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Trip Report Bumbling my way to and through Italy – good Lord what’s going to happen when I use the train system?

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I have never felt so incompetent on a trip in my life ' and I thought I was actually a pretty good traveler! I guess 2 heads really are better than one ' at least when the one is mine.

Not that anything drastic has happened ' I missed no flights, lost no luggage, and have been spending my nights in the hotels I planned on ' it's just that finding all of the above was more of a challenge than I expected. :-)

It all started when my driver picked me up to bring me to JFK. As he pulls out of my driveway, he starts driving down the road in the LEFT lane, and there's a pickup truck heading straight for us ' I had to tell him to get in the right (and right) lane! Yikes! We arrive at JFK with no additional incidents, I get into the airport, find AA check in for business class, check one bag, get 2 of my boarding passes, find my way to the Admiral club, get to the gate to YUL, and find out I have to gate-check my carry-on. Not the end of the world, but I've never done it before, and something I read said the bag may be picked up either at the gate, or they may bring them to baggage claim. When getting off the plane, I kept my eyes on a gentleman who seemed like he had done this before, and thankfully he stopped on the ramp (where I would never have know to stop!) and that's where they brought the bags. Great! Off to customs ' and all of a sudden it hits me: do I have to claim my other bag and then re-check it? Or is it checked all the way through? It never occurred to me to ask that when I checked in! So, I go to the connections area in customs, and I ask the customs agent (very sweet young man!) who called someone, and they both decided that they didn't know, so I could either go to baggage claim and check, or just 'hope' it got to LHR. I had plenty of time for the connection, so I chose the 'go to baggage claim and check' route. Had to go to another customs agent, who was confused by what I was doing, and even as I explained, she said, 'Oh no, your bag will be checked through ' they gave you your boarding card for that flight. But, you can go look if you really want to.' I said I would be worried the entire trip if I didn't check, so off I go to baggage claim. And of course, there was my bag, riding around the carousel! Thank heavens I checked!

So, now I have to find my way to 'baggage re-check'. I stop where I think it should be, and the woman says, 'What are you doing here?' I say, 'Well, I'm trying to re-check my bag'. She tells me to go to BA and have them check it. And where is BA? Around that corner and up the stairs. Ok, I find BA, and I realize that now that I'm on a bigger plane, I may not have to re-check that bag after all ' I should be able to carry both bags on (they're both small). Well, when I asked at the counter, that created a problem ' oh, no ' it's already been checked through ' can we cancel? Maybe, who knows how to do that? Wait ' Joe knows ' get Joe! Joe arrives,(bringing the number to 5 ticket agents)and he cancels my checked-through bag. I'm on my way BA lounge to wait for my flight with both of my bags' except, I can't find the lounge' I ask someone who points me in the right direction, and I'm in.

By now, I decide a glass of wine is in order ' it's been so stressful already, and I haven't even left North America yet! I go to the plane, find my seat, and the gentleman in the seat ahead of me proceeds to drop and shatter a glass of orange juice all over his seat and in the aisle. So now maintenance has to be called to clean up the glass ' which they did with rags. (?) And now I decide a glass of champagne is in order.

The plane was further delayed in leaving, as they had to de-ice (something that I always hate to hear!). Get up in the air, and find out it's only going to take us 5 ' hours to get to LHR ' I was happily amazed! Ate a terrible turkey dinner, had another glass of wine, and slept for 3 ' hours. Had some breakfast, we landed, and as I had no baggage to claim, all I had to do was find the National Express to LGW. Now, I had plenty of time to do this, as my next flight was not leaving until the next day'. And it was a good thing I had time, because I searched and searched for the place to buy the ticket and I just could not find it. I kept seeing signs for Bus Info, but when I would go to where the arrow pointed, all that I could find was a billboard with some schedules, but no one to sell me a ticket. I finally asked someone (one of those purple-coated people who work the Heathrow Express), who tells me he thinks I have to go to either terminal 1,2 or 3, but that National Express doesn't come to terminal 4. Now, I'm pretty sure this is wrong, and I think he could see the doubt on my face, so he says, 'there's an information booth over there ' just follow the signs and they can tell you for sure'. Well, I follow the signs, and then can't find the information booth (still bumbling along here! Geez!) ' I finally find it, and ask her where to buy tickets for the bus to LGW. She tells me that I have to go outside the terminal, cross the first street, and there's an office there that sells the tickets. OK ' find it, find the right stop, get on the bus and make it LGW. Whew! I'm staying at the Hilton at LGW, but once again' I can't find my way to the hotel. I ask, get pointed in the right direction, and finally find the hotel. I check in, get my room #, proceed to transpose the number in my head (I am tired by now), and of course the key won't work in the wrong door. I don't realize it's the wrong door, and so I'm fuming to myself as I'm heading back down to get the key re-magnetized. The desk clerk was quite surprised that it wouldn't work' and that's when I very sheepishly realized that I was trying the wrong door. Back upstairs, I start looking for the correct room #, and I can't find the room! I'm not kidding ' it was not where it was 'supposed' to be. The number was just missing. Now, I'm about ready to start stomping my foot I'm just so frustrated. How can I possibly be this stupid???? I find a maid - who speaks no English ' but we manage to understand each other through pointing and pantomime. She takes my arm, and leads me down a hallway where my room was located. Good lord, this is a lot of work ' and I'm still not in Italy!

I take a nap, go workout, have some dinner, and go to bed ' after arranging for a wakeup call, setting the alarm clock in the room, and setting the alarm on my phone for 4:30AM. I was a little worried about over sleeping! :D I slept surprisingly well, and was awake before the alarm chorus started. The clock was first, I manage to hit snooze as the phone is ringing ' I answer that and it tells me to hit any key if I want to snooze ' I don't, but I'm wondering to myself ' if I hit 'any key', how do I NOT get a callback' sorry ' it was 4:30, and I am in this really stupid mode, so at the time it was a logical question. I eventually just hang it up, and of course it did not call me back. I found the 'off button' on the alarm clock, and by now my phone alarm is ringing ' but I can't find the phone because I packed it in my suitcase last night before I went to bed. Geez ' do I even HAVE a brain???? After what seemed like 5 minutes, I finally find the phone & turn off the alarm.

The Hilton is located in the South terminal, and my flight was in the North terminal. As I'm checking out, I get instructions on how to get to the North terminal ' sounded easy' but I couldn't find the monorail. I'm not kidding ' I couldn't find it. I didn't realize that I was supposed to go through the tunnel-like corridor INTO the South terminal ' the way it was described, I thought it was right as you leave the hotel. Well, I eventually find it, and get checked in, the plane leaves, and, FINALLY, I am in Italy!

My driver was waiting for me as I came through customs, and he brought me to the Vesuvio. It's a nice hotel, and the staff is wonderful. I'm checked in by Rita, who shows me to my room' she leaves, and I'm sitting there, and realize that I can't stay in that room. It was a single, maybe 8 ' 10' wide, with hardly enough room to walk by the bed. I call Rita, explain my dilemma, they come up with another room for me, not as good a view, but it has a terrace, and it's a regular sized room. I'm waiting for my luggage to be transferred up, when there's a knock on the door ' instead of the bellman, it's Rita ' apologizing like mad, but she had shown me the wrong room. Ok, no worries ' let's go look at the correct one. No terrace, even worse view, but it was a little bigger, and it was just fine. I finally unpack, and get settled into my room. I'm completely jet-lagged, so I have dinner at the hotel restaurant (Caruso's) and go to bed. For a starter I had a 'crustacean stuffed' ravioli, and my main was seabass. It was adequate, but nothing special ' especially for the price.

I slept until about 9:30 this am (but only because I couldn't fall until 2:00AM), had breakfast at the buffet, walked up to Piazza Municipio, stopping in a couple of churches on my way, and took 2 of the CitySightSeeing tours ' it was a lovely day ' about 50-55d and sunny, so I sat up on the open-air section. (Of course, by the end I was frozen, but it was worth it!). What a beautiful city!

Got back to the hotel at around 4, and was starving, so I walked to Antonio et Antonio's for a caprese insalata and a pizza margherita. Both were fine, and I ended with an espresso ' wow! It was GREAT!

I'm going to be struggling with the dining hours ' I'm accustomed to eating at around 6:30 ' 7:00, and to bed by 9; but the restaurants don't open for dinner until 8:00! I don't recall this from previous visits to Italy ' is this the same in Rome?

And I had forgotten (if I ever knew?) that tips have to be left in cash. My waiter at Antonio et Antonio's told me that the service charge added to the bill was not for him ' it was for the restaurant, and that if I wanted to give him something I should put it on the table. (???) When I put some money on the table he came right over and said, 'Is this for me?' When I nodded, he scooped it up and left. ;-)

A question ' is it polite/acceptable for a solo person to write in a journal while at a table in a restaurant?

It was a good day in a beautiful city. As I was eating my pizza, I was facing Vesuvius; the sun was setting and the mountain turned a lovely shade of pink on the upper slopes. If the weather cooperates tomorrow, and I am in a good location, I need to try and get a photo. Here's a link to some of the shots I took today: http://tinyurl.com/ys3etz

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    <is it polite/acceptable for a solo person to write in a journal while at a table in a restaurant?>

    yes

    Loved your story, cynstalker! At least you kept your sense of humor. Maybe next time you can find a non-stop flight direct to Italy? That would have eliminated most all of your initial problems.
    ;-)

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    oh my, cynstalker - what a start!

    are you writing this right now? in which case good luck for the rest of the trip - it MUST get better.

    yes of course you can write your journal at the dinner table, or read a book, or gaze at the waiters - just as you like. personally, i like to write letters/postcards - they act a bit like a journal for me and it helps to keep in touch with friends.

    as to restaurant hours, you may find those with earlier serving times, but they are likely to be aimed at tourists and therefore may be less good than the others. but if you aim for a 8pm reservation, you should beat the locals to it! at least it's not Spain, where lunch doesn't start til 3pm, and dinner not til 9pm.

    service is included in Italy - by law I think, and you are NOT obliged to leave money on the table for the waiter - if you do, small change is OK.

    hoping your luck changes, and looking forward very much to the next installment,

    regards, ann

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    cyn, you made it!

    Yes, write in your notebook at meals. And you will adjust to dining later.

    I'll be following your adventure, so please keep posting. Have fun and hang tough,

    L

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    Another case of the best travel stories being the worst to live through! Very much looking forward to the rest of this. And absolutely write in your journal at meals - or read - unless the people at the next table look interesting and are willing to talk.

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    cynstalker, thursdaysd gives good advice: journal unless you get a chance to chat. It's exactly what happened to me on my trip last summer: sometimes a chat, otherwise journaled.

    Your report is so level headed, the calmness coming after the storm?

    Keep us up-to-date! Cheers.

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    Oh, my gosh, what a trial you had. I couldn't keep from laughing altho' I know it wasn't funny to you! Still, you wrote it with such humor. Talk about a good sport!! I'm so glad you had so much time between flights; I always make sure I do as it's difficult to find places. Looking forward to reading more and hope all goes much more smoothly :-)

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    OMG, was laughing and then crying. That is so like ME!!! I just bumble my way around, get lost all the time, ask people, and then have to ask again. It's a wonder I ever get anywhere. Glad you made it and are settled in for a little while now.

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    Just checked the pix - they're great. Glad to hear you're enjoying Naples, as I'll be there in April. Someone else has been posting about how there's a big garbage problem in Naples right now - have you seen anything like that?

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    Cyn - just wanted to tell you I'm really enjoying your report (and totally sympathize with not being able to find anything!). The thought of a solo trip somewhere is just beginning to materialize in my head, and I'm really interested to hear how the rest of your trip goes!

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    What a tale, but don't feel stupid. You found everything when you needed to find it, so you were a success story. Everytime I travel, there are moments where I feel like I'm maybe four years old, rather than a competent adult.

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    I, too, flew into Heathrow as a solo traveler and had a terrible time finding the bus to Gatwick and a worse time finding the Hilton at Gatwick. I was going in circles, seriously jet lagged and of course I never slept more than an hour the night before I left home. At Gatwick, I asked for directions and every time I would lose the trail to the Hilton. I thought I was losing my mind! When I finally found the hotel, I almost died when I saw the cost of a single room with the exchange rate last summer. And I, too, had the dilemma of how many alarms to set to make sure I got up in time for the morning flight. End result? Not much sleep.

    If I ever have an itinerary like that again, I plan to sleep in the airport. The frustration of dealing with finding the Hilton and the cost of the room were an awful way to start a trip.

    Are people even allowed to sleep in the airport overnight on a bench?
    Jane

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    Much cheaper than the Gatwick Hilton is a local B&B. Horley, the nearest town, is crawling with them, and they'll pick you up and drop you off at the airport. You can walk to Horley station if you want to go up to London, or just catch up on sleep and then eat dinner at the Six Bells pub. I stay at this one: www.springwoodguesthouse.co.uk, which is currently charging 38GBP for an en-suite single, but if you google gatwick guesthouse or b&b you'll find plenty.

    If you'd really rather sleep in the airport, check out www.sleepinginairports.net.

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    Wow, your pics are great! What's up with those funny Santa decorations? People have them all over in Paris too ...

    I'm really enjoying your story. My work exp. here has been sort of on big bumble, so I totally relate. I'm very happy that you kept going and made it to Italy--can't wait for the rest!!!

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    Thanks everybody for joining me on this journey - it makes it a lot of fun to think you all are along for the ride! I really did see the humor even as I was getting frustrated. My Dad, before he passed away, used to grin and shake his head at my Mom (who is a bit of an airhead) at some of her "antics" - their word - and I know if he could have seen me, he would have been grinning and shaking!

    To answer 2 specific questions:

    The Garbage:

    Until I read the post about the garbage, I really hadn't noticed it. To me (and I don't mean to offend city dwellers) all cities are dirty and have bad air quality and the traffic is crazy - that is city-normal. Yes, there's some garbage - but I have yet to have to walk through any or smell it, or.. I don't know - it's just not bothering me.

    The Santas - they are everywhere! Kind of like an invasion or something! They're climbing up every other balcony... they're on street poles... they're theyd're they're just everywhere! (And they are cute)

    December 30, 2007

    Still fighting the jetlag (no surprise there, I always struggle with it), so again couldn¡¦t fall asleep, and then had a terrible time waking up. Thankfully they serve breakfast until 10:30! Tomorrow, I have to be up, as I¡¦m meeting a guide at 9:00 to take a walking tour ¡V at least this time I probably won¡¦t hide my cell/alarm in my suitcase before I go to bed!

    Today was another good day, for the most part. Buffet breakfast at the hotel is good, the coffee is great. Opened up my window this morning to listen to the church bells ringing through the streets ¡V beautiful! It was another sunny, cool day ¡V again in the 50¡¦s. Took a taxi to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. I apparently have a terrible and incomprehensible accent when ¡§speaking¡¨ Italian ¡V neither of my non-English speaking cabbies could understand me and had to read the destination that I had written down. :-) I¡¦m doing much better at finding things ¡V I managed to walk right into the Museo without having to ask anyone! (Of course, the cabbie got out of the taxi and pointed to the building and said ¡§Museo¡¨. He must have heard about me¡K) I was surprised to learn that the Museo¡¦s don¡¦t take credit cards (darn it, there goes about 30 miles I could have had today alone!)

    It was very cold in the museum ¡V I think it was colder inside than out, so I kept my coat for the visit. I struggled with my lack of Italian in this museum ¡V there is very little that is identified in English, and there are no English leaflets with a map to assist. I could have purchased a guide book at the museum, but I have such limited room in my bags, that I would have had to toss it or given it away at the end of the day ¡V seemed like a waste, so, I didn¡¦t get one.

    When I walked up the stairs and entered the first room that had the Pompeii mosaics, I got chills ¡V they are stunningly beautiful. I can¡¦t imagine how they could have survived the fallout from the eruption. I wonder how much reconstruction had to be done on them. The rest of the museum was wonderful too, I really enjoyed the gem collection, the frescoes and the bronzes are just gorgeous. And ¡V the place was pretty much deserted ¡V I never had any problems taking photos (no flash), and I could gawk at something for as long as I wanted and not feel like I was holding anyone up. I was a little worried that it might be crowded because it is a Sunday, but it was great! I spent about 3.5 ¡V 4 hours there - truly a memorable museum.

    Next, I got a taxi to go to the Museo di Capodimonte (luckily I had it written down, because again, my Italian is undecipherable to Italians. :-) ) This time, my cabbie and I had a true communication problem. The fare was E5.5; I gave him a 10, and then the problem started. He kept saying something to me that seemed like 5 and 10. So I¡¦m thinking, he wants to rip me off? We¡¦re both looking around for someone who might be able to translate, I take out my dictionary, and he takes out his roll of money and showed me some bills¡K so I took out a 20, and said, Ok you want more money. Give me back the 10? He takes my 20, give me back the 10, and then gives me 15 back. I still have no idea what that was about. I¡¦m guessing he had no change to give me for the 10, but I think we both left confused.

