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Category: relaxation

Catching Up!

We’ll start first with a quiz. Anyone who can define from your memory the follow terms gets an A:

Polyspaston
Archimedean screw
Large armed lodestone
Astrolabe
Jovolabe
Thermometry
Condensation hygrometer

Yep, if you’re like me, you haven’t a clue. And still don’t. But that’s okay; I had fun trying to figure it out nevertheless.

Last week I decided for my first museum in Florence I’d go somewhere a little more off-the-beaten-path: I decided to get my science on (yes! those who know me will think I’ve lost my marbles!) and visit Il Museo Galileo, which was a most fascinating little museum that very few people go to. But for, uh, engineering types, I gathered. Because besides me the place had mostly engineering-type looking middle-aged guys there, most of them shaking their heads in marvel at the genius behind so much Renaissance science.

It is the largest collection of all things scientific in Italy, thanks to I think Lorenzo the Magnificent (or was it his son?) — one of those Medicis who wanted to preserve and consolidate scientific discoveries in one place.

I found the artistry of many of the designs to be the most interesting (maybe because I hadn’t a clue what the hell the things did!) and I loved the ancient globes and maps, of which there were a few. My morbid curiosity piqued, though, with the preserved remains of Galileo’s finger and tooth (of course I took a picture). And I was most amused as I go around with a pedometer attached that my friend Birgit gave me, and they had a very old-timey pedometer that was about the size of a bicycle — not very practical for every day useage.

I’ve lost track of my days but I think that was last Sunday. That evening I went to a restaurant in Piazza San Spirito which is a sort of funky area across the Arno (in the Oltrarno). We’d been there last year, I knew to order the half portions because their servings are so immense. So I ordered a half portion of homemade gnocchi in tomato sauce and as I awaited its arrival I was amused by a nearby accordian player who chose to play Hava Nagila, not exactly the most Italian of songs. Must be hired for a lot of Jewish weddings in town.

When my gnocchi arrived, I was surprised to see this scalding bubbling vat of gnocchi drenched in some horrid truffle cheese sauce which smelled so vile it churned my stomach. When I finally got the waitress’ attention, I asked her where my order was, reminded her this was not what I had asked for. She told me the gnocchi with tomato sauce wasn’t available in a half order so I got this instead. Uh, right. We call that the African “yes”, as when we traveled in Africa this often happened. Odd, though, in the heart of Florence. I think I could safely presume that my subsequent plate of spaghetti al pomodoro probably had some spit in it from the waitress’ ire…

I finally got to enjoy using a real live washer and dryer at the hostel. Was overpriced and exceedingly long: an hour for the washer, which I’d put in cold so as to not have all colors bleed together (they did anyhow), and the dryer TWO HOURS even though the temperature, I am convinced, was set to Scalding Pot of Boiling Oil setting. Even after two hours, my meager 8 things in the washer still hadn’t dried. Very strange. Makes me appreciate my aged 15-year old washer and dryer that make a lot of noise but get the job done (knock wood). But it was interesting that the washing machine automatically put soap in. Handy.

I’ve noticed a lot of people out there in the world are void of spatial awareness. Either that or they don’t give a care that you are walking right where they’ve decided they want to go. Which means you have two choices: divert on your path, or crash into them. Well, I’ve chosen choice three: I stand my ground and let them get out of the way. This is especially necessary when carrying a large backpack on your back, but I’ve taken to doing it on principal. I guess it is a pedestrian survival of the fittest thing. But it works: it doesn’t annoy anyone, but it keeps me from having to zig and zag all over the place while getting from one place to another.

On Monday since many things in Florence are closed, I took a bus up to Fiesole, a lovely hillside village overlooking Florence. I wandered around, climbed to the scenic top and wandered around a lovely monastery (it was St. Bernard’s, yet again he shows up on my trip — I’ve found so many times, in Siena, in Switzerland of course, St. Bernard had gotten around. This monastery had the cell in which he resided (creature comforts were definitely not his gig). I then sat in on I forget what it was called, not vespers, but it was noontime and five monks were in the small church chanting prayers. It was a little DaVinci Code-esque, these guys cloaked in brown robes, ropes knotted around their waists, hoods draping over their heads. Also a bit mesmerizing to listen to.

After that I got back down to Florence, tried Gelateria Caroze, supposedly the best in Firenze but didn’t hold a candle to my favorite one (my gelato tasted like cilantro, a deal-breaker for me), and decided to invest in a Firenze Card (all-you-can-tour pass, kind of like at Disney, and gets you to the front of the line everywhere) and started out at Palazzo Medici, a palace where the Medicis lived when they weren’t at one of their other palaces all over the place.

