Sure, I have seen territory, all the sites, the gorgeous lakes and streams, but let me give you the other side of the story. In fact, let’s make this a photo journey.
Bougainvillea bushes, blue shutters, white houses, azure sea, clear waters, sand and pebble beaches, hidden coves, coastal trails, fresh grilled calamari, friendly people, narrow roads, flowers in bloom….ah-h-h-h-h……Paros Island, Greece.
I only spent 24 hours in Bologna which is comprised of universities, industries, and food! Just when I thought it was impossible to have bigger or more ornate or more something buildings/churches, another city comes along, and outshines the previous one — Bologna was no exception.
I had lunch at a locals’ restaurant on a side street. The all in one mâitre’d-waiter-bartender-cashier greeted me like his long-lost friend, took my order after many “prego’s, prego’s”(please, please)never said only once, and “si, si’s(yes, yes) same applies — all one word acknowledgements must be said at least twice, but preferably three times. The regular lunch crowd arrived around 12:30ish and re-emphasized the importance of community in daily Italian life. Everyone knew one another and was greeted warmly by the all-in-one only employee(!), some received their usual drink, others heard the daily special and ordered as they walked to their table. Everyone spoke at the same time, gesticulated with their hands and forks constantly, nodded and never stopped eating. Noise level reached new heights as 1:15pm approached and started to taper off around 1:45pm — I learned weeks ago lunch is a 2 hour affair – enjoy the food, appreciate the ambiance, savor the flavors, and absorb the sights/aromas that make up one of the main components of Italian life – FOOD. Continue reading
Sta. Margherita/Portofino — the Italian Riviera — very cool. Cobblestone streets, centuries old villas, — wonder if it was like a “villa competition” in the 17th & 18th C. – who could design the most ornate villa w/the sumptuous gardens? — a centuries’ old version of: Jackson Hole, Wyoming & dueling architects I.M. Pei /Frank Gehry /A. Predock — but in 1687, it would have been Sr. ??? No idea! These “small little summer getaways” for the family and 20 staff members are gorgeous. Currently, they are in all stages of renovation. Little trattorias tucked in here and there .. the main road along the coast introduces one to the ever-present Hermés Store signifying that the town is “hip”, Yachting Days = here-come-the-$200-blue-and-white-striped-cotton-t-shirts, and Il Bambino shops selling mommy-daddy-look-a-likes for 200 euros. Walk 1 block off the main street and there is the local town with the hardware store, outlet shop, shoe repair shop.. the locals are welcoming and there is an air of “whatever” here – where your Levi’s into the white linen tablecloth restaurant, it’s ok – wonder what it is like during the summer? Probably a zoo.. the train station is close to town, easy access..buses run from Sta. Margherita to other coastal towns… the touristica boats operate from April thru October taking tourists to the coastal towns … seasonal living on the Mediterranean. Not crowded here now, and what a treat for me! Walked from Sta. Margherita to Portofino(5 KM) along the Mediterranean Coast and thru the hills on a designated pedestrian path…had a cappuccino, thinly sliced dried beef with chunks of parmesan cheese and watercress, and bread in Portofino before I headed back. The waiter rolled his eyes and nodded when I said “April – lots of tourists?” But now, life doesn’t get much better than this — I feel so lucky to spend 2 or 3 days in these places – and see not only the tourist sites, but watch local life.
Misty rainy day accompanied me while I rode TRENITALIA, the regional train, to Pisa. The words “trundle” or “plugs along” seem to fit these trains as they lurch along. The conductor hole punched my ticket, all the while leaning on a chair seat for balance. The seats are smaller than the French trains as are the steps to board. God help you if you have a large piece of luggage, because from the station platform to the first step on the train makes you want to discard any unnecessary items and start doing lunges at the gym to build up those thigh muscles for that initial “umph”.
There is so much more to this town that just the Tower. One can see the town in a day, but there are museums, churches, a pretty park, great river walk, good restaurants, a 30 minute train ride to Lucca, a one and half hour ride to Florence. So, Pisa can be a less expensive base to see the surrounding area. I was surprised, because all I have ever heard was “don’t bother” & “not much there”. They had a Miró exhibit in a gallery, also, that I missed! So, it isn’t just the Tower!
Remember reading about and seeing pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the 5th grade? I do, and when I saw it, it was a “I truly cannot believe that I am here” moment. Next to the Tower, was a gorgeous cathedral that received little publicity and was spectacular – have to say, it is becoming sort of the norm now – gold leaf, huge paintings, carved statues, marble alters, fresco painted ceilings, mosaic floors and of course, HUGE.