    I enter the gate and walk through the grounds to the museum building - there were lots of families there playing with their dogs & kids, enjoying the beautiful day. I had better luck with the English at this museum ¡V their leaflet is in both Italian & English, and more of the exhibits are labeled in both languages too.

    I was pretty tired after the day at the Archeological Museum, but this place has some fabulous works of art! And I got to see an ¡§old friend¡¨ from Boston ¡V Van Gogh¡¦s La Berceuse is being displayed, lent by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. That was fun!

    The porcelains were beautiful. The royal apartments were interesting ¡V and that room where the entire walls are done in porcelain is amazing. When I walked into the ballroom, I wanted to do a waltz, and had to smile when I turned around and saw 2 young children doing just that.

    I went through this museum pretty quickly ¡V my feet were dragging, about 2 hours.

    And I did get ripped off by a cabbie on my way back to the hotel. My own darn fault, but it sure is aggravating. I didn¡¦t pay attention when we first left, and we had gone about 5 minutes when I thought to check to see if the meter was on ¡V it was not. He was one of those chatty types, giving me a ¡§tour¡¨, put an American flag on the seat for me¡K E25 for the ride ¡V ¡§oh that¡¦s the normal rate,¡¨ he says. ¡§No,¡¨ I said ¡§it¡¦s not.¡¨ But I was not in the frame of ride to argue. I¡¦ll show him, I thought. I walked to the hotel door, turned around and stuck my tongue out at him. There. (Yeah, pretty juvenile, but I am still jetlagged).

    I really have started worrying about my train connections, so I went to the website, copied all the stop-detail for each leg, and emailed them to the hotel so they could print them out for me. Otherwise, in addition to paying for the internet in my room (grrrr¡K), I would have to pay for the business center access too. It seems to have worked ¡V the printout was in my room when I returned.

    On to dinner ¡V my last free night out (I¡¦ll explain about the ¡§gala¡¨ tomorrow). I asked the hotel to recommend a place for seafood. They had 2 suggestions: La Scogllio di Frisio (the preferred, but closed it turns out) and La Scialuppa, which is where I went. They told me they opened at 8, so they made my reservation for 8. It¡¦s right across the street from the Vesuvio, to the left of the Castel d¡¦Ova.

    I arrived at 8:00, and the place is full. I walked in, this man in a tan sweater says, ¡§You must be Mrs S.¡¨ Obviously, they have many solo diners there¡K I¡¦m the only one. It was a tiny place, and it was full. (Which begs the question ¡V if they don¡¦t open until 8, why were all these people there eating?)

    It¡¦s a fairly small restaurant, and is filled with mostly Italian speaking people, although there must be some other English speakers, because the strolling musician (Mr Guitarman) is singing an English song. I order my dinner ¡V prosciutto and mozzarella for a starter (delicious), and Risotto a la Scialuppa, (which contains seafood. The seafood was outstanding ¡V really good. The risotto was a bit over-salted and not very ¡§creamy¡¨, but it was still pretty good), and a half bottle of red wine (Rubrato Aglinico Dei Fuelo Do San Gregorio 2005, whatever that means ƒº - it was good.)

    And I had a blast!

    Mr Guitarman makes his way over to my table and asks what I would like to hear. Now, he¡¦s already done O Sole Mio, so I suggest Gershwin¡¦s ¡§Summertime¡¨ from Porgy and Bess. (I mean, isn¡¦t that a likely choice?) Well, he knows the guitar part, but not all the words, so he tells me I have to sing it. So, ¡K. I do! I just belt that song out like there¡¦s no tomorrow ¡V top of my lungs kind of thing. All by myself at my table, in Naples, singing Summertime, and the livin¡¦ is easy¡K 2 verses! No, I¡¦m not kidding. That¡¦s just what I did - AND ¡V I got applause! Now, it may have been pity-clapping, but I don¡¦t care, it was applause ¡V from more than one person. (actually, it was from half the restaurant. No wait, it was the whole restaurant. And they were on their feet shouting ¡§bravo¡¨ ¡§bravo¡¨! Ok, I¡¦ll stop now) And, there was a table of three other Americans who, through our waiters, invited me over after to dinner to have a drink with them. We ended up going back to my hotel for an after dinner drink and we had a fun political discussion ¡V it was great!

    And, the only reason I could actually sit there and sing my little heart out was because I was traveling solo ¡V the only person I could embarrass was myself, and it takes a bit to do that. I had a lot of fun today, she said with a bit of surprise.

    Here's a few pictures from today: http://tinyurl.com/2tpcaf

    Cyn

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    Sorry for the odd charactors in that post - I thought I had figured out how to get rid of those by copying from my word doc to notepad and then to here, but it didn't work - and editing didn't do a darn thing either - it ignored all of my edits. Hope it's at least readable!

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    cynstalker,

    Great story, but I haven't had time to read it all yet.

    Tip: Write in Wordpad, select all, copy, and then paste into this Fodor's window. The trouble with word.doc is that it puts in some crazy characters.

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    Oh, I'd forgotten about the climbing Santas! We were in Naples just before Christmas last year and got a kick out of them as well.

    I really enjoyed our time in Naples--especially the food!

    You're brave, I make all the same mistakes, and then some, but never would have the nerve to admit it, lol.

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    Oh, cynstalker, this has had me in stitches from the crazy,hectic beginning to the image of you singing your heart out in a Naples restaurant - Love it!

    Please continue to take us along on your wonderful trip.

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    Hi cyn,

    wow, what fun - all that and solo singing too.

    as for the taxi drivers, I suspect that the first one was asking if you had 50cs, so he could give you 5e back. "cinque" [five] and "cinquanta" [fifty] do sound pretty similar - the numbers are the words I find most difficult when someone talks to me in their language. the 2nd one was just bad luck - beware the friendly cabbie!

    looknig forward to more,

    regards, ann

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    cyn, I'm really enjoying your report. Loved hearing about your singing! I'll be in Naples in July, so am glad to get all the information I can. I was interested in your reaction to the Museo Archeologico, as in a recent thread here someone said it wasn't really worth going there.

    Those Santas must be all over. I have pictures of some in Rome from my trip last Christmas.

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    I'm still here - it is just that I am staying at a hotel (in Sorrento - the Excelsior Vittoria) that has no internet connection available. I am keeping up my journal, and will upload both it and some photos when I get to Sicily.

    I have much to tell, including a tale of a(n unwanted) suitor. I don't know the outcome of this yet, but it certainly has me in a tizzy!

    To quote Arnold, "I'll be back!"

    Cyn

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    12/31/07
    Today I did a walking tour with a guide (Antonio – a nice young man, married with 2 boys, ages 6 and4). We did a brisk walk to the ancient city area (nice long walk!), and started the tour with a visit to Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo – a very ornate and beautiful church. We then crossed the street to see the Chiesa dei Santa Chiara – Norman in style, much plainer, but every bit as beautiful. Next was the Chiostro (cloister) delle Clarisse – which has really beautiful ceramics in the interior courtyard (where I got to see my first cats), and it was incredibly quiet – like an oasis in the middle of a big city.

    On to Museo Cappella Sansevero, which houses Sammartino’s shrouded (veiled) Christ sculpture. I have never before been so moved by a piece of art; it is astonishing. I stood there with tears falling as I felt the pure love and reverence that that Sammartino poured into creating this masterpiece. I feel so fortunate to have seen it, and I hope anyone who goes to Naples finds the time to visit. I wish I could find better words to describe its beauty.

    We went to Via Gregoria Armeno in Spaccanopoli in search of a Presepe to bring home – I ended up choosing (after much deliberation and visiting many different shops) 2 pieces, both local townsmen. One is an egg seller, complete with baskets of eggs (including a couple of broken ones) and the other is a fishmonger with a basket filled with clams and snails. They are lovely pieces – and will be a cherished souvenir of this trip.

    We visited the Complesso San Lorenzo Magglore – we went to the scavi (excavation) first – it is fascinating to see the layers upon layers of history - building cities one on top of another. I loved being able to put my hands and feet in places where people from 2 thousand years ago stood and touched. It gives such a feeling of connection to our past. From the scavi, we went to the church, and saw the Roman mosaics that they have displayed in the floor under plexiglass on both sides of the main alter. There was also a lovely Presepe display – sad to have to have it secured behind glass, though.

    Next stop was a cloister on the San Gregorio Armeno – no ceramics in this one, but lovely gardens with the walls painted that wonderful golden yellow. As we were admiring the gardens, a nun came and rang a bell for prayers. What a wonderful moment.

    We took a taxi back to the hotel (tired feet!), and dropped my package with the concierge to have them send it home for me. Antonio was a very charming guide, who would explain in detail anything that he thought I might have an interest, but seemed to know when I had had enough of the dates & history at each location. I love to hear that kind of “stuff”, but it never stays in my head.

    I went upstairs and did a little packing, then grabbed my camera and headed across the street to the Castel D’Ovu, as it was approaching sunset and I was really hoping to capture that pink tint on Vesuvius. Took a couple of shots, and then walked to a very upscale shopping area to get a couple of books.

    Back to the hotel for my “gala” New Year’s Eve dinner. I was “supposed” to attend the hotel’s party, but I didn’t bring any evening clothes with me, and I would have truly felt uncomfortable being solo with all other couples celebrating, so I told them I would not attend. They very kindly offered to have the dinner delivered to my room, and that turned into an adventure of its own. They delivered each course individually; they brought me a glass of sparkling wine, and a full bottle of both white and red wine! I gave the waiter the wine after taking a glass of each – he was a real cutie. And I finally had to tell them to stop bringing me food – I never made it to dessert – there was just so much food!

    Midnight came – and OMG the fireworks and firecrackers! The explosions lasted for AT LEAST an hour – I actually fell asleep while they were still going off! There were some “big” ones like we see at home on July 4, but there were also small ones being set off by people all over the city – along the entire coast I could see fireworks. People were setting them off from the ground, from their balconies, from bridges – just everywhere! I got a little worried about fires – it was astonishing to see the sheer volume of fireworks being set off. The sound was unbelievable – it sounded like the biggest thunderstorm you can imagine, rumbling non-stop for an hour.

    January 1, 2008
    This is the day I moved to Sorrento to the Excelsior Vittoria. My drivers name was Rafiello, and he was a very kind man who obviously loves where he lives. As I was “oohing & ahing”, he kept telling me that it was not as pretty as the Amalfi coast. So now I can’t wait to see that, as I thought the drive from Naples to Sorrento was pretty spectacular.

    My first day at the Excelsior was a bit unsettled. I had to wait for 2 hours to get into my room (big turnover day after New Year’s Eve? Or short staff for the holiday?), but it was not too bad to wait as I had brunch. Once I get to the room, the concierge informs me that there is no fitness center and no internet access. Argh! The fitness center I can handle, because I can just go outside and walk, but the internet is an issue, as I have work that I need to do from my computer. They have a computer that guests can use in their business center, but my files etc are on my laptop. (This is such a dilemma for me that the next day I attempt to find another hotel – but of course, if I try to move the Excelsior will charge me a 50% cancellation fee, so I am pretty much stuck. I did walk over to another hotel (the Bellevue Syrene, and they told me I could bring my laptop over there and use their wireless connection while having lunch if I wanted. I thought that was very kind.)

    The remainder of this day was spent unpacking and enjoying the hotel’s pianist. The Excelsior is a beautiful property, just wish it had internet.

    January 2, 2008
    This was a nice quiet day spent exploring a little of Sorrento. There are a lot more English speaking people here than I heard in Naples. I just did some window shopping today on the Via S. Cesareo – pretty easy to just meander through the alley ways, and not get lost! I didn’t have my camera with me, and darn it there was a shot I would have loved – there was a man with the a huge white mustache waxed to stand completely straight off either side of his head – like a cat’s whiskers – the shot would have taken from behind – just the back of his head with these 2 long whiskers protruding from either side of his head. :-) .

    I got a major chuckle when I saw some hand-carved chess sets in a shop. There were a variety of sets that one could buy – instead of red and black, the opposing sides could be Romans & Egyptians, or Romans & Greeks, or cats & dogs, or North & South ( the “kings” were Abraham Lincoln & General Lee (?) – and the “queens” were male soldiers – but I’m not sure who). They did make me laugh!

    I had a late lunch/early dinner at Ristorante Sant Antonino, which was recommended to me by my driver. (His daughter works there in the summer.) This is where I saw Big-haired Leather Lady. She stood about 4’8”, very petite, ate more food than I could eat in 2 meals – and she was dressed from neck to toe in leather – shirt, vest, coat, trousers and high boots, all in leather. She was interesting, well known in the restaurant. They plucked her an orange off from one of their trees for her dessert. One (of many) major disadvantage for not speaking Italian is being unable to eavesdrop – one of my favorite pastimes. I would have loved to know who she was! For lunch I had Ravioli stuffed with a shrimp paste and topped with small shrimp and tomatoes. It was very good.

    Upon my return to the hotel, I was greeted very warmly again by the gentleman whom I shall now refer to as “The Suitor” – for some reason I feel the need to protect his identity. He quizzed me about my day, and was very kind to me – made me feel like I had someone to watch out for me a little. I had a cup of tea in the lounge area, and worked on some of my photos. He checked in with me, looked at a couple of pictures, and was just very charming.

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    January 3, 2008
    Met a couple from Florida this morning at breakfast – they are spending quite a bit of time (a year?) in Florence and were in Sorrento on the New Year. They are both lawyers, she is a law professor and is in Florence working. Interesting!

    I met my guide (Enrica) in the lobby, and as I was putting on my scarf and coat, The Suitor appears and takes my coat from me to help me put it on. I think it is very sweet that he does this for me, and I assume that he would do the same for anyone. He again asks me what my plans are for the day, and wishes me a good time.

    Enrica and I head out to the car, and I discover that our driver is a woman as well – so we are 3 hot chicks out for the day (although this was only in my mind – for them it was just work :-) And in reality, my hot-chick days are long gone!) The drive to Pompeii was quick, and before I know it, I’m standing in that magical place. Pompeii is astonishing – it wowed me just as much this time as it did the first time I visited 10 years ago. This time, I got to see a lot more, because of having a private guide. Enrica was excellent – very enthusiastic, and certainly knowledgeable. She told me that she regularly attends conferences and meetings to keep informed on changes in thinking about Pompeii.

    To stand where the Pompeians stood 2000 years ago, and see what their homes and lives were like is such a wonder. The mosaics, the baths, the amphitheater, the roads with the grooves from the chariots, the small and large theaters, the villas – it’s simply marvelous.

    We spent about 3, 3.5 hours at Pompeii, and then went to Ercolano (Herculaneum) – my first visit here. The excavated portion is smaller than Pompeii, but there are more mosaics and painted walls and frescos to see. The experts believe this to be a richer, more residential town than Pompeii. We spent about 1.5 to 2 hours here. My thighs are very tired from constantly jumping up and down from the sidewalks to the streets – good exercise! :-) We head back to the hotel – it was a great day!

    A huge benefit to being in this area now, and visiting the sites, is the fact that it is off season, and there are really very few other tourists around. I was able to take photos at will, without manipulating around people, and we could see everything – the only time there was a small crowd was at the baths in Pompeii – and Ercolano was deserted.

    When I walk into the hotel, The Suitor appeared (it’s almost like magic!). He once again asked about my day, how I’m feeling, etc. I just thought he was doing his job – I did NOT think he was “interested” in me in any way, shape or form. We chat for a few minutes; I head to my room to freshen up, and then decide to go out to see if I could find a bite to eat. No luck there – even the pizzerias close mid-day here, and I did not want a pastry or gelato; so I go back to the hotel for a cup of tea. The Suitor appears again, he asks if I want something to drink, and I say yes, I’m going to have some tea. He escorts me a nice quiet place to sit (where he saw me before, so I think he thinks I like it :-) ), helps me off with my coat, again we chat, and he finds the waiter and orders my tea for me. I go back to my room, and get ready to go out to dinner. Truly, it does not occur to me that I am getting special treatment.

    I stop to drop off my key, and The Suitor appears and asks where I’m going. As he takes the key from me to give to the concierge, he holds my hand. I don’t think much of this – after all, some people are more affectionate than others. Even my young guide from Naples, Antonio, would put his hand around my shoulder when we crossed a street. The Suitor has the concierge call the Tasso Ristorante (where I’m going for dinner) to alert them I am coming (it’s off season, so reservations are really not necessary). He asks if I like wine, and I say yes, but only red. He laughs, and says “that is just like me – I only like red wine too! Perhaps, Cynthia (pronounced “Chintay-a”), we could share a glass of red wine together”. I say, “Oh, that would be lovely” – because I’m thinking that a.) it will never happen, and b.) even if it did, he’ll sit with me in the hotel bar and have a glass of wine with me. Really, I just thought he was being kind to a solo traveler. So then he says, “You’re sure? I get off work at 9:00; perhaps tonight we could have the wine together?” So now I’m getting an inkling that he’s serious about the drink, but I’m still innocent to the idea that is anything more than a kind person taking pity on a person travelling alone. So I say, “Perhaps not tonight – I’m off to dinner, and it has been a long day”. “Ok”, he says, “we’ll do it tomorrow night. I will get a bottle of red wine, and I will come to your room at 9:00 tomorrow”. He quickly whisks himself away after that statement, and I’m standing there stuttering, “but but but… my room???” to myself.

