Category Archives: Italy

Italy 9: Cinque Terre

Ta Dah!!!!

May 14 and 15, 2019

Fegina, Monterosso

Cinque Terre really is just one damned “Ta-dah!!” after another … especially when the sun is shining, which it was most of the day we were there. Over and over again I thanked myself for having taken the advice of my son Matt and his wife Nancy Riskin, who had suggested we not miss this area when we were in Italy. I dedicate this post to them, with endless gratitude. (The gesture will balance out the fact that we have about a thousand other photos from this and other parts of our trip, which they will be “invited” to peruse next time we see them.)

Of the five fishing villages that make up Cinque Terre, Monterosso is the oldest (first mentioned in a document dated 1056 ) and largest (pop. about 1500). The original town, south of the San Cristoforo Hill, subsequently expanded to extend past the beach at Fegina – which is where the train station is located. Albergo La Spiaggia, our hotel, was a two minute walk down Via Fegina from the train station.

I am sure we had the best view in Monterosso, as our balcony doors overlooked the promenade and the beach. I had chosen Monterosso as our destination in Cinque Terre because of the beach — it is the only one of the five villages that has one to speak of — and although the water was too cold for swimming, it was a treat to be so close to the water.

We had arrived exhausted in the darkness the night before, after two days of gloomy weather and frustrating misadventures, and to wake up to this view was as though a curtain had been pushed aside to show us a glimpse of paradise.

Where the Dead Have the Best Views

We had one full day in Cinque Terre and we used it to advantage, taking the morning to stroll up the hill towards the centre of the mediaeval town, where Monterosso’s small harbour is located. Arnie was suffering from a painful foot so he watched the trains and watercraft go by while I hiked further up San Cristoforo Hill to the Church of San Francisco and the Capuchin Monastery. Built between 1619 and 1622, the complex was confiscated and used as a garrison during the Napoleonic Wars before being returned to the Franciscans.

The town’s cemetery is at the top of the hill, and the views down toward old Monterosso to the south and Fegina to the north are beyond description (which is why cameras were invented). The effects of landslides and earthquakes have taken their toll on the hill and the buildings, but the result is an engaging agglomeration of aged, crumbling and restored buildings, hives of burial chambers, wilting bouquets of flowers (it had been Mother’s Day a few days earlier), filigreed crosses, cacti, scarlet poppies, tiny lizards, and breathtaking views.

Riomaggiore

After a late lunch, we took the train to the most southern town in the chain, Riomaggiore, and wandered up and down and around the streets lined with the colourful “tower houses” for which the town is famous, and its occasional installations of ceramic art.

We spent quite a bit of time down by the waterfront alternately admiring the changing light on the town behind us as the clouds came and went, and watching workers manipulate a huge grab dredger to lift massive rocks from the bottom of the sea and move them carefully to extend the breakwater just offshore. Sometimes they didn’t get a solid grip and the enormous rocks plunged back into the water, and sometimes — carefully, carefully — they moved them over the breakwater and gently lowered them into place. It was hard to look away.

We concluded this almost perfect day (there was some rain later, but I hesitate to mention it considering that the time of its arrival meant that it barely affected us) with an outstanding meal two doors down from our hotel, in an “ancient wine cellar” that has been transformed into Cantina di Miky.

It doesn’t get much better than that, we told ourselves. And we were almost right.

Italy 8: Padua to La Spezia

Past the Alps to the Ligurian Sea

Monday, May 13, 2019 (Part 2)

In response to overwhelming (n=1) demand for information on whether we actually made it from Padua to La Spezia in time to catch our train, I offer this interlude to assure readers that we did (though not, of course, without a bit more drama), and also to provide additional information on the Cappella degli Scrovegni offered by friends on Facebook since my last post (thank you, Caterina Edwards and Suzanne Hillier).