Art students sat on the grass in groups sketching, vendors of every Italian kitschy item ever produced in Asia selling their wares, and tourists from all over the world with local guides giving the spiel, all gave the area a theme park feeling. Several people told me “pass on Pisa”.. well, I am glad I did not take their advice– it was worth that one moment of “wow”. It is an old old town, well, aren’t they all, but.. this one really felt old in parts. 55% of Pisa was bombed during WWII and maybe it was the stark contrast between new and 11 & 12th century buildings with 12th century religious icons preserved in small provincial museums and little churches trying to raise funds to help w/restoration – a feeling of “don’t forget the rest of the town – we are worthwhile, also.”
The museums and churches filled with relics and religious icons were beautiful, but, the thing that really made Pisa worthwhile was lunch at a 10 table indoor restaurant. My pasta with olive oil and fresh herbs NEVER turned out like that, and the thinly sliced beef with just a smidgen of balsamic vinegar reduction sauce required minimal mastication because it was so tender that it essentially dissolved in my mouth. And, then the desert — semi-orgasmic experience! It was chocolate cake, and of course NO FLOUR, with thinly sliced cooked pears baked on top, drizzled with hot chocolate sauce –just a little to compliment it and not overwhelm it. Fork in hand, cutting off a bit, one feels guilty if this cake is bitten because you might hurt it. But, that decision was already made because as soon as the piece of cake descended upon my tongue — it automatically started to melt, the chocolate and fruit flavor slowly seeped into the roof of the mouth, the flavors started percolating in the most wonderful sense my body had at that moment – taste. All the cathedrals just took a back seat – that was my religious experience. That cake with the cappuccino gave me incentive to always be good for the rest of my life, so I too, could join all those good people in heaven!!! Lordy, Lordy!
ok.. back to reality — before I left Pisa, stopped at MacDonalds’s at the train station and had a big MAC — what can I say.
And off to a very small village 2 hours south of Pisa … to do a volunteer/work exchange – modern-day indentured servant clad in “culture exchange” – work for food & accommodation – at a German woman’s house. She moved to Italy many years ago and worked at a high-end hotel. German TV on, German friends, German paper — just seem to transfer life from the home country to another place. Would I do the same? And, if so, to what degree? I don’t know. But, another glimpse into ex-pat life abroad. The Exchange didn’t work out for us — it was one of those instances when it was an instantaneous “Nope, this isn’t going to work..” and it didn’t– we live and learn — and life goes on — so — and back to the train station, once again …on the train and push the re-play button back to Pisa!
Oh, BTW, the regional trains cost zippo – 2.50 € to 6.50€ seems to be the average — of course, the train ride isn’t exactly high-speed air lifting Asian technology, and one has to wonder when you hear the conductors saying frantically to the train engineers “move, move, the next train is coming” and everyone backs up a bit – not that it would do you any good if two trains collide, but.. details…
It is all good…how can it not be when the scene is this at 4:00pm…
Heading to Cinque Terre, Turin, Milan…
Fur coats, little dogs, big handbags…
“Ah-h-h..” he thinks.
Life on the French Riviera….joggers, runners, bicyclists, moms/dads/grandparents pushing baby strollers, in-line skaters, serious walkers with weights in hand, tourists on rented bikes, tourists not paying attention when they cross over the painted green lines on the boardwalk designated for bicycles/skaters/joggers only (oops “sorry”), elderly people on their daily walking regimen — this is the boardwalk that separates the Mediterranean Sea from the town of Nice, France. I was not participating in any of the above activities, since my focus was: “I will have another cappuccino and oh, yes, a tiramisu gelato – 2 scoops, please, in a waffle cone — oh, and can you drizzle some chocolate over that? Merci!” Heaven. The Matisse, Chagall and Beaux Artes Museums and a Russian Orthodox Church provided ample opportunities to walk from one end of town to the other with these destinations in mind. The Nice harbor was home to huge yachts, and I do mean HUGE yachts, bearing flags from countries all over the world, with employees on board setting the breakfast tables for their “captains”. BMW SUVs, Mercedes, taxis, Smart Cars, old cars, motorcycles passed me by on the coastal road as if James Bond was in pursuit. The sunny days did not prevent the women wearing fur coats, and the chilly mornings did not prevent the men in Speedos from taking their daily swim in the Sea.