    I head over to the restaurant in a daze; thinking to myself” well this is a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into Ollie.” I’m reviewing the encounters I’ve had with this man, examining them to see if I was somehow flirting or sending out “available” signals - I really don’t think so. BUT – this is the first time I have travelled alone, so maybe I’m doing it without being aware – I don’t know. For heavens sake though, I’m 52 years old!

    I have to admit – I was really flattered. The Suitor is an attractive man, and I’ve been married for 30+ years, so it’s been a VERY long time since I’ve had to deal with something like this. My naïveté comes into play again: I decide that he really is just being nice to me because I’m traveling alone, and I’m making more out of this than there really is. I have a nice dinner at Tasso – a starter of cut spaghetti with smoked provolo cheese and wild mushrooms, and a chicken breast in a marsala mushroom sauce with roasted potatos, and a cheese course for dessert. It was good – not great, but perfectly fine.

    I return to the hotel at about 8:45 – I’m hoping to “sneak” in and not have to deal with The Suitor tonight, but he really must have a security camera or something – as he is there to greet me when I arrive. “Cynthia (“Chinteeay-a”) – I have found the bottle of wine, I will be at your room at 9:00” – and off he goes again! I decide that I will allow this meeting to happen – after all, I reason, he already has access to my room anytime he wants by virtue of his job; and I figure that I will be safe BECAUSE of his job – he would not want to lose it. Of course, the other half of me is going, “Are you nuts? Women get killed in situations like this!”

    The Suitor arrives promptly at 9:00, and he opens the wine. We have a glass, and are sitting on the couch talking. I showed him a photo I took of a ruin down in a gully near the center of town, and ask him what it is. As he is standing next to me, he puts his hand on my shoulder and looks at the picture. As I step away, I quickly mention that my husband will be curious about what the ruin is. We sit back down on the couch, and he tells me that it is an old mill from the 17th century, and then proceeds to try to kiss me. I turn my head, and say, “Suitor, I am married. I’m sorry, I did not realize that this is what you wanted. I should have said no”. He immediately becomes quite contrite, says he understands, he won’t try it again, and we start having a really nice conversation about Sorrento, and Italy, and what it’s like to live here. He tells me he will plan my day for me tomorrow. I asked him if he is married, and he tells me yes! I tell him I’m shocked – why does he try to kiss me when he is married, and he gives me the “my wife doesn’t understand me, we sleep in separate bedrooms” song and dance. He quickly finished his glass of wine, and, after one more half-hearted attempt at romance, he left.

    I’m shaking my head at myself on so many different levels - this trip is truly a revelation to me about me! I seriously thought I was a competent person who “handles” things – but from the very beginning I have felt like a babe in arms. Everything from being continuously lost, to having a taxi driver take advantage of me, to allowing a strange man into my hotel room – these are NOT the actions of someone with even half a brain! I am trying to learn from these experiences. But damn it, those trains are coming up soon! :-)

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    In your situation, I probably would have thought The Suitor was just "being nice" also. Until he wanted to come to my room. That should have been the giveaway, right there.

    For some reason, Italian men seem to think that any American woman traveling solo is easy and available. Unfortunately, many of my friends have contributed to that impression on their junior year abroad or various backpacking trips, so I'm not going to judge. ;)

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    January 4, 2008
    After a fairly sleepless night spent berating myself for my imprudence, I go down for breakfast. Of course, I run into The Suitor – it is not too awkward, and he did help me plan my day today – it was a day walking around Sorrento. He told me of a shop (Lucky’s) that has a wonderful Presepe display, and it is near the only remains of the ancient city wall; he tells me where the churches are located on the map, and he tells me how to get to the Correale Di Terranova Museum. It was a good day! I went to the museum first – I was the only visitor. It has a very nice collection of paintings from the 15th century to modern, some incredible ceramics and clocks, and gorgeous furniture. It took me about an hour to go through the exhibits – they are on 3 floors. After visiting Luckys and some of the churches, it starts to sprinkle. The shops are starting to close up for siesta anyway, so I head back to the hotel. A gentleman had just entered his home from one of the main streets – I peered into the center, and he laughed at me. He invited me inside so I could see the courtyard up close, and he allowed me to take a picture. “A true Italian garden”, he said proudly.

    I like days like this where I really have nothing planned, and can meander. It is so enjoyable here – a beautiful city, and very quiet (this time of year – I imagine in the summer it is very busy). It is good to have a day of rest and peace.

    Tonight, I have dinner at The Suitor’s favorite restaurant – it is called L’Antica Trattoria – and it was certainly the best restaurant I’ve been to since I left home. The Suitor called and made a reservation for me (again, no real need, although it is a Friday night), and as I am leaving, he appears to tell me that he made sure they would be kind to me. And then he asks if there is any chance I shall change my mind. And I “gotta tell ya” – after surviving last night, I am now having a blast with this. I say, “No, Suitor – stop this.” He says, “Never?” I reply in my best Garbo voice, “Never” and walk out the door.

    I feel like I’m living in a movie – it is certainly fantasy at this point. I’m staying in a magnificent hotel, in an unbelievably beautiful location, in need of emotional recovery; a handsome man is “pursuing” me…. It’s the stuff of dreams. ;-)

    Food Description Alert Skip or drool, your choice! :-)
    Dinner at L’Antica was fantastic. The Maitre D’ and other waiters (I must have had 3 waiters plus the Maitre D’) were incredibly helpful, they chose my dinner for me – asking a question or 2 – do you like fish? Prawns?

    It was a prix-fixe menu: I started with a glass of Prosecco ( mmm); and they brought large green olives and a canapé of a whipped cheese with a sweet jam(?) on top. Next came some warm breads – an herb bread and a walnut bread, with some wonderful olive oil (and I’m not normally a bread eater!). Then, a “gift from the chef”: a deep fried zucchini flower stuffed with an incredibly smooth ricotta & mozzarella mixture, and drizzled with a little honey for a perfect touch of sweetness.

    The starter was a shaved raw fish (I don’t know what kind) that had been marinated in an orange sauce for a few hours, then plated atop a small bed of lettuce, with a yogurt drizzle and passion fruit – it was wonderful. This paired with the Prosecco was absolute heaven.

    At this point, one of my waiters (Antonino, after the patron saint of Sorrento) told me I am beautiful. Now, I am old enough to be his mother, so this is just pure malarkey on his part. I’m afraid I did laugh out loud at him, and told him he was obviously Italian – he just grinned - very cute.

    The next course was pasta – it was very thin black & white spaghetti in a fish broth with anchovy on top, and another fish. When I asked how they made the pasta black, he told me it was from the cuttlefish – I’m not sure what cuttlefish is, so I’ll leave it to the food experts. I was expecting him to say squid ink or something, but I don’t know what cuttlefish is, so? There was a little bit of “bite” to this – not much, just a touch. And again – it was delicious.

    At this point, a mandolin player (Vincenzo) comes to my table. He is very good – and plays passionately. I recognize the tune – it’s “The House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals. On a mandolin. (Huh?) Well, can you guess what happens next? I think I have a new career - I shall go to restaurants to eat, and when a musician appears, I’ll sing. Yep. Singing again. But very quietly this time – just Vincenzo and I can hear. We also did a duet of an Elvis number, and then we closed with… Summertime – in harmony. These songs seem incongruous on a mandolin, but somehow this is just all fitting into my life right now.

    Next course was the prawns – flash-fried, along with deep fried artichoke. There was a drizzle of a sweet orange sauce, which I felt detracted from the dish – the salty-crunchiness of prawns and artichoke was perfect without the sauce.

    Lastly, they brought dessert – a molten chocolate cake with a small scoop of vanilla gelato, and some granny smith apples. Heaven.
    End of Food Description

    It was a wonderful dinner – worth every penny! I got to go into the kitchen to thank the Chef –the kitchen is observable behind glass – always a good thing in my opinion. At least you know it’s clean and carefully prepared. The manager gifted me with a bottle of Mela Annurca – told me to serve it cold. It was a very fun and special night.

    It’s funny eating alone – I think the wait staff feels funny for you – they bring each course VERY quickly – if I ate the dinner I had tonight with another person, it would have been a 2 or 2.5 hour dinner; with just me, it was served in 1.5 hour – even with the singing :-). Unfortunately, this meant that I was heading back to the hotel before 9:00, and The Suitor would probably still be there. However – as I was heading home, there was some kind of event going on in the main Piazza – people were congregated there, music was playing, and there was an MC announcing some kind of game/contest that young people were playing. They were standing on what appeared to be large puzzle pieces, and they had to move in sequence and try to connect the correct pieces together. No one I asked knew what it was about, but it was fun to watch.

    I returned to the hotel at 9:10, hoping that The Suitor would be gone – but no, he was still there. (It is sure funny how he manages to .always be there when I return.) We chatted for a few minutes, I thanked him for the restaurant recommendation, told him what a wonderful dinner it was, and said goodnight. I could feel his eyes on my back as I walked away (back in the movie!). I put the Do Not Disturb sign on my door, and waited – knowing that he was not going to let it go. Sure enough the phone rings (thankfully just the phone, and not a knock on the door), I answer, “Pronto”. The Suitor says, “It’s me. I just wanted to say good night and sleep well”. “Thank you”, I reply. “I miss you”, he tells me. “Stop it – you’re being silly. Good night.” “See you in the morning”, he says. Indeed.

    .January 5, 2008
    Today was my Almafi coast drive – and it was spectacular. I was delighted to see Enrica and Elcelia are again my guide and driver, so the 3 hot chicks head out again. :-). As we head up over the mountain, I can see why my driver from Naples was so enthusiastic about this area – it is picture-postcard beautiful.

    I cannot begin to imagine what this place must be like in the summer filled with traffic – the roads are VERY narrow, and there were times when we had to back up to an enlarged area because in many places the roads are not wide enough to allow 2 way traffic. The sky cleared as we were driving, enhancing the experience. I did feel a little nauseous from all the zigzagging – I would hate to try that drive if I was prone to car sickness!

    We stopped in Positano, Almafi and Ravello – each very beautiful in their own way. We went into a couple of the churches in Almafi & Ravello – lovely. For me, Positano is the most beautiful – it is the most symmetrical in the way it is built up – the other towns are more scattered.

    In two areas on the drive, there were outdoor Presepes set up – these Presepe are becoming an integral part of this trip, and I have to keep reminding myself how fortunate I am to be seeing these miniature works of art - they are only on display during the Christmas season. After being to the Almalfi coast, I can see that the Presepe “located” the birth of Christ in these hills and not in Bethlehem. :-)

    Enrica and I have a late lunch in Almafi, and then we head back to the hotel, again stopping for photos, as I am still enthralled with the beauty of this place. We get to the hotel, and wonder of wonders, The Suitor is NOT there to greet me! I go to my room to freshen up, and then head out to the streets of Sorrento again, camera in hand.

    I beginning to think I need to revise the name of this post to the following: Bumbling my way to and through Italy – and good Lord No, I don’t want to have sex with you! This goes from the interesting, to the scary, to the ridiculous, to the sublime.

    I walk to a public park, and a young man just getting onto his motor scooter says to me, “You are American?” “Yes”, I reply, “how did you know?” “I work in a hotel”, he says, as if that explains everything. I had not said one word, and I am immediately identifiable. I know – at least 2 things give me away – the camera, and the fact that today I am wearing jeans. (But with heels!) Ah well. He then says, “are you with a group?” I say no. “Oh, you are alone?” and he starts to get back off his scooter. “No, no”, I reply – “I am with friends. Bye.” And I make a hasty retreat. He gets back on the scooter and drives away.

    I look at the wonderful view, and then head back across the street to go back up into the main part of the historical section of town. As I’m walking, another young man (really – 25?) is coming towards me; I glance at him and smile (wrong move), and I realize he has turned around is now walking behind me. I turn onto a different street, he follows. This goes on for a few minutes, and I am sure he is following me. So, I go into a bar and order an espresso. I assume by the time I drink that, he will have lost interest. Wrong. I walk out the street, and -he appears. We go through the turning-onto-different-streets, he-follows routine, and I decide this is silly, so I go around a corner and just stop and stand there (in an area where there were lots of people). He comes around the corner and practically freaks out when he sees me just standing there. (Really, it was a classic double-take) “Hello” he finally says. “Hello” I reply in a very cold voice. He tries his hand at small talk – where are you from, I’m from Sorrento kinds of thing, and then he says, “You like to take pictures?” “Yes”. “Come with me, I will show you something you will like to photograph.” “No,” I say, “I am not going with you. Goodbye”, and I walk away. He has finally given up – he did not follow me anymore (maybe he finally saw my wrinkles!).

    Ok, I walk into a perfume shop in search of a new perfume. There are 2 elderly gentlemen – one the shop owner, the other his friend. The owner and I start trying the different perfumes, and the friend enters the conversation too. I choose a perfume, the owner goes to find it in his storage area, and the friend says, “Would you like to have coffee with me? I will come to your hotel room.” I AM NOT KIDDING. The man was at least 70 if he was a day. “Oh, that would be lovely – my husband is there now, and he would love to meet you.” He decided not to come.

    And we’re not done with this topic yet.

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    Wow. Are you Cynthia Brinkley by any chance? ;)

    I know the Italian men love to hit on American women, but this is getting ridiculous. I would have been really shaken up by that guy who was following you. Geez.

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    cheryllj; LOL! It is just one of the most ridiculous series of events I have ever been in - and no - I am NOT beautiful - I am a typical, middle aged woman. I do have a theory which I'll share when I get to the end of Sorrento. And it was scary to have a, ahem, Stalker.

    Cyn

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    One update on the Naples garbage situation - it has gotten quite dire. There actually seems to be an area in Naples that is almost under seige - fires, blocked roads... I'm not sure what else, but it looked frightening. When I went to Pompeii - on the outskirts of Naples, there was a huge stack of trash (in a residential area), that someone had set on fire. There was no emergency response there, it was just burning in the streets.

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    I chose drool.

    Oh, my gosh! What a hottie you must be cyn... and how funny / ironic the last part of your screen name is stalker. ;-)

    Your story of these men in hot pursuit reminds me of the scene in Under The Tuscan Sun where Diane Lane's character is being pursued by men through the streets of Rome. The 70+ year old man takes the cake!

    Terrific report, look forward to more!

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    Love that you sang yet again. See, you were getting into the Italian Spirit. The Amalfi Coast men know how to play their game very well, glad you enjoyed it. Well, maybe, we are not to the end yet with The Stalker, some take it more seriously than others!

    Scriva di più per favore

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    Chinteeay-a...I'm loving this report! :-d

    OK, I can understand how you didn't realize what he had in mind at first, but when he said he was coming to your room, that should have tipped you off!

    I'd be interested in more information on your guides in both Naples and Sorrento. How much do they charge? I will definitely have to eat at L’Antica Trattoria. It sounds wonderful.

    Looking forward to more!

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    Cyn,

    I'm just catching up with your report. I love it! It's as though I can follow you around and watch.

    Love the men--especially the Suitor. I like that you are able to learn so much about yourself on this solo trip.

    I am jealous of your being in Pompeii and Herculaeum without lots of people. What a great experience.

    CW

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    January 6, 2008
    My last full day in Sorrento – I am feeling sad to think of leaving. It has been a wonderful few days here.

    My day starts with … another… proposition. The Maitre D’ at breakfast asked if I was alone (I take it to mean so he can remove the extra plate on the table – which he does, but no – that is not his intent.) As I leave the restaurant, he walks me out. “Would you like to have coffee with me? I can come to your room at 2:00. You are very beautiful” At this point, I have definitely entered the ridiculous portion of this tale - I’m starting to look around for the Candid Camera crew, because the last 36 hours cannot possibly be real. I thank him kindly, but tell him no, I cannot meet him for coffee. And the really funny part of this one is that over the last few days, I have not thought he particularly liked me – he’s been somewhat cold (or at least reserved) when he sees me. Mamma Mia!

    I was hoping to head to Capri today, but just before I was going to buy tickets for the ferry, it started to rain, so I decided against it. I instead walked around town some more (glad I squeezed my umbrella in!), and saw a couple of my newfound friends – I saw the man who sold me some perfume, and he greeted me as a if he knew me, and then as I was standing and eating a chocolate gelato (mmm), Vincenzo (the mandolin player from L’Antica) starts waving frantically at me. I had seen him earlier – he was walking with his wife and his wheel-chair bound friend, but until he waved, I did not recognize him. He was very sweet, he introduced me to his wife and friend, and told me that tonight would be the last night L’Antica is open until February, and that he hoped I would come back to dine. It made me feel good – as though he enjoyed our “singing night” almost as much as I did. - it really was such a fun night for me!