Alps

First the Cappella. Caterina, who has located several of her novels in Italy and knows whereof she speaks, told me that the museum only lets about ten or twelve people into the Giotto Chapel at a time – and that the people have to be cool and dry to be admitted. “We went to Padova on a super-hot day,” she recalls. “Before we could enter the chapel, we had to sit (and watch a video) for 15 minutes in a special room where we were ‘dehumidified.’ This was to protect the fragile murals.”

While her story made me appreciate better why they hadn’t let us in, it also intensified my wish that we had booked tickets ahead of time and seen the frescoes. Suzanne (retired lawyer, now a full-time writer) added to my regret by saying, “Hate to tell you but it was fascinating. Can still see those visions of hell, with the doomed being savaged by evil little devils!”

More alps

Today Arnie reminded me there were probably photos of the frescoes online, and since “online” just happens to be my second home it didn’t take me long to find them. They are indeed astonishing: particularly considering that Giotto di Bondone completed them more than 700 years ago: in about 1305. It’s not the same at all as seeing them in person, but it will do for now.

It rained off and on between Padua and La Spezia but the weather cleared enough from time to time to offer us views of the Alps on our right and the northern Apeninne mountains on our left. We were beginning to get a sense of how quickly the landscape changes in Italy, and of the wide range of geographical areas and climates that make up this small country (small compared to Canada, that is). When we’d left the relatively flat region around Padua I’d wondered how our destination, a village only a few hours away, could be described as almost inaccessible due to its location on a mountainous coastline. But as the foothills rose around us and our elevation increased, I began to see how this could happen.

Red Pin Marks Ligurian Sea

Last Train to Monterosso

Our destination was Monterosso al Mare, the most distant of five villages that lie north of La Spezia along the coast of the Ligurian Sea. Together, the villages comprise Cinque Terre (“Five Lands”), designated a UNESCO site in 1997 and part of the Italian Riviera. My younger son and his wife had stayed in one of the villages on their honeymoon, and raved to us about the beauty of the region.

While the walking trails between the towns are mostly hike-able (where they have not been washed downhill into the sea), tourists are advised not to attempt the roads between the villages by car. This doesn’t create too much of a problem since there are 54 trains between La Spezia and Levanto (beyond the northern end of the chain of villages) every day. The train tickets are quite reasonable — you can buy a one-day pass for about €8 that allows you take as many train rides as you want between the villages, or you can buy a Cinque Terre card that allows you to use buses as well as trains and to gain access to the walking trails, museums, etc. Our only challenge as we drove from Padua was to make sure that we caught the last train of the day, which would depart from La Spezia at 23:10, and to arrive in time to park the car and get to the train before it left.

Alpennines

It turns out there are many places to park your car in La Spezia but of course the one I had picked out was inaccessible after 8 p.m., which was when we arrived. Fortunately for us, we took a “wrong turn” and ended up in a nice big parking lot right inside the train station. This parking lot is reasonable (between €18 and €25/day depending on the season) but the fact that it is “in” the station doesn’t mean it is secure. We had been advised by many people never to leave anything in an unattended car in Italy, so we took everything with us to Monterosso. It was a lot to carry up and down the stairs and hills that are everywhere in Cinque Terre, but when we returned two days later, we found another couple parked near us who had lost all of the possessions they had left behind in their locked vehicle. So we were glad we’d taken the precaution.

Toilets in parking lot at La Spezia Train Station

If you have any physical disability you’ll have trouble getting around the train stations in the Cinque Terre region — several of which have no elevators. Even in those that do, the elevators may not be working. We hauled our luggage up the stairs onto the wrong platform then downstairs again, and then up onto the right platform, and finally managed to get ourselves and our bags onto the last train to Monterosso.

Right on time, the train pulled out into a pitch black night (it seemed more dark than even nighttime could explain for a reason, we learned the next day: much of the route along the coast winds through a series of tunnels). Twenty-two minutes later, we were in Monterosso. There we carried the suitcases and packs down two more sets of stairs, then rolled them out of the station to the street, and down the street to our beach-front hotel, where we gratefully checked in.

