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italy: 2009 trip Archives

March 10, 2009

new trip to Italy...let the planning begin

Today's post is my 400th post!

I started this blog by sharing my trip to Italy two summers ago. What better way to celebrate my 400th post than to share my plans for my upcoming trip to Italy this summer.

If you asked me last week what my plans were, I would have told you that I had no idea. For a couple of months now, I have been going back and forth over whether or not to return to Italy this summer. With the economy the way it is, talks of a possible cut in our pay or an increase in the amount of our share of monthly insurance payments (which basically is a cut in our pay), I kept thinking that I should be the responsible adult and wait until all of this is settled before making any plans.

Yesterday, I decided *screw it*! You never know what the future will bring. The airfares are a little more reasonable at the moment, the exchange rate is better than it was last year at this time, and I am dreaming of Italy again...

Although I am always thinking about my next trip to Italy, I have been pretty undecided for months now on just where in Italy to go. Train schedules are usually a deciding factor in how I plan my trips. For some reason, I just was not able to come up with a plan that was working out. Then last night, after I plugging in a few new different train combinations on Trenitalia, it all sort of fell together with an open jaw ticket option.

This is what my plan looks like at the moment...

*Flying into Fiumicino Airport outside of Rome. Taking the train into Rome and then hopping on another train to Arezzo.


*4 nights in Arezzo
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Although I am a little tempted to stay in Rome a night or two I think Arezzo would be a better place to deal with my jet lag. I visited Arezzo two years ago on a daytrip. I really enjoyed my short visit there and knew then that I wanted to return for a longer stay in Arezzo some day. If it works out, I would like to do a daytrip to Orvieto while in Arezzo. I spent a few nights in Orvieto many years ago and have always wanted to return there again, even if just as a quick daytrip. Now that I have a digital camera, I would like to take more photos of Orvieto.

So far, I have found one recommended hotel in Arezzo, the Hotel Continentale Arezzo. Venere.com gives it good reviews. I also found one recommendation for this same hotel on Slow Travel. I would greatly appreciate any other recommendations anyone might have on hotels in Arezzo. Many of the hotels seem to be located just outside of Arezzo. I will be traveling by train and would prefer to stay in the city center.


*6 nights in Lucca
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During my very first trip to Italy, I spent two nights in Lucca. That was 10 years ago. I think about that trip often. The above photo of Lucca hangs on my wall to remind me of my time there. I have been thinking of returning to Lucca for a while now. I almost went to Lucca last summer but could not work out the train arrangements. I was having the same problem this year until Arezzo popped into my mind. I checked with trenitalia and the train times and connections sealed the deal. Arezzo ended up being my key to Lucca.

I emailed the B&B La Romea last night and am so excited that they still have a room available. I now have a reservation for the green room at this beautiful B&B with rave reviews located inside the city walls of Lucca. While in Lucca, I plan to do a daytrip to Pisa and finally climb La Torre Pendente di Pisa (the tower of Pisa).


*5 nights in Bologna
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How could I not visit Bologna again after all my recent blog posts, dreaming about the food in Bologna, the beautiful buildings, and all I have yet to see there. I emailed my favorite hotel, Hotel Porta San Mamalo, and they are saving me a room. While in Bologna I plan to do at least one daytrip, maybe two. I am not sure if I will return to Ferrara, Parma, or Modena or visit somewhere new. I have been thinking about maybe Reggio Emilia.


*6 nights in Stresa (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
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I always try to go to at least one new location each time I visit Italy. I also usually plan at least one of my stays as a location on the lake or the sea. This year, thanks to Dana's Stresa Sights blog, I have been inspired to spend some time in Stresa, which is located on Lake Maggiore. I stayed in Locarno, Switzerland, which is located on the northern part of this lake, back in 2003 but have never been to any of the Italian towns on Lake Maggiore. I am still working on finding a hotel for my stay in Stresa. Dana has been very helpful, asking friends about hotels in the area and helping me with location suggestions. I would greatly appreciate any other recommendations anyone might have on hotels or B&Bs in Stresa.


*A few nights in Coccaglio
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My last stop will be a visit with my friends Katia & Guido in Coccaglio. I can't wait to see Katia & Guido and their new house they have been building. They are supposed to move in by the end of March, but of course there have been many delays. Diana's blog posts about construction in Italy will help you understand the craziness of construction in Italy. Click here to read one example of her numerous construction nightmares.

My final night will be at an airport hotel and then I will fly out of Malpensa Airport near Milan. I will probably stay at the First Hotel again. I stayed there last year and was happy as one can be at an airport hotel. I still need to do a review on this hotel.

Now I just need to purchase my airline ticket (which makes this trip real) and renew my passport or I'm not going anywhere.

I have not forgotten about Bologna and will finish my 10 reasons later this week.

March 11, 2009

glitch in my plans

I rushed home after work today to purchase my airline ticket. I needed to purchase it before 6pm because the airfare sale ended today. I entered my itinerary at 4:30 pm Hawaii time (10:30 pm EST) and saw that the fares were gone! How could that be? The fare now costs $540.00 more than it did yesterday. There are still tons of seats left on the planes I plan to take so they can't say it is because the fares sold out.

I am so mad at myself that I didn't buy my ticket earlier but even madder at Continental. The airlines continue to make customers mad. From the ridiculous idea of charging to use the bathrooms to changing prices before an announced sale is over. Not good!

Yes, I should have bought my ticket yesterday but the announcement on the Continental website said that the sale ended today (March 11th), meaning the sale would end at the end of the day, today. I didn't buy my ticket yesterday because I wanted an extra day to decide which day to return. I read a comment on Flyertalk tonight from another upset person who also tried to buy their ticket today, finding that the sale prices were gone. He made the same comment stating that March 11th means the end of the day on March 11th.

Now I don't know what to do. I could wait and hope that Continental again offers lower fares, bite the bullet and pay an outrageous $2032 for a ticket, or cancel my trip. I am not a happy camper right now.

Thank you everyone for your comments and your excitement about my trip plans. I was excited also until I saw the airfares today. Shit happens. I know. I'll figure it out. It will just take a few days to get over the shock of losing out on a good airfare, something that is rare to find for a flight from Hawaii to Italy.

**Update (3-12) After searching a bunch of combinations, I came up with a fare $393 dollars more than the original sale fare. At least that is better than $540 dollars more than the sale fare.

I doubt fares will go back down now that seats are selling out so I bit the bullet and bought my ticket. Yay!! I'm also getting two more days out of this trip. Maybe I should rethink Rome.

Now I need to just let it all go and start getting excited about my trip again.

March 22, 2009

decisions decisions... Arezzo or ??

Due to the Continental ending its sale one day early, which caused a change in my dates, I am now arriving a day earlier and leaving a day later. This along with uncertainty about hotels is making me think twice about my current itinerary. Nothing new for me. I end up making changes to my itinerary just about every trip.

With my current itinerary, I will now be spending 5 nights in Arezzo instead of 4 nights before heading to Lucca. The B&B in Lucca is not available the day before my reservation so moving everything up a night to give me 2 extra nights at the end of my stay is out.

I did think again about spending the first couple of nights in Rome, but I am pretty much useless from jet lag the first two days and Rome would probably not be the greatest place to be wandering around in a daze.

I still have not settled on a room in Arezzo but am looking at two possibilities - Hotel Continentale and Hotel Patio.

Continue reading "decisions decisions... Arezzo or ??" »

March 23, 2009

more decisons... 2nd half of my trip

I want to thank everyone again for all of your suggestions regarding my Arezzo dilemma. It really helps to talk it out and get input from travel friends. I have booked with Hotel Patio in Arezzo but am still considering other options. At least I have a hotel at the moment. I have even thought about Siena. Haven’t been back there since 2001 (studied Italian twice in Siena – 5 weeks total). The major negative though about Siena is my timing would bring me there right before the Palio, which would usually be great, but the extra all night singing and other noise would not be a welcome additon to my jetlag. I did find one amazing new place on the outskirts of the city but within easy walking distance, which would be nice and quiet, but they want 150 per night! I will have to continue to mull over this part of my trip.

Meanwhile, onto the second half of my trip. After leaving Lucca, I currently have five nights booked at my favorite hotel in Bologna. I plan to do a couple of daytrips while there. Possibly returning to Parma and Ferrara. I have also thought about going back to Modena and visiting Reggio Emilia for the first time, and then there is the thought of returning to Ravenna. I realize I could never visit all of these places so again more decisions.

I am starting to wonder if I should extend my stay in Bologna or add a second place to stay somewhere in the Emilia Romagna region. If I do choose a second location, it will have to be somewhere either not much farther from Lucca or Stresa. One of my conditions I put on my itinerary this year was to keep all train travel to two hours if possible. A second location would most likely add time to one of my train trips so I would have to look carefully at the possible connections as part of my decision. And as you probably know by now, I am very picky about hotels and will have to look at options in each possible location. I do have a favorite in Ferrara if they still have a room available. I might just end up staying in Bologna the entire time adding a night or two to this part of my trip.

And then there is Stresa. My original plan was for six nights in Stresa. I love staying near the water and I love being on boats. Still, I am a little uneasy about committing six nights in Stresa, mostly because once again I am not finding hotels that are jumping out at me saying, "Stay here, Stay here!”

Continue reading "more decisons... 2nd half of my trip" »

April 1, 2009

change in plans

After reading both Chiocciola's post and Sandra's post about their indecisions on which hotel to stay at while in Bologna and how they both have been able to get some good offers on room prices, it got me thinking about my stay in Bologna. If you have been reading my blog, you know that I have been very happy staying at Hotel Porta San Mamalo. Even so, it would be a treat to stay right in the center of town. I thought about this idea for a short while, but then decided why mess with something I know is good. Like Sandra said, I could end up in the "smallest double in the back over the garbage containers".

I then started thinking about my stay in Arezzo. I wrote about my difficulty decision about staying in Arezzo or possibly Orvieto or Florence here. I have been very comfortable and even excited about staying in Arezzo and did make a reservation at Hotel Patio but I am still not feeling great about my hotel reservation there. I do not have visions of being put in a room over the garbage containers, but I would feel much better if I knew a little more about this hotel.

And then Florence popped back into my head again. After reading about the deals both Chiocciola and Sandra found, I started wondering if I would be able to find any good deals in Florence. I ended up spending almost the entire day yesterday searching for hotels and B&Bs offering non-smoking rooms in Florence. I narrowed my search down to two B&Bs.

Residenza d'Epoca, Bed and Breakfast in Florence - In Piazza della Signoria, a luxurious B&B with rave reviews, located just a few steps away from Piazza della Signoria. A laptop is available for free use, the B&B provides assistance with reservations, the breakfasts are supposed to be wonderful, as well as many other amenities.

AND Bed and Breakfast Il Salotto di Firenze, a B&B with beautiful rooms and great reviews, located steps away from the the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore). This B&B provides free internet connection (which would mean I would need to bring a laptop), basic breakfast, many other amenities and there is a helpful person there in the mornings for assistance.

I wrote to both B&B’s. I heard back from the Residenza d'Epoca, B&B In Piazza della Signoria with an offer of a small discount since I will be staying 5 nights. With the discount, the cost would be 20 euros more per night than if I reserved one of the available rooms at the B&B near the Duomo.

Late last night, I made an impulsive decision and booked a room at this beautiful B&B near Piazza Signoria. With the great location and the luxurious accommodations, I no longer was concerned about dealing with jet lag while in Florence. I am now dreaming of climbing towers, strolling along the Arno River, spending time in the Bargello, and getting to know Florence a little better.

I just have one more decision to make now. Which room to reserve?

Beatrice ~ Double room located on the main floor where most of the rooms are located. This room has an amazing Jacuzzi bathtub and original frescoes on the wall. It looks like there may be a small balcony (need to check) although the view is nothing to rave about. I fell in this room right away. I think it is the color that hooked me. I am usually more of a shower person but the bathtub in this room looks heavenly (click on the room link for more pictures). I have this room reserved at the moment.

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Machiavelli ~ Double room located on the same floor as the breakfast room and the lounge. This room has a view of the roofs of Florence. The bathroom has a bathtub and shower. I would be happy to have the shower available. I could also hang clothes to dry there. Having a view might be nice, although the window is not as big. I am also not sure if I would prefer to be on the floor where the breakfast is made and people hang out in the lounge area.

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So which room would you choose?

And do you think I am crazy to splurge on this fabulous B&B? Especially since the other B&B looks very nice? I figure no major shopping sprees while in Italy, lots of tuna sandwiches and almond butter sandwiches for lunch for the next few months, and no new tiny travel computer I have been thinking of buying for my trip would allow me to afford this splurge.

May 29, 2009

the leaning tower... I am finally going to climb it!!!

I have been to Pisa twice.

The first time was in 1999 during my very first trip to Europe. I stopped there on my way to Lucca after leaving Vernazza (Cinque Terre). When arriving at the train station, I locked my bags up in a storage locker, took the bus to the Piazza dei Miracoli, and saw la Torre pendente di Pisa (the Leaning Tower of Pisa) for the very first time. Although I was thrilled to see this amazing tower in person, I was also quite shocked by the *Disneyland atmosphere* of the area. The place was packed with tourists and silly little stands selling trinkets. I knew in advance that the tower was closed for climbing but I still had to at least see it in person. I did not spend much time in Pisa during that visit although I did take a quick peek inside the Cathedral and the Baptistery.

The following year, I returned to Pisa on a daytrip from Vernazza. During this visit, I spent more time inside the Cathedral, I heard the the custodian on duty demonstrate the echo effects inside the Baptistery, and I visited one of the museums (I believe it was the Opera Museum). I had a wonderful time that day. I still however did not veer outside of the Piazza dei Miracoli except to take the bus back to the train station. Again the tower was unfortunately not open for climbing.

This summer I am very excited about returning to Pisa for a daytrip while staying in Lucca AND I am going to finally climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the most famous tower in all of Italy!!

If I have counted correctly, I have climbed 23 towers in Italy. This is not counting the towers that are only accessible by elevator, the towers which in my book do not really count as towers to climb like the tower I visited last year in Genova. I have also climbed the church domes of the Duomo in Florence and St. Peter's Basilica. Someday, I will do a post about all of the towers I have climbed.

I need to make a reservation to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I am thinking of doing a 7pm climb. A climb at dusk was recommended to me by a few fellow Slow Travelers on the Slow Travel Board. I am hoping 7 pm will be a good time. That way, I can get back to Lucca for dinner and I won't have to worry about missing the last train back to Lucca that evening.

Not only am I extremely excited about climbing this very famous tower but I am also excited to finally explore more of Pisa. Gloria (fellow Slow Traveler) has written wonderful information about what to do in Pisa on her Behind the Tower blog. She has also written this great article: Pisa, More than the Leaning Tower! for Slow Travel. The best part is that I am also planning to meet Gloria the afternoon of my visit to Pisa for a gelato and a walk around Pisa. That is like the icing in the cake!!! I have so enjoyed all of Gloria's posts over the years on Slow Travel and am very excited to finally meet her in person.

This is a photo I took back in 1999 during my very first visit to Pisa (with a film camera). I must have tipped my camera to one side while taking this photo in order to make the tower level (like a good photographer should). I had no idea I did this until I returned home and had my photos developed! This is the scanned version of my photo, which I then adjusted to make the tower lean again using Photoshop Elements.

