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Trip Report Rickmav – Italy Trip Report: Three Weeks in Venice, Florence, Tuscany & Umbria

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Hello everyone. As some of you may know, we have been travelling for four months in England and Italy. This is our report on the three weeks we spent in Venice, Tuscany (including Florence and Chianti) & Umbria. Our other reports can be found at:

Overview & Yorkshire


Sussex and Kent


This was our first trip to Italy and we visited from mid-October, 2006 to the beginning of November. Those of you who've had the good fortune to visit Italy may find some of my observations fairly obvious, but I've included them because there may be others who will be in the same boat (or vaporetto, as the case may be) as us.

Venice - Day I: Freaked Out at Marco Polo, Comforted by Truman Capote, Spying on Henry James.

After a three day visit to London, my husband and I fly, on a Tuesday, from Gatwick to Venice on British Airways. Talk about planes, trains and automobiles (or, buses, anyway)! In the morning, we take a train to Gatwick from King's Cross station, then the monorail to the North Terminal, bus to the plane, fly to Marco Polo Airport, bus to P. Roma and then, by vaporetto, arrive at our hotel.

At Gatwick, we use BA's 'Fast Bag Drop' system, which allows you to 'virtually' board the flight 24 hours ahead. Once you get to the airport, you have to deposit your luggage, showing your passport, tickets and boarding pass to the BA staffer, at identified locations. The system sounds great, but isn't that efficient in practice, and a lot of people are very confused about what to do. We aren't afraid to ask questions, so manage okay. And try to help as many others as we can. Travelling by plane is definitely getting to be more and more of a pain.

When we board the plane at the gate, we have to show our passports again, plus our credit cards – that's never happened to us before – because we purchased our tickets on-line. We can take duty free liquor on board, but no water. The plane is half an hour late arriving, which means we are an hour late departing, and the flight is packed to the rafters. But they do serve drinks and a sandwich, and the seats are nicer than Air Canada's. It's about a two-hour flight from Gatwick to Marco Polo.

After we land, I suddenly find myself in the midst of a half hour long panic attack. I don't know why, but it's as if I'm under this enormous pressure to understand all the signs, speak the language and know exactly where we should be going at every moment. And I don't understand a thing! I keep thinking I know I've seen that word before, but what does it mean? (This has never happened to me before and we have travelled in Portugal, Spain and France.)

Luckily, my husband, who has not studied one word on the Italian Language DVDs, steps up to the plate. He approaches a young man standing at the curb and starts speaking English to him. It turns out the fellow works for ATVO and sells Rick two tickets for the bus to Piazzale Roma. When I ask my husband later how he knew this man was the right person, he said he just connected the company name on the man's name tag to the ATVO sign over our head (I had, at least, got us that far).

The young man, dressed in blue (just like the bus when it arrives), tells us exactly what to do and where to wait. Normally, we would have been able to buy a ticket from a machine located just off the sidewalk, but it is out of order. The tickets cost us three euros for a one-way trip. They have to be stamped after you buy them and, again, when you board the bus.

The man in blue tracks us down when the right bus arrives and shows us where to put our luggage. Our suitcases go underneath the bus, like the Greyhound at home. As you board, there is a little yellow box just inside bus door, which is where you stamp your ticket.

The traffic is horrendous and it seems to take us a long time to get from the airport to P. Roma – of course, we are impatient. Plus, the drive is not an attractive one. I'm still feeling a bit rattled about my 'breakdown' at the airport, and now I start feeling depressed. Is Venice going to be one of those places that cannot possibly live up to its reputation?

I worry too much. As soon as we pass by all the cheap hotels there are tantalizing glimpses of water and beautiful buildings - and then suddenly you are there.

But first, another mini-meltdown.

There are so many vehicles and people in P. Roma and so many stalls selling tourist junk, that we can't see the Canal – hence, have no idea where the vaporettos are. I frantically start asking some tourist types, 'Dove è l'acqua?', 'Where is the water?' They either ignore me or scurry away in the other direction. (I have no idea if this is even the right context in which to use this phrase – but I'm in meltdown mode). Rick, once again, comes to the rescue and asks an Italian-looking man standing nearby, who speaks perfect English, where the vaporettos are. He points us in the right direction.

(For the next day I so, I find my husband looking at me strangely; but he never brings up my 'breakdown', nor do I. Some things, after 30 years of marriage, are better left unsaid.)

We buy our three-day pass, which doesn't have to be time-stamped, from a booth near the water. They are 12 euros each and come with a simple map.

No matter how much I read about vaporettos, until I'm on one, I don't really understand what they are. As soon as I see it, I realize it looks just like a mobile home on water. We board the vaporetto through the little 'shack' that sits on the water, which moves about as other boats go by. On both the land and water side of every shack is the number of the vaporetto that stops there. A tip: Look for the number on the sign mounted on the deck of the vaporetto; don't be confused, like we were, by the number stencilled on the boat itself.

Everyone kind of crowds in, there's no orderly queues like in England, and only once in the three days we travelled on the vaporetto system did we have to leave people behind. We have no trouble getting our luggage on and off, and no one ever asks to see our pass. (Nor did the Grand Canal smell – at least not anywhere that we went.)

We are both in sensory overload mode as we make our way down the Grand Canal, from P. Roma to the Accademia Bridge, where our hotel is located. The colours, the reflections in the water, the chatter in a dozen different languages, it's almost too much. And yet, I find myself getting calmer and calmer. I don't know if it's the rhythm of the boat on the water or that we are finally here after so many years of dreaming of Venice, but I feel myself physically surrendering to its magic. But there's also a shiver of excitement. As Truman Capote said, "Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs." And we are slowly beginning to get that chocolate-like high. (Particularly, after we have our first taste of gelato.)

There is so much to look at and relish. And it's so easy to see everything from our window seat on the vaporetto. I'm surprised at how narrow the Grand Canal is, at least on this part of our journey, and our heads bob back and forth as we try and take it all in. It's actually quite intimate, which only adds to its promise.

We have taken vaporetto #82, which drops us almost, literally, at the door of our hotel, the Hotel Galleria ( We get off the vaporetto (the stop is Accademia), take a sharp turn to the left, and in thirty steps, or so, we are there.

The hotel, part of a 17th c. palace, is in the Dorsoduro area and its entrance lies along Rio Foscarini. Our room is quite small and, when we first enter, the curtains are closed so it's hard to make out where everything is. One of the owners, Stefano Franceschini, goes in ahead of us and opens the curtains, unlatches the shutters and there it is – the Grand Canal framed by our very own window. To the left is the Accademia bridge; across from us are Palazzo Barbaro and the gardens of the Palazzo Franchetti Cavalli. (Henry James used to stay with the Curtis's at P. Barbaro and wrote a series of letters, from here, describing the writing process.) To our right the Canal eventually widens, leading to Piazza San Marco.

We are very pleased with the hotel. The service is impeccable, location unbeatable and price reasonable (120 euros, with breakfast). Our room is long and narrow and although the bed is in a strange position – facing away from the Canal – the room is very cozy. The bathroom is great, there is antique furniture and the views from the windows are, as the advertisement says, priceless.

There are a couple of small negatives. Since the hotel is quite close to the Accademia vaporetto stop, you hear some of the noises associated with that – but if you wanted absolute peace and quiet you'd probably stay somewhere other than the Grand Canal. Part of the charm of Venice is watching the life of the city go on before you. You also have to ring the bell at the front door when you want in.

We have a bit of a rest, Rick's ears still haven't popped from our descent and he seems to be getting a bit of a fever. And my ankles have decided to blow up, but we are impervious to bad health and decide to check out our neighbourhood. We walk south on Rio Foscarini and suddenly realize we are hungry. We haven't had anything since the meagre sandwich on the plane, but most of the restaurants haven't yet opened for dinner. My husband manages to sweet talk the very kind waiter at Pizzeria Alle Zattere, located where the Rio Foscarini meets the Zattere, to serve us a sandwich. We each have a glass of white wine and a delicious panini - mine is grilled vegetables with mozzarella, Rick's is ham and mozzarella. With a bottle of water, it costs 16 euros, including the tip. We sit at a table outside, overlooking the Giudecca Canal, and watch a huge cruise ship go out to sea. People on board are taking pictures of their last view of Venice, and people on the Zattere are taking pictures of them.

We linger for a while, appreciating the air, the views and the simple church beside us known as the Gesuati. Suddenly, we realize that we'll have to get some supplies – water and wine - and ask the waiter where the nearest supermercato is located. He points us in the direction of the Billa supermarket and we get there just as it is closing.

We stock up on supplies, making sure to buy water that is not 'frizzante', but naturale, and then slowly make our way home by a different route - although we have no idea if it will get us back to the hotel. We really don't care much whether it does or not. As gelato-virgins, we stop mid-way and have our first cup of chocolate (me) and cone of amaretto (Rick) and sit for awhile and people-watch. As we wander along the Rio di San Trovaso towards the Grand Canal, we pretend we are on our way back to our own apartment with our groceries. No one contradicts us.

We get into our pyjamas and climb into bed, propped up against one wall, with our legs stretched sideways on the bed. We drink our wine, with the window wide open and as we cuddle under the covers, toast our good fortune and the wonder that is Venice. Later on, when Rick has fallen asleep, a bit feverish and with little red ears, I write in my journal and finish the last of the wine.

I cannot bear to close the windows and so leave them open but, eventually, it gets too cool, and I, reluctantly, close the shutters. I climb back into bed, quickly warmed by a definitely fevered husband.

Next...Day 2 in Venice – Breakfast Brunhilde, Napoleon's Drawing Room and the Poop on Rick Steves.

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    Thanks jamikins, Dayle and dcd for your support. It really does make the sitting down and writing up my notes worthwhile.

    Day 2 in Venice – Breakfast Brunhilde, Napoleon's Drawing Room and the Poop on Rick Steves.

    We both have a fitful sleep. Too much excitement for me, and unpopped ears for Rick. He's definitely getting the flu and we're not sure if it has anything to do with the fact that his ears won't pop. We open the curtains, window and shutters and immediately feel better when we see that our view of Venice is still there – it hasn't all been a beautiful dream, after all. And then we fall asleep again.

    Breakfast arrives at 9:30 in the arms of a blonde Amazon. At the Hotel Galleria breakfast is served in your room and you have to let them know the night before what time you'd like them to bring it (it's served between 8-9:30 a.m.). The very polite and muscular young Brunhilde hands over a tray, jammed pack with goodies, to my unsuspecting – and non-muscular – arms. (My semi-muscular husband is in the shower.)

    I am quite proud of the fact that I did not drop anything, but it was like was one of the Stooges' bits. I weave my way from one wall to the other until I finally bump into the tiny table and deposit my treasure. There is tea and coffee, piping hot croissants with an apricot preserve inside, yoghurt, cheese, orange juice, buns and marmalade. We eat about a third of everything and squirrel the rest away for snacks later in the day. We munch on our croissants by the window and wave at the tourists on the Accademia Bridge. A few even take our picture!

    We linger over our coffee and tea for as long as we can but decide we must leave the window, eventually, to explore the Venice that lies beyond. While I shower, Rick goes for a walk to clear his stuffed-up head. I can always tell when my husband feels at home somewhere, he has the urge to explore it without me. And then he comes back with the most amazing reports and has to take me to see all that he has discovered. I'm not the least big jealous that he has fallen in love with Venice.

    When he returns, full of smiles and secrets, we take the vaporetto to Piazza San Marco. I can't believe I was stressed about figuring out the waterbus system – it's very easy, convenient and you never have long to wait – at least during the day. And, actually, that's another wonderful thing about Venice. You don't mind waiting for anything, even standing in line to see the Basilica, because there are so many things to look at and people to watch.

    We are both impressed with the Piazza, "the finest drawing room in Europe," according to Napoleon, even though we've seen pictures of it a million times. Everything is over-the-top. People, birds, statues, construction fences, buildings, Venetian masks, gondoliers and souvenir stands – all vying for your attention. What is behind all the fences? How do you decide what stand to buy a mask from – or is it better to look and buy somewhere else? Is a gondola a schmaltzy tourist trap? How can those people let the birds sit on their heads? How can we possibly grasp all the history associated with the buildings? We decide to sit on some stone steps and just contemplate it all.

    We debate whether to go in to any of the buildings, but decide we'll do that later. The thought of going inside to view art seems superfluous. Right now, we want to be outside and in the thick of things. There are long line-ups to get into the Basilica and Campanile, but none for the Doge's Palace or Correr Museum (this is around 11:30 a.m. on a Wednesday). We linger on the small bridge (Ponte della Paglia) to study the Bridge of Sighs. Not as grand as I was expecting, but the Rio Palazzo Ducale underneath it is pretty and I, along with countless others, get a great shot of a gondolier going under the Bridge – quintessential Venice.

    We browse all the beautiful paintings by the watercolour artists strung out along the Bacino di San Marco, near to the vaporetto stop. What I like is that there are different perspectives and views represented in the works, it's not like some places where you see artists lined up and everyone has a paint-by-number copy of the next. We spot a few that we could see hanging on a wall at home, but decide we'll put off buying until we have a chance to see more of the city.

    Still full from breakfast, so grab a gelato each – I have hazelnut, Rick has strawberry and chocolate. They are both delicious.

    Next, we board the #1 vaporetto to follow the tour of the Grand Canal in Rick Steves's Italy guidebook. As I mentioned in the overview to our four-month odyssey, I've torn out the parts of his book that are relevant to this visit and then just throw them away when I am done. Overall on the trip, we don't have much luck at the restaurants he recommends, I'm not sure why, it could just be bad luck. But his little maps and descriptions of things to see, including his self-guided tours, are helpful.

    Some thoughts on what we saw on the tour:
    - the Grand Canal is a pastel green/dark blue kind of colour, smells like the sea in areas, isn't full of garbage and, so far, we haven't seen a rat. We do wonder why there aren't any flies in Venice – or did we miss them, too?
    - it's strange and very cool to see all the services we would normally expect to be on the road, in their own boats. Like: the Fed-Ex boat, firefighters, police, construction guys, furniture movers, garbage boats – kind of amazing;
    - Venice is one of the few places in the world where you can't build anything new, everything has to be created from what's there – so, no new island is going in with a condo development! I feel an urge to go inside all the empty buildings and see what's there, what ghosts are wandering about.
    - there are three movies that keep running through my mind while we are touring: The Italian Job (the most recent one); Don't Look Now with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie; and, for some strange reason, Blame It On the Bellboy with Dudley Moore and Bronson Pinchot.
    - the Turkish Exchange building looks interesting and is the oldest house in Venice. In the 1500s, the Turkish traders would dock, unload, trade, eat, sleep and then go on their way in the morning, all in this one place;
    - would be fun to be all dished up and hit the Venice Casino, but we're not the gowns and tails kind of couple. Maybe, in my next life.

    Back to the hotel for a rest. Rick is definitely flu-stricken and lays down only when I threaten bodily harm. He sleeps for a few hours and is a bit better when we go out for dinner.

    We have lists and lists of recommended places to eat, but decide we are going to wander and just pick something that catches our fancy. We land on the doorstep of the Taverna San Trovaso because when someone opens the door as we pass by, the smells inside almost make us pass out. It is very busy and we are worried that we won't be able to get in, but the waiter takes us upstairs and there is another entire restaurant. Ten minutes after we sit down the place is packed and stays that way until we leave.

    A nice assortment of people – Italians with families, tourists, elderly couples. The food is great, the service even better – don't you love waiters with a sense of humour? – and I get to practice my Italian (that's where the sense of humour comes in). Rick has the menu turistico and he gets a primi (rigatoni bolognese), secondi (veal cutlet with fries) and a dessert (gelato). I order a primi (rigatoni all'amatriciana) and contorni (salad misti) and we share the lot. Near the end of the meal we discover we are sitting next to two women from South Carolina (just love that accent), and a couple from New York on their honeymoon. We don't leave the restaurant until after 10 p.m. Definitely, a two thumbs up experience.

    We wander home - full, content and very happy.

    Next...Day 3 – Attempted Murder at the Basilica, On The Floor to See Tiepolo and the Cicchetti Experience

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    I'm enjoying your report. Brings back fond memories of this most unique of cities. We enjoyed boat watching from our hotel window, too. My favorites were the Beck's and Heineken beer boats!

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    Yes, you do need to stamp your pass.
    Mind you, I have been to Venice several times and have only once had my ticket inspected.
    Next time, if I were you, I'd get the Alilaguna boat rather than the bus.
    Venice should really be approached from the water.
    You might be interested in my Venice pictures at

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    My husband and I are going to Venice in June. I love reading about it. I decided to stay in the Mestre area. It makes me nervous to have to carry my luggage so far. So concentrated on that you make an easy pick pocket. Plus I figure we'll take one easy bus ride to the hotel, drop it all off, get the 3-day pass and be on our way. It's cheaper too, and I'm thinking they hotels are nicer, or more Continental maybe, and there will be more English speaking people to help. We plan on going to a winery on the mainland, so it will be easier and cheaper traveling as well. Maybe we'll rent a car for a day. We will catch a 7-day cruise stopping at Crotia, Greek Isles, and Turkey. When we return, we'll stay an extra night and attend the Heineken Jammin' Festival to see Aerosmith and Smashing Pumkins. I wouldn't go see them in Philly, but something seems better seeing them on vacation. It's at the largest European Park (I'm guessing it will be like a Central Park concert). We'll pay the extra money and stay at the hotel that sits on the park. It will be easy to get back to the airport too.

    I wonder if anyone ever brought a laptop and actually used it?

    Thanks for the info!

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    Hello everyone. The sun has come out finally and so have been busy attending to all the things we couldn't get to in the snow. Will post Day 3 in Venice this evening. Thanks for your support.

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    Oh rickmav, I am enthralled with this trip report. I am sorry your husband had a "bug", it does happen sometimes when travelling. Your description of your feelings from the time you arrived at the Marco Polo Airport is precious, I wish I could convey how I feel as you do, that is quite a talent. I am so looking forward to your next installment.

    Hello BrendaJean. May I suggest you start your own thread regarding your trip and your questions. Best regards.

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    rickmav, I'm really enjoying your report. I'll be back in Venice (as well as Bologna & Rome) in July and can't wait. As others have said, you DO have to stamp the 72-hour pass. You were lucky not to have been checked. I'm also wondering how you got it for 12 Euro, when the price is 25? :-d
    Looking forward to more!

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    I finally have Day 3 completed. Thanks to all of you (RufusTFirefly, SRS, SandyBrit, Itilley, LoveItaly) for the nice things you have said about our report - and our marriage (LJ - my husband was quite 'chuffed' at your lovely words).

    Ellenem - About the 3-day vaporetto pass: when we bought the pass we asked the fellow where we could stamp it and he said he had stamped it for us. Perhaps, we misunderstood. Lucky thing, no one caught us out - or I might have been writing a very different report about Venice!

    ssvw27 - get well and glad I can provide a little 'light' relief.

    MissPrism - your pictures are wonderful. Since we were away for four months, we were trying to economize where we could and the Alilaguna service served an extravagance. But 'next time' we have promised ourselves we will splurge on a few more things.

    BrendaJean316 - Sounds like you have the ingredients to a great trip. We didn't see any of the Mestre hotels, so don't know if they would be a good alternative. But we loved being in the heart of Venice. And, I've never taken a laptop with me to Europe, mine's too heavy. But I certainly saw lots of people carting one around.

    Annabelle2 - you'll have to tell me what you think of Blame It On the Bellboy. Silly fun.

    Tim_and_Liz - hope you have a great time.

    SusanP - Glad you are enjoying our trip report. Hope to see your's when you get back from Venice, Bologna & Rome in July. About the price of the pass, I wrote in my notes that it was 12 euros each but when I checked the ACTV website just now, they are 30 euros! I guess I was still in semi-meltdown mode.

    Day 3 – Attempted Murder at the Basilica, On The Floor to See Tiepolo and the Cicchetti Experience

    The next day, after breakfast, we head back to P. San Marco. The evening before we'd heard the sirens signalling rising water, so aren't sure what to expect. There are large puddles about, but the tables have been set up so you can walk into the Basilica without getting your feet wet. I'd been wondering what the stacks of tables were for, it looked like they were getting ready for a big block party (the tables look just like the ones you see at a community centre). Now, I see them unpacked and in action.

    The line-up at 9:30 a.m. isn't too long so we tuck in at the end and wait. It moves fairly quickly and while we are waiting we listen to the myriad of tour guides explaining what we are about to see. It feels like we are cheating, since we haven't paid for the information, but what the heck. Information is precious no matter how you get it. I have to admit I do wonder if the German and French tour leaders mention how much of the Basilica's treasures were stolen by Hitler and Napoleon. But then Venice stole much of the stuff from Constantinople in the first place.

    As I look around the Piazza and at the front of the Basilica, I think of Mark Twain's quote, which I'd written in my itinerary notes. He said the Basilica looked, from the outside, like, "A vast and warty bug taking a meditative walk." Hmmmm. Can't say I see that.

    Inside, we start with the Loggia and Museo, which cost an extra 3 euros each. It's fun to see the Piazza from that perspective although in my exuberance I almost push a Japanese tourist over the balustrade. Rick and the man's friends both scramble to get him upright and I try to remember some of the Japanese I studied one summer at the University of British Columbia. But all I can remember is 'kudamono doko desu ka' – where is the fruit? and 'kamikaze' – neither of which seems to fit the circumstances. So, I just smile a lot and that seems to work.