    I head back to the hotel and start to do some packing. I’m trying not to make any purchases on this trip (I really don’t need any more “stuff” in my house), but there have been a few, so the packing gets a little trickier. For having a somewhat rough start here, I have really enjoyed the Excelsior. It is a beautiful hotel with a spectacular view of the bay and Vesuvius, and it is a great location for walking around the historic center of Sorrento.

    I decide that I shall return to L’Antica for dinner – and again, it was wonderful. You remember my waiter, Antonino – the young man who told me I was beautiful and I laughed at him? Well, he was there… again, he tells me I am beautiful, and he asks when I am going to be back at my hotel. Very wary now, I tell him I don’t know. “Would you prefer to have a drink at 11:00?” What, I ask? His English is not the best (of course, it’s a thousand times better than my Italian, so!) He repeats – “Would you prefer to have a drink at 11:00”? I finally get it – he’s asking me if I would like to have a drink with him at 11:00 (I assume in my room, but we don’t get that far into the conversation). At this point, I have finally entered the sublime (or the surreal, I’m not sure which). And now I have developed my theory of why this is going on:

    It’s genetic. Italian men have a gene that makes a single woman – ANY single woman – including chubby middle-aged woman with wrinkles – irresistible. They simply MUST try and seduce – it’s a reflex – completely automatic and without thought. They just cannot help themselves – heck, they don’t even know they’re doing it. It’s either that or I really am on candid camera and they just haven’t told me yet.

    When all of this started happening, I was going to exclude it from this report – it embarrasses me, and I was feeling like I must be doing something wrong, something to encourage the advances. But then I realized that I haven’t read much about this type of thing – a few references to “Italian Men”, but that was all. If I had read of it, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so unprepared. I am not a shy person; I love to engage people in conversation. I make direct eye contact with people, and I will even on occasion touch someone’s arm during conversation (both men and women). I think I am pretty typically American in this respect, but that may be enough to suggest “interest”. The more it is happening, the more I am able to defuse it (practice makes perfect?), so I don’t think of it as a problem now. I have shared it here so perhaps others will not be as naive and unprepared as I was.

    Dinner was fabulous again – I had a fried shrimp starter in a sauce served with anchovies and salad, gnocchi with cherry tomatoes and a melted cheese, and bacon wrapped pork loin with a lovely sauce served on a bed of mashed potatoes mixed with something green (arugula?), some “hush puppies” set on a single sheet of phyllo dough shaped as a small plate, and some grilled vegetables – including broccoli, cauliflower and fennel. It was terrific! I passed on dessert and the prosecco tonight. Vincenzo played for me – but he arrived late (and was so apologetic), so I didn’t get to hear him for very long. Another fun night.

    I return to the hotel, and of course The Suitor appears – he gently tries one last time to persuade me to change my mind. He starts his own holiday tomorrow, and he suggests that he could meet me in Rome when I get there later in the month. He was persistent! We part friends – he gave me his card and told me if I needed anything while I was in Italy to call him. If nothing else, he certainly made Sorrento interesting!

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    Cyn, your report is enjoyable to read and even more so because you are still there having your adventures. I loved your pictures too - there are never too many pictures. Thanks for the info on Sorrento and the AC; I am hoping that our next trip will include that area.

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    Sounds like you're having a great time!

    Did you think having a guide for Pompeii was really worthwhile, and can I ask how much it cost? And I was thinking of doing Herculaneum on a different day - could you have spent a whole day at Pompeii.

    Making eye contact will definitely increase the level of adventure.... And you were lucky than inviting a man into your room turned out as well as it did. But of course, even though nothing happened, you don't know what he SAID happened, which may have had an effect on the maitre d'.

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    cyn, you are NOT chubby, so I hope you weren't referring to yourself.

    Very much enjoying your (mis)adventures. I hope you're having at least twice as much fun as yoru readers.

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    In Istanbul I was part of a tour group, but had some free time on my own. I stopped to have a soft drink near a museum & conversed with the young waiter a bit. When I started leaving, he insisted on going with me! I did some fast talking & said I was meeting my tour group! He was young enough to be my son! I thought it was funny, as I didn't think I was in any danger. It does pay to be careful, though.

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    I have internet access again, so I'll be uploading a bunch more today.

    cw- it was truly a privilege to have Pompeii & Ercolano to myself - I was in Pompeii in July about 10 years ago, so I know how special my day was. :-)

    Toucan - glad you like the photos, I know I tend to go overboard on them.

    WilTravel - As I said, it embarrasses me that I was so naive. Maybe this will help prepare someone else a little more than I was. Ah well, a story to tell! ;-)

    Holly_uncasdewar - Really - this is the world of females traveling solo?? Everywhere, or just Italy? I wish I had know that when I was young and just lookin'! :D

    thursdaysd- I am having a great time, thanks! Some days are better than others, but overall, it's been fantastic so far.

    Re: the guide: Yes, it was woth it to me to have her. She brought things to life, and it is much more interesting to me to be able to ask questions when I see something instead of trying to find it in a guide book. I can't really give you the breakdown for just the guide - I had a guide, driver and car for 2 full days, and it cost me about $1500.00

    Re: Pompeii and Ercolano: I could have spent a little more time at Pompeii, but because I was not struggling with crowds, I don't think I would have needed much more time. As far as doing them on separate days, for me it would not have made sense - the 2 sites are relativley close (maybe 20-30 minutes drive apart?), and it would have added a lot more expense to backtrack a second day. Plus, Ercolano is a much smaller site than Pompeii and you won't need as much time there - perhaps if you were to combine it with something else in the same area (I don't know what, but I'm sure there are other things to see!) it might work for you.

    annhig - by the time I get all this uploaded, this thread may well be long enough to be a novel! And I will say my imagination has certainly been active! :D

    ellenem: I had to laugh when I read your comment - you are probably right - it would certainly explain a lot!

    marigrss - thanks for the cuttlefish info - I figured it must be squid ink to blacken the pasta, but wasn't sure.

    Cyn

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    January 7, 2008
    The dreaded train day has arrived! I have a driver to take me from Sorrento to Naples, and from there I get the train to Taormina. The driver turns out to be Elcelia – she is a very nice woman, but she speaks no English and I speak no Italian, so: it makes for a long quiet drive to the station, and I am unable to ask her for any help/suggestions about the trains. We get to the station, and she says, “Ok.”. Ok. Off I go into the great unknown.

    I have documents in hand, I am clutching my purse close to my side, and trying to keep good contact with my 2 bags. I find what I hope is a ticket counter with someone who speaks English, I hand him my ticket, which he looks at like it’s written in hieroglyphics. He finally hands it back, and says, “platform one”. Ok, platform one. I point and say “This way?” He nods. I go through a short corridor, and find platform 1. So far, so good. I look at my ticket, it tells me Train 725, Coach 2, Seat 54. Hmmm. How do I figure out which car is coach 2? I look around the station, there are no signs in English, I’m getting nervous.

    A few trains come and go, I try to figure out which trains they are by the schedule posted by the tracks. It appears that no other train is coming on track 1, so the first one that pulls in should be the one I get on. I could see no identification on the trains themselves. As I’m standing there, a woman of about my age arrives and stands waiting. I smile, she smiles, and she says something to me in Italian. I tell her Non parla Italiano. “Oh, English? I speak some English.” Oh happy day! We chat for a few minutes, she tells me she was in Naples visiting her son for the holiday; she asks where I am sitting, and tells me where she is – one car away. I tell her it’s my first time on the train by myself, she says it’s easy. Maybe we can move to sit together she says. That would be great! Not to be though – once we board, I never see her again.

    The train comes, and I start moving towards what to me seems like should be cars 2 & 3 – near the engine. No no, she says, it’s at the end. Well, that makes no sense to me, but so be it. We get on the train, and of course she is correct. But – the signs on the cars confuse me – to my left it says 1, so I assume the next one is 2 and try to make my way that way – but there is an absolute bottleneck of people struggling to get on the train and get their luggage situated. It was a mess! I finally manage to crawl and drag my way out of the melee, and find what I think is my seat. The train is very crowded. I get my luggage stowed, sit down, and one of the people sitting across from me is sneezing and coughing and is obviously sick. Oh joy.

    The train comes to the next stop, but there were no announcements made that I could hear, and I couldn’t see any signs on the platform to say what the stop is. Wow, I think. The only way I’m going to know which stop is mine is by the time. At a few of the stops, I could see the signs that indicated what stop it was, but at most stops I couldn’t see them. I am again very thankful for the Fodor’s thread on trains that had the website for Italian trains. I had a printout of the stops before mine, and it gave me some comfort to check them off as we went through. At one stop, some people get on, and now I discover that I am in the wrong car. Drag down my luggage, and go in search of the correct car. I find it, and it’s got an older couple traveling with their cat, and a young couple traveling with their 2 screaming children – one about 6 months old, the other about 2 or 3. It’s not their fault – kids are kids. The mother is very good with the children – she (and he too) obviously love their family. But it was a long ride until they finally fell asleep.

    They get off, and now my companions are 2 young men. Given the history of this trip so far, I am a little uncomfortable with my new seat mates. One of them is hyper – ADD? He can’t sit still; he’s up and down and in and out. He finally can’t stand it anymore, and has to engage me in conversation. I learn that they are both in the military – he is a marine, and his friend is with the financial police. The marine explains to me that the train will be getting on a ferry to cross the straights – he insists on taking me to see a map so he can show me where we are going. We get loaded on the ferry, and then he insists on going up on deck to see the crossing.

    It was a very uncomfortable feeling for me, being on a train in a boat. All I could think was that if it sank, we would all drown. The train eventually lost power, so we were all sitting there in the dark for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only about 20 minutes.. I did not like this one little bit - it was just plain eerie.

    It turns out that the marine did not have a first class ticket, so he was actually in the wrong car. He left, so that left just me and the financial policeman. He had not talked to me while his friend was there, but almost as soon as the marine left, he asked me a question. I think he was shy to try his English in front of his friend. He laughed at me at one point – about 20 minutes before my stop, I had pulled my luggage down, put on my coat, and was standing there ready to race to the nearest exit to get off the train. In his best English he said “20 minutes”. I nodded, “yes, I know, but I’m afraid I’ll miss my stop.” “No,” he says, “I tell you”. He was very sweet to me, and helped me find the right direction to exit the train when my stop came – really, I don’t know how I would have known that otherwise. Still bumbling along here.

    To finish on the trains: I was so stressed with this mode of transport that I have cancelled my other 2 train trips and hired a car to take me from Taormina to Agrigento, and then from Agrigento to Palermo. I hate being so vulnerable – I can’t understand any signage, there were no announcements, and because I am alone, there is no one to help with anything (like watching the luggage while taking turns using the restroom). For most people, travelling the trains is a wonderful means of getting around – for me, I’m a chicken. I tried it, I didn’t like it, I’m not doing it alone again unless I can speak the language – and maybe not even then.

    After a very long day (I left the hotel at around 11:30, the train left Napoli at 1:20, and arrived in Taormina at 8:20), I get off the train, and see my transfer is there. He helps me with my bags, we get into his van, and he RACES up these winding roads to the hotel (San Dominica palace Hotel). It’s dark, so I can’t see any of the scenery, but I am so thankful to be off the train that I don’t care. I check into the hotel, which is beautiful. It’s a former 15th century monastery, converted to a hotel in the 1800s, and it still has a lot of the original artwork and cloisters, gardens and chapels.

    I have dinner at the hotel restaurant, as I have not eaten since breakfast, and am quite hungry. The restaurant is one of these “fussy” types where everything is prepared table-side. I had a wild salmon marinated in an orange sauce for a starter; they bring a whole salmon to the table and slice off the serving, and then bring a tray with capers, cream cheese, onions, etc and you choose what you would like for an accompaniment to the salmon. My main was a roasted chicken stuffed with ricotta, roast potatoes and mixed vegetables. Luckily, there was not anything to “prepare” tableside with this dish. :-)

    It was ok, not fabulous, but certainly tasty. After dinner, in spite of the fact that I am exhausted, I cannot resist and sit by the fire and have a glass of port. It was a delicious moment; cozy, warm, safe, peaceful. As I am heading back to my room, the concierge (Antonino) appeared by my side. Mrs Stalker, I must show you the chapel and the (prayer? meeting?) rooms. Oh, ok. Thank you! Vey nice. (Uh-oh.)

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    Wow cyn, congrats on surviving the train, but I'm sorry you found it such a downer! I've ridden a lot of trains (solo) in countries where I don't speak the language, and I know it can be scary getting stuck with compartment-mate who seems like he's coming on to you, happily I've only had that happen twice, (both times in sleepers, though!), mostly I've had good experiences.

    I'm taking the same route you did, in April (although an earlier train and on to Syracuse), and I was expecting to get off the train on the ferry. Was that not allowed? You were on the direct intercity, right? Did you check out the restaurant car?

    Thanks for the info on Pompeii and the guide - that's well out of my price range, lol! I think I'll settle for the audio guide. I have two museum speeds, dead slow and super-fast, and I expect Pompeii will be dead slow.

    Looking forward to your experiences in Sicily!

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    Thursdaysd, Since you seem prepared to put in some serious time in Pompeii, have a look at this article from the London Times about a proposed six-hour visit:

    http://tinyurl.com/2hlykf

    It's the best of its kind that I've seen.

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    Zerlina: thanks so much! That's a great tour, although I doubt I'll be starting it at 8:30! I'm not a morning person, and I'm staying at Il Nido in Sorrento, with the first shuttle to town leaving at 8:00. I also doubt I'll be as lucky with the crowds as cyn, but in mid-April I'm hoping it won't be TOO crowded.

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    thursdaysd - sorry - I didn't mean to give to impression that the 2 young men on the train actually made any advances - it was just my paranoia kicking in after the "adventures" in Sorrento. They were both perfect gentleman.

    Yes, you can get off the train on the ferry - it is actually very beautiful in the straights at night with the city lights on both sides - I was just worried about my luggage, so I didn't want to leave it alone for very long. Most people just stayed in the train. Even the smokers just stepped outside the train - they didn't seem to go aywhere else. I never made it to the restaurant car, if there was one (didn't occur to me)- there was a cart that came by selling drinks and snacks. Sorry, I don't know if it was the "direct intercity" - although there was nothing "direct" about it - it had many stops! :-) I'm glad I had the experience, now that a litle time has passed, but I still don't want to repeat it. Such a coward I am!

    Cyn

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    Hi Cyn,
    What stories!!
    I think your theory is spot on, by the way... and it doesn't only apply to Italian men. I went to Greece with my husband in the spring of 2006. If I so much as walked 10 feet away from him (easy to do when you are both browsing shops on a pedestrian-only street), I was approached by men. I was only 26 at the time and a bit freaked out that some of them men were older than my father! In retrospect, it was all completely harmless and no one said anything disrespectful at all. As you said, I think they just felt they had to try or something.

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    Are you or me? That is exactly how I feel about trains, I was cringing just reading your post and empathy-ing! I felt the same way on that ferry too, dread mixed with nausea from the fumes and the ferry employee smoking while leaning on a gasoline keg. I stayed at the San Domenica and loved the grounds and I can't wait to read more.

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    January 8, 2008
    When I awoke, I could see that the sun was shining, so I raced to the balcony to see my view: It is spectacular – the scenery here is flamboyantly beautiful. To my left, mountains tumble down into a small bay, straight ahead were the palace gardens and the sea, to my right, Mt Etna in all her snow-covered glory. After reading some Fodor’s trip reports, I realize I am lucky to see her, so I head down to breakfast, and on my way back see the concierge (Rosemarie) about going to Mt Etna. She told me that there is an organized tour on Thursday (my last full day), but I am afraid to chance the weather, so I make arrangements for a car and driver (E200). It was a fantastic day.

    Rosemarie walks me out to the car and introduces me to the driver, Marco. “He speaks good English”, she says. Wonderful!

    Marco and I head out, and we’re chatting away, and he says, “Where are you from – you have no accent!” “The US,” I say. “Yes, I know”, he replies. “but what state?” “Vermont”, and as I start to explain that it’s in the Northeastern part of the US (because few people outside the US know where VT is), he interrupts and says, “Yes, I know where Vermont is, I’m originally from Indiana!” I had to laugh – that of course would be why he speaks “good English”. And he has an accent – it’s Italian!

    Marco was a wonderful driver; he made frequent stops so I could take pictures, was knowledgeable about Sicily, was concerned that I not get car sick, was the temperature in the car ok – very solicitous. We stop in a small town so I can visit its church (charming), and he suggests another stop on the way to see a beehive and a shop that sells the bee products. I request that we visit after Etna, so we don’t lose her to the clouds.

