Dutch was his first language. Elana is slim and elegant. I believe that Sant’ Antonio had once been her grandfather’s place. Many years ago it had been a Franciscan monastery that removed itself to the top of a nearby mountain. The conversion from monastery to resort was truly lovely. The walls of our room were 20” thick. No wonder our cell reception inside was so spotty. But Nico had put wifi everywhere.

We wanted to visit the nearby Tempio Di San Biagio for the vigil mass but they don’t have one—only Sunday at 10:30. Nico told us a little about the church’s history. In the 14th or 15th century the gulf between rich and poor was huge, much worse than our current gulf between Republicans and Democrats. The church was built on top of the ruins of an ancient church with frescos of the Madonna and child—an object of pilgrimage and site of miracles in 1518. Pope Leo X approved building the present structure as proposed by the Poliziano family (current owners of the best coffeehouse in Montipulciano) in 1545.

The church is shaped like a Greek cross: Four points and a square apse plus two towers. Only one tower had been completed. The other was abandoned after the completion of the first stage. The building is clad in travertine marble, inside and out. In May, with its cool nights the sanctuary was cold. We needed our jackets. But in high summer I bet it is wonderful. It looks to have been abandoned out in a wild grassy field. There are only a few shops across the road and it is situated at the very bottom of the mountain town of Montepulciano.

Nico said that the church was built with Leo’s blessing in an attempt to bridge the gap between rich and poor. The peasants would come up from their fields and the rich would come down from their mountain all worshipping together. I wonder what kind of church we would build to try to bridge our gap. An inner-city church I bet. We have churches like that though I’m not sure how successful they are. I wonder if San Biagio fared any better. At least in the 1600s the church was still relevant to the lives of both rich and poor. I’m not as sure of its relevance today.

The little gift shop across from the church had the best saleslady I’ve ever seen or heard. I don’t think she gets a lot of walk-in traffic so she makes the absolute most of all foot-traffic she gets. I saw her sitting with her husband in the shade of the building next door, but she beat us to the doorway of her shop. “Welcome, welcome, I’ve been waiting for you!” We needed some meat, some cheese, some bread, some coffee, some wine, and she had it all right there for us, and each item came with a story and each one was made with her own hands, and each one was “amaaaazing!” And“Here! Try this! It’s amaaaazing!” Our little picnic supper quickly cost more than 100 euros. In my book it was all closer to “Meh,” than “Amaaaazing,” but her sales pitch and personal story was fun to hear. Her husband taught philosophy (metaphysics) in San Diego for 30 years and they would commute to Montepulciano holidays and each summer. When he retired they moved here permanently. What a glorious view from their front porch out over the Tuscan hills, and what a fun business selling such “Amaaaazing!” things.

We learned later from Nico that we’d been scalped, and found the local Gonad (slip of the tongue: “Conad”) grocery store where the locals shop and where many of our Amaaaazing products had originated.

Sunday, May 22

Young altar servers and an ancient sexton arrived at church to prepare for the service at 10:30. There were a coterie of elderly congregants and a middle-aged woman playing a keyboard set to sound like a pipe organ. In that space it worked. I saw that they had real pipes on the wall but the original organ was absent and its mechanism is probably beyond repair.

Above the high altar were inscribed the words “Deus Homo et Homo Deus,” God-man and Man-God—our foundational mystery. The African priest was celebrating the ascension with six young servers, incense, and the lit Christ-candle. He had a pleasant voice and a comfortable manner. The homily seemed to go on for a long time but I didn’t notice anyone beside’s me nodding off. One man seemed to squirm in his seat but maybe he was just having underwear problems and the priest wasn’t actually using him as a good example of a bad example.

The young servers were great. The thurifer swung the thurible like a pro and the others looked perfectly solemn. During the Eucharistic prayer they knelt on the cold stone floor like stoic champs, though one little boy tried to kneel on only one knee, thinking that would hurt less. It doesn’t. It’s terrific that the kids are involved. All in all it was a congregation full of young families—70 -100 people. I was completely charmed by one family with several small children. One little boy, about 7, sat next to, and leaned on his father, shyly holding his hand as he dozed through the service. All this religious stuff is ok, but my Father’s love is the real bedrock for him.

