SHE SAYS:

In previous blogs about our recent trip to Italy, Joe mentioned two things, about which I need to comment.  One is the group traveler and the other is that most people you encounter are kind and helpful

While we were in Florence and Venice, the crowds of tourists including large tour groups almost made it unpleasant.  Of course, there are many travelers like us who travel on their own including couples, families and groups of friends.   Then there are the tour groups.  I’m sure there is a good reason for people to choose a tour group, but as an outside observer, I can tell you that most of them do not really seem to see their surroundings. For me, part of exploring a foreign country is to become part of the atmosphere and assimilate into the culture for the time you are there.  When in Rome…

Some group travelers don’t seem to fully enjoy anything around them and their visit seems quite sheltered.  They are so intent on listening to the tour guide on their headphones and watching for the tour guide’s flag that they lose sight of the wonders all around them.  We were sitting next to a couple on a boat at Lake Como who were part of a tour group.  The lake is beautiful and there is so much to see.  They spent the entire one hour ride looking at their map as the tour guide spoke in their ears telling them where we were.  Instead of enjoying the views, they watched their progression on the map not wanting to miss one word. 

Lake Como

Lake Como

We met many wonderful people during the month including travelers from all over the world and locals.   Unfortunately, one day I had a bad encounter.  We boarded a boat in Venice to visit an island called Torcello.   The boats have enclosed seating and only 6-8 seats outdoors in the rear of the boat.  We headed there so we could take pictures.  There were four empty seats.  As I opened the door to the rear, a man who was a tour guide waiting for the rest of his group, stiff armed me and pushed me back through the door stating that the area was closed.  He and Joe had a brief encounter after that.  My only recourse was to approach him as we left the boat to tell him he was a very rude man!

4th Century Basilica in Torcello

4th Century Basilica in Torcello

On the other hand, while at Lake Maggiore in Stresa we took a day trip by car to Locarno, Switzerland.  It was a spontaneous trip so neither one of us even gave a thought to the money.  We had Euros and in Switzerland, the Franc is used.  As soon as we arrived, we needed change for metered parking.  While I stayed with the car, Joe walked a few blocks to find somewhere to change money.  I saw a woman park and go to the central parking meter.  I approached her to see if she might be able to help, but she did not speak English.  However, she understood that I had Euros and not Francs.  She handed me the two Francs I needed and refused the Euro.  It’s nice when you can rely on the kindness of strangers…

Locarno, Switzerland

Locarno, Switzerland

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

Parts 1-3 of Joe and Annemarie’s trip to Italy can be read here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

HE SAYS:

Since Internet service has been hit or miss for much of our trip, we have managed to get by with a little help from our friends.  In fact, we have a support network of skilled and responsible people, including our Director of Finance at the office, our property manager for our home in Arizona, and our rental agent for our Condo in Wildwood who have kept everything under control while we are away.

On our way to Venice, we spent several days in Parma and Bologna not only because they are interesting cities but, also, because of the fabulous food.   Parma is home to the famous Parma Ham (prosciutto) and, of course, Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese which is only produced in the Parma area from the milk of selected cows fed a specific diet.  We took a tour of a cheese factory and saw the very exacting process of making this world famous cheese.   We also learned that the term parmesan cheese is a generic name and does not necessarily refer to the authentic Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese.  Bologna is where Bolognese sauce was created and is also famous for its sausages.  Since we do not live on bread alone, just add some pasta and a plate of local meats and cheeses.

Our last stop before Venice was Padua for two days which gave us a chance to take a road trip for the day to Verona, a nearby small town.  Then we drove to Venice, dropped off the car at the airport, and spent the last five days of our trip in this most fascinating city.  Our hotel is right on the Grand Canal and is near the Rialto Bridge.  We enjoyed watching all of the activity on the Canal from our balcony.

We have done a lot of traveling over the years to many different cities and countries.  One thing that rings true to me is that after you get past the language barriers and cultural differences all people are, essentially, the same.  We all have the same needs, concerns, and aspirations. 

I have found in our travels that most people are courteous and want to be helpful just as there is always a very small minority of people who are rude and obnoxious.   After it is all said and done, the human condition is the same no matter where you go.  

The fun of traveling is exploring unique and exciting places, yet, it is comforting to know that, despite the obvious differences, the people you are going to encounter, in many ways, will be much like you.

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Parts 1 and 2 of Joe and Annemarie’s trip to Italy can be read here and here.

HE SAYS:

Milan has many spectacular sights; however, the best part of our three day stay was seeing one of the most iconic works of art in the world, Leonardo da Vinci’s painting (actually it’s a fresco) of “The Last Supper”.  Luckily, we booked tickets well in advance since when we were last there it was sold out for over a month.  In reality, you make an appointment for a certain day and time and at your appointed time you are allowed in with a group of only 25 people to view the painting for a 15 minute supervised visit.  We booked two separate times over two days so we got to see it twice.

It was painted from 1494 to 1498 and it is a miracle that it is still here for us to marvel at its beauty.  It was created to decorate the wall of the dining room of a monastery and the monks, over the centuries, neglected and partially destroyed the painting.  During World War II, the adjoining wall and roof were destroyed and the painting was exposed to the elements for three years.  It was not until 1979 that a serious effort was made to restore the painting which restoration was not completed until 1999. 

We picked up our rental car in Milan and headed for Stresa on Lago Maggiore the first stop on our driving tour of the northern lake regions as we work our way across Italy to our final destination of Venice.  Stresa is a popular resort on a spectacular lake surrounded by mountains and dotted with islands that have centuries old palaces and gardens to explore.  While in Stresa, we drove along the lake into Switzerland and had lunch in Locarno at the northern end of the lake before returning to Stresa later in the day.