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Happy Weekend everyone!!!

June 24, 2009

departure, journey, and arrival (Italy Trip 2009)

Monday, June 22nd/Day of departure:
I was pretty much done with packing and only had a few minor things left to organize. Time flew by as I frantically went over my packing list one more time. I ended up not having enough time to print out all my train schedules. I also encountered some last minute iPod Touch problems due to loading the new OS3 system that just came out. Friday night, I realized that I lost all of my songs and videos. That took a big chunk of my time trying to redo all the playlists I made. YouTube also wasn't working. I figured that one out after about an hour of research.

About an hour before I needed to leave for the airport, I realized that I was not able to connect to air sharing to transfer all of my documents. This freaked me out since I was depending on transferring a bunch of stuff onto my iPod Touch for my trip. I eventually resolved the issue but could not tell you how I did it now.

The one thing I did not have time to do was to print out all of the train schedules. I feel much more secure having all my train schedules in my hand when taking the train. Even though most of the train schedules are on my iPod, my trip will be interesting without having printed out schedules with all of the various options. I don't think I mentioned that there is a scheduled strike on the day I will be traveling from Bologna to Stresa. I have not figured out what I am going to do if the strike does take place.

The other thing I forgot to do was to grab an English/Italian dictionary. I hope my Italian will carry me on this trip, especially if I end up at the train window without a printed out schedule to purchase a ticket. I will soon find out.
I did take a picture of my updated 3-3-1 bag (especially for Chiocciola), but I didn't have time to post it before heading to the airport.

Heading to the airport/departing Honolulu:
I ate my dinner on the way to the airport while my dad drove.  Eating in advance turned out to be a good thing because that meant I didn't have to stay awake to wait for my dinner (or should I say snack) on the plane).

I did the pre-check in online but was not allowed to print my tickets because they had to do a passport check at the airport.  No line at the kiosk.  I breezed right through.  My check in bag weighed 24.5 pounds an my carry on weighed 23.5 pounds.

The line at security was very short.  New rule - shoes no longer go in the bin. One of the TSA guys was barking at everyone like an army sargeant.  Power really goes to some poeple,s heads.  I felt sorry for this older couple who were so confused.

The flight attendant helped me lift my bag up into the overhead bin, but not too enthusiastically.  A cute young guy sat next to me (talking to his fiance on the phone).  Cute guy turned into rude guy.  He ignored the announcement to turn off cell phones and continued talking for another 10 minutes loudly for everyone to hear.

A young woman from japan (who was wearing a Yankees shirt) wagged her finger AT ME about him talking on the phone as if I could do anything. She then got out of her chair, marched down the aisle, and found the flight attendant to tell him to turn the phone off.

After he finally turned the phone off, very rude guy turned to the young girl sitting on his right amd introduced himself to her. He talked nonstop and flirted with her and did not even acknowledge that I existed. I had no desire to join in on the converstation, but a hello or even goodbye when we arrived in Newark the following morning would have been polite.  The flight was pretty quiet (except for the guy gabbing away). I slept most of the flight for the first time in a long time.

Tuesday, June 23rd/Hanging out in Newark:
I spent the first few hours of my six hour layover walking around, checkinhg out some of the stores, and enjoying my favorite raspberry and cream cheese croissont at Au Bon Pain. Because I was dozing off while eating my croissont, I walked around some more and then headed to the gate once it was finally announced.

The flight boarded on time. I was able to find a guy sitting near me to lift my bag up into the overhead compartment. A very polite young guy who said hello and introduced himself right away sat next to me on my second flight.  We chatted briefly.  I waited for dinner, which was suprisingly very good ( chicken & rice & veggies), and then went to sleep. I slept again for most of the flight.

Wednesday, June 24th/Arrival in Roma:
We arrived in Roma on time.  The line was very reasonable at the passport control.  I was worried that I would have a problem with my new passport because I signed it with my middle initial instead of my full middle name.  No problems so far.  I was thrilled to get my first passport stamp.  My bag arrived shortly after I got to the baggage claim area. I was a little confused about the location of the train station since there were signs with train pictures pointing in two different directions.  I stopped and asked someone who worked at the airport. I am getting much better at understanding directions. I understood just what he said and found the train station quite easily. After buying my train tickets to Roma Termini & Firenze, I stopped in a bar and had my first caffé macchiato and crema brioche. Soooooo good!!!

There was a big crowd waiting for the train.  I headed down toward the other end and easily found a seat.  A nice man helped me carry one of my bags on board.  When we arrived in Roma, another nice man again helped me with one of my bags. It took me a few minutes, but I was able to figured out a way to get to the main area of the Termini train station without having to take any stairs.

My 10:30 AV Eurostar train was on time.  These trains are so easy to board now because there are signs pointing to each carrozza or train car location along the way. When getting on the train, a nice woman helped me with one of my bags. I really am amazed with all of the help I have been offered so far.  

I am finishing up this post on my iPod Touch. I have been writing a little bit every now and then using my yahoo account email. Even though I cannot connect to the internet, I can save this as a draft.

I have a nice seat in first class (a little more money but not as crowded and plenty of room for luggage witout having to lift anything overhead). We are traveling through the beautiful Tuscan countryside as I 'peck'. Once I have wireless access, I am able to cut and paste my draft email entry right into a new entry page on my blog right from my iPod Touch.


**I am now in Florence at my wonderful B&B spell checking and editing my post. I am thrilled to be here but also crashing from the jetlag. I quit spell checking about half way down. I apologize for any glaring errors. I have not decided yet if it is easier to write the entry using my iPod Touch or if it is easier to type the entry using the Italian keyboard. I know it will all come back to my eventually, but right now it is pretty much a tie. I will need computer access though and not just wireless using my iPod Touch to write any entry that is longer than a few sentences because I can't seem to scroll up or down in the little box where I paste my entry in the blog template.


**Highlights from Florence so far: My first gelato at GROM and men in tights.

More soon...
Ciao!!!

June 25, 2009

men in tights

Wednesday, June 24th:
After checking into my wonderful B&B and unpacking, I headed out to explore Florence. My first stop was GROM for some gelato. I wandered around a little bit and then headed back to catch the parade of men in tights and a few cute little boys also with flags and drums as part of the Festa di San Giovanni (Festival of Saint John the Baptist). Every year, on 24 June, Florence celebrates the feast of its patron, San San Giovanni. A huge crowd lined the parade route in Piazza Signoria. I managed to work my way in to get a few shots.

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Continue reading "men in tights" »

June 26, 2009

a visit to Palazzo Vecchio

Thursday, June 25th:
The breakfast room at my B&B is located on the 3rd floor. There is one long table where all the guests sit...
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and a wonderful view of Piazza Signoria from the window.
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I had a plate of fresh fruit, a fried egg (which came with a little pancake), a brioche,some bread, fresh squeezed orange juice and a caffè machiato. Delicious and very filling!! There was also a chocolate cake that many of the other guests enjoyed as well as yogurt. I had an nice chat with some of the guests (a family from Philadelphia, a couple from Canada, and a woman from Sweden).

After breakfast, I headed out to the Piazza Signoria and decided to go inside the Palazzo Vecchio.
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I visited this beautiful palace (which also houses the office of the mayor of Florence) during my first visit to Florence. After purchasing my ticket, I inquired about the sign for the Secret Passage tour. This tour cost 2 euro more and was a guided tour for a small group and required a reservation. There was still room left for this tour and I would have one hour to explore the palace before the tour started.

The last time I toured this palace, it was really crowded. I remember being pushed almost into the wall in some of the rooms by other tourists. This time, I arrived before the crowds.

I had a wonderful time exploring the many rooms of the palace, admiring all of the amazing art.
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Continue reading "a visit to Palazzo Vecchio" »

the Bargello, rain, pizza, and more gelato

Friday, June 26th:
I enjoyed another filling breakfast at my B&B. Great food and new people to meet. After breakfast, I went out looking for a bancomat (atm machine). I found a few nearby but for some reason, none of them were working.

The skies were pretty gray. I went back for my raincoat and headed to the Bargello, my favorite museum in Florence. It started to rain just as I arrived. Photos are no longer allowed inside the museum rooms which was disappointing. Even so, I was very excited to see the Donatello David again. This is my very favorite sculpture in Florence. The detail of this bronze sculpture is amazing. I stood and stared at this David for quite a while. I also watched an Interesting video of how he was recently restored.

At least I was able to take photos in the courtyard.
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After walking through the rest of the museum, I headed to the Oltrano area to have lunch at Trattoria St. Agostino. I ordered panzanella (a famous Tuscan bread and tomato salad). I decided to order a pasta after I finished the salad. The waiter told me he knew of the perfect pasta for me. He brought out a pasta dish with pici (thick pasta noodles) and red peppers and some sort of crusted bread crumbs. I thought it was just was ok (a little too salty for my taste). I am finding that much of the food in Florence seems to be quite salty. I am not sure if this is typical of Tuscan food, just what I have ordered so far, or due to the fact that I don't cook with salt at home.

As I headed back towards Piazza Signoria, I noticed that the sky was black. Just as I was crossing the Alla Carraia bridge it started to rain again. As I headed back towards the piazza, I searced for a bancomat that was working. I finally found one not far from Grom. Naturally, I could not pass up a gelato.

Right after I ordered my gelato (nocciola and pistacchio), it started to rain a little bit harder. Grom was too crowded to stand inside. Florence does not have many covered areas. As I walked back towards my B&B, I held my hand over my gelato, trying to cover it from the rain while eating it as fast as I could.

I returned to my B&B just in time. A few mintues later the skies opened up and it started to pour with thunder and lightening. I hung out watching a little TV and then took another long nap.

I was still pretty full from breakfast and lunch and decided to have pizza for dinner. Instead of giving Yellow Bar another try, I headed to Pizzeria Il Pizzaiuolo for dinner. I have eaten here twice during past trips to Florence. This is where my friends Francesco and Irene took me when we first met in 1999. After about a 20 minute wait, I was seated. I ordered the caprese pizza (pizza with fresh mozzarella, tomato slices, and basil). Sooooo good!!! I love eating at this place. It is lively and fun and I have always been treated well. If only it was not such a far walk, although I think it was good for me to walk off dinner after eating so much food since I have arrived in Florence. My stomach feels like it is going to burst after every meal!

So...I am all caught up. Thank you for all of your comments. I am hoping for sun tomorrow although the weather forecast is for more rain and thunderstorms. I am glad I brought warm clothes. It is chilly here!

Ciao!!

June 28, 2009

fabulous daytrip to Arezzo

*I am writing most of this post about my fabulous day in Arezzo from trains heading to Arezzo and then back to Florence.

Saturday, June 27th:
Ate a quick breakfast Saturday morning. Weather forecast says rain at noon in Florence, Siena, and Arezzo.  Decided to head to the train station to take a daytrip, hoping for nice weather (or at least no rain) for the morning hours.

It was an easy 15 minute walk to the train station.  When I arrived, I decided on going to Arezzo since that was my original planned first stop in Italy this summer.  

There were 2 trains - the 9:08 train, which had a few more stops and would take longer to arrive in Arezzo and the 9:13 train that is quicker, heads to Roma and stops in Arezzo along the way. Of course just when the slower 9:08 train departed, the partenza (departure) board announced that the quicker 9:13 train would be 40 minutes late!

I noticed that the board indicated that another train left for Arezzo at 9:33.  I checked with one of the automatic ticket machines (going through the steps to purchase a ticket) to see if my ticket price was the same for the 9:33 train and then double checked with a train person and am now sitting on this train typing this while waiting for this train to leave.

Yay! The train's engine is revving up and we are leaving on time!!

Well I am not sure how brilliant that plan was. I only arrived 3 minutes faster than the quicker 40 minutes late train arrived.  

The weather was overcast with the sun peeking in here and there when I arrived.  The main street leading up to the historical center is called Corso Italia.  It is a pedestrian only street and it was packed.  It reminded me of the afternoon passiagiata that takes place all over Italy.  People were out greeting each other and going in and out of the various stores.  
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I was tempted to check out a few stores but only had an hour or so before the churches I wanted to visit closed until opening again late in the afternoon. The last time I was in Arezzo, I missed out going inside the Duomo and I did not want to miss it again.

I stopped in a couple of other churches along the way before reaching the Duomo which is located at the top of the hill. When I went inside, I discovered a wedding taking place. I usually only stay for a minute or two when there is a wedding occurring but this time I stayed, watching the rest of the ceremony.

Most of the mass was completed.  What I saw was the personal touch to their ceremony.  It was such a joyous occasion that it brought tears to my eyes a few times during the ceremony.
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I have to go off topic for a moment to mention that it is now pouring outside and I can see lightening and hear thunder crackling!  I wonder if sitting in a metal train car is a good thing to be doing when there is lightening happening.  I don't think I have shared this before but I am terrified of thunder and lightening storms.

The train just stopped in Incisa.  Has anyone heard of this town before?  

Ok storm has passed, back to my day in Arezzo.

Not only was the wedding beautiful, but the Duomo itself is quite a gem.  There is a famous Piero della Francesco fresco in this church.
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While watching the end of the wedding ceremony, I met a lovely couple from Bologna. We chatted for quite a while.  

In Italy, the bride and groom leave the church last.  I wanted to make sure to get out of the church before the bride and groom headed for the door.  All their friends and family were waiting outside with large containers of rice.  

After watching everyone throw rice at the bride and groom, I headed towards Piazza Grande.  This piazza was made famous from the movie Life Is Beautiful.  The sun was shining and the piazza was even more beautiful than I even imagined it could be.  The last time I was in Arezzo, there were barriors set up in the piazza ruining the perfect photo opportunities.
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June 29, 2009

a tower, a marching band, and a gtg

I am now in Lucca : ) Free wifi but no computer - so blog posts from iPod Touch...

The beginning of this post was written while on the train from Firenze to Lucca and the rest of this post was written while sitting in the lobby/breakfast room/general shared area of my B&B in Lucca waiting for my room to be ready. (Photos were added later)

Saturday, June 27th:
Earlier in the week, I saw this beautiful purple pashmina hanging on the door of one of the shops heading towards Piazza Santa Croce. I wasn't sure what shops would be open on Sunday so I went back early Saturday evening hoping that the shop would be open. It was already closed when I got there.

I wandered around the area and then went over one of the bridges and walked around the Oltrano side of Florence for a little while. The sun was beginning to set and it started to rain again.  I took some photos of the Ponte Vecchio bridge and then headed back towards my B&B for dinner.
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View looking the opposite way:
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I decided to try dei Frescobaldi, which was located right next to my B&B. I would give this place 5 stars for the food, but this place loses a few points in my book because it is one of the places where it seems to seat all of the Italians on one room and all of the foreigners in another room. I even asked if I could sit in the other room and was told that I needed a reservation. To confirm my suspicion, I walked past the window of the room where I saw a couple of free tables and one of the tables was still free.

However, the food and service were both wonderful. I ordered a pumpkin ravioli with a butter, sage, and crunchy amaretto sauce. It was one of those "wow" type of reactions when I took the first bite. I would have ordered more food but I was still full from lunch. I only had just enough room for a gelato.  I went back to Grom and discovered the perfect combination - caffe & pistacchio.  