    I try to get some artsy shots of the quadriga, the four-horse team in the middle of the Loggia, but every picture ends up with the Japanese tourists in it. I don't know if they are stalking me or just keeping an eye on what I'm doing. We spend some time in the Museum. Neither one of us are much for rich and decorative Venetian art, although I'm fascinated by the altarpiece by Paolo Veneziano. Lots of Persian rugs, tapestries and mosaics to see as well.

    Then we descend back into the Basilica. The mosaics inside, mostly gold and silver, make the whole place shimmer. I didn't realize that St. Mark's was originally the private chapel of the Doge; it didn't become a Basilica until the early 1800s. It was built in the 11th c. – which blows my mind – and its design is heavily influenced by the Middle East/Byzantium.

    Eavesdropping on an American tour guide, I learn that both John Singer Sargent and my friend Walter Sickert (aka Jack the Ripper) both painted the Basilica. When we get home, I check them out on the Internet. Sargent's is unlike his other stuff, which I've seen in many of the English stately homes - he painted society types in the late 18th c. - Sickert's looks a bit wobbly and weird.

    Once we finish exploring the Basilica inside, we sit for a while in the Piazza discussing what we've seen. It's there we make a 'radical' decision. Since this is our last day in Venice, we aren't going to go to the Doge's Palace or the Correr Museum, or the Peggy Guggenheim or the Accademia. It's pretty clear to both of us that although we'd planned this trip as our first and only visit to Italy, that is now impossible. We must return. And when we do, we will see all the museum stuff, the things one must do, but this trip we just want to explore and soak up as much as we can. We don't want to be inside.

    The exception is Ca' Rezzonico, which may seem a strange choice. But when Rick and I got married, in the days when you could still write your own vows, we incorporated Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem 'Sonnets to the Portuguese'. Her husband, Robert Browning, died at Ca' Rezzonico, and for some peculiar reason we feel we owe his ghost a visit.

    We stop at the American Express office to book our Eurostar tickets to Florence. An American woman and her son, in his early 20s, are behind us in line and are arguing. Mom has brought her son to Venice and he, apparently, is trying to change his ticket so he can leave early for Rome - on his own. After incessant questioning as to why he wants to leave, he tells her that he is bored with Venice. She says, "You've only been here three days, how can you bored?" And he answers, "I've seen the water, what else is there?" Since I cannot believe he really feels that way, I suspect he is bored with 'Travels With Mother'.

    We make our way to the Rialto area. I think I could spend a lifetime just getting lost in Venice. We want to check out the Telecom Italia Future Centre where, I've read somewhere, you can use their computers free for 30 minutes. We finally find the place; it's tucked in a labyrinth of buildings and is somewhat spooky. This amazingly modern computer lab - no wires, plasma screens and glass everywhere - completely empty except for the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. She reluctantly takes our passports, gives us a card for the machine, then goes back to reading her book. It takes us 27 minutes to figure out how to get into the Internet and to our e-mail server, so the trip is not a success. I'm sure we could have asked for another 30 minute card, but neither one of us want to disturb her literary pose.

    As we make our way back to the Dorsoduro area, we come upon a little crowd of people and when we get closer see that a bride is getting ready to enter a church. She is absolutely stunning, with the most amazing peachy-cream dress, black-brown hair piled on top of her head and dangling, silver earrings. She is oblivious to the passers-by, in that way that brides are, and I take a few photographs of her. It takes every reserve of good manners that I have not to follow her into the church. (These photos are among the favourite of our trip.)

    Back in Dorsoduro, we have lunch at one of the places Rick discovered in his solitary travels. Bar da Gino is a wonderful little caffe on Piscina Venier, on the way to the Peggy Guggenheim. There are mostly locals inside, including a gaggle of school kids on their lunch break. First, you pick out your sandwich – in our case by pointing at someone else's - and then you go to pay. You can get a take-away and sit by the Rio di San Vio canal or grab a table on the street. Or sit inside with the locals. We sit by the canal and eat our Rustico panini – tomatoes, mozzarella and prosciutto with a bottle of water. Is very good. Followed, of course, by gelato at Gelateria Nico on the Zattere. I have chocolate and straticella (kind of like oreo cookie blizzard) and Rick has tiramasu and straticella. Very, very good.

    Then we just wander, heading in the general direction of Ca' Rezzonico. Eventually, we get to Campo San Barnaba and on the other side of it, along Rio de San Barnaba and towards the Grand Canal, is the entrance to Ca' Rezzonico. The admission ticket is 6.50 euros each.

    Henry James described the palace as "thrusting itself upon the water with a peculiar florid assurance, a certain upward toss of its cornice which gives it the air of a rearing sea-horse." I'm not sure I get all that, but it is interesting to go inside one of the huge houses we see from the vaporetto as we travel along the Grand Canal. Ca' Rezzonico shows how the rich lived in the 18th c. There are frescoed ceilings, painted by Giambattista Tiepolo, as well as 18th c. furniture, ceramics, tapestries and some paintings by Canaletto.

    For most of our travels over the three floors, we are the only ones in the rooms. Occasionally we run in to a lonely room steward, or sometimes a group of them whispering in a corner. But there are very few tourists. On the top floor is an art gallery, with a variety of periods represented. I'm not much for religious art, but I do like the paintings by a woman named Emma Chiadi (I think I have that right). She painted in the Impressionist style and I'll have to find out more about her.

    I have to fight the urge to lie down on the marble floor to better admire Tiepolo's ceilings. Rick volunteers to act as lookout, but in the end, I'm not sure how quickly I'd be able to get up off the marble if I had to, and I don't want to cause an international incident. I can see the headlines, "Crazy Canadian Passes Out On Priceless Marble Floor!"

    In one room, there is a bedroom that's decorated as it would have been in the 1700s. There's a woman's dressing case there and it is fascinating to imagine what the assortment of exotic tools were used for. In a quiet corner, overlooking the Canal, my husband and I recite as much of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem as we can remember –'When our two souls stand up erect and strong...' – and we feel a whisper of benediction from Browning's ghost as he passes by.

    We make our way slowly back to our hotel and have a glass of wine at Pizzeria Foscarini, overlooking the Grand Canal. There are tables and umbrellas set up outside and it's a great place to watch the comings and goings on the Canal, the Accademia Bridge and Rio Foscarini. We had planned on taking the sunset cruise on vaporetto #1, but some clouds have drifted in and covered the sun, so we decide to go up to our rooms for a rest. I think Rick's flu is a bit better, he is such a trooper.

    Later on, we decide to tackle the whole cicchetti thing. We start with the intention of following Rick Steves's Venetian Pub Crawl, but stuff our faces so much at the first bottegon, that we don't get any further. Next time, we'll have to pace ourselves because it's a lot of fun trying out all the little munchies, even though we have no idea what some of them are.

    Our first – and only stop – is the Cantina del Vino Gia Schiavi (#992) on the San Trovaso canal in Dorsoduro – another of Rick's finds. What a great place for our first experience with cicchetti. As we enter, we are checked over by a group of elderly Italian men, gathered around the wine bar. The entire room is lined with bottles of wine and I'm not sure which intimidates us most – the men or the choices. But we take a deep breath and mosey in, trying to look very worldly while we check out the variety of cicchetti displayed under glass.

    When we think we know what we want we catch the eye of the fellow behind the counter, who has politely been watching us, and he picks up a plate and simply fills it with the things we point at. We say 'uno' or 'due', depending if we want one or two, order a glass of white house wine (ombra bianco) each and head outside, as others are, to eat along the canal. The cicchetti are delicious - mozzarella and tomato, capicolli and a delicious cheese that tastes like a creamy cheddar, artichoke hearts, anchovies with onions and capers, creamed salt cod – all served on small pieces of French bread. The cicchetti are are 1 euro each, the wine is 1.8 euros each.

    After we fill ourselves to the brim, we wander back towards the Zattere, passing the gondola boatyard on the way. It's closed but it would be fun to see it on a working day. We will make a note to see it 'the next time' (this has become our mantra, and it will be repeated endlessly as we make our way through Tuscany and Umbria.)

    The Zattere is cosily busy, lots of couples, arm in arm, a few nuns giggling over their gelato, families sitting outside having pizza. We go back to the Gelateria Di Nico for our last gelato in Venice – pistacchio for Rick and hazelnut for me. The staff are so polite and helpful. We sit by the water, watch the cruise ships, and think that maybe the time after next, we'll see Venice from the deck of a cruise ship.

    As we eat our gelato, we watch an Italian boy, who is about six, and his four year old sister, (I assume they are Italian from the few words of the language that I recognize), playing as their mother reads. All of a sudden, the little boy pushes his sister, who had been bugging him, and the mother quietly berates him then leads him to the wall of a nearby stone building and makes him stand there with his face against it. A Time Out in Italy! The boy is not happy but he does not argue. By this time, the little girl is in tears. She stands for a moment looking at the mother who has resumed her seat on a bench with a magazine, and her brother, with his nose against the cold stone. In tears, she walks to her brother and puts her nose against the stone wall as well. They stand there, looking so forlorn, then slowly the brother's arm comes up and he puts it across his sister's shoulders. I almost started bawling. When I look across to the mother, she has a small smile on her lips. I was going to take a picture of the two of them, and call it Comrades in Arms, but decided I might only cause further trouble.

    We go back to our hotel by a different route that takes us by the Pensione La Calcina. I've read about it so often on Fodor's, I'm curious to see what it looks like. With lamplight spilling out onto the pavement and the restaurant, La Piscina, moored in front gently moving with the passing waves, it is very welcoming. Although we love the location of our hotel, perhaps 'next time' we will try to get a room here and be able to appreciate the same views Katherine Hepburn did in the movie 'Summertime'.

    It's a beautiful evening, with a little breeze, and there is music coming from somewhere. I take my husband's hand and I thank whoever is responsible for these things that I have been able to share this place with him. What a gift for our 30th wedding anniversary.

    Tomorrow we leave for Florence, and then a week in Chianti.

    Next...Rumble on the Eurostar, Re-Evaluating Florence and What Does The Wrench Symbol Mean on the Control Panel of Our Rental Car?

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    LOL rickmav, I am soooo glad your husband and another gentleman were able to save that poor Japanese fellow from falling to his death or we would not be reading your trip report but instead a news article about you. I am sorry about I can't stop laughing, sounds like something I would do ;;)
    If it makes you fell any better a dear friend in Italy almost got me killed, in her excitment to show me something as we were getting ready to cross a very busy street. She grabbed my arm. I ended up on the street as those Italian drivers went zooming by. I wish I had a photo of the look of horror on both her and her husbands face. They were more shook up than I was.

    Such a beautiful 30th anniversary trip rickmav. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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    rickmav - What a gift for our 30th wedding anniversary - I'd say so, congratulations.

    I was almost in tears reading your tale about the scrap between the little 6 year old boy and his sister. How beautiful.


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    Boy am I enjoying this report. Not sure if it's because you write so well, because I'm learning stuff while being entertained, or both. But it's sure working for me!! I know these reports don't write themselves and take a lot of time. Thanks for making the effort.

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    Just what I was looking for today. I leave for Venice on the 28th, staying at La Calcina. Your mouthwatering descriptions have been noted so I can stuff myself as I wander the canals. Thanks so much for the visual.

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    I am so enjoying this report--laughing and crying at your descriptions as you view slices of life in each area. Also love your descriptions of all the famous and not so famous sights.

    Keep it coming! Thanks in advance!

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    LoveItaly, SandyBrit, dcd, SRS, teacher33 and toni - Glad you are continuing to enjoy my ramblings. It's so nice to read everyone's kind words.

    Bumblebug, RosieinOz - Have a wonderful time in Venice and make sure you treat us all to your report when you return.

    Part IV - Rumble on the Eurostar, Re-Evaluating Florence and What Does The Wrench Symbol Mean on the Control Panel of Our Rental Car?
    The next morning we take the Eurostar to Florence. The first class tickets cost us about 115 euros. We've never gone first-class on a train before, so are tickled to discover the comfortable, leather recliners and wood accents in our roomy compartment.

    It's a madhouse at the Santa Lucia train station and I'm a bit worried that I'm going to get 'wobbly' again. But everything turns out fine. Before we left Canada, I'd read on slowtrav (
    how to decipher your train ticket and what to look for on the large board in the station. We find 'Departi', look for the time printed on our ticket, see that there is a train going to Roma via Firenze, then wait until they post a track (binario) number. On the train ticket is the car (carrozza) and seat (posti) numbers and whether they are window (finestrino) or on the corridor (corridorio). Although Rick and I are supposed to sit beside each other, a very nice Italian businessman waves me into the other window seat.

    While travelling, we are witnesses to a cunning con and are glad we are only spectators - although at one point, I am almost sucked into it. For the first part of the trip, there are just the three of us in the four-person compartment – Rick, the businessman and me. A fourth woman, very stylish, sits for a while but the rest of her group are in tourist class and she eventually joins them. When she leaves, the businessman goes to find a friend of his and the friend takes the woman's seat.

    After the first stop (I'd assumed the Eurostar went direct to Florence, but in fact it stops at a number of towns), a woman in her 40s comes to the door of our compartment and after gesturing to the two men and waving her ticket about, succeeds in getting the visiting businessman to give up his seat. It's very odd, because we original three know that the seat really belongs to the stylish woman. However, the visiting businessman is very polite and, without any further discussion, leaves.

    For a moment, I am afraid that we have made a mistake with our seats, although the conductor has checked them shortly after we left Florence. And so I offer the woman my ticket so she can check that we are in the right place. She quickly snatches it away and puts it in her purse. Rick and I both look at each other. I begin to get a bit panicked and try and explain, in my crummy Italian, that she has taken my ticket but she just keeps talking louder and louder, in Italian, never really looking at me. Now Rick is starting to look nervous. Suddenly, the businessman leans over and, quietly, says something to her in Italian. She quickly returns my ticket. Rick and I sit back in our seats, tickets safely tucked away, and watch the rest of the drama unfold.

    Along comes the train conductor. He examines the woman's ticket and, I think, explains to her that she cannot sit there. She speaks very loudly, checking in her purse and pockets, shaking her head, waving her hands about, until finally the conductor leaves – and she settles down in her seat. This happens three more times during the trip, with the conductor becoming more and more agitated. He does not try to remove her, physically, from her seat, but continues to point to her, her ticket and somewhere down the corridor. She doesn't budge. About 10 minutes before we get in to Florence, he stands at the open door and does not move until she gets up, which she does with a lot of gesturing and sighing. Canny woman, she has managed to travel first class for most of the trip.

    Although her performance is entertaining, we do learn a lesson from it. To never, as I did, surrender your ticket. And if the conductor doesn't make you leave your seat, don't let anyone else put you out.

    We are a bit paranoid when we arrive at the Florence train station (Santa Maria Novella). We've read so many reports about purse snatching and pickpockets - and have just seen a master con artist at work on the Eurostar. But everything is fine. We take turns protecting the luggage while we use the washroom at McDonald's – it seems weird to see the familiar logo in such a foreign place – and then march quickly to the cabstand (obeying other advice not to be tempted by free-lance taxi drivers). It costs us 7 euros to travel to our hotel, the Relais Cavalcanti ( on via Pellicceria. (We have been advised by our landlady to ask the taxi driver how much the fare will be. She has told us what it should cost. She is spot on.)

    I cannot say enough good things about this hotel. Francesca and Anna are sisters who have inherited a floor of this wonderful building and have turned it into a small hotel. It feels as if you have your own apartment in Florence. The room, without breakfast, costs 95 euros a night, although if you pay cash, as we did, you can get it for 10% less. Because the hotel is right in the thick of things, it doesn't matter to us whether breakfast is provided. There is a separate room where you can make coffee and eat meals if you want to bring something in, and I'm surprised at how well used it is by the other guests.

    Our room is a perfect size, with a great bathroom. It's extremely clean with windows that open (hoorah!) and overlooks the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, the Orsanmichele Church and what Francesca calls the Mercato del Porcellino. This is the home of the bronze boar, which people feed coins to and rub his snout for good luck. The room is prettily decorated with a comfortable bed and a few antiques. Although the hotel is located on the fourth floor, there is an elevator from the first floor. The only negative comment we hear from another couple, although it isn't a problem for us, is that you have to carry around a set of keys – there are four doors to open.

    The location of the hotel is perfect and as we are only in the city overnight, we are able to wander – our favourite word – and see a little bit of everything.

    Going to Florence is the only thing that my husband and I disagree about while planning our trip to Italy. He has talked to enough disgruntled people that he is convinced that we should give it a miss. I really want to see it. So, we compromise on one day, with the option to return at the end of our trip (we have built two 'flex' days into our itinerary).

    We find Florence to be a very different experience than Venice - edgier, louder, certainly busier, even in October. But it is also more alive and invigorating.

    After we deposit our bags (we are too early to check in, but leave our suitcases in a little sitting room off the entrance), we head out to see the Duomo and Baptistry. Francesca gives us a map of Florence and has highlighted things to see, as well as recommended restaurants and shops. Although we get turned around a few times, we never get lost, and the map is an excellent guide.

    As we walk along the the Via de' Calzaiuoli – or what Francesca calls, Via Calz – we are astounded by the variety of shops and the perfection of everything within. All the big names are here: Gucci, Fendi, Versace, etc. My youngest sister, Vanessa, would be in heaven if I could suddenly transport her here.

    We turn a corner and come upon the Duomo – it's a cliche, but our jaws drop. The vertical and horizontal bands of white, green and red marble are unlike anything we've ever seen and I'm sure we look exactly like centuries of other tourists who stop in their tracks and stare. The colours are intensified as it begins to rain; it's as if the dust is washed away, and the wet marble gleams. Before we go inside, we stand under our umbrella and try to take in what we are seeing, but it is like the first time you see anything truly amazing, you almost want to reach out and touch it, to see if it is an illusion. And then you try and understand it with your head, but that it is imposssible, it is something you must absorb with your heart.

    Inside, it is quite dark, so the lit areas are like punctuation marks in the huge space and we are naturally drawn to them. We bump into the edge of another tour group and hear the guide tell her flock that the Duomo was actually built with a hole where the dome should be. Although no one, at the time, knew how to build one, they had confidence that someone would come along and figure it out. That someone was a local boy, Filippo Brunelleschi.

    The inside of the dome is spectacular and, according to the guide, one of the largest paintings done during the Renaissance. It's of the Last Judgement, and it actually seems to glow, even though it is an overcast day.

    Rick and I both light candles for our families at the little stands in the middle of the church, then retreat to the sides to sit and breathe in all the history. Although the Duomo is cavernous inside, there are certain things that catch our eye. The one-handed liturgical clock above the main doors is interesting, as are the frescoes and the busts of Giotto and Brunelleschi. Rick particularly likes the circular, stained-glass window above the main altar designed by Donatello.

    Outside, the Baptistry doors are lovely, although there are so many people gathered around, even in the rain, it's hard to get a good picture of them. I find it fascinating that within fifty feet of each other, two amazing scientific and artistic marvels were created by two men who not only lived at the same time, but competed for the same projects. Lorenzo Ghiberti competed with Brunelleschi for the Baptistry doors and won; B. then went on to build the amazing dome, which Ghiberti believed unbuildable. A 15th c. reality show!

    We have some pizza by the slice just off the Cathedral Square. It's tasty and reasonably-priced (I didn't write down the name). Then we wander towards the Piazza della Signoria, where there are masses of tourists. Of course, you can't help but notice the copy of 'David'. We see the outside of the Uffizi but have decided that since we only have one day in Florence, we are going to forego museums. The American woman we met at dinner in Venice told us that, in her opinion, unless you were into Renaissance art, or just want to say you were there, there's no point in seeing the Uffizi. Having not seen it – there's the catch – I'm not sure I trust someone's bottom line dismissal of what is supposed to be one of the greatest museums in the world. But, I am not a fan of Renaissance art and we only have one day, so we do not go.

    We make our way to the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio. We take a few photos but it is beginning to rain very hard and our one umbrella doesn't offer much protection. We decide to head back to our hotel to check in and dry out.

    Our room is lovely and we both lay on the bed and listen to the sound of the falling rain. We fall asleep. Later, when we awake, we decide to have dinner in our room. Rick dashes out and procures some quesadilla-looking things (he forgets what they are called) with grilled vegetables, cheese and prosciutto, a bottle of wine and two pieces of a cake with limoncello, nestled in the prettiest little box. We sit by the windows, leaning on the deep sills, munching our dinner and listening to the sounds from the market beneath us, the giggles from tourists stroking the nose of Il Porcellino, church bells and scooters, and teased by the smells of cooking from the apartments nearby. Yes, Florence is very different from Venice; yet we have both been satisfied by the briefest taste.

    In the morning, we wander some more, having already decided that we are going to return at the end of our trip. Francesca has arranged for a cab to meet us at the hotel to take us to the Hertz office and everything goes smoothly – we find our way back to the hotel, the driver is there and he gets us to the car rental office in minutes.

    Things go downhill from here.