Utterly exhausted – it had been a long rainy-day drive after a long rainy day in Padua, after a long rainy evening the night before traipsing around the Venice Airport exchanging vehicles — we went to sleep. And awoke the next morning to the most spectacular visual treat I’ve ever had.

Italy 7: Padua

Padua: Where we did not see the world-renowned Giotto frescoes

Monday, May 13, 2019

Our visit to Padua was not the best experience we had in Italy. This was not Padua’s fault: it was mine. I was the Official Ticket Booker, but I had not yet realized that in order to get into popular museums and art galleries in Italy, even in the “shoulder season,” you have to have a reservation. At least in Padua.

Basilica di Sant Antonio, Padua

Also, as the Official Navigator I had not yet realized that the only way to find your way around major city centres in Italy (and probably those in other countries, too) is to get an accurately gauged map of the area itself and possibly even to draw your desired path along the streets ahead of time. GPS just isn’t much good — and can in fact be misleading — in heavily populated areas. Especially when your own built-in sense of direction is less than perfect.

We were to have even more convincing evidence of this second rule later in the trip. In retrospect, it would have saved us untold hours if I’d learned my lesson in Padua.

We had to be in La Spezia, on the western coast of Italy, by about eight p.m. There, we would leave our car and catch a train into Cinque Terre in time for our next hotel destination in Monterosso al Mare that night. I had estimated the time required to get to La Spezia as five hours. It was still morning, so we decided to poke around Padua a little before we left.

Padua street

I loved the architecture of Padua, which for some unknown reason reminded me of Shakespeare. The internet tells me that the only Shakespearean play set in Padua is The Taming of the Shrew, which I have both read and seen onstage at least once, but that doesn’t totally explain the visual association. (I also learned from a most informative and interesting blog post on this very subject, that Padua would have been famous even in Shakespeare’s day for its university — the second-oldest in Italy and the one at which Galileo taught — and for its botanical garden, which I wish we’d visited but… next time.)

Basilica di Santa Giustina

We planned to have an early lunch, then see if we could get in to see the Giotto frescoes at the Cappella degli Scrovegni. On our way to find a bite to eat we were distracted by the sight of a spectacular-looking church, which I later identified as the Basilica di Sant Antonio) and we decided to get out and walk around it. This decision led us to a half-hour effort to find a legal parking spot nearby. Once we’d found one, we realized we were totally turned around and had lost sight of the church we’d intended to see. Never mind. There was another spectacular-looking building right in front of us, the Basilica di Santa Giustina, so we wandered around it instead. I am still amazed that there are two such astonishingly huge basilicas (basilici?) less than a mile apart.

We found a cafe/restaurant nearby, ordered grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and coffee, and sat at a table with an umbrella (it was still spitting rain) to watch the world go by. Not much of the world went by: it was a very quiet Monday in Padua. (That restaurant was the first one I had seen that served fizzy water as a chaser for the coffee. I am a total devotee of both coffee and fizzy water, so I was delighted to see that someone had come up with this perfect combination.)

After lunch, we wandered around Padua’s cobbled streets and checked out a few of the 78 statues that form two rings around the Prato della Valle, a lovely elliptical park that is the largest square in Italy. Then we set off to find a parking spot near the Cappella degli Scrovegni, enjoying the walled streets, ancient buildings and huge trees we passed en route.

Entrance to the Cappella di Scrovegni

The museum entrance at the Cappella degli Scrovegni (“cappella” is the Italian word for “chapel”) was packed with tourists and school classes from everywhere, but I still hoped we would get in. Even after the ticket-sellers refused to sell us admission tickets, I still held out hope. I also held out my iPhone, on which I had composed a passionate plea for admission with the help of Google Translate. In it, I explained that we had travelled all the way from Canada (I may have intimated that we had made the journey solely to see the amazing Giotto frescoes), and that we would never have another chance to see them. But the ticket-sellers were steel-hearted and would not let us in.

