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Trip Report Getting to Know the Carabinieri: An Overdue Italy Trip Report

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Getting to Know the Carabinieri: An Overdue Italy Trip Report

2-17 March 2008

BACKGROUND

I’ve had mixed feelings about writing a trip report because of some of the events of this trip. The title hints at my reservations, but also I knew that this trip was full of day-to-day humdrum life, as opposed to informative travel information. Recently I read a trip report from two Fodorites detailing their trip alomost year ago, and so I reconsidered. Then I reread the trip report I posted about a previous visit with R in 2004 and noted that some people seemed to enjoy the details of daily life. Here’s a link to that report:

If You Don't Like Reading About Food, Don't Read This Italy Trip Report

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=34541705

This report won’t be a report full of magnificent meals (we ate at home a lot) or descriptions of the well-known sights, since I’ve visited Florence a number of times and concentrated on lesser-known places this time. But it may have some descriptions of places and experiences you might like to try . . . or you might hope to avoid.

*****

Prompted by Italian friend R, I planned a March 2008 trip to visit her in Florence, Italy. Though I’d been to Italy a few times since 2004, I hadn’t been able to visit with her. She was excited for me to come and see her new apartment. She’d moved back to Florence from Cesena since I’d last seen her. We would spend the entire time together, first in Florence and then traveling to some other part of Italy. We’d think about some possibilities and decide on our destination once I arrived and we saw how the weather and R’s responsibilities might affect our plans.

About six weeks before my intended departure, I went online at the Delta website to see if I could book a seat on the direct JFK-to-Pisa flight which goes four or five days a week. I was pleased to see that there were seats available for about $700. Then I thought, “I have enough FF mileage to get a free ticket,” and in the next thought, “I have enough FF mileage to get a free FIRST CLASS ticket.” I switched to the “Use Miles” function and discovered that I could use 90,000 miles to get free roundtrip first class/business elite tickets on any day that the flight was scheduled in March. Click click click and I had my first class tickets for taxes and fees of $39.54. It wasn’t until the next day that it occurred to me to check how much this ticket would be if I bought it. I returned to the website and would have been able to purchase the same roundtrip ticket for more than $7,000, an excellent use of 90,000 miles in my opinion.

So now, in my own mind, this trip became a game to see how cheaply it could be accomplished. I didn’t plan to skimp on anything or change my spending plans, but I would keep an accurate list of expenditures (something I don’t usually do) just for the fun of seeing the total at the end. I planned to add to my fun by taking public transportation from my home in NYC to the airport and was delighted to think that I would make it to Italy and back for less than $60.


Sunday, 2 March 2008
8:25PM flight from JFK to Pisa, an uneventful trip. Even with the wonderful reclining seats and noise-reduction headphones, I never really get all the way to sleep for any length of time, but do feel rested when we land.


DAY 1: Monday, 3 March 2008 -- Florence

Make New Friends But Keep the Old

We arrive at Pisa at about 10:30AM, about 35 minutes early. First class means first off the airplane and Pisa is a small airport. Five minutes after landing, I am through immigration and waiting at baggage claim. Ten minutes more and I’m waiting in the terminal for R. She insisted on meeting me in Pisa, even though I assured her I could find my way to Florence and her place. While I wait, the local soccer team arrives and gathered fans wave banners and cheer them for a victory the night before. When R arrives she is surprised to see me waiting. After a quick coffee we take the next Regionale train to Florence (dep 11:43 arr about 13:00).

R insists on a taxi to her apartment, even though I always pack light and am willing to take the bus. Her new apartment is on Via Sirtori in a residential neighborhood outside the center near Campo di Marte, a large sports complex. Her apartment building is on a corner with shops on the ground floor and six full-floor apartments above. I am surprised when she says that each apartment has only one resident. I am even more surprised when I see her apartment. Each room has a door that closes: large living room, dining room, eat-in kitchen, bathroom, and three bedrooms (one for R, one for guests, one as a “work” room). I live in NYC where space is a premium so this feels incredibly spacious. It is the typical apartment I've seen in Italy, with a hallway from which you access each room.

On other visits to R’s other apartments, I’d slept on the sofa, but now I have my own room furnished with her parent’s antiques. (I must admit I’m already eyeing the swaybacked antique bed and wondering if I’ll sleep at all on this visit.) From the living room at the corner of the building, there is a wrap-around terrace over the street. There’s also a terrace off R’s bedroom that overlooks the courtyard. The windows of the living room and dining room have views of the nearby hills in the direction of Fiesole. On this sunny afternoon the view is lovely and golden.

R is a good, unpretentious home cook and we have a delicious lunch of tortelloni in fresh tomato sauce, sautéed beef with mushrooms, salad, and raisin cake. After our long late lunch we catch the #17 bus that stops a block from the apartment. It takes about 15 minutes to reach the center of Florence. We spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the pleasant sunny day, walking the streets of the centro storico, stopping at favorite sights. We cross the Ponte Vecchio and visit the Pontormo frescoes, personal favorites, in Santa Felicita and recross the Arno and visit the small church of Santi Apostoli, a new one for me. It is a pleasure to walk these familiar streets, chatting continuously, sharing updates about where life has taken us in recent months. There are plenty of tourists, but Florence does not seem crowded, even near the Uffizi and Duomo.

Our bus ride back seems even quicker than into the center, so I know this ride will not seem troublesome after a few days. We have a light supper of finocchiona (Tuscan salami), cheese, and fruit while we discuss the possibilities for the rest of my visit. We pour over maps and guides, dreaming the dreams so many Fodorites dream, of trips to here and there, new place or familiar friend—where to go next?

TOMORROW: A Free Toilet (and Museum) in Florence

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    I'm with you, Tom . . .

    DAY 2: Tuesday, 4 March 2008 -- Florence

    A Free Toilet (and Museum) in Florence

    It was as I feared. The antique bed has an antique mattress and antique springs. It is like sleeping in a hammock -- and a short hammock at that. In the morning I rediscover the joys of bathing in a tub with a hose sprayer. To me this is a small inconvenience for the greater joy of travel in Italy. And it makes such good dinner party conversation.

    Today I’ll be on my own in Florence since R has some household things to do. With no must-do itinerary, it’s nice to take time over morning coffee, biscotti, and fruit before I head out to the bus stop. Within five minutes, a bus comes and since this is near the beginning of the route there’s always a seat. The exchange rate during this visit is the worst I’ve seen, right around $1.53 per euro. Pitiful. And so I am even more glad to ride the bus into town if it means I can stay in Florence for free.

    R suggested I visit the newly-reopened Palazzo Davanzatti, the Museum of the Florentine House. It has been closed and under renovation for a number of years, so it will be new to me. The first things I notice when I arrive are that the museum is FREE and that it’s only open the morning -- good thing I didn’t linger too long over that coffee. Inside the entrance is a hall with some displays and then an interior courtyard. From the courtyard, one ascends to the upper floors that have historical furnishings and decorations. I am impressed in particular by the walls painted in patterns, some to look as if they were hung with curtains. The walls in the Sala di Pappagalli are indeed covered with a pattern of parrots. Back downstairs in the courtyard I discover another wonder, a public restroom. In fact, one could just wander into the courtyard from the street since there’s no admission. A public restroom in Florence is hard to find.

    I head to the Oltrarno to wander the narrow streets and window-shop in all the teeny shops in the area. At lunchtime I find myself near a place I spotted some years ago and decide to give it a try. Enoteca Fuori Porta (Via del Monte alle Croci 10) is indeed right outside a porta of the city at the foot of the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo. It’s a wine bar with food, including two pages of bruschetta and crostini. There’s a lot of interest to me on the menu -- carpaccio di manzo or pesce spada, burrata con verdura ai forno, pappardelle alla boscaiolo -- but I choose the terrina di scamorza con radicchio rossa e speck (€9) and a glass of Pagliatura (€4). It is cheesey and bitter and great with the crisp Tuscan white wine.

    More wandering for me, including a stop at a Bancomat. I’d planned to wander some more but then it begins to rain so I head back to a bus stop and Via Sirtori. Before dinner we sit and chat and plot and chat and plot. I’ve been considering a trip to Parma for a few days, with possible side trips in the area to Modena and such – I’ve never been there before. R suggests we might like to return to Molfetta in Puglia. She’s done some work on her grandmother’s apartment there, including installing hot water (see previous trip report) and suggests some other things to do in to area. We could stop and see Urbino along the way, also new to me. So many options, so little time. What else is there to do but decide over dinner?

    R prepares fettuccine with broccoli and oil, braised gallo livornese, and more raisin cake. After some discussion, we choose a return to Molfetta. We’ll travel first to Pesaro for two days, from where we can daytrip to Urbino. Then from Pesaro we’ll travel south to Molfetta, and probably daytrip from there to Bari, Bitonto, and Giovinazzo. Then back to Florence for a few days before I head home. Because of other concerns, R can’t leave until Friday, which gives me two more days to explore Florence before we head south.

    TOMORROW: Meet the Macchiaioli

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    DAY 3: Wednesday, 5 March 2008 -- Florence

    Meet the Macchiaioli

    During the night the temperatures dropped. We can see a dusting of snow on the hilltops. R and I will spend the day together. Right after breakfast we head to her local travel agent to book our train tickets. I am delighted that I can educate her about Amica fares. She has a senior citizen discount card, so she already gets a discount, but she didn’t know about this other option. We book all our tickets for all our trips. Here’s the data for the Trenitalia aficionados:

    Florence to Bologna ES 2nd Class €17,00
    Connect to
    Bologna to Pesaro R 1st Class €12,40
    Two days later
    Pesaro to Molfetta IC+ 2nd Class €35,50
    Five days later
    Molfetta to Bologna IC+ 2nd Class €34,40 (Amica fare!)
    Connect to Bologna to Florence ES 2nd Class €17,00
    TOTAL €116,30

    With our plans set and tickets in hand we head into the center with a few stops in mind. Our first stop is the Museo di Storia di Scienza. Much of the museum is closed for restoration but we choose to pay the €4 fee and visit anyway, enjoying the two small exhibits of bicycles and Galileo’s telescope.