    The Hertz office is a madhouse. People are checking in, trying to get cars, arguing with the counter staff, their partners, even the taxi drivers that are dropping them off or picking them up. Nobody is happy and Rick and I decide that I'll stand outside with the luggage and he'll tackle the maelstrom inside. After what seems like an enternity Rick emerges, paler than when he went in, and tells me that we have to drag our luggage to the parking garage around the corner. At this point it starts to rain. And it's not the kind of rain that you romantically listen to while munching your dinner – it's the mean, wet, cold rain that chills you to the bone in seconds.

    We arrive at the garage, with five other couples, and proceed up a ramp with our wet luggage. We finally find someone who will look at our paperwork, he grunts at us and disappears. And we wait. The garage is full of hordes of loud, Italian men strutting back and forth and from the little I can understand of the language, they are not fond of tourists. The tourists, even those who do not understand the words, recognize the menace in the air and are silent. I realize as the minutes tick by that we are all slowly moving in towards each other, like wagons circling.

    The same scene is enacted four times before we get our car. One of the loud, Italian men screech out of the shadows with a car. He rudely gestures to one of the couples. They meekly step forward. He shoves the paperwork into their hands and walks away, totally ignoring their questions, pleas, raised voices. The contest is to see who will win – the garage dictators or the tourists. A few brave souls run after the dictator, even tug at his shirt but, in the end, us included, we all leave: with the wrong-sized vehicles (we wanted smaller, others were expecting larger), without doing an inspection with a Hertz representative and with something ominous flashing on the dashboard control panel.

    If I can give only one piece of advice to anyone renting a car in Italy, be brave; don't leave without, at a minimum, doing the inspection of the car. If only we'd been made of stronger stuff – as you will see when we return the car in two weeks time.

    Fortunately, the Hertz counter staff have provided us with a decent map showing us how to get out of Florence. Although we have a wrench symbol flashing on our dashboard and are unable to decipher what it means in the maintenance manual, we decide to leave Florence and head for the cottage we've rented in Moncioni. We become lost, then turned around, but eventually hit the outskirts of the city. Hallelujah. With the rain falling harder and harder, our luggage starting to warm up and smell a bit like wet manure, and our wrench symbol flashing, we venture into the hills – and mountain tops – of Chianti.

    Next...Part V – Saturday Night at the Insane Asylum, Snow Chains Required and Finding Eden.

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    Oh rickmav, this is a cliff hanger!!

    And yes, the rain can absolutely chill you to the bone. I have been in it during storms like you described and it seems as there is no way to get warm. I actually flew home a bit early one rained like that for days and I finally couldn't take it any more.

    And the Florentine's can be very abrupt, they enjoy the money the tourists spend but a lot of them do not enjoy the tourists.

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    ricmav I cannot adequately tell you how lovely your report is to read. I have been to Venice 3 times and from the outset you evoke all that I know and love about the place . I caught my breath and my spine tingled when you told us all of you and your husband reciting Elizabeth Barrett Browning together ! What you highlight for me is the need to be observant - always - as if not you are likely to miss the most wonderful if fleeting moment .I am there again in June and shall eat a gelati and drink a glass or two of prosecco too your good health and swift return .Salute to you and your husband.

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    I am so enjoying being transported back to beautiful, beautiful Italy. I think your one sentence says it better than anything else..."And then you try to understand it with your head, but that is impossible, it is something you must absorb with your heart."


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    Hi, Rickmav - a cliff-hanger indeed.

    A phrase that we have learnt from the Michel Thomas tapes that comes in very useful in such circumstances as you encountered at the Hertz desk is

    " non e possibile per me cosi"

    Literally, "it is not possible for me this way"

    But i can imagine how intimidating these people were, so I'm not sure I'd have had the courage to use it!

    Looking forward to more.



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    LoveItaly - My husband laughed at me when I called the rain 'mean'. But you obviously know exactly what that means.

    JohnFitz - How lovely your words are. We would be honoured if you would raise a glass - or two - to us when you are in Venice.

    Traviata - Thanks for your encouragement. While in England, I appreciated the layered history of the places we visited - it was more a cerebral reaction. In Italy, it was totally different. I wasn't prepared for the way my emotions were triggered.

    annhig - Thanks for the tip. That's a great phase - I'll have to remember it for our 'next' trip to Italy. (Hopefully, by then I'll be brave enough to actually use it.)

    dcd - Thanks for boosting my ego. I was in Public Relations for a long time, then taught Communications; not sure if that prepared me for writing a trip report. But when you've got such good material to work with....

    Part V – Saturday Night at the Insane Asylum, Snow Chains Required and Finding Eden
    If anyone should ever ask me if I'd driven the Via Chiantigiana, the 'wine road' between Florence and Siena, I would have to say yes. If they asked me if I saw anything beautiful or memorable, I would have to say, not really.

    Although I had made copious notes of things to see on the way to our rented cottage near Montevarchi, Mother Nature intervened. Through a blur of rain, and then fog as we climbed higher, we caught glimpses of villages and just-harvested vineyards, green hills and glistening rivers. But, sadly, just glimpses. Greve, Radda, Gaiole became simply names on blue highway signs, milestones on our way to shelter.

    I'd also never appreciated before how mountainous Chianti is. I was brought up in the Canadian Rockies and, I suppose, had a certain arrogance about 'our mountains' compared to, what I thought of, as Tuscan hills. That attitude is radically altered by every kilometre we climb higher.

    Finally, we arrive at Montevarchi, the largest town near our cottage (little did we know how much further we would have to climb). Since we were under strict instructions from the owner of Podere La Rota (
    that we could only arrive between five and 6 p.m., we decide to stop here and stock up on groceries.

    Apparently, shopping for supplies on a Saturday night is the same wherever you go in the world. Insane! We stop at a gas station, ask for directions to a supermercato and are pointed in the direction of the Montevarchi IperCoop. As the week wore on I came to love this place, but with everyone in town there - shopping, visiting, browsing, arguing, laughing - it is overwhelming and a bit mad.
    The store is kind of like a classy Wal-Mart with groceries, clothes and the most delicious take-away, homemade meals. There's also a mini-mall inside the store where you can get your clothes washed, eyes checked, keys made, etc.

    We pick up what we think we might need for a day or so and then browse the take-away deli for dinner. There are so many choices, but we finally decide on a lasagne al ragu to go. We are trying to look inconspicuous, which is a bit hard since my husband is a blonde-brown-haired Irishman and I am a redhead of English stock. Everyone else, from children to seniors has these wonderful brown eyes and thick, dark locks. But we are caught out at the checkout counter. We forgot to weigh and tag our bananas!

    Rick is confused, but I know right away that somewhere in my notes I have copied down the exact procedure for weighing and tagging fruit from the slowtrav website ( We end up leaving the bananas behind; we have already drawn enough attention to ourselves and although the looks are all friendly, we don't want to turn the crowd against us.

    We have a devil of a time following the instructions given to us by the owner of Podere La Rota and it is getting darker and still raining. We return to the gas station and ask them if they can make any sense out of what is written and they are stumped, but do recognize 'Cimitero' and give us instructions to the local cemetery. From there, we find our way – and begin to climb.

    I can only say that it is probably a good thing that we couldn't actually see the valley bottom. We are both focused on navigating the road that gets narrower and narrower as we climb, and as the fog thickens, I keep an eye on the road edge – I'm on the vertical descent side, and Rick leans forward in his seat to try to distinguish oncoming traffic and manoeuvre around rocks on the road. What really freaks us out are the warning signs we pass on the way – Slippery Roads, Crumbling Rock, and Snow Chains Recommended.

    Finally, we reach the miniscule village of Moncioni, 'wrapped in a gauzy veil' (as Shelley would say), and try to find the road to our cottage. Unfortunately, the owner's instructions tell us to look for three large cypresses. At 6:00 o'clock at night, in a torrential rainstorm, with fog all around us, that's not that helpful. Finally, Rick pulls over and I get out of the car and start walking. Eventually, I see what I think are the cypresses, return to the car and we turn down a dirt road and eventually come to some lights.

    Bob Monroe, the English owner of Summer Leases, the agency we have rented the cottage from, also owns, with his wife Ally, Podere La Rota. He is waiting for us with a flashlight and shows us to our cottage, which is perched on a hillside just below his. It's cold outside and Bob explains the complicated (or so it seems to us after our long and complicated day) the heating system. He warns us that it is very expensive and that the cost is not included in our rental fee, but we are freezing and only want to be warm. (For two hours of heat, it costs us 5 euros.)

    Although we cannot appreciate the view until morning – and what a view it is! – the cottage is very pretty inside. There is a sitting room, separate dining room and good-sized kitchen on the main floor, and a beautiful bedroom with crisp, white linens and a luxurious bathroom on the second floor. The place is spotless and Ally, Bob's wife, has filled our fridge with all kinds of wonderful things. (Water, champagne, milk, juice, eggs, bread, butter, a huge plate of proscuitto, tomatoes and mozzarella balls, and an antipasti tray with pickled onions, sun-dried tomatoes, pickles and olives.)

    The other bonus is that Bob provides his own bottled red and white wine, and champagne that you can purchase from him for a reasonable amount (About 3.50 euros per bottle). We are disappointed that the fireplace doesn't work, for some reason I thought we would be cuddling up before a fire in Chianti, but it is permanently out of commission. There is a TV that has the BBC news and a CD player with a selection of CDs. And a few shelves of wonderful books on Italy.

    The next morning, the sun comes out and we are astonished at the Eden that's all ours for seven days. As we sit with our morning coffee, appreciating the views, we hear gunshots from somewhere lower in the valley. Because it is so quiet, sound travels easily and the shots are always followed by men speaking excitedly. Later in the week, Rick asks Ally what they are hunting and she replies, "Anything that moves." Hope that doesn't include Canadian tourists!

    The wonderful stone terrace, which runs the entire length of the house, becomes like another living room for us. It overlooks the mountains, a village or two and miles of olive groves. There are French doors from the sitting room and kitchen, and it comes equipped with tables, chairs, loungers and the largest umbrella we have ever seen. (There is, unfortunately, a bustling bug metropolis living underneath it and we rely on the surrounding trees for shade rather than open it.)

    The cottage comes complete with three visiting cats – which try to get in if you leave a window open – and Livia, a gentle Maremma sheep dog that spends most of her day with us. Bob has had a look at the flashing wrench on our dashboard and thinks the vehicle might need oil. When Rick checks, it is down a quart or two; hopefully, that's all it is. Tomorrow we'll go to Montevarchi and see if we can find some oil – and not the good kind you cook with!

    We spend the day at the cottage, doing laundry, writing letters, reading. We are still a bit freaked from our ride here and want to enjoy the sunshine, amazing views, and the quiet. Rick and Livia go to explore the village of Moncioni and I begin reading Marlena de Blasi's book, 'A Thousand Days in Venice'. Later on, we play the card game Rick has invented while we have been on holiday called 'Vino', of course, and smooth off its rough edges. Ours as well, with a little of the grape.

    We stay out on the terrace until we cannot see anything except the outline of the trees against an inky blue sky, and then, reluctantly, go inside. We have some toast and sample some of Ally's wonderful antipasti, watch the BBC News and go to bed. It is so quiet, particularly after Florence, that I keep waking up to listen to it.

    Next...Part VI – Communicating With Mechanics in Italian (or not!), Tackling the Fruit Machine and Falling in Love With San Gimignano

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    rickmav - I have never been to Italy. You are bringing it alive for me. Your account is making me want to visit and also to wonder could we manage on our own unable to speak the language.

    The car rental sounds brutal.

    Hurry back with more.


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    Still enjoying your time in Italy rickmav and how wonderful the restful day at your cottage must have been. I am sure you both took a big sigh of relief when you arrived. The cottage sounds delightful and the owners sound very lovely and hospitable. I have been on similar country/mountains roads during terrible weather, not relaxing or fun is it. One time I actually had indentations in the palms of my hand from my fingernails, lol.

    I still have to look at all of your photos, I am saving that joy for last.

    So, you got Rick rested and well fed so that he can deal with the mechanic, this should be interesting.

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    Still loving this, rickmav. I am teaching narrative and description to my ESL writing students right now, and your trip report is a wonderful example of both! Your writing has a lovely flow to it.

    Great images of scenes in Venice. I can picture the brother & sister. I must be feeling emotional today; that and the two of you reciting Elizabeth B. B. are very sweet.

    Next time in Florence, try a stop in to see David, and maybe the Botticelli room at the Uffizi. Although I love love love art museums, I can only take so much religious art. But I could stare at Botticelli's faces all day. Even a non-renaissance art fan may enjoy his dreamy visions. And it is amazing to me to see David, the Holy Family painting in the Uffizi, the Sistine ceiling & St Peter's dome and try to fathom that Michelangelo created them all. Now that's a Renaissance man!

    Love the shopping trip story, rickmav. Brings back funny memory of being scolded on no unceratin terms in Greve for picking up my apples without the disposable plastic gloves least I did remember to weigh the suckers!

    More, please.

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    Part VI – Communicating With Mechanics in Italian (or not!), Tackling the Fruit Machine and Falling in Love With San Gimignano

    Near morning, when I have half awake, I have a nightmare. The strange thing is I know I'm having a nightmare, but can't stop it. There are veiled women standing outside our cottage and I see them every time I walk by the French doors. They are just staring at me. If I approach, they back up, once I move back, they move forward again. I'm getting more and more frustrated because I can't see their eyes. I bang on the door but they won't go away. Suddenly, a cat brushes by my leg and I realize I have left a window open. I tiptoe over to the window and grab one of the women's veils. Underneath, there is a flashing wrench where her eyes should be. Obviously, the BBC News we watched last night, with all the nonsense about Arab women removing their veils, and our car problem have come together in a very strange way!

    After coffee and breakfast on the terrace, I call the 1-800 number for Hertz in Italy (there is a telephone in our cottage, which is a treat). Eventually, using my rudimentary Italian, I manage to find a person who speaks English. He is very nice, but not very helpful. He does not know what the flashing wrench symbol means and suggests I drive back to Florence. I tell him that is impossible - that is where the trouble began. And I haven't yet recovered from our treatment by the garage dictators. He does not understand what I mean; I tell him not to worry about it, what are our other options?

    After a long time on hold, the nice fellow returns and says there is a Hertz representative in Montevarchi, the town with the IperCoop. Wonderful. I thank him profusely, hoping the car will make it down the mountain. On the way to Montevarchi, Rick breaks out in a sweat; he cannot believe how high we are and how small the road is. He was so focused on seeing the next few feet in front of us that he didn't get to see the vertical drops I glimpsed through the fog.

    After driving around for a while, we finally locate the Hertz representative. Or so we think. It actually is a car dealership, with a garage; the connection to Hertz seems to be a tattered and grubby sign tucked off to the side. Rick tackles the mechanics first, some of whom are standing outside smoking. After a frustrating exchange of what I hope are not offensive hand signals, Rick comes to get me. I get no further and, in fact, may have insulted one of the men who frowns at me as if I remind him of someone he doesn't like. We back away - the mechanics have now picked up tools - and retreat into the small office around the corner.

    I don't know how we manage to 'gesture' a salesman (talking him into anything is impossible) into coming to look at our car. He is confused and I wonder if he's thinking we are going to shove him in the boot. We show him our flashing wrench and he shrugs his shoulders. Does no one in this country know what the symbols on the control panel mean? I take out the maintenance manual and gesture for him to show us where we could look to figure it out. He takes the manual, smiles at me, says 'grazie', then walks away. Rick chases after him, retrieves the manual, and thanks him. The salesman scurries off.

    We are beginning to think that our flashing wrench is either no big deal (my preference) or something so rare and horrible that no one has any experience with it (my secret fear). Common sense prevails and we decide to go to the IperCoop and buy some car oil, hopefully that will make the wrench go away. Luckily, we find a very nice young woman who speaks perfect English – I cannot find "Do you have the right kind of diesel oil for my Renault?" in my phrase book. (It is so embarrassing not speaking their language when we are in their country.) Rick pours it in before we leave the parking lot – and when we turn the ignition, the wrench is still there, but not flashing. We take that as a good omen.

    Before we leave the IperCoop, we tackle the fruit-weighing machine. We remember to don the rubber gloves and carefully place the fruit in the plastic bags provided. Thankfully, everything is visual, so you just have to find the picture of the thing you are holding (fruit – frutta or vegetable – verdura). Put your item on the scale, press the picture and, 'presto', a tag spits out and you put it on the bag. We buy another dish at the takeaway, plus two small homemade pizzas that we'll freeze for later on – we plan to add all the leftover antipasti and mozzarella, proscuitto, etc. to make our own creation. For the road, we buy the Italian version of fast food – a delicious sausage wrapped in the softest, densest pastry.

    We decide to tempt fate and use the self-service checkout. I don't know why we would try it in Italy; we don't even use the bloody thing at home! We think we are doing okay when it gives us the option to have the instructions in English – but then this loud, English voice booms out the directions. I get so muddled I can't scan anything and this very nice Italian woman comes over and helps us. Talk about not standing out as a tourist!

    We retreat to our mountain aerie after our very stressful afternoon.

    Livia the dog is waiting for us, and makes it clear to Rick that she is not happy that we have been gone for so long. They go for a long walk and I curl up on a lounger with my book. We feel a bit guilty that we are not traversing the hilltops in search of all that Chianti has to offer but when we look at our view, we can't see how it can get any better.

    We have dinner on the terrace - pollo primavera from the IperCoop, and it is very tasty. The chicken breasts, still with the bone, are baked in a bit of oil and are lightly seasoned. They come with roasted, herbed potatoes and sweet carrots. It is so good.

    Next day we decide to stay home. I can't believe how lazy we've become. I have to say that for the first time in many years I am relaxed - like a noodle. Rick is out walking with Livia – there was an incident yesterday involving a rambunctious male (dog, that is) and today Ally has given Rick a leash so he can better control Livia. Although at the pace they were moving when they left, I wonder if that will work out.

    The weather is lovely, hot in spots, but with a cool breeze. And the trees offer shade if you want it. As many times as I examine the mountainside across from us, I always end up seeing another orangey-brown, jumbly, stone house tucked into the trees. As the clouds come and go, there are the most interesting shadows on the sides of the hills and I try, but can't, to capture the movement with my camera.

    There are acres of olive trees below the terrace and I'm surprised they're not harvested yet. Ally says that they don't harvest theirs until mid-November and they pick them all by hand. Yikes! The olive oil here tastes so different from what we have in Canada. Kind of buttery and sweet. No wonder the Italians put it on everything.

    Rick asks Ally why the ground underneath the trees is so dug up and she says that the wild boars come here at night to feed on the walnuts. And all this time I thought it was Rick making snuffling noises in his sleep!

    Have finished reading 'A Thousand Days in Venice'. Would be interesting to hear what others think about it. I loved some of the writing, but to be honest didn't get the love story. I think her husband was a pain in the neck. However, something she said about being married really hit me; it's as if she wrote it for Rick and me:

    "Living as a couple never means each gets half. You must take turns at giving more than getting...there are seasons in the life of a couple that function, I think, a little like a night watch. One stands guard, often for a long time, providing the serenity in which the other can work at something. One of you goes inside the dark place, while the other stays outside, holding up the moon."

    Lyrically put.

    Head off the next morning for San Gimignano. But first, we stop at the post office in tiny Moncioni to send a letter to my mom. I'm sitting in the car waiting for Rick when I notice this white snout poking in the driver's open window. Livia has followed us into town. When Rick returns we try to get Livia inside the car so we can return her to Bob & Ally. Nothing doing. All the inhabitants of the small village come out of their homes to see what all the fuss is about. So much for trying to blend in.

    Finally, we drive very slowly back to the cottage with Livia running behind the car. I'm terrified that an oncoming vehicle is going to hit her. She seems very disappointed in us that we are leaving for the day.

    I am a bit sceptical about going to San Gimignano. I expect a place that was once charming but is now overrun with tourists. But it is a glorious day and once we get off our mountain and more into central Chianti, we really enjoy the scenery. Less fir trees and vertical drops and more rolling hills and vineyards.

    Rick Steves calls San Gimignano the 'epitome of a Tuscan hill town'. It has 14 medieval towers left of the original 60, and because it suffered a lot of poverty and disease from the 1350s on, has been left in a 14th c. time warp. Except for the tourists. But we are lucky. The early morning bus tours are just leaving when we arrive, and as we are walking out of the main gate, the next batch is unloading. So we really enjoy it without masses of people.

    We stop and have lunch at Bar Firenze just inside the main gate. It's not that inspired but we can sit outside and people watch. I have tagliatelle with meat sauce, Rick ravioli. Costs 11 euros. Later we have gelato in the Piazza della Cisterna – I have double chocolate and Rick has 'rocha' with bits of toffee in it. Yum.

    The town reminds me of a stage set for Romeo & Juliet. It is closed for traffic, except for a little bus that travels from some of the parking lots. (Thank you Stu for suggesting the Parcheggio Montemaggio, the parking lot right outside the Porta San Giovanni.)

    There are tons of interesting shops, we spend a lot of time browsing. It is surreal to think, as we gobble down our gelato in the P. della Cisterna, that people having been using this square since the 9th century. Walk by a museum dedicated to torture (!!!). We didn't go in. But I do remember a mystery where the murderer visits the museum and uses something he sees as inspiration for his own instrument of death. Can't remember the name of it (maybe by Val McDermid?).

