Saturday, September 29, 2012


Last night in Venice was delightful. I went out for a night time walk by myself, down the quiet streets and past the nearly silent canals before settling in a reasonably calm piazza for a glass of wine and a cigar. It was wonderfully warm and dark and peaceful - such a contrast to the day, which was marvellous, but loud and hot and colorful. I took great delight in the fact that i had mastered my way around our area of Venice. Able to make my way from point a to b without a map made me feel like a genius.


betty-lou & dale in venice

This morning, after a coffee and croissant we took a boat back to the train station and took the train back to Rome (it was a fancy highspeed train and got us to our destination in about 4 hours). We are now staying in the Piazza Farnese at the Casa D Santa Brigida convent, which is indeed a proper convent filled with a gaggle of nuns, but they also offer some simple rooms for rent. It isn't cheap, but it is a great location and it is cool to be in a convent. This afternoon we poked ourheads in the chapel during one of their many masses or prayers (or whatever they call them). There is a beautiful rooftop garden from which we have lovely views into the piazza where we can see people sipping wine and espresso, children playing ball, and dogs sniffing about.

Tonight really is the final night, so there will be dinner and a wine or negroni and probably one final celebratory cigar before heading back to Canada tomorrow.

market in rome (il campo)

Friday, September 28, 2012


Venice. We arrived yesterday morning on the train from Bologna (about a 1.5 hour journey). The first glimpse from the train station was amazing and it has continued to be so. It has water for streets! I know, everyone knows that, but to actually see it is amzing. There are the goldonlas, of course, shuttling tourists lazily up and down the waterways, but more amzing are the other boats: the water taxis, individual motor boat, boat delivering office supplies, produce, hauling away recyclinge, etc. It is quite remarkable how the whole city operates on the water.

Water aside, there are streets. There are however no cars or motorcycles and very few bicycles, just pedestrians making their way down the streets, both normal sized, and those barely big enough to pass single file, between buildings and over foot bridges, past the glittering canals. It is phenomenal. Walking through the city is like walking through a beautiful maze. Walking down each street one is not sure whether it will end in a brick wall, courtyard, body of water, or connect to another street or piazza. It is possible to use maps, but it much more fun to just follow one's whims.

We took a vaporetto (a type of transit boat) from the train station to our hotel, which is charming, with a front door on the street and a back door that opens right up onto the canal. Our tiny room is on the third floor and loons down onto the canal.

We walked yesterday around the San Marco district, down to the Piazza San Marco, where we stood in the magnificent square and took in the sites, including a hitchcockian mass of pigeons circling overhead, and visited the stunning basillica. We then walked to the Rialto Bridge and aimlessly through the streets and squares. The evening was beautiful. Quiteish (compared to the day) and the streets were darkand decidedly less crowded. I

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Parma & Modena

After a few rather full days, including yesterday's unexpected excursion to San Marino, we were pretty tired today and i woke up feeling a bit under the weather. That said, we couldn't just lay about, so today we took the train west to Parma, which is aabout an hour away. Parma is known for its ham and cheese and there was certainly a lot of both. We walked the streets and through markets selling fruits and vegetables, meats and fish, and clothing and housewares. There were many more piazzas and churches to visit and they were lovely, although today I think we both felt a bit saturated with Italian splendour. It is not that we didn't appreciate what we saw, but it didn't feel like the first time we had seen it.

After Parma, we took the train to Modena (half way between Bologna and Parma), which is another gastronomic town, famous for its balsamic vinegar. It was quite attractive and was very quiet when we arrived - during lunch when the shops are closed. We settled in for a nice lunch on the piazza and waited out an afternoon thundershower before visiting Modena's most famous site, its impressive 11th century cathedral, which we spent some time in before heading back to Bologna for a bit of a rest.


People in this part of Italy certainly speak less English than they did in the other areas we have visited.