I was really tired Saturday night and fell asleep right after returning to my B&B. I was awakened suddenly at 2 am by the rude people staying in the room next door. They had the TV blaring so loudly that I could hear every word as if it was on in my room. They also were very loud and kept me awake until 3:30 am. I even tried drowning out the sound with my iPod but nothing worked.

Sunday, June 28th:
The skies were blue and the weather was perfect for my last day in Florence. After breakfast, I climbed my first tower of 2009 - the Giotto Bell Tower, which is located next to the Duomo. There are 414 or 494 steps to the top (I can't remember which now).

Although it is a tall tower, there are many stops along the way (various levels of the tower) where you can stop to catch your breath I was at the very top of the tower when the bells started to ring all over Florence. It was incredible!!

I took a little video that I hope comes out. While on the level below where the bells are located, the bells began to ring. I think I might have lost a few decibels of hearing, but stood right there videoing the bells ringing. I spent about an hour and a half hanging out on the different levels of this tower.

Views from the tower:
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first day in Lucca

Monday, June 29th:
Monday morning, I had an early breakfast, said goodbye to the people at my B&B in Florence, and took a taxi to the train station.  

The train to Lucca was a new modern regional train and it was on time!  Although somewhere along the way. it became behind schedule.  There were not many people taking this train, which was nice because that meant I did not have to worry about storing my luggage.

All of the trains I have been on so far announce the next stop in advance and this train also had digital signs in each end of each car telling the speed of the train, the temperature inside and outside the train, the next stop, if the bathroom was free or occupied, and how many minutes the train was late.  

When we arrived in Lucca, I had to carry my luggage down a few stairs but then was thrilled to find a ramp as an alternative to taking the stairs back up to the exit area. There was a taxi waiting right outside the train station.  The taxi cost €7.  

I arrived before my room was ready.  The woman running the B&B gave me a map and pointed out many of the recommended places to visit in Lucca,  including the two towers that can be climbed after I told her of my tower obsession.  

Once my room was ready, I unpacked my things and then headed out to find somewhere to eat lunch.  I immediately became lost, but it did not take me that long to figure out my way around using my map. 

I had lunch at Ristorante Pizzeria K2.  I ordered a delicious caprese salad and a pizza margherita with peperoni (peppers) added.  I thought about telling the waitress that I was aware that peperoni meant the vegetable - peppers and not the meat, but did not. About a minute after she took my order, she came back to make sure I understood that peperoni meant the vegetable and not the meat.  

The caprese salad was the melt in your mouth kind.
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The pizza was ok. I am pretty picky when it comes to pizza.
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I spent a wonderful afternoon wandering around Lucca.  
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July 3, 2009

still alive in Lucca

Ciao everyone!

I am still alive here in Lucca and am having a fabulous time. I have free wifi here at my wonderful B&B but only when in the breakfast/sitting room. I do not have access to a computer and I just have not found time to slowly “one finger type” a blog post using my iPod Touch the past few days.

I will have lots of time to catch up when I take two trains (traveling to Bologna on Sunday). I will have access to a computer at my hotel in Bologna and should be able to blog more regularly. I head to Bologna on Sunday

Pisa was wonderful. Climbing the tower was one of my top 10 experiences in Italy.

I will write more soon. Thanks for all of your comments. Hope all is well with everyone.

Ciao!

July 5, 2009

trains in Italy...friend or foe?

Although it was a challenge to get here, I am finally in Bologna. My hotel has free wifi as well as computer and printer access.

Before blogging about my exciting Pisa tower climb, I have two train stories to share.

Train story 1:
Last Tuesday I took the train from Lucca to Pisa. I followed my map route to the train station but could not seem to figure out how to get out of the city (passing through the wall which surrounds the city of Lucca). I don't know how I missed the little passageway, but ended up taking a route that veered farther away from the train station.

When I finally arrived at the train station, I was five minutes late for the train I planned to take. Fortunately the train to Pisa was running 10 minutes late. There was a line at the ticket window so I attempted to use the local train ticket machine. I was not sure how to purchase a roundtrip ticket, so I only purchased a ticket to Pisa. I validated my ticket and then checked the little TV to find my binario (train track number). Binario 4 was the train for PIsa.

Even though Lucca is not a big train station, it is a somewhat confusing train station. Usually the stairway to get to the other train tracks is easy to find, but I could not find the stairway at the Lucca train station. By the time I finally asked someone, I heard an announcement saying that the binario (train track) changed to number 1. That was easy. No need for any stairs. I got on the train and waited. I realized after a few minutes that the train I was on was the train that left in 30 minutes after the train I wanted to take. Meanwhile the train that was running late, leaving on track number 4 left. Oh well, not a huge deal. The train was fast, taking only 20 minutes to get to the little train stop (Stazione di Pisa San Rossore) near the tower in Lucca.

After a wonderful day in Pisa (will blog about my day in Pisa and tower climb next), I headed back to the little train station that is located near the tower. I thought about walking to the main train station so that I could see a bit more of Pisa but my feet were tired after a long day of walking all around Pisa.

I realized when I got close to the train station that I had no idea where to purchase the ticket. I saw a building that I thought might be the train station but it was not near the train tracks. As I started to walk towards the building, I heard the train arriving. The train station was pretty deserted and I did not want to end up hanging out for 30 more minutes for the next train, so I decided to run to try to catch the train.

The train guy was standing by one of the doors and saw me running for the train. Just as everyone else was boarded the train, somehow I tripped and fell. It all happened so fast but it also seemed to happen in slow motion. I first fell on my knees and put my hands out to break the fall. I also hit my head as my knees and hands hit the ground. I can't remember exactly what part of my head hit the cement but I do remember hearing the thud. I ended up with a bloody left knee, I bruised the side of my left foot pretty badly, I somehow got a raspberry mark on my upper chest (right were the V neck of a t-shirt is located), I cut up my left palm a bit, smashed my watch and bruised my right wrist, ended up with big bruise under my right jaw, and smashed my camera which was in my right hand.

I could see in the distance that the train guy was concerned. Thankfully no one else saw me fall. I jumped back up and continued to run for the train. I am happy to say that I caught the train. I would have been really upset if after all that I missed the train.

When I boarded the train, I walked through the four cars and looked for the train guy to buy my ticket. I could not find him so I found a seat, knowing that if I was caught without a train ticket, I would be fined a pretty big fee for not purchasing a 2.40 euro train ticket. There was not much I could do at that point though and I was pretty shaken up and more worried about my camera. Fortunately, my camera seems to be working. Hopefully there was not any damage to the lens.

As I sat and assessed the damage, I noticed my bloody knee. A few minutes later the train guy walked through the train cars. There I was sitting with a bloody knee, all shaken up, without a train ticket. In my 10 years of traveling in Italy, I have never been on a train, bus, or boat without a valid ticket. As he walked through the cars, I tried to think up an excuse hoping that he would take pity on me as I sat there with my bloody knee. I guess it was my lucky day because he walked from one end of the train to the other and then back to the front of the train and did not check anyone's tickets.

When I got back to Lucca, I headed to the Farmacia to purchase something to clean my knee. I usually bring some neosporin with my but forgot it this year. I bought these cool antiseptic cloths that come in individual packets. I also bought some square bandages that fit perfectly over my cut. Giulio, one of the owners of the B&B, gave me some ice from the kitchen for my foot. I rotated it between my foot and my knee. I also took some ibuprofin.

I still could not figure out just where I hit my head but was very aware that hitting my head could have been very dangerous. After going out for dinner, I stayed up past midnight to make sure I was not showing any head injury signs. Of course I had no idea what I would have done if I did start to show any signs. I am addicted to my solitaire game on my iPod Touch and played quite a few hands. I was making quite a few mistakes which had me a little concerned but realized I was just tired and it was not a sign of a head injury.

The following morning, the swelling went down a bit but my foot was very sore. Today is the first day that I have been able to walk on it without it being very painful, although it is still very bruised.

Train story 2:
Today, I traveled from Lucca to Bologna. I ordered a taxi 40 minutes before my train was scheduled to leave so that I would have plenty of time at the train station in Lucca to board my train.  I even walked to the train station the other day and did a dry run figuring out where the stairway passageway was to get to the different train tracks.  I purchased a Eurostar ticket for the train that goes from Florence to Bologna leaving least 30 minutes after the train from Lucca was scheduled to arrive in Florence.  I thought I was all set for an easy train travel day. 

When I arrived at the train station, I looked up at the little TV and saw that my train was set to leave on time.  Although the yellow partenza board listed the binario as number 4, the TV listed it as number 3.  Usually the little TV has the updated train track number.  I went down the ramp and then walked up the short flight of stairs with my luggage and saw that the train was already there. 

I asked the train guy to make sure that it was in fact the train to Florence.  I got on the train and waited for it to leave.  The train car I was sitting in was empty.  Perfect!  I would not have to worry about room for my luggage.  The scheuduled departure time was 10:32.  I did not hear any announcements that the train was running late.  

At 10:35, I heard an announcement that the binario for Florence changed from number 3 to number 4 (which was the original train track listed on the partenza board).  Just as the announcement was made a train arrived on track number 4.  The train was the same type of train that I took from Florence to Lucca.  I dragged my luggage off the train and looked up at the little sign by track number 4.  The little sign by track number 3 still said Firenze (Florence).  I asked a guy on the train I just got off of if that train was going to Firenze.  He said it was.  Major confusion set in.  Just as I attempted to lift my luggage back on the train I was originally already sitting on, the doors shut and the train started to move.  I could not believe it.  There was my train taking off and I was no longer on it!  

Let's just say that at that very moment I was not very happy. Now if I did not have a Eurostar reservation in Florence (specific train to catch with seat reservation) it would not have been a huge deal since the trains go to Bologna hourly from Florence but since I did, I needed to figure out a plan quickly.

I was not the only one who got off the train that left for Florence. An Italian woman did the same thing. We both went to the partenza board and saw that there was another train leaving for Florence in a few minutes. This was a special train that I think only runs on Sundays and possibly on holidays. It was a slower train that had more stops and was scheduled to arrive in Florence 15 minutes before my Eurostar was scheduled to depart. This train was located on binario 5 and was set to depart any minute. That meant I had to lug my bags down and then up a flight of stairs with the possibility that the train could have already taken off. 

We both took off down and then up those stairs. The train was still there. I boarded quickly while I noticed the woman having a very lively conversation with the train guy outside of the train (I assumed it was about the confusing announcement which by the way was announced both in Italian and English). This was the second time the Lucca train station announced information which caused me to miss my train.

Now that I was on this train, I started to wonder if the ticket I had purchased for the Lucca to Firenze train would work for this train. The train guy said my ticket was fine and told me that I had enough time to catch my train to Bologna in Florence.  

Just as we were about to arrive in Florence, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere. My 15 minutes to catch my next train was in jeopardy. My heart started to race again but after five minutes the train started to move. My train arrived at the farthest binario from the rest of the trains. Luckily, I know the Florence train station pretty well and found my train for Bologna with 5 minutes to spare. 

More train problems ahead...  
There is a scheduled train strike for 24 hours set for next Sunday, the day I am scheduled to travel to Stresa. I am still trying to find out more information about this train strike.  

Trains can be such a wonderful way to travel in Italy when everything goes right and I am very fortunate that the horrible train explosion in Viareggio did not affect my train travel. Just once though, I would love to experience a stress free train travel Italy trip.  I am starting to be too old for some of these crazy train experiences. Keep your fingers crossed for me that the strike is canceled.  

July 6, 2009

my amazing tower climb in Pisa

Tuesday, June 30th:
After arriving in Pisa at the little train station, I headed straight for the Piazza dei Miracoli (also known as the Campo dei Miracoli) where the tower as well as the beautiful cathedral and baptistery are located. Even though there are tons of tourist shops set up and many visitors in this piazza, it is still incredibly beautiful. I walked around and took a few photos. I then walked over to the ticket office, well marked and is located at the end of this long beautiful orangeish yellow building, to see if I could pick up my reserved tower ticket early.

There was no line when I arrived at the ticket office. I showed the man my reservation paper and he gave me my ticket. It felt like holding gold in my hands! I could already feel the excitement building.

Since my reservation was not until 5:40 in the afternoon, my plan was to visit the city of Pisa and then return later in the day to visit the other sites near the tower. I decided I might as well purchase a cumulative ticket while I was there. Of the many options, I decided on visiting the Baptistery, the Cathedral, and the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (all sites I have visited back in 2000). The man told me I made a good choice visiting the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo .

I noticed when I was leaving the ticket office that the sun was located perfectly for some nice photos of the Baptistery. I also saw that it was close to 11:30. I timed it perfectly. Every 30 minutes, the doors of the Baptistery are closed and a man sings or chants a few vowel sounds and the entire place echos. I timed it perfectly. This is the second time I have seen this. I took a little video and will post it later on when I return home.

After leaving the Baptistery, I headed towards some of the streets Gloria from Slow Travel indicated in her article, Pisa - The Town Today. Pisa is a wonderful town. Piazza dei Cavalieri is a beautiful square and should not be missed. There are many interesting streets and buildings in Pisa. I took tons of photos during my 90 minute walk through this city before meeting Gloria for lunch. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at
Osteria i Santi. I ordered a delicious spaghetti with seafood dish.

After lunch, we walked around a bit and she showed me some of her beautiful city. I was so fortunate and am very grateful to Gloria for the time we spent together. It is wonderful getting to see a town from a local's perspective. I walked with her across the river to meet her husband. I said goodbye to Gloria and thanked her and then headed back over the the river.

It started to sprinkle off and on. I began to worry that the weather would turn nasty and my view from the top would not be very good. I wandered down some more streets to check out more of the buildings Gloria pointed out, got lost at one point, and took lots of photos along the way.

As I arrived back at the Piazza dei Miracoli, the weather started to clear up. The sun was behind the tower in the morning so I did not take many photos of the tower yet. I went to a few spots where there are great views of the tower as it leans. I took some photos (I think I took 4 GB total of my day in Pisa) and then went inside the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. This is a beautiful little museum, which houses quite a few treasures. There are also very unique views of the tower from the courtyard of this museum.

It was now getting close to my reservation time. I went back over to the ticket area where there is a set of guarded lockers to leave all of your bags, purses, etc. during your tower climb. After putting all of my belongings except for my ticket and my camera inside the locker, I sat on the bench and waited. I was early but was surprised no one else was showing up to wait. Good thing I asked at one point where I was supposed to be waiting. I was told that I needed to wait at the entrance of the tower for the tour. I thought that the meeting point was at the locker site. When I got to the tower entrance, there was a small group of people waiting. Time moved very slowly for the next 10 minutes.

Finally, it was our turn to go into the tower. It was sort of a mad rush at first as people started down the few steps to the entrance. I waited patiently until someone let me into the line. I was surprised that a guide was not joining us. I savored every step as I walked up the first set of steps of the tower. The steps are circular and I believe are made of the same stone that the tower is built out of. Many of the steps have indentations on one side where I guess everyone tends to step due to the lean. I really could not feel that much of a lean. There were a few little openings along the way with great views. You can see how the tower is tilting more from the windows. When you hold your camera straight, the horizon is not straight.

About half way or maybe three quarters of the way up, there is a doorway that leads out the the outside of the tower (of course there is a barrier so that you won't fall off the tower). A woman with a badge, who was not very friendly, was standing at the opening. Everyone was told to walk around the tower. There is a walkway at this opening that circles the tower from the outside with a netting on the outside. When you get to the end, there is a gate and you have to return back to the doorway. I figured out later on that this is the point where the people from the previous tour are descending while all of us on the present tour are climbing up to the top. The woman could have just explained this to us (that this is the waiting point) instead of confusing everyone.