The 3’ X 3’ elevator lift used for transportation of tourists to the top of a mountain to see a castle, was retrofitted for a well shaft and provided an opportunity to really experience acute claustrophobia and emerge ashen faced, groping for a brown paper bag to stop hyperventilating. It was worth the ascent, though, the views were stupendous. Resort towns… this one was no exception to why a locale becomes a “resort community” … gorgeous surroundings, beautiful views, mild weather and the Mediterranean.
After spending three days in Nice, I walked to the station to board the train for Italy. I passed a poster “Nice Party Bus” pasted on a lamp-post and imagined Nice 60 years ago – same beautiful locale, but calm and peaceful, with residents living their lives and the occasional tourist complimenting the town as opposed to overtaking it.
The short train ride from to the Italian border showed the coastal development. I don’t think there was a square inch of land that didn’t have a house or apartment building on it. And, yet, how beautiful it would be to sit on a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea during the summer months? Pretty spectacular, I would imagine. But, what a cost…
Arrived in Ventimigla, Italy greeted by German Shepherd drug sniffing dogs, I changed platforms and boarded a regional Italian train to Genoa. It trundled through tunnels and along the coast, stopped at every little town, and eventually arrived in Genoa 2.45 hours later.
Genoa (Italian: Genova), is a city and an important seaport in northern Italy, the capital of the Province of Genoa and of the region of Liguria. The city has a population of about 610,000 and the urban area has a population of about 900,000. Genoa’s Metropolitan Area has a population of about 1,400,000. It is also called la Superba (“the Superb one”) due to its glorious past. Part of the old city of Genoa was inscribed on the World Heritage List (UNESCO) in 2006. The city’s rich art, music, gastronomy, architecture and history, made it 2004’s EU Capital of culture. Genoa, which forms the southern corner of the Milan-Turin-Genoa industrial triangle of north-west Italy, is one of the country’s major economic centres. The Bank of Saint George, one of the oldest in the world, was founded here in 1407 and played an important role in the city’s prosperity from the middle of the 15th century.
I checked into the hotel close to the train station and set off to explore the city. Never having been to Italy, I was totally unprepared for how BIG everything was: gardens, gates, statues, fountains, marble pillars, paintings. Currently in Genoa, there is a push to get it on the tourist trail and several palazzi(houses) are now converted into museums with the original furnishings, artwork and ceramics. The beauty and care that went into these houses – every detail of stitching on drapes, painting of frescoes, building furniture, mini chapels, displayed fabrics – all was done with care and pride of the finished product. And just so damn gorgeous.
All the while, I was thinking though ,”Let’s see, Greek mythology – what do I remember? ZIPPO — …”And these Italian painters, what do I know about them?” – ZIPPO… And, it is not like there are just 4 or 5 — oh no, that would be way too easy — so, spoke with my daughter-in-law who majored in Italian renaissance art. “Hi, just need a brief run-down on all this!” She laughed, and once regaining composure, did help me understand some of the basics so I could at least grasp something of what I was looking at! Then, I found a guide-book with the following first index headings: HISTORICAL SURVEY – 1 page; MOST FAMOUS ARTISTS – 2 pages; BRIEF ART HISTORY STARTING W/10th C. – 2 pages — I bought it! Hope springs eternal that with more exposure, knowledge sinks in and is absorbed…
The first four floors of the Galata Museo del Mar (Maritime Museum which chronicles the evolution of sea exploration in Genoa from the first boat construction to new sea liners) are dedicated to the emergence of Genoa’s sea trade. The fifth floor is dedicated to the Italian immigration to America. The visitor holds an immigrant’s passport and walks thru the experience of leaving Italy and boarding the ship, walking on the decks, sleeping quarters, experiencing debarkation, Ellis Island, medical checks, and, finally, what happened to the person on the passport. A Carnival Cruise advertisement in a magazine gets me seasick, so God knows what I was thinking when I entered “LA AMERICA EXHIBIT”. I basically crawled out at the other end, after looking at waves undulating on film thru portholes, standing on the undulating floors in the sleeping quarters, and the sound of waves crashing over head piped in on the sound system. Despite this, it was an excellent immersion(no pun intended there)…and the museum – fabulous. A gallery guard came up to me and said “Signora, we Europeans are your grandparents….” Food for thought…
Genoa – that seedy sea-trading port aspect contrasted with some beautiful modern museums, trendy shops mixed in with North African/Moroccan neighborhoods, statues of C. Columbus(oh yeah, I remember him now!), cobblestone streets, non-beautification for the tourist trade, the old city, all the aromas of freshly baked pastries and pizza, friendly people, the two ladies on the metro who told me I was getting on the train going in the WRONG direction–so it goes….on to Pisa..