    We grab a quick lunch at R’s favorite self-service in the center, Hot Pot on Via Lamberti opposite Orsanmichele. (R has little patience for what she considers the poor food at higher prices that seems to be working its way into the center of Florence.) Hot Pot has reasonable food at reasonable prices – grab a tray, make your choices, pay the cashier. I have eggplant parmigiana and a side of bright green beans for €9,40. And a bathroom break – if there’s a bathroom, use it.

    After lunch we head to the Palazzo Pitti to visit the Galleria d’Arte Moderna. The name may be misleading since the museum was established around World War I and consists of art considered modern then. R wanted us to view in particular the collection of works by the artists of the Macchiaioli movement. This term was new to me (Even though I’ve visited these galleries before, I was clueless about these artists), so I will quote from Wikipedia: “The Macchiaioli were a group of Italian painters from Tuscany, active in the second half of the nineteenth century, who, breaking with the antiquated conventions taught by the Italian academies of art, painted outdoors in order to capture natural light, shade, and colour. The Macchiaioli were forerunners of the Impressionists who, beginning in the 1860s, would pursue similar aims in France. The most notable artists of this movement were Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega and Telemaco Signorini.” R had an ulterior motive for viewing these artworks: We would visit a new museum dedicated to another famous Macchiaiolo, Giuseppe De Nittis, while in Puglia. I enjoyed these works and R’s impressions of them as we visited the galleries.

    We also visited the Galleria Palatina, which has the occasional wonder mixed into crowded ill-lit salons. It’s like a hidden-picture game: see if you can spot the Botticelli or Raffaello hiding in the dark over-stuffed rooms. I’m not usually troubled by jetlag -- perhaps the bed is working against me as well -- but I find myself feeling as though I could fall asleep standing up while touring these galleries.

    Near the Palazzo Pitti we catch a #11 bus that will drop us quite near Via Sirtori. We reach home -- I crash and R packs. Though we have another day before we leave, she has extra things to pack that she wants to transfer to Molfetta. A simple dinner of ziti al pomodoro, Tuscan sausages, and sautéed zucchini, then postcard writing and early to bed.

    TOMORROW: Another Museum, Another Restroom

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    Hi ellenem,

    i for one am very glad that you decided to post this over-due report.

    what I'm not so pleased about is that i see no prospect of my being able to go to Florence in the near future to find all these lovely places for myself.

    Keep it coming!

    regards, ann

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    Thanks for all the kind thoughts. Here's another episode.

    DAY 4: Thursday, 6 March 2008 -- Florence

    Another Museum, Another Restroom

    Not only did it grow colder during the night, but windy as well. I'd left my shutters partially open and had to get up in the night to shut them because they were rattling constantly.

    R and I head into the center to visit another museum I've missed in all my visits to Florence, the Museo Marino Marini. You ask, "Who's Marino Marini?" All you Italophiles and particularly fans of Venice know one of his prominently-positioned works. Marino Marini is the artist who created the man-on-horse sculpture with the infamous appendage that sits facing the Grand Canal at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. I knew nothing of him aside from that sculpture. I discovered a lovely, thoughtfully-designed museum in a desanctified church. The collection follows a chronology of sorts. Marini explored some of the same sculptural themes throughout his career . . . men, horses, men on horses, miracles of men on horses (Paul on the road to Damascus?) . . . progressing from life-size figurative forms to monumental totally abstract forms. This is not the museum for everyone, but for €4 it might be just the break one needs from the crowds of Florence -- we had the museum virtually to ourselves. The museum itself is modern in feel, all white walls to showcase the bronze, wood, and terracotta of the artwork.

    At one point, exploring the nooks and crannies of this interestingly divided space, I turned a corner and come upon the open door of the restroom. In contrast to the rest of the museum, the restroom is tiled from floor to ceiling in horizontal white and blue stripes with all the plumbing and grab bars painted bright red. I take a photo. I take a number of photos. I have to set up a Shutterfly album to share these photos with you.

    We have another quick lunch at Hot Pot and then R heads home while I did some shopping. I may write that I'm shopping, but usually I'm just looking. I like visiting shops in different places, especially grocery and housewares stores, as if I'm studying cultural artifacts. I don't often find things that I actually want to buy. Usually when I do, they're silly things. In this case I did actually find some things to buy, but not the type of things you recommend to the tourists who ask, "What should I buy in Italy?" What did I buy? A kitchen towel with a giant rooster woven into the design that I knew my mother would love (she did - and wondered why I didn't get two) and transparent bright orange plastic salad servers (fork and spoon) that I knew a friend would love (she did - orange is her favorite color). How do you explain that kind of thing to people who ask, "What should I buy?" I usually say that I don't really buy anything because I've been to Italy so many times. It's just easier.

    Next I stop at the Museo del Opera del Duomo. I'd seen some of the original Ghiberti panels for the Baptistery when they visited NYC in 2007 and was interested to see the rest. I must also confess that I'd skipped visiting this museum for years, so this was my first visit in its renovated setting. The museum has modern displays, good lighting, and excellent didactic panels -- wait -- am I in Italy? I am surprisingly moved by Michelangleo's unfinished Pieta. At one point I overhear a conversation between three women, obviously Americans by their accents, who are trying to make sense of the labels of some of the sculptural pieces. One woman says, "Look, this piece is by So-and-so and he's from Marmo. This sculptor is from Marmo, too." I can't resist butting in. "Marmo means marble," I tell them. They laugh and one suggests I stick close by.

    Back on the street I realize it is Day 4 and I have not yet had a gelato. On the way the wind gusts and it begins to snow! I hear shouts of "Neve!" from all directions. The snow is gone as quickly as it came. I reach Perche No and am glad I headed here because they have one of my favorite flavors, canella (cinnamon), but sad because they don't have gianduia. Oh well, I'll have to settle for bacio. Such difficult choices.

    After walking through the San Lorenzo markets and purchasing some pillboxes featuring David, Mona Lisa, that Campanile in Pisa, and Primavera (the request of a friend), I catch a bus back to Via Sirtori. Notices posted at the bus stop announce a change in route for later that night. When I arrive home, R verifies that a soccer game of some import will take place at the Campo di Marte nearby. The loud men congregated on the street outside my windows seem to confirm this. Later the streets are packed with men, cars, and vespas.

    Since we leave for points south in the morning, we empty the fridge for dinner. Such a tragic fate, our leftovers include prosciutto crudo, various cheeses, fruit, bread, and one last pasta al pomodoro. We make some sandwiches for the train and finish our packing for the next part of the adventure.

    TOMORROW: Frozen Bellini, Anyone?

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    ellenem- enjoying your report. I am looking forward to the rest, since I think the "views" would be more interesting when you have a personal friend as a guide!

    thank you for sharing!

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    ellenem - I agree, it's never too late to post a trip report!

    Now I wish we'd been in Florence when you were. We spent a fair amount of time poking into odd kitchen and general shops in Florence because I decided I needed to return with an olive oil container. I didn't but we enjoyed the hunt.

    Looking forward to the rest!

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    Ellen, thanks for deciding to write a trip report. All the meals at "home" sound wonderful. I agree that going into houseware shops and grocery stores is an interesting way to spend time. How lucky to have a "local" hostess and a chance to visit some out of the way corners of Florence.

    thanks for sharing and keep it coming!

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    Thanks to all for sticking with me on this.

    rose, My recent quest has been gelato spoons. A flatware equivalent of those flat plastic gelato spoons actually exists. Twice I've had proprietors say, "Oh we don't have those. . . No wait, maybe we do." And he's unearthed them from some buried box.

    I think I'll have a Shutterfly album up by this afternoon.

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    DAY 5: Friday, 7 March 2008 – Florence to Pesaro

    Frozen Bellini, Anyone?

    Today is Travel Day. It’s less windy but still cold. After breakfast, R goes through the motions of closing the apartment, opening secret panels and turning valves to turn off the water, electricity, and gas. We shut and lock all the window shutters. We’ll be away for seven nights but I suspect she might do the same if she were away for two nights. R is surprised when I tell her that in my NYC apartment it would be impossible to turn off the water, gas, or electric. Her reaction implies that there’s a good chance my apartment might catch fire or explode or flood while I’m away since I’ve left it in such an unsafe condition.

    I love a train ride. I love the anticipation as you make your preparations and step away from home. I love staring out the window to see what’s coming next. I love not having to pay attention to anything but what’s outside the window. I love seeing the bits and pieces of lives as you pass by. I don’t know how to drive, so much of my travel is on trains at home and on vacation. I don’t think R can drive either – she certainly has no car – so our visits always involve a train at some point.

    Our ES train speeds to Bologna on this cold, overcast day. As we climb higher into the mountains, rain begins to fall. Soon the rain turns to snow and winter surrounds us in the mountain valleys. We arrive in Bologna early, which means our 30-minute train connection is even longer – a damp, unpleasant wait in the underpass. Fortunately our Regionale leaves on time though it’s pretty crowded. Rain pours down the entire way to Pesaro. R stares out the window and remarks again and again that she can’t believe she forgot her umbrella and waterproof shoes.

    At Pesaro the train station is a madhouse. Many have congregated inside because of the rain. Adding to the frenzy, a bus from Urbino has arrived and hordes of university students are trying to cram through one small door. We force our way out and opt for a taxi since the streets are flooded, the rain still falling. Hotel San Marco (viale XI Febbraio) is a neat, clean, modest hotel. We chose it for its location, walkable from the station yet on the edge of the pedestrian center. It is so inexpensive that we’ve reserved separate rooms – I can certainly afford €40 per night on my own, especially since after two nights in Pesaro we’ll be in R’s apartment for the rest of my visit. (This trip is getting cheaper and cheaper – it costs me more to stay home.) The twin beds pushed together in my room are enticingly flat. The small bathroom has a real shower. In all, characterless but comfortable.

