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Terrell's 2006 Travel Journal

Part One continued (again) - Italy

This is the record of the month I spent traveling in the summer of 2006, first to London by myself, then in Scotland with my younger brother and his family, then to Italy where I visited my niece, her husband and their two month old baby and finally in Turkey where I took my third Melitour trip in as many years along the eastern Black Sea Coast and down through Eastern Turkey. If you’d like to jump to the Turkish part of the trip, just click this link. This leg of the journal begins in Glasgow, Scotland.

Wednesday July 26 Day 9

Travel day. I caught the airport bus at the station near the hotel with a driver who spoke such strong Glaswegian I didn’t understand a word she said. I checked in for my flight in plenty of time and then looked around for something to spend the last of my pounds on. I had a short easy flight to London Gatwick and then another fairly quick flight to Bologna. I must say the signage at the Bologna airport left something to be desired. I did find the bus into town, but only because I had looked it up on the internet before I came. The driver was nice and the ride through the center of Bologna was fascinating. All those beautiful Sienna colored buildings and those intriguing colonnades. You just knew that, hidden in their shadows, you'd find fabulous shops and elegant people seated in marble-floored cafes nibbling on exquisite pastries. The airport bus dropped me at the train station where I could have sorted through the confusion to find the bus that ran close to my hotel, but I had been sitting all day and so I decided to walk instead. According to my internet research, it was only about a half a mile. If it hadn’t been over a hundred degrees. it would have been a very pleasant stroll. Heat does make walking a little less fun. The comments I had read on the reservation website about the hotel being hard to locate turned out to be true. I got a little lost on the way and missed the very discreet sign that pointed down a side street but I did eventually find the hotel, a very sleek modern affair  near the Feria district really designed for businessmen attending one of the trade shows that are big business in Bologna.  I knew that the promotional rate I had found a  on-line was an excellent deal offered by a new hotel trying to get a foot in the door, but even so I was agreeably surprised at the public areas of the hotel. The room looked beautiful with stark white beds and shiny floors but the shower wouldn’t drain and the electric socket in the bathroom was hanging out of the wall. Ah, Italy. I cranked up the air-conditioning, took a cold shower and called my niece Amy in Cortona to let her know when I would be arriving the next day. I thought seriously about going out to explore the historic center in the relative cool of the evening but the relative cool was still relatively hot so I promised myself that I would schedule more time for Bologna on my next trip and stayed in the relatively cold hotel room.

Thursday July 27 Day 10

I had a nice breakfast at the hotel--decent croissants and good coffee but the server tended to ignore me in favor of the well-dressed businessmen at the tables around me--before catching a bus to the train station. I got brave at the bus stop and dragged out my rusty Italian to ask a lady if I was in the right place and if I could pay the fare on the bus. She told me that she never pays and that they never check. I paid anyway.

At the station, I bought my train ticket from a machine and then wandered around looking for something cold to drink while I was waiting. The girl at the station bar was snotty so I refused to buy from her, but fortunately I found some pleasantly accommodating machines out on the platform that were happy to take my money. I had a reserved seat from Bologna to Firenze which I found easily but the train was late arriving so I missed my connection in Florence. Glad that I still remembered how to read the big schedules posted in the station, I figured out the next most likely way to get where I was going. I was heading for the train to Arezzo which would mean transferring to a third train to reach my final destination when a friendly conductor shooed me over to a faster train for Rome that stopped at Camucia that was just departing. It was hotter and more crowded but I got to Amy's town earlier than my original estimate. There was of course, since I was early, no one at the station to meet me. Fortunately, Amy doesn't live in Cortona proper up at the top of the hill. She lives in the more modern town on the plain below called Camucia di Cortona which is where the train station is. Since I knew my way to Amy’s house this time—unlike my comical attempts to find her last year—I just walked up the street from the station and around the corner  to her apartment and knocked. I had a lovely afternoon admiring baby Giulia and chatting with Amy. In the evening, Amy's husband, Giovanni came home and made supper for us, a delicious pasta with salmon. Giovanni is really not the stereotypical Italian male that I remember from my days as an exchange student in Piemonte in the 70's. He cooks. He helps with the baby. And he works really hard. He's a tour guide specializing in Cortona and the surrounding region (you'll find him listed in Rick Steves' books on Italy and Tuscany and he was in the Italy's Great Hill Towns episode of Rick's PBS travel show), he's an expert in Italian art history, he is an artist in his own right, he's a carpenter who does wonderful antique restorations and he's a student.  If you're going to be in Tuscany and you want someone knowledgeable and funny to drive you around and tell you what you're looking at, you should definitely look him up.