Back at our room I walked around the olive grove. Nico had mowed a path that was sort of slippery from the cut grass. And the ground seemed dry and hard-packed. I wonder how long it’s been since they’ve had a good soaking rain.

I was hot after the walk and decided to make use of the swimsuit I always bring but seldom get to use. The water felt frigid to my dipped toe, but I was determined. Georgia says “determined” is spelled “C R A Z Y.” How cold could it be? Out there in the sun. It could be as cold as hell! That’s how cold it could be. I stood up to my waist thinking that any minute it was going to feel good. But it didn’t. I had to quote Joe Banks from Joe vs the Volcano. His love-interest, Meg Ryan, says “You don’t have to do this! The chief doesn’t even want you to jump!” And Joe says, “I’ve gotta do it.” That’s what I said to myself as I plunged under the water, swam one length, got out, and quickly dried myself off.

To celebrate my virility I decided to go inside and make us some lunch.

To be continued

Georgia & Zig

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Contest 2019 Winner!
Sunday, May 22 (continued)

I browned the hamburger we’d bought at “Gonads” and boiled some pasta. With some prosciutto and the delicious pasta sauce that Marghie had given us we made a fine Sunday dinner. After lunch we visited the much-recommended Caffe Poliziano, whose family had been instrumental in the building of San Belagio in the 1500s. It’s impossible for me to imagine a family stretching back through the centuries like that. I’ve lived in 10 states and really know nothing about my Dad’s birth parents. I wonder if the Poliziano family think of their heritage as a blessing or as a straight-jacket?

We had due cappucini and shared a piece of cheesecake coated with a clear jellied strawberry topping. We were sitting at a table where we could look out over a magical Tuscan valley. It was wonderful.

Georgia got the little chocolate decoration on top. Another young couple was in the village celebrating someone’s wedding. Heard the young man order two negroni then tell the waiter how to make them. It completely deflated the waiters’ English (and his tolerance for tourists). He shushed him then went to get another waiter with better English. “It’s made with gin and sweet vermouth and a twist of lemon or orange.” “Sure, sure,” said the new waiter. We didn’t hang around to hear the outcome. I somehow thought it wasn’t going to come out well. Perhaps we should have waited to see how the story ended, but that’s the way it is down below, isn’t it? We come into life in the middle of things, and we go out in the middle of things. The world is always in transition. Only the megalomaniacs and narcissists think they arrive at the beginnings and leave at the ends of times.

Walking back to the car, parked in the underground lot near the grocery, we stopped for more gelato in a small piazza beneath a clock tower topped by a clown statue. I didn’t recognize the clown and asked the ice-cream lady who he was. She rolled her eyes. I got the same look that the negroni man got—she sighed and pointed at an old photograph tacked to the wall: “Pulcinella,” she said. And then I made it even worst—“I thought it was Pinocchio.” She just looked at me in disgust and turned away. Oh, the shame.

Monday, May 23

A driving day. We took a circuitous route through many of the little Tuscan hill villages. We started at Montepulciano and drove to the Chianciano Terme, hot springs, and had a little bit of liver pate with some spinach and ricotta filled raviolis. There was an adventure park with these swings and rope-walks between trees. Some of the walkways were 10-15 feet off the ground. I can’t imagine a park like that surviving in the states with our lean and hungry lawyers.

There was also a small church dedicated to St Anthony adorned with new simple stained glass.

Then we drove on past La Foce Gardens, which were closed, durn it. Then to Bagno Vigoni and San Quirico d’Oricam. All of them were charming little towns, less touristy than Montepulciano. We cut off the recommended tour there and started cross-country toward Monte Oliveto Magiore through lush fields and vistas stolen from daVinci paintings. The roadside was ripe with red poppies and our little red roller-skate performed perfectly.



