Trip of a Lifetime

Aug 21st, 1999, 02:39 PM
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Dear Sandra,

Like you, I had my first trip to Europe also at about the same time. However, I decided to stay in London (with side trips to other cities in England) because I wanted to have a more in-depth feel of the "English country" that have been etched in my mind -- from all those literature, history, art, movies, legends, etc. -- since childhood.

I shall leave for another day to experience the France of Victor Hugo, Bonaparte, Marie Antonnette, etc.; the Greece of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander (the Great); the Italy of Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael, the Ceasar's, Roman papacy, etc.; the Germany of Goethe, Mozart, Hitler, etc. Japan, China, Russia, India, Spain, Scandinavia, Egypt, Israel -- so many places to see and experience, but so little time.

Thus, I am enjoying the prose of your first trip to Europe very much because of its personal touch. Some of them I will see one day. Others I may just be able to enjoy through my readings and the experience of others, such as yours. I wonder therefore if you would consider having your "trip of a lifetime" included in a webpage I wanted to create -- for myself as well as for others who may find the page one day. In such a webpage, the places you have seen will come alive even more with your own personal snapshots (if any). Also, everyone will benefit tremendously from the rich information of hotels, restaurants, places to see, tips, etc. that you provided.

Thus, if in the future I will have a chance to visit the places you have seen, I may enjoy them more because in my mind, reading your prose, there was another person who once have cherished "the place I would then be standing in". I hope I shall be able to write my own trip with such life as you have written. Unfortunately, English is not my native tongue and may not be able to bring to life the impressions etched in my mind -- as you have done.



P.S. -- If others read this message and would be interested to have the recollection of your trips included in such a webpage, please send me an e-mail too. I would be very grateful.
Aug 21st, 1999, 03:08 PM
Cheryl Z.
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welcome home, "Bad Girl", and fellow cioccolata lover! What a special trip you had, and to find appropriate t-shirts too - great!! Thanks for sharing.
Aug 22nd, 1999, 04:03 PM
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Anacapri - beautiful part of the island and high on a hilltop is the Villa S. Michele build by Axel Munthe, a most favored fellow back in the days when the world was much smaller and traversed by fewer people. His villa is not grand; aside from the view it is majestic in the most comfortable and graceful way, built by someone who could probably have lived anywhere. He wrote a book, a journal of his time before S. Michele and after, which has gone into many printings, in several different languages. My local library has 2 copies, one of which is checked out. I wonder who this other reader is?

Didn't get to take the funicular to the very top of the mountain; a torrential downpour closed it down. Sought refuge in a local restaurant and watched local vendors whose storefronts edged the narrow streets fight to keep the water pouring down the hill from entering their shops.

Roma: Mentioned Italian expressiveness earlier. Got my first introduction in Venice. To make my escape from Venice, I hired a porter to get me to the boat where I was to meet my tour group and travel to Burano. This porter appeared to be upset with me. He was actually nice, in an agitated Italian way, which I had not yet learned was their customary way of dealing with the world. Don't think they're really angry - just over-the-top. If the tourgeon remains calm and attempts to communicate - in Italian, they usually soften their response to a middling impatient aggravation - sort of like what you might dole out to a intellectually handicapped person who was making you late to the most important appointment of your life.

He was good-looking - I really didn't see any ugly Italian men in Italy - they must hide them away from the tourists.
Aug 22nd, 1999, 06:55 PM
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Even with 4 days and nights at my disposal, feel like I barely scratched the surface of Roma, but I explored all the main sights - everywhere you turned fountains, ancient ruins and la polizia-carabinieriwere evident.

Transportation: As usual, had a taste of it all = taxi, bus & underground. Ticket machines a bust for the underground - as well as for most buses. Really is free but you should have a ticket just in case someone checks as they did once on a bus where the machine that time stamps your ticket did not work. NOte: bus drivers take their breaks en route. Riding along, bus driver pulls over, gets out and lights up a cigarette - leans against a tree. I look at my fellow passengers - no one seems alarmed. Well-dressed riders approach the bus, see the driver leaning up against the tree and wait for him outside the bus where it's cooler. Driver finishes his cig., flicks it aside, gets on bus and sets off like he has time to make up. Rides at night can be harrowing as the bus drivers careen through the streets - not for the feint-hearted.

Sistine tour - didn't want to focus just on the map room etc. so split off from tour and checked out the Raphael rooms. Even tho in the process of being restored, I was still thrilled to see his 'School of Athens' and identify my heroes. Egyptian room closed. Etruscan treasures really for the knowledgeable - nothing that really grabbed me.

Sistine ceiling - magnificent, glorious, incredible feat. I've wanted to see it since I read 'Agony & Ecstacy" when I was around 12. Still, much smaller than I imagined. Very American attitude, I was advised. Enjoyed the frustration of the clerical monitors whose sole job appeared to be one of 'shussing' all the whispering tourists. Terrible job - only momentary satisfaction granted as the tide of whispering would crescendo again.

St. Peters - look at all the stuff your guidebook points out - you won't regret it.