I spent the afternoon at the Palazzo Vecchio, yet another Medici art-fest. I climbed the campanile (the bell tower) for sunset and it was a spectacular one, with tufts of melon-colored clouds painting the landscape. I love that in Florence many people have terra cotta-colored satellite dishes, so that they blend in with the terrain and aren’t so obstrusive when people are looking down on the city. And I had divine tortelli rossa at Vini et Vecchi Sapori again. Yummm…

Tuesday I spent the morning with David at the Academia. It is really such a beautiful work to behold. I enjoyed just sitting with it for a while, and eavesdropping on tour guides. I was interested to hear one, who was an art history teacher with students, pointing out that David isn’t circumcized, even though he should have been — he said this was one of many subversive designs Michaelangelo included to stick it to the man (artists I guess have done that throughout history). He also mentioned that back in the day most statues were lacking that piece of male anatomy, as people stole them all the time. So dismembered statues were the norm. Go figure — people had a sense of humor back then even. I can see putting THAT on my mantle back home…

Another conversation I overheard at the Academia between to very expensively-dressed American women, one of who lamented that after all of her travels, she’s seen more artwork than she can care to mention. Her friend then said to her with a straight face, “So, are these the kinds Of things you put in your house now?” And I wanted to ask her, “You mean statues by Michelangelo?” Weird…

After David I checked out the Cappelle Medicee, I surmise several of the Medicis were entombed there but regardless upon their deaths they were enshrined there. It’s a humble little shack. I was amazed at the amount of reliquaries housed there (and elsewhere) — all sorts of gewgaws from saints throughout the ages, whether it was a body part (there was some martyr’s head at the Duomo museum in Siena, the whole gorgeous skull in a beautifully ornate silver box) to fingers to teeth to just things I guess they owned. I suppose the modern day version of this is having an autograph from Michael Jackson that you’d frame, now that he’s dead?!

I then wandered the San Lorenzo market, feeling not a need to buy a thing (and noticing the prices for similar things I’d seen in San Gimignano totally jacked up here), and inside at the large indoor food market. It would have been nice to buy things to cook but wow! I haven’t cooked in weeks! Not exactly the kitchen in which to prepare anything but ramen noodles at the hostel…

I saw a dog that was the spitting image of our dog Bridget, snapping away at a fly. I swear it must be in their DNA, those dingos…

I spent the afternoon at the Palazzo Pitti, which is an exhausting tour. Just gobs and gobs of priceless artwork, room after room of splendor and wretched excess, just fascinating to see and sort of sad you ultimately say “Meh, another fourteenth century masterpiece. Whatev!” I’m convinced that were the Medicis alive now, they’d star in their own Hoarders type reality show. Or have a documentary made about their greed and gluttony and desire to Have It All, Dammit. After a while I was just wondering when the palace would run out of rooms so I could go pass out from sheer exhaustion. Tuesday I ate at Trattoria (or Osteria?) Casalingha in the Oltrarno — was good food, mostly locals, which is always a good sign. But it poured rained starting around sunset Tuesday. I went out with a rain jacket in my backpack but should’ve packed an Arc. I’m lucky though as it’s mostly been the only rain I’ve had to contend with but for Switzerland on that first day.

Wednesday I toured the Museo dell’Opera dell Duomo (the museum in which the statues, famed doors of the Baptistery, etc are held in safekeeping and restored). Unfortunately much of it was closed off due to rennovations, but I’d seen some of the most famous statues last year when we went with Kendall’s art history class, so it was okay. I also toured the Baptistery and climbed the campanile and read a book at the top, waiting until the bell tolled (it wasn’t as loud as I’d expected).
I then returned to the Galleria Uffizi, again, lots of beautiful artwork. By then I was beat and hung out at the Piazza della Signoria and ran into a nice Aussie guy I’d slept with (haha! gotcha!) in one of my many hostel rooms (I had to change rooms almost every night because of the last-minute nature of my booking; I was lucky to get any room at all, and I am most grateful for Dennis, one of the managers, who took good care of me). I was in a 6-bed room with one bathroom in the hall, then a four bed room with one bathroom, then a deluxe four bed room in a more separate and private area (with a nice young couple from the UK) and private bathroom. The hallways here were weird as they had this eerie light that vibed from purple to pink to green all night long. And the passkey was magnetic, which was kinda cool. I then got bumped to a six-bed room for three nights with a two bathrooms shared by I’m pretty sure half of Florence. THAT was less than perfect, especially as invariably someone had an alarm (the classic iPhone ring) blaring at 5:15 a.m. so they could catch their train or flight. That got old fast.

Very young Wednesday night I ate at Trattoria Nella again, then wandered the streets. Saw a bride in a very frou-frou meringue dress greedily licking a cone of gelato as she promenaded by — she looked like a girl playing dress-up. When the sun goes down in Florence, the African immigrants show up with knock off purses galore, spreading sheets out on the Via dei Calzaiuoli. Funny, this whole subculture of immigrants selling schlock in Italy — lots of southeast asians selling little wooden linkable trains to spell children’s names, or gooey ooze that they’d continually slam against a wooden block on the ground, all day long, tempting someone to purchase it. And faux paintings of all sorts of scenes. It’s a gauntly of “non, grazie” to every vendor wherever you walk.