But we noticed that our phones were dying. We didn’t have rechargers for the car. That was a catastrophe. The roads were small, the road signs were non-existent and the sun was starting to head toward the horizon. How were we going to find our way home?

We had saved the Abbey at Monti Oliveto for last. Walking from the parking lot it was a lovely and peaceful wooded stroll.

But as we neared the abbey church there was laughter and commotion. The courtyard was full of little clumps of teenagers and chaperones chattering and having a wonderful time just being young.

I’ve never seen so many school field trips as we’ve seen in Italy. Every place we’ve visited has had lots of groups of young people on tour. But then, all the places we’ve been have been tourist spots! But having so many youngsters touring their own country is amazing. That’s the way you pass on cultural heritage, and Italy does have a lot of heritage to pass on.

Inside the sanctuary I was struck by the modern stained glass. Very vibrant colors and representational, but still a stylized design.

A young monk was there making preparations for the 3pm liturgy of the hours. He said a recently deceased monk had designed (made?) the windows in the 1980s. Before then the windows had been walled off since “The Suppression” in the early 1800s. Napoleon had hated the Church and had ordered them closed. (I remember Bishop Gainer telling us the story about Napoleon telling a cardinal that he intended to destroy the Church. The cardinal replied, “Oh Excellency, if 1800 years of priests and bishops haven’t been able to destroy the church you are not going to be able to do it either.”) There was a lot of animus towards the church—not just from Napoleon. Even in the 1980s the abbot had to get special permission to reopen the windows. It must have been tomblike before these new windows were installed.

It’s a Benedictine monastery but the monks dress all in white in honor of Mary and each of them includes the initial “M” in their chosen name (“You are a new creation.”) As the monks filed in for prayers I was struck by how young they were. I didn’t see any old and infirm, though I’m sure there are some. There were a few I’d judge to be in their sixties, but by far the majority were in their 40s or younger. It lends support to my theory that people want to join a vibrant religious community, not a museum. A past is important, especially a past full of forward-looking ancestors, but it is that tradition of looking forward that’s important for attracting the young. God is the God of “I AM,” not “I WAS.”

Back in the car we saw that our phones were at 10% or so. The roads around here were small but not so small as the roads we drove in Ireland, and we didn’t have to drive on the left side of the road while trying shift with the wrong hand. But we had to have our maps to get back to Montepulciano! The phones gave out entirely on the outskirts of some tiny little town. We stopped at a hardware store to ask about a charger that would plug in to the cigarette lighter. No luck. They suggested a camera store. No luck. We were up the creek. We really had no idea where we were or how to get home. So we decided to stop for another bite to eat and think about this for a while. And we talked with St Anthony again: “Tony Tony, turn around, something’s lost and must be found.” US! There was a convenience store right there. Using pantomime I showed the clerk my phone, indicated that it was dead and tried to mime plugging it in to recharge. She looked a little startled and motioned for me to look down. There, right in front of me, at the cash register was a box full of telephone chargers! One to fit Georgia’s I-phone and one to fit my Android. Thank you Tony! It’s moments like this that remind me that Europe really does have modern stores. You don’t need to carry everything that you could possibly need. Our phones started charging up quickly.

When all was said and done, the only real difficulty we had driving in Tuscany was the other drivers. They would crawl up my tailpipe if I wasn’t going fast enough for them, and if you are not airborne you are not driving fast enough for them.

Tuesday, May 24

We visited the nearby Convento Dei Cappuccini with the few hermits who had occupied our resort years before. It was completely enclosed. We couldn’t even see into the garden. High walls topped with red roof tiles. There was a pretty little chapel where a local man was praying out loud and there were several bicyclists riding along the gravel roads from nearby B&Bs. More amazing vistas. I don’t think we’ve seen even one ugly scene. Clean and beautiful is the order of the day everywhere around here.