    It was starting to cloud up a bit, but the cable car was still operating – there were lots of people skiing. At first, I was feeling a bit awkward, and almost didn’t go on the cable car, but what the heck, I’m only here once, so I make myself go. It was about as I expected – some clouds, a bit of a hazy view of the coastline; and the beautiful mountain itself - amazing. Coming back down the mountain, the cable car stops. I PANIC! I am at one of the higher points along the way, and I start imagining how in the world I am going to be rescued. (Ladder? Jump into a “trampoline”? Helicopter? Or wait – maybe Etna has exploded and they won’t be able to rescue me at all!) It was an awful moment (or 5 – it took about 5 minutes to get moving) – I don’t especially like heights, and being alone in that stopped cable car had my adrenaline pumping. I was so relieved when it started moving again! I’m chuckling at myself as I write this – I am SUCH a coward! I get to the bottom, and am relieved to find that my legs will support me and that my knees are not trembling as I walk off the cable car. Whew!

    After lunch at the cafeteria on Etna, and we start back towards the hotel. We stop in the town with the beehives (I hope their honey bees are doing better than ours!), and Marco shows me the machinery for getting the honey from the combs. I buy a small bag of honey candies (which I don’t really want, but feel obligated to buy SOMEthing), and we leave the shop. Across the street, a rather tall white dog with black spots is standing as if at “attention”. I point him out to Marco, and he says, “Oh, he’s a sheep dog”. I realize that I’m hearing the clanking of cow bells attached to some of the sheep’s necks. It was such a charming moment – I see the sheep in a green glade in the middle of this town, with the dog guarding his flock, and hear the clanging of those bells – perfect. I hope I always remember it.

    From there, we head down to a beach; across the small bay Marco shows me the hotel and the Greek Theater. We then drive to the Greek Theater, and I am awestruck. It is so much better than I anticipated – with a superb setting! And I say this even though Etna has for the moment hidden herself in clouds. If she comes back out, I shall race back here to enjoy that site.

    It was a great day, but I am quite tired. I return to the hotel, have some tea, and finally get connected to the internet. (Oh, and “naturally”, the concierge (Antonino – not Rosemarie) asks me out for a drink. I tell him no thank you, although I couldn’t quite understand where it was he wanted to go – it wasn’t my room, it was someplace “beautiful”. But no. No, no, no).

    January 9, 2008
    As I’m getting ready to head out for breakfast, the phone rings. It is The Suitor! “Good morning, Cynthia, I miss you. Is everything alright there?” He was checking on me, and again made his offer of assistance should I need any help. I am to call him if I need anything. And if I change my mind about Roma, he can still join me – it’s only an hour by train. ;-) Right.

    This was a quiet day spent walking the streets for a while, and then back to the hotel to do some (unfortunately necessary) work. I had lunch in a restaurant in town – pizza with mozzarella, gorgonzola, pistachios and arugula. The pistachios and arugula are added after the pizza is cooked – it was wonderful! I had a lovely walk around the hotel’s property too – the cloister is beautiful, as are the gardens. A nice, uneventful day.

    January 10, 2008
    I awaken at sunrise, and am delighted to see that there is one. Etna is showing herself in all her glory, and wearing a splendid pink dress to greet the sun. She’s a little dirty around her collar though; the bartender later told me that there had been a small explosion last night. I got a couple of beautiful photos of Etna all dressed up. After breakfast, I spend a delightful hour outside on the terrace, drinking my cappuccino and sketching Etna. What a treat that was!:-)

    I head back to the Greek Theater, so I can see what it looks like when Etna is visible. I am properly impressed. The scenery here is truly magnificent. I spend some time in the theater sketching too - I feel so fortunate to be able to sit and become completely absorbed in this site; but then my charcoal-lead breaks, so I am finished before I was ready. I walk back to the center of town, and find the Roman theater – they are doing construction on the church (S. Caterina), so I’m not sure if there’s any access to the theater or not; if so it was closed today.

    I then decide to take the “hike” to the Santuario della Madonna della Rocca – and what a hike it is! I almost give up a couple of times – especially in the area with no hand rails (I still don’t like heights!), but I persevere, and I make it to the top. Again, it is a spectacular view – truly beautiful! After I make my way back down (about 45 minutes up? 30 minutes down?), I go to a pastry shop and have a cannoli and an espresso. So good!

    I get a little lost going back to the hotel, but that was a good thing. I stumbled into a magical park (the Villa Communale, aka Parco duca di Cesaro). Very enjoyable. I have a fun encounter with the park attendant – she speaks no English, and I (still) speak no Italian. I show her my map, and ask how to get to the hotel. She doesn’t like my map, and searches and searches in her purse for her own. It was comical to watch her (I could relate!)– she was mumbling away to herself, pulling practically everything out of her purse before she finally finds it, and shows me how to go. She offered me 2 routes, and when I chose the first one she offered, she seemed pleased, as it was not back through town, but along the edge of the hillside with views of the sea. It was fun.

    I make it back to the hotel, and am disappointed to find that a small “convention” group has arrived. It definitely disturbs the peace and tranquility of this lovely hotel. Selfish, aren’t I - although, it really illustrates for me how wonderful it is to be traveling at this time: the staff was really busy with the convention, and so had no time for chatting with me. I assume this is how it would be during high season – I have been fortunate to receive so much personal attention.

    At about 5:00, I head back to town to try and see some of the churches I have missed – I’m pleased to see that the Duomo is open, and I also revisit San Giuseppe. When there’s no one else present, I’ve added singing in churches to my repertoire (in particular, an Alleluia choral number I recall from high school, and as much of Ave Maria as I can recall, with the occasional Amazing Grace thrown in) – wonderful acoustics. And yes, I laugh at myself! :-)

    Back to the hotel for dinner: I start with couscous with fish, tomatoes and basil in a fish stock, and my main is the small orecchiette (ear-shaped) pasta with mussels and shrimp (again, all table-side preparation/presentation – even my pasta – they roll it over on a tray, show me the bowl, then serve a portion of it to me on a plate, and keep the rest covered in the bowl for when I want more – which I don’t). It was very good, but the service is just too fussy for me – it seems like a lot of extra work. It is unique though – it’s the first time I’ve seen practically every dish prepared/presented by the Maitre D’ or his (sous?) assistant. Oh, many of the restaurants in town are closed for the season at this time of year.

    After dinner, I return to the bar to sit by the fire again, and the bartender suggests a dessert wine (I can’t remember the name, but this was his description: the grapes are dried in the wind and the sunshine, off an island south of Sicily; the wine starts sweet and finishes dry). It was very enjoyable, the perfect finish to a wonderful day.

    This is the link to soke of my Taormina pictures. http://tinyurl.com/2kfj83

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    Cyn - loving your stories, you have a great writing style. I've gotten some great ideas for Rome. I have a dumb question - when you hire a guide, such as Marco, and you stop for lunch do you buy his lunch or is that included in your fee? I've never hired a guide before but am thinking of doing that when I take my solo trip in 2009.

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    jent103: My camera is a panasonic fz30 - bought it at the end of 2005 for Africa, and I love it. I must apologize for the quality of some of the photos though - all interior shots in churches are done without flash, and my hand is not very steady.

    thursdaysd - you may be right on the dessert wine - would that include Lipari? I hope you get good views of Mt. Etna too - April, right? I would bet it will be perfect weather - although I don't know if there will still be snow.

    cls2paris - thanks for your kind words! Yeah, it's always a dilemma for me about meals with guides. I've had guides (in Africa) where it was simply expected that he would dine with us in lodges- but all meals were included in what we paid for the safari. In Thailand, the guides get free food at the restaurants, and sometimes joined us and sometimes didn't. On this trip, I have bought lunch for both my guide in Pompeii and for Marco in Taormina - I was happy to have the company, so when they asked I wanted to take a break for lunch, I asked if they would join me as I would like to buy them lunch. I hesitated to ask, because they are working very hard and may like to have a break for a little while. I can only hope that they would tell me that, but they would probably be too polite. At any rate, it was fun (for me at least) in both instances to have them join me.

    Cyn

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    Cyn - Lipari is one of the Aeolian islands off the north coast. Pantellaria is off by itself to the southwest, closer to Africa than Sicily. I'm trying to decide whether to visit Pantellaria or the Egadi islands, off the east coast.

    Yes, I'll be there end of April, beginning of May, such fun to read your report about places I'll be visiting!

    cls2paris - probably best to ask about whether lunch for the guide (and driver) is included when you agree the price, if you're concerned about it.

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    January 11, 2008
    Today is moving day. My driver is to arrive at 9:30, so I finish packing, have breakfast, settle my hotel account, and am ready to go. And I wait. Finally, at 9:50, I call my contact to see what’s going on. She finds out that the driver had car trouble, and will be at least another hour before he can get here. Ok. I take a quick walk back through town, come back to the hotel and chat for a while with a couple from Wales, and eventually, 2 hours later, the driver arrives. As I am leaving, the concierge Antonino walks with me to the car – “Why would you not go out with me for a drink – don’t you trust me or was it something else?” I tell him I don’t trust him (and to be kind) – or myself. He smiles, and waves as I drive away.

    My driver’s name is also Antonino, and I have trouble understanding his English. He tells me that he is taking English classes every Monday night, and he really wanted to chat. He was a very nice man, although we did get lost – not for long though. The drive from Taormina to Agrigento took nearly 3 hours. I arrive at my hotel, the Foresteria Baglia della Luna, and it is not quite at the same level as my three prior hotels. It is dark, the rooms are musty smelling and cold, and the beds are not very comfortable – I literally had to pull the sheets off to see what in the world the “twigs” were that were poking me all night: plastic cylinders about 1 ½” long sewn into the mattress every 6” or so on both sides to hold the stuffing in place. I’m also disappointed, because for some reason I had it in my head that: 1.) The hotel was located with direct access to the Valley of the Temples – it is not within walking distance. And 2.) I thought it was overlooking the coast – there is a small bit that one can see from one corner of the property, and from the dining room but that’s it – it’s about a mile(?) from the coast. Not the spectacular setting I’ve been spoiled with so far. In fact, it is in the middle of nowhere – there is nothing within walking distance at all – no shops, no town, no churches – really, nothing. And the only internet is dial up, and my computer is not equipped for that. Not having a car is going to make this a very long 3 nights here, and I will be limited to what I can do for work with no internet. Ah well.

    I spend the remainder of the day getting settled, arrange for a tour of the temples, take a very short walk in the orange/olive grove, and have dinner at the hotel. The food is ok – the chef has a heavy hand with the salt (I’ve noticed that elsewhere too). I can see the temples from the dining room – they’re lit at night. It is quite a view. The starter was puff pastry filled with a swordfish puree & a clam sauce. My main was spaghetti with vegetables. The waitress, RoseAnna, is very sweet (and beautiful) – she pretty much chooses my food at each meal. “Today, madam, you will have…xyz. It is very good today.” :-) Ok, I shall have xyz.

    When I return to my room, I see they have brought me 2 space heaters, because I am so cold (I don’t know why I should be so cold, but I am). So now I worry about fire all night long until I finally unplug them both and pile the blankets on the bed.

    January 12, 2008
    I make arrangements to move again (my third room – geez what a baby I am!) – the first room had one window, about 1’ square, and I couldn’t see anything. The second room (the one I slept in last night) was much bigger and had 2 little windows; but no shower. So, the third room has a terrace and a shower. It’s the best of the lot.

    My guide arrives at 11:00, and immediately starts talking. I finally have to interrupt her to find out her name – Giovanna (Joanna). She was pretty good; I find out that she is leaving for Syria tomorrow with her girlfriend, so I was amazed that she agreed to do a tour today. She certainly knows her stuff! She talked non-stop for the entire time we were together, which was about 3 ½ hours. She was good, but, I wasn’t engaged, do you know what I mean? She wasn’t conversing with me, I was being lectured at. I liked her, but it’s a qualified recommendation. It didn’t matter if I had any interest, she had her spiel, and that was that – no deviation. I’m pretty sure she got annoyed with me when I spotted a falcon hovering at the edge of the temple wall, and stopped for a few minutes to watch it and photograph it – although she did tell me it is the smallest falcon in the world. It was beautiful – when I first saw it, I thought it must be a child’s small kite because of the way it just hung in the air.

    But the temples. Oh my, the temples. They were wonderful, amazing. I wish so much that I had a car so I could come back and just sit and sketch. The setting is beautiful – from there you can see the sea on one side, and the city on the other. I wanted Giovanna to be quiet for a few minutes, but that was not possible. Finally though, she let me wander for a bit by myself. Some of the almond trees have started blossoming – Giovanna told me that they have 40 different varieties, and they bloom from now (mid January) through to March. It was interesting to me that the Greeks used the naturally limestone for the walls around the temples/city. There are old olive trees that line one side of the temples – beautiful, smooth, soft, gnarled old wood.

    We get near the end of the “temple way”, and it starts to rain in earnest, so we head back to the car. I think she is insulted by the last temple anyway – “That is the temple they use in the tourist brochures, but it is all wrong – they take columns from 2 different temples and put them together!” Huh.

    We then go to the museum, and again, Giovanna has an agenda. I am marched around that museum with military precision. “This piece went to the 2004 Greek Olympics; stand over there, I will tell you the story of this sarcophagus. Go down by the giant statue, I will take your picture so you can appreciate the scale.” Umm, yes ma’am! I cut her some slack though, I know she probably wants to get home to finalize her packing for her own trip. I am just really wishing for a car so I could visit the temples and the museum at my own pace – I would have lingered a lot more!

    On the way back to the hotel, traffic was stopped in both directions so a shepherd could move his flock (with the assistance of his sheep dog) from one field to another. I love stuff like that – real life.

    The rest of the (long) day was spent hanging around the hotel, writing and doing some work.

    January 13, 2008
    Today, I have arranged for a tour of the city center of Agrigento. My guide is Giuseppe. Unfortunately, it is a Sunday, and of course, Mass is being conducted in the churches. I think he was trying to time it so the mass would be over at the Abbazia di Santo Spirito, but it didn’t work out exactly that way. We spent a good portion of time standing outside the chapel – we went in to peek during mass, went back outside, then went back in after it was over. There was a small old woman who was supposed to open a locked door between the main entrance and the door that you ring for sweets, but I have no idea what was in it – (Giuseppe was not too forthcoming with information), and the key she had didn’t work. It was odd. I did have a lovely moment inside the church though – there were 2 young couples meeting with a singer (I don’t know if she was auditioning for their weddings?). She had a beautiful voice that just filled the church – really very special. The interior is white sculpted stucco – beautiful. We then rang the bell for sweets, but no nuns came so we left. From there it’s on to Santa Maria dei Greci; again there is a service going on – we go inside, and Giuseppe motions for me to go walk around on the Plexiglas floor to see the remains of the Greek temple, but I say no and we leave. By now, the main cathedral has closed, and we head back to the hotel. Pretty much a waste of time and money – should have done the city tour on Saturday, and the temples on Sunday. Ah well.

    Dinner tonight was a pasta; “It is not on the menu Madam, but it is very good. You will enjoy it.” Of course, it was very good and I did enjoy it!

    I met a very nice couple from Toronto; she is researching her family history and had some luck meeting what may be distant family relatives. I shamelessly eavesdropped on them one night in the bar where they gathered with the family members and an interpreter. The Sicilian part of the family had brought some old photos, and it really looked like they were all having such a good time exploring the possible relationships. Very interesting!

    There is one truly shining part to this hotel, and that is Roseanna (the waitress/Maitre’D). She has been so wonderful to me the entire time I am here. She is very curious – she just had to know why I kept changing my rooms – everyone else was too polite (or afraid?) to ask, but not Roseanna. She tried to teach me some Italian, she is so proud of Sicily – everything here is the best! And she is kind: tonight is my last night here, which of course she knows, and so she insists to give me a glass of Marsala (shhh, she says, don’t tell) after dinner. She takes my hand as I leave the restaurant, and walks me to the bar to pour the wine. I really enjoyed meeting her – she will succeed at whatever she puts her mind to. If you stay here, and she is still working here, be sure to trust her recommendations for food – she was always right. :-)

    I had three nights in Agrigento, but 2 would have been more than enough. It would have been ever so much better if I had a car – the hotel was soooo isolated. I would have definitely gone back to the temples once more, and spent a lot more time at the museum. Live and learn.

    Here's the link to some of my Agrigento photos: http://tinyurl.com/3b399g

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    January 14, 2008
    Oh, happy day – it’s moving day! I woke up at 5:30 this morning, just as excited as a kid at Christmas – I am really looking forward to Palermo. My driver is prompt, and we drive to Palermo with no problems – it was a BEAUTIFUL drive! Gorgeous mountains – some snow capped in the distance; green fields filled with yellow flowers, vineyards and olive & orange groves, flocks of sheep, some with their shepherds, rolling hills, and picturesque towns snuggled into the hillsides – truly beautiful.

    Palermo is a big, bustling city – some have described it as “gritty” – that works. My hotel (Villa Igiea) is lovely – a wonderful view across the marina, and the Mediterranean and the mountains across the bay. It feels more “city-ish” than Sorrento or Taormina – people are moving & speaking faster. The location is not the greatest – I take a walk to a supermarket to pick up a few things, and feel a little uncomfortable. Another night I walked to a restaurant, and again didn’t feel totally safe. I was fine – it was probably all in my mind. Also, it is a distance from the city center – taxi time! (At least there are taxis! :-) )

    January 15, 2008
    Today I have a tour to Cefalu. I have the same driver who brought me from Agrigento, and a guide whose name is Marina Di Grista, her email is digris@libero.it, and cell is 335 8443973. She is a wonderful guide – I liked her immensely!