I then happened upon that Charlie Chaplin-esque street performer again — the one who drew the huge crowd. I was able to finagle my way in when people thought he was done and was passing a hat but then he chastised people for walking on his stage (!!! it’s the street!!) when he wasn’t done with his performance. While he passed the hat he’d kept his three “victims” (three people he pulled from the audience, one a now-shirtless Asian man with a beer gut who had had doing all sorts of embarrassing things). One was a little boy of about six, with that sweet as can be face that little boys have that just tug away at your heartstrings. Well, this performer sort of had the boy park it for a while while he brought others from the audience in, did a few kind of raunchy skits, and he’d put the music on and off occasionally, and the music was a bit sad sounding. I don’t know what prompted it but I looked over to the little boy and could see he was figting back tears, yet no one did anything about it. I assumed his family was nearby, but nothing, Finally the guy came back and sat next to him and that poor little boy couldn’t fight his tears anymore and just started crying, it was so heartbreaking. Meanwhile the performer ignored him! And FINALLY the kids parents came over and he ran off, so ashamed. But people rushed him, snapping away as he sobbed outright — it was so weird. Poor little thing. I’d regretted giving the guy any more for his performance after that. He was kind of aggressive and had an attitude (and said he’d been doing it for 27 years — maybe time to retire?!).

In florence I’ve had to constantly dodge people’s pictures, which can be futile as everywhere you turn someone is being photographed. I’ve also taken so many pictures of couples, families, you name it, together, I should hang up my shingle. I also turned into a total gelato snob and won’t eat it unless it’s amazing artisanal gelato. Probably not such a bad thing to cut back on…

A few references in various pieces of art I noticed, that made me laugh. In a famous Statue of Apollo somewhere, it referred to the “ecstatic look in his eyes”, which reinforced what an art oaf I am, because all I saw was a cold marble stare! (though in my defense I think the look in David’s eyes is so compelling: it’s sort of like “Yeah, okay, took care of that. Come on world, give it to me!”)

Another one said the artist Ghirlandaio was “in the grip of restless spirituality.” I’m picturing the guy speaking in tongues, taunting snakes at a backwoods revival meeting in Appalachia…

At the Uffizi & Palazzo Pitti — every surface, every nook & cranny is greedy for your undivided attention — I would forget to gaze up, where you’d be treated to even more extraordinary artwork. And every piece of art has so much going on in it, it’s impossible to give each piece the attention it deserves. The Italians are fortunate to have such an embarrassment of riches at their fingertips.

It made me think about the sort of legacy that will be left behind from our generation and it will likely be nothing more compelling than cat videos that we will bequeath to future generations of humanity. Only they won’t be able to play it because there will be some newer technology that took the place of whatever one we are using now…Ahhh…our lasting heritage…

I tried to find the original Dwarf Morgante statue (he’s the Bacchus-like figure astride a tortoise) but couldn’t figure out where it was. I think it was at the Museo de Bargello but never made it there. Oh well, I saw the fake one…

Oh, in restaurants one thing that sort of bugs me is they never come give you the bill, and it’s impossible to get anyone’s attention to ask for it. Especially when alone, after a while you just want to get going, but you wait and you wait and you try hard to catch someone’s eye…Meals go on for HOURS simply because the check hasn’t been delivered. At least my Italian has improved somewhat. Though I am lazy if someone speaks English, I defer to it for ease. I do get a little charge when I execute an Italian phrase properly (or at least without failing miserably). And I understand much more of it (and know if someone is saying something they don’t realize I can understand!).

Thursday I left Firenze, boo hoo. It was time to move on. On the way out I stopped at this fabulous sandwich shop, a little carryout called i Frattelini — the BEST sandwiches in town. I was catching a bus to the airport where I was renting a Radio Flyer with an engine (a Panda Smart Car).

Getting out of town was interesting. First off I had NO idea how to drive this car. It’s sort of a training bra for driving a stick shift — who knew? So it expected me to change gears and I was like, damn, this little thing sure does lack pick-up. I was like the Little Engine That Could just trying to get out of the parking lot. I finally figured out that, which helped. And finally figured out how to get onto the A1, which was interesting and only a few flubs to do that. Once on there I was fine, and found my way relatively easily to Poggio Istiano, a lovely farmhouse in Florence we’d stayed at before. On the road before arriving here, I happened upon two pilgrims who’d been walking the Via Francigena since leaving their home in France 2-1/2 months ago (!). A husband and wife. I gave them my power bars. It had been raining on them, and yes, they were slogging along the very busy Cassia (SS2), a two-lane road that is the road to Rome from here, the cars drive very fast and there is no allowance for errors. Absolutely no shoulders on the road, either. While some of the Via Francigena is off-road here. I’d say 50% of it is on the roads, which made me glad I’d abandoned my walk. I just wasn’t comfortable walking on roads like that all the time. It was funny that the VF quite literally goes through the farmland here where I’m staying, I think on the far side of their property line.

The farmhouse is gorgeous, the property spectacular, the views, amazing. The color of light here is so beautiful. There is only another couple staying here and they speak no English, so it’s a little quiet to be here alone. I laugh because the woman goes around tending to the flowers — dead-heading geraniums, pulling weeds. Such a paying guest!