We needed to have a covid test before catching the plane, so we drove back into Montepulciano to visit the grocery store and scope out the pharmacy where Nico made a reservation for us. It’s so good having a host who knows everybody! Delta had sent us a reminder that we needed a negative covid test within 24 hours of catching our plane and we fly out at 1pm of Thursday afternoon (Where have the three weeks gone??) He knows the doctor at the pharmacy so made a 5pm appointment for us tomorrow. We finally found a restaurant that would admit to making Pinsa, that delicious irregularly shaped pizza-like dish. We had porcini, onion and sausage with a “medium” draft beer. And one medium would have been plenty for both of us.

Back at the room we finished up the pasta and called our granddaughter, Sara, for a nice long “facetime” call. So good to hear her voice and hear about the final weeks of her senior year in high-school. She is a joy and a very level-headed young woman. But in that awful way life has of tempering the good times with sadness, we learned that she had caught covid and had to contend with it on her own—but spending the worst days with a friend’s family. And even worse, she’d just learned that her father had died while we were wandering around with dead telephone batteries. They’d been estranged for a long time and he’d been in declining health for years but that didn’t make the death easier to deal with. She always knew he loved her and so it hurt.

We’d cut this trip shorter than our usual trips so we could attend her graduation and we’d promised her we would visit France in July and take her with us. It was her graduation present from us. We are all looking forward to that and hope she will catch the “travel bug.”

Another wonderful view from Sant' Antonio:

In walking around Montepulciano I decided to climb the city tower to see the 360 degree view. Georgia doesn’t really care for heights but she enjoyed seeing the photos I took.




The town square was hosting a vintage car show. How Jason would have loved to see all the old cars—though most of them were European brands and not really familiar to him.



Wednesday, May 25

All good things must come to an end, they say. And so we bid Nico and Elana good bye with a sincere hope that we will be back someday. But I don’t know if we could afford to come without winning another writing prize. It was so kind that they held our prize for us through 2 long years of covid lockdown.

One thing to note about driving in Italy: there are many more trucks than cars on the major highways. Most intercity traveling is done via train—you don’t have to worry about parking etc.

From the A1 we saw the hill town of Orte. It looked like a pleasant place to visit someday. We stopped for gas and a bite at one of the rest areas. That’s when I noticed that the canopy covers over the parking spots were also solar panels where people could recharge their electric cars! It’s bound to happen in the US eventually.

We found the car return at DaVinci airport pretty easily thanks to “Joe’s” directions supplied on one of the SlowEurope Forums. The flight was purgatorial as always, slightly lightened by movies I really didn’t care about. And then there was a long layover in Atlanta, somewhat lightened by trips to the bar. Then the flight home to Lexington where Sara picked us up at the airport but refused to hug us because she was only in her first day out of covid quarantine. She was genuinely worried that she was going to be responsible for killing her grandparents!

The house looked good. Our own bed felt wonderful. And there really is no place like home!

Ian Sutton

1000+ Posts
Excellent trip report - thanks for posting it.

The 'tail-gating' style of driving is pretty common across Italy, and it's something that feels agressive at home, but super-normal in Italy. If we're feeling stressed about holding others up, we've taken to ducking into a service / petrol station, but not stopping for fuel, merely rejoining the road having let everyone who was behind us through.

The Negroni exchange in Caffè Poliziano? Yes that would have had me either cringing, or laughing at the farce of someone explaining an Italian drink to an Italian.

Yes, the Italian school system does seem very good at organising field trips. It does feel a little odd mingling with school excursions at different sites, and there are times where we might just hang back a while to let the chattering mob move along. I agree though, it's great that they're still invested in getting kids to appreciate the local culture / sights.


1000+ Posts
What a great trip report, enjoyed the read very much! Especially the humor and cross-culture comments.

I have a question for you, and for all other members here who write these wonderful and detailed reports : how do you do it (if it's not improper to ask...) ? I'd never have the patience to sit down every evening to jot things down, and would certainly not be able to remember all this at a later date...

We stopped for gas and a bite at one of the rest areas. That’s when I noticed that the canopy covers over the parking spots were also solar panels where people could recharge their electric cars!
Unfortunately, I am doubtful that those panels were for charging electrical cars - rather, it is more likely dual usage of the shade element of the canopies : both for shade for the cars and for generating electricity, which is transferred to the grid. This is usually the result of a national policy to provide subsidies or other incentives to encourage the production of solar energy. But if you saw charging stands and electrical cars there, then I'm wrong...