    After relaxing a bit we head out to find R an umbrella and then to the Musei Civici. By the time we walk the empty streets to the museum, R’s feet are soaked. Housed in part of a large palazzo, we pay our €4 fee in the bookshop downstairs and then climb to the museum on the second floor. It is a bad sign when all the museum workers we see are wearing coats, scarves, and gloves. We view a few rooms that display a large collection of local ceramics and then move on to the pinacoteca. The huge Bellini altarpiece in the main room is the centerpiece of the museum. Fifty chairs are set up in front of it so visitors can sit and contemplate this magnificent artwork. But it is freezing in this room and in every room we visit. In our damp clothes, we are happy it takes just an hour to visit this museum. Downstairs again, the bookshop is small and well heated. We take our time examining the books and cards.

    Outside it’s still raining and though we’re warmer, we know a remedy for our dampened spirits: thick cioccolato caldo at Caffe la Dolce Vita. Our spirits lifted, the rain just a mist, we check the bus schedule for our trip to Urbino tomorrow. Then we head for our dinner choice, Trattoria Da Sante (via Giovanni Bovio 27). It is one of those simple places you find all over Italy . . . bad overhead lighting . . . unfortunate paint color and paneling . . . basic looking menu . . . These all signal good food to me. How else could they survive? The specialty is seafood, so we start with a magnificent spaghetti in bianca alla vongole – as good as I have ever had anywhere and an enormous serving for two. Then we share a fritto misto and grigliata di pesce misto with contorni of tomatoes and eggplant gratin and crispy roasted potatoes. With water this feast cost a total of €37. Unusual for her, R suggests we tip the waiter €2 since we may be back again tomorrow.

    What a difference dry feet and a full belly make! We wander a different route back to the hotel. R shares her plan for the rest of the evening and confirms what Fodorites have always suspected: Even Italians might use a bidet as a foot bath.

    TOMORROW: Giorno de la Donna

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    DH and I visited Pesaro several times when we lived just south of there (in the Abruzzo) and became very fond of it.I loved seeing your photos. But, even though it is a huge hit with Italians, Pesaro doesn't usually get on a tourist agenda. I was curious as to what drew you and your friend there and whether you would direct other North Americans to experience this very Italian-style resort?

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    LJ,

    Pesaro was our choice mainly because it was on the way to Puglia and was a good spot from which to visit Urbino by public transport. My friend R had much to say about the merits of Pesaro as a beach resort, or the lack thereof in her opinion. But she is a native of Rimini and does her two beach weeks on the wider stretch of sand there. Certainly in March we weren't there for the beach . . .

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    DAY 6: Saturday, 8 March 2008 - Pesaro and Urbino

    Il Giorno de la Donna

    The sun is shining. The streets are dry. The hotel offers only the simplest of breakfasts: coffee or tea and a cornetto. But I don't care because I feel well rested for the first time in days. Because we don't get out the door 30 minutes sooner, our bus is not the rapido. This means that the 35 kilometer trip to Urbino takes 1 hour and 15 minutes as we make stops in every little town along the route. The bright sunshine makes for a pleasant ride though rolling green countryside, the usual Italian contrast of farmhouses from another century set beside shopping malls and industrial parks. Slowly we climb into the hills, eventually reaching Borgo Mercantile, a large car park and bus station just outside Urbino's city walls.

    University students fill the streets, enjoying the sunny day as we climb the steepest street in the world into town. We explore the city walls around the Palazzo Ducale and then go inside. Since it is il Giorno de la Donna (International Working Woman's Day), we're waved past the ticket booth, and then watch the men behind us pause to pay. Initially the palace seems warm and sunny inside, but soon I'm buttoning my coat and donning gloves against the chill. The palace is all about the art displayed. There's little furniture, mostly clean white walls with gilded plaster carvings around the doors. The collection features some interesting religious art, mostly by names unfamiliar to me, though Tiziano, Veronese, Guido Reni, Uccello, and Raffaello make appearances. A big surprise was finding Piero della Francesca's La Citta Ideale - the famous image is surprisingly small.

    One room of note: R is excited to show me the Studiolo of Duke Federico. Years ago we visited the duke's brother's palace in Gubbio and found an empty, stripped room where his studiolo had been. As we studied the didatic panel, I realized that the beautiful inlaid panels had been purchased and reassembled in a small room in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC –I’ve visited them many times. When we were in Gubbio, R mentioned that Urbino's studiolo was more beautiful. As we follow a boisterous noisy high school group through the palace, we hang back to let them pass. When we reach the studiolo, it is indeed as she said. The trompe-l'oeil woodwork is amazing. We share the small space with one other visitor. R asks the guard and he unlocks a door so we three can step out onto the loggia that we had seen from the town walls. The door is locked behind us as we move on. Many doors between the rooms continue the theme of fine wood inlays.

    I don't think Urbino has a single flat street, each one sends you up or down a hill. Our lunch choice, Trattoria del Leone (Via Battisti), is tucked under a church and when the bus turns the corner it seems as if will drive through the window and into our table. We decide to try the local specialties advertised. R and I both have the tagliatelle with regional olive oil and bread crumbs. While the homemade pasta is delightful, the bread crumbs absorb all the oil and turn to mush. R describes her frittata as "stupid" - seems like a slice cut from a loaf of frittata. My salsicce with local cheese is good but filling. The pecorino grated over the delicious spinach seems like overkill. R is disappointed with the roasted potatoes, describing last night's potatoes as ideal. Total bill €40.

    The Duomo is a real surprise - huge, bright, and minty green. R is puzzled by the age of the paintings that fit the space so well compared to the age of the building. The guard explains that the church, except for two chapels, was destroyed in an earthquake. The new church was built to fit the old art. He went on to explain that two days before our viait it snowed in Urbino and everything was covered in white. Had we visited earlier, we would have been unprepared to walk the steep streets in such conditions. He also complained about those same noisy kids we'd seen in the palace. After a climb to the top of town for a great view over the countryside, we walk slowly down the hill, window-shopping along the way to the bus stop. We can see storms approaching across the valley and are happy to get on the bus.

    Back in Pesaro the streets, so empty yesterday, are packed with people. R heads back to her room while I join the crowd, grabbing a chocolate and pistachio gelato along the way. Families are everywhere and small children are enjoying the little carousel at the end of the street.

    Trattoria Da Sante manages to fit us in since we arrive early. They will be fully booked later in the evening for the holiday. The waiter brings us both some yellow mimosa, the traditional gift for il Giorno de la Donna. We can't resist ordering spaghetti in bianca alla vongole again. R has the coda di rospo and I have cotaletta Milanese, and we both have insalata mista. Somehow the bill is the same as last night -- €37. We walk Pesaro's streets, planning a stroll to the sea in the morning before we catch the train to Molfetta.

    Tomorrow: Molfetta Green

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    annhig,

    Since you enjoyed the fruit and veg so well, I collected my food photos into a new album at the Shutterfly site. Enjoy.

    Back to writing my next installment . . .

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    DAY 7: Saturday, 8 March 2008 - Pesaro and Urbino

    Molfetta Green

    The day is sunny and bright and looks to stay that way. We have our meager breakfast, settle the hotel bill, and store our bags for our departure. This is a perfect morning for a stroll to the seaside.

    It's early, yet families are already outdoors enjoying the day. In the piazza by the Palazzo Ducale a fundraising booth is selling giant Easter eggs and giving kids punch balls. Excited children run about, crisscrossing the piazza as they wave their colorful punch balls. We continue our straight line to the sea and reach the duomo. R suggests it's a good place to visit. Worship just finished so we are free to examine the impressive floor mosaics. Two previous churches stood on this site and sections of the current cathedral's floor have been cut away and glassed over to reveal the other two layers below. A €1 coin buys us seven minutes of illumination so we scurry from "window" to "window" to see what we can see. One recurring theme we see here for the first time on our trip: a mermaid with two tails. A few show violent scenes: a leopard attacking a deer, and a whale dismembering a man with head a foot floating nearby.

    Soon we're clear of the old center and walking past the homes and hotels of the seaside resort. More families, more dog-walkers out in the sunshine. Some of the homes from the turn of the last century have highly decorated facades. A particularly fine example by the seaside promenade, shows fine art nouveau decoration with lily pads, vines, and even lobsters holding up the eaves. As we walk the promenade, R explains a day at an Italian beach, singing the praises of the much wider beach where she vacations in Rimini. My beach experience in the U.S. does not include pristine rows of chairs and attendants she describes. I walk on the hard sand and pick up a few shells and tumbled tile. We pause on a sunny bench and watch the town pass by. Too soon it is time to head back for our bags to catch the train.

    We walk from the hotel to the station, really quite easy with rolling bags and no rain. Our IC train is headed to Crotone though our stop is Molfetta, a 5.5-hour ride. In our six-seat compartment, our reserved seats are in the middle, but we take the empty window seats and hope. If the owners of these seats ever arrived, they didn't ask us to switch seats. One passenger rides the entire way with us, but the passengers in the other seats change frequently. I have made this trip before, the countryside to one side, the sea to the other, and would have enjoyed the sights. However, with the sun warming me through the window, I doze much of the way. We lunch on bananas - simple and filling. Time flies, as does the train. We keep getting ahead of schedule and must wait at each station to adjust. Soon enough the sun is setting and we are pulling out of Barletta - next stop Molfetta.