In and Out of Italy

Yesterday, having seen much of Bologna the previous day, Betty-Lou suggested that we take a trip to the sea so we caught a train to Rimini on the Adriatic. Rimini is a prosperous feeling town with the expected sunny piazzas and beaches...or at least we assume there were beaches. We never did actually make it to the shore.
graffiti, rimini
bridge, rimini
We took a spin around the town's old centre (on foot of course) and had a coffee before catching a bus to San Marino. Where? Exactly. We hadn't heard of it either. When we popped into the tourist info booth in Rimini we discovered that San Marino was only about an hour or so away by bus and that it is in fact its own country. How could we resist?

view from san marino

San Marino (the city) is the capital of San Marino (the country) and it located atop a small but high mountain and seems to be entirely made up of medieval towers and walls running dangerously along the jagged peaks of the mountain. It was a delight to explore their craggy nooks and crannies. The streets were tremendously steep and lined with shops - mostly selling jewelry, alcohol, and weapons. It seems that San Marino is one of those countries with very low tax on everything and oddly it attracts a disproportionate number of Russian tourists/shoppers. They were everywhere by the busload buying up bagloads of merchandise. Many of the signs and menus were even posted in Russian.
san marino

So we spent the afternoon climbing the hills and walls and snacking on cheese and bread and watching the changing of the guard atop the castle before heading back to Bologna, via Rimini, quite exhausted.

It was a very long day, but well worth it, as we got to add an unexpected country to the list. (yes, there is a list)
tower, san marino
tower, san marino

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hams and Arches

Today we arrived in Bologna, a mere 40 minute train ride from Florence. We are staying at a lovely little pensione on the 5th floor of a non descript building. We have a beautiful view of the red rooftops of the city - particularly picturesque at sunset we discovered.

hams, bologna

Bologna is (not surprisingly) another attractive smallish city with cobbled streets lined with inviting cafes and shops and dotted with churches and piazzas. What sets Bologna apart is that most of the sidewalks are covered by arched porticos, apparently about 40 kilometers of them. This makes them particularly nice for walking in the hot sun. The other notable thing about Bologna is the hams, which are everywhere. Every second store seems to be a deli of sorts and the ceilings, stair rails and windows are all hung with enormous hams - the sort that an Italian Tiny Tim would have stared at hungrily through the window (had A christmas Carol been Italian, that is). There are fewer vegtarian items on the menus and decidedly less pizza than in the other towns we have visited, but i think we will get by.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cinque Terre

Today we took another day trip from Florence. We had a free day with nothing scheduled (however did i let that happen?) and Betty-Lou suggested that we visit Cinque Terre. She had raised this as an option months ago, but i thought it seemed too far to visit in a day from Florence and we had heard that a couple of the town had been destroyed in mudslides...or earthquakes. Anyway we made the trek and are pleased to report that the towns are restored and it is possible to see it all in one (long) day.

Cinque Terra is, not surprisingly, five small towns clinging to the rocks above the sea on the west coast of Italy. The first town is about an hour an a half from Florence (via Pisa and La Spezia). The five towns are joined by a train but also by a ridiculously picturesque walking trail that winds along the cliffs. To walk the whole thing would take several hours (and one stretch of the path is closed due to the slides), so we mostly took the train between the towns, but along the part that we did walk it was lovely. The water was a perfect mediterranean blue and the views were breathtaking.

Pisa & Lucca

Yesterday we ventured outside of Florence for a day trip to Pisa, which was about an hour and half away by train. Pisa was a pretty little town and had some lovely streets for wandering but the main focus of course was to see the famous tilting tower. The leaning tower was surprisingly small and surprisingly beautiful. I did not think it would be so white. Set against the particularly blue sky yesterday it was striking. The tower does indeed lean at a very noticeable angle and we, like the countless other visitors captured numerous photos of it from every angle. (What we did not do was take photos of ourselves 'holding up' the tower, which many others seemed to be doing.) The queues were far too long to wait around in the hot sun to climb to the top so we visited the neighboring duomo and baptistry, which were splendid. (Also spendid was the fact that while walking through the tourist crowds Betty-Lou found a fifty euro note on the ground!) After the architectural sites, Betty-Lou spent her newly gained money on a relaxing lunch. Betty-Lou had mussels, which she assured me were delicious.

street market cheese, pisa
orange buildings, pisa

From Pisa we took a half hour train ride to Lucca, which is a lovely medieval walled city filled with beautiful churches and winding alley ways, each more perfect than the last. There are not any major sites in Lucca, but the town itself was wonderful to spend a few hours exploring. It was also filled with tourists, mostly filling the shops, which lined the streets. We had planned to eat dinner in Lucca, but we were caught in the old problem of the restaurants in Europe not opening for dinner until late (i never will get used to that), so we took the train back to Florence where we had a wonderful meal out doors (as all of our meals have been so far). Betty-Lou ate wild boar sausage, artisanal cheese, and osso bucco, which she said was as good as hers. I had porcini risotto and asparagus and more than one glass of limoncello, which the waiter brought me in an admitted attempt to get me drunk. Limoncello isn't bad, but two glasses is definitely enough.