I also got a book recommendation : the Nigerian novel seems indeed to be a much-praised work of fiction, and I have put it on my list.


Forums Admin
Today we visited a former convent, Chiesi di San Manizo al Monastero Maggiore, built in 1503 on top of ruins from an ancient church. It’s called the Sistine Chapel of Milan. It was filled with lovely frescoes on the walls and ceilings.
Those frescos in Milan look beautiful! We’ve never stayed in Milan.

He said he thought “Things Fall Apart” by the Nigerian Chinua Achebe was a real masterpiece.
I have that book ready to read on my kindle!

We had saved the Abbey at Monti Oliveto for last. Walking from the parking lot it was a lovely and peaceful wooded stroll.
You don’t mention the Sodoma frescos in the cloister. I hope you saw them. If not, put them on your list for next time. Monte Oliveto is one of my top 10 favourite places.

All good things must come to an end, they say. And so we bid Nico and Elana good bye with a sincere hope that we will be back someday. But I don’t know if we could afford to come without winning another writing prize. It was so kind that they held our prize for us through 2 long years of covid lockdown.
We spent a week at Sant Antonio several years ago and I would like to return. We were in the apartment in your photo, on the upper level.

We found the car return at DaVinci airport pretty easily thanks to “Joe’s” directions supplied on one of the SlowEurope Forums.
Returning your car at Rome airport was one of the most popular pages on the old SlowTrav site! I thought it was better signed now but apparently it isn’t.

Another great trip report! Thanks for all the details!


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Contest 2019 Winner!
What an entertaining trip report!
(I was planning to clean the bathroom...got caught up in your adventures instead!!)
I agree about Italian TV...too much shouting and half naked game show hostesses.
Too many game shows, and lots of odd programs we can never decipher!
Last trip in September, we turned it on one night to find "Shaun the Sheep" cartoons in Italian....very entertaining!

Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
What a great trip report, enjoyed the read very much! Especially the humor and cross-culture comments.

I have a question for you, and for all other members here who write these wonderful and detailed reports : how do you do it (if it's not improper to ask...) ? I'd never have the patience to sit down every evening to jot things down, and would certainly not be able to remember all this at a later date...

Unfortunately, I am doubtful that those panels were for charging electrical cars - rather, it is more likely dual usage of the shade element of the canopies : both for shade for the cars and for generating electricity, which is transferred to the grid. This is usually the result of a national policy to provide subsidies or other incentives to encourage the production of solar energy. But if you saw charging stands and electrical cars there, then I'm wrong...

I also got a book recommendation : the Nigerian novel seems indeed to be a much-praised work of fiction, and I have put it on my list.

Joe, thank you for your comment. I carry a pocket notebook (Moleskin or similar) and take notes of things that strike my fancy. Sometimes the notes are pretty detailed if it's something I really want to remember. In the evenings I may or may not transcribe them into a larger notebook. Then when I get home, I transcribe everything to MS Word and Georgia inserts pictures and posts them on SlowEurope. We help each other remember things.

You are probably right about the charging stations. I didn't actually see them. I assumed them. ( which just proves again that assumptions can make an "ass" of "U" and "me.")

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Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Those frescos in Milan look beautiful! We’ve never stayed in Milan.

I have that book ready to read on my kindle!

You don’t mention the Sodoma frescos in the cloister. I hope you saw them. If not, put them on your list for next time. Monte Oliveto is one of my top 10 favourite places.

We spent a week at Sant Antonio several years ago and I would like to return. We were in the apartment in your photo, on the upper level.

Returning your car at Rome airport was one of the most popular pages on the old SlowTrav site! I thought it was better signed now but apparently it isn’t.

Another great trip report! Thanks for all the details!
Darn, I'm sorry I missed them. But as you say, it gives me a chance to go back again. Driving through the Tuscan Countryside was wonderful.

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