Finally, we were allowed to climb the rest of the way to the top. This was the best part of the climb. The lean of the tower was a little more evident but not again as much as I imagined. The next doorway leads back out to the edge. There are a few steps at this point that are a little spooky to step out onto and this was the only spot that was a "whoa!" moment. This is the level with all of the bells and was my favorite spot to stand and admire the view and the structure of the tower.

As I started to take a few photos, this guy in a blue uniform told me that I should go to the top (one short flight up) because I only had limited time. I walked up the narrow set of stairs and stood at the very top of the tower. There is a flag at the top of the tower and you can really see how one side is lower than the other, although I don't think it really shows in the photos. There is a guard rail around the tower so no one can fall off. I took a few photos and then went back down to the bell level while everyone else stayed at the top. I think there were about 12 people in my group.

I spent the rest of the time taking photos of the bells and the view from this level. I asked the guy in the blue uniform to take a photo of me by one of the bells and then I snuck a photo of him. He was very nice. We ended up chatting for a short while before our time was up. I lingered a little bit longer at each window on the way down, taking a few more photos. I would have stayed up there for hours if I could have. The climb definitely ranks up there as one of my to 10 experiences in Italy. I will definitely post photos when I return home.

Before heading back to the train station, I still had the Cathedral to visit. The inside of this church is definitely worth a visit. I took a few photos but am not sure how well they came out as it was pretty dark inside.

As I walked towards the porta (door) that is one of the the entrances to the Piazza dei Miracoli, I took a little video of the area and a few more photos. I could have stayed there for a few more hours but wanted to get back to Lucca before dinner time. If you read my train post, you know but my fall...

After returning to my B&B, cleaning up my cut on my knee, and icing my knee and my foot, I went back to Trattoria da "Leo" for dinner. I was surprised that the owners remembered my name. I was greeted with a friendly Ciao! I ordered fettuccine alle melenzane (spaghetti with eggplant and a tomato based sauce). It was sooooo good!

Perfect way to end a wonderful day in Pisa.

July 9, 2009

two bike rides and two towers

Wednesday, July 1st:
Wednesday morning, I awoke to a very sore jaw, knee, and foot. The swelling was down some on my foot though so that was good. I enjoyed another fabulous breakfast at my B&B. So far the best breakfasts have been at B&B La Romea in Lucca (although the coffee is from a moka and I prefer coffee made from espresso machine). No big problem though, this gives me a chance to experience the morning bar scene.

I originally planned to climb one of the two towers in Lucca but decided to put that off with my foot situation. Instead after stopping for a caffè macchiato at the beautiful bar on Via Filungo, I walked to one of the bike rental shops near the wall. I figured that riding a bike would take some of the weight off of my foot and still allow me to enjoy the sights in Lucca.

The cost of renting a bike in Lucca is 2.50 euros. You leave your passport with the guy at the bike shop and then pay when you return.

I had a wonderful time riding around the wall, stopping many times to take photos along the way. The weather was perfect! I am not sure how, but at one point I stepped in dog shit. I was wearing my new Nike sneakers since they provided me with the most cushioning. Of course there were many knooks and crannies in the bottom of these sneakers. I tried my best to clean most of it off with a stick but my sneaker still reaked of the smell.

I stumbled upon a fabulous little pizzeria called Bella 'Mbriana near the bike shop rental after returning my bike. This pizzeria is a serve yourself pizzeria. You order at the counter and then pick up your pizza when it comes out of the brick oven. I ordered a pizza margherita (mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce) adding peppers (peperoni). The pizza was delicious!

After I left the pizzeria, I went to the gelateria recommended by my B&B (something Venata I think). I ordered nocciola and caffè. It was just ok. I think I have been spoiled by Grom.

Dark clouds started moving in soon after I left the gelateria. I made it back to my B&B just before it started to rain. It took me quite a bit of time to get the smell and remnants of the dog doo doo out of the little crevices in my sneaker.

Once done cleaning my sneaker, I did some laundry and then took a much needed afternoon nap while it rained outside.

I decided on trying Ristorante da Francesco for dinner. I was a bit disappointed with this restaurant. I ordered ravioli with a tomato sauce. Again, I think I was spoiled with the wonderful food I have been eating at Trattoria da "Leo".

Thursday, July 2nd:
There are many towers in Lucca, and two that can be climbed.  In 1999 during my first visit to Lucca, I climbed my very first tower ever - the Torre Guinigi. This tower I believe is the only tower with trees growing on the top. Even though my foot was still pretty sore, the towers were calling my name. I figured I would climb one tower on Thursday and one on Friday.

Because my foot was pretty sore and I was not sure if I would make it up both towers, I decided to climb the Torre delle Ore first. My B&B was located between the two towers and not far from each.

The Torre delle Ore is a clock and bell tower. The bells ring every 15 minutes, although strangely the time was always off when the bells rang while I was there. At first I thought there was something wrong with my watch when I heard the bells ring until another person mentioned how the bells always rang at strange times.

There is a little doorway at the bottom of the tower that is open during the day. There are also two flags hanging outside the tower when it is open (I guess so people can find the tower). A girl was selling tickets at the bottom of the tower. She told me that if I planned to climb both towers, I could buy a cumulative ticket which was cheaper. She wasn't positive, but thought I needed to climb both during the same day with this ticket.

I am a sap for towers with or without a sore foot and could not pass up this deal. I asked her how many steps there were for each tower. Both were in the 200's (I believe the Torre Guinigi has 230 steps and I am not sure about Torre delle Ore). She said that although the Torre Guinigi (tower with the Oak trees at the top) is shorter, it has more steps because the Torre delle Ore is much more narrow.

I have to say that the Torre delle Ore was one of my least favorite climbs. The steps are old and a few freaked me out a little as they creaked and looked like they could snap. I was glad some little kid was not up there jumping on all of the steps. At one point during the climb up, pigeons flew out of little crevices and I screamed (imagine a mellow version of The Birds). There was also lots of pigeon droppings and feathers everywhere.

The views at the top however were spectacular! Just as I was about to take a photo, the bells started ringing. I jumped! I immediately set my camera to video to record the bells ringing. I didn't get much video though as they stopped ringing right after I started videoing them. They don't ring very long. I was all alone during my climb up, time at the top, and climb down. After limping up and down the tower, I figured what the heck, I might as well do the second tower since it was such a beautiful day.

The Torre Guinigi is a much easier climb (even though there are more stairs). The first half of the stairs are inside a building. Along the way, there are illustrations on the walls showing some of the history of Lucca. After reaching the top floor of the building, there is a door that is open with metal stairs. It still was a pretty easy climb although at least a little more "towerish" as climbs go. There were many people climbing this tower and it was quite crowded at the top. There were even a few workers at the top working on the soil (I was told the trees are sick). The views are also wonderful at the top of this tower.

When comparing the two towers, I would say that the views were just as good at the top of both towers, the the Torre Guinigi climb was nicer (no creaking stairs and birds flying out at you) and it is very cool seeing trees at the top of this tower, but I preferred the peacefulness at the top of the Torre delle Ore.

Wow, two towers in one day! Very cool! My foot was super sore at this point. I stopped at a pasticceria near my B&B (and also near the Torre Guinigi for a caffé macchiato and a sweet rice filled pastry.

I had such a wonderful time riding around the wall the day before and was not able to do much else with my foot hurting so I decided to gather up some food for a picnic lunch and rent a bike again. I stopped in the little supermercato nearby to buy some fruit and yogurt for lunch. I also stopped in a little shop selling fabulous panzanella (bread salad) and some sort of chicken salad (bought a little bit of each) and then went to one of the bike rental shops. I had a wonderful lunch on the wall and then rode around the wall.

I ended up walking much more than I planned on Thursday. After returning my bike, I wandered through a different area of Lucca that I had not been to yet and checked out the big stage being set up for the summer concerts that I was missing by one night. By the time I finally returned to my B&B, I was exhausted.

I had a wonderful dinner at Prosciutto e Melone, a restaurant located just outside of one of the openings of the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro. I ordered Caprese conbufala campana in millefoglie con pesto di basilico (a sort of caprese salad with crunchy bread and basil sauce) and Spaghetti allo scoglio (spaghetti with seafood. Both were fabulous. I took photos of both and hope both come out. A rock band was playing in the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro. I stopped to watch the band for a few minutes but did not stay long as it was starting to sprinkle out and it was chilly (for me).

Long day! I headed back to my B&B and crashed.

Two more days of Lucca to catch up on and then I will start on Bologna (which has been wonderful). I have decided to travel to Stresa on Saturday instead of Sunday to avoid the possible strike. My hotel in Stresa has the same room that I reserved available on Saturday and my hotel in Bologna was very understanding about my need to leave early. I would prefer not to leave Bologna a day early as I really love it here but no going back as I purchased my Eurostar ticket today.

Hope all is well with everyone! Ciao!!

July 11, 2009

a palazzo, a couple of churches, and dinner with dear friends

Friday, July 3rd:
Friday morning I walked back to the train station to buy my ticket for my train travel to Bologna on Sunday. I prefer to purchase my Eurostar tickets in advance whenever possible so that I don't need to worry about a train being sold out. I also don't like to have to stand in line waiting to buy the ticket the day of train travel and this train station does not have the automatic ticket machines except for the little machines for regional trains. I walked a different route back to see a little bit more of Lucca and ended up on the wall for part of my walk.

I had lunch at Trattoria da "Leo". I really enjoyed eating at this trattoria, not only for the good food but also for the service and warm welcome each time I arrived. The owners remember my name and enthusiastically say "Ciao!" each time I arrived. I ordered penne pinoli pomodoro e basilico (pasta dish with pine nuts, tomatoes, and basil) and had a slice of torta di mele (apple cake) for dessert.

In the afternoon, I visited the Palazzo Pfanner garden and residence (you have the choice of visiting one or both when you purchase the ticket - 5 euros for the combined ticket). I had not heard of this palazzo before but became curious after seeing the beautiful gardens while riding my bike around the wall. It was pretty difficult to find, but after asking a few people, I located the palazzo on a little street near the San Frediano church (Via degli Asili, 33). Thre are 14 eighteenth-century statues made of marble from Carrara that depict the gods from Mount Olympus in this garden, a fountain in the middle, lemon trees, and beautiful bushes of flowers (forget the name now but I took photos). In the residence, an antique collection of medical and surgical instruments which belonged to Dr. Pietro Pfanner (1864-1935) was displayed. Looking at these instruments made me very appreciative of our current medical system.

For dinner, I made a reservation at Buca di Sant' Antonio. This restaurant is located near the San Michele church. Before dinner, I walked around a few of the streets near Buca di Sant' Antonio and discovered the panificio I remembered visiting in 1999 during my first visit to Lucca. I was pretty excited to find this place. I took a few photos of it back in 1999 and remembered the very kind man that worked there.

I had a wonderful dinner at Buca di Sant' Antonio. I ordered ravioli di ricotta alle zucchine (ravioli filled with ricotta cheese saute topped with grated zucchini and a few cherry tomatoes), capretto nostrale allo spiedo con patate arrosto e sformato di carciofi (baby goat cooked on the spit with potatoes and artichoke pudding), and fragole con panna (strawberries in fresh whipped cream) for dessert. The goat meat was good but strange to eat as I have not eaten meat like that in a long time. I sat next to a very nice family from Philadelphia and enjoyed our conversation during dinner. I was soooo stuffed when leaving Buca di Sant' Antonio.

When I returned to my B&B, Francesco (my friend from Empoli) called and confirmed our dinner Saturday night in Lucca. His family was staying in a little town near Viareggio. We had been in contact and hoped to meet while I was in Lucca since he would not be in Empoli while I was in Florence. I walked back to Trattoria da "Leo" to make a reservation for Saturday night and then went back to my B&B and called it a night.


Saturday, July 4th:
Saturday, I visited two of the very important churches in Lucca, the church of San Giovanni, which was built in the 12th century and partially remodeled in the 17th century but still has some Romanesque features and the main cathedral, San Martino.

Inside the church of San Giovanni, you can go underground to see the archaeological excavations dating from the first century BC through the eleventh century AD including Roman remains, part of an early Christian church, and a medieval crypt. Very cool!!

After enjoying my interesting visit to the San Giovanni church, I walked over to Lucca's main cathedral, San Martino, which is located just around the corner from the San Giovanni church. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside this church, which is too bad as there are a couple of amazing sights - the Volto Santo and the 15th century tomb Ilaria del Carretto, a masterpiece by Jacopo della Quercia.

Next to the cathedral is an interesting museum I also visited. There is a cumulativo ticket you can purchase for 6 euros to visit the ruins, the museum, and part of the cathedral where the Ilaria tomb is located.

I went to Da Felice for lunch. I ordered both a slice of cecina pizza and a slice of pizza margherita. The pizza margherita was surprisingly good for a place that sells pizza by the slice. I thought the cecina pizza was just ok (it was a little too bland for my taste). After lunch, I went back to my B&B and packed and hung out for most of the afternoon at my B&B.

Saturday evening I met my dear friends from Empoli - Francesco & Irene and their two children, Sara & Gabriele. We walked around Lucca for a bit and then went to Trattoria da "Leo" for dinner. I ordered spaghetti aglio, olio, e peperoncini, which was delicious!

We walked over to Gelateria Santini for dessert. I thought the gelato was good there but the woman serving the gelato was not very friendly. When I asked for a taste of the pesca (peach), she gave me a not so nice look. Francesco also noticed the look and thought her attitude was pretty bad.

I had a wonderful evening catching up and spending time together with Francesco, Irene and their two children. I was amazed at how much they grew in one year. Sara is quite the little lady now at age 5 and Gabriele who is almost three has a fun personality. Our visit was much too short but it was so nice of them to drive over to Lucca to spend the evening with me.

Lucca started showing films in a little piazza on Wednesday of the week I arrived. The cost if 5 euros. The Millionaire was playing Saturday night. It took me a while to figure out that The Millionaire was the Italian name for Slumdog Millionaire. Strange that the Italian name would be an English name but still a different name. I arrived just as the little boy was in the outhouse. It was fun watching this movie in Italian. I have seen it before and so I could understand much of the movie (some of the dialogue in Italian, and of course the storyline).

I had a fabulous time in Lucca. I could have stayed there for weeks and was sad to leave after 6 nights but also excited to return to Bologna.


**I am now in Stresa and the computer at this hotel is crazy! I am not sure how much I will be posting from here. I might end up trying to use my iPod Touch instead to do some posts. Well, I am off to have dinner.

Ciao!!

July 12, 2009

arrival in Bologna

Sunday, July 5th:
After a frustrating train experience in Lucca, my train ride from Firenze to Bologna was very pleasant. I sat across from a very nice girl who was traveling in Italy with her family for the first time.

When I arrived in Bologna, the train station was bustling.  The city of Bologna however seemed almost deserted as the taxi drove me to my hotel.   Hardly any cars on the main streets and most of the sbops were closed.  Taxi drver was nice. The farw cost €8.50.    