    Walk to the park that overlooks the Tuscan countryside – amazing views. Someone is playing a flute, the air is warm and fragrant and there is a stillness that is almost holy. A couple are drinking wine on the walls overlooking the valley and I try to sneak their picture but they catch me. They just smile and go back to their wine.

    I visit the public WC on the way back –a hole in the ground and unisex. A bit unsettling to come out of the little cubicle and a man is standing there waiting to go in.

    On the way home, we stop and wander through Castellina-in-Chianti, Radda and Gaiole. All have lovely views, Gaiole is probably my favourite. We desperately want to stop at a vineyard for a taste but are worried about being alert enough for the challenging ride up the mountain. So, stop at the IperCoop instead and buy some Italian beer (Birra Peroni). Put it in the freezer for a bit and it is so delicious.

    Have home-made pizza for dinner (using the base from the Coop and Ally's goodies from our welcome pack). We sit outside until it's late and have a great discussion about how our travels have changed us and how we will incorporate what we have learned into our life back home. Livia stays close to us; I think she has become quite attached to Rick. I know the feeling.

    Next..Part VII – Getting Out of Third Gear, Quirky San Quirico and Chanting With the Monks

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    I've been to Italy 3 times and I get to go again this Spring. Since the first trip in '92, I have tried to read all the books that focus on Tuscany. Honestly, your "journaling" is exactly the kind of descriptive writing that I've been hungering for. You could write a book that I believe would quickly rise to popularity. You have a lovely way of conveying your experiences. I think individuals who have not yet visited Italy would read your writings and long to go. And those who have visited will be like me and experience our memories washing over us because of your accounts. Please give it some thought...

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    Rickmav - Your report is so beautifully written! I'll be taking my first trip to Venice and Florence in three weeks and your stories and descriptions are providing me with that wonderfully anxious anticipation one gets when about to embark on what is sure to be an amazing travel adventure. I agree that you would be very successful at publishing travelogues! I do have a question though - LoveItaly mentioned something about looking at your photos, but I do not see a link in your report (unless I'm missing something). It sounds like you have a good eye and I would love to see your photos if you have made them available online. Would you be able to provide a link? Many thanks, and I'm looking forward to the next installment!

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    Carly, I misspoke, I was thinking that rickmav had posted her photos but actually it was the trip reports of the other areas they visited.

    But perhaps there will be a posting of photos. That is a hint rickmav!!!

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    As a late starter always, I just read your Venice report :) It is fantastic. I enjoyed your write-up, and might use "gelato-virgin" and "Brunhilde" down the road!

    Venice is quite special. I spent nine whole days nearly six years back, and it still is the most-fun town I have ever been to. Your report brings those memories back. Thank you.

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    Hello everyone. Have been house-hunting so haven't had time to finish another report - I'm sorry, will hopefully get one up this afternoon. I want to respond to each of your kind comments, will do that with the report. Thanks for hanging in there.

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    We are on our way out the door to see some more houes, so will write a note to each of you when I return. Hope you enjoy our adventures in southern Tuscany.

    Part VII – Getting Out of Third Gear on the Autostrada, Quirky San Quirico and Chanting With the Monks

    We go back down the mountain in the morning. We have decided to tackle the autostrada on our way to the southern part of Tuscany for the day. We get turned around in Montevarchi because the secondary road parallels the super-highway and we keep thinking we are never going to get on it. But, as with everything in Italy, you just have to be patient. It always turns out right.

    The morning air is crisp and autumny. Fall is my favourite time of year and the further south we go the more ablaze with colours the trees are. Because there are so many fir, pine and cypress where we are in eastern Chianti, we haven't noticed how spectacular the fall colours can be.

    We stop and get our ticket (biglietto) as we enter the autostrada, and hand it in and pay what we owe (2.50 euros for ½ hour) when we leave it. It's much simpler than I expected. The traffic is restrained and a bit disappointing compared to some of the reports I've read. We were prepared for a bit more 'salsa'.

    We both agree that some of the 'M' roads in England are far more knee quivering – around Birmingham, for example, or driving towards London. Even the infamous 'Deerfoot Trail' at home in the city of Calgary is definitely more frightening. I think people assume that because you can go 130 kilometres/hr. on the autostrada, it's nothing but mad drivers hurtling past you. But you rarely get to go that fast - there are large semis passing each other, steep hills and only four lanes (at least on the bit that we were on). It's also easier because we are on the same side of the road as we would be at home. Rick enjoys getting the car out of third gear.

    The one thing we do find challenging is that there aren't many exits, unlike England or in Canada, so you have to have a good map to figure out where you want to go and what is the best route off the autostrada. We manage okay although there are a few panicky moments as I struggle with the map and a corner of it obscures Rick's vision. For a few seconds all we see in front of us is the map of Tuscany. Gets our adrenaline going for the first time today.

    Our first stop is San Quirico. There is free parking outside the walls and we use the little dashboard clock (it comes with the rental car) to note when we arrive. According to the information posted (hopefully, I've read it right) we are allowed to stay two hours.

    We climb a set of tucked away little stairs against the town walls and enter San Quirico from the back streets – which is the best way to see it. We wander for a long time before we actually see anyone. Everything is quite neat and presentable – rows of pink geraniums in pots, a bright yellow canary in a cage on a balcony, a frutta and verdura shop with all the multi-coloured wares evenly arranged. Even the laundry hanging outside looks 'organized'. There are very few tourists when we are there (Thursday a.m.) – we seem to be ahead of the buses today. Lots of lovely streets to stroll and beautiful views. It's a very serene kind of place. We decide 'next' time we come to Italy, we are definitely going to try to rent an apartment here.

    Then we drive south to Sant'Antimo. We stop at Montalcino on the way there, the views from the top of the hill are outstanding. Beneath the town are miles of vineyards - Kodak moment after Kodak moment.

    The drive from Montalcino to Sant'Antimo is incredible; you descend from the heights of Montalcino and get right in amongst the vineyards – everything turning colour – set against emerald green hills. The Abbey sits in a valley and its travertine stone walls reflect the sun and give it this yellowish-pink glow. The Abbey was founded by Charlemagne in 781, but the present church dates from the 12th c. We arrive around 12:30 and are just in time to hear the monks chant.

    Definitely, a sublime experience. As I sit on the wooden pew, with the light spilling in through windows high in the wall, near to the beamed ceiling, and with these beautiful voices and the haunting sounds, I am so at peace. I feel wise and humble, joyful and eternal. It is one of those places that must be connected directly to the Universe. The monks leave the big oak doors behind us open and outside you can hear the birds, and it sounds as if they are singing in tune with the monks. I even find myself humming/chanting along, although I have no idea what the words are, somehow the music is eternal and familiar.

    We have lunch at Antica Osteria del Bassomondo, just across from the entrance road to the Abbey. It's fairly simple and family run and I do have to use my Italian, which is fun and a little embarrassing. We have pinchi ragu, which is a meat sauce with this great, fat pasta that reminds me of the Szechwan noodles we get when we order Chinese food at home. It's very tasty. Plus we order an 'insalata misti' (a mixed salad) –'un piatti per due' (one dish for the two of us).

    We are getting to eat our pasta just like the Italians with a dollop of olive oil and freshly, grated parmesan cheese that is delivered to our table in a little, round silver holder. We put the tasty vinegar and oil on the salad, have a bottle of 'acqua minerale naturale' (water without gas –as they say) and feel quite replete. Although the staff is a bit grumpy, not with us, just generally, the food is great and I'd give this place two thumbs up.

    In the front part of the restaurant is a deli where they make sandwiches. There are a lot of Italian men getting their lunch – most of them are covered head to toe in plaster dust. The sandwiches look very good.

    Then we head further south on a driving tour we get from a Frommer's guidebook in our cottage. We climb very high again, the views are amazing and my little camera can't quite capture the intricate dimensions of it all. The sun is very bright and everything seems bathed in golden honey. We pass through Castiglione d'Orcia and Rocca d'Orcia, both crammed full of lovely, old buildings and stupendous views. I'm very impressed with Rick's driving, the road is like the end of a corkscrew.

    There is very little traffic and we feel as if we have this part of Tuscany all to ourselves. We stop often to take pictures and admire the views.

    The traffic is busier when we get back on the autostrada. We stop at an Autogrille to pick up some munchies – a very civilized and well-stocked rest stop. The English do this well, too. We have nothing like it in Canada. From Arezzo to Montevarchi, the traffic is very slow, there is obviously an accident ahead and police cars are trying to get past us. They end up having to go up on the shoulder. But finally, we begin our climb to our cottage.

    Feeling a bit homesick, not sure why, I call my sister Vanessa. It's so nice to talk to her. I miss her log cabin in the mountains, the large, sun-filled great room, Charlie the black lab, and the smells from all the amazing things she cooks. We have scrambled eggs and toast for dinner, not that exciting but we are still full from lunch. Drink champagne on the terrace afterwards. It's hard to describe how 'bountiful' I feel, as if I am abounding with smells, warmth, tears, tastes, moonlight and happiness. I never expected that from Italy. That makes it sweeter.

    We sleep late the next morning. Rick is reading 'A Thousand Days in Venice' and we have a long discussion over our morning coffee on the terrace about marriage. I am constantly amazed that after 30 years of being with this man, we still have so much to talk about. Of course, travelling heightens our discussions and adds another layer to the depth of our shared memory.

    Later on, Rick takes Livia for a walk and has an 'incident'. He is mailing some postcards from the local post office, which has a sign saying 'No Dogs Allowed' (a picture of a dog with an 'X' through it), so Rick tells Livia to 'stay' on the front step, which she dutifully does. What he doesn't know – Ally tells us this afterwards – are that the Italians are somewhat afraid of this breed of dog (I don't know why, she couldn't be more gentle). So no one will enter or exit the post office. Voices are raised, the postmistress gets involved, Rick is trying to get out to get Livia – once he understands that there is some problem with her being there – but there are too many people in his way. Finally, he rescues her and the business of the post office can continue. Once again, we have failed to remain inconspicuous. Both man and dog come home exhausted and have to rest for a while in the warm sun.

    While the two of them snooze, I write in my journal and drink some of Bob's delicious red wine. Motown's Greatest Hits are playing on the CD, the birds are singing, the laundry is drying, the church bells ring every one in awhile – I feel myself trying to physically capture what I am experiencing so I can relive it, later on, when I am in need of sustenance for my soul.

    Later on, we pack our suitcases so we will be ready to leave early tomorrow. We are going to detour to Pienza on our way to our cottage in Umbria.

    It will be hard to leave this place, it really is an earthly Eden. We will miss Livia; as we pack she senses that something is going on and sits at the French door peering in at us. Rick goes out to pet her every once in awhile, I almost think he feels the need to explain to her why we are leaving.

    Being in this cottage in Chianti has forced us to slow down and really begin to make sense of the rich experience Italy has to offer. I think that is what has been missing from many of our other holidays. We have rushed from place to place, from checklist to checklist, everything a muddled blur at the end, but with a sense of satisfaction that we have seen the 'must see' things. But being satisfied is so small compared to what we have felt on this trip. Somehow, Italy has expanded what our expectations are for a holiday, have touched emotions we never knew were withering, have made us re-evaluate what the purpose of travel is. It's as if our hearts are bigger because we have been here.

    Next...Part VIII – A Fall in the Bathtub, Pouty in Pienza and Bats in the Awning

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    Thanks everyone for your kind words.

    jamikins, SRS, ssvw27, luvtotravel, SandyBrit, carolsc – I'll try to be quicker with my reports. We are in the process of finding a new home, so I am trying to fit writing in between house hunting. Your support does keep me sitting down at the computer, however. Thank you.

    italybound2006 and carlyshells – Hope you both have a great holiday in Italy. Make sure to post your trip reports when you return.

    carlyshells and LoveItaly – I haven't posted my pictures yet, that's my objective after the trip reports are finished. But thanks for asking about them. I've actually only looked at them a few times since we've returned, I took over 1000 pictures! And I still remember all the photo opportunities I missed.

    caroltis – Wow, I'm blushing. Wouldn't it be fun to write a book on Italy – of course, I would have to go again – and again – and again. It means a lot to me that someone who has been to Italy so many times finds my words relevant. Thank you.

    ComfyShoes – Feel free to use 'gelato-virgin' and 'Brunhilde'. And I'm glad my report helps bring back memories of Venice. Nine days there, wouldn't that be wonderful.

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    You should not blush at the idea of writing a book. Your writing makes excellent reading. There could be worse things than needing to go back to Italy for more "research," and getting to write off the trip in the process. Yes, this is good enough to publish.

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    Let me add my thanks for the great report to all the others who have already done so. An interesting content, added to a warm narrative style makes your report a great read. Thank you.

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    Thanks everyone for your wonderful words of support. I'll post this now and, hopefully, will post the next instalment later tonight. Take care.

    Part VIII – A Fall in the Bathtub, Puffy (and Pouty) in Pienza and Bats in the Awning

    The next day, as we are getting ready to leave, I fall in the bathtub. The bath has a huge, tiled and concrete surround – I put one foot in and have one foot out, very naked of course, and the foot in the tub slips and I hurl forward. The times when you are glad you're not on a reality television show with hidden cameras tracking your every move.

    I lay, straddling the concrete (can I say that on this board?) for what seems like hours but what is probably only minutes, afraid to move in case something is broken. Once I stop whimpering, I slowly stand up, expecting to see blood oozing from a multitude of wounds. Fortunately, there's no blood. But by 6 o'clock that night, my leg has swollen to twice its normal size and from my knee...upwards...I am purple, mauve, and blue. As the week progresses, the bruise turns a shade of mustardy yellow. I take a picture of it before it fades; no one at home would believe me if I told them what it looked like.

    We make our last stop at the IperCoop in Montevarchi before we get on the autostrada. Since we don't know what the shopping facilities will be near Gualdo Cattaneo, we pick up additional supplies. For our dinner tonight, we buy roast chicken, potatoes and cold, grilled zucchini, eggplant and red pepper in oil. There are little bags that you can buy to keep your food cool and it works well.

    On the way to our self-catering apartment in Umbria, we make a detour to visit Pienza. We weren't able to fit it in on our one day visit to southern Tuscany and as we are almost driving by it, we decide to stop and wander about. We have a tasty lunch at Latte di Luna, highly recommended on this board. It's a bit hard to find, although once we get there, we realize it is very near one of the gates and not far from the main square (along Corso Il Rossellino). I don't know if we are just lucky, but we're able to get a seat on the terrace outside, under large umbrellas, without having reservations. We are the first ones there when the restaurant opens, but it soon fills up.

    A woman from Australia, sitting beside us, tells us that 'The English Patient' was filmed nearby and that Latte di Luna was the cast's favourite restaurant. I keep looking about, hoping Ralph Fiennes has returned to visit.

    We are hungry, so order a plate of assorted crostini to start with. They are very good, although we aren't always sure what we're eating. I'd heard so much about the bread soup (zuppa di pane), so that's what I order, along with a mixed salad (insalata misti). Rick has the pici al ragu and lets me share some of his orange ice-cream (wow!) – semifreddo all' arancia. We also share a ½ litre of the house white. A bigger lunch – for us – but we haven't had breakfast and we don't know when we'll have dinner.

    We walk off some of the lunch by wandering up and down the streets, taking more pictures as we go: 'Click' - a little dog sits on a balcony looking down at us; 'Click' - a store window is piled high with ancient cheeses; 'Click' - an elderly man with sunglasses on the end of his nose is watching a group of pretty girls. I'm beginning to think it's impossible to take a bad picture here. We buy some pecorino, the town's specialty, and a bottle of wine for later.

    At this point, perhaps from walking, my leg begins to swell. It's a very strange sensation, as if the limb is encased in rising dough. It's a long walk back to the car and I'm pooped by the time we get there. Rick, bless his heart, runs across the street and manages to find me two cans of cold Pepsi; I drink from one and hold the other against my leg.

    It seems as if it takes forever to get to our apartment, Le Case Gialle ( near Bevagna, south of Assisi and north of Spoleto. The drive gets prettier as we leave Perugia, and we are thankful that although there are hills, they are nothing compared to the Chianti mountains. We are welcomed to our cottage (La Terrazza) by Silvana Maggioni, a hyperactive, tiny, amazing woman who during the week shares stories from her remarkable life with us.

    Our apartment is very nice (it costs 420 euros for the week); it's one of five on the property. The apartments are in the old barn and outbuildings that were once part of a large, olive estate. The floors are tiled, there are high, beamed ceilings and plaster walls painted an earthy-orange. We have a balcony off our bedroom that overlooks the breathtaking Umbrian countryside.

    Fresh bread and the International Herald Tribune are delivered each morning and there is a TV, with CNN in English. There is also a telephone that you can use to call Silvana; her family lives at the entrance to the estate. There is a welcome pack on the table when we arrive with a small bottle of olive oil, a bottle of red Montefalco wine, some preserves, and coffee and tea. Although the website says the gas is extra, we aren't charged for what we use.

    Silvana tells us that right now they are very busy pressing the olives. Their product is organic and mostly for their own use; whatever is left over they sell. (I buy two bottles to take home as gifts). Silvana tells us that because they pick a bit earlier than some other producers, their olive oil has very little acidity. I'm not much of a connoisseur, but it is delicious.

    A lot of Canadians stay at Le Case Gialle, as well as Australians and Americans. The British come twice a year, according to Silvana – in June and September; other Europeans during the summer.

    There is a swimming pool just below and to our left, and although we don't use it, one woman does swim every morning and evening. I'm surprised the water is still in; it is, after all, late Oct./early Nov. But there is a lot of sunshine during the day and the the pool is heated by solar panels. The apartment's negatives: there isn't a washer, dryer, microwave, oven, CD or radio.

    As my leg continues to swell, and then throb, I begin to feel a bit sorry for myself. We've been away from home for seven weeks and although I would not trade our experiences for anything, I am beginning to miss some things. My computer, toilet paper that does not take off the top layer of skin, a red liquorice, CSI (Las Vegas), my family's preparations for Christmas, my own bed. I have a moan and by the next morning, I feel guilty that I could even miss anything at home when there are so many wonderful adventures still to be had here. I'm ready for Umbria.

    Umbria, however, has a surprise in store for us. After breakfast, Rick goes out to reconnoitre the neighbourhood – he isn't gone more than five minutes when the door opens and he comes in, pale and obviously upset. Somewhere in the last few days, our car has been hit. Because it is navy blue and fairly dusty from all our travels, we haven't noticed it. But a short rainstorm outside Deruta has cleared off the dirt and, on the passenger side near the back wheel, there is a definite dint. We both feel sick. It could have happened at any time; for all we know it may have been there when we picked up the car (remember, we didn't inspect it when we picked it up in Florence). After a long discussion, we decide that we will not let this ruin our holiday. We have purchased the insurance; the rest is in the hands of the gods.

    Still a bit shaken, however, we decide we won't go out today; we'll relax at our new digs, do some reading and hang out by the pool. Besides, my leg, which looks like a huge, mottled turnip, is throbbing again. We take our time over the newspaper - it's quite a treat to get the Herald Tribune in the morning with our still-warm bread; we realize there have been a lot of things happening in the world while we've been enjoying ourselves. The bread has a chewy crust but is nice inside. Rick has one slice with plum jam and one with locally made honey (Silvana has left us a small jar of each). I have mine with a piece of pecorino.

    Time for our next adventure of the day.

    As the sun comes around the corner of the building, it becomes hotter and hotter. There is a striped awning rolled flat against the building, so we decide to open it and have our lunch outside. Rick is turning the crank when I notice what I think is a large leaf stuck to the inside. I lean forward to sweep it away when Rick says, quietly but forcefully, 'Don't move'. All the little hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I don't even take a breath when I say, 'What is it?' Rick is very calm when he say, 'I think it's a bat'.

    I would like to tell you how heroic I was and that I not only chased the bat away but also threw Rick over my shoulder and carried him off to safety. But I did no such thing. I scream like a girl, open the screen door, jump inside and run to wash my hands (I haven't even touched anything). Rick, meanwhile, swats at the poor, sleepy bat with a broom on the terrace and it flies away. By the time I tiptoe back to see what has happened, Rick is sitting under the awning, eating his lunch (we put the grilled vegetables left over from dinner on the Umbrian bread with some pecorino and make a kind of grilled sandwich).

    During the day we see a flock (?) of wild turkeys, a herd (?) of sheep and what Ricks says is a donkey (believe it or not, I've never seen one in the flesh). It's very quiet; the estate is at the end of its own road, so there's no traffic going by. Once in awhile, we hear shots off in the distance, obviously there are hunters in the area. In our bedroom is a picture from the 1940s of a group of men, all with their guns. At first, I thought they are a chapter of the local Mafia, but after I hear the shots it makes much more sense that they are local sportsmen.

    We sit outside until the first bat swoops by and then retreat inside. I don't know if it's the fresh air, but we are both very sleepy and climb into our crisp, white sheets - and are alseep.

    Next...Part IX – Following Rick Steves in Assisi, Foraging in Foligno and Dealing Long Distance With Auto Europe.

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    rickmav - Oh dear what bad luck with your fall and then the ding in your car. No wonder you missed a few things from home.