It was a very long day and we ended it quite exhausted, but it was wonderful and we went to bed reflecting on the day and looking forward to the next adventure.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Day in Firenze

Our first full day in Florence is complete and we have now seen all of the sights on my list and we have wandered leisurely down countless streets, each more picturesque than the last.

artist, florence

After blogging last night we ate at a tiny and inviting Moroccan restaurant. It took Betty-Lou three full days to decide that she does not care much for Italian food. There seems to be a paucity of fresh vegetables on the menu, she ordered eggplant at one point and it came smothered in cheese. The Moroccan food was a welcome change.

Today we hit the streets and sights that we missed yesterday. We visited the Church of Santa Croce, where Michelangelo, Galilleo, and Machiavelli are buried, amongst others. We went to the Church of Santa Novella which houses some excellent renaissance art, we walked the stalls of the central market and dodged the friendly vendors. There is an impressive array of leather goods here for sale, as well as beautiful stationery, and an endless array of Pinocchio bric a brac. It is odd; i do not often think of Pinocchio, but when i did i always thought he was German...something about his little shorts and bavarian looking hat. Anyway, he is Italian and his likeness is everywhere.

We did do a bit of shopping and enjoyed coffees at some exquisite cafes on various piazza. Note to readers:
if you order an espresso at even the finest cafe it will not cost you more than about 1e50, if you drink it standing at the counter that is. If you want to sit at a table, that espresso jumps to 4 or 5 e, as i discovered. In some cafes though the extra cost is worth it just to soak in the atmosphere.

So today was mostly wandering, and it was lovely. We just had a brief rest in our hotel room from which we can hear the most marvellous din of the square around the Duomo - it is all a hum with the voices of people and regular, jarringly beautiful church bells.

Now we are out for a glass of wine or a snack and cigar before bed. Tomorrow we shall take the train to Pisa and possibly beyond, time permitting.

PS It is a great challenge to come up with titles for blog posts and avoid the plethora of cliches that fill the mind. Rejected titles so far: Mambo Italiano, The Light in the Piazza, and La Dolce Vita. I gave in to Betty-Lou on 'Under the Tuscan Sun'.

random heads at a restaurant in florence

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Under the Tuscan Sun

It has been a couple of days longer than i expected since our last post, but as it turned out we got to the internet cafe just after closing on our final night in Rome and there is no internet in Gubbio.

Our final full day in Rome was lovely and leisurely. Having seen most of the big sights we had on our lists, we were free to wander at leisure. We visited the Castel Sant Angelo, walked through the Jewish Ghetto area, past yet more ancient ruins and through more churches than i can keep track of. We walked to the Spanish Steps which were picturesque, but the area was not really our scene as it was more of a high end shopping district. We visited the Piazza del Popolo and had a lovely lunch of zucchini, caccio e pepe, and wine which was awesome. In the evening we went back to Il Campo and ate and drank on the square. There is a bar/eatery on the corner where for 10e you can have a cocktail and all you can eat appetizers. It was a great deal and we ate our fill while i enjoyed an obscenely large cigar.

Italy is proving to be a great smoking place. Everyone smokes cigarettes and a few people smoke cigars (well, cheroots really). You can not smoke indoors but outside it is encouraged. On patios, while riding vespas, while shopping for vegetables.... I feel quite at home here in that regard.

Yesterday morning we took a train from Rome to Fossato del Vico, which is a train station in the middle of nowhere where we caught a bus to our second destination: Gubbio. Gubbio is a tiny medieval town in the hills of Umbria. It is extremely picturesque, nestled within its stone walls. We arrived at our hotel and found it locked, but a waiter from a restaurant across the street yelled down the street and the proprietor came and let us in to our room.  Gubbio was quiet - very quiet - particuarly after the bustle of Rome. We walked the city and visited its few churches and squares, including the Fountain of Lunatics, before walking to the destination about which i was very excited: the open air funicular. There is essentially a cable car ascending up a mountainside, but what sets it apart is that you ride up in a cage - or more like a small metal basket. If you are afraid of heights it would be torture, but i found it delightful and it afforded me exquisite views of the town. (Betty Lou wisely waited at the bottom.) At the top was a simple church.

Shortly after our wander it grew dark and began to pour, which caused many shops and restaurants to close early. We stopped into a charming corner grocer and picked up bread, cheese, and a jar of black truffle and olive tapanade and ate in our room.

