To avoid posting this one month to the day upon our return, I probably should have let my fingers tap out what my heart wanted to say on the flight back from Milan. Alas, I was too busy wondering if my knee could bounce back from 10,000 miles of stairs. Okay, I’m probably dancing with hyperbole again on the 10K part. I love dancing, you know. And now I’m thinking of my knee again, wondering how long it will be until I can dance again which I’m very much itching to do.
Italy was like a dance. It symbolized the first time I’d ever just cleared my plate of “the list” and disconnected from my daily routine. You have a list, right? Doesn’t everybody have a list? For me, this is a 10-page, single-spaced document that gets revised on a daily. The first page is printed the night before the next day and works as the operating document for the next day. Type, edit, repeat. That is just how I learned to do it back in my law firm marketing days when the list was always way longer than the day or week for that matter. Progress not perfection is the mantra for the list. For Italy, I let go of the list on April 1 and did not revisit that list until May 1. My immersion was a full 30 days. I kept in touch with the kids and my mom through the family text thread, dropping in pics and reports so they could share in the experience. I dropped Facebook updates so we could share with extended family and friends. Of course, I responded to “request for consult” calls, but I only had two. The rest of the time was spent dropping into the present in a magical land.
What this allowed me to do was immerse into a new culture with a sexy language, unfamiliar money system, new dominant religion (because Catholicism and Judeo-Christian are two different flavors of gelato), unique value system, enchanting geography and so on–and just play. For Mike and I, this was a celebration of 22 years of marriage (25 together and 37 as friends) in which we have never stepped outside US borders together in our journey as a couple. The reason for this is mainly our parenting philosophy and never wanting to be too far away from the kids. But we’re empty nesters now (with a dog/house sitter who’s like one of the family) and we feel like we can set off to explore the world with everyone being okay. Indeed they were, and we were both like two kids in Disneyland for the first time, foodies and wine lovers that we are. But it was more than that. We both loved just soaking up all the adventures of being in a new land and sharing this adventure together.
Side note: Are you hungry, yet? There will be food porn, so if this is a trigger, stop here. Just know, food here is anchored in family legacy, art, and is way more than food. Whoever said that food is not love has not been to Italy. And those puzzle pieces? They are the sauce made from the veggies next to them for the Veal Milanese.
Because of the novelty, when we started planning, we were a bit overwhelmed. We’re planners. We like to think through the “what could go wrongs” so they don’t. We don’t like to come back from vacation needing one. We were international newbies. Our trip went so smoothly because of our allies along the way: first Sommer, then Suzanne, and finally Lorenzo and Elizabeth. Sommer, a childhood friend, had traveled to Italy with her family and shared her entire itinerary with us which gave us a lay of the land. It helped us think through a model approach. Suzanne has family in Italy and travels there every year. She gave us her top 10 list of what to visit and what to skip. It was Elizabeth, though, was our secret sauce resource before during and after!
We found her through Lorenzo. We approached Lorenzo who works at one of our favorite Amador Wineries, Andis Wines. We remembered when he came from Italy to work at Andis and knew of his fourth-generation winemaker family lineage. We reasoned he could tell us where to go. Honestly, we were pulling at whatever strings we could find beyond the travel guides. We craved to tread untrodden paths, at least partly. We arranged to meet Lorenzo at the winery and sat with him for an hour over a glass of Semillon overlooking vineyards, talking about Tuscany, the Chianti region, and where we should go while gazing over a Google map of the region on Lorenzo’s cell. I took notes which I promptly lost. Fortunately for us, at the end of our research session, Lorenzo pulls a card out of his pocket and said in his strong Italian accent, “And my wife, Elizabeth, she is a trip designer who speaks fluent Italian and Italy is her favorite place. We met in Florence where we lived.” Lorenzo, dude. That’s your starting line, bro.
But see, in Italy it’s not. They like surprise, and love to gracefully-playfully draw things out with a hint of drama and artistic flare. To stereotype, they are natural storytellers. My people. Witness our 5 ½ hour dinner at our first Michelin restaurant that Elizabeth said we must go to and was right en pointe. She and Lorenzo knew and loved the place. (In fact, we couldn’t help thinking throughout the trip like we were on a tour of their love affair.) After eating a 9-course meal at Aroma overlooking the Coliseum, we understood why Aroma was a standout. And we wondered if every meal would be ¼ of a day long. We watched the sun go down, the moon come up and the moon go down. It was really something, and where we learned about pre-dessert, dessert, and post-dessert. Yah. That’s a thing.