    On the bright side what a lovely place you have chosen to be for the week. Love that you post the web site so we can actually see where you stayed. What did you do about your laundry with no machine? Could you wash a few things out by hand and put outside to dry? Your meals sound so lovely.


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    Every day I jump on the computer to search for your next installment. We can't travel for a while (no money for a while as our lovely daughter is getting married) Can you keep travelling so I can at least imagine myself there? I love your writing ndthe affectionate way you speak about your husband Rick, you make a lovely couple (even though I've never met you, there goes my imagination again).
    are a lovely couple.

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    luvtotravel, ComfyShoes, tune, Suja - Thanks for your kinds words. (And I agree Venice at night is remarkable!)

    owlwoman - You will love Umbria, and I think the best way to see it is by having your own base. Thanks for your supportive words.

    SandyBrit - Haven't found a house yet. My husband has decided he doesn't want to retire yet and a company has offered him a lucrative contract in northern Alberta. We will be based in Calgary which is experiencing a 'boom' right now, and I hate looking at houses - unless of course they are in England or Italy! And yes, we did wash everything by hand and dry it outside. According to Maurio, one of our landlords, that's what the Umbrian sun is for.

    babycakes - Part VIII is now posted - I know it's taking me awhile to get each new instalment done. Thanks for sticking to me.

    SRS - Yes, it's amazing what we can do when we are truly terrified.

    toni - Now, you've made me feel guilty that I'm not posting instalments as quickly as I'd like to! I'll try and do better. I know what it is to yearn to travel and not be able to, it makes it so much sweeter when you can actually pack your suitcase and go. And thank you for your kinds words about Rick. I got a good 'un.

    Part IX – Following Rick Steves in Assisi, Foraging in Foligno and Dealing Long Distance With Auto Europe.

    The first decision we make when we arrive at Assisi the next morning is whether to park at the top and walk down - then back up; or park at the bottom and walk up - then down. Either way, it's a lot of walking.

    We decide to follow Rick Steves's advice and park at the underground garage at the top of the hill (it costs 4.20 euros for four hours). Then we use his self-guided walk (from his book on Italy), walking down towards the Basilica of St. Francis.

    The views from the top are outstanding. It's a lovely day, hot in the sun but with a cool breeze. Although there are a lot of people about there are quiet corners and most of the churches we see on the way to the Basilica are empty. For some reason this morning, I keep thinking about one of the recurring themes on this board - what Americans can do to not look like tourists, should it matter, does everyone look like a tourist, etc. Either Americans have figured out how to keep a low profile, or there aren't that many holidaying in Italy at this time of year. Most of the tourists we bump into in Assisi are from other parts of Italy, or Japanese.

    There is quite a bit of construction going on in the streets, which means some interesting manoeuvring on temporary walkways. I get a great picture of a monk, tonsured and robed, peering down into the uncovered Assisi street.

    Our first stop on Steves's walking tour is the Church of San Rufino, built in the 12th c. Both St. Francis and St. Clare were baptized here, although 12 years apart. From the outside, it looks like a square block of concrete with a triangle on top. There are some pretty, rosette-style decorations near the peak that add a bit of whimsy, but it is not what I would call a 'beautiful' church. Inside, there are these eerie, green-tinted glass panels in the floor where you can see the foundations of the 9th c. church. After the earthquake in 1997, engineers even discovered Roman foundations.

    Next, we visit the Basilica of Santa Chiara (Clare). Before we left on our holiday, I read a book by Adrian House called, 'Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life' and was really taken with the description of Francis's and Clare's relationship. After she met Francis and spent time listening to his message she cut her hair, put on a simple, brown tunic and spent the rest of her life barefoot and in poverty. She created the Order of the Poor Clares and there is a convent attached to the church that still operates today.

    I like the Basilica of Santa Chiara a lot. It is serene. It has lovely, stained glass windows, and bits of amazing frescoes, recently uncovered, on the walls. It must have been a very intimate and feminine space when it was originally built, with the walls covered in these muted and ethereal pieces of art. (Unbelievably, the walls were whitewashed in the 1700s, covering all the frescoes!)

    In the Chapel of the Crucifix, off to one side, is the wooden cross that 'spoke' to Francis, telling him what he should do with his life. St. Clare's tomb is downstairs, and you can see her robes, hair and a tunic she made for Francis. Rick goes to have a look, I sit in the quiet and think about this amazing woman.

    We make our way to the main square in Assisi, the Piazza del Commune. One of the first things that catches our eyes is the Temple of Minerva, this very ancient, Roman building in the middle of all this Catholic finery. The Temple was built in the 1st c. and is over 2000 years old. A pagan cult worshipped here for a long time and, inside, you can see the drains on either side of the altar where the blood emptied after the sacrifices. Yikes! Eventually, the Temple was abandoned; in the 9th c. it became a Catholic church, 'Santa Maria Sopra Minerva'.

    There are lovely views from one part of the Piazza and in the distance you can see the blue-domed church, St. Mary of the Angels (Santa Maria degli Angeli), where St. Francis lived and worked. According to Steves, the church is still a popular pilgrimage site; when we go to visit later in the week the park in front is full of teenagers, many of them 'with limbs entwined'. Well, St. Francis did preach love.

    Our next stop is the Church of Santa Stefano. It is surrounded by cypress, fig and walnut trees and is very plain and small. According to Steves, it is a typical example of a rural Italian church. I have to say that we are not people who normally visit churches as tourist sites, but in Italy, they are all so different from each other and capture something distinctive about Italian history. You really feel that artisans, workers, worshippers – all put their mark upon their individual churches and by sitting still and breathing in their stories, your emotional attachment to this wonderful country is strengthened.

    Steves considers our next stop, the Basilica of St. Francis, one of the artistic and religious highlights of Europe. It is huge and it is amazing. And it is covered with the most incredible frescoes. It would be fascinating to know what St. Francis would make of it. We aren't Catholics but I've always been intrigued by St. Francis and St. Clare. It seems to me that in their own ways they were as much revolutionaries as Jesus was. It seems strange that such a simple-living man as St. Francis would have such an amazing church built in his name. But I'm glad it's there for us to appreciate.

    Before we go into the Basilica, we notice these arches forming an arcade, off to the side, that don't really look as if they have a function. But, in fact, they are little cells where visiting pilgrims over the centuries would sleep. Having slept in over 12 different beds on this trip so far, I can't imagine having to try and get comfortable on a stone floor. I guess I have nothing to complain about.

    Although the earthquake in 1997 didn't damage the lower basilica, which has 9 ft. thick walls, the upper basilica, which has more windows, was badly damaged. It took two years to repair. There is a weird, sad story about two monks and two historians who were examining the destruction and who were killed from debris when an aftershock hit.

    The frescoes in the Upper Basilica shattered, during the earthquake, into over 300,000 pieces. They were all collected and put back together. Talk about dedication. I love the ceilings in the Basilica, such a beautiful blue with these shimmering, gold stars. Uplifting, simple and hypnotizing all at the same time.

    St. Francis's remains are buried here and I hope this doesn't offend anyone, but it seems strange to me to stand in line to look at someone's bones. But Rick, curious about everything, goes. Apparently, after the bones were moved here, they were hidden. Over the next 600 years, the exact location was forgotten. When the decision was made to open the tomb in the 1800s, it took a month to find them. Can you imagine some of the memos that flew back and forth?

    I do wander about the Relic Chapel where you can see some things that belonged to St. Francis – the tunic he wore, full of holes and patched, or the rules he drew up for the Franciscans. Or the slippers he wore just before he died. I didn't know that St. Francis was only 5'4" or that he was the person who 'invented' the manger scene in the story of the birth of Jesus.

    Before we leave the Basilica, we buy a bracelet and prayer in the gift store for our granddaughter. The Franciscan monk who helps us is very sweet.

    We have lunch at a place called Cantine di Oddo, just up from the Basilica. I have tagliatelle with meat sauce, Rick Umbrian sausage with roasted potatoes. Yum. We share a mixed salad and with water and pop, it's 24 euros. Expensive – for us – for lunch but we are hungry and the food is good. I'm sure if we'd wandered into some of the side streets, we could have got a better deal.

    Although Rick Steves says that there are two minibuses that connect the top and bottom of Assisi through the Piazza del Commune, we never see them, although we do run across the bus stop. This means hiking all the way back to the top. But we take our time and stop to appreciate a lovely view or an interesting group of people. We feel quite righteous as we drive home. Not only have we seen some beautiful churches and said a few prayers for those at home, but we've also had some great exercise.

    On the way home, we stop at Foligno to pick up some groceries. Silvana has told us that there is a Coop in the town and we try to follow her directions and end up seeing a lot of Foligno. Not really that impressed, but perhaps we haven't given it a fair try. Finally, we give up and, of course, that's when we find it. It's actually right off the road on our way back to our apartment. We're hoping that the Coop will have a deli like the one in Montevarchi, with homemade meals, but, unfortunately, they don't. But we do buy a small, whole roasted chicken. The smell as they are cooking in the store is out of this world.

    We decide the next morning that we will laze about and take care of some administrative stuff (yes, it follows you wherever you go). We've decided to return to Florence at the end of our holiday and will put off seeing Rome for our next trip. This means we have to change the drop off for our rental car, returning it to the dreaded garage in Florence instead of dropping it off at the train station in Orvieto. First, I talk to Hertz, using their 1-800 number but don't get very far. They are quite laissez-faire about it all and tell me to drop the car wherever we want, whenever we want - the drop-off office will figure it all out on the computer when we get there. Having already had our experiences with Hertz in Italy, I am not comfortable with this 'plan'. So, I decide to try Auto Europe's 1-800 number and actually end up talking to someone in Portland, Maine.

    The staff are very helpful, particularly when I explain my reluctance to 'just showing up' at the Hertz office in Florence. I keep thinking about the garage dictators who made our life such a misery at the beginning of the trip – and, as it turns out, my fears are grounded. But I am getting ahead of myself.

    Auto Europe agrees to send a fax to Florence, explaining that we will be showing up with a vehicle that should really be in Orvieto. I decide not to mention the 'dint'. Rick and I have talked about it and we both feel that it's possible that the mark was there when we picked up the car. It just doesn't look like a new accident. I also confirm our two nights at Relais Cavalcanti in Florence and, as always, Francesca is so helpful.

    Rick makes a wonderful dinner – he boils, and then fries some plump, Italian sausages we bought in Foligno in Silvana's olive oil. They are heavenly. We have them with scrambled eggs with provolone and toasted Umbrian bread.

    Although the day is very warm, after the sun drops behind the nearest mountain, it begins to cool off and Silvana comes to turn on our heat. She stays to chat and speaks very good English, although blushes and protests when I compliment her on her language skills.

    She tells us the most amazing story. Three years ago, she and her husband Maurio adopted two children from Ethiopia, a boy about four and a girl about 9. The girl saw both parents killed and cared for her brother (at 9!) until they were able to get to the orphanage. The amount of paperwork that Silvana and Maurio had to go through was incredible and she doesn't think much of Madonna being able to 'buy' (her words) a child (this story is currently in the news). It took Silvana and her husband three years to be able to bring her son and daughter to Italy, although the were allowed to visit them in Ethiopia. We have seen the boy riding his bike up and down the road behind our apartment and he is very friendly and sweet. We meet his sister later in the week and she is very beautiful and like her mom, blushes when I try and tell her that in Italian.

    Today is Halloween and I can tell Rick is a bit homesick. It's his favourite time of the year and he always dresses up to hand out the candies. I offer to let him borrow some of my clothes to put on and I'll knock on the door and pretend to be trick or treating, but it obviously isn't tempting enough. So we play cards ('Vino') and drink wine (vino) and talk about our spiritual beliefs. We have both been moved by what we saw in Assisi. Which is the greatest part of travel for me, taking in what you have seen and experienced and using it to re-evaluate your life and beliefs.

    Next...Part X – A Pumpkin in Bevagna, the Quest for a Quarter-Pounder and an Attempted Bank Heist in Orvieto

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    Loving your report!

    I completely fell in love with Assisi when I went in 2005. The town and the Basilica are forever in my heart.

    I did visit the tomb of St. Francis, and had the most amazing experience - though it was unexpected to say the least!.

    I can't wait to go back someday.

    Thanks for posting!

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    rickman - You are so kind and answer every little question that I and others ask.

    Good for Rick receiving such a good job offer. He cooks too! What a great team you are. Best wishes that you find a nice house to make into a home.

    Please post the next installment at your convenience. You have been so faithful with keeping up. You have quite a few fans on this board.


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    Hello rickmavy, I just enjoyed reading about your time and experiences in Assisi and as in the past I am enthralled with your trip report, the actual facts of your trip plus your sharing of your thoughts and your life. You and your husband in my opinion are very special people. And how I wish I had the ability to share and describe a trip as you do.

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    Rickmav -
    Your trip report is beautiful --- one of the best I have read. This October, we are going to be in Italy and are going to see Venice, Rome, Florence, and spend a few days in Tuscany --- we only have two weeks --- but are so excited about our trip! It is wonderful to hear about your good time in those cities.

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    Halloween and no costumes so you offer your husband your clothes and it isn't tempting enough!!!???


    When this trip report is finished please continue writing a report of your everyday life. You'll have plenty of devoted fans reading every word.

    I'm also interested in your house search as we're looking into a relocation to Calgary at the moment (DH has a job offer). I can't start house hunting yet as we need to make sure we can get working visas first.

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    Finally got to sit down and read more, and still totally enjoying this. It flows so nicely, rickmav.

    The biggest surprise, however,was reading along and finding out where you stayed in Umbria!

    I spent a week with some great friends at Le Case Gialle for my birthday in late May of 2005. I had read about LCG on the Slow Travel site & then got some excellent information here as well.

    I've been raving about it on this site ever since! You would think I worked for Mauro and Silvana.

    The couple traveling with us stayed in your cute apt, the other 3 of us were downstairs from you under the portico (il Portico) with a long outdoor table where we ate several al fresco meals.

    While we were there, thousands of flickering fireflies were in the olive groves, and the moon was full. Magical. We often heard interesting calls, sounds and songs from the birds and wildlife on the wooded hill across from the groves(below the view of Montefalco). Were you awakened early early early by those crazy cuckoos?

    The children were sweeties -- the first day the little girl led me by the hand and showed me all the blooming herbs in the garden (which we were welcome to pick & use, of course). Silvana showed us how to dip the fresh sage leaves in Prosecco & a little flour and then flash fry them in olive oil. Delicious!

    We also found Foligno to be an odd place, and for some reason, each time any of use went there, we managed to get lost on the circle road around town. But we loved Bevagna; bought wonderful fresh pasta & pastries there, and had a memorable meal at Osteria Podesta.

    You described Sant' Antimo so eloquently! We drove there on a long daytrip from LCG, and then on to Montalcino & Siena. Back to Umbria under that amazing moon.

    Did you get to do any walks or hikes around Le Case Gialle? Did you think Gualdo Catteneo seemed spooky and haunted? Can't wait to hear what else you did in Umbria, you are bringing back sweet memories.

    I'll have to tell my friends about the bat!

    Happily waiting for the next installment...

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    Rickmav- wonderful report, as usual. Remembering my trip as a young 20 yr old to Assisi, and how moved I was by the town- feeling the spirit of Francis and Clare prevaling. Hope to return this fall- hoping, hoping...

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    Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a wonderful report. I am traveling to Italy for the first time this summer with my wonderful husband of two years, and we are anticipating being moved and inspired by it's beauty in the ways you have described! I also appreciate your sharing little tidbits about your marriage - its so nice to hear that after 30 years, it can still be fresh and beautiful and there can be plenty to talk about! In a world where my young friends have already begun divorcing and getting "fed up" with their husbands and marriage, its inspiring to hear words from the other end of the spectrum!
    Looking forward to more...
    (and I agree that you should write a book - if not about Italy, then about anything! You have a real gift for evoking images and explaining intangible emotions.)

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    Hello everyone. Away to Calgary again house hunting, just arrived home to read your warm and encouraging posts. Will hopefully post something later tonight or tomorrow morning.

    camelbak - I see from your e-mail you are from Canada - what part? Perhaps, I should have visited St. Francis's tomb; Rick also felt something strange and wonderful there. He said he had the strangest feeling his dad, who passed away 10 years ago, was standing just behind him. He couldn't stop talking about it for the rest of the day - and was very comforted by it.

    SandyBrit - Thanks for your support. We are still looking for our new home, but are getting close. It will be weird to be apart from Rick - he works 4 days out, 3 days in - when we have been spending so much time together, but it is another kind of adventure.

    LoveItaly - Your words are so encouraging. I don't know that Rick and I are that special; we have been very lucky. In our careers, love, family and friendships.

    akila - Thank you. Have a wonderful trip this October and remember to let us all know about your adventures when you return. You have probably found this board very helpful in planning your trip, I know we would have had a very different holiday if we hadn't had this resource.

    highflyer - "Halloween and no costumes so you offer your husband your clothes and it isn't tempting enough!!!???" - I know, he can be a real partypooper sometimes. I told Rick about your suggestion that I keep writing about our life and he looked a bit worried - as if he thought I might actually do it. Thanks for boosting my self confidence about my writing skills, it just shows that if you have the right material to work with - anything is possible. Isn't that strange that you are thinking of relocating to Calgary? We have narrowed our search to a condo in Calgary, or one in Okotoks, which is about a 20 minute drive away. With Rick gone part of the week, it seemed to make sense to look at condos. The prices are pretty frightening, but it depends on what part of the world you are coming from. Good luck. Maybe, one day we can have a glass of Rick's home-made wine on our deck and talk about travelling!

    annabelle2 - Thanks for your comments. You are, in fact, the reason we went to Le Case Gialle. I printed off your report, then highlighted all the wonderful information. Oooh we didn't see the fireflies but did hear the cuckoos, although I had no idea until now what they were. We also loved Bevagna - it's in my next report and also bought wonderful fresh pasta & pastries there. Rick explored all around the place, I'm the reader-type, but I did get a great picture of Gualdo Cattaneo with the moon showing late in the afternoon sky. It is very creepy! When we walked about it was virtually deserted, kind of had a spaghetti-western kind of feeling to it.

    ssvw27 - I'll cross my fingers that you get to Assisi this fall. It continues to have a profound affect on both of us.

    bunnymonk - You're welcome. And I hope you have such a wonderful time in Italy. I have been with Rick more than half my life, that seems so weird to say but I can't even imagine how different it would have been without him. He makes me laugh every day (sometimes, at him, which annoys him). We've worked very hard to be married this long; I had a boss who gave me some advice just after I got married. She said you must work at your marriage every day. You must say to yourself, 'What can I do today to make my marriage better?'. She was way ahead of Dr. Phil. And I've tried, not always successfully, to follow her advice.

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    Part X – Halloween in Bevagna, the Quest for a Quarter-Pounder and an Attempted Bank Heist in Orvieto

    We wake up to a cold, grey day – it's November 1, after all. It can get quite chilly in these stone houses when the temperature drops. We really have been lucky on our trip, weather-wise, both in England and in Italy so can't complain. But I think if I were planning Italy again – and we all know I have to at some point – I would come a couple of weeks earlier.

    Silvana, our landlady, drops by to check on the heat and she tells us that they do not have gas heat in their home – they burn wood. She also said that it was against the law, in this part of Italy, to have your thermostat set higher than 18 degrees. Perhaps, I misunderstood her, but that seems extraordinarily mean – particularly to someone from Canada.

    I try to do the crossword in the International Herald Tribune as I'm eating my breakfast. I'm very pleased that I can do about two-thirds of it. Rick and I have started discussing the stories in the newspaper after we've both read it – you get creative when you're spending 24 hours a day with each other! An interesting article about Canada today – apparently we sell more products than we buy, our inflation rate is almost the lowest of all developed countries, but we have a fairly high unemployment rate (6.4%) and a moderate growth rate (1.2% - China has 10+%). Wonder how that all fits together.

    As it warms up, we decide to explore Bevagna, a walled town quite near to us. We thought it might be deserted because of the holiday – Nov. 1 (All Saint's Day) – but it is just the opposite. Everyone seems to be gathered in the main square, Piazza Silvestri – boys are setting off small firecrackers, the men are standing about in groups or sitting outside the bar/cafes, the women are admiring babies, laughing at the men or going in and out of the two Romanesque churches (S. Michele and S. Silvestro). We feel a bit conspicuous but I say to Rick – 'We are tourists, why try and pretend we aren't. And we'd be looking at them if the tables we're turned'. So we smile, nod, and just enjoy ourselves.

    As we cross the bridge and enter Bevagna through Via Porta Molini, we notice a house beneath us that has a Giant Pumpkin outside its door. We'd forgotten to ask Silvana whether her kids 'celebrate' Halloween, and assumed that it was just a wacky, North American invention. If we'd known that we could have seen some ghouls and goblins wandering the atmospheric, medieval streets of Bevagna we would have come in last night.

    We are feeling a bit peckish but don't want something big to eat because Rick is going to make my famous spaghetti sauce tonight. (I can only make three dishes well – a spaghetti sauce that I also use for lasagne, chicken and dumplings, and coq au vin. That's it for my gourmet repertoire.) There's a pizzeria along Corso Giacomo Matteotti that has lovely looking slices on offer, but we've had a lot of that, too. We're after something different.