Thursday night I went to “grab” a quick bite. I was told of a “nearby” restaurant, which turned out to be like 30 minutes away, me in the mini-mobile on very dark roads, no lights, windy hairpin turns up mountains and down. Needless to say I was mildly stressed. I kept going back and forth, certain I’d missed the place I was told to go to, as she’d said it was nearby! But I finally found a human being in a town and asked directions and it turns out had I gone 1 KM more than I had after having turned around, I’d have found it…Oh well. Was a tiny Osteria, all locals. The guy kept insisting I order more than the pasta I’d ordered (which they were out of, so I ordered another one, which they were out of, so I ordered yet another one). It was good but I was so beat by then, I would’ve been happy with cheese and crackers.

I spent a delightful day Friday in Montepulciano, such a lovely Tuscan hilltown. I followed Rick Steves’ directions and went to a Cantine (they have the cellars in the basement of the palazzo) at the top of the hill, owned by the same family for 1000 years (!) and this older gentleman named Adamo took a hankering to me (I think it’s the hair color) so I got preferential treatment over all the others who were touring. This guy was a hoot — a total schmoozer, and his daughter (I think she was his daughter) Antonietta, was delightful. I tried to find a vineyard (cantina) as I left town. Some Americans from California, for whom I took a picture (!) said they knew wine and it was the best around. They showed me from afar where it was, said you just go down this road and go left. Oy! Turns out the vineyard shares a name with a town, and when I failed to find the vineyard and asked directions, I got sent by THREE people to a town 30 minutes away. I was so damned determined to find it. So I googled mapped it that night and yesterday set out to find it. Stopped in Monticchiello (like home!) for lunch, then headed there, though directions from Google had me going on a “white road”, which is basically a non-road, from gravel to good-luck-hope-you-can-make-it. Google said it was for about 250 meters. It went on for 10 KM. I was four-wheeling in this damned Smart car, but by then I’d been lost enough I realized that eventually in Tuscany you end up at a crossroads and there just aren’t that many roads around, so you can’t get *too* list (she says, laughing).

Had a lovely dinner at Rocca D’Orcia last night — a fortified castle town atop a hill. The place was in front of an ancient cistern, and the restaurant was quaint, the food amazing, and the tiramisu the best I’ve ever had…Delish…

Yesterday evening the owners hosted a birthday party for 5-year old Matteo, grandson of the owners of the farm. His festa buon compleano
;-).

And this morning I laughed as an older German man who was staying here this weekend took out a hose and washed his car before departing. An odd thing to do on holiday, but such a good idea I hosed down the Panda, as it was covered in dust from my four-wheeling episode….

The only other guests of note shared a wall with my room last night. I’m guessing they were young. And yes, the very thick walls are oddly quite thin…

Today I head to Castello di Procena — a castle! I’m staying the night in a castle! I”ll be there till Tuesday morning when I have to figure out my way to the Rome airport and I pick up Scott! We then take the train (finally!) to the Amalfi Coast. Can’t wait! Will post more when I’ve got more to post!

Ciao!

Hanging in Firenze

Yes, when the Italians kept questioning my sanity when I was headed to Fidenza instead of Firenze, it was because they knew anyone would be pazzo to go to the former rather than the latter.

Florence is my kind of city. Vibrant, gorgeous, and very user-friendly. Easy to get around (though a bit easy to get lost while navigating the many tiny streets), and you can choose to go the museum route, the church route, or just wander aimlessly and absorb the vibe. Since I’ve been here before, I’ve been doing just that: taking it all in and meandering the streets.

I’ve been staying at a hostel which is actually pretty nice, all things considered. The location is unbeatable, just steps from the Duomo, which I find to be such a breathtaking masterpiece of architecture. Walking down my street, I’m taken aback by it’s imposing presence just 50 meters away — it fills the panorama. Of course when you get to the piazza del Duomo, it’s overrun with throngs of tourists and vendors selling amazingly useless tchotchkes that somebody must buy. There’s such a buzz of activity, it’s very infectious. But also makes you want to get far away from the influx of tourists ;-). I also love the Piazza della Signoria, just a few blocks away. It’s where the gorgeous Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery are located. The Piazza is filled with statues (including the fake David that some people actually think is the real one!). My favorite is Perseus holding the head of Medusa.

On Thursday night I headed over to Trattoria Nella, one of my daughters favorite restaurants in Florence where we ate last fall when we visited her. A terrific little local place, reminded me of Cheers, where everybody knows your name. There was a couple from California there, and we all got to talking with the owner, who is a professional french horn player and was performing in Rigoletto on Friday night. I’d hoped to make it to it but timing just didn’t work out. Just as well as it turns out it wasn’t where I thought it was so might have been lost, as it turns out the California couple was and never found it. There were a handful of the owners friends just hanging around the place, and one, who reminded me of the opera signer Andrea Bocelli, was a self-appointed DJ with a fondness for the BeeGees, alas. But what was funny is with every song he joined in, like his own personal karaoke, wailing with the falsettos and all. It was quite hilarious.

On Friday I just meandered about the city, worked my way across to the Oltrarno, across the River Arno. When we were last hear last November, the Arno was raging with flood waters after record heavy rains. Now it seems a bit stagnant, still with the heat of summer lingering. It’s still a lovely view from the Ponte Santa Trinita, looking across to the tourist-overrun Ponte Vecchio. At the other end of the Ponte Santa Trinita is the best gelato at Gelateria Santa Trinita, so it’s a daily destination ;-). I also made it to my daughters (and my) favorite pizzeria, Gusta Pizza, down the Via Maggio a few blocks and over toward the Piazza San Spirito. I sat in the shade on the church steps and wrote for a few hours, very peaceful (albeit with a little pigeon-shooing a necessity). Speaking of pigeons, I saw another dead one — this is getting ridiculous!

