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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!

Categories: Accidentally on Purpose, Anywhere But Here, Books, Chick Lit, humor, I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship, Jenny Gardiner, memoir, Naked Man on Main Street, News, relaxation, road trip, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, Slim to None, Via Francigena, Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me, women, women's fiction

AND HERE I THOUGHT DOWNHILL WOULD BE EASIER....

Catching up on a few days here. Will try to add pictures at the end. Many are on my phone but I’ve got some on my iPad I can post.

Two days ago I slept in after arriving very late to Bourg St.Pierre, was a good decision. I had originally planned too much walking for that day and it would have killed my plans to walk those cute St.Bernards…Luckily I didn’t do that b/c it would have been 4 tough hours uphill at high altitude only to get there and walk the very route back down for 75 minutes with the dogs and then back up again! I’d have killed myself!
Instead I boarded a bus, which was an experience in itself. Only a 20 minute ride but along precarious roads, with each turn the bus would overhang the escarpment, giving me near heart failure. Don’t know how the guy drives the bus! Crazier still, I looked up at one point and saw a man climbing out of his construction equipment onto an escarpment with 100 foot drop below, completely nonchalant and flicking his cigarette butt as he jumped out. Oy vey. I sure wondered how many buses plummet off cliffs up here!

As I said that walk with the dogs was along the Via Francigena. Only going down the mountain it was a very rocky path, with 175-pound dogs pulling at you, not so easy. Hard to keep your footing. The dogs were adorable: Bunti, Wenda (pronounced Venda), Justin and Ranna. Most adorable. If you can’t tell I have a thing for St. Bernards. My (grown) kids are lucky I haven’t a millimeter of space in my backpack or I’d have brought them back cute but useless St. Bernard stuffed animals. (yes, I know they just purged all those stuffed animals!). Two other families were on the walk, several kids, who made much better timing than did I. Oh well! I was savoring my St. Bernard time…

Was great fun w/ the dogs, they’re sweet as can be and precious, though the one boy (Justin, pronounced in the french way) kept going after the girl I was walking and sometimes he’d start barking a little too aggressively for my tastes — happened w/ one of the kids right there. Of course these dogs are well-trained so I don’t doubt they’d not do anything, but still…I think old Justin had love on the mind…

After that I just walked in the town for a few minutes (“town” is an exaggeration — it’s the hospice, which is a building housing a church and chapels and housing facilities, a hotel across the street with a bar, and a smaller bar down the street that sells tchotchkes. And the kennels. I went to the smaller bar in search of hot chocolate — it’s COLD up here! Especially at the top. When we walked I got warm and could have taken off my long-sleeved top but no chance with dogs on the go. But up top it’s very blustery.

The day was beautiful but chilly at the top but after sunset a shroud of fog descended on the place — was very haunting. Dinner was served promptly at 7:15, just me and about 25 strangers, none of whom spoke much English (or French or Italian for that matter). Met two young men from Czech Republic who are walking across Europe searching for work. Not, perhaps, the most efficient manner in which to search for jobs, but they seemed nice and I felt badly for them that no one will hire them. I dined with a Swiss doctor from Lausanne who was wearing a Jawbone bracelet (it quantifies everything you short of motive) and I pointed out my son has a Fitbit now and quantifies it all. He laughed and said, “Yes, I think it was Shakespeare who said ‘I think, therefore I am.’ But now it is I measure, therefore I am.” So true…The guy walks the steps (15 flights) at the hospital at which he works. A modern day esthete I suppose (who voluntarily goes off to Monasteries for holiday!). The food was what you’d expect in a religious hospice. The place was very clean, which was nice. I cannot begin to tell you how cold it was. I’d been avoiding taking my backpack out b/c it is so nicely packed and I knew it would be a struggle to get it back in this tiny sack. Finally I sucked it up and used it, and owe my daughter Kendall much gratitude for her lending it to me. I almost cried to be warm! The simple pleasures do become amplified when things get boiled down to more basics. It was quite the grudge match getting that sleeping bag put away though…

We were awoken by music — the monks’ way of telling us to leave? Had a quick breakfast of stale bread and was off.

So onto today’s walk. The walk. The walk!
Okay, first off. I have a newfound respect for the Family Von Trapp. How they trekked through the mountains of Austria to escape the Nazis with all of those children and no hiking gear is beyond me.
Let me tell you, they don’t call it the Alps for nothing (whatever that means!). I was operating under the delusion that I was on the downhill and thus it would be much easier. I was wrong. The weather was spectacular — could not have been better. Started out crisp and cool but a few minutes hiking took care of the cool. The path was steep and rocky so it took a great deal of concentration. I’m still wondering where all those meadows are that I’d expected. The scenery was stunning. I passed lots of cows with those musical bells — must make them insane, though, clanging away all day long. And deaf! But it is lovely to hear in the distance, before you even see the cattle. I laughed at the passivity of cows around here — the only thing that keeps them from straying to land not theirs is usually a small rope strung across a path. Perhaps they’re just so happy where they are.