    A little further on we see, in a pasticceria window, a display with a pumpkin and Halloween ghosts and witches and a dazzling array of cookies. Because it looks so dark inside, we assume it's closed so we only press out noses against the door and salivate. Suddenly, someone says 'scuzi' and opens the door. We go in and it's heavenly. Pasticceria Polticchia is an Aladdin's Cave of gastronomic delights. Finally, we choose cookies shaped like a 'U' with each end covered in chocolate - they taste like a dense shortbread. And pistacchio squares that are scrumptious. We sit on the church steps, people watching, and eat our treasures.

    But as delicious as this diversion is, we are still hungry for something....something really different. I don't know which one of us thinks of it first, but Rick says it almost at the same time that I do – what we really want is a Quarter Pounder. I know it's shameful, decadent, pointless, wretched, etc., but we can't help it. After almost two months from home, what we crave is a McDonald's meal.

    We both remember, when we were leaving Assisi yesterday, seeing a sign advertising McDonald's, although we don't remember where it was located. Using my finely honed navigating logic and McDonald's savvy, I convince Rick that a fast food joint would probably be located along the SS75, the major highway going past Assisi towards Perugia. So we head on out in our Quest for a Quarter-Pounder.

    Let me say that we should get an award from McDonald's HQ for being one of their most persistent customers. The fast-food haven is not, as I predicted, along the SS75, but rather near the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, located beneath Assisi. After a terrifying ride down a one-way street, accosting a nun for directions and eventually following a group of limb-linked teenagers to the fount of all that is greasy, we get our Quarter Pounder fix.

    Afterwards we feel, as all junkies do, guilty. Here we are in one of the most incredible gastronomic spots in the world, and we spend our day chasing down a hamburger. Rick says to me, as we drive away, "You'll never be able to talk about this on Fodor's." Well, they say confession cleanses the soul.

    On the way home, we stop at Bevagna again and buy some fresh pasta at La Casareccia, which we'd seen on our earlier visit. The choices are incredible and there are so many other things to buy, but we finally decide on a ciriole pasta, which is thick and velvety.

    Dinner that night is stupendous. We finish our meal with a bottle of Sagrantino wine given to us by Silvana. We take a walk down by the pool and gaze out over the Umbrian countryside. Lights twinkle in the valley and on the hilltops, and from somewhere below us there are sounds of visitors wishing their hosts good night, car doors slam, there's a child's sleepy cry, the sudden sound of a car horn as it's leaned on by mistake. Then another round of goodbyes and some laughter. We really don't understand the words, but the rhythm of the ritual is familiar. An amazing day – a Giant Pumpkin, a Quarter Pounder and Ricky's Splendiferous Spaghetti Sauce.

    The next morning we go to Orvieto. It's a brisk, autumn day with clear skies, a cool breeze and the leaves seem to be changing colour as we drive by. It takes us about an hour to get to Orvieto from Le Case Gialle.

    The drive is very pretty; it reminds us of a route we take at home from Sparwood to Cranbrook, in British Columbia.
    As you start to climb towards Orvieto, the SS48 winds through these wonderful mountain passes with tunnels and then you come to this huge lake and dam – Lake Corbara – that reminds us of a place at home called Lake Koocanusa that straddles the Canadian/U.S. border. Lake Corbara is an artificial lake created after the construction of a water-power plant, but it is surrouned by thick woods and green fields and there are stunning views everywhere we look. The lake and its surroundings are part of the Parco Fluviale del Tevere. It's strange to see this very Canadian-looking landscape with Umbrian villages hanging off the edges of the hilltops.

    When we get to Orvieto, we have a choice, according to Rick Steves, to either park at the bottom and take a funicular (the Funicolare Bracci) or drive to the top. We decide to head for the top and although the road is very windey, there are magnificent views at every turn. We park across from the funicular entrance in Piazza Cahen, which is also where the local buses stop (the funicular runs are suppose to coincide with minibuses – Line A & B – that go to and from the old town centre). We decide to walk, but stop first at the Fortezza di Albornoz, where there is a lovely, public garden and a washroom that is, at that moment, a godsend. There are also beautiful views from a lookout that seems to hang over the valley.

    On our way to the Duomo, we come across the Banca di Roma and decide to try to cash a traveller's cheque. We'd been warned on Fodors that it is a waste of time but want to see for ourselves. The bank entrance is very intimidating, you have to press a button, and when they buzz you in, you enter this little capsule thing. Once in the capsule, you have to buzz again and they let you into the bank. Being a tad claustrophobic there is no way I am entering the bank-pod. I watch Rick through the windows and as the minutes stretch into an hour, I can see that he is becoming more and more upset. My husband is probably the calmest person I know, but I can tell by his body language, the hands in the air, the number of people gathered around the teller serving him – that things are not going well.

    At one point, he turns around and looks at me, rolls his eyes and throws up his hands. I figure I'm going to have to do a one-person commando raid on the bank to get him out. I am just starting to figure out how to cripple the bank-pod when Rick emerges. He never did cash the traveller's cheque and we've wasted an hour of our life. The bank wanted to charge 10 euros for every transaction, and would only cash one check per transaction. Since our traveller's cheques were in 50 euro denominations, we would be paying $15 Cdn. to get $75. Seems outrageous to us. So, we just go to a bank machine down the street and get our cash.

    We find La Grotta Trattoria, on via Luca Signorelli, a restaurant recommended on this board and on slowtrav. The place is empty, and we aren't sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but the smells coming from the doorway are so good, we decide to go in. Ten minutes later, you can hardly move – every seat is taken! About 2/3 of the people are Italian, the rest Americans, Brits and, of course, Canadians. I decide today that I'm not going to use any English in restaurants and it is a lot of fun. The Italians are so nice if you try to speak Italian. We each have the tagliatelle amatriciana, share a mixed salad and a bottle of water and it costs 28 euros. We rarely order wine with our meals in Italy, which is such a shame, but we don't want to take the risk of drinking and driving. And I don't want to drink, if Rick can't. Of course, we certainly make up for it when we get home! Two thumbs up for La Grotta Trattoria.

    Coming upon the Duomo in Orvieto is another jaw-dropping moment in Italy. With its incredible mosaics, many of which are the exact shade of the blue sky above, it is spectacular. As we walk closer and look at it head-on, it almost seems like it is a storefront cathedral – as if it doesn't have anything behind it. It's only from the side that we get a sense of dimension.

    The Duomo is closed until 2:30 pm, so we sit on the steps and people-watch. Rick dashes back to the car to get our coats, the wind has come up, and it's often cold inside the churches. A small, green garbage bag is caught in the currents that swirl around the Duomo and all of us sitting on the church steps are watching it. It goes straight up in the air, then comes crashing down, skitters along the steps, aiming – kamikaze-style – at people, swooshing in between couples, teasing small children. Soon everyone is either giggling or laughing. Kids are trying to chase it, adults trying to avoid it – in a strange way it brings this disparate group of people sitting on the Duomo steps together.

    Inside, the Duomo is also impressive. The stonework is in a black and white vertical stripe pattern that reminds me of prison uniforms. It seems as if they are setting up for a television production inside, there are road-crew kind of guys setting up lights, cables and instruments – even a large set of drums! It's somewhat surprising finding such an impressive church in such a small town, but apparently, it's because of the blood-stained cloth kept in a silver-gilt reliquary in the 'Chapel of the Corporal', a little mini-church to the left of the main altar.

    The story goes that in 1263 a puzzled priest named Peter of Prague (try saying that very quickly), stopped at a nearby church, on his way to Rome, and expressed some doubts about the bread used in Communion really being transformed into the body of Christ. During Mass, as he held the host high, the bread began to bleed, running down his arms and onto a linen cloth, a 'corporal' on the altar. The cloth was brought to Orvieto where Pope Urban was holidaying and the amazed Pope immediately proclaimed a new holiday – Corpus Christi (Body of Christ). The Orvieto Cathedral was built to display the relic.

    After exploring the Duomo, we slowly make our way back to the car, enjoying the wares displayed in all the shops, and the people in the streets. On our way out, we buy some Orvieto wine (white) for me and some Umbrian wine (red) for Rick.

    When we get home, we watch CNN, as we do every night, to catch up on what has been happening in the world. It is so depressing. I am struggling with how to reconcile the tensions in the world and the beauty that we've seen on this trip. We've been a part of so much that is meaningful, eternal, inspired and transcendent. We've eaten things that are fresh and delicate, robust and smooth. We've experienced a slice of Eden, driven on mountain tops, got lost in grape-scented valleys. We've connected with people from a different culture and found them to be decent, fun-loving, gentle and exuberant. And yet this has all been experienced against a background of war, senseless killing, intolerance and stupidity. It's hard to grasp and make sense of it all.

    To get me out of my 'mood' Rick starts to flick the channels on the TV. After the first day, when we discovered everything was in Italian, we haven't bothered to look at any of the other channels. Suddenly, we see Silvana's husband, Maurio, being interviewed by a fellow with a microphone, standing at the edge of his olive estate. Maurio is the president of the local wine and olive growers association (La Strada del Agrantino). He rather reminds me of Oliver Reed in Gladiator, complete with big, fat cigar and beard. I understand a few words here and there and try to translate for Rick. It's fun to actually 'watch' Italian television.

    Rick flips to the next channel and it's an Italian game show. We watch it for a few seconds trying to figure out what is going on and all of a sudden, Rick says, "It's Deal or No Deal." And that's exactly what it is. The Italian version. We really aren't great fans of the show but have occasionally watched fellow-Canadian Howie Mandel and so understand the premise. We also watched a few times in England.

    It's hilarious to see the different ways different cultures approach the same game. In the U.S. version, Howie is friendly and a bit flashy, with beautiful women opening the suitcases. And he is bald. In England, Noel Edmonds is the host and he is reserved, slow-moving, and measured in his approach to the contestants. The boxes, not suitcases, are held by everyday people who themselves may be contestants. Noel's hair looks as he could stand in gale force winds and not a lock would be out of place.

    In Italy, the host is Flavio Insinna and he is a maniac. He never stops talking, runs from contestant to audience, peeks in the boxes, moans, cries, and by the end of the hour is dripping, visibly, with sweat. Each contestant represents one of the twenty regions of Italy and, like England, those holding the boxes are regular people. Family and friends are brought out on stage, and even the family dog. (The show is called 'Affari Tuoi' in case you are in Italy and want to watch it.) Flavio has a thick head of lustrous dark hair and constantly runs his hands through it.

    Later on, when we mention to Silvana that we watched 'Deal or No Deal', I think she is disappointed in us. She raves on for about 10 minutes about how stupid the show is. We don't say anything, just smile and nod – another guilty pleasure we must keep secret.

    We only have four nights left in Italy. It's hard to believe that it will soon be over. We came here believing that it would be our only visit and now we know that however we can manage it, we have to return.

    Next...Part XI - The Balcony of Umbria, It's a Small, Small World and Taking on the Garage Dictators in Florence

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    I am enjoying your wonderful eperiences and vivid descriptions. My husband and I will be making a similar trip in late October. My question for you is of a practical nature. What type of clothing did you pack? I know that layering is a must, but at that time of the year did you need a winter coat, rain coat, sweaters, umbrella? I'm lookig forward to your last installment!

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    Hi rpowell - Glad you are enjoying my ramblings. Hope you and your husband have a great time. If you send me an email at [email protected] I'll send you our packing list. But generally, you're right, layering is important. We didn't take winter coats - I don't know where you are from, but in Canada that means a parka and we definitely didn't need that. Both our jackets were fairly light-weight, but roomy enough so we could wear a t-shirt and sweater underneath. We didn't take a rain coat, but did have an umbrella. Both our jackets had hoods that tucked up inside. The few times it did rain, we either used that time to see things inside, eat in a restaurant or picnic in the car. Let me know if you have any other questions.

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    rickmav - How interesting that you are not allowed to set your thhermostat above 18 celsius (about 64 Fahrenheit) in that part of Italy. I wonder how that could be enforced and what happened if you turned the heat up a bit?

    Looking forward to your final 4 days. This has been so interesting and just packed with information.

    Thanks for taking so much time from your busy life to post such an informative trip report.


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    rpowell - I tried to send the packing list to your email but it keeps getting returned. I've tried typing it in or just replying to your message and still the same. Is there another email I can send the packing list to?

    Hi SandyBrit - I didn't think to ask Silvana what would happen if it was above 18 or how they monitored it - maybe the amount of gas used on their monthly bill divided by the number of days and cost of gas - or maybe there are heat police! Glad you have enjoyed the report.

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    Next...Part XI - The Balcony of Umbria, It's a Small, Small World and Taking on the Garage Dictators in Florence

    Another crisp, autumn day this morning. Did some laundry by hand and hung it on the balcony. Hope it's there when we get back! We decide to drive into Montefalco, one of Silvana's favourite towns. It's known as 'La rhinghiera dell'Umbria' – the 'balcony of Umbria' because of its views. The journey there is picturesque, all these wonderful hills dotted with the green-silver gleam of olive trees.

    We enter Montefalco through the Porto San Agostino. The town is peaceful and charming, and although Silvana has said that there are more than 5,000 inhabitants, it is very quiet. Strange to think that there have been people living here since the 4th c. Montefalco is in the middle of Umbria's most important grape-growing area and is the birthplace of eight Catholic saints. We stop at two churches as we wander, both empty except for us.

    The Church of San Agostino dates from the 13-14th c. and has parts of the original frescoes inside, they are quite beautiful, particularly the Coronation of the Virgin. Weirder, is a long, glass box that has, what looks like, the crumpled figure of a man inside. Apparently, it is the mummified body of Beato Pellegrino (the "Blessed Pilgrim").

    The man, so the story goes, came to Montefalco on pilgrimage. When it got late he asked the friars if they had a bed he could use for the night. After 'checking in', he returned to the church to pray. In the morning, the sacristan found the pilgrim sitting on the ground with one hand supporting the confessional. Sometime during the night, he'd passed away.

    The friars buried the body, but the day after the burial the body of the 'Blessed Pilgrim' was found in the church, in the same position, with one hand against the confessional. This continued for some time. Finally, the friars put the body in the bell tower, where it remained for 100 years without decomposing. Eventually, the friars decided to place the 'Blessed Pilgrim' in a more public spot where he could inspire others. I'm not sure he had that affect on me.

    Also, inside the church is the most amazing, tiny, carved figures that come to life when you flip a switch (after making a donation to the church). The main part of the display is a Nativity scene complete with flying angels. The rest is a village, full of all the different people doing the various things that people in a village do – like baking bread, packing up a donkey, fishing, etc. There is even a moving water wheel. I keep putting coins in the donation box and flipping the switch because each time everything starts moving, I see something different. I think any child – or adult - would be mesmerized with Montefalco's version of 'It's a Small, Small World' for hours.

    Next, we visit the Museo Civico di San Francesco, housed in an old church. The frescoes here are amazing, depicting the life of St. Francis, and the colours are unbelievable. Benozzo Gozzoli, the Umbrian artist who painted them, lived from 1421 to 1497. He was a pupil of Fra Angelico's and worked with Ghiberti and over the years, painted in Rome, San Gimignano, Pisa and Orvieto, where you can still see many of his works. I'm not that crazy about some of the paintings in the museum, they all seem a bit overblown to me. I like something simpler. Rick likes the frescoes and the fact that the building is very warm.

    Next, we walk towards the Piazza del Commune, the central square in Montefalco, which is surrounded by lovely, old buildings. This is where Maurio, Silvana's husband, has his office as president of the La Strada del Agrantino. Silvana has recommended Enoteca L'Alchemista for lunch, but it seems to be closed, so we have lunch at a cafe-internet bar called Caffe de Corso. It reminds us of an Italian version of 'Central Perk' from the show 'Friends' and, in fact, there is a large, flat screen TV in one corner that is showing commercials for 'Friends' reruns – in Italian, of course – when we come in.

    The staff don't speak that much English but are helpful and patient with our little bit of Italian. Good thing hand signals are a universal language. Rick has a pannini with salami and I have a pizza with proscuitto, mozzarella and tomatoes. They are both very good. It's also fun watching the Italian customers, particularly the style of the young Italian women - they are so beautiful. It must be a popular place for twenty/thirty somethings – there seems to be a lot of flirting and testosterone in the air.

    We do see our first 'stand-out in a crowd' Americans. The woman has flip-up sunglasses that she leaves up as she walks about, is wearing yellowish-brown pants that are very tight, and is eating something from a paper bag. Her husband is decked out in Chicago Bulls paraphernalia, from his cap to his striped socks. They are trying to change a reservation and want to use a computer but are having a difficult time communicating their needs to the proprietor. I try to help, although my Italian isn't very good when it comes to discussing the Internet. When the woman starts complaining about Italy and Italians, I excuse myself and return to my meal. Certainly not typical of Americans we have met on this trip.

    We walk to the belvedere, which juts out over the Umbrian countryside, and get a 360-degree view of the Vale de Umbria. Silvana has told us that you can see Perugia, Assisi, Spoleto, Trevi, Bevagna, Foligno, Bettano, Pissignano and a bunch of other small towns, as well as the Clitunno River. I'm not familiar enough with them all to be able to pick them out – let's just say it is a spectacular vista. And I'm so impressed with how tidy the vineyards and farms look, reminds me of England.

    We suddenly notice a body in the grass, below where we have parked, and think perhaps we've stumbled on our very own Italian murder mystery. But nothing so exciting – the body is actually two, a boy and girl and they are obviously oblivious to the rest of the world. You can tell how old I am because my first thought as I look at them is how can they possibly lay on the cold ground - I suppose when you are that age, 'rheumatism' is a foreign concept.

    We stop for gas on the way home and can't figure out the self-service instructions. We see where the gas comes from and know where it goes, but can't figure out where to put our money. We drive a bit further down the road and there is a little garage with this wonderful man who speaks no English but is very eager to fill our car with gas. I try to talk Rick into saying, 'quindiece euro, per favore', but he won't. I watch in the side window to see what he does and my ever-inventive husband merely flashes his five fingers three times and the man nods, fills the car with gas and away we go.

    Since we are nearby, we decide to stop at Bevagna. It's such an interesting place. It looks like it should be a hilltop fortification, with its serious, masculine-looking walls, and yet its built on level ground right by the road – which kind of takes away the attitude. We've read in a little booklet in our apartment that Bevagna's walls are built on 1st century Roman foundations. Amazing.

    Then we drive on to Gualdo Cattaneo, another walled town. The most striking thing about the town as you approach is the massive tower built by Pope Alexander VI. It's quite intimidating - maybe that's why we've waited until the last day to visit the place. We've driven by it so many times on our way to somewhere else, have even purchased supplies from the little shop on the main road, but have never gone inside the walls. There is a lot of new construction going on, so it is a bit dusty and noisy, but once you get inside, it's very still and strange. You feel like you are in one of those cheap, 'B' movies made during the 60s. And something surreal and LSD-induced is going to occur. Apparently, the name 'Gualdo' actually derives from the Old Saxon word 'Wald' meaning wood. How the word got to Italy, I haven't been able to discover.

    Before we leave, we buy a new batch of the Bacetto chocolates we've become addicted to – made in Perugia – from the little shop on the road.

    After we get home, we sit outside and drink some wine, watch a little CNN and go to bed early. We are sad to be leaving and it doesn't seem right to celebrate in any way. Silvana drops by for a farewell chat and brings her daughter, such a beautiful girl. It really does feel as if we are leaving something more than just a self-catering apartment. I can't explain it exactly, but it's as if we've been here before, we felt that comfortable. Of course, a lot of that is due to Silvana.

    It's cooled down outside but we open the windows anyway, cuddle under the blankets and breathe our last – for now – olive-scented, night air in Umbria.

    At 6:30 a.m., the rooster starts crowing. It's quite frosty with the open window and everything, and we stretch it out until 6:45 but then we have to get up and get going. Today, we are returning our 'damaged' vehicle to Florence and don't know what kind of drive it will be. Neither one of us is looking forward to driving into Florence, nor in trying to convince the garage dictators at Hertz that our 'dint' was there when we picked up the car.

    It is a lovely, clear morning as we drive away from Le Case Gialle and I feel strange that we are leaving another 'home' on this four-month odyssey. But we are also excited about spending Xmas in England and our next cottage in Wilmcote, just outside Stratford.

    We don't go very far before we come on a car accident. We can only see one car that's damaged, with its windshield all smashed up, but there are about 10-15 men all along the road, standing beside their cars. There is a person laying on the ground, off the road by some olive trees, and there are people kneeling beside her or him. A man steps forward from the crowd along the road and waves us through. About 10 miles later, we pass the ambulance climbing the hill towards the accident. Not a great way to begin the day – hope the person was okay.

    It takes us about two hours to get to Florence on the autostrada. We stop at an Autogrille en-route to pick up something for breakfast – and a bathroom break. The German gymnastics team – or some facsmile - is lined up to go in the washrooms, so I decide to go and eat the strudel we've bought first. When I go back to try the washroom again, they are still there. All of a sudden, this little Italian woman, who cleans the bathroom, grabs me by the arm, right out of the line-up, and marches me past the young women and into the men's washroom. I try and shield my eyes; I know there are at least three men with their backs to me. The cleaner pushes open a stall door, checks to make sure there are no male midgets lurking behind the toilet and says, 'Allora' – which I take to mean, 'For God's sake, just take a pee'.