I later noticed on the museum’s website that they require advanced ticket purchases with no exceptions, but even if I had read that, I would probably have attempted to whine my way in. I am sure that if I had been able to speak Italian and say my passion-infused words of regret aloud, the museum workers would have crumbled before my eloquence. But the words on the face of my phone just didn’t do it, even if they were in Italian.

Crestfallen, we departed, and hit the road for La Spezia.

In a later post, I will explore the whole issue of the names of places used in their home countries vis a vis the names for those places invented by speakers of other languages. The Italian name of the city we were in was Padova, but we call it Padua. We also call Mantova Mantua, and Genova Genoa, and Firenze Florence.

When I googled Padua/Padova I found a site on TripAdvisor where someone had explained to the world that the city’s name was Padova but that (he thought) Shakespeare had changed it to Padua. Don’t believe everything on the internet. But his misapprehension does help me to end this post somewhere close thematically to where I started it. So there’s that.

Italy 6: Zagreb to Padua

Our Italian Breakdown – in the Rain, of Course

Sunday, May 12, 2019

We departed Zagreb on a rainy Sunday morning and made our way onto the highway that would take us out of Croatia, through Slovenia and back into Italy. Our destination was Padua, which I estimated we would reach in about four-and-a-half hours. It took us twelve hours to get there.

Bridge over Karlovska Street, Ljubljana, Slovenia

It was still raining when we reached Slovenia, but Melania Trump’s home country looked lovely through the windows of the car. I was sorry that we had to zoom through its capital – Ljubljana (pronounced “Lyubly-anna”) – as there was clearly much there to explore. The ever-helpful Wikipedia informs me that the First Lady herself was born in Novo Mesto — which we drove past but did not visit — but that she attended high school and acquired some post-secondary education in Ljubljana.

Rural Slovenia, near Ljubljana

When I use the word “zoom” to describe our mode of travel, I am speaking more poetically than accurately: our rental car continued to stutter and hesitate every ten or fifteen minutes as we made our way back toward Italy. We were quite worried that the vehicle might stop completely in this country where we knew no one, had very little local currency, and possessed not even a smattering of the language. However, hunger overcame our concerns about the car and about an hour beyond Ljubljana we stopped at a roadside service centre. For the first – but certainly not the last – time on our three-week trip, we were astonished at the dining opportunities we found inside.

The Marche Mövenpick bistro on Slovenia’s A34 is one of a chain of 70 eateries around the world (some readers may have visited the one downstairs in Brookfield Place on Bay Street in downtown Toronto, which is not on the side of any highway!).

The one we stopped at in Slovenia puts typical roadside diners in North America to shame. It offers the hungry traveller anything anyone could possibly ever imagine wanting to eat or drink: all of it fresh and beautifully presented. We settled for soup, bread and fruit, which was delicious, but we could have selected freshly squeezed fruit juice, entrees with vegetables and pasta, salads, all manner of baked goods, elaborate desserts and, of course, rich delicious coffee prepared any way we wanted it. On a trip that took us to some of the great dining centres of the world, I realize it’s a bit odd for me to be raving about a highway diner, but given the location we were amazed at the size of the place, the variety and the quality of the food available, and the reasonable prices. (I was also surprised to find CBD cannabis gum and mints for sale alongside the candy at the checkout counter. These concoctions were as effective in reducing arthritic pain as any of the CBD options I’ve tried in Canada: i.e. not at all.)

Well fed, we set off again, and despite the constant irritant of the hesitating engine, all was well… for a while. Our GPS started speaking to us again when we crossed the border into Italy, the radio produced some nice classical music, and we were lulled into complacency. Feeling the need for coffee an hour or so later, we pulled off the highway and took a little break.

But that was the last straw for the car. It had done all it was going to do for us by way of favours when it got us out of Slovenia in one piece, and now it was done. Dead. Finished.

After attempting to get the engine to turn over for long enough that we feared we’d wear out the starter, we called the emergency number for the rental company. Or at least we tried to call it.