Colesseum, Forum, countless piazzas - my favorite the Piazza Navona.

I dare you to find the Pie' di Marmo. Here's a hint: a little car will probably be parked next to it.

Can't find it - stop at an Irish Pub nearby and rethink your search.

Aug 23rd, 1999, 10:49 AM
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Saw no hoards of gypsy children anywhere in Italy. 1 or 2 possible gypsy adolescents shoving their way up an escalator from the underground but that was it. Italy is getting ready for the year 2000 bigtime and as I mentioned earlier the carabinieri and their plain clothes cousins are very much in evidence.

Galleria Borghese - really worth the trip - rent the audio, spend some time in the park.

In general, the so-called parks of Rome were very dry affairs. Even with all the fountains, found mainly in the piazza's, irrigation - landscaping and flowers are at a minimum. You have to travel tothe countryside of Tuscany or Umbria to find the colorful hanging baskets of geraniums and fields of sunflowers.

Overall, the infrastructure of Rome seems fragile: I wouldn't want to be there in any calamitous event - climatic, political, alien invasion, etc.

Our tour offered a visit and dinner in Tivoli. Tivoli boasts Hadrian' Villa and another Villa (sorry can't find my notes) owned by a Bishop or a Cardinal (wonder where he got the money for this fabulous place?) and boasting at least 20 different fountains.

Tivoli itselt seems to be run by teenagers - they're everywhere, largely unsupervised. There is grafitti everywhere and the local folk have apparently given up on removing it.

Rome has a lot of grafitti as well.

Don't take the tour excursion dinners for the food - it's usually not that great but certainly edible. Go only if you enjoy the people on your tour. We had a small but solid group of high-spirited folk, evenly split between retired types and newlyweds. In tivoli, the local singers were quite good and really worked hard at entertaining us. I even bought a recording of their songs - popular Italian music, old Italian classics and a stirring rendition of "I did it my way."
Aug 24th, 1999, 11:56 AM
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Siena - more rain but we were in the Palazzo Pubblico which has some lovely frescoes. The much touted fountain - the Fonte Gaia was filthy and not that interesting after all the beautiful Bernini sculptures in Rome. The most interesting thing about the Piazza del Campo, which was described as Italy's 'loveliest piazza' in my guidebook and was built in 1293, was watching a motorized contraption resembling Snuffalupagus (sp.? been a long time since I've been a regular Sesame Street viewer) vacuum up litter. Instead of a wide vacuum under the machine that would simultaneously sweep and suck as the fellow atop it drove around, there was a very long, stretchy hose like your home vacuum but at least 8" in circumference, which he had to maneuver with his free hand. It was a slow and noisy process. I kept hoping he would suck up some of the pigeons - I'm sure that's what the designer originally had in mind.

San Gimignano - one more duomo, palazzo vecchio or annunciation (even by Ghirlandaio) would have been more than I could bear. Decided to save myself for Florence and opted for the MUSEO DE TORTURA instead. Always wanted to visit one of these. Have no basis for comparison but thot they had an excellent collection, displayed well with captions in several different languages, some written by an outraged feminist (since many of the items were either designed specifically to torture women).

Also found the bathroom interesting. All the toilets in Europe were noteworthy; rarely found 2 that were identical. The bidets in the hotels were great, especially the ones that had spray nozzles. The bathroom in the Museo del Tortura was a private bathroom w/o a bidet but it did have a portable unit attached to the wall with a hand-held sprayer. I didn't use it but such hygenic attention to one's nether region is commendable, I think.
Aug 25th, 1999, 09:42 AM
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Pisa - this city would be nothing without the leaning tower. The baptistry is worth visiting is you're there, taken your photo in front of the leaning tower and have some extra time. If time is limited on your journey - I would skip Pisa. As always, people-watching here provided some entertainment. The Asian tourists were ecstatic over Pisa (as well as major patrons of the gondoliers in Venice). They are avid photo-takers and mug for the camera - it's easy to get swept up in their energy.

Florence, finally. The best, at last. Lovely, clean, well-organized city cooled by the Arno. Incredible feeling, still get chills remembering our walk at night along the well-lit streets, turning a corner and there in the distance, dominating the Piazza della Signoria is Michelangelo's David.

Florence is a city lived in the streets. Locals mixing with the tourists at restaurants and along the Ponte Vecchio. Many students. I love sculpture - and the best thing about Italy was seeing it in its natural setting. Even enjoyed the copy of David in the piazza more than the real one in the L'Accademmia.

I had called Italy directly and reserved tickets for both the Uffizi and l'accademia. They have a website and only costs an extra 2000 lire. As it turned out, my times were not the most convenient. The lines at the Uffizi disappeared around 12:30 p.m. so went in then and cancelled my reservation for later. No problem - just a few clicks of computer keys. Did the same at l'accademia but in this instance got treated to some Italian sulkiness by an irate clerk who insisted that I pay the extra 2000 anyway. I declined politely but he took it personally. Oh, well.

Duomo and Baptistry worth seeing.

Had dinner at Buca Lapi - excellent for Bisteca fiortina.