    As we drag our bags through town, I am pleased that Molfetta seems familiar to me, still the same green shutters known as "Molfetta Green" on so many buildings, still strangely uninhabited feeling with all the shutters closed on residential streets. We arrive at the apartment on Via Amedeo and R begins the opening-the-apartment ritual that comes with having ancient doors that do not meet today's security standards. Then it's flick on the electricity and water and off with the dust covers from every piece of furniture. The apartment is a series of rooms, one connecting to the next, kitchen (with bathroom) to dining/living room to my bedroom to R's bedroom. Since my last visit, R has had the apartment rewired following the old style with wires exposed. The twisted cloth-covered wires are mounted from porcelain peg to peg along the top edge of the wall, dipping down to meet lighting fixtures and switches - it is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. R suggests I take the bed next to the lamp. I've slept in this short, narrow, saggy, aged bed before. The bed across the room looks flatter, but doesn't have a lamp. I like to read in bed . . . hammock it is. We unbar the windows, make the beds, do a cursory dusting, and now we are truly hungry.

    Vecchia Roma is a restaurant/pizzeria a few blocks away that R found and enjoyed on a recent visit. Unfortunately there is a TV and stereo playing (Why? No one is watching.) but otherwise we have an enjoyable meal. R has a twisted pasta (trofie?) with frutti di mare and I have cavatelli with sausage and mushrooms. We both have the orata with olives and tomatoes - very good. We share desserts of torta di ricotta (good) and torta di pignoli (disappointing). We joke that the price will be €37 and it is . . . €36. We leave a €2 in case we return.

    It's a good thing Via Amedeo is nearby - we're both tired from a day of sitting. How does that happen? Getting ready for bed I note that R has also removed some of the saintly material from various rooms. On my last visit, my room had seven (yes, seven) 18-inch-tall saints staring out from bell jars - more in other rooms. Even doorway and light switch featured images of saints clipped from religious periodicals pasted nearby and saintly pictures framed on the wall. Four saints and a few pictures remain in my room. I open my closet and find some of the saints. (What does one do with leftover saints?) I close the closet and decide the bed opposite will be my storage spot.

    TOMORROW: Stepping Out in Giovinazzo

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    Love your trip report ellenm. Being forunate to have many Italian friends in Italy I have always thought most of my day to day activities would be boring to report but after reading up to your last post I find I am enthralled with the details of your time with your friend and all the details. I don't know..what DOES one do with leftover saints, lol. A good question indeed!

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    Thanks for sticking with me on this.

    Just noticed that I cut and pasted in the last post but didn't change the date. Last post should have been

    DAY 7: Sunday, 9 March 2008 - Pesaro to Molfetta

    Later today . . . Stepping Out in Giovinazzo

    Soon to come . . . Getting to Know the Carabinieri

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    DAY 8: Monday, 10 March 2008 – Molfetta and Giovinazzo

    Stepping Out in Giovinazzo

    The bed is a hammock, but I actually sleep pretty well – must have been tired. I wake to the neighborhood sounds of shutters opening and people stirring. There’s a chill in the apartment, so I snuggle in bed and even doze a little. I don’t think the apartment actually has a heat source, aside from the old woodburning kitchen range that is no longer in use.

    I finally get up just before 8 AM and am delighted to wash in HOT water. The “renovated” kitchen and bathroom make for a much more pleasant visit than before. In my trip report about my first Molfetta visit, I described them this way:

    “It is 100 years ago in Italy. A small stone sink to the right of the door has a single spigot over it. Next to it, a minuscule closet holds the original toilet no longer in use (with room for little else, including the person using it). Opposite, a stone counter has a shallow depression and drain board but no drain or spigot. R admits she has no idea of its use, though now a two-burner propane hotplate sits on it. Next to it is an aged wooden table with a slab of stone set on top. Next to that is an amazing cooking center: a large old-fashioned tiled range with small doors in the lower front to add fuel to heat each section. On top a large copper pot is set almost flush with the counter for heating perhaps 15 gallons of water at a time. Next to that is a stove burner, then the oven, then another stove burner. Crammed into the opposite corner is a small WC with antique commode and a small reasonably-new sink, again with a single spigot. Yes, it's true. Since the range is no longer operational, we have no shower, no hot water.”

    R has renovated, but not to the extreme. There’s a new slightly larger kitchen sink with cabinet above and below. The original toilet still hides in its minuscule home. The two-burner stove is as before. The small refrigerator has been moved into the kitchen from the dining room. The biggest change: the small WC has been enlarged by erecting a new wall from one side of the kitchen to the other, bisecting the old range. Part of the old range is now in the kitchen, part is in the new bathroom. The bathroom has a new toilet, new small sink, and small shower that is open to the rest of the room. Since the bathroom is still relatively small, this would not be much of a problem except for the fact that the bathroom has no door yet, so it is open to the kitchen. And the connecting door between the kitchen and dining room is ancient and warped so it doesn’t quite close. Thus, if one sat on the toilet and leaned to the right a bit, he or she would have a fine view of anyone in the dining room, and vice versa. Already the night before R and I were carefully avoiding the dining room and kitchen when the other headed toward the bathroom.

    R complained that the worker who did the renovation maintained that it was impossible to remove the old range, or at least the part she most hoped to remove that is in the bathroom. It takes up valuable space and has an added strangeness because this half includes the old oven. With the door of the oven open, on can see sunlight shining down the chimney into the oven. On my first chilly morning, during my first shower, this meant I felt a definite breeze from that direction. This inability to get workers to do what you actually want has been a complaint for all the years I have known R. “I asked him to paint the room white. The painter said, ‘It’s always better if you add a little black to it.’ I said I wanted it pure white. After he painted it I said it didn’t look pure white to me. He said, ‘That’s because I added some black to the white paint. It always looks better that way.’” (It may seem like I’m rambling, but I’m setting up more of the story for later.)

    Soon R is up and we have a first breakfast of coffee and tea before we head out to provision the house. The day seems to be warming, but we still need our wool coats. The streets are busy with people though most students and workers are already on the job. Our companions are mostly retirees, men of similar age, height, and coloring already holding court at various cafes. I’m 5ft 5in but feel like a giantess among this population. We stop at a local market and meet the women associated with the aforementioned men, shopping for the day’s provisions. Just across the street is the Paneficio Spigo which has been renovated and enlarged. Most of the neighborhood women have already been in to purchase all the bread from the first baking of the day. R and I buy a fresh warm focaccia, enjoying a quarter as a second breakfast on the way back to Via Amedeo.

    We shed our wool coats for jackets and head to our next stop, the lattecini, only to find that there are NO BURATA remaining – a tragedy. We’ve already been dreaming of this fresh creamy oozy cheese. We are assured there will be some tomorrow, so we have to settle for fresh bocconcini of mozzarella. (An amazing second best) Dropping our packages at the apartment, we head out for our first real stroll of the town. We head down the main street to the Villa, the park, which has been totally renovated. From there it’s a few minutes more to the marina. A large unsightly seawall has been added, making it seem as if there is no way to reach the sea. As we sit on a bench and enjoy the sunny view and the noontime bells, R informs me that the ugly, giant, too-numerous light posts that were installed under a pay-off scandal on the waterfront promenade have been removed . . . because they kept falling down. A fitting and appropriately silly end to the story that began on my first visit.

    On the way home, we purchase bus tickets for a few local trips and then stop again at Paneficio Spigo. We’ve already missed the second baking of the day – the neighborhood ladies know the schedule – but settle for a prepared mixture of potatoes, artichokes, and other vegetables, which makes a lovely lunch. We notice that clouds are passing, dropping rain for thirty seconds, then sunny again. We opt for wool coats and head out to the bus stop.

    Giovinazzo is just 7 km away so the bus ride is quick. We alight at the large main piazza but head directly to the old town by the marina and sea. R is disappointed to see that construction of sea walls has ruined the charm of this small marina. (My album includes a photo of this marina as best I as could do considering the ongoing construction.) Old Giovinazzo is charming. Rather than the “fishbone” street plan of Molfetta, with side streets radiating from a central spine, the arrangement of streets is maze-like, as in Bari. The buildings are clean and in good repair because the old town has always been inhabited, unlike in Molfetta. R points out a detail she noticed on her last visit: unlike the other old towns in the area, Old Giovinazzo has many staircases going off in all directions, steps up, steps down, steps in a tunnel, steps under an arch. It’s a fun warren of streets with lots of arches, tunnels and exterior stairs going up and up again. At certain points I’m reminded of an M.C. Escher drawing. We stop at the main cathedral, the duomo, with its Romanesque façade and Baroque interior. We are unable to visit the mosaics in the sanctuary because a service is in progress, but we apply in the sacristy and the sexton unlocks the crypt and gives us a tour of this ancient worship space.

    Back at the main piazza we stop for a snack at Gran Bar Pugliese before catching our return bus. I have pistachio and nociolo gelato while R has a zeppola -- the small pastry topped with cream and fruit in honor of San Giuseppe. At only €.50, she quickly decides to have another.

    After a quick bus ride back we relax for a bit at Via Amedeo. Even though I slept reasonably well, I take time to switch beds, thinking that the flatter bed with the board will be more comfortable in the long run than the hammock. We head out for pizza at Trattoria Dentro la Mura, under the walls of the old town of Molfetta as its name implies. I have a capricciosa, R has a margherita. On the way back, we stop at the Chiesa di Purgatorio to view the statues on display inside the church that will be carried in the Passion Processions later in the week. We climb the hill to Via Amedeo and I settle in to my flatter bed for the night

    TOMORROW: Getting to Know the Carabinieri

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    DAY 9: Tuesday, 11 March 2008 - Molfetta and Bari

    Getting to Know the Carabinieri

    I thought switching beds yesterday would help me sleep. Instead of springs like a hammock, this old metal bedstead has a board. The flat bed is better, until that moment in the night when the board shifts below me and the bedstead lets out a horrible metal >>CLANG<< the must have woken the neighbors, never mind R. I was slightly awake at the time, but it was still pretty shocking even for me.