    I try and be as quiet as I can be, I don't know what repercussions there will be if the men discover there is a woman in their midst. When I'm done, I take a deep breath, throw open the door and march quickly towards where I hope the entrance is. I leave a tip for the Italian woman in her basket as I pass by. She nods her head. And the gymnastic team are still lined up.

    I have to say I amaze myself, and my husband, that I manage to get us back safely to the Hertz garage in Florence. I use the map the Hertz representative gave us to get out of Florence, and a city map I have, and between the two and remembering certain landmarks, we arrive in one piece.

    At the garage, they are as indifferent to the car – and us - as when we were first there. So, we head for the Hertz office, certain that once the garage dictators have a better look at the car there will be a major to-do. And there is. We are in the office only a few minutes when one of the garage dictators walks in and says, in a loud voice so everyone can hear, 'There is a big problem with the car'. Everyone looks at us and my heart sinks.

    Rick sticks to his story that the 'dint' was there when we picked up the car and the Hertz representative becomes surlier and surlier. He has Rick (me, actually) write a story about when we picked up the car and how the garage dictator wouldn't do a walk around with us, the flashing wrench symbol, etc. But you can tell he doesn't believe us. Rick remains calm but assertive. Finally, the Hertz rep., who speaks excellent English, tells us that he will have to contact Rome and check the paperwork on the car. That will take some time so we agree that he will contact Francesca (the landlady) at our hotel, the Relais Cavalcanti. He calls us a cab and we go outside to wait, certain that we will end up paying a significant deductible and doing the 'what if' game. ('What if' we'd insisted on doing a walk-around inspection before we left with the car, 'what if' we'd called Autoeurope and asked their advice, etc.)

    As we are pulling away from the Hertz office in our cab – this is just like a movie scene - the Hertz representative runs out of the office building and chases after the cab banging on the windows. The taxi driver looks as perplexed as we are. Rick rolls down his window and the Hertz rep. tell us that he has just this moment heard from Rome and yes, we are right, the car did have a dint when we picked it up. His manner has completely changed. He is very apologetic and I think shocked that, in fact, we were right. Maybe, he'll be a bit more disposed to believe the next tourist who tells a similar story.

    It makes me even more cynical about the garage dictators though. Either they didn't see the 'dint' and they should have, or they did and tried to get some unsuspecting tourist, like us, to pay twice for the same damage. Or maybe they just like messing with the 'turistas' minds.

    Francesca is, as always, so welcoming when we arrive at the Relais Cavalcanti. We settle into our room, still a bit shocked about the car, but thankful everything has turned out okay.

    We realize we are starving. We have lunch at La Grotta Guelfa, just across the street (on via Pellicceria) from our hotel. The staff move a lot of people through while we are there, so we assume it must be a popular place. The crowd looks like an assortment of tourists and Italians on their lunch break. There is both indoor and outdoor seating and the staff are not overly friendly but efficient. They have a tourist menu, which is a very good deal, but you have to ask for it. I have a delicious chicken breast with mozzarella in this thin, exquisitely seasoned sauce and Rick has pici ragu. We share a salad and have a glass of wine each (no car to worry about now). I notice a lot of people are ordering fish dishes and seem to be enjoying them.

    After lunch, we continue to discover Florence. There is so much to see, or you can just sit, as we eventually do, and people watch while you eat some gelato (we buy ours at the Gelateria Caffè delle Carrozze near the Ponte Vecchio). I have two scoops: one double chocolate, the other orange; Rick has coconut and caramel. We buy some last-minute gifts from the market below our building, and then head back to the room for a short siesta.

    We sleep for an hour or so, take showers and then back out into the street. For some reason, Florence does this to us. We just want to be in the thick of things. In London, for example, where everyone is going a thousand miles an hour, we hate crowds. But in Florence, it seems as if everyone, like us, is just wandering. I can't imagine what it would be like in the summer though; I don't think I would like it then.

    We walk to the Ponte Vecchio, it's absolutely stacked with jewellery shops, and has been that way for centuries. In the middle of the bridge, we come upon a protest. There are people of different ages and nationalities dressed in black with white paint on their faces and on their backs is a piece of paper with the name of an Arab person killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. I gather it is family members who are bringing attention to the ordinary people that are being killed. They just stand there, not moving and silent. With a huge, autumn moon and the glistening lights off the water, it is an intense moment. There are others who are passing out leaflets to passers-by and later on I try to read the Italian – I can only understand some of it. Basically, it says that with all the armed conflicts going on in the world today, we are actually fighting another world war.

    After the Ponte Vecchio, we wander towards the Piazza della Signoria, considered the political heart of Florence since the Middle Ages. There is a sound and light show being projected on the Loggia dei Lanzi, with huge black and white photographs accompanied by the sounds of thunder and lightening. Inside the Loggia are 15 statues, including Cellini's 'Perseus' holding up the head of the Medusa, and it seems to fit with the theme of the photos. They all show the aftermath of disasters, earthquakes, floods, etc. Kind of depressing but very atmospheric, particularly with the monuments around, like the Fountain of Neptune and the equestrian statue of Cosimo I, flooded in purple light.

    There is a young, Chinese woman selling light sticks in the crowd and it adds another level of sensory excitement to our experience to watch the young kids wrapping them around their necks or throwing them in the air.

    We are still full from lunch, but buy a pannini to share - loaded with salami and cheese - and another gelato from one of the many shops on Via Calz. We walk and eat, then sit for a bit, watching the African men selling their leather purses on the street. They lay their wares out on blankets and when they see a police car coming down the street, they whisk up the blankets, step back into the shadows, and five seconds after the carabinieri leave, they are set up on the street again.

    We buy a small bag of roasted chestnuts from a vendor; we've never tried them before. The taste is unexpected, not nutty at all. Kind of like a potato, but with a buttery, sweet taste. They are very warm and make us feel a bit Christmas-y.

    After we go back to our room, we sit at our window and watch the goings-on in the square beneath us; it's a popular spot at night because of Il Porcellino – everyone wants to rub his snout. We eat some Italian potato chips, they aren't that bad, and drink wine and ask each other Trivial Pursuit questions from a game we've discovered in a bookcase in the breakfast room. We aren't very serious about answering the questions, there is too much happening outside, but it's fun to see who will be the first to get every question on a card right. As it turns out, we get sleepy before either of us manage it. We go to bed knowing that we have only one more sleep in Italy.

    Next...Part XII – Our Last Day in Italy (For Now)

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    Oh my... writing like this should be illegal....I am now ready to make a mad dash to the airport stowing myself away on the 1st flight to Italy! I read, I sigh, I read, I yearn, I read....oooooohhh...our trip back isn't for another 11 months...Rickmav, I won't last that long! A wonderful, beautiful trip report and as someone who's been married for 27 years I can appreciate so many of your marriage/age comments! Thank you ever so much for sharing with us!

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    Your story is keeping me laughing! My husband is trying to watch tv and I keep interrupting him to read portions of your story to him. I love the way you are eating gelato every time you turn around. That will be me!

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    Rickmav - I have to keep reminding myself I am not reading a book but that this is your actual trip report!

    Amazing how you were picked out of the queue for the ladies toilet by the cleaner to use the men's. Whatever did the other ladies in the queue think?


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    I received your packing list. Thanks. You certainly packed lightly! I imagine you were tired of those outfits by the time you returned home. I'm looking forward to your next installment.

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    Hello rickmav, I am going to be sorry to see the last of your trip report. The same feeling I get when I start the last chapter of a book I am enthralled with. Your generosity in taking the time to share the long trip you and your Rick experienced is so appreciated. Thank you!!

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    Part XII – Our Last Day (For Now) in Italy

    The next morning we are up early, not because of any noise but because of a smell. Of coffee. One of the guests has put a pot on in the little breakfast room down the hall from us, and it smells so good. Rick ventures out to see if there's any to share and, luckily, there is. The couple responsible for the coffee are French. (Or so Rick says. That could mean they are anything from Russian to Japanese. He always says people are French if they speak with an accent. Last time it turned out they were Scots!) Whatever country they are from, they are very nice to him and eagerly share the coffee they've made. But, boy, does it have a bite!

    Since we weren't sure when we might get a chance to see 'David' at the Galleria dell'Accademia, we haven't made reservations. But after a brisk 15-minute walk, we are there shortly after the museum opens and there is no line-up. (This is a Sunday, in early November.)

    I know it's a sin to be in Florence and not see more museums, but we figure we've been appreciating the museum of Florentine life – or a slice of it, anyway – out on the streets. We're glad that we do see the 'David', however.

    Michelangelo (I keep practicing the way the Italians say his name, kind of like 'Meeka an jello') was one talented man. It's amazing to think that Leonardo, Michelangelo and Titian all lived at the same time. It must have been a remarkable time to be alive.

    I never knew that other artists had actually worked on the block of Carrara marble Michelangelo carved 'David' from. Nor that the piece was originally intended to be displayed in the Piazza della Signoria. (In 1873 it was moved inside to protect it from weather, soot, etc.)

    I had read before that the statue of 'David' looks out of proportion when seen up close and personal. (I could make a Monty Python-type 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink' aside, but I won't.) So I was prepared for the odd-sized limbs when we walked in and looked up – way, way up. What I wasn't prepared for was the colour of the marble - I'd always thought it was white, the amazing way the curls have been carved, and the haughtiness of the face (I guess the guy's entitled, he just slew a giant).

    Some experts believe that Michelangelo made the head and hands larger, and the arms longer, because the statue would have originally been seen outside, and from a distance, and he wanted those parts to stand out. I'd also read that David's pose represents the combination of reflection and action;he rests on one leg – representing thought, while the other leg is bent - as if he were going to step off the pedestal and slay Goliath all over again.

    We sit for a bit and listen to what people are saying. It's kind of fun to look at people's reactions when they first walk into the room. It's also interesting to see the unfinished 'Slaves'. The statue was originally intended for Pope Julius II's tomb. Julius was Michelangelo's demanding patron for many years, and I've just finished reading a book about his daughter, Felice - which gives a fascinating glimpse of 15th and 16th c. life in Italy ('The Pope's Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice della Rovere by Caroline P. Murphy').

    On the way back to the hotel we check our email messages at the Internet Train located just around the corner from the Relais Cavalcanti, (everything is so close, why would anyone stay anywhere else?). You get a little credit card with the amount of time you want on it, and can use it at any of their branches. The fellow at the counter speaks perfect English and my fellow e-mailers are an international lot. We have been anxious to get back a confirmation from the hotel we are staying at on our first night in England (The Falkland Arms at Great Tew, just outside Banbury). Thankfully, it's there.

    We also check into our Ryanair flight (never again, she says. I'll explain this later). The flight leaves at 10:10 a.m. from the Pisa airport. It's a bit more than an hour by train from Florence and with all the security check-ins, etc. we have to take the 6:37 a.m. train. Yikes! Another early morning. We buy the tickets from a little travel agency recommended by Francesca – again, just around the corner from the hotel – for 10 euros (for both of us). I don't know where in the world you can travel by train that cheaply. Well, I haven't been everywhere in the world – but you get the idea. It cost 7 euros for a five-minute cab ride from the train station! Francesca has called us a cab for tomorrow morning at 6:10.

    Ryanair has rigid bag restrictions and you have to pay, what I consider, an outrageous amount for every kilo that you are over. That's, obviously, where they make their money. We've flown with them once before, from Manchester to Dublin, and that was a nightmare. Hope tomorrow is better (it isn't).

    Do a bit of gift shopping for people at home – nothing big because we don't have the room. Some earrings, scarves and an Italian soccer toque for my great-nephew. Rick barters with everyone. If it were up to me, I'd be paying them twice what they ask. Rick enjoys the back and forth as much as the vendors seem to.

    Rick runs our purchases back to our room and then we go to MammaMia for lunch (again, just around the corner on Piazza del Mercato Nuovo). It is very nice. We get a seat by the window and as we sit there, with our bottle of wine, framed by a dramatic pair of curtains in burgundy toile woven with gold thread, we are admired – or at least I think that's what's going on – by tourists walking by. The food is nicely presented and they offer us different menu choices for pre-set amounts. You can mix-and-match, which means we get a bit creative. The menu we select is 12 euros each and from four courses, you can each choose two things.

    So we decide to order different things and share. For the antipasti, Rick has bruschetta, which is delicious - although not quite as good as my sister Vanessa's. (It's to die for!). For the primi, I order rigatoni pepe al ragu with green and red peppers, tomatoes and meat sauce. For the secondi, Rick orders strips of beef in a creamy, cheese sauce and it comes with a mixed salad. I order the dessert, which is an amazing mousse, made with dark chocolate and strawberry and then drizzled with more chocolate. The waitress, who is lovely, even brings us two spoons! Also included is a litre bottle of water, and coffee – which we decline, since we are still buzzed from breakfast.

    We linger over our wine and it really is the perfect way to spend our last day in Italy. As we sit there, a bit tipsy from the wine and all the chocolate, I realize that I am in the midst of one of those transcendent moments where you know what it is to be living a well-lived life. I feel beautiful, I am in love, I am full and I am blessed. What else is there?

    To walk off lunch - and before my emotions turn maudlin – we head for Santa Croce to see the church where Michelangelo is buried (as well as Galileo – another favourite Renaissance man of mine. There's a great book about his daugher, "Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel). On the way there, we window-shop and examine watercolours and sketches done by a number of painters working outside. Oh, I wish I had that talent. I can paint in my mind, but stick figures are about as far as I can get when the pencil hits paper. My mother paints, and I am mesmerized by what she can create from 'air'.

    Just when we get to the church, 85 different tour groups descend at the entrance (I may be exaggerating a bit) - and it's mayhem. I actually lose Rick for a while but see his head bobbing about, in the middle of a group from Israel – or so their name tags say. He finally manages to get loose and we decide that the Basilica di Santa Croce will have to wait until our 'next' visit.

    So, we have our last gelato, (this is the point where you can sob), and sit on the church steps and people-watch. There is so much going on; my head is bouncing back and forth trying to keep on top of everything. There's a group of English boys (probably 14 or 15), sitting down from us, who are obviously visiting Florence with their teacher. He talks for a while and then each of them has to give a little presentation to the others on some piece of Italian history. They are actually quite serious about it for that age – I can't imagine a group of Canadian teenagers being so disciplined. There's a bit of good-natured teasing after each young man finishes, but underneath it all is a serious sense of competition. I admire the teacher for the way he's made the students each responsible for knowing a part of the puzzle that is Firenze. The bonus for us is that we get a series of open-air - and free - lectures on this incredible city.

    We decide it will be too sad to make a big production about leaving, so we pretend that we are just taking a shortish holiday away from Italy, and then we'll be back. We have to be up early, so wander back to our room, making sure to stroke Il Porcellino's nose as we go by. We re-pack our suitcases – we still can't take liquids into Britain, watch a bit of CNN and eat our last Bacetto chocolates. We sit at the window for a while, there's a tiny bit of fog obscuring the moon, but around it are glittering stars, like lanterns that will light our way back. For some reason, I'm reminded of a picture by Van Gogh, I think it's Starry Night.

    The next morning we are up at 5 a.m. and downstairs waiting for the cab by 6 o'clock. We are actually ready 25 minutes earlier but it is cold outside, so decide to stay warm and talk quietly in our room.

    Luckily, the cab driver is a few minutes early, so we don't have long to wait outside. Florence seems like another place at this time of the morning. There are only a few cars about, a person here and there – it's kind of eerie. We decide that next time we come we'll get up at this time and wander around, just to get a sense of the buildings and piazzas without noise and people.

    Even the train station seems quiet and we have no trouble finding our train. Rick helps an English woman and her mother with their luggage – they have tons of stuff. I don't want to stare but I can't help notice that the elderly mother looks like she has had the crap beat out of her. As soon as we sit down, they tell us their story. They were on a cruise when the mother fell and cut her head badly. She had to go into hospital where they monitored her for shock and sewed her head back together. Not only is there an ugly gash sitting diagonally across her forehead, but she has two black eyes and a huge bruise covering the lower part of her face.

    Obviously, they had to leave the cruise and are flying back to Liverpool from Pisa, through Florence. They both seem as if they are still in shock, and a bit fragile. Rick helps them to get settled into their seats and they are effusive in their thanks.

    It takes us about 1½ hours to get to Pisa. In my early morning doziness I've forgotten to stamp our tickets at the station – it's one of those illogical Italian rules that seems to add another level of complexity to a simple procedure. Of course, the lady conductor comes around to check tickets when I am in the loo – which Rick says I've arranged on purpose. It's left to him to charm her - lucky, he's good at that kind of thing. When I return, he tells me that she was very understanding and scribbled something on the ticket, which probably means, when it's translated, 'Look out for these idiots!'.

    The train takes us right to the Pisa airport, which is handy. We don't see much of the terminal because we're anxious to get through security; we've been told that line-ups at Italian airports can be very long. Of course, we haven't eaten anything – I assumed there would be somewhere at the airport where we could breakfast. In the departure area, there is only one pastry/coffee shop and everything on display looks desiccated and ancient. We are starving, so share a proscuitto and mozzarella baguette – I can still taste that horrid sandwich.

    Security is more serious than we've seen anywhere yet – including Heathrow. By the time we sit in our seats on the plane we've had our passports checked six times. We figure that they must have had a scare or something. And we would never fly with Ryanair again. Because there are so many people, and because there is no pre-assigned seating, it is a madhouse on the plane. People are actually pushing children and older people aside to get the seats they want. The stewards just stand to the side and let the insanity proceed. On top of everything else, the flight is 45 minutes late.

    We don't hold it against Italy, however. You get what you pay for, and we decided to go cheap on the return flight. Let that be a lesson for all you kids out there.

    I want to say how much I have loved writing about Italy. I didn't know until I started, that I have been using all of my senses as we travelled around the country, perhaps for the first time ever. I will never travel the same again. And your feedback and support have been meaningful, supportive and life enhancing. Thank you.

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    No, thank you Rickmav -

    I've so enjoyed seeing your journey through your eyes, and reviving my own memories.

    Your account of your last day reminded me of our family's experiences in florence [the week before you were there I think] staying in an apartment just round the corner from the accademia.

    like you we sat and stared at the David, and listened to the comments of others. unlike you, we then went "ugly baby spotting" - my kids' favourite museum and gallery passtime - and they have some corkers in the accademia. it's a mystery how all those wonderful painters managed to portrait the christ child so badly. and what's with the flying heads?

    we also forgot to clip our train tickets at florence station, but unlike you we got fined!!! 5e - fortunately not each.

    thanks again for sharing your memories,

    regards, ann

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    I doubt that my regret that this is the end of your wonderful vignettes is as great as your sadness at leaving Italy, but, trust me, you brought us along for the ride!

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    travelfan1 - 'Writing like this should be illegal' - I told my mother what you said and she was shocked. She doesn't have the internet and was worried I had been writing something 'dirty'. I had to assure her you meant it in a good way. Send me a postcard if you ever follow up on the stowing-yourself-away caper. Have a great time in Italy when you go - whenever that is!

    rpowell - Glad to make you giggle. Give my apologies to your husband. And, yes, I did get a bit tired of the same old clothes, but I'm not really a fashion-type. As long as I'm comfortable and look presentable, that's enough for me. Once we got to Italy, I bought a scarf in a beautiful olive green and once I figured out how to tie the darn thing, it really jazzed things up. Gelato rules!

    SandyBrit - "Amazing how you were picked out of the queue for the ladies toilet by the cleaner to use the men's. Whatever did the other ladies in the queue think?" - They were all so young, I think they thought this must happen when you get old: You get special permission to use the men's washroom.

    LoveItaly - Thanks for your kind words.

    annhig - "ugly baby spotting" - rude, but so true. My husband has an interesting variation. I won't go into detail but it involves women's breasts. Rick was shocked when I told him you got fined 5e - he didn't realize we were in that kind of trouble!

    Suja - You're welcome.

    LJ - Glad you enjoyed the ride - bumps and all.

    SRS - Thanks for sticking with me. Your feedback made me sit down at the computer and get on with it.

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    Rickmav, I have thoroughly enjoyed your reports. Thank you for sharing your travels with us.

    Your light packing comments reminded me of an Erma Bombeck article where she said she had gone on a group tour and had bought a three-piece corduroy suit with mix-and-match tops and blouses. She said at the end of the tour, she burned it and all the rest of the group gathered around and cheered.

    I'll be looking forward to your return-to-England report.

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    Rick has read my last comments and wants me to make a clarification - his comments about women's breasts are restricted to the paintings in museums, and it's not breasts but cleavage. He says I've made him sound like a letch.

    You give someone a small taste of fame and right away they want to control the script - and the script-writer!

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    Thanks for finishing the Italian report.

    Our move to Calgary is now very unlikely as my husband got an alternative job offer close to home. Just as well as I'd booked flights to Italy in November (from Boston)and it would have been tough to add on return flights to Calgary!

    I'll keep an eye out for the Crimbo in England report!

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    If anyone is interested in following our travels - we go to England next to celebrate the Christmas season. Shortcut:

    ssvw27 - Glad you enjoyed the report.

    highflyer - Congratulations on your husband's new job. And have a great time in Italy - remember we will be expecting a trip report!