    Cefalu is a fantastic little town – it has the feel of Almafi or Positano – small, seaside fishing village, peaceful & quiet. They should close off the streets to traffic, make it all pedestrian – they are so narrow! (Hah, easy for me to say, I don’t live there!) The cathedral is impressive; the mosaics are wonderful.

    I had a lot of fun with Marina – again, she is a non-stop talker, so I’m beginning to think that it’s part of their training! But we develop a rapport – true communication rather than lecture, and we have one golden moment of pure school-girl giggles. We’re walking – no, strolling - in Cefalu, and she stops to show me some local cheese in a shop window. She says, “It’s hung like a horse”. I must have had a peculiar expression on my face; now I realize that she did not intend the meaning that I assigned to her words, but this cheese is made in sac-shaped balls, and they are hanging, and they looked, appropriately enough, like… well…. Balls. She immediately understood why I started grinning, and says, “No,no – if I meant that I would have said hung like a bull!” That was it – we both lost it – walking down those ancient streets giggling away. It’s probably one of those “I guess you had to be there” moments, but it’s one I’ll enjoy whenever I remember it. It was really funny! (I never did find out what she actually meant – we couldn’t talk about it without dissolving into giggles).

    We visited a small museum that had some nice pieces – a chest that is just unbelievable, and some nice paintings and artifacts from some Greek temples. A very good day.

    Dinner was at La Staffa – the restaurant within walking distance of the hotel. I have insalate de la Staffa – cold seafood – shrimp, mussels, clams and too much squid (a little goes a long way for me!), and I have spaghetti Nero di Seppia (yes, I know – but it’s cooked and in a sauce!) – which was pretty good – it had a wonderfully pungent sauce. (Not great, but pretty good.)

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    Cyn-
    Love this report! I think I missed it before because I assumed from the title it was questions about the train system. :-)

    I saw your posts about the suitor sending flowers, that's what sent me here to read this.

    All I can say is, "wow", what an experience! I found it all very amusing and I do hope your husband did too. Is he following along?

    Don't let the posters on the other thread bum you out. It's clear they haven't read this post. Though you should repost about the roses here.

    Keep it coming, I can't wait to hear about Rome!

    BTW, did your guide for two days in Naples really cost $1500? 1000 euro? 500 euro a day? That sounds like a lot to me, even for a private car, driver and guide.
    Not a criticism here, just wondering if the numbers were correct...

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    Cyn,

    This report is fabulous! I anxiously awaiting the next segment. I still haven't heard from the Palermo tour guide, but I will give her another day or so and then I will email again.

    Sally

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    Wonderful report, cyn!!! Thanks for taking the time to keep us all up to date. Love "The Suitor" story, too! Don't beat yourself up about it, though. It is hard to tell sometimes when people are being friendly and when they want to be more than friends! :) Keep us updated. Have a great time!

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    Thanks cyn, I'm still reading along! The flowers sound lovely - you must really have made an impression!

    The scenery from Agigento to Palermo sounds gorgeous! BTW, did you fly Air Italy from Palermo? I was planning to take an overnight ferry or the train, but I see they're only charging 45 euro for the flight back to Naples.

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    Great report & photos and what a lucky woman you are. But don't give the poor man such a rough time. Give in a little for memory sake. Not everyone gets chased for ever. Go for it! It will be good for you!!

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    There are a lot of excellent reports here on Fodor's, but yours was most enjoyable today! I really did feel like I was reading a type of sequel to 'Under the Tuscan Sun'!

    Thanks for the 'trip'! I'm glad you made it safely!
    I will be forwarding this to a couple of friends who love a 'wild girls night out' - no not really what it sounds like - for a good read. ((f))

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    >>There was a movie where Audrey Hepburn gives in to a married man in Venice. Any one remember the name of that movie?<<

    It was Katharine Hepburn, and actually, she did not "give in" to the married man. The name of the movie is "Summertime".

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    Cynthia, What a fantastic trip! I'm glad you posted the other thread about your Suitor because it is how I found this. And while I think your theory is pretty much accurate, the Suitor's persistence in calling at your next two stops indicates that you pretty much dazzled him. Take it as the compliment it is and enjoy. Ignore the nasty ones who get judgemental.

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    For a person who says she is not brave, and is afraid of heights and of uncomfortable situations, I admire your courage in rising to the occasion, in pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, in pursuing incredible and fascinating experiences. I also had assumed this was a thread about trains in Italy, and I only opened it after noticing your other thread. What I think I admire most is your candor and unself-conscious willingnesss to expose your feelings.

    This is a great read!

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    Please come back and post on this thread cyn. We are all waiting. And ignore the unpleasant comments on your other thread. I wish I could write a trip report as you do. And btw, I wouldn't consider you incompetent at all (which you stated you were in the first sentence of your first post). I admire your spunk and love of life!

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    cyn-

    It's all an ego-booster. You go, girl!

    I am really enjoying your trip report and admire you for traveling alone. I've not done that yet and so I really love reading trip reports from all you solo travellers.

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    Hi Cyn,

    Continuing to enjoy your report. Please go on. Ignore the sermons and comments on the Suitor thread made by those who obviously haven't been following your story and who seem to have lost their sense of humor.

    CW

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    Most of the posters on this thread "get it" while the dips on the other don't. This is one of the best threads I've read. I can relate to the singing, sketching, and droning guides which is why I don't use them anymore. The bells on the sheep, the peek into the tiny courtyard, and the looks (thankfully from women)I can relate to. My eyebrows arched when you were in jeans and heels! Sound like a fox to me...but alas, no white mustache. Sounds like The Suitor knows quality!

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    As one of the "dips" on the other thread, I do get it. This is an amazing trip report.

    However, a married woman encouraging a Cassanova this way and then bragging about it seems childish to me. As I said on the other thread, she should either play hide the salami or not. But she's toying with infidelity, and, while that might make a great beach-read right now, it is what it is--infidelity.

    Trust me, I don't have a bourgeois, puritanical bone in my body. As I said on the other thread, she should do what she wants. But don't invite a man into your room if you're married and pretend it's innocent. And don't gush over his sending you roses like you're sixteen again. Again, you're a married woman.

    I guess what I'm saying is, enjoy yourself, but have an appropriate amount of shame about it. Lecture over.

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    What a fantastic report!!!
    I had very similar experiences with the men in Italy and Greece. Of course back then I was only twenty one years old. Two young women traveling were a constant target for the "cassnovas"!!!

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    Loving your report! When I went to visit my brother and his girlfriend in Greece, we were strolling the Plaka in Athens when a man came up to my brother and told him that since he had two women, he should give one to him! And he was pointing at little old me. That was in my younger years as well.

    Two years ago in Rome, 3 of us women were strolling arm in arm in arm in the evening and the middle one got pinched by an elderly man who was strollling arm in arm with his wife! We loved it.

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    Where is Cynthia?
    Her postings have stopped and "The Suiter" thread has vanished!

    I am getting worried about her.

    Or was her husband secretly reading her trip report and decided to do come out and rescue her?

    Please Cynthia, please let us know how you are doing?

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    I don't think you necessarily need to worry about her. She's still on her trip, and probably too busy to post. I know that I always wonder how people take so much time to post a report like this while they're still on their trip. I certainly enjoy reading them, but when I'm in Italy, the last thing I'm thinking about is writing a trip report while I'm still there.

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    I'm here! I was feeling pretty heartsick about the other post, and I was so relieved that the editors finally responded to my (many) emails requesting they pull it. I'm a person who takes everything to heart, and it was just plain stupid on my part to post like that. If you hadn't been reading this thread, well - I can fully understand why some people reacted the way they did. But thank you all for your kind words - it really does make me feel better. I guess I'm still just bumbling along here - doesn't matter if it's "real world" or "cybor world". :-)

    To answer some specifics (and if I missed a question, please re-ask me - I'm still a little rattled.)

    Kristina - yes, the price really was $1500 for the 2 days, and yes - it seemed like a lot to me too. I was happy to have the guide though, so I think I would do it again.

    SRS - Marina told me she has just moved, so things may still be chaotic. If you don't hear from her, you may need to try her cell phone. I hope you connect - she was the best!

    thursdaysd: Yes, I flew Alitalia from Palermo to Roma - $102, which I thought was pretty good, especially considering that a train would have taken me 12-14 hours.

    Cyn

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    And to continue the saga:

    January 16, 2008
    Oh – another “bumbling along” story: on my first day in Palermo, I head to the hotel dining room to get a quick salad for lunch when I realize that I have no idea what my room number is – I know where the room is located, but I don’t know the number. I’m sure the waiter thought I was a nutcase – stupid woman can’t even remember her room number. My only defense is it was my 5th hotel, and 9th room! (I know – not much of a defense!)

    Francesco (driver) and Marina (guide) met me at 9:30 to head to Monreale. All I can say is, WOW! What a fabulous building that is! The mosaics are stunning – I was impressed with the mosaics in Cefalu – but these are even better. They practically take your breath away. Marina again is wonderful – and I was mesmerized. I loved that the bible stories were depicted – 2 of my favorites; the series of Noah’s Ark – there are 4 (I think – maybe 5?) sections, the 3 scenes I liked best were first loading the arc, then the arc on water (with a crow eating dead bodies in the water – ugh), and then unloading the arc. I loved seeing the sheep going up and then going down! My other favorite was the series on Adam & Eve – they even included the part where they discover their nakedness and cover themselves with leaves.

    I can’t imagine how they created the mosaics – there are MILLIONS of little tiny pieces of glass, painted, and/or gold leafed, and mounted. Above the main alter, there is a mosaic of God – Marina told me that just his nose is a meter long. !!! They have coin-operated lights that will illuminate a section of the mosaics for about a minute at a time for one euro. It is really worth it to turn those lights on for photography, although it is very difficult to get an appreciation for that sight through photographs. It is huge in size, and that doesn’t transfer well to the pictures. We spent at least an hour – perhaps 1 ½ hour in the church – Marina was surprised that we spent so much time, so I don’t think that’s a typical amount of time to spend. We then went to the cloister associated with the church (nice, but I think my favorite cloister is the one with ceramics in Naples). From there we went to a church in down town Palermo, which was built in “parts” – the last was done by Byzantine Nuns. It was confusing to look at – the oldest part was done in mosaics, but then, directly attached were frescos – for some reason it was disorienting to me to look at it – it was so busy and jumbled and ornate. We went on to a Norman-era ruin that is now used for jazz concerts (and houses a jazz club), and then to the main cathedral of Palermo. This is relatively plain, and easier for me to absorb. :-)

    Our last stop is at the daily street food market. This was really fun, and fascinating - a riot of color and sounds and products – fish, meats, produce, cheese, pastas, spices and on and on. I like going to local markets – the closest I get at home is the farmers market, but it’s nothing like this.

    A good day!

    January 17, 2008
    This is my last day in Palermo, and I decide to try and hit 3 of the museums and get a tour of the Opera House. I was a little too ambitious – didn’t get the opera house tour. I started at the Museo Archeologico Regionale, then to the Galleria D’Arte Moderna, and end with the Galleria Regionale di palazzo Abatellis. The modern art museum is the only one open all day – even during siesta, which is why I go there second. The two “regionale” museums can be combined with a discounted ticket.

    (I had to laugh – I asked the concierge to help me, checking to be sure that I had the correct operating hours and locations. Marina told me that one of the museums had recently moved and I wanted to be sure that my map was accurate. Well, I end up with 3 concierges helping me; the first 2 were certain that the map was accurate, but the “head honcho” comes bustling over – no, no – the Modern Art museum has moved – it’s now on Via S. Anna! So – check your maps.)

    I ended up getting soaked walking from the Modern Art museum to the Galleria Regionale – my own fault – it looked like rain, but I decided to “chance” it and hope it would just blow over, so I didn’t bring my umbrella. Ah well - I was a drowned rat in the Regionale museum. :-) The Modern art museum is not contemporary modern, btw – it’s primarily paintings (and some sculpture) from the late 19th/early 20th century. I had lunch in the café there – it was quite good.

    I had all 3 museums pretty much to myself; there was a group of school children at the archeological museum; and for some reason at the modern art museum I was “escorted” by a staff member on the second floor – every room I went to, she went with me. I don’t know why – the other floors I was all alone. I spent about an hour & 45 minutes in the archeological museum, 2 ½ in the modern art, and about ½ hour in the galleria regional (a small, wonderful collection of 12-17th century religious art).

    I asked at the galleria regionale which was the best direction to head to find a taxi stand, but they very kindly said to wait here and they would call me a taxi (I think they felt bad for me being such a drowned rat when I came in!).

    Back to the hotel to pack, have a light snack and get ready for my move to Roma! Another good day.

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    Hi cyn, thanks for coming back! Now I REALLY want to see Monreale! I love mosaics. Also glad to hear the modern art isn't really modern - I was going to skip that museum. Any recommendations for restaurants in Palermo?

    BTW, I was looking at flying Air Italia (45 euro to Naples) not Alitalia, but I can't find much info on them, may try Air One instead. I haven't heard much good about Alitalia, and they are pricier.

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    Hi cyn, I too am glad to see you back. I had a chuckle over the three concierges "discussing" where the museums were located. I had that happen once when I asked the exact location of a restaurant. The two hotel desk clerks almost came to blows, lol. It turned out neither of them were correct. Ah Italy, you have to love it.

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    Cyn,

    I just love your reports, you seem to pack so much into your day, I am exchausted just reading about it.

    Glad to hear you got rid of The Suitor, I am sorry to hear no one warned you about Italian men. I am your age, but had the first hand experience on my first solo visit at the age of 25. Boys at the age of 14 were trying to offer their "guiding services", so training starts early!

    Enjoy the rest of your trip and look forward to more of your excellent reporting.

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    Thank you so much for sharing your trip with all of us. I never would have known had you not posted the Suitor thread. I hope you will ignore the judgmental ninnies and share the upcoming part of the story with us, when you arrived in Rome to flowers.

    I have considered solo trips. When mrlani seems uninterested in travelling somewhere he says, "You can go" Perhaps.

    Just perhaps you have become an inspiration to solo travelling to happily married couples.

    Thrilled that you are too busy to post!!!!

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    Thanks for continuing Cyn.

    Enjoyed the report and photos of Palermo. I hope to get there someday. The mosaics were amazing.

    I noted that you had a dog photo in Palermo but no cats! Where were they?

    CW

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    cynstalker -- I am LOVING this report!

    I'm taking my first solo trip to Rome in May. And I made the mistake of telling my DH the highlights of your report last night. His smile slowly dissolved as I described your experience with the Italian men.

    Looking forward to Rome!

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    Thank you everyone for your kind words, and for sticking with me - I know I'm snap-happy and wordy!

    To answer specifics:

    thursdaysd - I can't help you with the Palermo restaurants - I'm finding that I'm either too exhausted by the end of the day to think about going back out, or that I've eaten too much (and too late) for lunch, and I'm just not hungry. My hotel was out of the city center, so aside from the museum restaurants, I only ate at one other restaurant - La Scaffola near the hotel - not worth a special trip.

    aussiefive - yes, I love dogs, cats, birds, well.. pretty much all animals - I' always looking for animals to photograph. :-)

    kealalani: Your husband is right - "you can go"! And it's actually pretty easy to have fun - not to say there's not some down days (see my next installment) but all in all - I'll do it again if the opportunity arises.

    cw - I never saw any cats in Palermo - but Roma more than makes up for that: here's some cat pictures. http://tinyurl.com/ystmob

    Cyn

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    January 18, 2008
    Oooooh! I’m moving to Roma today - I am very excited! I can’t wait. My driver from Villa Igiea was once again Francesco – and while I enjoyed his company very much, I will not really miss his driving. :-) Check in at the airport was a breeze – nice, small airport very easy to navigate. I arrived very early, and people watched, always fun. It amazes that there are still places in the world where people feel comfortable parking their luggage and then walking away; trusting that it will still be there when they return (to say nothing of having it blown up by a bomb squad). I flew Alitalia, and everything went just fine: We left a little late, but not too bad, and the flight was smooth. My luggage arrived promptly, and my driver was only a little late. On the way to the Hotel Raphael, he asked me if I would prefer to see the Vatican or the Unification monument and the city center. I chose the Vatican – it was so kind of him to offer me the choice.

    The hotel is nice; has a “small” feel to it – a good thing. They are doing some construction (renovations I assume), but the receptionist promises they don’t start until 10 or 10:30, and finish in the afternoon, only on weekdays. They had a problem with the hot water when I first arrived – but it was fixed in a very short while. I am in the Suite S Maria Dell’Anima. I wouldn’t really classify it as a suite – but it is quite comfortable, modern décor.