Friday night I was lucky enough to get a reservation at a tiny osteria we’d been to last year — had heard good things about it, but then it was booked for ever, yet they had one time slot available Friday night, fortunately. I was shocked that Tomasso, whose parents own the restaurant and who oversees it himself, remembered me from when we were there last November. He even remembered what we’d ordered! So surprising. He was delightful and treated me like a friend, and even offered to let me return Monday for dinner, despite there being no reservations. Apparently in the past year their restaurant, which has been around for 27 years, got ranked as one of the top restaurants in Florence. It’s fabulous, homemade pastas, just delightful, simple yet awesome food.

After dinner I wandered into the Piazza della Signoria again, and caught some of the Italy/Bulgaria World Cup qualifying match that was on a large screen on a nearby restaurant patio. Then I heard what sounded like a marching band, and saw around the corner in front of the Palazzo Vecchio was a large municipal band, and a host of performers. It was so sweet — there were baton twirlers, then ballet dancers, and folk dancers, and some noted conductor. I managed to get a seat on the ground in front and hung out there for a while.

On my way back to the hotel I heard a loud crowd a few blocks away, and a street performer who’d held the audience in his thrall the night before was at it again. Amazing, he had at least 100 people gathered around, and while he engaged his audience with his schtick, I think the biggest draw was that he played his music very loud, and it was sort of patriotic marching music that drew people in. I’m sure he was making lots of money.

I saw a girl of about 12 standing atop the back rack of her fathers bicycle — quite a balancing act on both of their parts. I can’t imagine tooling through the streets (and wending through hoards of tourists) that way! I also saw a dog planted not so securely on the floorboard of his owners motorcycle!

I’ve seen a lot of tshirts with references to moustaches on them. Not gonna ask.

And I laugh at the many women who force their boyfriends and husbands to take countless glamor shouts of them in front of famous works. They’ll be walking along and then the woman jams her cell phone or camera into the guy’s hand, no questions asked, then she strikes her pose, to the side, jutting out her ample breasts or behind, and he snaps away. It’s like a silent “Yes, dear.”

I’m amazed at how many Russians are here — wherever I go hear I hear Russian being spoken.

Yesterday I wandered again, working my way to the Giardini di Boboli. The Boboli Gardens are part of the Palazzo Pitti, a massive Renaissance Palace in the Oltranaro. I’ve never toured inside, only been in the gardens, which are a sight to behold. I think I’ll try to get to the palace either today or Tuesday. I was intent on finding one of my favorite statues, it’s actually quite bizarre, it’s of Bacchus astride a turtle, looks like he’s had quite a night of partying. I bought a deck of cards with that picture on the back for Kyle years ago because I thought it was so funny, then I became intent on finding the thing. It was a little underwhelming in person, though I know it wasn’t the original — in Florence, as in probably most cities filled with antiquities, the originals are often put away for safekeeping and protection from the elements in museums, and copies (often still old) are the ones remaining in their place (like the fake David in the Piazza della Signoria, where the original David once stood).

So after finding Bacchus, I walked around the gardens for a while, sat down in the shade to read, and promptly fell asleep for a few hours. A very relaxing/lazy Saturday afternoon. Last night I ended up back at Trattoria Nella, as did the California couple. It turns out they closed the place on Thursday and there was quite the drunken debauched time that I’m glad I missed. They were all laughing about it, the french horn player was strumming a broken guitar he keeps up above the bar, while all swilling grappa and Campari in abundance. Definitely glad I missed that. But they were well on their way to repeating the performance last night. I kept waiting to just get my bill, passed on the grappa and the Limoncella and instead the french horn-playing owner kept filling my glass with more chianti. So my “meal” ended up taking about three hours until I finally got the bill and left.

It’s really quite a gift to be able to not have to be somewhere, and to be able to just be in the moment and not worry about what to do in a few hours, or days. Which is not to say I don’t think about it — especially since my plans have evolved quite a bit from my original intent, I need to figure out where I can go and do it on the relative cheap. Not like I can hang out in Florence in a 150 Euro a night hotel. So I have been pondering my next move, which could be to a farmhouse we love in Tuscany, but might be to the Amalfi coast, if I can get a room at the hostel down there (otherwise too expensive). Scott comes in in a week, at which point we will probably hike the Via Francigena for a few days or perhaps we’ll make the trek to the Amalfi Coast to Positano (so beautiful there), and end up in Rome for a few days.

Today I think I’ll go to the Galileo Museum, which I hear is interesting and not overrun with tourists. A nice cool retreat in from the heat. The weather has been spectacular but hot, and I saw large storm clouds rolling in yesterday afternoon, and today is overcast, so I expect rain might be on the horizon. All the more reason to find a museum. Tomorrow most of them are closed, unfortunately, so if open I will probably go to the interior courtyard at the Palazzo Strozzi, an art museum. The courtyard looked like a nice place to beat the heat and write for a while.

once again i’ve tried to add pictures but the app is crashing, so none to add right now! sorry!