And that’s what I mean about Elizabeth. She just came with all this genius. We brainstormed together, starting about a year in advance. We talked about things we liked. We talked about how we were way more interested in mini-immersion travel then just darting in and out of a place so we could say we’d seen it. We wanted to get to know the people, eat in their homes, which we did end up doing and it was so lovely. We wanted to sample all the geography, physical and cultural, of a space, but still scout the country for where we would return. We wanted to go city, sea, country repeat. We wanted to try plane, train, automobile, ferry. (Our favorite, by the way, was “transfers,” when the driver just picks you up because they’re such great tour guides!) The trains were stressful, but we met some really beautiful people on them, shared synchronicity, and would sit, as if at a big cocktail party, sharing food with several Australian couples and a lovely couple of millennials from DC. Now that we’ve done it, we’d do it again, but the first train ride out of Rome we stood looking at the board for so long the military police got suspicious and started to approach. Not even kidding.
She had warned us. About train stations, about tourist menus, about museum lines even in the off season which we scheduled intentionally as we don’t fancy crowds. Elizabeth set us up on an app laying out each day, all train and other tickets attached on respective days, and we had a call together on how to work the whole thing. It was sort of like that call you may have with your grandmother about how to navigate her first cell phone, but she was patient. Included in daily descriptions were suggested restaurants, history of place, anecdotes about she and Lorenzo (points to our love story theory), tips, and even encouragements about busting out on our own outside the app boundaries. While we were there, we decided to stay in Cinque Terra another day, which she gracefully adjusted. When the hotel brought my leggings back pressed instead of cleaned, she gave me the Italian phrase to fix it. (Nothing like a nice ironed pair of stinky leggings, am I right?!) As I was making an Italian music play list, she and Lorenzo threw out great top hits which I’m still listening to pretty much daily. Several things went sideways: boat tours in the rain, a confusion on an Italian Cinema Tour. Elizabeth was on it with the refund process, advocating for us in Italian, and sharing our emotions along the way. We’re so grateful for this, our own cyber tour guide. She made this trip so special for us.
Speaking of tour guides, we chose to use one-on-one guides and Elizabeth found the best. The guides were such great resources because they would honestly share with the common refrain “nobody has ever asked me that.” I HATE small talk and am really much more interested on what lies below the surface of a person, space, or event. I found the Italians were experts at beautifying the surface in so many ways, and if asked, would dip below, but normally not until. I asked. We had tours for the Vatican, for a gastronomic tour of Rome, a wine tour of Chianti region in Tuscany, history and cultural in Milan. Each of the guides not only showed us their tour, but answered all my “off-tour” questions: how is mental illness handled in Italy? What is this contradiction where women are both cherished and treated subserviently simultaneously? Why hasn’t “me too” made its way to Italy? How does 95% Catholic look on all different levels of the culture? What do you study in school? What’s up with the toilets?
Let’s just spend a moment on that. You don’t really think about toilets until they’re different. We saw all kinds. Since we were mainly staying in hotels, they usually came with a bidet. Yet, even one train station had a “bidet adjacent” hose. But here’s the thing. Unlike the Japanese or Korean all-in-one versions, the toilets and bidets are side-by-side so…well…you have to scoot over in bended knee position, fiddle with the on/off, get the temp right, aim the nozzle…it’s a whole thing. (I did, however, miss it when it was gone.) Then, on the trains, the toilet seat is in a default up position, so to sit on it requires some gymnastics I never really got down. In the station itself, it costs a Euro, and although they’re clean, there’s no seat-seat. About three days in, I found this whole toilet business so fascinating, I started taking pictures. The final piece, and I’m really just sure this is getting me ready for visiting other places, there was just a hole in the ground at the Hertz parking lot in Florence. That was EXTRA.
If I had you at toilets, skip to the last paragraph. If you want to experience a more day by day, allora, carry on reading these blog-ettes I wrote along the way. They came to me spontaneously as we landed in Rome as a way to share Italy with those who haven’t been yet, had been and wanted to remember, or were going and could use some of the unofficial guidance that we were given. (At this point, I need to tell you to contact Elizabeth Berault at Impulse Travel Design on Facebook and she will be your guide. She’s the master. We bow to her. That’s what we will do for our next trip to Japan.) Elizabeth the Magnificent
Day 1: Roma!