    I unpack, and settle in, and then take a brief walk around Piazza Navona. I eat at pretty much the first place that I stumble across - travel days always tire me! Antipasto & Penne all'arrabbiata. Not bad!

    January 19, 2007
    I woke up sad today; reality is starting to make itself known in my heart; I am on the last leg of my journey, and as fast as this trip has flown by already, I know in the blink of an eye I will be boarding the plane to head home. The trip has truly done wonders for my mental health, which was its purpose, but of course nothing has in fact changed; and all the pressures and pains and joys that are my life at home are starting to demand my attention

    Because I am feeling so blue, I need to force myself into action. I decide that today will be a good day to go shopping. After all, shopping is good therapy, right? Hah! At any rate, I make a list of things I want to get, and then consult my guide book for shop locations; and plan the route. Of course, it takes me directly to the Spanish Steps and the Via Condotti area. I was looking for a wallet for my husband – he has a bad back, and has to have a VERY thin wallet so it doesn’t aggravate his back when sitting on it; in Florence a number of years ago, I found the perfect wallet, and I was hoping to come across one like it in Rome. No luck with the wallet, but I found some nice shoes for me. (This becomes a trend – everything I bought ended up being perfect for me! :-)) )I spent all day in that area, and I was exhausted by the time I got done. I had some fun shopping, but as I walked back to the hotel, the depression started settling on me again.

    I walked into my room, dropped my “loot”, and collapsed on the couch. I glance to the mini-bar area, and am astonished to see a bouquet of 3 giant, perfect long stem red roses. At first, I wonder if they are from my husband, but that’s not really his style, so then I think – the hotel? But no, they’ve already given me a single sweetheart rose and a bottle of wine… hmmm…..

    Of course, the card is signed “The Suitor”. I am surprised, touched, and mostly very amused. It did lift my spirits, but alas, not for long. I make another of my bumbling-along mistakes – I want to tell someone – (one of the disadvantages to traveling alone – no one to immediately share things with) – and so I post it on Fodors – not a smart thing to do at all. I realize it almost immediately, (after being reprimanded for my lack of morals, big scarlet A burned to my chest) and then spend the next 2 days frantically emailing Fodors to get them to remove that post. (Note to self: Never post anything on a Friday night on a 3-day weekend. Or at least use the pea-brain in your head, and think about what you’re doing!). Ah well, another lesson learned. And I’m glad this day is over.

    January 20, 2008
    Like a moth to a flame, I can’t stay away from those stupid posts of mine to see what people have written. It was quite painful, although there were some kind things said too. I continue my email barrage to Fodors (I ended up sending them 5 different emails – sorry Katie et al), and realize I need to make a concerted effort to put this mini-fiasco aside. I can’t change it, the only thing I can do at this point is let it go.

    I have a driving tour of Roma scheduled today, my driver’s name is Giancarlo, a nice man. We hit the “highlights” – the forum overlook, drove by the coliseum (I’ve been before, no reason to stop today), circus maximus, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta’s Villa Malta to see Saint Peter's Basilica through the keyhole (my picture didn’t come out – backlit :-( but it was fun to see it). And we went to the Catacombs – (Giancarlo waited while I went through). I enjoyed the priest who conducted the tour – Father Richard from Pennsylvania. He is at least 75 years old, and he has faux-grumpy (?) personality. One of his comments: “Yeah, it looks interesting, but there’s nothing here anymore. All stolen.” And this, under his breath, to a woman leading a tour group ahead of us: “Come on lady, get your butt in gear”. I was the only one who heard him, and I laughed out loud. He also brought me to tears at the end of the tour; he gathered us to pray. He asked God to bless us and our loved ones, and to make sure we all got home safely. I’m in such a fragile state right now – I need all the blessings I can get. :-) At any rate, it was a very sweet moment. And the catacombs were really interesting, even if everything was stolen :-), hard to imagine more than 500000 people buried in those tombs.

    Giancarlo and I then went to San Pietro in Vincoli so I could see the Moses statue by Michelangelo – everything but the face was completely different than I remember it. I’m finding that my memory is pretty faulty. At any rate – the statue is wonderful.

    But to comment for a moment on differences and things I don’t recall: I don’t remember the smell of chestnuts roasting (maybe they don’t roast them in the summer?), and I don’t remember the pervasive presence of the carabinieri – they are everywhere! (A result of 9/11?) And I don’t remember the tourists with MAPS. “We’re” everywhere! I had an amusing conversation yesterday with a woman here on business – I had stopped to verify my location and direction on the map, and I glance up and she is looking at her map too. She asks, “Do you know where we are?” “Yes”, and I show her. She says she’s trying to make her way to the Spanish Steps; so I show her a route on her map, and point in the general direction she needs to go (I’m only able to do this because it’s where I had just come from - otherwise I would have had to tell her she’d be wiser to ask someone of a non-bumbling nature for help :-) ). Then we chat and giggle about all of us with maps. She says, “I stopped at one place to look at my map, and I look around and I counted 12 other people looking at their maps too”. I’ve seen the same thing – there must be thousands of people (us) clutching their lifeline (the map) in the sweaty hands, searching the buildings for street or Piazza names; brow furrowed as they (we) try to transfer the names from the buildings to the map, twisting the maps this way and that to get the proper orientation; sometimes with another hand jabbing at it, and saying in a decisive voice, ‘This is where we are, I know it. We should go this way.” And the print is soooo tiny on these maps – I saw one man walking with a magnifying lens – I wish I had one too, perhaps with rhinestones, so I could look stylish. Ahem. Anyway, back to finish up my tour:

    We ended at the Pantheon, an amazing structure, and then took the scenic route (that would be anywhere in Roma) back to the hotel. I think the reason the driving tour went so well was because it was Sunday, and the traffic was very light.

    Later that afternoon I took a walk back to the Pantheon, wandered some of the shops and discovered that I’ll have to return when I have my credit cards. There are some wonderful gift items in a couple of stationary shops that I would like to pick up (Christmas is coming…)

    Dinner tonight was at Bramente, near the hotel. I start with Bresaole, and have their cannoloni – very good. I had hoped to have dessert, but no – too full. I’ll have a Sicilian dessert wine when I get back to the hotel. Another good day!

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    Hi cyn, I am glad to read about more of your trip. BTW, I hate that feeling when I realize I will soon have to depart Italy! And grumpy older priest can be so funny, lol. Take care and hope is all is well in your life.

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    Cyn,

    Thanks for the new installments. I didn't expect to like the catacombs but I found them much more interesting than I thought I would.

    It's easy to feel blue towards the end of a trip especially when there's no one to distract you.

    Loved the Roman cats. Boy, did they look comfortable lying on the ruins in the sun.

    CW

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    January 21, 2008
    My day starts with a call from The Suitor. “Hello, it’s me”., he says - by now, I do actually recognize his voice. I thank him for the flowers – “It’s nothing”, he replies. “No”, I say, “they’re really lovely.” “What are you doing today”, he asks. I tell him I start my cooking class today. He presses me – “what about tomorrow?” - yes, another cooking class. “Are you free the next day? I want to come and see you.” “No, I’m not free. You cannot come here”, I reply. “You’re sure?” “Oh yes, I’m sure.” He asks me when he can call me again. “No,” I say, “Please don’t call me, Suitor. “ Silence for a moment. “I do understand”, he finally says. “You must take care of yourself. If you ever change your mind, you know where to find me. And maybe you can call me when you get home, just to let me know you arrive safely?” “Goodbye, Suitor.” “’Bye, Chinteeaya”. Cue the violins, fade to black; The Saga of The Suitor has ended.

    But the cooking class is about to begin! I was attending Dianne Seed’s Roman Cooking School, found through the second link provided by Christina on my Fodor’s planning thread:

    Author: Christina
    Date: 12/02/2007, 01:33 pm
    I think that was a good idea, but from what I've seen, most cooking classes for tourists (meaning very short-term, don't speak Italian) are in Tuscany or Umbria, Florence, I've seen one in Venice. A lot of them are very expensive, also, and combine the cooking classes with sort of a tour, sightseeing, and accommodations. I have a friend who took one he really liked that wasn't that expensive, but it was in Tuscany.

    I've seen mention of one (A Tavola con lo Chef) in Rome, but I can't get their URL to work today
    http://www.atavolaconlochef.it)

    I'm just thinking that you may not find anything like that in January, though, and probably really wouldn't have right around the holidays. Just may not be any demand for it at that time of year, although I'm just speculating on what I've seen. They answered a very similar question in the NYT a couple years ago, maybe that would be of some use:
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/2v2vvk


    Yesterday during my wanderings, I did a “practice run” so I would have an idea of how long it would take me to walk to the class; about 20 minutes. I head out, and arrive promptly. My instructions for finding the school told me how to get in to the building, and then once there to take the lift to the 3rd floor. I got as far as actually opening the door to the lift and putting a foot almost into it, when I decided I just wasn’t tough enough to put myself into that little box, even if it was just 3 floors. I walked the stairs instead. :-) The door was open to the school, so I just stuck my head and and yelled “hello”. “Come on up” a voice replied. Up some very narrow stairs and into a lovely, bright space perfect for cooking. It turns out to be just me today for class (and I’m thrilled with that!). I spent a delightful 2 days with Diane, taking cooking lessons yes, but more being entertained by a witty, charming, engaging woman who is leading a full and interesting life.

    We made risotto with zucchini and mint – and she says to use either Carnoli or Vialone nano rice – not Arborio. It’ll be interesting trying to find that - online I guess. She also recommends De Cecco pasta, as the pasta is forced through bronze dies (instead of Teflon like Barilla), creating small pocks in the surface, which then allows sauce to adhere to the pasta instead of sliding off. Makes sense to me. The pasta we made today was Linguine with tuna, lemon and rocket; and for a meat dish we made Saltimbocca alla Sorrentina (chicken with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese).

    Nothing complicated, fresh ingredients, very very tasty! And of course, because it was so much food, I had no need of dinner! Class today started at 10:30, and finished at around 2:30.

    I returned to the hotel to grab my sketch book, and spent a wonderful hour sketching in the Piazza Navona – and good day!

    January 22, 2008
    Today is market day; I’m to meet Diane and our other student (no personal lesson today!), Andrew from New Zealand, at the statue in the market at Campo de Fiori at 9:30. We meet, and head first to the bread shop to see pizza margherita being made, and to get some bread. Next to a cheese shop for some fresh mozzarella and some fresh pasta. Onto a butcher shops for some pork and beef to make a Bolognese sauce; down to the fish shop for some mussels and shrimp; and finally to a couple of the produce stands to get some artichokes, carrots, celery and eggplant.

    Whew! It was great fun bustling from shop to shop; listening as Diane explains how to choose the products we were buying, identifying unknown items for us. We stopped at a café for some coffee, and visited for a little while – a good chance to develop a rapport with Andrew before starting our lessons.

    We walk to the school – and I chuckle when Andrew decides he’s going to walk up the stairs instead of taking the lift as well; I’m sure Diane was laughing at both of us as she glides up in the lift while we struggle up the stairs carrying all of our purchases. :-)

    We made spaghetti Bolognese, shrimp picante (or peri peri), eggplant rolls stuffed with mozzarella and basil, topped with some of the tomato sauce we made yesterday, and linguine with mussels. It was all absolutely delicious – and for the most part, fairly easy. Again, fresh ingredients are the key, eh? We got finished at around 4:00 today, and once again, too stuffed to even consider anything else to eat at night.

    I really enjoyed my 2 days cooking with Diane. Cost was 200euro per day, and for me worth every penny - for the delicious food we cooked and ate, yes, but also because she is so much fun to be around. She offers more extended programs to Greece and India where a group will travel with her, and cook and tour while on location. I’m giving some serious thought to doing that – maybe India, as it seems that might be a good introduction to a more challenging (in my mind) location. At the end of the second class, Diane gave us a choice of one of her cookbooks to take home, and I chose her first; The Top One Hundred pasta Sauces by Diane Seed. In the first class she shared with me the story of how it came to be. She autographed the books for us, and I shall treasure this book as a memento of meeting an independent and dynamic woman, who by the way, can cook!

    Thank you Christina – it was outstanding. Just one example of how great this board is for getting tips and information that make for a fun and interesting trip. I returned to the hotel, tired, full and happy, and planned out my next few days.

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    Cynthia,

    reading thru your report again and all the responses, we all love it!
    No wonder The Suitor fell in love with you (he did!!)

    I don't know the background story, but why did you travel without your husband?

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    January 23, 2008
    Today I head to the Capitoline museums – and if anyone can explain the layout it to me, I’d be grateful: I “think” I was in 3 buildings – the Palazzo Nuovo, the Tabularium (which is the confusing part – none of my guide books makes reference to this part) and the Palazzo dei Conservatori. The Tabularium was the underground connection between the 2 Palazzos that has an amazing lookout to the Forum, and gives one a look at the layers of construction over the years – it was really fascinating. In one of the main buildings, there was a sculpture that really affected me – a man being hung by his arms; it was done in that glorious purple marble with a lot of reconstruction done on the piece, but the expression on the face was unbelievable. How an artist can capture emotion is stone is beyond me. I am amazed at the sheer quantity of sculpture housed in this museum (actually, when I consider ALL the sculpture I’ve seen on this trip, it is astonishing. Can there be any marble left in the world?) I had lunch in the museum café on top of one of the buildings – it was fine, and the view of Rome is wonderful. I really enjoyed that (those?) museum(s) – really wonderful. I had thought I would also try and fit in another museum, but I spent too much time here, so – another day.

    Instead, I returned to the shops near the Pantheon that I needed to re-visit, since I now had my credit cards :D. I picked up a wonderful sketch book (to be used only when I have improved my skills!) that has handmade paper, and I pick up a few gifts. And of course I go back into the Pantheon. I love it.

    Dinner tonight was at Montevecchio’s, near my hotel. I was hoping to go to Osteria del Pegno, but alas, closed for vacation. I enjoyed Montevecchio’s; tiny place with good food and great service.

    Yes, another good day in Roma.

    January 24, 2008
    The Borghese Museum, the Nationale Museo d’Arte Moderne, and the Etruscan Museum in the Villa Guilia are on today’s agenda. I decide I need to take a cab – I could walk to and from, but add in the “during” and I’d never make it! The hotel arranged for me to pick up my Borghese ticket – I had them schedule it for 1:00, and I had to pick the ticket up by 12:30. I arrived at the gardens at about 10:45, as I wanted to take a walk and get my bearings for how I would accomplish what was on my “agenda”. I decide to pick up my ticket first, so that’s at least taken care of; when I get there, the clerk asked if I would like to go in at 11:00 – fine, I say – then I don’t need to worry about getting back on time. Worked out well.

    I enjoyed the Borghese, but I must have been having one of my “invisible” days – I have them from time to time at home, but normally only when I’m driving. I know I’ve become invisible because people pull out right in front of me or cut me off everywhere I go. I can see myself, but obviously others cannot see me. Well, same thing in the Borghese. No matter where I stood, someone would stand right in front of me or walk into me – and never say sorry or excuse me – just walk right over me. Ah well. I may be battered and bruised, but at least I got to see some marvelous art, eh? I never before thought of visiting museums as being a contact sport. Could it be too that I have (finally?) reached my saturation point with Greek mythology and Italian religious art – I was done with the Borghese in an hour and a half. No; I just couldn’t find a comfort zone in the crowds – I would not want to be there when it is full. I do appreciate that they control the number of people allowed in at one time – it could be much worse, I’m sure.

    I discovered that one of my camera batteries is no longer taking a charge – so I have no camera today (doesn’t matter with the Borghese, no photos allowed). I missed it on my walk to the Modern Art museum – my guide from earlier in the week (Giancarlo) told me that there are parrots now living in Roma – probably escaped from people’s home or pet shops – and sure enough, I saw a pair as I was walking in the park. Bright green and squawking!

    I arrive at the Modern Art museum (short walk), and the steps are filled with people, but when I walk into the museum, there is no one there – the ticket clerk, and me. That’s it. I say to him, “Is it just us?” and gesture around the room. He’s quick. “No,” he replies, there’s Monet, Degas, Van Gogh…” :-) Good answer, I thought. It’s a wonderful museum – lots of Italian artists, and a few of the names mentioned by the clerk. There is a good section of contemporary art if you like that. There are some wonderful sculptures by Mancini that I liked – a sweet Mother and Baby – the expression on the mother’s face is so affectionate as she’s looking at her baby – and the baby actually looks like a baby (sorry – I’ve seen a lot of creepy baby-bodied sculptures with adult faces on this trip :-) ). There’s another by him as well of a crying toddler holding up his sandwich as a dog is jumping on him trying to steal it. Very well done. I spent 2 hours in the museum, and had lunch as well.

    I walk to the Villa Guilia – got a little twisted, but a kind woman was able to get me going in the right direction. By this time, I’m starting to get pretty tired, and wish I had started here instead of ending – today I’m more interested in history than pure art I guess, but about an hour is all my feet can take, so I ask the bookstore clerk to call me a cab. In this museum they have some amazing pieces from the Etruscan period – partial chariots and shields, mirrors, gold pieces and jewelry. There’s not much in English here, so I’m glad that I have my blackberry with me again. I have loaded an English/Italian; Italian/English dictionary on it, and it’s come in handy a number of times – especially for help in identifying what I’m seeing.