When we’d been in Italy the week before, we’d had trouble using our data and phone plan, purchased before we left Canada. It had worked fine when we got to Croatia, but now that we were back in Italy, our long-distance problems were also back, and we were unable to connect with the rental company via the toll-free number. Fortunately we were still at the gas station, and the attendant there helped Arnie to reach the person we needed to talk to.

That person told us (speaking Italian but with a translation app on his phone: as I’ve said before, technology is a wonderful thing when it works) that a truck would be there within half an hour to collect us and the car. He also told us that after we dropped the car off at a repair centre, we were to take a taxi to the car-rental outlet at the Venice airport. This was not the location where we’d picked up the car in the first place (the Piazzale Roma in Venice itself), but the airport – where we’d begun our visit to Italy one week earlier.

Map showing how we ended up back at the Venice Airport

Sure enough, less than half an hour later, a flat-bed truck arrived and the driver (a very nice man who spoke only Italian and had no translation device on him) loaded up the car, invited us to join him in the cab, and drove us through the ongoing rain to the car-repair location in Mestre, which is a suburb of Venice. There he off-loaded the car, and after we had signed a bunch of papers, called a cab for us.

It was our great good fortune to have broken down where we did: the farther from the original car rental location we had been, the more complex the problem would certainly have become. But nothing is ever simple when documents are involved, so it was another hour at the airport before we finally got ourselves and our luggage transferred to a new vehicle. The new car was bigger (not necessarily a good thing in Italy where the roads can be very narrow) and had no GPS, but that didn’t matter to us then. It ran without stuttering and there was more room for us and our luggage, so we were good.

By now we were again ravenous but we were also really tired so we decided not to stop to eat first, but to go to our hotel in Padua – where we arrived just as the kitchen was closing. Once again, the generosity of the Italian service industry rose to the occasion, and they kindly agreed to prepare a meal for us before the kitchen staff went home. They could offer us pasta (which was delicious) and wine; however, the waiter told us sadly, it was too late for dessert.

Italy (& Croatia) 2: From Trieste into Croatia

Wrangling with GPS in a New Country: A Cautionary Tale

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Waterfront at Poreč

On Wednesday we rented a car and drove from Venice to Poreč in Croatia, a distance of 250k.

We went through Trieste, where we had a tasty pizza in the city’s piazza, which is on the waterfront, and considered the fact that James Joyce and Nora Barnacle had lived in this city from 1905 to 1915. Since I had not known this until we were approaching Trieste, when I finally got around to checking out the city in my Lonely Planet Guide, we didn’t have time to do much more than consider our newly acquired knowledge, but if I ever come back to Trieste I will drop in on Joyce’s “scenic home on the grand canal” and also maybe visit Castello di Miramare, home of “the hapless Archduke Maximilian of Austria” (“hapless,” because he got himself shot by a firing squad in Mexico in 1867. Go figure).

Adventures with Technology

We had several maps to ensure that we would get from Trieste to Poreč without becoming “hapless” ourselves, by which I mean “lost” – e.g., by going astray in Slovenia (where Melania Trump is from), a country we needed to pass through briefly on the way to Croatia. Our reference materials included a printed map from the CAA that we noticed too late had the word “Croatia” printed in large caps right over the names and numbers of the highways we would need to take, obscuring them from view, and a GPS in our rental car that showed nothing but a blank screen beyond Italy and turned out to have a mind of her own.

The Italian-speaking Voice of the GPS happily accepted our request for directions to Poreč but she was devious: As soon as we got out of Trieste, she started giving us wrong directions until we ended up back in the city, in a rather sketchy part of town, where she announced that we had “arrived at our destination, on the right.”

We revised our destination parameters in an effort to trick the GPS into letting us get out of Italy, and set off onto the four-lane divided highway once more – only to have the Italian Voice try to turn us around again ten minutes later. But we were smarter now, and we ignored her advice. Unfortunately, our cleverness meant that now we had no idea where we were or where to go next. (These detours did confirm that we know the Italian words for “left” and “right,” sinistra and destra respectively, which will be handy when we get back to Italy on Sunday and attempt a reconciliation with our GPS.)