Much of the way was steep and rocky with very little between me and certain death if I lost my footing. Humbling. I have bonded with my walking sticks (though lost the tip of one on my first day, darn it). The trail was well-marked at first, but after I stopped for lunch in St. Rhemy and returned to the trail with the intent of walking to Etroubles, I ended up on a nasty trail that got the better of me. Much of the time it was a barely discernible path through dense overgrowth. Loads of crickets leaping about. I saw a sign for St. Oyen, the next town, which claimed to be 50 minutes away, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that was in dog years. Speaking of dogs–where’s a St. Bernard when you need one? I’d have loved to have one rescue me by about 3 pm, when my trail led me to an enormous construction site where I had to climb over piles of rebar and cement blocks just to get out of the woods. Crazily I wasn’t lost but it sure felt like it. At that point I decided my best plan was to hop a bus to Aosta so that I could still catch a train to Fidenza tomorrow, my plan being to pick up the Via Francigena around there (near Parma) and climb through the Cisa Pass, part of the Italian Appenines, which is supposed to be beautiful. Debating whether to divert first to Florence or afterward. Will see how my legs are holding out in the morning as to whether I hope a series of trains to Fidenza or Firenza ;-).

I met a lovely woman and her mother while waiting for a bus in St. Oyen. As she described her job and had a hard time translating it, I realized she is an urban planner, which is what Kyle’s in graduate school for, so that was a small world. She and her mother were delightful, fluent in english. Her mother was lovely and wanted to bring me home to Torino and feed me her specialty — spaghetti. I was sorely tempted, though Torino is nowhere near my planned itinerary. She also wanted to show me her duck cross-stitch — her daughter said she was terribly obsessed with it (as a quilter of past I can relate!)

I washed a bunch of clothes and hope they’re dried by the time I leave in the morning. Went out to a great meal of tagliatelle al sugo (duck confit and pasta, yummm) and semifreddo di fruitti di foret (I’m no doubt spelling that wrong). Was perfect. Now I’m going to head off to bed, but let me add some pictures!

Ciao!

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Categories: Accidentally on Purpose, Anywhere But Here, Books, Chick Lit, I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship, Jenny Gardiner, Naked Man on Main Street, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, Slim to None, Via Francigena, Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me, women, women's fiction

AND SO IT BEGINS

I’m going to have to make this quick as I’m absolutely beat, but wanted to post the start of my journey.

Let’s just say packing was mildly amusing. I am the one who throws in the extra kitchen sink, after packing the main sink. Me and a pack ostensibly meant to hold 15 pounds is just a contrary concept. I tried, truly I did. But all those darned little things added up, not to mention the mere weight of the iPad I brought along, amongst other things.

Suffice it to say, when I start walking tomorrow, I expect tears. I will spew vulgarities about what a stupid git I am for having even fantasized about packing a blow dryer (yes, I admit, I pondered it in the far recesses of my mind, but no, I didn’t pack one. It was the first item on the “no way in hell” list).

It was hard to bid farewell to my family. Moms are conflicted about just bailing on the family, aren’t they? Even though the kids are off doing their own thing, there’s just this feeling that you need to be there just in case. And leaving Scott for a month — that’s a really long time and i will miss him! i must also say how grateful i am that he has enabled me to undertake this journey — his support has been invaluable. But everyone assured me I wasn’t being a self-indulgent self-indulger, so I’ll take it at face value.

So I headed off on my adventure relatively guilt-free but suddenly feeling quite anxious (no doubt mostly b/c of newly-anticipated need for a Sherpa). There’s just so much STUFF you need/want to pack for a month. Particularly when you figure you’ll be roughing it a bit, you want to toss in those little somethings that’ll make you feel mildly indulged (the foot lotion, the soothing arnica oil for muscle aches). Though in reality you should’ve tossed those in the “no” pile right behind that darned blow dryer!

Ah well, it is what it is. I expect I’m going to pull a Hansel and Gretel and leave a trail of divine-smelling toiletries with each kilometer trekked. I’ll keep you posted.

My flight was surprisingly quick and uneventful, though in the small world department, my daughters roommates father was my pilot! He did a fine job! I then met up with an e-friend I’ve “known” online for years, who I learned last week lives near Geneva. What a lovely day we had — we went to her beautiful home and I was able to make myself at home to reconnoiter (boy did I need that), shower (ditto) and enjoy a lovely lunch and great company. Topped off with a visit to her gorgeous horse. I navigated several trains from there to grt to Orsieres, wishing I’d had time to explore the area before departing — very picturesque villages along what I think was Lake Lausanne — stunningly beautiful. The town of Nyon (FIFA headquarters to you soccer fans) was exceptionally so. arrived around 5:30, settled into my hotel & went in search of food.

While wandering through the village trying to find an open restaurant, a man backing out of a parking space pulled over and started telling me in french about the local cheeses, unsolicited. I had years of french growing up but do you think I could converse in the language? Hell no. I hadn’t expected the first few days of my trip to be in french-speaking Switzerland, so I hadn’t brushed up on my french and instead have been blending French from the deepest regions of my brain with butchered Italian that I have been brushing up on — probably all the more confusing for the locals. Ah, well, merde…I was also corrected by a construction worker on my bonjours vs. bonsoirs — didn’t need it as I remembered it as I uttered the wrong word last evening. I think by the time I hit Italy I’ll then be speaking comprehendible French and then really trash my Italian. Thank goodness more Europeans speak English than Americans do foreign languages…Bonsoir mes amies!

(By the way I being my journey walking from Orsieres, Switzerland to Bourg-Saint-Pierre, Switzerland. Wish me bonne chance!)

Categories: Accidentally on Purpose, Anywhere But Here, Books, Chick Lit, humor, I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship, Jenny Gardiner, Naked Man on Main Street, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, Slim to None, Via Francigena, women's fiction