    I return to the hotel for a little bit, and then I head out for dinner. I went to a place called Sette a Sette, near the hotel, but it was mediocre. Good service though. Before dinner, I went into 2 churches – one I had not been in before. There was a friar (?) setting up for a service in the tiny one right across from the hotel. In the other, there were 5 nuns holding their evening service, reading or reciting their prayers mostly in unison although occasionally individually; and then – they sang! It was a lovely moment, truly a treasure. I stayed and listened to them for about a half hour.

    January 25, 2008
    Today is Vatican day – it was both good and bad. Good, because it’s the Vatican – it is an astonishing place. Bad because it was an organized tour that was terrible. The Green Line I think was the name of the company. They pick up at hotels, bring you to their central office to put everyone onto a big bus, and when you get to the Vatican, they split you into groups based on language – except that my group consisted of seven tourists and one guide giving the tour in 2 languages – both French and English. This is why I don’t like group tours – it was so frustrating. We stood outside the Vatican for 45 minutes (45 minutes!), while she explained in detail what we would be seeing in the Sistine Chapel in both languages. I do understand that they can’t talk inside the Sistine Chapel, but 45 minutes outside with nothing to look at but a billboard of the Sistine Chapel was kind of frustrating.

    As we walked through the museums, she would lecture again in both languages. I would head off to the surrounding galleries while she was speaking French, and then return for the English. At least the radios/headsets have a pretty good range. My French is a little better than my Italian, so I could understand a bit of what she was saying; at one point she was describing a statue that has marble eyes – of the thousands of statues I’ve seen since I’ve been in Italy, that statue is the only one that has eyes like that, so when she was describing it in French, I was glad – I was curious about those eyes. Wouldn’t you know she forgot that part when she was doing the English descriptions? I had to call her back and ask her to explain. Ah well. I will be very careful if I ever need to do a group tour again. The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel are incredible – even when one is frustrated. :-) Oh, and a difference from prior visits – there were no “shushing nuns” (none at the Pantheon either). If I ever go to the Sistine Chapel again, I’m bringing a small pair of binoculars – my eyes just aren’t as sharp as I would like.

    After the tour, they will return you to your hotel – but first, a message from our sponsors. They make a stop at a Vatican gift shop…. It didn’t matter, as I wasn’t going back to the hotel – I wanted to go to St Peter’s, and then walk home from there. When they stopped at the gift shop, I thanked the guide and headed for St Peter’s from there – it was close.

    Visiting St Peters has really changed. First of course is the mandatory security, and now so much is roped off and inaccessible. I don’t know if it’s like that all the time, or if it was just today. And there’s now space set aside for “Prayer Only”. Perhaps it was there before and I just didn’t see it. It’s a lovely, silent oasis in a busy place.

    I was delighted to see 2 different masses being conducted. I’m not Catholic, so I don’t have a very clear understanding of what I was seeing, so please forgive and correct any error in my descriptions.

    The first service was large, and had about 20 priests participating – including the Vescova de Sardinia (Bishop from Sardinia – I asked a guard who he was) and several hundred worshippers. (Or more? St Peter’s is immense, so I suppose there could have been a thousand people) In addition, there was a male singer performing – St Peter’s has a pretty amazing sound system, and the singer’s voice was great – some of the worshippers were taking his picture! After they did communion, and the service ended, the guards separated the tourist crowds that had gathered, opening a wide path from the area where the service was conducted to another part of the church. The priests formed a procession, carrying the gold cross and candles, and swinging the incense-burner (thurible?). The Bishop waved and blessed the crowd as he walked by, and the tourists were taking his picture (me included).This will sound strange, but it felt like watching a rock star among the paparazzi. The pageantry of sight and sound and smells combined to make it an unforgettable moment.

    The next service was small; an older priest and a very young priest were conducting it, with only a handful in the congregation (20?). There were guards at the entrance to this section as well, and when I asked if I could join the service, I was admonished not to take any photos and admitted. I followed the lead of a young nun who was sitting a few rows ahead of me for when to stand, sit or kneel, and I at least knew enough to shake hands with those near me and say “Peace be with you” when they got to that part of the service (of course, I’m saying it in English…) This was one of the best things I’ve done – I understood not a word of the service, but it was a marvelous feeling to be participating in a Mass at St Peter’s Cathedral. I appreciate the rituals of a religion that gives comfort to millions. I loved the earnestness and passion in the voice and expressions and gestures of the young priest, and I loved the feeling of experience and warmth that came from older priest. While I cannot describe it as peaceful – it’s simply too bustling in St Peters, there was sense of serenity in that small alcove.

    I spent nearly 2 hours in St Peters; Michelangelo’s Pieta is as wonderful as I remembered, and I am awed by the building itself. I had a beautiful walk back to the hotel, past the Castel Sant’Angelo, and across the pedestrian bridge (Pont Sant’Angelo) over the Tiber. It has a wonderful view over the river to St Peter’s. I somehow lost my lifeline on my way back (my MAP!!!), so I got a little lost. I just waited for oh, 5 seconds, and found someone looking at their map, and asked if I could take a peek to figure out where I was. :-) I somehow ended up South of Piazza Navona. Hmmm… still bumbling along! There was a man singing opera this evening in the square – he was wonderful!

    I seem to be exhausted every afternoon – I don’t know how people can go all day, and then go all night too! Ah well, must be my age talking, I guess. What a great day this was!

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    Beautiful cynstalker, just beautiful. I am so enjoying your sharing your time in Rome with us.

    And on a side note, a couple of weeks ago I was shopping and felt like the invisible woman also. Everywhere I went people zoomed in front of me, practically knocked me down etc. So although I know it was not funny to have that happen at the Borghese Gallery of all places I did smile as I understood exactly how you felt.

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    Hi cyn -

    I'm afraid that IWS [invisible woman sydrome] is a symptom of our ages - along with hot flushes and other unwanted effects!

    How frustrating must that tour of the Vatican have been - you are clearly destined for sainthood with patience like that.

    and not having a camera that works as well - I'm not surprised about the parrots in Rome - we have them in england now, in fact one rugby club in the south-east of england calls itself the parakeets! Global warming isn't all bad.

    stil loving the report,

    regards, ann

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    Just lovely, cyn! I also know what it's like to be invisible and appreciate the patience you displayed.

    Your writing style is very conversational and enjoyable to read. Thank you continuing - I look forward to more.

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    January 26, 2008
    I wake up to another sparklingly clear day in Italy – truly beautiful. I head to Campo de Fiori to look for some cool gadget-y stuff; no luck. I looked at some different olive oil containers, but they were either to big or too expensive, so I passed. (Very disappointing – I love gadgets! :-) ). It was fun to watch the activity of the market, though. I next head towards Torre d’Argentina Cat Sanctuary to take some photos; I needed to find a bag to carry my extra “stuff” home, so on the way I stopped at a couple of shops, finally finding the perfect black leather satchel-ish bag that will do nicely. I spent about an hour watching the cats in that wonderful ruin; I read where they do spay/neuter these cats – a very good thing. The photography was tough – mostly black and white cats on a very bright day. I had to push myself to leave – it was just so nice in that sunshine. I needed to get to the Galleria Colonna – they’re only open on Saturdays from 9 – 1.

    It was a really nice museum – they give you a numbered, alphabetical-by-artist listing of all 210 pieces, making it easy to find and identify what I was seeing. I believe I kept the listing – if anyone has any interest I can scan it and email.

    I had 2 fun encounters while there; the first was with a carabinieri; when one enters the main gallery, you descend down a marble staircase of 3 or 4 steps. Right in the middle of these steps sits a cannon ball imbedded in the marble, and one step below it is a broken step, where the cannonball appears to have hit before it bounced up to the next step. It was just so incongruous in this lavish room, nosy me I couldn’t stand not knowing the story, and the carabinieri was the only “official” looking person I could see to ask, so he was elected. He actually seemed thrilled to be able to tell me the story – Napoleon’s troops were firing at the Quirinale, the cannonball came through a window the Colonna and landed on the steps. There are 2 cannonballs – the other is in the garden (I think that’s what he told me – I didn’t see the other). It was a fun conversation.

    So, curiosity satisfied, I continue my perusal of the artwork, and wandered into an alcove off the side of the main gallery – there were some steps heading up to a window, and I wanted to see if there was a view. A woman was just coming down them; there was nothing special out the window, so I immediately turned and started back down the steps – as I turned, I “caught” the woman bent over, and peering into what I thought was a keyhole, but in fact was a small hole in the wall. She was embarrassed when she saw me watching her, and started walking away – until she saw me bend down to peek into the same hole; we both started laughing – there was nothing at all to see in the little hole. Just 2 nosy women… I’m sure we both looked very silly. It’s fun to have silly moments.

    I headed towards the Galleria Doria Pahmphilj; enroute I stop at a sidewalk café for a coffee and croissant; it was just lovely in the sunshine, watching the busy street and sidewalk.

    The Galleria Doria Pamphilj was very enjoyable, both for the artwork and the residential rooms that are available to see.

    I spent about an hour in each of the 2 galleries, and enjoyed both very much. There were some visitors in both, but neither was at all crowded. A delightful time.

    I walk to the Trevi fountain – I had yet to get there on this trip; it was of course very crowded, and filled with a ton of vendors trying to sell those irritating buzzing-things (what are they, anyway?) and plastic-stretchy-playdough-like-doll-type things. They get right in your face with these things… the fountain itself is lovely; it’s amazing how the sound of the water drowns out the city noises.

    I then head to a kitchen shop I had seen in earlier walks in search of a specific set of wooden forks that we used in the cooking class. No luck – I ended up with 3 salesclerks and a customer involved in my search – my blackberry translation was helpful again – but still, they didn’t have what I was looking. The shopping part was fun though.

    I walk back towards my hotel, hoping to be able to arrive at La Scaletta before they closed for lunch; I made it, and had a wonderful lunch. The pasta dish (ordered based on the waiter’s recommendation) was superb – Paccheri alla Gricia con Pere. Just a touch of sweetness from the pear; delicious! An evening stroll, a visit to some churches, and another fantastic day in Italy comes to a close.

    January 27, 2008
    How can it possibly be my last day in Italy? I only just arrived – although the trip here seems such a distant memory, and Naples, Sorrento, and Sicily are memories now too. I’m not ready to leave…

    I decide to grab my sketchbook and head to St Peter’s Square for the noon-time speech by the Pope. There was such a beautiful spot to sit and sketch on the bridge in front of Sant Castel, with a view of St Peter’s over the river. I end up on the Umberto I bridge, though, and it turned out to have an even better view, so I stop and sketch for a while. Gosh, I wish I knew how to draw – I start the bridge too high on the page, and so then I can’t quite fit St Peter’s dome into the sketch – kind of the whole point of the location I chose. Oh well, I can only laugh at myself, and I still enjoyed the sketching. I walk to St Peters, and there is a peace rally in progress with live music and speeches. The Pope does speak at noon, and then a young girl speaks, and then the Pope speaks again, this time in French, English, German, Spanish and Italian that I can remember. I think they released a dove (?). It was fun to be there. I then head to Piazza del Popolo, and start my walk back to the hotel. I find a shop that has a wallet that should work for my husband (finally!), but I don’t feel like doing any more shopping, so I decide I’ll try to find L’Orso 80 for lunch. I had my trusty map, but still had trouble finding the street; eventually I did, and I had a good (not great) lunch. It was about 2:30, and it was still filled with people. I watched 2 men who at one point had 12 appetizer plates served to them – and they ate it all! I don’t know if they had a second course or not, but my word that was a lot of food! I have to return to the hotel and pack – it’s going to be a challenge even with the new bag. I manage. A bittersweet day; fun things, but it’s the end.

    Here’s the link to my Roma photos: http://tinyurl.com/2gbr4f. And for a chuckle, here’s a link to a couple of my sketches: http://tinyurl.com/23aelp .

    January 28, 2008
    Up at 4:15 for my 5:00am pickup – this time the alarm clock chorus only consisted of the wake up call and my cell phone – which I managed NOT to pack. See, I did learn something on this trip! My driver was prompt, it was an uneventful drive to the airport, and departure to Madrid was on time. The connecting flight from Madrid to Boston, was delayed for 3 hours – just as they were boarding us (and some were already seated), they told us all to return to the terminal, as there was a “technical problem” with the plane. Always hate hearing something like that; they eventually found a replacement plane, so at least I didn’t have to worry about that “technical problem” for the entire flight home. My driver was waiting for me when I cleared customs, and I had an uneventful drive home (no near-crashes :-) ).

    To Close
    This was a wonderful trip; I learned that I can travel by myself, and not feel terribly self-conscious – in fact, I learned that it’s possible to have joy and laughter, even when alone. It is easier when there are two sets of eyes looking for things, though. The language barrier is surmountable, in one way or another, and people everywhere are generally kind, helpful, and fun.

    I was never bored – not once. I was nervous, happy, scared, frustrated, amazed, sad, mad, elated, satisfied, awed, amused, silly, peaceful, reverent, depressed, worried, nostalgic, engaged, filled with wonder, engrossed, annoyed, surprised, joyful, educated, and I had sore feet more times than I care to remember – but I was never bored. I’ll travel solo again, no doubt. I loved being responsible for no one but me, keeping to only my schedule, not worrying if a travelling companion was having a good time. And even the bumbling parts were amusing.

    Many, many thanks to everyone who helped me pull this trip together in such a short time, and who enhanced my experience by joining me via my trip report - I truly appreciated your company, and your kindness. Ah well, it’s over.

    Cyn

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    Thanks for finishing this report, it's been a great read. About Orso 80, that enormous selection of appetizer plates is what you get when you order the antipasto. I think that most people order that; it's what I've gotten on both trips. After the first time, I knew enough not to order a main course.

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    Cyn,

    Thanks for sharing your journey. The weather in Rome looked beautiful. Loved those photos too--great elephant statue.

    I have not traveled alone for pleasure and I think many of us may wonder how well we'd do solo. Your story was very descriptive and enlightening.

    Thanks,

    CW

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    Kristina - thanks for your kind words; I'm sad it's over too - it was so much more fun than reality! The dictionaries can be found here: http://blackberry.beiks.com/
    I originally was only going to get the English to Italian, but ended up getting both (Italian to English) too, and was very glad I did. It worked well in museums.

    Nikki - I did order the anitpasto-sampler(?) too - perhaps because I was solo they didn't have as many items. The quantity of food those 2 men consumed was certainly astonishing!

    cw - the weather was beautiful for almost all of the trip. It's funny though, my last day in Rome it was gloomy - kind of matched my spirit. Thanks for your kind words about my photos - I know I go overboard. I really tried to cut! re: solo travel - it's do-able, and enjoyable. Not better or worse than being with someone you love, just different - different joys and different stresses.

    thursdaysd: I'm so glad you made it all the way through with me, and I can't wait to hear how your April trip goes. Are you going solo? Want some company? :D

    Cyn

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    cyn - I'll be doing Naples, Sorrento and 12 nights on Sicily on my own, and then another 11 nights with a tour group on Sicily. That way I'll get transport and a guide to sites like Agrigento and the Villa Casale, along with some company for part of the time. After my really bad experience traveling solo with a guide in Romania, I'm gun-shy about trying it again in Italy - even assuming I could afford it there!

    Dinner company always welcome! I bet you'd be a blast to travel with! Actually, I've been thinking about posting to see if there will be any fodorites around during this trip - I did that for Venice last fall, and wound up meeting a couple of really neat people. Itinerary for Sicily is here: fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=35103334

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    I have just found your trip report and though it's 3 years later I would like to congratulate you on a marvellous report. At times you made me laugh out loud!I spent a week in Cefalu last june and hope to visit Sicily again in april.I travelled with a girlfriend and was approached by a "suitor". I blamed myself and had a few sleepless nights but now realise that Italian men are like that....that;s part of their charm!!!Any way thanks again ...feel we could be friends if we ever met!

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    Thanks blath - it was a wonderful trip on so many levels. Sicily is beautiful - I would go back in a heartbeat.

    Welcome to Fodors - it's a great tool for researching, and it's a very supportive community as well. There are get-togethers (gtg) all the time in different parts of the world, so we may get the chance to meet!

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    cynstalker,

    Thank you for almost making me late for work this morning. I finally gave up and went to work promising myself I'd finish it when I got home. And here I am and now to read on!

    Thanks, Ken

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    Cynthia, thanks for sharing your trip. I'll be traveling to Italy in a few weeks and your experiences have given me a few more ideas about things I want to do and see while I'm there. Have you traveled solo since then?

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    Thanks for reading my report, Hmmul, and welcome to Fodors. I have not had the opportunity to travel solo since this trip - but I am so glad I did it; and I will do it again.

    Have fun in Italy!

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