On the Move

Ciao belli!

A few days have passed since I last blogged. I’ve been molto busy, some of it just trying to get places, be it by foot or by train.

When I last posted, I was in Aosta, I believe. Aosta was a cute-ish town, nestled in a valley at the base of the Italian Alps. It’s an Old Roman city with Roman arches intact surrounding parts of the town. Staying power, those Romans had. By the time I got to a hotel and got to dinner that night, many people were out and about for their passegiata — an evening stroll for window shopping and chatting. So I saw lots of people milling about. It’s a lovely Italian tradition, and great people-watching.

The next morning I was off to the stazione for a day-long journey to get to Fidenza, where I planned to pick up the Via Francigena again. I learned yesterday I’ve been grossly mispronouncing this word. Of course depending on what country you’re in it’s said differently anyhow. But now it’s pronounced Frahn-SHAY-jayna. I still struggle to get that right!

Anyhow, I spent the day swapping trains (four in all), and got to see the terrain I was intentionally bypassing, and was glad I chose to — very flat, very boring, mile upon mile of mostly rice paddies, interspersed with corn fields. I finally arrived in Fidenza, located not far from Parma, in early evening. I can’t say I was bowled over with the place. Just sort of overall “meh” impression. Buildings seemed a combination of rundown old and just ugly 1960s architecture. There is probably a good reason that every Italian gave me a resigned shrug when I said I wanted to get to Fidenza. Without fail, they’d all say “Firenze?” (meaning Florence), to which of course I really want to go, but not that day, and then they’d look at me like I was nuts to opt for Fidenza instead. Clearly they were onto something.

The accommodations for the night were at Albergo Ugolini, above a pizza restaurant. Think upscale prison. Actually, mercifully Italians are super super clean, so even a dismal hotel room is impeccably spotless, which does my heart good. Though to see some of the riffraff who showed up later in search of a room, it gave me pause to think what I was resting my head on that some of these dudes also might have shared. My standards have diminished substantially — amazing when you’re tired enough what looks downright cozy. Ish. The pillow did have a bit of a sour smell, though honestly I think it was a vinegar-based cleaner as the towels smelled the same the next day. Though all were starched and as white as snow. My hosts were lovely and friendly, so that helped me feel right at home in the relatively grim environs. My room was what you’d expect a “hotel ” room to look like if you raided your basement or scoured yard sales in the barrio to decorate an attic space above your pizza restaurant. Sparse & weathered. And the locale, well, naturally with the incumbent noise you’d expect on Friday night after a bunch of hairy guido-types watched football in the bar below. Shouting outside til wee hours.

I asked around for the piazza where the church was where I needed to get my “credenziale” stamped (each town you walk to/from you get a stamp in a sort of passport to show you’ve done the walk, this enables you to get official dispensation at St. Peter’s in Rome). Oddly NO ONE in this town knew where the piazza was (though it wasn’t far from the central piazza. Go figure.

It was friday night so I went into the centrale, the main part of town, the piazza, and a band was set up to play, so I was going to sit down at an outdoor bar and have a drink and enjoy the evening, but once the band started to play (they seemed to be in a perpetual state of warming up, I’d noticed, as I wandered around), they were painfully loud, playing headbanger music. Perfect for a Friday sunset…

I’d asked a group of folks earlier at a wine bar near my hotel for a restaurant recommendation, and they gave me a place actually quite near the church I needed to find (but I didn’t realize it till the next day!), and I scouted it out and it was totally empty. So I decided not to go there at first, returning to the piazza with the too-loud music and tons of cigarette smokers. It was enough to drive me back to the empty restaurant, thank goodness. I knew it was still early enough that only outsiders like me would feign to show up for dinner (was about 8 pm), but the chef was so enthusiastic when I got there, I knew it would be good, and he didn’t fail. I felt peer-pressured into his warm capon salad for an appetizer. My mom used to make capons when I was young but I hadn’t seen one in 35 years. It was fabulous, braised on top of mixed greens with balsamic vinegar (the good kind) and sultanas. Yummm. Followed by amazing homemade gnocchi (sorry Kendall!) and another delicious semifreddo, this time with some nougat thing going on. Italians sure do know how to cook (as long as you avoid the touristy places).

After dinner I wandered amidst the weak passegiatta (much less interesting than in Aosta), interested that many people were on bicycle. Definitely a biking town at least. I then headed back to the Ritz, where there were shouting matches going on outside beneath my window, perhaps from the pool hall across the street, till probably 2 a.m. Reminded me of long ago when Scott and I attended a wedding in San Francisco and the affianced couple had found for all of the guests a newly renovated yet affordable hotel, outside of which was a hangout for hookers all night long. While our room was clean enough, albeit spartan, we listened to prostitutes and pimps hollering at each other all night long. Ahhhh, memories.

So Saturday I loaded up my stuff (which takes SO long, considering I have that one backpack). It’s a daily struggle to put the pieces of the puzzle back together with that thing — my own little Humpty Dumpty.