After three relaxing days in Stresa, we headed for the more famous town of Como on Lago di Como for another three days of resort living.  Como is much larger and older than Stresa and less serene. 

Lago di Como is a beautiful lake and we have explored it by boat.  One boat trip was to Bellagio one of the best known and most popular resort towns on the lake.  Another was to Isola Comacina which is the only island on the lake and is uninhabited except for a restaurant that provides an elaborate six course meal from a fixed menu, which we thoroughly enjoyed.  

Lago Maggiore is very picturesque but Lago di Como with its massive luxury hotels along the water and beautiful homes nestled on the hillsides is simply stunning.  Lago Maggiore has a lot of charm while Lago di Como clearly is more substantial and appears to be more affluent.

Our six days in the lake regions were a welcome change from the sightseeing we enjoyed in the larger cities and allowed us time to unwind before our visit to Bergamo for more sightseeing.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

We almost were not able to send this to you.  Annemarie had worked out a plan to have Internet service in Italy from a major wireless company, who shall remain nameless, except, to say that we should have known trouble was just over the “Horizon”.   The plan proved to be worthless and after two days we discontinued it in the hopes that we could find Internet service from time to time in our hotels.  Fortunately, our beautiful hotel in the heart of Florence has, among its many amenities, free wireless service.  While in Florence we will still be connected to home and the office.   Our cell phone never stopped working.  Thank goodness for Blackberries!

            After the hustle and bustle of Rome, we had a very pleasant experience in the small town of Orvieto. Orvieto is located on the top of a volcanic plateau in the Umbrian Region and commands stunning views of the surrounding vineyards and farms.  We spent two days and one night in this quaint town and found it very charming and interesting.  One highlight was the tour of the Orvieto underground city that was started over 2,800 years ago by the Etruscans.  It is a labyrinth of caves and tunnels that were first dug in a desperate effort to find water.

            We arrived in style at our hotel in Florence after we decided to forego the hassle of traveling by train which we had experienced on our trip from Rome to Orvieto and hired a private car and driver who delivered us directly to our hotel.  Florence seems more crowed with tourists than Rome. We took a break from the crowds and went on a walking tour of Cinque Terre which is five small towns along the rugged coast line about two hours by train from Florence.

            This will be contentious to some but I do not like organized tours and very rarely have we traveled with a tour group.  I don’t like the set itinerary, the strict schedule and most of all I don’t like seeing marvelous cities from the window of a tour bus.  When we go to any city, we first take the time to walk the streets for hours just soaking up the atmosphere as I used to say to our children. 

With all of the resources available on line, you can find all the information you need about any destination and pre-book tickets for popular attractions to avoid a long wait in line.  We also have the advantage of having a friend who has traveled extensively throughout Europe.  She acts as our travel consultant and helps implement our plan.  I will go so far as tell her what room I want at a particular hotel and she will get it for us.  Our best advice is to do your own advance planning with or without help and then do your trip your way.  

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

Siamo Qui.  We are here.  

After a long day of travel, we arrived in Rome, the Eternal City, at 11:30 AM on Thursday, September 9, 2010.  We settled into our hotel located next to the Pantheon in the Piazza Rotunda.  We have stayed here before and welcome the familiarity of the hotel and the surrounding area.

We spent a good part of the next day visiting the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica as well as walking for hours through the narrow streets that always seem to, eventually, open onto one interesting piazza after another.  We stopped for lunch at a restaurant we like located in Compo de Fiori which is a large square with a bountiful open air market.  It makes for a fun place to browse and it brings back a lot of memories since we had rented an apartment in this area when we visited Rome with our children in 1999.

Annemarie had set my phone up so that it would work in Italy and we would be able to be in contact with home and with the office.  We had a little trouble getting our computer hooked up to the Internet but now that seems to be working.  We will need the computer to be able to e-mail our office.  Yes, even in Rome, we want to stay connected to our business. 

As we walked over to the Pantheon the first night, the area was teeming with tourists speaking languages from all over the world.  I could not help but comment to Annemarie that I felt as if they were all intruding on my quest to reconnect with my roots.  I felt as a child might if he came home only to find it full of strangers.  Well, I have to accept that we are just two more tourists who came to marvel at all that is Italy.  Ciao, for now.  

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

Since I, as an American, live in a country of immigrants, I am both proud of my country as well as being a strong believer in embracing my heritage and the culture of my ancestors.  I also feel that it is important to pass this culture down to my children so that they can understand and appreciate their roots.   I have done this in many simple ways, including putting a photo album together of their relatives going back as far as I could and typing up a booklet of all of our family recipes so that they could continue to enjoy the food that I and they grew up on as part of that culture.

            Traveling to and exploring Italy is a big part of embracing our culture.   One of the happiest times of my life was when Annemarie and I were able to take our four children on a three week trip throughout Italy in 1999.  We traveled from Venice to Sicily and shared with them all of the great art, food, and history of Italy that is their heritage.  We were able to take another trip together to Italy in 2006 when we all went to visit our son, Joseph, who was studying in Florence.

            Our children are now moving on with their own lives and it is next to impossible to plan such extensive trips together.  

            That does not mean that Annemarie and I can’t continue to enjoy our culture and with that in mind we have planned a month long trip to Italy starting this September 8th  so that we can leisurely explore the northern lake areas which is a part of Italy we have not yet had a chance to visit.

            This is more than a vacation this is an extensive excursion away from home and our business.  We will need to be able to find a way to enjoy this trip, run our business, plan for our son’s wedding, keep an eye on our new home in Arizona, and manage the rental of our condo at the Jersey Shore.   How will we possibly accomplish all of that?   We will be sending updates while on our trip and let you know.

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