We’d bought a data-roaming plan before we left Toronto, but I had inadvertently used up way too much of the data in the previous few days so I was afraid to access the Google map of the region online. So we tried the offline map which we had downloaded ahead of time on the excellent advice of my elder son. However, we discovered that the flexibility of offline maps is limited — they find it hard to readjust if you accidentally go off course, and this one didn’t include all of the highway markers that we needed. It also didn’t, of course, speak Italian, Slovenian, or Croatian, the way the signage did as we proceeded out of, through and into the countries where those languages are spoken, one after the other. At last we gave up, turned on Google Maps’s GPS roaming, and got to our destination that way. I expect to have my roaming ability cut off by Bell at any moment now.

Pouring in Poreč

Poreč is a resort town on the Istrian Peninsula and our hotel – the Palazzo! – was vast and spacious, and reminded me of stories I have read of visitors staying at European hotels in the off-season, when the hotels are quiet and nearly empty, but elegant with staff in their white shirts and bow ties standing at the ready to fulfil visitors’ every need (fluent in German, Italian, Croatian and English and possibly other languages as well). After checking in, we wandered the stone-slab streets and ended the day with a chicken scallopini several blocks from our hotel.

Breakfast at the Palazzo the following morning was as elegant as the staff: fresh fruit, croissants, home-made sausages, eggs to order on demand, olives, cutlets, fresh bread, and several kinds of juices, and coffees or hot chocolate. They’d even carved the image of the hotel into a watermelon to decorate the buffet.

It started sprinkling soon after we arrived in Poreč (pronounced “Por-etch”) and by morning it was pouring, but we loved it anyway.

When the Lights Go Out, It’s Time to Leave

We have been impressed by the hotels where we have stayed so far in Europe for their power-saving techniques. The lights won’t go on unless you insert your room key/card into a slot that activates the power, which means that as soon as you leave the room with your key, the lights go out. We were not thrilled with the system the first time we encountered it, especially since we’d been planning to charge a phone and a laptop while we were downstairs for breakfast, but once we realized the reason, we adapted quickly.

In Poreč the hotel extended this method to let us know when check-out time had arrived: at exactly 11 a.m., all the lights in our room went out. Fortunately, we weren’t still in the shower when that happened.

Speaking of Languages

I have no idea whether the Croatians speak Croatian as well as the Italians speak Italian (just a joke, folks), but almost all of them speak English, which is a big help. And unlike Google Maps, Google Translate works very well off-line as well as on-. Which is nice.

In fact, Google Translate is amazing. You can speak into it and it will translate what you said into any language you want. You can type into it, you can scrawl something onto the screen and you can also take a photo of the words you don’t understand and poof! There it is in English! It’s great!

Italy 1: Venice

Footweary, But in a Good Way

May 6 to 8, 2019

Canaletto's Doge's Palace
Canaletto’s Veduto del Palazzo Ducale

The best thing about Venice is that it bears a striking resemblance to the way I have always imagined it. Of course, like most people, I have had a lot of help in forming my mental image of this city – from literary and dramatic sources (e.g., Mann’s Death in Venice, various iterations of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice), through paintings by Monet, Manet, Kinkade and especially Giovanni Antonio Canal (aka Canaletto. With a name like that, what other city was he going to paint?), to movies that include The Italian Job, The Tourist, and Moonraker. It’s even been featured in cartoons (See “O Sole Minnie.“) Venice looks exactly the way it is supposed to, which was a huge relief to me: I feared I might be disappointed. I definitely am not.

But since I’m sure that those of you who haven’t been to Venice yet have exactly the same images in your heads as I did/do, I decided that in this post I would share things I didn’t know about Venice until I got here, rather than things I did. So here goes.