It took me I swear an hour to find that darned church that should have been obvious to anyone who’d lived in Fidenza for more than a day, and then follow the route out of town. On the edge of town was a Saturday market, so I stopped for fresh fruit, which turned out to be the high point of the day…I figure I waste an hour a day packing up my backpack and an hour a day getting lost. Weird how boiling things down to simplicity make things more complicated sometimes. At least in my car I’d have that nice woman on my GPS telling me where to go. And at least at home I can just leave things in one place and not lug them again and again. I’d not make a good vagrant, of this I can be sure. I keep thinking my load will lighten, but it seems 1/8 ounce of shampoo and conditioner I use a day doesn’t cut into that much. I’ve been coveting my slight stockpile of power bars and chocolate, knowing there will be legs of the walk in which there is no food/drink for 28 km, but damn, yesterday, the chocolate all melted in my pack! It was that hot! I wonder if there’s some metaphor for life in lugging so much stuff: you weigh yourself down with so much unnecessary crap (not just physical but mental: worries, fears, anger, etc). Much easier to keep it light and easy…

I am a huge Asker of Directions. Makes most people nuts, but reassures me. Of course that means you get too many answers, one of which almost sent me on the wrong path. God forbid I trust my overlapping and confusing and sometimes failing maps (or my gut, for that matter). When you make the wrong turn while walking, you pay for it with backtracking, which honestly sucks when you’re hot and running out of water and there’s nowhere to get more. And then you realize you have to walk two more miles.
The path was well-enough marked, but I stupidly didn’t realize I’d misplaced a page of my directions, so they made no sense after the first two miles, and I was baffled as to where the hell I was going for a while until I figured that out. That was totally my bad. I was climbing through the foothills of the Italian Appenines, and had expected gorgeous panoramas, but while parts of it were certainly pretty, it wasn’t anything that took my breath away by any stretch of the imagination. Much of the route was on pavement, and while technically country roads, still each car that passed did so at terrifying rates of speed and without obvious consideration for 50-year old women lugging too much shit in a backpack. There was no shoulder whatsoever, so no room for error. It was about 95 degrees on the pavement, which didn’t help matters. My one bright moment was walking down a hill and encountering a woman with a cute puppy she’d taken out to her back patio to pee. The sign on her fence showed a menacing German Shepherd and warned to beware of the ferocious dog, however her dog was all of 8 pounds of puppy and was happy to nibble at my fingers through the fence. I think the woman thought I was truly pazzo for loving on her dog like I did. Oh, my other high point yesterday was I walked by a massive field filled with San Marzano-type tomatoes and I lifted one from the vine. It was delicious: meaty and flavorful. Way better than when they end up in a can at the grocery store.
Sometimes as I’m walking I realize I am as slow as an old granny (make that great granny) with a walker. But I’m so paranoid about not losing my footing, I try to be ultra careful. But it makes for slower going, which means there are places I have to pick and choose where to curtail on this walk. But all good, as I knew there would be a lot of unknowns along the way.

Fortunately I knew that Tuscany was far prettier, so when I arrived in Costamezzana, I made a quickie executive decision. The town was dead, the hostel at which I was to stay wasn’t to open till 6 pm, which meant that I had to kill about four hours with no where in which to kill it. Instead I tucked into a bar, asked if there was a way to get a taxi to a train station, and a lovely waitress offered to drive me back (!) to Fidenza, which seemed counterintuitive, but was so smart for me to do. I was able to hop on yet more trains (this after walking for 8 hours all day) and with a number of potential glitches with train changes, managed to land in Lucca late last night. Thank goodness!

The trains I rode went through the areas I would have been walking for some 7-8 days, and honestly after having walked through the Alps, it paled by comparison. Sort of reminded me of the mountains in Pennsylvania, which never once motivated me to trek them for a week while growing up, with good reason. Even as we coursed through the mountains, the bodies of water were still, no rushing torrents cascading to the bottom. Only lazy streams. More tall hills than stark mountains. In Pontremoli, a sleepy town in which I didn’t want to sleep, I raced to change trains only to find out there was no train to change to (despite the directions of the ticket man in Fidenza). At least I wasn’t the only one running stupidly — several others did as well, and they were locals. Almost got stuck there, which would have bummed me out. I had to laugh because at that stop, it seems that everyone on the sparsely-populated train deboarded for a smoke, including the conductors. My next confusing stop was at a station in a suburb of Pisa. Completely empty, dark settling in, and no train to Lucca on the schedule. With a minute to spare I ran across two sets of tracks (I know, bad idea) and boarded the small local train which, thank goodness, also went to Lucca. I was hollering to the conductor “aiuto!” (Help!”) and he kindly reassured me I could still get to Lucca.

Upon my arrival,ca delightful Italian woman who lives in Pisa but spends her weekends with her boyfriend in Lucca helped me to find my impossible to find hotel, for which I was immensely grateful. Lucca is an exquisite historical walled city, just large enough to be interesting but small enough to navigate readily. Had a so-so late meal at a tourist trap near my hotel.After spending the morning figuring out my new agenda, with the help of Paolo, the awesome owner of the hotel, I wandered into the Piazza MIchele, found my way to bike rentals (they’re plentiful) and rode a bike around the city all day. You can ride up on the wall (I’m assuming yet another Roman one though haven’t read about that yet) and really get a chance to see it from on high. I even met a fellow pelligrina — someone making the pilgrimage — a young Irishwoman named Mary who was beginning her walk tomorrow from Lucca.