    My morning shower is quick and to the point because of the chill and also because I'm concerned about making too much of a mess splashing water all over the room. We enjoy our breakfast of fresh fruit, cheese, coffee, and tea before making a quick foray for a burrata. Then we close up the house and we're off to Bari.

    Our train is a Regionale and is packed. Luckily we have seats because this slow train takes its time -- almost 45 minutes to reach Bari -- but it only costs '1,60. On a previous visit we'd been unable to visit the cathedral since it was under renovation. We hurry through the modern part of town, rushing past the information booth (closed, it had poor maps and little else on our last visit) to get to the cathedral before it closes.

    The exterior of the cathedral is sparkling clean and crisp, inside the same. The proportions are lovely, with sets of three small arches above two tall arches. We can hear jackhammers in the crypt, so we know that area is inaccessible. We take our time exploring different areas, stopping to study a famous Madonna and Child painting that usually hangs in the crypt. A helpful sexton answers R's questions and gives each of us the gift of a booklet about the cathedral, one in Italian, one in English. Originally written in 1966 and updated in the early 1980s, many renovations predicted in the booklet can be seen before us. The cathedral was built and rebuilt over many centuries, surviving in its Romanesque form until the 18th century, when it was "Baroque-ized." In the late 19th century, some of the Baroque stucco fell off and they realized what beauty remained underneath. With new appreciation for the Romanesque style, efforts have been made over the years to re-Romanesque the cathedral. In many cases, bits and pieces that had been removed were gathered and jigsaw-puzzled together again, while many missing parts had to be replicated. We left donations for the booklet and set out to lunch.

    R led the way to a restaurant she'd found on her last visit. As we find our way through the maze-like streets of the old town, we pass open doorways that lead directly into living rooms. In small courtyards, homemade cavatelli is set out on racks to dry. We manage to find Ristorante La Credenze (Arco Onofrio 16) without a problem. We have the two dining rooms to ourselves for our entire meal. The menu is verbal. For primi, only cavatelli (the local favorite) is available but with a variety of sauces. R has the rape sauce and I have mine with tomatoes and pancetta. R follows with a nice roasted orata while I enjoy a fritto misto of shrimp and squid. We both finish with a pastry with a name that literally means "Makes Your Face Messy" - a sort of flaky cream puff covered with powdered sugar. Bill: '20 each.

    It is raining outside, lightly at first, and then more heavily, so we break out our umbrellas. We head back toward the cathedral to visit the castello before catching our return train. We're aiming for a 3:10pm train since R has an important meeting of the Via Amedeo condominium board at 5:00pm.

    As we walk past the cathedral, I'm a few steps ahead of R when I hear her begin to yell. I turn in time to see a man violently rip her purse from her body and run down a nearby alley. (Even though she'd worn it bandolero-style across her body, the strap broke easily and gave way.) R is screaming and chasing, I am chasing and yelling "Stop him!" as if that will help in Bari Gothico. He runs far ahead and turns right. R and I reach the turn and look but can no longer see him. After the turn, alleys branch in a few directions. A man on the street watched the thief run right by. People come out on their balconies. R walks back toward the group gathering while I stare off down the alley. I clutch my bag to me, knowing that I'm carrying my passport, though also know that my purse has a much sturdier strap than R's. I turn to join R and the group, noticing as I approach that all seems like a surreal stage set, the narrow alley, the old buildings that lean toward one another, the women on the two balconies above talking with R, the man, and a boy on a bicycle below.

    I feel inept and unable to offer my friend more comfort than an arm around the shoulder as she weeps. I can follow her distraught Italian a bit as she begs the boy to ride down the alley to see if her bag has been tossed aside. She keeps crying about "I chiavi," the only keys to the Via Amedeo apartment that were in the bag. "How will we get in without the keys!?!" she weeps. One of the balcony women comes down to walk us to the local carabinieri station a few minutes away. The rain has stopped. As we walk R confesses that she had a premonition during the night - she was awake when my bed clanged - about keeping the keys and cards safe, but forgot about it in the morning. Her bag didn't contain much - only '20, a bancomat card (easily cancelled and replaced), an ID card for Cesena (where she no longer lives). Her great losses were a favorite lipstick in a discontinued color, a portfolio-type wallet that had been her mother's, and the Molfetta house keys. The only other set of these keys are back in Florence. Fortunately there is nothing to attach the Molfetta keys to the address.

    The woman leaves us at the door of the palazzo housing the Carabinieri and we are buzzed in. R reports her losses and, amazingly enough, knows the telephone number of her bank so she is also able to call and cancel her card. She tries to describe where the attack took place when I spot a brochure in the waiting area - it has the best map of Bari we've seen so we are able to provide accurate detail about the chase. (In the back of my mind I wonder why one of the two officers helping us didn't suggest a map first.) One officer says he will go check the area. He opens the door and faces a wall of water - another cinematic moment etched in my mind. R and I exchange glances, knowing that the weather will cause the search to be less comprehensive. The officer and another go off in a car while we wait.

    R remarks, "We should have gone to Parma."

    As we sit I recall our last visit to Bari. It was the first and only time that R has warned me about pickpockets and crime. She named some of those organized-crime-family names and spoke of violent crime and murder. After a while, the officers return with nothing, so we go on our way. We've missed our intended train and are unsure of the schedule since it was in R's purse along with her train ticket. R is full of concern about borrowing money from me to pay for her new ticket. Meanwhile, I'm thinking that R never lets me pay for a thing, except my tickets and restaurant meals. She is all unnerved -- I just want to get her back to Molfetta on the next train. When we get to the station, there is a Regionale about to depart. The ticket seller assures us we can make it and sells her a ticket. We run to the platform in time to see it pull away. She is distraught. I declare that I will pay for whatever ticket, whatever extra fee involved, to get us out of Bari and on the next train that stops in Molfetta, no matter the cost. My firm tone calms her. We upgrade our tickets for the IC that will arrive shortly - all her concern about my paying is about '7,40 extra. Our IC leaves Bari at 4:15pm and arrives in Molfetta at 4:35pm. With all this drama, we have actually returned in time for R to attend her meeting if she cares to do so.

    The neighbor across the landing buzzes us in. To get into the apartment, first one must unlock a gate that leads onto an L-shaped terrace in a courtyard. The neighbor has a key to the gate, but nothing more. Glass french doors with interior shutters lead from the terrace into the kitchen, dining room, and my room. Since both the glass exterior doors and the interior shutters swing in, it is impossible to lock the wooden doors from the outside. On the kitchen doorway, one glass door is removed and this wooden door is the one we lock when we go out. We've left the other wooden shutters open (good thing or else this would have been much worse), but all the french doors are fastened shut. Now we have to decide which original-to-the-house pane of glass to break in order to reach the mechanism that will release the door's latch. The neighbor brings a hammer, chooses carefully, breaks pane, and we are in.

    We take a close look at the front door lock, which looks like it can be easily removed from the inside. The trick will be to find someone who has a replacement lock of the same aged style and will actually show up and do the job in two days before we must leave. R decides to go to her meeting. I had intended to visit Old Molfetta during her meeting, but somehow don't feel like walking its narrow, darkening streets by myself. Instead I walk the straight main streets with a purpose, a little on edge, a little suspicious, trying to clear my mind of this unsettling day. I've lived in NYC for thirty years and have never had an experience like today. I return to Via Amedeo and soon R returns as well, full of odd stories about fixing the roof and people's reluctance NOT to pay under the table. We have a quick dinner of beef cutlets, salad with fresh fennel, and fruit. Then we chat about everything and nothing, emptying our brains and adjusting our tomorrow's plans to include banks and locksmiths.

    TOMORROW: A Lock and a Colossus

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    Hi ellenem---sorry about the missing preview button; we will be adding it shortly.

    I went back and fixed your "if" in the system--hope that's alright with you.

    I'm really enjoying your trip report so far; I was double-checking the trip reports in the various sections to make sure that they're appearing properly. I happened to click on yours and found myself drawn into it. Thanks for taking the time to post it! Sorry about your friend--looking forward to your next post.

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    DAY 10: Wednesday, 12 March 2008 - Molfetta and Barletta

    A Lock and a Colossus

    We wake up hoping for a better day. (I had awoken during the night and noticed R’s light on.) Now we are preparing for our day, each one trying to put on a happy face for the other. The clear, deep blue sky lifts our mood as we set out in hope that R can access her money without her bancomat card. Also on her to-do list: an appointment to deal with some cemetery arrangements and finding someone who can replace the lock quickly. The banking goes well and R has money in her hand. I leave her to her meeting at the Cappuccini church and head down the hill on my own to reacquaint myself with Molfetta Vecchia on this beautiful blue-sky day.

    As I enter Molfetta Vecchia under the arch at Porta della Terra, hanging above the street is a Quarantana – a female dummy dressed all in black and holding an orange with seven large feathers stuck in it. A brochure I find later at Molfetta Pro Loco explains that Molfetta is trying to bring back old traditions like this in an attempt to attract more visitors to their Easter celebrations. A Quarantana was hung on martedi grasso (Fat Tuesday) at each of the four main entrances to Molfetta Vecchia, supposedly to absorb all the bad behavior of the residents that year. The seven feathers represent the seven weeks of lent. The Quarantani are removed and burned on Good Friday. No one could tell me if these efforts were showing any increase in attendance.

    Molfetta Vecchia is less of a construction site, more of a pristine development than my last visit, though some buildings are still empty shells and threatened to collapse. I wander the maze of streets, photographing doors, details, and blue sky. I stop at Molfetta Pro Loco, the tourist office, to get a map and the fellow in charge gives me a 20-minute explanation in Italian of the historical sights, eights large sketches he did of Molfetta scenes, four brochures on various subjects, and the map I requested. A brochure about the duomo peaks my interest, so I manage a visit before it closes and then take a walk on the walls that separate Molfetta Vecchia from the “mainland.” After a quick cappuccino, I tour a supermarket as if it were a museum and head back to Via Amedeo around noon.