 

Giulia sleeping          Amy and Giulia

left: la principessa sleeping...

right: and accepting a bath from la mama

 


 

Friday July 28 Day 11

I slept late despite, or possibly because of the heat. Amy and I had a leisurely morning drinking coffee, catching up and playing with the baby, since that was the real point of this visit. At one we dressed Giulia up in one of her fancy dresses and drove up to Cortona to meet our cousin Mary McEntire Young, her husband Keith, son Keith, and daughter Martha for lunch on the terrace of Il Ristorante del Loggetta overlooking the Piazza della Republica. We had a very nice lunch with ravioli and boar sausages--a local specialty--and salad and enjoyed visiting since we hadn’t seen each other in years. They had been staying near Arezzo and were almost ready to leave for home. After lunch we strolled down the street and did a little window shopping and showed them the piece of Giovanni's artwork that hangs in a bar on Via Nazionale, the main drag in town and the only level street. Everything else is a hill climb in this town. Such a nice meal called for a nap in the afternoon and then in the evening a friend and colleague of Giovanni’s from Japan arrived in town just in time for dinner. He was a nice guy and we had one of those strange conversations that can’t really settle on a language, sometimes in Italian and sometimes in English. After dinner, he and Giovanni went off to talk art somewhere while I made an early night.


 

lunch in Cortona

lunch on the loggia


 

Saturday July 29 Day 12

I managed to get out of bed at a reasonable hour, so I made coffee and worked on my journal until Amy got up and decided to make pancakes while I played with the baby. The guys took the car and went up to Cortona to see an art exhibit. A friend of Amy's dropped by with a present for Giulia giving me the opportunity to practice that rusty Italian some more and then Amy and I went shopping for lunch and dinner in the village. I do like village shopping: a little here, a little there. I had a cross stitch project that I needed supplies for so Amy took me to the right shop and then left me to run another errand. I struggled to explain to the shopkeeper that I needed a small embroidery hoop and two kinds of pink floss. She refused to let me give up and wait until Amy returned, making me use sign language when I ran out of Italian vocabulary. At the end of the transaction she announced triumphantly, See, we don't need any help!

The guys came home for a quick lunch of odd pork products before racing off to get the Japanese friend on the train with literally two minutes to spare. Amy and I got our turn with the car after lunch, leaving Giovanni to a much needed nap, and drove up to see the church at the top of the hill above Cortona. Then we drove over to see Le Celle, the monastery where St Francis of Assisi lived just before he died. It was hard for Amy to negotiate the steps with the baby's stroller so I went by myself to peek into the cell where Francis is said to have composed his testament that clearly defined his ideas for the Franciscan order. The sanctuary was very peaceful and contemplative until the group of East Coast Americans showed up. After the sightseeing, we stopped in Cortona for coffee and ice cream and a walk through the park and then decided to pick up a pizza. Cortona is a small town so everywhere we went meant greeting friends and making introductions and, of course, everyone had to stop to admire the baby. We also stopped in to the tourist office to get my train ticket for Sunday's trip to Venice. I planned to take the Eurostar which requires a reservation and tends to fill up on Sundays. The nice English-speaking ladies at the tourist office--look for the "i" on Via Nazionale--made the arrangements, took my money and issued my ticket. When we got back to the house, Giovanni was cooking pasta so we had pasta and pizza. I'm on vacation, who needs to diet?


 

Giovanni and Giulia          cortona st francis le celle

left: the baby and the babbo

right: a visit to St. Francis

 


 

Sunday July 30 Day 13

Up early, I had coffee with Amy before saying goodbye to Giulia and Giovanni and then walked to the station where I caught the 8:30 train to Firenze. I was totally happy to pay the 70 cents for the clean pay toilet at the crowded Florence station before catching the Eurostar to Venezia. The train was full but comfortable with air-conditioning and required reserved seating. Arriving in Venice I followed the directions from the website and walked to my hotel, the Allogi Marinella, arriving with no problems other than the heat, the crowds and all those stairs on the bridges that I had to drag my suitcase up and down. The hotel looked a little scary from the outside on a barren downtrodden street and I wondered for a moment if I had let the internet mislead me again. I rang the bell and someone came and opened the door into a wonderful little oasis. My room on the second floor was small but very well equipped with a large comfortable bed and a bathroom that was larger than I would have expected. I had chosen the hotel off the internet as much for the comments about its excellent air-conditioning as for the reasonable price and I was not disappointed. One cold shower and a change of clothes later I was ready to make the most of my single afternoon in La Serenissima. The nice man at the desk provided me with a map that clearly showed the location of the hotel along with the major tourist sights and off I went to explore.

