Sunday, April 5, 2009

Text of My Vacation E-Postcards to Friends and Family

15 March 2009

Very fine time, we really lucked into a great apartment. The Duomo (cathedral) is right across the street from us. Great views, even from the toilet. Apartment itself just dandy.

We're splitting the cooking most, but not all nights with Anne and John. Makes for even more fun as shopping for food and cooking supplies becoming a big part of the week and a hell of a lots of fun, though waildly fattening. Losts of samples available at each stand or shop, plus the smells, plus the little restaurants around the market are fantastic.

City hasn't changed much, even some of the restaurants we loved 8 years ago are still going strong. Noticeably less turnover in syuch things here as opposed to home. And I could I recognized some regualrs from our last trip at a place we spent a lot of time at when last here.

With advanced reservations can now finally say have been through the Uffici. Wow, but the collection is more christian than the pope. Should have read up on the stories behind much of it as I think it would have made more sense, been more appreciated by me. Not worth asking Geri as all I get is a rant about the church, christianity and the bastards who run the joint. LOL

Time for another cappucino, look for another e=postcard at some point.

SA; please for to Helen as I of course forgot to place her address in my webmail addressbook.

18 March 2009:

Last day I'll bother to hit a cybercafe for a while, so...

The Great Dink Hunt that I began our last trip to Italy continues, with much success if I do say so myself. I even bagged a Grand Dink the other day, thanks to Anne who spotted it from 50m away.


Dink is a brand of scooter. Fascinates me to watch it. Not just for the adolescent giggle (though that's definitely there) but also as it's my barometer of globalization. As English becomes more predominent it should disappear as a brand name and when it does we will all know that global capitalism has peaked; there will be no more Dinks.


Speaking of capitalism, Geri made the pillgramage to the flagship Ferragamo shop. It's a bad year; she could find lots of beautiful shoes but none that were really comfortable. So she bought only one pair.

I shall be working an additional 27 calendars days...

Still, we got to intro Anne and John to the joint. Fun to see the looks on their faces.

My waistline is actually in decline despite the food and the wine. Much, much, much walking. Love this city. Can't imagine why the Italians think they can keep Italy to themselves, wish they would all just move away and leave all the good stuff behind (chefs and vineyard workers excepted of course).

Though I have yet to convince Geri to let me try the Florentine specialty; tripe. Wll have to sneak away for a while and grab some as can't while she is sitting next to me.

The search for a bad bottle of Italian wine continues. Or as my podcast language lessons would say; la cercare continuare. We are applying ourselves diligently to the cause, but as yet no luck. More later...

Geek note; guides for tour groups now have low-power transmitters and their charges receivers with ear buds. Makes for much quieter times at sights and in museums.

Also recommended; Rick Steves podded audio guides through the Uffici and the Accademia. Lots of detail on major pieces and such. And free. Unlike the provided guidie thingees.

The weather has been perfect. Into the low 20's as the highs now. Cool mornings. Perfect for walking, then a long slow lunch with a cold beer or wine, then more walking.

Apartment still has spectacular views of the building which I would place in a tie with the Taj Mahal for most beautiful I have seen.

Anne and John to Paris Friday, we to Levanto for a few days wandering the Cinque Terra, then on to whenever we decide upon (while deciding we will doubtless be engaged in the La Cercare).

Birthday was fab. Champers on the Piazza del Duomo. Then shopping at the market for dinner, then dinner and another of our taste-test evenings for the three who drink red (Geri looses out on this score with her allergies).

Yes, I feel wiser, if that can be believed, but no, not older. I shall just have to continue to compensate for age as best I can with inceasingly immature behaviours I expect.

'See' you here in a week or so...

23 March 2009

Did you hear the one about the Acrophobe (that's me) and the High Heeled Hussey?

I'm desperately afraid of heights and Geri's years at the cash at Dominion mean she needs fairly high heels to keep her spine straight.

Yesterday we did the second most demanding of the stages of the Cinque Terra hike. Because we had gotten to the start point the day before we skipped it yesterday am and went straight onto the trail. So we didn't see the notice that it was closed due to a landslide.

Some very nasty bits but we made it. Never so glad to have a beer in my life, and that means something coming from me. Scuttling over trees and dirt and boulders all 100m off the sea...only thing more scarey was going back the way we had come. At one point a couple of days ago we inched along a path over the sea and came upon a suspension bridge. Thought that would be the end of me. It was at least 100m long, and bouncy. So when you bounced up flying dinosaurs would bite off your head, when you bounced low the pirates would cut out your gizzard and feed it to the crocs 2km below.

Well, mebbe 20m long and no dinosaurs or pirates, but there could have been crocs down below.

OK, 10m long. But a very, very, very long 10m when you're afraid of heights. :-)

Geri (well, her shoes really) gots lots of second looks from the other morons on the trail who hadn't seen the notice.


The other folks on the trail all seem to be really intense hikers with their carbon fibre walking sticks and funny suits and $500 daypacks. Whom we seemed to pass alot. All that Y time is paying off? I was especially surprised by the number of kids who seemed to have trouble with the steep bits.