As I checked into my hotel, before even being asked for my passport, I was surprised with a very thoughtful gift from Sandra.  Thank you!! :)

After checking in, I unpacked and then went out to hang out in Piazza Maggiore (the main piazza).  I realized that I did not have any lunch. It was a little too early for dinner so I headed over to Grom and ordered my favorite combination there - caffe and pistacchio. Interestingly, without even asking, the woman put the caffe gelato on the bottom (in Firenze, the woman insisted that the caffe had to go on the top).  The gelato was heavenly.

On Sundays, many restaurants are closed, including the restaurant I had hoped to eat at.  Allessandra, one of the verykind women who worked at the front desk at my hotel recommended Zerocinquantuno (051).  This is a new place that opened just three months ago, located right next to the Duomo in Piazza Maggoire.  It is more of a bar but there are also few dinner choices on their menu.

I ordered my favorite tortelloni burro e salvia & a caprese salad. The prices were very reasonable for a place right by the main piazza with great views. 


The bells started to ring while I waited for my food.  An older Italian couple sat at the table next to me. The woman asked me where I was from. They were amazed that I traveled so far and all alone. We had a nice conversation during dinner. My food was just ok. The service was good and the view was wonderful.

I was tired after a long train travel day. I went back to my hotel after dinner and hung out in my hotel, watching TV.  

July 13, 2009

a tour, a protest, and an eye-opening movie

Monday, July 6th:
I am really happy with my hotel in Bologna. You can't beat the great price I managed to get for being so centrally located. I do miss the breakfast though at Hotel Porta San Mamalo and the cofee there as well as the people who work there.  I found the breakfasts to be just ok at Hotel Orologio.  There is a big selection, just not many of the foods I prefer to eat in the morning. The one thing that did stand out however was the blood orange orange juice. Wow!!  Sooo delicious!!

I am always hesitant taking tours as I don't do well in large groups.  The latest thing is giving everyone little iPod like devices while the tour guide speaks into a microphone taht is hooked up to the little iPod like devices.   I saw one huge tour group while I was in Bologna where the tour guide was givibg some facts about a building and much of the huge tour group was still half a block away!  

Sandra told me about a tour of Bologna  offered at the tourist info point.  Cost is only €13 and the groups are usually small.  I decided to take the tour at the beginning of my stay so that I could investigate new places I learned about more in depth later on.  Two other people besides myself signed up for the tour Monday morning. The tour started at 11am and ended at 1 pm.  Simona was our tour guide. I had hoped for Emilia, who Sandra raved about but the tourist info point did not know the schedule of the tour guides and since I could not be sure when or if Emilia was conducting any tours the week I was in Bologna I took my chances Monday morning.  

Although Simona waa very informative, she seemed to be in a rush and did not seem to welcome questions. I also found it odd that she did not ask us where we were from, if this was our first time or even first day in Bologna, etc., especially since there were only three of us.  She even ended the tour ten minutes early and rushed off somewhere.  Despite thr rushed presentation, I am very glad I took this tour.  I learned many new things about Bologna.

After the tour ended, I went to see one of the oldest porticoes the tour guide told us about. I ended up getting lost. I wandered around for a while, finally figuring out where I was.  

By this time I was hungry. I remembered the wonderful piadina like sandwich (more like a wrap but not rolled) that I had last year at Caffe Zamboni.  Caffe Zamboni is located near the two towers heading towards the university area. When I arrived I saw the same thing I ate last year in their see through display along with a few other varieties of panini. I think it was called stracchino e rucola. The tables were all full so I ordered mine porta la via (to go).  

As I sat on a bench by the towers and peacefully ate my sandwich, a group with a big sign, drums, and a guy with a microphone marched by. They were obviously protesting something. As they turned the corner, they stopped. They started protesting more loudly and a crowd gathered. My curiosity got the better of me, so I got up and walked over to the crowd while continuing to eat my sandwich.

As I turned the corner, I saw a group of police standing in a line dressed in riot gear.  I could hear my mother telling me that I should get far away from this protest right away but at the same time, this was far too interesting an event to leave. I made sure that I was standing in a spot where I could easily escape, put my sandwich back in the bag, and grabbed my camera.  I think you eill enjoy the shots I took. I wonder if they will work for one of the upcoming PhotoHunt posts.

After taking a few photos, I moved back towards the towers. The protest lasted about 30 minutes. You coukd really see how the protest was blocking all the traffic when atnding near the towers. Buses were stopped and taxi drvers and cars were all stuck in grid lock. I asked a girl that was also watching if she knew what the protest was about. As she began to tell me what she thought it was about, this guy sitting nearby butted in and started speaking rapidly in Italian telling the girl his opinion of what the protest was about. 

I picked up about 50% of what he was saying. From what I gathered it was about some law that was just passed, also it was about the upcoming G8, and for good measure, he added that Berlusconi was crazy. I told him how sorry I was that Burlusconi was still in and mentioned how lucky we are that Bush is gone and we hav Obama now. He smiled and congratulated me. He then asked where I was from which led to another whole conversation. At one point he asked me if I needed a room as he had rooms for rent. That was my cue to leave.  I later found out when watching the news and reading the paper the following day that a similar protest (same signs) took place in many of the major cities in Italy and from what I understand only the protest in Torino resulted in a few arrests.

That afternoon, I spent one hour searching for a gelateria called funivia, which was recommended by our tour guide.  I thought she said it was in or near Piazza Cavour.  I never found it but I did visit the beautiful church of San Domenico that I also visited last year.   I still had gelato on the brain. I returned to Grom and decided to go out on a limb and try some new flavors, lampone and pesca (raspberry and peach). The raspberry was fabulous.  The peach was good but did not compare with the prach I had in Montelupo one summer.  

Monday evening, I met a different Simona, a friend of Katia's I have met a few times in Ciccaglio and Rovato for dinner.  Simona even joined us for a bike ride once aroind the little island on Lake Iseo.  Simona is living in Bologna for the summer for her work.  She also brought along two friends.  All three have only been in Bologna for about a month.  

We met at Neptune's fountain in Piazza Maggiore and decided to go out for a pizza.  They did not have any pizzeria in mind.  I told them that my tour guide recommended a place nearby. Of course I had no clue exactly where it was located. We finally found it after walking around for about 20 minutes.  The restaurant pizzeria is called Scalinatella.  The owner was very nice. We all had a wonderful time. 

We ordered pizzas and then desserts.  I thought that the food was very good. One Simona's friends is from Naples. He seemed to enjoy his pizza but did say that it was nothing like the pizza in Naples.  The desserts were all Southern Italian desserts. I can't remember the exact name of mine but it was delicious.

After dinner, Simona and her friends headed home.  I walked back to Piazza Maggiore and the movie Food, Inc. was playing.  Both in Bologna and in Lucca, chairs are set up for the duration of the nightly movie events. The only difference is that the movies in Bologna are free.

I arrived about 10 or 15 minutes after the movie started.  The piazza was packed. Not only were all the chairs filled, but people were sitting on the ground, on the stairs of the church, and standing all around.  The movie was ib English with Italian subtitles. 

In my opinion, every person in the US should see this movie and be aware of what has happened and is happening to our food.  I sat there wondering just what all of the Italians were thinking as the movie played.  The piazza was so quiet you could hear a pin dropa throughout the movie.  While watching the movie, I was grateful that for at least the next few weeks, I would most likely be eating fresh, safe food. I am not looking forwasrd to eating in the US again. At least Hawaii finally has a Whole Foods as well as a few other health food stores where the food more likely will come from safer sources.  I can't say the same though for restaurant food.

Please excuse all of the typos. I am back to blogging using my iPod Touch. I can't deal with the hotel computer and it is too difficult to go back and proofread since the scroll bar doesn't appear.

Thanks again for all of your comments. I do intend to go back and answer some of your questions once I have the time and am back on a normal computer.       

July 15, 2009

mosaics in ravenna

Tuesday, July 7th:
Tuesday morning, I decided on a daytrip to Ravenna. I spent a couple of nights in Ravenna many years ago and wanted to go back to see the mosaics once again, this time with my digital camera.  

In the morning, I went to the tabacchieri (spelling?) and bought two tickets for the bus. The hotel told me that I should catch Bua A, which goes directly to the station and stops across the street from Neptune's statue. The bus arrived soon after I arrived.  I am always nervous that I will miss my stop when taking the bus. I asked the driver if he would tell me when we got to the station. It ended up being pretty obvious when we arrived at the station. 

Once inside the train station,  I bought my ticket at one of the automatic ticket machines.  I was early and had time to go find the information office where I was told I could find out about the planned strike on Sat/Sun.  

I validated my ticket for my train ride so that I would not forget and then went into the information office. Fortunately my train vocabulary in Italian is pretty good as the information guy spoke rapid Italian. When I asked him about the train strike scheduled from Saturday night until Sunday night, he told me that the train strike was today (Tuesday)!  Another train strike?? I told him that I had just bought and validated my ticket. He told me not to worry. The strike did not start until 12:30 and would only last for four hours.  I guess that meant I would becstaying in Ravenna until late in the afternoon.

I asked him again about the Sat/Sun train strike. He had no knowledge of it but asked someone else when I told him that I read about it on the Italian train strike site.  He asked the guy working next to him.  The other guy had heard about the strike.  Together, they looked at the computer and found the info on tge strike and then told me that nothing was planned yet and they had no information.

The train ride to Ravenna was about 80 or 90 minutes.  I had an old map with me.  The map along with the signs kept me from getting completely lost. There were signs to the tourist info office, which I headed for first since it is located near the Basilica di San Vitale.  

I asked the woman to circle all the important sites on the map. That along with info from both Sandra's & Judy's recent blog posts about Ravenna guided my day. I basically visited the usual suspects along with an extra Battistero Sandra wrote about, the Domus dei' Tappeti Pietra, and an extra church, which at first I thought was the Basilica di San Apollinare Nuovo. I will add the list of what I visited and in what order later when I return home. 

Sometimes my poor map reading skills work out well. Most of this church was destroyed during World War II. Inside the church were before and after photos.  I took a photo of the photos to share. 

During the middle of my wonderful day of mosaics I stopped for lunch at Ca' de' Ven. I ordered pesto pasta with pecorino cheese, a piadina, and grilled veggies.  

My one screw up was not shopping at the raved shop everyone shops at while in Ravenna. I did peek in this shop (forget the name at the moment) but I was there at the beginning of the day and did not want to carry anything around all day. After visiting the last church, I was already close to the train station and did not want to walk all the way back to the shop again.  I was worn out from a long day of walking and my foot was still bothering me.

The train I wanted to take was scheduled to leave five minutes before the four hour strike was over. I had no idea what the situation would be when I arrived. I waited in line to buy a ticket and asked the woman about the strike and if the next train would leave on time. She told me that there really wasn't a strke.  I left Ravenna about 4:30pm and arrived back ib bologna aroind 6pm. 

I realized that I forgot to find out where to catch the bus. There are tons of bus stops scattered about at the train station.  I went to a couple of stations and asked. No one knew where Bus A stopped. I can't remember how I finally figured out where the stop was located. I had to cross the main street, which can be a little tricky. I was so tired, I really wanted to be back at my hotel. As I waited for the bus, I saw another Bus A stop right in front of the station. I realized the that I could have caught the bus there (although in my Thurs. Bologna blog post, I will tell you what happens when you catch the bus there).

Around 7 or 7:30 pm while in my hotelvroom, I heard something happening in the piazza.  I looked out my window but could omly see a group of police and woman singing (she often set up a little portable sound system and sang in the early evening).   I went out to check it out.  

By the Neptune statue (the one spot I could not see from my window) there was a huge group filling up almost the entire area chanting, singing, waving flags, and a few people were playing drums. Everyone was wearing either blue and red shirts or matching scarves. There were also a few signs and banners.  

It did not look like a political protest to me, especially since there were people of all ages there and the police did not seem very concerned. My guess was that it had something to do with soccer (calcio).  Especially since at one point the smoke like colored fireworks appeared. The first time I saw this in the middle of a crowd was during the World Cup semifinal in a piazza in Torino. The police ignored the fireworks that night also.  

The following day I found out that it was a protest against the current mamager or president of the Bologna soccer team or club.  I took some video to share when I get home.   

For dinner Tuesday night, I tried to get a table at Ristorante Teresina but I arrived too late and they were no available tables. I did not see the waiters that waited on me last year. When I went back to my hotel to ask for recommendations of restaurants which would not require a reservation, I was told that the hotel has heard more mixed reviews of Ristorante Teresina this year.  

I asked if Trattoria da Mela, a place Sandra mentioned, was very far and if I would need a reservation there.  Sara, one of the very nice people working at the hotel  called to make one just in case and then walked out of the hotel with me and showed me where the restaurant was located (just around the corner from the hotel).

I ordered a pizza bufalina (pizza with the delicious bufala mozzarella cheese). For dessert, I walked over to Grom and oredered my favorite caffe & pistacchio combo.  

After dinner, I went to check out the movie playing in the piazza. It was an old western. The seats were all full and it was cold outside.  I decided instead to go back to my comfy hotel room and watch Juno in Italina on TV.

I am really glad I returned to Ravenna to see the mosaics again. They were just as amazing the second time around.    

slug day in Bologna

Wednesday, July 8th:
I slept in Wednesday morning. Once up, I went to check out the food markets. There is a new Eat Italy in the area where the food markets are located in Bologna.  I went inside to have a look around.  Interesting place.  Various foods for sale, part bookstore, and also part caffe with drinks and food to eat.  

After wandering around the food market area, I went back to my hotel and had a long discussion at the hotel desk about gelateria choices. The owner or manager of the hotel was also there and joined in on the discussion.  I was told that the gelateria in Piazza Cavour had the best gelato. I asked if the name of this gelateria was Funivia since that was the gelateria I spent an hour searching for on Monday. I was told that it was called Gelateria Cavour. 

I had to check it out. On the way I stopped in Caffe Zanarini and had a delicious little pastry and a caffe macchiato.  Piazza Cavour was a block away.  I was skeptic that there was a gelateria in this piazza since I could not find any ther on Monday but indeed there not only was was a gelateria but it was called Cremeria Funivia!  I guess it is also referred to as Gelateria Cavour by some who live in Bologna.  

Cremeria Funivia is a large gelateria. The gelato is made right there and the flavors are kept covered similar to Grom rather than displayed. There is a large selection of flavors available.  The caffe flavor has chocolate mixed in with it (migraine trigger for me) so I ordered nocciola and pistacchio. 

In my opinion, the nocciola was outstanding, probably one of the best I have had. Grom however has Cremeria Funivia beat for the pistacchio.  I meant to go back to Cremeria Funivia to try more flavors but ran out of time.

Now that I had dessert, it was time for lunch.  I returned to Eat italy and ordered a pomodoro, mozzarella bufala, and basilico panino.  Outstanding!

After lunch, I went to the Museo Civico Medievale. Free and closing in one hour. It was a fun museum to walk through with some interesting things to see.  I took photos which I will post later. 

I was feeling pretty sluggish. I hung out at my hotel in the late afternoon and took a long nap.

I had dinner at Cesarini, located in the beautiful Piazza Santo Stefano. I ordered spaghetti with clams and a mixed salad. Both the service and the food were very good. Another western movie playing in the piazza. I decided on an early night instead.  

Tomorrow -Reggio Emilia and Parma.

July 16, 2009

no more wifi/internet access until I return home...

Will continue trip posts back home after recovering from jet lag.