On my bike I stumbled upon an American woman who lives in Lucca and got a recommendation for what she said was the best restaurant in Lucca, named Osteria Leo. she told me to tell them Lulu sent me. Lulu from Lucca to Leo…It was wonderful and non-touristy, which was perfect. I can’t help but people watch as I’m all alone and I was transfixed by this slack-breasted, aged Luccese (sp?) woman with but one tooth jutting from her lower jaw like volcanic rock in the middle of a dark ocean, busy holding court at a nearby table. She was very loud and evidently very opinionated. It was funny to watch her go on and on to a number of people at different tables. I was so surprised as she was getting up to go and the man with whom she’d apparently shared a table said “piacere conosco” which meant “pleased to know you” — evidently she’d just plunked herself down at his table and started yapping. Turns out he was from Barcelona and on a motorcycle tour of Tuscany, didn’t even know the woman. Also interesting to watch the pregnant woman at a nearby table smoking away…

Tomorrow I divert to the Cinque Terre for the day, then Tuesday resume walking, bypassing the first leg from Lucca as it’s on busy roads. I learned from Lulu that it is common for pedestrians and bikers to be hit and killed in Italy and usually no one ever even gets in trouble for it. She said there is callous disregard for those along roads who aren’t in cars, so that was warning enough for me to be wary. Plus after having walked most of 8 miles on hot pavement, I’m learning what to avoid. Still looking for those meadows perhaps?

As I sit outside of the main piazza writing this, a group of about 10 people has pulled up in a van, unloaded supplies, and set up shop with some sort of political protest. they are very intent, stringing up signs and preparing their musical selection for their presentation. So curious what they are protesting, it’s MoVimento beppegrillo.it . Must look that up. Frankly someone has been playing that Frito Bandito song on a harmonica for the past hour so this protest might be a refreshing change.

After being gone a week now, I know one thing that I already knew, but is only reaffirmed: I am a people person so it’s very foreign to me to be by myself. I’m frankly bored with me! I feel like a Labrador retriever let loose in a vast human-free forest. I may soon become a little too desperate to speak with people, despite a strong level of communication barriers thanks to my tepid Italian skills.

I have found it refreshing to not even consider “shopping” anywhere. No need to acquire needless tchotchkes and certainly nowhere to put them. As it is my pack is too full. (though, um, I am going to search the Piazza Barberini if I remember correctly in Rome for a little wine shop that sold good balsamic vinegar and olive oil, as by then I’ll happily lug it home!!). Rather I guess I am figuring out a new level of self-sufficiency at this late date, and simply experiencing the experience. And learning how to navigate public transportation when need be, in another language, which can be challenging. Part of my plan, learning how to get around fearlessly. Or should I say less fearfully?

Though I have a newfound empathy for turtles, lugging everything on their back. No wonder they lay eggs instead of carrying babies on top of all that!

I will say yesterday I had a few near-meltdowns. In my head I kept thinking: Dear Diary: The Amalfi coast is sounding sorely tempting right about now.” Though honestly I don’t know what I’d do there for 3 weeks! Plus the best part of the walk should be in Tuscany, so I just needed to ditch the part I wasn’t enjoying.

So far on my walks, once I’m out of a town, I see exactly no one, save for an occasional farmer. I can be contemplative but it can also get to be boring. I’ve listened to my Italian book on my iPod (trying to erase the rudimentary french that had resurfaced from the recesses of my memory while in Switzerland), and listened to hundreds of songs as well, as well as thousands of chirping crickets. Not so many birds, unfortunately. I’ve seen very few animals, and I’d expected to see far more. Instead I’ve seen dead bugs galore, dead butterflies, and a dead bird, unfortunately. And I’ve seen more grasshoppers and crickets than I need to know exist in the world. Yesterday plenty of fallow and tilled fields and many views blocked by walls, fences and tall trees erected by people who owned the nice villas outside of town.

We pause for this brief message: Please remember I’m attempting to raise money for the IRC with my walk. I’ve been remiss in promoting this much but I just got too busy as I was preparing to leave for my trip, just bit off more than I could chew. Link is .

Oh, by the way, les you think I’m brave or admirable for this quest, you should know this: I miss my rolling suitcase. I miss my down comforter and feather bed. I miss my reliable hot showers. And I miss my family desperately. I’m bored with me! I’m a people person with no people: I’m that lost Labrador, aimless in the woods. And I’m lugging too much crap!

I hear the UVA football game was delayed by thunderstorms yesterday — that seems so crazy! Never hear of such a thing!

I’m glad I’m in Tuscany, love it here, it’s so beautiful. And again tremendously grateful that my husband has enabled me to undertake this adventure! Grazie mille ;-)

Ciao for now!

I WAS TRYING TO UPLOAD PICTURES BUT THE INTERNET IS TOO SLOW SO I’LL JUST POST THIS AND TRY TO POST PICTURES LATER!