    R is already there, doing battle with the locksmith. At a nearby hardware store, the owner was able to find a matching lock and could send his handyman over right away to do the job. The handyman is trying to “improve” the way the new lock is installed, using more cardboard shims than before to obtain what he sees as a better alignment. R prefers that he reinstall it exactly as the old one was. She explains that the old door warps dramatically from day to day with the weather –tomorrow his new installation may no align at all. Wackiness ensues as they argue and he continues to do what he wants. Finally he’s done and proudly shows us how nicely it aligns and how easily it closes, and then he leaves. I’d been hiding in the dining room, staying out of this mess. R is fiddling with the new lock, not happy. I take a look and then get a straight edge to demonstrate to her that he’s inserted so many shims that some of the screws have completely missed the wood of the door. At least it locks for now, for today anyway. Lock: Episode 2, to come.

    Even with the lock fiasco, we are feeling a bit better with such a lovely sunny day and most of our problems solved. We lunch on delicious incredibly thin local pork chops, local mushrooms, salad, and oranges. Then we relax in the sun for quite a while, only deciding much later to catch a 3:58pm train to Barletta. Barletta is known for its Colossus, a very large iron statue of unknown origin. It is surprising to me that no one knows where it came from or what it’s about, and it is indeed very large. A short walk from the Colossus, the old part of town does not feel as removed and insulated from the rest of town as I’ve felt in Giovinazzo and Molfetta. The alleys undulate slightly and as we walk we get occasional glimpses of the sea. The duomo facade is decorated with some truly weird figures. Contortionists – man and beast – hold up the roof. Beautiful arch friezes frame the doors. Inside the neighborhood women are chanting the rosary (or a novena?) so we explore quickly. The nave is narrow, the ceiling soars overhead.

    R is exicted to visit the Palazzo Marra and its newly opened Pinacoteca De Nittis. Giuseppe De Nittis was a contemporary of the Italian Macchiaioli but worked much on his own. The recently restored palazzo has one floor as a showplace for his work and the other floor for visiting shows, this time from the Petit Palais in Paris. The De Nittis section is a modern-style comprehensive exhibit of is life and work. It’s delightful to get to know this artist in such well-lit, well-hung, well-labeled rooms. We have the museum to ourselves, so we can chat and contemplate the art at leisure. I was dumbstruck by a particular piece – a pastel of his wife in a white dress in front of a window on a snowy day. I found the quality of light amazing and the image striking for its sheer size – six feet tall. I can see R is tired so we head back to the train station. Our route leads us through a large piazza. We feel strange as we realize that this piazza is full of people enjoying their passegiata, but we are the only women in the crowd.

    Lock: Episode 2. Back in Molfetta, we stop at the hardware store and express our displeasure with the owner. He lived in Australia for years and so attempts to impress and placate me with his English. I dislike his manner as he tries to satisfy the little women – that’s his attitude I sense. I draw a picture of how the screws miss the wood. His handyman maintains that the screws ARE hitting the wood. R declares, “We are two sets of eyes who have seen it this way.” The owner continues to bulls**t, but agrees to send his handyman in the morning to fix it. Lock: Episode 3, to come.

    Our dinner is pasta with the remains of the local mushrooms, we share an entire burrata (heavenly), and oranges. Time to relax. Time for bed.

    TOMORROW: Another Day, Another Duomo

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    Working on the next day.

    Meanwhile, I found an image for the pastel of De Nittis that so impressed me. This image doesn't impart the amazing quality of light in this relatively monochromatic portrait, plus a postage stamp of an image hardly makes the same impression as the original six-foot-tall pastel.

    "Giornata d'inverno"
    http://www.italica.rai.it/index.php?categoria=art&scheda=denittis2

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    DAY 11: Thursday, 13 March 2008 - Molfetta and Bitonto

    Another Day, Another Duomo

    Another perfect blue sky day, we get up and dressed early since we’re unsure of when the handyman will be back. Good thing — he arrives at 8:30am, even before we have breakfast.

    Lock: Episode 3. The handyman is till trying to convince us that his way is better. He’s willing to adjust the work, but wants to leave in all his shims. Even with the work in front of his face, he refuses to acknowledge that it is not correct. R explains her fears that the door will dry during the summer, lose its warped bow, and the lock will never align. I’m trying to stay out of it, but I keep hearing R say, “no cartone” (no cardboard) in almost every sentence. Eventually I can stand it no longer and walk over to them and say, “No cartone! No cartone!” and leave the room. Finally I hear the drill removing the screws and reinserting them. He finishes the job, smiles all around, and he leaves. The door is secure, back the way it was two days before. Lock: The End.

    More neighborly business, during breakfast a woman from the condominium stops by with the minutes of Tuesday’s meeting. The discussion continues about the crazy (to me) situation: The building’s roof must be replaced. In the past, people would search for a roofer who would do the work under the table, for a much cheaper price and with no taxes involved, but also no warranty. This seems to be the standard Italian mentality for such work--"Fatta la legge, trovato l'inganno." (Make the law, find the trick [loophole, scam].) There was no benefit to do otherwise. Visitors often wonder why the buildings in Italy look so old and decrepit on the outside. This is one reason: that it is of no benefit financially to fix them. Recently the Italian government has created benefits, tax breaks or rebates I think, that finally offer this benefit. R had argued at her condo meeting that now they could get a new roof following proper legal channels for about the same price as under the table because of these rebates, PLUS since it was done legally there would be a proper warranty. The majority of the condo owners are suspicious of doing the work through legal channels and had voted against it.

    With these two bits of business out of the way, R seems calmer. We eat a leisurely breakfast and relax, eventually leaving to catch the 11:30am bus to Bitonto. R suspects the duomo will close before we get there. The bus route passes through Giovinazzo and then turns inland. The town of Bitonto seems unspectacular — it’s not by the water, it’s not on a hill. From the bus stop it’s a short walk to the old town. This old town has not been renovated like those in the other towns we’ve visited. Aside from the cathedral, my impression is old and care-worn, even derelict at times. On the way to the cathedral, we pass the Chiesa di Purgatorio with a vivid frieze above the door featuring skeletons and people burning in hell or rescued by angels.

    We reach the side door to the cathedral and, as R predicted, it is locked. As we find our way through the warren of courtyards and arches to the front of the cathedral, a man steps out of a doorway and asks if we want to visit the cathedral — if so, he’ll unlock it for us. We agree and walk to the front. The guide appears at one of the doors, explaining that they close early to wash the floor on Thursdays, so we should watch the wet spots on the floor. He has turned on the lights and we can see the lovely details: a painted beamed ceiling; an interesting stone pulpit, a composite of different eras; a very tall nave with graceful arches. He shows us a large baptismal font, the bowl of which is carved from one block of stone. When I flick it with one finger, it rings like a bell. Through a window in the floor, we can see an impressive griffin mosaic on a level below. R listens politely to all his information while I wander away and explore details of the building. R wishes that she could get away from the guide and join me in my explorations she doesn’t appreciate his attentions, knowing his biggest concern is to get a tip at the end.

    Our guide announces that we will now visit the crypt. Out come the keys and down the steps we go. The crypt has a forest of columns with charming capitals taken from a temple of Minerva that was once in Bitonto, animals and humans in interesting poses. The guide opens another door and leaves us to explore the scavi on our own: an impressively modern set-up with dramatic lights, didactic panels in multiple languages, a glass walkway over ancient mosaics, a warren of rooms to explore with displays of found items, and a shiny copper ceiling. After the rest of the town, we’re surprised by the sophistication of the display. We each leave the guide €2 in the discreet basket and return to the guide. He escorts us up and out through an area set up as a gift shop. I purchase some postcards of the capitals, R a book of the cathedral, and then he gives me a brochure in English for free. He encourages me to add my New York signature to the guest book and is uninterested about adding R’s – just another Italian person.

    We head out into the strong sunlight in search of lunch. R spots a place to try. I enjoy my trofie with shrimp and zucchini, but R finds her orecchiette with rape “small” compared to mine, with not enough pasta. Our seppie alla griglia are a lttle too burnt for R, and the grilled vegetable are too charred for both of us.

    Disappointed, we decide to return to the cathedral to examine the façade in more detail. The colonnade on the side has an interesting series of animals, humans, and combinations of the two decorating the capitals. The main door also had some interesting carving that we spend time examining.

    We decide to wander around the warren of streets finding again this derelict feeling we’d noted earlier. We’re almost out of the old section when we come upon the Teatro Traetta. The door is open and it’s easy to see that just two steps across the narrow lobby would take one into the theater. We can see velvet seats. We share a look and can’t resist, stepping into the lobby and across to the theater. We peek into the theater to discover a jewel box – it’s teeny, perhaps 100 orchestra seats with four levels of tiers surrounding, all painted white and gold. We’re trying not to get caught when right behind us someone speaks, telling us it’s OK to step in and take a look. Workers are setting the stage for an evening performance. The young man who caught us shares about the recent renovation of this theater with R. He speaks enthusiastically and we enjoy his natural pride in this project of which he has been a part. His enthusiasm is infectious. He takes us downstairs to an area that is now a classy modern café to see the foundation of the building that is actually part of the old Norman wall of the city. Then we climb upstairs into a tower that was once part of tone of the gates of the city. We can see stone remnants of the gate structure carefully preserved in what looks now to be the theater’s green room. We step out on the top tier to see the theater from this angle. As we leave we see our young man directing the unloading of a truck.

    R is tired. It’s been an exhausting few days, so we need a place to sit until the next bus. However the city seems shut up tight, even though it’s 4:00pm. Fortunately we spot an open bar with a pleasant barista and plenty of tables. We settle in for pastries (chocolate and pear, ricotta and pear) and pineapple juice. We sit for a while and eventually get back to the bus stop. I successfully validate one of our two tickets – we’ve had varying success with the machines on the buses we’ve taken and we have not been alone in our frustration. In most cases, the passengers give up trying to get the machine to work and the driver just rips their ticket – back to the old system.