At the end of one stage was 400 steps up and then, just as you come over the top, a very nice seafood restaurant (they all are here) with very cold beer. We didn’t see it at first and so we walked all around the town looking for a place to sit in the sun and drink our beer. Finally up a few stairs around a few corners and there it was Voila!, we were there. and there we stayed. The sight over that last step as a flat bit came into view and as the smell of beer came wafting on the breeze...THAT dear friends and family, is what heaven should be like.

Not doing the fourth stage as it is the least scenic. Which, frankly, would be OK to do as far as I am concerned as 'scenic' seems to mean vertical views (read 'death scenes'). They are beautiful, I would have to look, would enjoy for 2 seconds and then the acro-anxiety would set in and I'd hyper ventilate and grab the wall. One night I had nothing but falling dreams and slept terribly.

[turns out that section was also closed to to slides]

But, for the views and the 1200 photos I took, I am glad we did this.

Speaking of views, the towns here are AMAZING little picture postcards, each of the five. Imagine Peggy's Cove translated into medieval Italy, then replace the bog at the back (a very nice bog it is too Brenda) with mountains. Amazingly pretty.

Even without the hiking great views and such. And there are train stations in each, a €10 pass gets you all kinds of access plus free trainfare between them and the towns outside and either end for 3 days.

The continued walking means I am now down almost 4kgs from when we left, assuming this hotel's scale about as accurate as the one at home. So I am almost as pretty as the Cinque Terra.

This part of the trip was Geri's idea, and a good one. Among other things this area is one of the few in Italy that takes white wine seriously, and after Tuscany (where they about spit when you mention it) she is having a fine time. No longer persecuted for being allergic to red.

Even the steepest hillsides here are covered with terraced strips of olive and lemon groves and vinyards.

Having great lunches, but no real dinners. Yesterday we had spectacular raw anchovies in a lemon and oil marinade. I could live on that. But on our way back to our hotel the first night we found a bar, nipped in for a drink and it turns out they pretty much feed us while we have a couple and read or plan the next few days. Most Italian bars do that, but this place does it so well we haven't any need for dinner after. We just flop and try to be nice to our feet, or sit on our terrace and do postcards.

Today just regular waking, packing for the train to Sorrento and then a bus to Positano. On the upside, the cliffs there can't be any higher than they are here, plus the exposure seems to be helping me a bit. Out the window just to my right is a 15m drop to a road that would normally bother me, provide a reasonably noticeable adrenaline charge. Nothing.

Pitons anyone? :-)

29 March 2009

Quite a lot to report, and only 20 minutes on my cafe card, this might be a two-parter. But fear not as this is also likely my last as we return home.

We had a mostly fine travel day to Positano, made all our connections straightforwardly, one was even on the same track, just a matter of standing around. The CircumVesuivus train was much fun, dunno why it seems to make people nervous. The US-based guides all are rather tense about it. Great graffitti. Naples like a bit like St. John/Hamilton/Port Alberni, only with better seafood.

But Vicki and Marjorie must be made to pay for the bus ride from Sorrento to Positano! Big time! It was a nightmare. Road is have in the cliff face and half out over it, the last 10km anywhere from 50 to 150m off the sea. Weaves back and forth and the driver outbound was clearly a cowboy, talking to passengers, trying to pick up Aussie travellers, even talking on his mobile and at one point sending a text while driving.

Geri didn't know to take her Gravol and so was quite ill from the weaving and sharp turns, my acrophobia came back big time after easing somewhat with exposure in the Cinque Terre.


We arrived, discovered too that the town is pretty much vertical, had a long walk down towing our luggage. Geri is now at the point where she thinks 1.5 suitcases and her weekend bag are still too much and is actually talking about further reducing it all next time. Positano did her in I think. That's how vertical it was.

After we got settled we went out for three very fast beers and dinner, and much hysterical talk about the bus ride out. Aside from my acrophobia, the driver really was a cowboy as we thought from the other, some regular, passengers' reactions. Plus on the way back it was a much better, if slower, ride.

Positano beautiful though, but awfully touristy. Way more than the Cinque Terre. And because it was off-season it was cheap and tourist-free mostly, but many things were closed and so the attraction of the place re. food and such was limited. There was really only one restaurant open for example. Frankly, while it was a pretty place, it wasn't a whole lot prettier than the Cinque Terre.

Warmer though, and we had a great cheap room in a backpacker pensione with a big terrace. which we used a lot to have lunch in and such, spent some time lying around on it reading once the town was explored. Great leg workout though.

Owner jolly and helpful. We'd go back just to lie around and tan, read.

Local food heavily seafood, all good, but again, Cinque Terre just-as and cheaper.

We heard several rumours of there being some bad wine in town while there and followed them up. Nothing. We continue to follow the trail, wherever it leads us.


One night I walked to dinner along the 'road' (stairway and walkway really) from our hotel after smoking a joint and was able to look down without trouble. Miracle cure for acrophobia???


Let's see, where was I???

Our impressions of the town and the ride out were confirmed by some women we met from Montreal. One way around it is to be a rich backpacker as we discovered when two young women from the US showed up at our pensione after getting out of the Mercedes limo that had driven them to Positano from Sorrento.