July 18, 2009

in Coccaglio

Ciao! I am in Coccaglio now. I will have limited internet access here. My blog that I have almost finished are trapped inside my iPod Touch (no wifi access to download them). Will update again when I return home next week. Just wanted to let everyone know I am fine.

July 27, 2009

heading back home ~ part 1: Milan to Newark

I thought I would start with the end of my trip since I have not written up much of this part of my trip yet and it will probably be the first part to disappear from my memory.

I took the 16:37 train to Milano Centrale (train station). I would have taken the 15:37 train but somehow thought it left at 15:47 (mixed it up with the Verona train time from the day before). We arrived at the station at 15:36 just as the 15:37 train was about to arrive and for once the train was on time. Not enough time to go down and then up the stairs to get to binario 2. I learned my lesson once already regarding running for a train this summer.

Katia and I hung out at the train station for the next hour waiting for my train to arrive. It was nice having an hour of quiet time chatting before I left. I always hate saying goodbye when I finally get on that train after spending time with Katia and Guido (more on my time in Coccaglio later).

I find that for most trains, first class always pays off. The car was pretty empty. Lots of room for my bags. Peaceful ride. A very nice man offered to help me with my bags when getting off the train. Two more creepy guys attempting the "can I help you with your bags" scam approached me once I was off the train. Although it can be a little tricky maneuvering around with 2 roller bags hooked to each other in Milan due to the crowds and congestion, I was thankful there were no more stairs.

I love the new improvements at the Milano Centrale train station. There are moving walkways that angle downward to go down to the lower levels so you no longer need to go carry bags down the stairs to reach the street level. Because everything is new (or at least new to me since last summer), I was not sure at first where to go. I found a sign at one level for the airport shuttle but not at the next. I can't remember if you have to go down twice or three times but just head towards the metro sign until you are on the ground level and then you will see the airport signs again.

I bought ticket at the tabaccheria shop on the ground floor where there was a big sign saying Malpensa Express €7. There still is a little work going on at this train station so my directions might change, but at least for now, you head on out the door by the tabaccheria shop, walk straight ahead until you reach a main street, and then turn left or just follow everyone with luggage and you will find the Malpensa Express buses.

In my experience, the bus drivers are not always so friendly at the train station. As I approached the first bus, the bus driver in a grouchy voice told me to go to the next bus. At the next bus, the guy standing in front of the door at the bus took my ticket and stamped it. While he was stamping it, I was unable to avoid inhaling a bit of his stinky lit cigarette. He seemed oblivious as I noticed uncomfortable reactions from other bus riders as they either had their tickets stamped or bought tickets from this guy. He also said just one word - "La", which meant there, referring to the fact that you had to go around to the other side to store your bags in the storage compartment under the bus. The guy by the baggage storage area, who turned out to be our bus driver, was friendlier. He asked everyone if you were going to Terminal 1 or 2. Terminal 2 is first. Terminal 1 is the terminal where most people depart.

The bus was pretty full. I was fortunate to find a seat not too far from the front of the bus. I was even more fortunate to be one of the few who ended up with an empty seat next to me for the ride. I took the following photo of three girls trying to figure out directions on a big map while two guys look on in Milan at a red light.

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Because I stayed at the same airport hotel last summer, I knew just where to go once we arrived at Terminal 1. I called the hotel as instructed when I arrived and was told that the shuttle would arrive in 15-20 minutes. I hoped this would not be like last year when I waited 25 minutes in a thunder and lightening storm and two other women waited for one hour. The hotel is only a 5 minutes drive to the airport.

Continue reading "heading back home ~ part 1: Milan to Newark" »

July 31, 2009

heading back home ~ part 2: Newark to Honolulu

My flight to Newark arrived on time. I called Kim to let her know that I arrived and to arrange a meeting place. As I made my way down to the international arrival area, I noticed huge signs informing everyone that no cell phones and photos were allowed.

I found it strange that the US citizens' lines at the passport control were on the left when in the past they were always on the right. The wait was minimal. Next stop, the luggage carousel. As always, it seemed to take forever for the luggage to start coming. While we waited the little beagle dog made the rounds a few times sniffing for food items such that need to be declared. Once the luggage carousel started moving, my bag showed up pretty quickly. I always do that little happy dance in my head when I see my bag after having a bag lost or more accurately stolen after departing Rome one year.

I brought back some canned tuna and anchovies for my dad thinking that these food items would not send me through the agriculture line. Wrong.

Just it was my turn to explain my food items marked on my blue slip, my phone rang. I knew it was Kim but could not answer it. It just kept ringing and ringing as I tried to explain to the guy that all of my food items were either candy or canned tuna and anchovies. He told me that I had to go through the agriculture line anyways. I really dislike going through this line after watching the guy put my bag through the x-ray machine one time and then letting it drop 3 feet onto the ground while I was not allowed near my bag. That year I brought back sundried tomatoes.

This year, they were so busy tearing through two other passengers' bags that they just sent my bags through the x-ray machines. I was able to grab them just as they reached the end. My phone started ringing again. I didn’t dare answer it since I was not officially out of the area yet. I felt bad wondering if Kim was right outside wondering where I was.

After gathering up all of my stuff and hooking it back together, I left the international arrival area and gave Kim a call. I told her where I was and headed outside. Kim called again a few minutes later asking exactly where I was saying that she must have just missed me and would do another loop around. I told her I would wave my arms and jump up and down for her so she could find me. I forgot to ask what color her car was so I stood out in the street waving my arms and jumping up and down as each car approached.

A few minutes later, Kim called again talking about landmarks I was not seeing. I kept telling her that I was by a certain door and she kept talking about signs I was not seeing anywhere. Meanwhile a guy nearby must have overheard me and told me to tell her that I was at Terminal B. Terminal B? All this time Kim thought I was at Terminal C. No wonder why she could not find me. Once this was cleared up, Kim arrived a few minutes later. We laughed about the mix up, but I still felt badly that she wasted all her time driving around. I guess usually Continental planes usually always land at Terminal C and I had no idea that there were even different terminals. That would explain why the US citizens' lines at the passport control were on the left this time.

I was treated like a queen at Kim's house. I took a shower and unpacked just a few things as I settled into my huge bedroom with a very comfortable bed and private bathroom when we arrived. Kim and I went to a little store that sold fresh fruits and vegetables and then later to a big grocery store nearby. I am always amazed when wandering through a grocery store on the mainland. Not only are the prices much lower than they are in Hawaii, but there is so much more of a variety of food to choose from. So many things that I wish were sold here in Hawaii.

Kim promised me a lobster dinner a couple of years ago. The guy fishing out the lobsters did a great job finding four superb lobsters for us.

After reading so much about Becky and Sammi, it was wonderful to finally meet both of them for the first time. We hung outside and munched on some appetizers. Chris joined us when he got home from work. Dinner later that evening was fabulous. I would say that it was probably one of the best meals of my trip! I should have taken a photo of the huge spread, but did take a photo of the lobsters. YUM!!!

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I slept well and awoke to another fabulous spread. Bagels! Oh how I miss good bagels!! Cream cheese with chives, tomato slices, fresh fruit, and pastries. I think I should have booked a week at Kim's spectacular hotel.

Kim checked me in online and printed out a boarding pass for me and then drove me back to the airport. Thank you again Kim for a wonderful time! You are too kind! I am very lucky to have a friend like you.

Continue reading "heading back home ~ part 2: Newark to Honolulu" »

August 1, 2009

"entertainment"~ PhotoHunt

PhotoHunters

This fountain in Piazza della Vittoria in the town of Reggio Emilia, Italy...
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provided two little girls entertainment.
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The two little girls provided me with entertainment.
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The Teatro Municipale Valli (by the fountains) provides the people of Italy as well as visitors to Italy entertainment.
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Another view of the Teatro Municipale Valli
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One more view of the fountains and Piazza della Vitttoria
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For more photos of the fountain, the Teatro Municipale Valli, and Piazza della Vittoria in Reggio Emilia, check out this link.

August 5, 2009

daytrip to Reggio Emilia

My last detailed trip post (besides posts about my return home) was during the Bologna part of my trip.

Continuing on with trip posts while staying in Bologna…

Thursday, July 9th:
After a low key day on Wednesday, Thursday was going to be a daytrip day. My plan was to visit Reggio Emilia in the morning and possibly continue on to Parma (about 15 minutes further by train) in the afternoon. Reggio Emilia is not a very popular tourist stop but it is very famous for its early childhood education. I went to Reggio Emilia without any notes and no set plans. I only brought an old map of the town that I picked up a few years ago at the Informagiovani in Coccaglio where Katia works

I discovered an even closer bus stop for the A bus on Wednesday while walking around Bologna that was located right next to the church in Piazza Maggiore. Thursday morning, I bought two bus tickets at the nearby tabaccheria and then walked to the bus stop by the church. I waited only a few minutes before the bus arrived. I took the bus to the train station, bought a train ticket from one of the automatic ticket machines, and took the 9:30 regional train to Reggio Emilia, arriving at 10:08 (notes I kept/I don't have that good of a memory).

It is a good thing I had an old map with me because the tourist information office is located in the center of the town. I would have never found the centro, which was about a 10 minute walk without a map. Even with a map, I had to ask for directions to find the center twice.

I had no idea what I would find in Reggio Emilia. The area right by the train station seemed like a mini Chinatown. I say this because most of the signs were written in Chinese. As I walked towards the center, the buildings reminded me somewhat of some of the buildings in Modena.

The first piazza I came upon in the centro area of Reggio Emilia was Piazza San Prospero where the Basilica di San Prospero is located. It was market day in Reggio Emilia and Piazza San Prospero was full of stalls selling various items. Because of the piazza being full, it was difficult to take one photo of the entire church.
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After visiting the inside of the church, I continued on to Piazza Prampolini. I loved the view of the roof tops heading towards Piazza Prampolini.
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According to my map, the tourist information office was supposed to be located in Piazza Prampolini next to this interesting church.
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When I walked into the building where I thought the tourist information office was located, I was told that the office moved to a building just outside of the piazza.

There was also a beautiful clock tower in Piazza Prampolini.
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As I walked towards the correct tourist information office, I took this photo looking back towards Piazza Prampolini.
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Continue reading "daytrip to Reggio Emilia" »

August 8, 2009

"low"~ PhotoHunt

PhotoHunters

Most people just look up at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but if you look down low you will see the amazing base of this incredible tower.

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When looking down low, I discovered these cool creatures sculpted into the base of benches both at Villa Taranto on Lago di Maggiore
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and in Lonato outside of the Casa del Podestà
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August 9, 2009

onward to Parma

Thursday, July 9th:
The train ride from Reggio Emilia to Parma is only 15 minutes. With the train running 10 minutes late, I arrived in Parma at 1:35. I was starving! I considered eating lunch in Reggio Emilia but couldn't pass up having a meal in Parma. The tour guide from Bologna recommended a restaurant in Parma called Sorelle Picchi but I forgot to look up where it was on the map and gave up looking after about 10 minutes. I was concerned that many of the restaurants would be closing soon and I did not want to miss out on a sit down meal in Parma.

I remembered eating at a wonderful restaurant near the Duomo. As I headed up a little street behind the Duomo area where I thought the restaurant was located, I saw this cute little restaurant called Ristorante La Forchetta.
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It turned out to be a fabulous choice! I ordered tortelli di zucca alla parmigiana (little ravioli filled with pumpkin and covered in butter and parmesan cheese). As I took my first bite... WOW!!! Incredible!! The homemade bread was also soooo delicious! It was one of the best meals I had in Italy this summer. The only complaint I had was that I was so stuffed after eating the tortelli and bread that I had no room for any dessert.

After I rolled out of the restaurant, I had a little time to kill before everything opened up again at 3. Perfect time to take some photos. I headed straight for the beautiful Piazza Garibaldi. The Palazzo del Governatore with its very cool astronomical clock is one of my favorite buildings in Parma.
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After taking a few photos in Piazza Garibaldi, I walked back to the Piazza del Duomo.

Continue reading "onward to Parma" »

August 13, 2009

exterior of the Baptistery of Parma

The pink and white marble octagonal shaped Battistero or Baptistery of Parma was designed by Benedetto Antelami, who was director of works from 1196 to 1216. Benedetto Antelami was one of the most important sculptors of the late Romanesque period Italy. The Baptistery was completed in the Gothic style in either 1260, 1270 or 1307 (the information I have read cites different completion dates). Does anyone know the correct date?

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Below are more photos of the exterior of the Baptistery of Parma, including close ups of the sculptures above the three doorways.

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Continue reading "exterior of the Baptistery of Parma" »

August 14, 2009

interior of the Baptistery of Parma

I am blown away every time I visit the interior of the Baptistery in Parma. It is my absolute favorite baptistery in Italy. I find it even more beautiful than the two amazing baptisteries covered with mosaics in Ravenna.

The inside of the Baptistery of Parma contains 16 sides and 16 arches forming alcoves. Sixteen rays come out of the center of the ceiling, corresponding to the 16 arches. The cupola was influenced by Byzantine concepts. The 13th and 14th century frescoes and paintings in the baptistery were perhaps not true frescoes. According to Wikipedia, the paint started coming off of the walls and literally hung on. Due to this, the Baptistery had to be painstakingly consolidated and restored with syringes and spatulas.

Yesterday, I posted photos of the exterior of the Baptistery of Parma. Today, I would like to share both photos and a short video of the interior of the Baptistery of Parma. When taking the video, I spun around twice (obviously a little bit too fast - but you can pause if you get motion sick). If you have not been to Parma yet, the Baptistery of Parma alone is reason enough to visit Parma someday.

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Continue reading "interior of the Baptistery of Parma" »

August 24, 2009

duck family by the lake in Stresa

*Jumping ahead to Stresa for a moment*

The ducks in my previous post were ducks from Hawaii. Below are some photos I took of a cute duck family hanging out by the lake in Stresa. I was amazed at how close I was able to get, especially to the baby ducklings.

Daddy duck standing guard...
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Mommy duck with one eye on me as I got near her cute little babies...
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Baby ducklings having a converstation...
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Continue reading "duck family by the lake in Stresa" »

August 25, 2009

side trip to the park and ride

Thursday, July 9th:
(Continued from my last post about my visit to Parma)...

When my train arrived back in Bologna, the skies were dark. I was tired after a long travel day and after a lot of walking and I did not want to get caught in another rainstorm. I was thankful that I had a bus ticket and knew just where to catch the bus (or so I thought) so I did not have to walk the 20 minutes back to the center of town.

As I walked out of the train station, I had this bright idea to catch the bus that stopped right in front of the train station instead of crossing the busy street and walking a few feet to the left to catch the bus that I took on Tuesday that I knew headed back to the center. I figured the same A bus that stopped in front of the train station headed in the opposite direction was probably close to the end of its run and would naturally turn around once it reached the final stop like a loop and head on back to the center. WRONG!!

Panic started to set in. The buildings started to disappear and the scenery no longer looked like part of the city. Where was I headed? Finally after about 10 minutes, the bus pulled into a park and ride type parking lot. Everyone got off the bus and headed towards their cars. The driver also got off the bus! Oh no! Why oh why did I not cross that street and go to the bus stop I went to on Tuesday.

I had no idea where I was other than most likely somewhere in Bologna. I got out of the bus and went up to the bus driver (who was now smoking a cigarette) and asked him if another bus was coming soon or if this bus was going back to the centro. He told me that either the bus or he or both was on a break (can't remember exactly now and I might have also misunderstood) and the bus would not be going anywhere for 10 minutes.