    Once back in Molfetta, we shop for dinner with our departure tomorrow in mind. The latticini and most such shops in Molfetta are closed on Thursday afternoons, so we must make do with the local supermarket. We purchase fresh mozzarella knots and apples to go with our insalata this evening, and rolls and cream cheese for tomorrow’s train lunch. We will arrive late in Florence, so we need food for our trip, almost nine hours in transit.

    We stop at the hardware store to tell the owner that all is well with the lock. He is very solicitous and pleasant.

    Even supermarket mozzarella knots are heavenly. I could eat them every day forever.

    TOMORROW: On the Train Again

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    hi again ellenem,

    I only managed to catch up with your thread by mistake. I love your account of your travels in an Italy few of us ever see.

    looking forward to visiting more of it with you,

    regards, ann

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    DAY 12: Friday, 14 March 2008 - Molfetta to Firenze

    On the Train Again

    As soon as we awake, we are closing the apartment — pulling apart bedding, barring windows, replacing dust covers. We have our last mozzarella knots and apples for breakfast. Then R suggests we stop at a nearby panificio for some items for our trip and tonight in Florence. We purchase some special local taralle and can’t resist a second breakfast of fresh focaccia. Back in the apartment, we turn off the gas, electricity, and water. After a quick goodbye to the neighbors, off we go to the train station to catch the 11:30am IC train to Bologna. The ride will take most of the day, arriving in Bologna at about 6:30pm.

    It’s a lovely sunny day. Initially we have two talkative girls in our compartment, but they leave us in Foggia. A pleasant couple rides with us all the way. Their destination is Parma, but this train’s final destination is Milano. Miles fly by. Passengers in the center seats come and go. On the window side, we see seaside towns and beautiful water views; on the corridor side, rolling hillsides. I try making a few movies of the passing scenery with my digital camera. We lunch on our homemade cream cheese panini and bananas. Time passes. The sun gets lower.

    At Rimini we turn inland, passing through the fruit basket of Italy. Since our trip barely a week ago, the fruit trees — especially those between Cesena and Forli — have come into bloom. We speed past clouds of blossoms, from snow white to the palest pink to the deepest almost-purple. At Bologna we sit just short of the platform for a disconcerting amount of time before we can finally leave the train. Even so, we wait almost an hour for our ES train to Firenze SMN, finally arriving there at 8:45pm.

    We tumble into a taxi to via Sirtori, exhausted from our long day of boring nothingness punctuated by moments of beauty. And now we must perform the opening-the-apartment procedure . . . on with the electricity, gas, and water. An empty-pantry dinner of pasta and quick tomato sauce puts us to bed.

    TOMORROW: I Finally Understand

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    DAY 13: Saturday, 15 March 2008 - Firenze

    I Finally Understand

    We are slow to wake up and get moving after our day of travel . . . unpacking, repacking. Even as we had tried to put these feelings aside, the purse snatching and related events in Bari and Molfetta still clouds our moods.

    With no food in the house, we eventually head to the bar down the block for a cornetto and cappuccino and then on to the Esselunga supermarket for provisions. Opposite the market door, R pauses at the large display case of housewares and small appliances. She explains that she is earning credits with her Esselunga purchases — like old S&H green stamps — and plans to cash them in for a small radio/CD player to take to Molfetta. We shop for groceries and I choose a few items that will travel home with me. I help R bring home our groceries and then take the 17 bus into the center for a day in town on my own.

    I get off the bus at San Marco and step into the church to see if the saintly mummy Antonino I remember in the side chapel is still in place. Yes, indeed, and looking no better. I move on to Internet Train on Via Guelfa. I haven’t seen any internet shops in Molfetta, and I know there is a difficult meeting I might have to attend directly from the airport when I arrive home in two days. I spend an hour checking emails and reading updated information about the meeting that will indeed take place. I am also able to clear up a mystery: On the train the day before, a passenger opposite me was reading an Italian newspaper. On the front page, I spotted a photo of my state’s governor, Elliot Spitzer. I couldn’t read the story, but commented later to R, “It can’t be good — his wife was standing behind him, and when they trot out the wife, it can’t be good.” Internet news stories confirm my suspicion that I am missing a notorious scandal back home.

    Now . . . what to do with my day? I decide to wander, just enjoying the sunny day and leisure to just be in Florence without an agenda. Since it’s already after noon I head to Osteria Belle Donne on via Belle Donne. I’m seated on one of those backless stools, but I don’t care. I’m happy to be there and the seats quickly fill around me. I chat with another solitary travel seated at the same long table while I enjoy my strozzapreti all’amitriciana, followed by grilled vegetables ripieni di riso. A coffee sets me on my way.

    I stroll and window-shop and even pick up a few things . . . some colorful tassels to hang off a doorknob and remember Florence, a bright rooster towel for Mom (she likes it so well that she remarks, “you only bought one?”). I recall a silly item I spotted when we visited the Pitti Palace last week: eyeglass wipes featuring David and the Birth of Venus. These seem the perfect piece of silliness for a few friends, so I head to the Uffizi in hope of finding them in its gift shop.

    It is at this point that I finally understand why people dislike Florence. Today is Saturday, tomorrow is Palm Sunday, and it seems as if every American tourist in Italy has descended upon Florence for Holy Week. It is unpleasantly crowded at the duomo and the crowds thicken as I approach piazza della Signoria. The lines at the Uffizi are tremendous. Last week they were non-existent. I can’t spot a door without a long line. I just want to visit the bookshop, so finally I asked a guard how I can do so. He asks me to wait to one side, and after a minute sends me in behind a tour group. While I haven’t been given free access to the museum, I realize that from here I can reach the extensive restroom complex on the lower level — an added bonus — as well as the bookshop. I find the David wipes, but no Venus, and exit the shop using what will be the new museum entrance on the other side of the building. Now I beat back the crowds on the Ponte Vecchio and head to the Pitti Palace gift shop. More incredible lines, but since I’m shopping I can skip most of the crowd and hurry away.

    I walk along the river to the next bridge, thinking I’ll escape the growing heat and crowd and enjoy a gelato in piazza Santa Croce. Vivoli is packed with people lined up out the door, so I turn and head back to the center through less populated side streets, eventually grabbing a cup of croccatina and gianduia at Festival del Gelato. I chose the duomo steps as my gelato perch. If I’m not trying to get anywhere, I can relax and enjoy the crowds . . . American families, school groups, Italian families, many languages, all enjoying the sunny afternoon.

    Time for a bit of business: at the train station I purchase my ticket to Pisa Airport for Monday morning. My 8:57am train from Firenze SMN arrives in Pisa Aeroporto at 10:25am. Unfortunately, this “direct” train will sit in Pisa Centrale for 10 minutes before going on to the airport. (I feel I could walk this distance in 10 minutes.) This gives me plenty of time to make my noon flight, since the airport is so small. Reversing my steps, I head back toward piazza San Marco for the bus, but decide to visit the Pontormo fresco nearby at the church of Santissma Annuziata. Before going in I visit this church’s small gift shop where I once bought the smallest glow-in-the-dark baby Jesus ever. Today they only have pink ones, so I make no purchase. In the courtyard, I find the Pontormo fresco covered for restoration. Inside, I find the five o’clock ladies chanting their prayers in front of the venerated annunciation painting. A respectful visit is difficult, since the painting is hung on a wall next to the door. As you enter, those in prayer are facing you – enter, stage left. During my visit I experience an annunciation, a revelation, a realization of my own about my meeting on Monday, just like those words floating from the angel’s mouth in Mary’s ear, an unexpected moment in this unplanned day.

    Back at via Sirtori, I explain the Gov. Spitzer scandal to R as she prepares dinner. We chat about plans for my last day as dine on gnocchi with fresh tomato sauce, pork chops with cooked greens, and oranges for dessert. We consider a bus to Fiesole or Settignano. Is there a museum we haven’t seen? What to do with the last day in Florence?

    TOMORROW: Final Day, Final Gelato

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    DAY 14: Sunday, 16 March 2008 - Firenze

    Final Day, Final Gelato

    Today we are even slower to get out of the house. It’s Sunday and it looks like rain is on the way. We putter around and watch weather approaching across the hills. I sort through the piles of paper — ticket stubs, museum brochures, and the like that I’ve collected during my stay. Even for my return trip I’d rather not overpack.

    Finally we decide to try to visit the Museo Bardini. Our information is out of date, so as we head for the bus we’re not sure if it’s open on Sunday or open at all at this point. We decide to take a chance. We arrive in the center of Florence, crazy with tourists. People everywhere carry olive branches — it’s Palm Sunday. R explains that since palms aren’t indigenous to the area, olive branches are used traditionally. It also doesn’t hurt that this is the time of year when olive trees are pruned.

    People say they enjoy the little details of these reports. Well, here’s a truly boring/surprising detail of our day. On our way through the center, we stop at the department Coin Department Store to shop for artificial flowers. R is away from home a lot, yet she wants to have flowers on her large balcony that wraps the corner of the building. Since she is on the fourth floor (U.S. fifth floor), she figures no one will know or care that her flowers are fake. I don’t like to stand on this balcony – it seems very high to me and the railing looks awfully flimsy, like the one on top of the dome at St Peter’s in Rome. In any case, no flowers we see this day meet her requirements of attractive and cheap.

    On we go through crowded streets, passing an even more enormous line at the Uffizi. We cross the river and find the Museo Bardini . . . chiuso. R is appalled that the signage explains nothing. One sign indicates they might be renovating, but no sign explains opening hours or whether the museum is totally closed. R mentions that she may have read that the collection was transferred elsewhere, but we find no sign to support that idea.