Limoed backpackers??? Why, when I was a kid... :-)

The other nice thing about the food was that wherever you went for dinner, and there weren't many choices open while we were there, it was always less than 50 horizontal metres home, but always 500+ steps vertically. ;-)

But I could tell within hours of arriving that it wouldn't be my favourite part of the trip: no or very few Dinks to be found in Positano. :-)

On the way home we booked a Positano Porter, a small truck and two large men to have out luggage deliver from the pensione to the bus stop. Whew!

We couldn't get out on the sea to get photos of the town and area as nothing along those lines is yet open. So mostly we chilled, tanned and dank wine and beer on our terrace. Sometimes even with clothes on.

The trip back was uneventful, though Geri's allergies were turning into bronchitis. Even lucked into a Eurostar for the return trip Napoli-Firenz, so it was a fast three hours rather than the roughly 7 it would have taken otherwise. On the Sorrento-Napoli train had a nice if odd chat with a Polish injured construction worker in Italian.

We're back here in Firenze for four full days of filling-in the blanks. Geri had a doctor drop by the hotel last night and some drugs to take, so perhaps tomorrow we'll start doing the few day trips out of town we want to do to one or two of the surrounding hill towns, then mebbe collapse for a day in a bar with a terrace on some rooftop with a good book or two, in anticipation of podding our way home again (almost looking forward to it, and have been on more than one long trip where one of those first class pod seats would have been the highlight of the whole trip). :-)

General observation: much public eco-propaganda, plus things like (for those few still using disposeables I hope) battery recycling boxes at spots where tourists would likely be taking lots of photos, lots of solar systems (acive and passive) on private homes' roofs and office buildings.

One regret: I didn't start my Italian lessons early enough and am now much better, but only just in time to leave.

Unanticipated upside: Geri getting many gardening ideas. Comes as compensation for the allergic reactions to so early a spring (for us anyway).

My scarf (b-day present from Anne and John) makes me look so Italian all kinds of people ask me for directions whilst I am wearing it.

Had best food experiment: typical Florentine tripe (trippa) for dinner last night. Shredded cow stomach in tomato sauce. Yum. Really.

Best bar: our local in Levanto, definitely. Friendly staff and regulars, great free food to go with the drinks. And it didn't hurt that the white was DOC Cinque Terre and quite good, the beer always Italian and cold. And it was on the edge of the Cinque Terre, my favourite part of the trip. If you're ever going, we'd also recommend our hotel there.

Best internet cafe: Cafe Ricasoli. Have a cappuccino and croissant with your e-mail. And they treat repeat customers like old friends.

Best cappucino: no such thing. All great. Ditto the expresso. Even in train stations etc.

Best red: Any DOC Montalcino. The poor person's Brunello, normally from the same vineyards too.

Best whites: the DOC Cinque Terres we tried. But this ain't Austria. Guess we'll have to flop in Vienna again sometime soon so Geri can have a whites vacation as this was definitely a reds month.

1 April 2009

We're doing our family gift shopping this morning and then packing this afternoon. So this really is the last.

Two day trips by regional buses to report. An hour of fun on the bus got us to Siena the day before last. Nice, but very upscale, non-gritty compared with Firenze. The spot to shop if you're prepared to spend lots.

Fab lunch though. Little family spot with 9 tables. Father does the menu from memory, rest of the family cooks and serves. Great pasta, best pigeon I've ever eaten. Best part: with the exception of the beak they left the head on, the way small birds are supposed to be cooked. Yummy. Cook saw me attacking with a knife and fork and popped out to tell me to use my fingers. Trattoria del Torro if you're ever in the neighbourhood, bizarrely just off one of the streets leading into the Piazza del Campo.

San Gimagnano yesterday. Rain aside, didn't really hugely enjoy as is way,way touristy. But we did get of the local white, which is very fine and pretty much the only DOC white from Tuscany I think. I'm glad we didn't book a room there to stay for a few days as it's just wall-to-wall clip joints. Though with very pretty facades and such.

I did buy a pair of Italian classic loafers there though; at Geri's insistence of course. :-)

Last night we had our fancy and expensive dinner of the trip. Food OK. Hideously expensive though. Must have been the cover for being able to watch the cooking on a video monitor. :-)

Off to the market for some oil and other food makings, perhaps a bottle or two, then an afternoon packing before we retire to a local bar to debrief. And to talk about the next trip. Southern France with a side of Barcelona is up there, but so is the Croatian etc coast down to Istanbul. And then there's that free hotel room in Buenos if Geri doesn't get some heavily oaked white into her soon we may have to find a way to get to Australia soon.

Up at 4 tomorrow to make our flight to Frankfurt, then into our pods and home.

Geri's youngest is opening a used bookshop in Toronto on Saturday, so perhaps back into Toronto on Friday, for sure on Saturday.

Guess that's all the news that was...sigh. Back to the world. But at least we're returning via pods. What a difference exec class makes. I'm actually not only not dreading the flight, I'm kinda looking forward to climbing into my pod, ordering up some plonk and watching a couple of new release films b

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