So here I waited wondering both if the bus would indeed be heading back to the train station and if the bus would be departing in 10 minutes (knowing that time in Italy is not always an "exact science").

This was my lovely view...
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A few minutes later a second bus drove up. This bus was empty except for the driver and what appeared to be his girlfriend. My bus driver knew both of them and they all started chatting away. As I waited, I noticed the second bus driver walking over to the toilets. He put a coin in the slot, walked into one of the two doorways, immediately walked back out (my guess was that toilet was disgusting), and then walked into the other doorway. I hoped at that point that I would not be there long enough to need to use one of the toilets myself.

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I was not dressed for the cooler weather and goosebumps (or chicken skin as we say here in Hawaii) started to appear. I went back into the bus and waited. My bus driver followed me into the bus (with his cigarette still lit) and decided to strike up a conversation with me. He wanted to know where I was from, if I was traveling alone, etc. etc. (the usual questions). Even though I knew chatting would pass the time and I am usually always happy to practice my Italian, I was not that happy breathing in the cigarette smoke that was now filling the bus. I didn't have much choice though. I did not want to appear rude as he was my only way back to the center and so I chatted.

Ten minutes finally passed and just as it started to rain the bus driver started up his engine. Yay!! On time!! As we pulled up to the bus stop that I should have gone to, the bus driver (who now seemed to be my buddy) asked me which stop I was getting off at and then proceeded to keep me informed as we traveled up Via dell'Indipendenza towards the centro. I really did know just where my bus stop was but since I made the silly mistake of taking a bus going the wrong way, the bus driver probably thought I had no idea where my stop was.

The bus arrived at my stop 10 minutes after leaving the train station (and 30 more additional minutes after taking a little side trip out to the end of the line). I thanked the driver and said goodbye.

Moral of the story… don’t take a bus unless you know just where it is going. I was very lucky that I was not stranded. I was also lucky that this bus driver turned out to be very kind.

After taking a hot shower, I ventured back out into the cool rainy weather and enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Divinis thanks to Sandra. She told me about this great farro dish that she ate there while in Bologna. I ordered the same farro dish - Insalata di Farro con Melanzane al Forno, Ricotta fresca e Pomodorini la Menta (farro with eggplant, fresh ricotta, tomatoes, and mint). I only wish I discovered this place earlier in the week.

Despite my little side trip to the park and ride, I had a wonderful day visiting Reggio Emilia for the first time, visiting Parma once again, and eating fabulous food! Oh how I wish I was there right now!!

August 31, 2009

fish market in Bologna

One of my favorite things to do in Bologna is to hang out watching the action at the fish market. There are actually a few fish markets close by but the photos below are of the one that seems to be the most popular. I was lucky on Friday (my last full day in Bologna) to be able to hang out and take lots of photos. The people working there seemed proud that I was so interested in their fish.

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Continue reading "fish market in Bologna" »

September 2, 2009

last full day in Bologna

Friday, July 10th:
I woke up to chilly weather with clouds moving in. After eating breakfast at my hotel, I headed out to enjoy my last day in Bologna (prepared this time with my raincoat).

First stop was a visit to the Museo Civico Archeologico di Bologna.
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Next, I stopped at Caffe Zanarini for a caffe macchiato and hung out in the delightful Piazza Galvani gazing at the Luigi Galvani statue and the frog. During the tour of Bologna that I took earlier in the week, I learned an interesting fact about this statue. Luigi Galvani is not looking at an ordinary book, but a book with a frog, which represents his study of frogs. I remember spending time in this piazza last year and even though I admired the statue and took a few photos, I never noticed the frog!
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Then, I headed over to the food market area
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and hung out at the fish market for a while (see previous post).

I was starting to feel my last day blues, not wanting to leave Bologna so soon. There were so many choices but I was having a difficult time deciding what to do for the rest of the day. My original plan was to climb the Torre degli Asinelli but I was only going to climb it if the skies were clear to enjoy the view since I have climbed this tower before.

I also was beginning to think about lunch. I enjoyed my farro salad so much the night before that I thought about returning to Divinis but was waiting to hear from a friend of Katia’s that I had dinner with earlier in the week. We talked about having lunch together.

While I thought about what to do with my last day, the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds and it started to warm up a bit. Yay!! Sunny weather after all. I went back to my hotel to change and then walked over towards the Torre degli Asinelli.

On the way, I checked out the strange artwork (in my opinion) that was attached to a couple of the towers in Bologna as an outside summer art exhibit.
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(The photo above was taken on Saturday - it came out better than the photo I took on Friday)

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Continue reading "last full day in Bologna" »

September 7, 2009

leaving Bologna and heading to Stresa

Saturday, July 11th:
My original plan was to spend 7 nights in Bologna. Due to a national train strike planned for the following day, I ended up leaving a day early. After packing my bags, I walked around the centro area of Bologna one last time. I stopped in Eat Italy and bought a panino pomodoro mozzarella basilico (tomato, mozzarella, and basil sandwich) to eat on the train. I really enjoyed my stay in Bologna and at Hotel Orologio and was sad to leave. I said goodbye and thanked everyone at my hotel one last time as my taxi arrived.

Once at the train station, I looked for Simona, Katia’s friend. We both realized earlier in the week that we would be taking the train to Milano Centrale on Saturday. On Friday when I talked to Simona, I found out that we were taking the same Eurostar train! Too bad I was not going to Coccaglio next. We could have traveled the entire way together.

The partenza board with the dreaded strike announcement (sciopero means strike):
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Although the train station was crowded (possibly due to the strike the following day), Simona and I found each other right away. We had about 20 minutes before the train was supposed to arrive. We were both hungry. I offered her half of my sandwich. As we were eating, I mentioned how I Iike taking the Eurostar from Bologna to Milano because it always leaves from the first binario.

I must have jinxed it because just after I said how I liked the fact that the train to Milan left the first binario, Simona noticed on the partenza board that the binario number changed. Good thing I was with her. I am not sure if I would have noticed it on my own. There is so much noise at that station that it is sometimes difficult hearing the announcements clearly.

So much for leaving from binario 1 and not having to lug my bags down and then up a flight of stairs. Heading to binario 3 ended up being even more of a challenge because our train just arrived from Florence. As we tried to carry our bags up the stairs, we had to dodge a crowd of people descending down the stairs after departing the train. I lost Simona for a brief moment but easily found her again at our binario.

Because we made our reservations at different times (which are mandatory when taking a Eurostar train), we had seats in cars far apart from each other. We decided that we would SMS (text) each other once the train departed and then see if we could find two empty seats together.

As I was walking to my train car, I noticed a group of policemen and train personnel inspecting a big scrape near the bottom of one of the cars and two other men standing on a ladder putting a black plastic covering over the window. That did not make me feel very secure. I noticed a woman taking photos of the event. I thought about also taking a few photos but my camera was inside my bag and I did not want to risk missing my train since it was supposed to be leaving momentarily.

The train ended up leaving 15 minutes late. While waiting, I asked a woman sitting near me, who boarded the train in Rome, if she knew what happened to the train. I tried my best to explain what I saw (lacking vocabulary words such as scrape & metal). The lady started repeating over and over how this is why she does not like Bologna. I really was just curious and did not mean to get her all riled up. Meanwhile another woman chimed in that she thought it must have happened in Florence.

As the train departed Bologna, I left my luggage with the two women who continued to talk about the train situation to look for Simona. We ended up finding empty seats in a car between our two cars. I went back and grabbed my bags. It ended up being a very pleasant train ride to Milan.

Continue reading "leaving Bologna and heading to Stresa" »

September 8, 2009

boat ride to Isola Pescatori

Sunday, July 12th:
My hotel was nice and quiet when I awoke Sunday morning. Here is one of the first views of the morning from my balcony. It looked like it might rain but I soon learned that the first view of the morning did not always predict the weather in Stresa. It ended up being a beautiful and warm sunny day.

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Despite the fact that the hotel was nice and quiet early in the morning, I can't say the same about the night before. Although no loud noises came from other hotel guests or from people nearby, it was a bit noisy as cars drove by the main road below the hotel. There was also the occasional train rumbling by. I knew that the hotel was near the train tracks but was surprised to hear the noise of trains Saturday evening since the train strike started at 9pm. I am guessing most of the trains were freight trains and perhaps a few might have been trains coming from Switzerland.

Breakfast at my hotel was very good. Of the four places I stayed this summer, B&B La Romea still wins as top breakfast spot with the B&B in Florence coming in as a close second. I would rank this hotel as third of the four. There was a better choice of cheese, pastries, breads than at Hotel Orologio and there was even individual cups of flan. Both hotels had a good juice selection though.

After eating breakfast, I sat outside my hotel by a peaceful garden for a while catching up on things using the free hotel wifi connection. The hotel does provide a computer for use in the room next to the lobby but there were some keys that seemed to stick and it got frustrating fast.

The wifi set up however was a bit frustrating. Every time I turned my iPod Touch on, I had to type in this long username and password. If I went up to my room where there was no wifi access and then went back down to the garden area to check one more thing, I had to type in the username and password again. This did not happen at other places that required a username and password during my trip so I think it was the way the wifi access was set up at this hotel. I am not sure if people staying in the main hotel building had wifi access in their rooms although I was not able to connect while eating in the breakfast room. I was happy though that I had a wifi connection even if I had to type in that username and password each time. Yes, I am an internet addict!

About 10 am, I headed down to the tourist information office to check on a few things and then bought a ticket for the boat to visit both Isola Bella and Isola Pescatori (Superiore). The large crowd waiting at the dock brought back memories of my stay in Sirmione trying to get onto a boat. I did notice that the crowds in Stresa were much more polite with a lot less pushing and shoving going on. The boat crew was also very nice and didn't mind if people stood near the sides of the boat to take photos.

My original plan was to visit Isola Bella first but because of the big crowds, I decided to go to Isola Pescatori instead, hoping that the majority of people would go to Isola Bella.

Views of Isola Pescatori by boat:
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Continue reading "boat ride to Isola Pescatori" »

September 10, 2009

visiting Isola Bella

Sunday, July 12th:
After spending time on Isola Pescatori, my next stop was Isola Bella.

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The main thing to see on Isola Bella is the Palazzo Barromeo. The combined ticket for both the palace and gardens costs €12. This was one of my favorite places to visit while staying in Stresa. Photos are not allowed inside the huge palace. This ended up being a good thing because just as the boat pulled in, I noticed that my camera battery was starting to run low. I couldn't believe it! I always charge my battery at night and always bring a spare battery with me but forgot this time.

The first part of the tour is of the palace. There were so many huge rooms to walk through. Explanations were provided in 4 languages of everything in each room. My two favorite rooms were the music room where the 1935 Conference of Stresa took place and the room with the mosaic flowers.

The next portion of the tour takes you down some steps where there is a small room with an amazing display of marionettes.

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Then the tour takes you through the grotto rooms. Because of my battery situation, I only took one photo in this section of the palace.

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As you leave the grotto rooms, you walk through a long hall with amazing tapestries and then finally you walk out into the most spectacular sight, the gardens.

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Continue reading "visiting Isola Bella" »

September 26, 2009

"twisted"~ PhotoHunt

PhotoHunters


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(close-ups of the Duomo in Florence ~ June 2009)

October 6, 2009

boat ride to Villa Taranto

I can't believe it is October and I have yet to finish up blogging about my summer trip to Italy. The way things are going, I hope to finish by Thanksgiving or perhaps even Christmas!

Monday, July 13th:

Continuing with my stay in Stresa:

I awoke early Monday morning enjoying this beautiful view out my window. What a wonderful way to start the day.
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My plan was to visit Villa Taranto. After puttering around my hotel for a while and enjoying another wonderful breakfast, I walked down to the imbarcadero and bought a boat ticket to Villa Taranto (€ 10.80).

Being a fan of boats, I loved that it took about 45 minutes to get there. The boat pretty much emptied out after making stops at Isola Bella, Isola Pescatori, and Baveno. I think there was only one or two other couples and myself left on the boat at this point.

After leaving Baveno, we headed past Isola Madre, the only one of the three islands that I did not visit during my stay in Stresa.

This was one of my favorite photos of Isola Madre.
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Next, we headed towards Verbania. As I understand it, Pallanza and Intra are both neighborhoods of the the city of Verbania. Villa Taranto is located between these two places. The boat stops in all three places.

I would have loved to have stopped in Pallanza but did not have enough time. Here are a few photos I took as we rode by.
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The next stop was the amazing Villa Taranto. I had no idea just how much I would love my visit to these beautiful gardens.

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October 7, 2009

a few of my favorite flowers from Villa Taranto

There were so many beautiful flowers in the gardens of Villa Taranto. Here are a few of my favorites:

Dahlias
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October 8, 2009

my favorite flower at Villa Taranto

Last but not least, the flower that captivated me... the Nelumbo Nucifera. I had no idea what type of flower this was and the sign (Nelumbo Nucifera) did not help any. The knowledgeble British couple (who travel the world to see flowers) did not know what kind of flower this was either. When I got home, I was very surprised to find out after googling Nelumbo Nucifera that is is the Lotus flower. How did I not know what a lotus flower looked like?

So here you go... my photos of the magnificent lotus flower:
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October 19, 2009

cable car to Mt. Mottorone

Tuesday, July 14th:

The weather was overcast when I woke up Tuesday morning. I hung out at my hotel for a while and had a late breakfast. When it started to clear a bit midmorning, I decided to go to the top of Mt. Mottorone.

The walk along the waterfront was very enjoyable. I checked out the 5 star hotels along the way and took lots of photos as I headed to the spot where the cable car to Mt. Mottorone was located. At one point, I became a little lost trying to reach the cable car station. The combo of taking photos and getting lost as well as the late start put me at the cable car ticket office right before the last ride up before their lunch break.

I bought my ticket (17.50 euros to the top) and got on the cable car along with what seemed like a class full of German and French preschoolers! It was an interesting ride up. At the midway stop (800 m altitude) everyone gets off. A second cable car continues on to the top (1491 m altitude). I had two choices, hanging out at the midway stop and checking out the alpine garden or continuing on up to the top. Because this was the last car going up until lunch was over for the cable car workers, I needed to make a decision and fast. Visibility was still good at the midway point. I decided to continue to the top. So did the gang of preschoolers.

As we continued towards the top, it started to get a bit fogged in. There still was one tiny spot that was clear.
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When we reached the top, I walked outside and was met with this view...
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There really was not much to do up at the top...
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I had 10 minutes to decide whether to stay at the top or head back down to the midway point, taking the last cable car back down before the lunch break began. My original plan was to hang out and eat lunch at the top (I packed a yogurt and some fruit) but since it was completely fogged in at the top and I saw pretty much all I was going to see, I jumped back in the cable car and rode back down to the midway point. This time I was alone (except for the cute cable car guy).

I knew from reading about Mt. Mottorone, that there was an alpine wildflower garden called the Botanic Garden Alpinia at the midway point. The walk to the Botanic Garden Alpinia was longer than I thought it would be. I enjoyed the walk as it was nice and cool, but I was a little concerned that once again I might be lost as the directions were not very clear. Along the way, I checked out the trees with these cool hanging flowers.
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October 27, 2009

mystery door

*Answer revealed at the end of this post...