This morning, after breakfast and under a newly brightened sky we caught a bus to Perugia, which took us through a lovely, pastoral backdrop. From Perugia we took the train to Florence.
We are now in Tuscany.
Our pensione, the hotel San Gionvani is right on the Piazza San Giovanni and our simple room has a view of the Duomo.

First impressions of Florence is that it is very beautiful and has an abundance of charming streets to explore. Since arriving (after having a trio of delicious Tuscan soups and gilled polenta with mushrooms) we visited the Duomo, saw the Botticellis in the Uffuzi, watched the sun beginning to set from the Ponte Vecchio, and, after ducking into a few more churches of course, had a cannoli at a beautiful pastisserie on the Piazza Republica. I thought the cannoli would be disgusting, but it is actually quite good.

We will be in Florence for a few days and will blog more frequently, as there seems to be an abundance of internet options here.

d and b

Monday, September 17, 2012


Ciao from Rome. We arrived on Saturday afternoon after an uneventful flight through Amsterdam. On first impression Rome is a beautiful city. The architechture is stunning and the sun washed piazzas are incredibly romantic and inviting. We have enjoyed wandering about the tangled streets past tiny sidewalk eateries, imposing and decorative churches and throngs of people hanging around, eating, drinking, smoking, and talking.

Our hotel is just perfect. We are staying at the Hotel Guilia, which is on the Via Guilia, just a few steps from the Tiber River. The hotel quaint and immaculate and ideally located. The first night we walked across the bridge to the south of the Tiber where an energetic neighborhood awaited with people out everywhere. We joined them for pizza and a cigar and walked aimlessly until it was time for bed.

On day one we started at the very beginning with the Colosseum and the Forum/Palatine Hill. I was apprehensive about visiting the Colosseum due to the massive amount of tourists that crowd in there every day (about 30,000). It's true that the crowds were oppressive, however we were not daunted by the usual busloads of tourists and slow shuffling families with video cameras aglow nor by the hour plus queue to get inside. We pressed on. We joined a tour and got inside a little faster and were given a brief oral history of the Colosseum and then we explored on our own. It was pretty impressive to think of all that had transpired there - especially if one enjoys gore and violence. Which i do.

After the Colosseum we went on a stroll though the ruins of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. One must use one's imagination to envision what it must have been like in the days of togas and Tiberius, but it was fascinating to see the remains of temples and whatnot.

Following a tasty lunch of pasta and wine, we walked through various piazzas and to the imposing Pantheon and through the delightful Piazza Navona where we browsed through the stalls of artists selling their wares. Most of the artsist were quite adequate, though mostly similar to each other. We did find however one man selling these truly unique abstracts and collages made of paint and Italian news papers. I found one that roughly approximated an Italian skyline and bought it. And (quel surprise) Betty Lou bought a colorful painting of a street. One additional highlight was the Trevi Fountain which was more beautiful than i imagined. Sometimes the really familiar sights are lackluster in reality (i'm thinking of you, Champs Elysees) but this was not one of those times.

We hit a few notable cafes including the Caffe Tazza D'Oro and the Caffe Sant Eustachio where i had one of the best espressos of my life. We then had a couple of cockatils of the Campo de Fiori while listening to some jazz buskers and watching the sky darken.


Today we tackled the Vatican. We walked there and into Saint Peter's Basilica, which was really was beautiful and impressive. The crowds were not too bad when we arrived so we decided to buy tickets for the Vatican Museum so we could see the Sistine Chapel. The queue to get into the museum was not at all bad, although the crowds inside were very unpleasant. Like closely flocked sheep we were forced to shuffle down lengthy corridors before reaching the Chapel. The comingling of halitosis and body odors of the sweaty crowd only added to the experience. That said, i must say that the Sistine Chapel itself was worth the prelude. Yes, it was crowded inside, but the paintings themselves really were breathtaking and moving and we enjoyed sitting there in silence for some time taking it all in.


After the Vatican we walked up to the Spanish Steps and around that area and back to our hotel for a brief nap.

Now we are out again for more exploring and may find time for a glass of wine or a gelato before bed.

Betty-Lou is sitting here at my side, correcting my typos, and she wants to tell you that she LOVED when a gorgeous Italian man said 'Ciao, Bella!' to her.

Now that we have found an Internet Cafe, i can safely say that we will write again tomorrow. We don't have anything scheduled for tomorrow so we will just see where our whims take us.
d & b