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    As you may recall I previously expressed my thanks for your wonderfully written and engaging report . You both came to mind on the weekend just passed when in a local daily paper there was an account of a Funeral Service of a well known and liked Melbourne sporting and business identity . Death was not the cause of me thinking of you I hasten to add but rather Elizabeth Barrett Browning . I know you recited as much of one of her poems as you could recall whilst in Venice and as a tribute to your own marital bliss . The wife of the man who was being buried ,in her eulogy to him ,recited a stanza of a poem by Browning and so I thought of you .It is particuarly lovely and poignant .

    " I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
    With my lost saints - I love thee with the breath,
    Smiles, tears, of all my life! -
    and , if God choose,
    I shall love thee better after death. "

    I do not intend this to be maudlin and I hope no one is cross because it is not strictly on " travel " but you can see what impact your words had on my memory in that as strangers who have only met as it were " in cyberspace " my mind nonetheless turned to you and fondly recalled your trip report . John

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    Thank you John for keeping in touch. As someone who believes strongly in the interconnectedness of things I am pleased, but not surprised, that my stories have connected you to someone else's story. And your comments have allowed me to travel back to my wedding day. And Elizabeth Barrett's beautiful writing has connected us all.

    I think it's more than appropriate that we have this discussion on a travel site, since travel chief's purpose, in my opinion, is to connect us to others.

    Thank you for giving Rick and I yet another topic to discuss over coffee tomorrow morning.

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    Delighted. Keep well and happy. And I have not forgotten that I am toasting you both in Venice .I arrive there from Milan on 4th June and stay until the 11th so there will be ample opportunity to do so . I have also been inspired to search for a collected works of Browning . Searching on the net yesterday Christina Rossetti's name popped up as a double for purchase with Browning and ironically one of the loveliest pieces I know , again a memoriam to lost love , is by her .I think I might extract a nice sonnet and recite it somewhere wonderful whilst I am away .Best wishes .John

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    Dear rickmav,
    What a delight your travel report was!! It was at times quite touching, humorous, and most of all, filled always with such beautiful, sensory descriptions that I could almost taste the food, wine gelato (!), see the beautiful scenery and hear the music and birds. I totally agree with SandyBrit that I had "to keep reminding myself that I was not reading a book, but your trip report." I capped your report off by watching your slide show of Italy and I can tell you that now I reeeally cannot wait for September 21 to come! My heartfelt thanks for the time you spent giving us all such a beautiful gift!

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    Oh lovesroses, what lovely things to say. You made me go back and read the report again and it was as if I was there - and I didn't want to come home! Hope you have a wonderful time on your trip. Italy is magical.

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    Wow, who needs Harry Potter or fantasy when we have this riveting Appreciation of a wonderful alternate reality (Italy) and a serious sense of humor that had me laughing out loud often. Kudos !

    This is definitely the most entertaining trip report I've read online and that means probably out of a trillion or so available.

    I did enjoy the rare flights of fantasy when you imagined throwing Rick over your shoulder to save him from the bat and your nightmare of finding a flashing wrench behind the unveiling of the woman's eyes!

    We had a similar reaction to seeing the Florence duomo for the first time, in May '06. I hadn't seen photos of it for some reason. Photos of the Baptistery, yes, but not that main building. It's almost as if I was suddenly on another planet when I saw that -- or space-people might have deposited it when no one was looking.

    19th C or not, the facade truly is jaw-dropping. Colors and patterns I never imagined for a church.

    And your leg. Was surprised you didn't get medical treatment for that in case!, but glad it eventually healed okay. You're brave.

    We stayed 2 blocks from the Duomo (in a great place) and it made me so happy to be walking around there so easily on the very streets Michelangelo and da Vinci walked! On my last night in Italy I was walking 'home' and thinking how great I felt after walking all day and how terrific this place was for mind and body.

    I found my way back to the hotel (I am direction-challenged), and seeing the next street sign had the name I needed I was ecstatic! Soon, rest, and a good final dinner in Florence before flying out. And then I was on the ground, my leg hitting hard cobblestone on the stone's high point because the walkway was extremely narrow and I had fallen off the curb and into the street. I was so stunned and in such really bad pain that I couldn't get up. And was afraid to. A few people passed by as if this happens all the time! Finally, some British people came along and helped me up and I hobbled back to the hotel, a block away, declining with no small gratitude their offer to get me to the hospital. The leg was already twice as large, and after icing it, I still couldn't really walk without pain, so the Last Great Dinner in Florence we'd been looking forward to was out! We ordered pizza in. (Yes.)

    We had to leave at 4am to catch a plane for an 18 hour trip back home to San Francisco. Ideal air pressure for a swollen leg.

    A few days later, after getting back here, I wound up in 'urgent care' where the doctor had to make withdrawals from a large swollen lump of collected blood, via 3 long-needle insertions, after one long one to numb me, and then another to inject cortisone. Am glad that if the fall had to happen (I guess it did), it was on the last day of the trip. So I wondered how you got through that!

    As for the Duomo dome, I see you're going back in November. If you go to Florence, you really will want to go inside that Baptistery. The ceiling is just awe-inspiring. Old and New Testament stories in colored mosaic tile on gold leafing.

    Re David, I took one photo that showed how that would look from below as it was intended. It was originally to go higher up on a church (before the piazza decision) so, paying attention to perspective, the head would have to be bigger and the hands, if important, more visible. I do agree with the Thought vs Action thing, between head and hand.

    It's said that this David is different from the other sculptures in that it's of a tense moment before David takes his shot. His tension explains the size of his other imbalanced part because in times like this (whenever one must deal with a Goliath), it contracts, according to two university researchers in Florence.

    He's both tense and relaxed, depending on the angle of viewing -- this includes his face, which looks altogether different from one side, not usually seen because it's partially blocked. In sizing up Goliath and how best to attack this looming problem, his facial expression is very formidable from his left side and up. There's an online site that shows this.

    For me, seeing it in 'real life' was overwhelming because I couldn't understand how anyone could have chiseled something so beautiful and realistic from one 'useless' slab of marble. Little prepares you for the impact of it in person (for many of us).

    On my photo-report for Italy, with five pages for Florence, I have photos of the Baptistery ceiling on two of the pages and a set of photos of David at the Accademia, as well as of the copy at the Piazza.

    We also went to Carrara, near Lucca, which was the source for that marble slab. Michelangelo 'inherited' this one, which lay unused for something like 40 years after two failed attempts, but he spent months in Carrara area choosing the marble for his other pieces. The marble mountains or hills are quite a sight. Here are links for the pictures from my trip.

    Baptistry ceiling:
    David at Accademia:
    Marble quarries in Carrara

    I hope that eventually you also do a blog (Wordpress or for this trip-report and insert key photos for each part. Your description of what you took makes me sure they'd be excellent.

    Thanks for this fantastic trip report, and I envy you November!

    - Andrys

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    Andrys, thank you for your links--I have just spent and hour with my morning coffee viewing your pictures and dreaming of our trip in September--each day I am more eager to see with my own eyes and cannot wait! By the way, your pics. of the interior of the Siena Duomo w/o flash: what camera did you use? (I will be taking my new Casio Exilim [like the Elph]. I am not taking my 35mm along.) Just curious. :>

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    Glad you enjoyed those already! and that you're going to be there in little more than a month! I am a shade of green right now.

    In the Siena Cathedral, I used the Canon Powershot (Elph) s410, a very small camera that's fairly flat, though not as small as your Elixim! Flash was prohibited and can't light that kind of distance anyway. I used iso400, the highest setting on that camera for sensitivity to light, and held the camera as steady as possible with exposures from 1/6th of a second to 1/20th. I sometimes used a wall or a rail to brace against, since that camera had no image stabilization. Nothing to brace with for those gorgeous floor mosaics but I was motivated as they were just awesome work. I also bought two books on the church and the floors.

    The one very dark picture with the statue at the top right was taken with my new Canon Rebel XT and a telephoto lens at minimum setting.

    You can click on 'Exif' under the photos, to expand them all for camera info.

    How long will you be there?

    I see you mentioned a slideshow of Italy by rickmav. How do I get to that?

    Thanks for visiting :-)

    - Andrys

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    thanks for your info about the camera info on "Exif".

    We will be gone 14 days including travel.

    For rickmav's slide show: click on the link he included about 8 posts above your last one.

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    Hi Maven. There have been scores of interesting and helpful postings on this site that have made planning our upcoming 6-week trip much more fun and a lot easier. I do thank all the posters.
    But yours was the icing on the cake. I am so glad that it popped up when I was perusing the site a couple of days ago. It took me several days to complete and even copy some of it. I was really feeling badly that it was over and then the photos came. Spectacular!!!
    We are leaving on September 26th from Phoenix, so will be in Venice and Chianti at about the same time of year that you were. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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    Rickmav, thank you so much for your wonderful trip report. We were in Italy last October for two weeks and like you I was so unprepared for the emotion I would feel while there. Your story brought back that feeling and it is fresh and real again. I also enjoyed your and Rick's ability to face new and/or uncomfortable situations with humor and openness to learning. We too kept talking about our "next time" in so many places we visited. Our "next time" will be in September in Venice for our 24th anniversary. We just decided to go for a week and stay only in Venice this time to really absorb the feeling of being there. Also, thanks to all of you that posted your comments and suggestions; they are priceless. Grazie mille.

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    Hi bfrac. You're welcome and I'm glad you enjoyed the report. I envy you - a whole week in Venice! When you return, please let us know all the wonderful, funny, bizarre things you discovered.

    Bellini1, don't worry, I've been called worse. In my younger days, a young man, not hearing my name correctly over the loud music in the pub we were in, called me 'Anus' for the rest of the evening. Was a short term relationship.

    marigross - You're welcome again. Thanks for letting me know that the report still has some use.

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    rickmav, I first discovered your report in March when I began researching our trip to Italy. October seemed a long way off then, but shortly we will be leaving on the 16th. I am in a bit of a panic. We were a group of 3 best friend, newly retired couples and one had to cancel this week due to health issues. The remaining four of us are still excited about the trip despite the change in plans. I hope we have the wonderful experiences that you had and I only hope that I will be able to relate our trip details as beautifully as you did! I am a huge scrapbooker, but really never kept a daily journal (except when our kids were little and we all wrote together). My goal for this trip is to journal daily. I do have a question about that. Your descriptions were so clear. Did you take notes along the way, or just write from memory at night?
    During our 3 weeks we will be visiting Rome, Venice, Lake Garda, a week in a villa in Tuscany, and flying home from Milan. In Venice we are staying in the Galleria as you did. We are looking forward to lots of gelatto, and going on a huge diet when we return home. Thanks for the packing list you sent months ago. My husband and I are taking 2 small rolling suitcases and 1 backpack. We're hoping for good weather because we love to walk and explore. Thanks again for your wonderful trip report. Ruth

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    rickmav, thanks for your wonderful trip report! I know so well that feeling of just wandering around Florence. Just to be there in that amazing place where the Renaissance flourished.

    I know also how hard it can be when you have to start speaking whatever Italian you have to real Italians! On our first visit we were with our daughter who had lived in Florence for a year, and she pretty much dealt with everything. But after that, it was my job, as my husband did not listen to any lessons, either.

    I have a question about your experience with Hertz. We are picking up a car when we leave Florence and wonder which office it was. Was it on Via Ognissanti? I am not looking forward to dealing with those folks, but would at least like to be prepared!


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    Hello Ruth. You must be getting very excited. I think you'd have to try really, really hard not to have a good time in Italy. had to cancel this week due to health issues. The remaining four of us are still excited about the trip despite the change in plans. I hope we have the wonderful experiences that you had and I only hope that I will be able to relate our trip details as beautifully as you did! I am a huge scrapbooker, but really never kept a daily journal (except when our kids were little and we all wrote together). My goal for this trip is to journal daily. I do have a question about that. Your descriptions were so clear. Did you take notes along the way, or just write from memory at night?
    During our 3 weeks we will be visiting Rome, Venice, Lake Garda, a week in a villa in Tuscany, and flying home from Milan. In Venice we are staying in the Galleria as you did. We are looking forward to lots of gelatto, and going on a huge diet when we return home. Thanks for the packing list you sent months ago. My husband and I are taking 2 small rolling suitcases and 1 backpack. We're hoping for good weather because we love to walk and explore. Thanks again for your wonderful trip report. Ruth


    Author: charnees
    Date: 10/07/2007, 04:31 pm
    rickmav, thanks for your wonderful trip report! I know so well that feeling of just wandering around Florence. Just to be there in that amazing place where the Renaissance flourished.

    I know also how hard it can be when you have to start speaking whatever Italian you have to real Italians! On our first visit we were with our daughter who had lived in Florence for a year, and she pretty much dealt with everything. But after that, it was my job, as my husband did not listen to any lessons, either.

    I have a question about your experience with Hertz. We are picking up a car when we leave Florence and wonder which office it was. Was it on Via Ognissanti? I am not looking forward to dealing with those folks, but would at least like to be prepared!


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    Well, will try this again. Don't know what kind of spooky thing just happened when I tried to post, but I'll give it another go.

    Hello Ruth. You must be getting very excited about your trip. I think you'd have to try really, really hard to have a bad time. I didn't keep a traditional journal but rather wrote letters home to my mother. Since we were going to be gone for 4 months, I really wanted to share everything we were doing with her (I adore her) so the letters seemed a good way to connect with her and to have a ready-made journal of our trip when we got home. I wrote 1-2 letters a week.

    I suppose I took a chance that some of the letters would get lost, but none of them did, although a few arrived out of order (which made some interesting reading for my mom!).

    I always kept the current letter in my purse and whenever we sat somewhere for a bit I'd take it out and make a few notes on things we'd seen or done. I also found that reviewing my digital photos at the end of every day while I was writing the letter was a great way to keep things current. Another thing I do is take a quick pic of the menu that's posted outside the restaurant we are going into so I can remember the right name of the dishes we ordered.

    I also have always tried to travel with my senses - although I never knew how wonderful that could be until I got to Italy. I try and use everything - sight, smell, etc. when I am travelling and it is a remarkable way to remember things later on, by putting yourself in the moment. All the wonderful tastes, smells, etc. just come flowing back.

    Have a wonderful time!

    Hi Charnee. Thanks for your kind words about the report. I can't wait to go again. I think our Hertz office was on Maso Finiguerra, which I believe is just around the corner from Borgo Ognissanti. My advice for anyone renting a car, after our experience, is:
    1. When you are filling out the forms in the office, before you go to the garage, ask if there has been any previous damage to the vehicle. If so, ask that the report be attached to your paperwork. It's better to ask this at the rental office, rather than the garage, because they usually speak very good English in the rental office. Make a note of your conversation and the rep's name and the date. Don't forget to ask for a map on how to get out of Florence, with the route marked.
    2. When you get to the garage, ask the person who brings you the car if there is any damage? Again, take a name. You probably won't have much luck with this, but it's worth the try. Maybe, you can find out how to say it in Italian from someone on this board.
    3. Don't be rushed at the garage. Make sure you get the car you booked. The attendant will bring it to you and will leave it running (I think they want to get you out of there quickly). But don't move until you make sure there aren't any icons flashing on the dashboard. If there are, don't go anywhere until someone has made them stop.
    4. Before you leave the garage, walk around the car, taking pictures of every side, plus the windshield and bumpers. Make sure you don't delete these pictures during the trip and it would be great if you could time-stamp them.
    5. Follow the map you got from the rental office. If you do, you will be able to get out of the city without gaining too many grey hairs.

    Hope I haven't made you feel more scared. We did none of these things and it turned out okay - but there was a lot of stress that we didn't have to have if we'd done the above. Have a great trip.

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    Thanks for the ideas on getting a rental car in Florence. You didn't scare me, not at all, but I'd rather not have to deal with the hassles you did if I can avoid it.

    I do study my Italian tapes (tapes! -- that's how old they are!) and will definitely look up, "Is there any damage to this car?" before I go.

    Thanks, Charnee

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    We rented from Hertz 3 weeks ago at Florence Airport. The Hertz people were very nice all of them spoke english. We had the same experience at Milan Station and Milan airport.
    Get a GPS it will make you travel so much relaxing.

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    Cybertraveler - glad you enjoyed it. We are planning on going to Italy again next fall (2009) for one month and are already excited about it. This time we will include Rome and revisit Venice. After that, we're not sure. But we will definitely be using this board to plan. I'm also doing a presentation at our local library in Sept. on a first-timer's look at Italy, they have an Armchair Travel series that is a lot of fun. Take care.

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    Hello cybertravel, I am so glad you found rickmav's trip report. I was sure you would enjoy it! And rickmav, your future trip to Italy is good to know as that means we will get another wonderful trip report, yes?

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    Wow and Wow! Rickmav, I'm so glad your TR was retrieved. What a lovely report and I'm also glad that you have remained a Fodor's poster so I can send along more compliments. It was very enjoyable and beautifully written.
    And, what is it about Italy that grabs the heart? It isn't always easy to figure the ways. As you said, having to get tickets validated seem so strange! My hub also charmed the conductor when we forgot!
    And we have to wait until 2009 to read another report?? I'll read about England and look at your pix next. Many thanks, TD

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    Thanks so much for that unbelievable trip report! My wife and I are planning our first trip to Italy for next fall. Your report will serve us immensely! Not only was it informative, but it was also so well written and funny!

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    Rickmav, I just loved this report! I am planning my trip to Italy in April and I can't get enough information. I know I will come back to this many times before I leave....Great writing!!

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    Hello Mavis, I know your trip was two years ago, but I just came upon it and have had the most enjoyable afternoon. I have read numerous wonderful trip reports over the years, but your's was something special. Your way with words, the way you are able to use all of your senses, and the funny and upbeat personality of your writing bring everything wonderful about Italy back to me. I have been everywhere you went, but of course not the two apartments you rented, and I could see each gorgeous destination all over again.

    There are so many things I would like to comment on but will refrain. It would be too long. Have you already left for your 2009 return trip to Italy? If not may I suggest that if you return to Umbria that you visit Spello. It is a small town just south of Assisi and was definitely one of my favorites. I am now researching for Spring 2010 trip to Venice and Florence and although I was already excited for the trip, your descriptions make me almost unable to wait. Thank you so much.
    As soon as I have some time I will spend another enjoyable afternoon reading all of your England reports. It is another of my favorite places and I cannot wait to read them. Char

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    Mavis: Thank you so much for sharing.
    I just stumbled across your Fantastic review of Italy.
    My husband and I,of 37 years,have had the undeserving privilege to visit
    Italy 4 times in the last 9 years.
    Italy just keeps calling us back.
    On our first trip we thought we would never be able to come back.
    Obviously we made sure that wasn't true.
    Our first trip was 10 days-visiting Venice/Florence/Rome.
    We fell in LOVE and hard.
    Our 2nd trip was One week in Paris and One week in Venice.
    Our 3rd trip was with another couple-One week in Paris and
    10 days in Tuscany/Cinque Terre'.
    Our 4th trip was one week in Rome and then on to Tuscany,Capri,Sorrento.
    We too followed allot of Rick Steve's advice.
    We had a 5th trip planned based around an Andrea Bocelli's concert in Lajatico,outside PISA for July 18,2009.
    Sad to say the economy has hit us hard and we had to cancel our trip, while our 8 other friends went on to enjoy that trip.That was hard......
    Through your written words, I could transport myself to all of those sights,scenes & smells that you experienced.It's been incredible reliving it.
    We started planning a trip for 2010, but have come to realize that
    the money is not going to be there.So 2011 will be the new plan.
    So many people(who have never been to Italy)
    ask us why we don't go somewhere else....what can I say...they don't understand.
    Thank you for sharing the name's of where you stayed and ate,
    so many bloggers don't do that.
    Thank you for sharing how you remembered the things you wanted to write down by sharing it in a letter with your mom.And where you ate.
    Excellent advice about reviewing your pictures each day.
    I will do that next trip.
    Your car experience.....reminds me, that when arriving in Florence we were taken to our room by Taxi from the Train Station, it was terrifying. Right then and there we all decided that we were not driving in Florence.We immediately cancelled our car we had reserved.Deciding that we would take day trip tour's.Which we did.
    One to San Gimignano,knowing we would have to return there one day,and we have.We have driven in Tuscany since then and love it.
    But it can be quiet haring to rent and or return a car.
    On one of our trips we returned a car in Pisa.
    My husband dropped me and our 2 friends and "ALL" our luggage off at the Train Station, while he returned the car. The garage dictator's barely acknowledged that he was there.So he jumped out of the car, left the engine running, only hoped it all worked out, threw his hands in the air and said " Only in Italy" then made a mad dash to catch the train with us,off to the Cinque Terre'.
    But thats what going to Italy is all about, taking one day at a time, laughing at yourself and enjoying the experience no matter what.

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    Hi charuddy and sally. Sorry I didn't get back to you before but I am waiting for a lumbar fusion on my back and am not allowed on the computer very much. I'm so glad you enjoyed the trip report. Even I love re-reading it - it brings everything back so quickly. We didn't go to Italy in 2009, I was starting to have trouble with my back then and decided we'd do a mellow visit to Devon and Somerset. But I had to go to London and it was hell. So travel is off the books for now, hopefully once I have the surgery (horrible wait times in Canada), we'll be back to Italy. Take care.

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