No, this is not related to the Mystery Date game (for those old enough to remember).

I chose the title mystery door because I wanted to see if anyone can guess where this door in Florence is located. This is the same door (different shot) as the second photo in my last post - "tied"~ PhotoHunt.

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I cropped the second photo from my last post so you can see the detail a little better.

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And if anyone knows more about the history of this door, I am curious about the story of the one panel on the door that is carved like a flower. I tried googling this door but came up empty.

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Flashing Star Woo Hoo!!! Sandra guessed the mystery door location!! :)


This was going to be my next clue...

These flags fly over this door.

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The mystery door is...


the *other door* of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Can you spot the door in this photo of the Palazzo Vecchio?

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November 1, 2009

boat ride to Santa Caterina del Sasso

Wednesday, July 15th:
The skies were gray Wednesday morning. Not long after I woke up, it began to rain. I had two full days left in Stresa and both Santa Caterina del Sasso & Orta were on my list as places I definitely wanted to visit. Santa Caterina del Sasso, a monastery that was built in the 12th century on a rocky hillside, looked like the better choice for a cloudy/rainy day. After breakfast, the rain stopped for a bit. I took the 9:55 am boat (5.80 euros roundtrip) to Santa Caterina. For the history of this amazing monastery, check out Dana's blog post.

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November 2, 2009

part 2 ~ Santa Caterina del Sasso

View of the church:
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Cloister outside of the church:
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November 4, 2009

part 3 ~ Santa Caterina del Sasso

A peek inside the church:
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November 7, 2009

"veterans/military"~ PhotoHunt

PhotoHunters


Sunday morning, after climbing the Giotto's Bell Tower (in Florence, Italy), I heard band music playing nearby. The band turned out to be the Rossa Italiana Corpa Militare Band. They were closing out the Calcio Storico event that took place a few days earlier in the week. After watching the band play for a few minutes, it started to march. Everyone followed the band. It was really alot of fun. The band marched around the block from the Piazza della Repubblica towards the Duomo and then back to the Piazza della Repubblica.
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Somehow, I ended right up in the front and was able to video the band marching. Here's a little video clip I took. Towards the end of the clip, check out the cute kid and his mother's expression as she realizes that I am taking video of him marching along with the band.


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November 28, 2009

"technology"~ PhotoHunt

PhotoHunters

Technology of the Torre delle Ore clock tower in Lucca and how the bells ring…

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December 5, 2009

"curved"~ PhotoHunt

PhotoHunters


The top of the Torre dei Lamberti (Lamberti Tower) in Verona:

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December 27, 2009

bus ride to Orta San Giulio

Finally getting back to my trip to Italy...

Thursday, July 16th:
Thursday morning, my last full day in Stresa, turned out to be a gorgeous day, the perfect day for a daytrip to Orta San Giulio (also known by many as just Orta). I headed down to the waterfront area to wait for the bus 10 am bus, which was the only bus heading to Orta for the day (except for two later afternoon buses). When I arrived, I noticed a small group of people waiting. I was pretty sure this was the bus stop but asked just in case. I really had no idea which type of bus we would be taking. In Italy, there are two types of buses that I am used to seeing. Local orange buses, which can be either small or regular size and large blue buses, called pullmans for longer journeys.

I was in shock when a tiny blue bus pulled up. This was the first time I ever saw a mini blue bus. This was going to be interesting. Not only was a large group of people waiting for this bus (the only morning scheduled bus to go to Orta) but also there was a couple waiting with two HUGE suitcases. There was no underneath spot for these suitcases. Chatter started in Italian as the couple boarded first instead of letting at least the older women board the bus. The couple plopped one of the suitcases down in the space between the front seat (which made that seat unusable) and put the other suitcase in the very front right by the stairs. This made it very difficult for everyone else to board the bus. I can’t remember now, but I think there were about 15 spaces total for seating. With one of the front seats taken up with the suitcase, the bus was just about full, and this was only the first stop!

I ended up sitting next to this very nice older woman from Milan. She spends her summers at her Stresa summerhouse and was traveling to a little town about halfway to Orta San Giulio to do some shopping for the day. We had a delightful chat until she got off at her spot. I mentioned to her how surprised I was that the bus was so small. She said that usually only a few people take the bus and it is never full.

As we arrived in Bevano, the next pick up stop, I looked out and saw a large group waiting for the bus. This was really going to be interesting now. The bus driver took the two suitcases off the bus. The crowd got on. The bus driver lugged the two suitcases back onto the bus. One went back up front and the other ended up in the aisle so that two people could sit in that front seat. Even with all of the seats free now, there was not enough seats for everyone. A few people ended up standing in the aisle and we were not even finished picking up people. At the next stop, an older woman who knew a few people on board was waiting. She ended up sitting on the suitcase in the front. Many people offered her their seats, but she refused, saying she was getting off in a few stops.

There was a lot of discussion by some of the local people on the bus (all in Italian). I understood most of what was being said. I don’t think that the other tourists understood anything. There was concern that the very nice bus driver, who really should have refused to pick up any more people once the seats were full, would be in big trouble if the police stopped the bus. I was mostly concerned about the route. The bus ride went up over the mountain pass with many tight curves along the way.
I am not a fan of buses and often get bus sick. My choice of public transportation goes in this order – boat, train or subway, and only if necessary bus. I think the only reason I did not become bus sick (forgot my ginger for motion sickness once again at the hotel) was because I was so claustrophobic, which distracted me from feeling sick.

The woman sitting next to me started joking with the bus driver as we got close to her stop. They were discussing just how she was going to get out. A few minutes later, we pulled into this cute little town (can’t remember the name now) and the woman along with a few other people got off the bus. There was now room for everyone to have a seat. The rest of the bus ride was pretty smooth.

When we pulled into Orta, the bus driver told us to remember where the bus spot was and not be late for the afternoon pick up. There were only two afternoon pick up times – 3 and 6 pm. If you missed both, you would be spending the night in Orta.

I was so happy to get off that bus!

The bus stop was above the little town. I had no map, and not much knowledge of the town. I only knew there was a little island that I should try to visit. Not having a map is definitely not a good thing for someone like me who constantly gets lost. Somehow, I managed to figure out, after one wrong turn, the way to the main part of the town (or at least the tourist part of the town).

I loved Orta! The town was so cute and charming. Lots of narrow medieval streets, not many cars, and a cute little piazza overlooking the lake.

I discovered this cute little church along the way to the main piazza.
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December 28, 2009

visit to Isola San Giulio

Part 2 of my daytrip to Orta ~ see yesterday's post for Part 1.

Thursday, July 16th:
I was surprised at how short the boat ride was from Orta San Giulio to Isola San Giulio (about 7 minutes). It was not a very expensive fare roundtrip. I want to say four or five euros round trip but I really can't remember now. I found my boat ticket (motoscafi) but there is no price on the ticket.

Photos of Isola San Giulio from the boat:
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The boat drops you off right in front of the Basilica di San Giulio.
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December 29, 2009

continuing with my day in Orta San Giulio

Part 3 of my daytrip to Orta ~ see Part 1 and Part 2 for more on my dayrip to Orta and Isola San Giulio.

Thursday, July 16th:
I really had no set plans when I returned to Orta San Giulio. I checked out the main piazza...
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and then wandered up a side street and discovered the beautiful Church of Santa Maria Assunta.
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January 13, 2010

another wild bus ride and the rest of my stay in Stresa

Thursday, July 16th:
My last trip blog post left off with me in Orta San Giulio heading back to the bus stop to travel back to Stresa.

I was a little nervous about getting lost. I needed to catch the 6 pm bus. If I missed it, I would be staying in Orta San Giulio over night. I returned to what I thought was the bus stop. Then I started to doubt my recollection of exactly where the bus stop was located. There were no bus stop signs anywhere. Worrying began.

Although I was a bit early, I did not see any other people waiting for the bus. I started to curse myself for not taking a photo of the bus stop earlier in the day and then began to panic a little bit. So there I stood pacing back and forth, praying that the bus would arrive. If it was any other night, it probably would not have been a huge deal, but I was checking out of my hotel in Stresa the following morning to travel to Coccaglio. Missing the bus would have really complicated things.

Right at 6 pm on the dot, the little blue bus arrived. An older couple arrived a few minutes earlier but I could not tell if they were taking the bus or waiting for something else. It really was a strange place to wait for the bus. Hooray! I did not mess up. The bus driver waited for 5 or 10 more minutes before starting back. I thought that was very nice of him. No one else came so he started up the bus and we were off.

The bus ride back to Stresa was another wild ride, a white-knuckle journey from start to finish. I sat in the front seat on the right side of the bus and the couple sat in the front seat on the left side right behind the driver. The couple and the driver knew each other and carried on a very animated conversation for the next 30 to 40 minutes. The bus driver drove with one hand while waving his other hand around madly as he chatted with the couple.

The crowded bus on the way over must have distracted me from all the sharp hairpin turns as I was more claustrophobic on that ride. If you have ever been on or have heard about the road to Hana, this was a very similar ride. I spent the entire time on the way back reminding myself to breathe and talking myself out of getting sick.

My face must have been white as a ghost because after the bus driver let off the couple at their stop, he asked me if I was ok. I explained to him that I don't do well on bus rides, especially bus rides with many curves. I thought that perhaps the rest of the bus ride would be a little less crazy now that he could keep two hands on the wheel, but his phone rang, and that was the end of that.

At one point, I recognized the road near the Botanic Garden Alpinia, which is at the midway point of Mt. Mottorone. The bus driver slowed the bus down as views of the lake appeared and asked me if I would like to get out to take a photo. I already had similar photos from my visit there a few days ago but since he was so nice to offer, I said yes. It gave me a chance to stand on land for a few seconds.

Photos from the bus:
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I was soooo happy when we finally arrived Stresa! I loved my visit to Orta San Giulio but could have done without both of the bus rides.

I got my land legs back quickly and headed to the boat ticket window area to meet Dana for a drink. Dana, who has a blog called Stresa Sights was so helpful when I was planning my stay in Stresa. We went to a nearby bar for a drink, sat at a little outdoor table, and had a lovely chat. She was not able to stay very long, but we did make plans to meet for coffee the following morning.

I headed back up to my hotel to shower and change. I ate at il Pappagallo again for dinner. The waiter who I saw at Ristorante il Vicoletto the previous night recognized me. Sadly, I cannot remember what I ate that night at il Pappagallo. It was good though.

After dinner, I walked by the lake and checked out the many booths set up with various items for sale. I ended up buying some strawberries.

Photos from my walk along the lake:
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Isola Bella
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Back at my hotel, I packed a bit and then went to bed.


Friday, July 17th:
At 5:30 am Friday morning, I awoke to....

The wind was howling. I jumped out of bed and ran to the balcony to grab the clothes I had drying outside. I was a little freaked out. First the thunder and lightening and wild winds, then the electricity going out all over town, and then the hail. I was on the top floor, so not only could I hear the hail pounding on the roof, but it also sounded like the hail would break one of the windows. Water was coming in under the French doors by the balcony.

I went back to bed and hid under the covers.

The storm passed but it was not looking too promising to be a great weather day. I ate breakfast and then headed down to meet Dana again for an espresso. I was surprised at all the damage from the storm. We had another nice chat.

Back at the hotel, the skies were threatening again.
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I was trying to decide if I should chance it and walk the 5-10 minutes to the train station or call a taxi. I decided to walk (with my fingers crossed). Just as I was about to leave, the owner of the hotel stopped me. She was holding a box of the most delicious cookies that she bought for me for my train trip. I was speechless. We had struck up a conversation on many occasions during my stay and she always laughed at my goosebumps when I would return with my teeth chattering on the cool nights but I never expected for her to give me anything. I really was blown away by her generosity. Katia and I devoured the cookies over the weekend. They were some sort of local cookie from Stresa and sooo good!

The walk to the train station was uneventful. The one good surprise was that the train was a modern, clean train instead of the dilapidated train I took from Milan to Stresa. The ride was very pleasant. The train arrived at the same out of the way train track at the far end of the station.

That ends my stay in Stresa. So what did I think of Stresa? Well, I have to honestly say that I have very mixed feelings about Stresa. The people of Stresa were all very kind. I loved my hotel (Hotel Du Parc), loved the boat rides, loved visiting Isola Bella, Santa Catarina, and Villa Taranto.

Stresa itself however did not do much for me. It is a nice little place but very touristy and completely oriented towards tourists (that was my impression anyways). I don't think I would have enjoyed my stay as much if I just hung out in Stresa. But if using Stresa as a home base, there are so many possibilities of places to visit while there.

I have tried to figure out why I tend to love some places and think other places are just ok. I think for me, part of it has to do with photography. Stresa has beautiful flowers, fancy hotels by the lake, cool water scenes, but something seemed to be missing for me when walking around the town. I was only there for a short stay and did not see all of Stresa, so my comments are just of what I experienced.

January 20, 2010

the 20 chapels of the Sacro Monte d'Orta

Back in December, I wrote about my difficulty finding the Sacro Monte d'Orta in
this post. I was not able to find my first try, but was determined, so I gave it a second try, even changing my plans by taking the later bus back to Stresa. I have always heard about visiting the little island, Isola San Giulio when spending time in Orta San Giulio, but Sacro Monte to me was a much more rewarding visit. It was so peaceful and serene. The air was fresh and cool. I could have spent an entire day at il Sacro Monte d'Orta (or the Sacred Mount of Orta).

It was well worth the effort to hike that hill (twice) even though my legs felt like jelly when I finally reached the Sacro Monte. I met an older couple when I arrived. I think I surprised them as I was huffing and puffing and appeared out of no where at this back entrance that really was not an entrance. They made a comment about my hiking up to Sacro Monte and how my legs must be like wood. I think there was a translation glitch but we laughed just the same. They pointed me in the right direction to find the real entrance so that I could start my journey visiting the 20 chapels.

The arch at the entrance:
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There are a series of 20 small chapels at Sacro Monte d'Orta, all of which are dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, along with The New Chapel and the Church of the Saints Nicholas and Francesco. I am going to focus on the 20 chapels in this post and will do another post on The New Chapel and the church.

This description provides a little more information:
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(if you would like to see a larger version, click on this cropped photo of the sign located near the entrance arch)

On the front of each chapel, you will find a number (written in Roman Numerals) along with a hand pointing to the next chapel.
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Chapel VIII
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Because I am directionally challenged, I studied the map to figure out just how to approach my visit of the 20 chapels.
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I took photos of each of the chapels I visited so that I could share the beauty of the chapels with all of you. I tried my best to stay in order so I could keep track of which chapel was which along the way.

Information sheets were locted inside of the open chapels and outside of the closed chapels, except for Chapel XI. Not sure what happened to that sheet. The information sheets were in Italian, as well as English and I believe German. Because some of the chapels were dark, the photo quality of each of the information sheets varies.

Even though there were little hand pointing signs on each chapel, I never managed to find Chapels XVIII and XIX. I probably would have eventually found these two chapels but I was in a time crunch, needing to catch that last bus back to Stresa.

I decided to create a Picasa Web Album as a way to best share my photos of the 18 of 20 chapels I visited. Click on the photo below to view the web album.

18 of the 20 Chapels of Sacro Monte d'Orta

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Orta San Giulio, I would highly recommend including a visit to Sacro Monte d'Orta.

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