    We continue to enjoy walking the quieter streets of the Oltrarno, and stop at a shop or two in search of a wallet to replace the one stolen in Bari. We have a quick lunch at Hot Pot and then R heads home, checking the posted bus routes carefully. A soccer match this afternoon will reroute our bus lines.

    For my last afternoon in Florence, I decide to wander the streets, following my mood, which seems to take me past sights and hotels from past visits. I’ve been visiting here since 1983, so much has changed but much more stays the same. I walk along the river and pause to watch the geese and fat muskrats. I cross again and continue past Santa Maria della Carmine and Piazza Santo Spirito. The hotel from my first visit, with its lovely garden, is still in business on Via Romana. As I walk, I am overcome by the desire for . . . gelato. No big surprise. I continue to Porta Romana, figuring there will be a gelateria at this busy intersection. There is! And it’s an excellent choice: Gelateria Porta Romana features gelati with no lactose nor other products that trouble people with food allergies – perfect for those with celiac disease. I have a very delicious gianduiotto and fior di caffe.

    Since the rain has finally arrived I cross the street where I can catch a #11 bus which will take me through the center and all the way back to via Sirtori. A few stops before mine, the rain ends, so I get off the bus to have a neighborhood walk. I can hear chanting and singing from the soccer stadium, so I walk a few streets out of my way to see the action. While few people walk sidewalks surrounding the stadium, the streets are lined with more vespas than one could imagine. The breeze picks up and by the time I reach via Sirtori the sun is beaming and R wonders why I’m home so early. We putter in our rooms. I pack.

    Over our dinner of salmon ravioli with fresh tomato sauce, pork chops, green salad, and sweet oranges, we review my visit and brainstorm for R’s next visit to me. R never lets me do a thing or pay for a thing (except my tickets and restaurant meals). I will owe her a great visit when she stays with me in NYC. I finish packing and set my alarm for 6:45AM. I must be on the bus to the station by 8:00AM if I want to make my train to Pisa.

    TOMORROW: Flying First Class

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    DAY 15: Monday, 17 March 2008 – Firenze and Home

    Flying First Class

    My alarm sounds at 6:35AM, but I’ve been mostly awake since 5:00. My body doesn’t want to miss the train or flight. All my ridiculous fears — of the clock battery dying, sleeping through the alarm, turning off the alarm and falling asleep again — haunt me and a fitful night is the result. Strangely enough, when I turn off the alarm, I check my wristwatch and discover that its battery died during the night.

    And so I take my last Italian bath, hose in hand, and pack the last of my things. At 7:00 I knock on R’s door and we both scurry about making our final preparations. We pause for breakfast and our conversation wanders from families to immigration to lost and found connections. We’re startled to notice that it’s 7:50 and we should be out the door. R and I head to the bus stop, dragging my luggage past the children with backpacks just arriving for school across the street.

    Our bus arrives promptly at 8:05 and we step off at Firenze SMN at 8:25. My binario is already posted, so I validate my ticket and we stroll to the end of the platform. R and I say our good-byes, talking of her planned visit to my home, and then I’m on board and the train it’s on its way. Almost there, I consider that the bus might be less annoying than this strange 15-minute wait in Pisa Centrale, but eventually I arrive at the airport.

    While Pisa Airport is small, the security check is rigorous. Before you even reach the desk to check in, your passport is scanned on a laptop and you are grilled with the magic questions: Did you pack your own bag? Has it been out of your sight? Are you carrying something for someone else? — very serious stern examiners.

    Since my ticket is first class, I am given a pass to the VIP lounge. I follow the signs to my departure gate, going through a series of security sections, only to realize that the lounge is outside this area. Oh well . . . I’ll just wait at the gate . . . it won’t be long.

    Yes, it will. I see my flight crew come off the plane at 11:20 – they’re late. The departure area is very crowded with a boisterous group of college students. We embark well past our scheduled departure time, but get settled quickly and take off only half an hour late. First class is packed, mostly with some of the college students whose flight from Rome was cancelled three days earlier. Many students are in coach and those that scored first class tickets are gleeful. (Without the students, first class would have been almost empty.) I am unable to sleep so take full advantage of the personal movies on demand system, thinking all the while about how our late departure might affect my ability to attend my meeting.

    Surprisingly, we arrive 30 minutes early. I am off the plane by 4:30. I’d never considered this benefit of first class — first out the door, first through immigration, first luggage available. By my ETA of 4:55, I have my luggage, consider it an omen, and head for the taxi rank. Plenty of cabs and no passengers! Twenty-five minutes more and I’m unlocking my front door. I’ll have time for a real shower before my 6:00 meeting.


    EPILOGUE

    If I hadn’t made it to the meeting, there wouldn’t have been a quorum. Thank you westbound wind.

    My expenses in Italy totaled €582,87 for transportation, food, sightseeing, gifts, and miscellaneous provisions.

    The exchange rate then was awful (around $1.57 = €1,00) so cost in dollars was about $915.11. (At today’s exchange rate, it would be closer to $770.) I had the extreme benefit of staying in the home of a very generous friend.

    If I hadn’t taken a taxi home, my travel to Italy would have cost $52.86 – taking a taxi more than doubled that to $111.20.

    So 15 days in Italy cost me a total $1026.31 or $68.42 per day.


    MORAL OF THE STORY: Make friends with foreigners.


    MORAL OF THE STORY 2: Watch your bag in Bari.

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    Thanks ellenem! I got distracted and missed the last part of this so am glad it popped up again!

    Didn't know the stuff about fixing up condo roof and outside of houses. Makes sense of many things. Am always amazed, amused and annoyed by some of the Italian rules that seem so out of place and not uniformly enforced.

    Here's to Bella Italia!

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    Years ago I asked R why she didn't move full time to her place in Molfetta.

    Her reply: "I'd never get anything done. It's so backward."

    People ask me if I'd retire to Italy, but having heard all the stories, I say, "No, I'd never purchase property, but I would make very long visits."

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    I hear ya on that. DH and I have talk upon talk about how we could manage living there. Just too used to our way of doing things.

    But the food, the food. Renting as long as possible makes sense. That way one can visit more areas at leisure.

    If you haven't read Peter Mayle, his descriptions of buying property in Southern France ("Toujours Provence I think) made me think of Italy as well. Convoluted.

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    My friendship with R is the best thing that ever came out of visiting my in-laws . . .

    In the early 1990s when I was still married, we had to go to DH's grandmother's birthday party on Staten Island. All the way on the ferry from Manhattan, we were contemplating a difficult day. Grandma's house was very small and the family could be contentious, with frequent detours into racist, sexist, homophobic, name-any-minority comments. It was raining hard so there would be no escaping for our usual pressure-relieving walk around the neighborhood.

    At Grandma's we discover that Aunt L has also invited her friend A from Manhattan. A has her niece M from Italy visiting with her and also M's college friend, R. While M's English was minimal, R's English was excellent, so we spent the entire afternoon in the corner with M and R, chatting away. At one point, a cousin remarked to us, "It's a good thing you guys are here or they would have no one to talk to." Actually, we were thinking the same thing.

    We returned to Manhattan together on the same ferry and invited A, M, and R to dinner later in the week. We exchanged addresses and R and I have maintained a friendship since then, visiting back and forth over the years.

    My other big Italy connection was NY friend who moved there and stayed for 14 years, creating more connections for me on various visits.

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    "Are you planning your next Italy trip?"

    Always

    I think this time we'll go to Parma.

    Though recently two different friends have said, "When you plan your next Italy trip, can I came, too?" So having novices along might influence the itinerary. I'm thinking again about Thanksgiving in Venice . . .

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    Ellenem: Many,many thanks for a lovely trip. This is a part of Italy we do not usually see, and you made it come alive. Your photos are so helpful too. I feel as though I had a nice trip today.

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    Glad you enjoyed the trip, taconic. (I'm a mile from the Taconic Pkwy right now)

    Interestingly enough, my first-timer friends have such faith in me that when they join my trips they leave the itinerary mostly up to me. It usually does include parts of the big three, but at a relaxed pace. They say, "I'm sure wherever you want to go will be fine" and they mean it -- it makes our group trips so much easier!

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    I only return to places I want to see again. And since my friends are good natured and undemanding, it's enjoyable to be their guide in familiar places. I don't mind seeing the Sistine Chapel or the like again and again. Then my friends follow me to the latest obscure church or gallery I want to visit. Fit in a good lunch and everyone's happy. The only repeat that ever bothered me was climbing the dome of St Peter's three times in two years.

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    Ellenem: I have been reading your trip and just before that, the recent trip report of Tedgale, who is also an Italy lover, and a good writer. It's almost as if we were with you both as you travel thru Italy and give us such good impressions of all that you experience.
    (I love about 5 miles from the Taconic, do you live near it too?)

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    Taconic,

    Your experience reading trip reports is mine as well--that's why I return again and again to Fodor's to share other travelers' stories.

    I was on a visit to my sister--just returned to my home in NYC.

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    Just in case anyone is interested, Shutterfly recently added a video feature to their free share sites. Users can post up to 10 videos. I've just posted a few short videos from this trip as well as a few others I like.

    So, if you'd like to see what the train ride along the Adriatic coast is like, click on videos Train 1, Train 2, Train 3, and Train 4.

    I have no idea who the fellow across from me in Train 1 is . . . but I'm glad he came along because he made it a much more interesting video.

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    I didn't even bother to read the details since my videos are all taken with my regular digital still camera on video function, and so they can't be very long anyway. I'll check the details and post back.

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    OK

    As part of your free Shutterfly account, you can store up to 10 videos for free, each of which can be up to 300MB (about 5 minutes long). (For about $30/year, you can upgrade and get unlimited storage of videos up to 15 minutes long.)

    For me, this is a good deal. I have very few videos to share anyway and I already had the share site. All I had to do was add a section for videos and do the upload. The quality is good enough for my purposes.

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