Following signs and the crowds to the big tourist spots was easy so I weaved through alleyways and across canals towards the Rialto and then on to Piazza San Marco. There were zillions of little shops filled with fascinating merchandise but I never found quite the right thing to tempt my money from my pocket, although later I regretted I hadn't bought one of the lace parasols. Hindsight. Always 20 20. The Piazza was very impressive but I liked the nooks and crannies better. Everything was very photogenic. After San Marco, I made a little pilgrimage to La Fenice as any true opera lover should and then started a slow progress back to the hotel. I stopped to buy a sandwich and an arrancino, the sandwich for later and the arrancino for immediate consumption, yum. On the other side of the Rialto, I paused to buy water and strawberries from a vendor, daringly using my Italian to chat with her. Oh, she says, you know some Italian. Are you Italo-Americano? No, I said, I was a student here… and before I could get to the many years ago part, she’s already using the gesture that means it sure wasn’t yesterday. Damn, I guess I’m never going to pass for thirty (or thirty-five) again.

I could hear music coming from around the corner; drums and something that sounded suspiciously like bagpipes. Sure enough, in a piazza by the Grand Canal two pipers, a keyboardist and an excellent drummer were playing lively neo-Celtic tunes. I stayed to listen for a while before resuming my walk to Santa Croce. Soon more music beckoned, first a salsa band and then a darling little indie rock group with an accordion. The whole city was a musical lily pond as I leapt from pad to pad and from one musical style to the next. Each piazza all the way back to the hotel had a different band playing. My final group was a choir singing traditional songs also accompanied by an accordion. Finally I crossed the Rio Novo and arrived back at the hotel where I turned on the television and heard the news guy talking about the current “Music in the Piazzas” festival. How lucky for me. Another shower, blasting air-conditioning, bad television and my delicious sandwich ended the long day.


 

Rialto bridge Venice Italy               gondolas Venice Italy

 

Venice windowbox

even a bad photographer like me looks good in Venice


 

Monday July 31 Day 14

I was up early for this travel day. I checked out of the hotel and walked the two minutes to the Piazza di Roma to catch my bus to the airport. I bought a ticket at the window although I needn’t have bothered. I don’t believe that anyone else on the bus paid. I waited at the stop in the “piazza of death.” The whole huge area was half parking lot, half whizzing speed lane with no clear differentiation between the two. To wait for a bus, you stood in a painted area as city buses and massive touring buses sped by. I managed to board the right bus without mishap and had a pleasant ride to the airport. The airport, I’m afraid was much less pleasant, being crowded, confused and inconvenient. Passengers were required to wait outside security until the check-in desk opened at 9:15. Everywhere there were signs advertising the 30 shops and restaurants inside security while outside there wasn’t even a place to sit down. As soon as a window opened, huge lines formed instantly and at the front was a couple with a problem that took a solid twenty minutes to resolve while the rest of us just stood there. I finally got checked in about 10 AM with boarding scheduled to start at 10:20 so I dashed inside, found one of the 30 restaurants and bought water, coffee and a croissant. Naturally, the plane left late making me nervous since I already had what I considered to be too tight of a connection in Zurich. A short and beautiful flight over Alpine peaks, lakes and meadows later we landed in Zurich at the B terminal. Oh no, I need to be at the A terminal! The unloading bus speeds us over to A. (Maybe I’ll make it.) We arrive at A1, my flight leaves from A82. Aaah! (I'll never make it) As fast as I can, without actually running I speed to the other end of the terminal aided by good signage and moving walkways. (I think I’ll make it.) Argh! Another security check. (I definitely won't make it) Finally I get to the gate five minutes before scheduled takeoff only to find that I have to wait in a long line for boarding. The next time someone tells you that the Swiss always run things on time, don’t believe them.

*a note about the fabric used as background on this page. This is a design by Busatti textiles, a company located near Arezzo in Tuscany that makes fabulous high-end table, kitchen and bed linens. If you're traveling to Cortona, you can find their products for sale in a little shop just off the main piazza, under the steps of the comune.


 

Continue on to Turkey

  Go back to the start of the trip in England

  Go back to the second part in Scotland