Did as much as I could in 2 days. Want to go back and visit Convento di San Marco to view the Fra Angelico work - touted as allegorical. I think it is surrealistic. Also would like to visit the Bargello.
Aug 25th, 1999, 12:56 PM
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Your journal is so informative. I'm considering taking a Cosmos's 3 week tour, "Europe at Leisure" next year by myself without my husband but have mixed feelings about going without him as he wouldn't be along to share things with. We have been married for 26 years with two grown children, and my husband does not really like "touring" plus he really can't be away from work for 3 weeks straight, a nice tour length to see Europe. Now that you've done the trip solo and are reflecting, do you have any regrets at not having taken your husband along on your first trip to Europe?

Also have read with particular interest your time in Florence. In looking at the Cosmos tour you took in their brochure, which I believe, from your description, is the "Italian Masterpiece," this particular tour matches the touring days for Florence as the "Europe at Leisure" does. Did you do their included Florence sightseeing listed in the brochure before setting off on your own to the Accademia and Uffizi? I notice that the Uffizi is now open during the weekdays until 10PM. If you stay until 10PM is transportation a problem in getting back to your hotel since Cosmos' hotels are not close to the cities? Also do you think it would be possible to visit the Uffizi Museum the night you first arrive in the Florence area? Was there a shuttle between your hotel and Florence or would you take a taxi to get to the Uffizi the first night and how expensive might that be roundtrip?

Also in Rome, you noted that you broke off from the tour of the Sistene Chapel to see the Raphael rooms? Were you on Cosmos' optional tour? Usually tour groups always tell their people to stay together so how did you manage this as I would be interested in seeing more of the Vatican Museums as well rather than just one area. I've heard that there is on display in the Vatican a wall or walls depicting pictures of every pope until the present time and that they only have room for about one more picture of a pope. Did you happen to see this section while there or do you know if this section is open to the public?

Thanks in advance for answering my questions.

Phoenix, Arizona
Aug 26th, 1999, 07:40 PM
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My husband is a wonderful person except on a vacation he doesn't want to take.

Let me be perfectly clear, I have no regrets about not taking him or my children. I congratulate myself for my brilliance at recognizing this and finally accepting it. I'm grateful for his indulgence and the encouragement of my children (who are in H.S.)

No guarantees with tour groups. I was prepared for just about anything. There were other women who had left theirr husbands behind - older women than even me but they did manage to bring along a girlfriend.

Even with Jerry and CAry, I split off on my own sometimes since I was more interested in art than shopping.

Public transportation in Europe is easy once you get the hang of it but I was always prepared to take a taxi at night if need be.

The cosmos group was much friendlier than the trafalgar. CAn only speak of this one experience of mine. Perhaps it was because there were more Europeans or because I was an American female traveling alone. I had dinner and excellent conversations with many people on my tour and felt that I would have been welcome to join any of them on their jaunts.

My tour had included sightseeing of Venice, Rome and Florence with a local guide. This doesn't last that long and gives you a bit of an overview for what you might want to explore on lyour own. I think you could do the Uffizi your first night, especially if you pick up Rick Steves 'Mona Winks.' I had the best fun using his guide in London, Paris and Italy. I didn't rely on it exclusively but especially in Italy where audio guides are not always available and museum captions are in Italian, it's very helpful. People would come up and look over my shoulder cause I was standing there giggling. + it's helpful cause you focus on the most important stuff - and there is so much.

Florence was the one city where we didn't want to wait around late at night for a bus and shared a taxi instead. 20,000 lira + tip. We took a bus into the city during the day (the hotel will be helpful with this, sell you the ticket, tell you the # of the bus and where to stand). Often we got a ride with the tour group if they were going into town. We just stayed in town or if people were setting off on an optional trip we asked if they could drop us off. T Learn to read a map and get your bearings. It's a very well-lit city.

Know what you want to see ahead of time and check with your group - there are bound to be others interested in the same thing and still others waiting for someone to inspire them!

Yes, the Sistine tour was an optional for which I paid extra. The guide was not happy but neither was I at the prospect of traveling all that way and not seeing what I wanted to see. Better one of us unhappy than both of us is my philosophy. I just told him what I was going to do, very nicely, and then walked off. 'Bad Girl' to the very end.

I didn't see the pictures of the Popes. There are major sections closed off but there are also maps and english-speaking monitors everywhere to point the way. You can walk faster and see more on your own. The group was moving so slowly I ran into them in the Sistine Chapel. I had already been there for at least 5 minutes.

We had an excellent optional tour with an outstanding guide at Pompeii. I wouldn't have wanted to miss her commentary but all the others were really so-so.

Aug 29th, 1999, 04:50 PM
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Got some of my photos back; they don't do justice to my memories unfortunately, but their job is really to serve as a reminder - provide the merest whiff of the essence of my experiences in Europe. There is so much I have left out but the real world beckons. I won't be checking here on a regular basis - if there are any specific questions regarding the areas I have visited, I would be happy to share info. Please email me directly.
Aug 30th, 1999, 11:51 AM
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Moving this up for you.

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