Biennalle Arte 2019

Every two years (or so) the entire city celebrates the Biennale Arte de Venezia, featuring art and artists from around the world. In 2019, the 58th edition will open on May 11, and run to November 24. So we missed the opening, but that was okay because the areas of Venice where the shows are held (primarily in Arsenale and Giardini, which are east of the main tourist area) will be crowded once the opening has happened, and we got to walk around those areas while they were almost deserted. We saw workers installing an art display and heard people rehearsing for performances, but mainly the area was so quiet it was almost ghostly. Today, the Biennale includes dance, architecture, performance art, cinema, and educational initiatives as well as the visual art exhibitions that have formed the core since its inauguration in 1893. This year’s theme is “May You Live in Interesting Times.” We do.

Speaking of workers, it hadn’t occurred to me that absolutely everything has to be delivered by boat to every store, restaurant and hotel in the city until I read this article in The National Post. One afternoon after we’d worn our feet out, we sat down for a rest near the gondola stations and a vaporetto stop on the waterfront. There we watched the world float by, and in addition to the various water-based human transportation systems (including massive private yachts), we saw all kinds of other boats dropping off supplies – massive crates and cartons — delivering them to the closest wharf to their destinations, and then carrying them the rest of the way. Those guys work their asses off.

So do the gondola drivers. What I enjoyed most was watching them move so lightly on their feet as they use their long oars to manoeuvre around each other and all the other water traffic (of which there is a truly significant amount!). I didn’t see a single boat bump into any other boat, which is astounding when you consider how many of them are out there – going, it seems, in all directions.

Tourism has actually become a huge problem for Venice: the city is sinking and the waters are rising, and instead of only the wealthy being able to visit this massive historical site, almost every Tom, Dick and Mary is able to afford the trip. The cruise ships are a huge problem – not only because of the pollution, but because of the crowds (we saw several of the huge floating hotels while we were there) and there is a movement afoot to have them banned from the region. The BBC reports that more than 26 million people visited Venice in 2017, and that nearly half of the actual population has left in the past 50 years.

We stayed on the island of Lido, rather than on the main islands in the Venice Lagoon, so we spent a lot of time on the vaporettos and on buses, and we felt as though we were on Toronto Island rather than in the big city. It was lovely to get away from all of those people at the end of the day. On Lido, there are roads as well as a few canals. There are thousands of bicycles parked near the boat docks, and people ride them, and walk and use the bus. I was astounded to find that the buses have USB charging outlets on them!

By the way, after studying the language on Duolingo for several months, I am happy to report that Italians speak spectacular Italian. But most of the people we met in Venice were also almost fluent in English, for which I give them huge credit because I can also report that I am certainly not anywhere close to fluent in their language. I hope to improve at least a bit before we leave. It is a beautiful language.

We’re Going to Italy!

Andiamo Italia!

To those who have previously accompanied me on my adventures in India and Cuba, welcome back, and a very warm “Benvenuto!” to those who are visiting my travel blog for the first time.

From May 5 to 27 of this year (!), Arnie and I are going to Italy, with a few days in Croatia. I am beside myself with excitement because – unlike almost everyone I know, including my own children – I have never been to Europe. A few days ago, I finished booking hotels for the trip, and I am beginning to believe this is really going to happen.

Aside from reserving rooms and a few tickets to museums that we might not have been able to get into if we’d left it to chance, I have been doing the usual things in order to prepare myself for our journey: reading a few books, including The Lonely Planet Guide to Italy, and learning to speak some Italian with the help of Duolingo (Como sta?).

Arnie and I also recently watched a fun movie called The Trip to Italy, with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Despite the pair’s tour around the Italy of Byron and Shelley, two poets I’ve loved since university, the film primarily made me hungry. The hotels they stayed in (such as the Villa Cimbrone, “a medieval palazzo perched above the gulf of Salerno” @ $700/night €460) bear no resemblance to the ones I’ve booked.

Our departure date is about six weeks away at this point. I invite you to join me in the anticipation. In the next few weeks I’ll be posting about our preparations, and welcoming your ideas of what not to miss while we are there.