Antonio gave us a great tour on the way to our hotel. We’re right in El Centro. Delicious dinner, Elizabeth, right in the square with the same music the server had listened to for 20 years. Brand new to us and topped off with a stroll and tartuffo/gelato. Welcome to Rome!
Day 2, Buonasera!
Today we learned so much history thanks to private guide, Chiara, a PhD in architecture and a history buff. Did you know the Vatican is its own country? Si. And thanks to Elizabeth, PhD in trip design who found her and the best table at Aroma, a Michelin-starred restaurant, we celebrated our anniversary early over 9 courses with pairings for 5.5 hours. Longest meal EVER. We watched the new moon rise and drop down behind the Coliseum, cursing ourselves for having eaten lunch. OMGOMGOMG. What a day!
April 9, Roma, Italy at Volpetti Testaccio
Salve ciao! Final day in Rome-tomorrow we head to the sea at Amalfi Coast. Roman obsessions. The Smart cars that zip through the alleys, the alleys, the Tiber River, the lovely Italian people, all of the food (the Siciliano rice balls!), the architecture, the history, the statues, the surprises, the San Pietrini streets. We spent the morning with Sara who took us on a gastronomic tour of the non-tourist part of Rome. She chose special local fresh stores with famous parma ham from “orange cows,” local farmers market, the local’s favorite bakery. As we ate our way through the streets, she shared history of the area. After we walked the Tiber River, then had the adventure ride of our lives to Trevi Fountain and the Spanish steps. Our cab driver was hilarious!
April 10, Amalfi (Favorite!)
Our train adventure to Naples where (thank God!) Elizabeth had Tony pick us up and drive us down narrow roads through hail, floods and switchbacks to Amalfi. The vibe here, past hills of lemon trees which makes this home of the limoncello, is pure relaxation. Out our window the waves lap the shore and we move from sun to rain to lightning to sun and it’s pure magic. The jacuzzi tub on the balcony is the best place to watch the show. I love this place
April 11, Amalfi, Italia
Ahhhh, Amalfi❤️ This may very well be my favorite place in the world so far. I’ve never felt more me, more peaceful, more at home in a space.
They’re all about lemons (limoncello) and buffalo mozzarella which is served for breakfast, lunch, dinner. The weather in April is so perfect. The sky moves from rain to sun and back again playing a dramatic game of cloud tag throughout the day. This changes the colors in the Tyrrhenian Sea which I stepped in today. It’s cold and refreshing. We find the people so friendly, gracious, and eager to connect. Last night’s Eolo (Michelin mention) and tonight’s Ristorante Liddo Azzuro (should have a mention) gave these foodies quite the culinary art show.
April 12, Capri, Italy – Capri Adventure (aka practicing psychological flexibility🤣)
We woke up to a rainbow after a beautiful pounding rain Mike said was so loud it sounded like the hotel was breaking and that I apparently slept through. We set out on our day uncertain until 20 mins before leaving whether the sea was too rough for the ferry to run to the Isle of Capri where we had a boat tour scheduled around the island. (Boating to the boat tour, yes, in the moodiest of spring seas and skies. The irony is not lost on us.) Alas, would we get back to our beautiful Amalfi? Would we get stuck on Capri? Would we actually take the boat tour? We knew this for sure: we would see beautiful Amalfi coast. We would find limoncello and more fresh pasta with seafood, the octopus as local star and the Tako happens to be one I can’t get enough of. In the end, the boat confirmed during lunch at delicious Michaelangelo’s, and then called at meeting time to cancel. No tour around the island. No matter, though, because we rode the furnuncular up and down three times, had a taxi ride in the brightest pink taxi on the narrowest roads you’ve ever seen, and saw beautiful vistas. A fun adventure, but tomorrow we will spend our last day in Amalfi making like locals as best we can.
April 13, Amalfi – Ever-changing Moods of Amalfi.
I can’t decide which I love best: the constant rhythm of the waves clacking rocks against the pebbly shore or the cathedral bells chiming every hour throughout the town. We wake up to competing smells of fresh baked chocolate croissants and sweet Wisteria, wafting in through our open glass door on a sea breeze reminiscent of our So Cal days. I look out or up or over at this familiar sea and each time it’s different, cerulean blue tossed with emerald splashes of many shades, reminding me to treasure each unique mood and moment of the now. Ride the wave. Take the rain, the sun, the clouds, the rainbow, the sun again. Breathe it all in. Today we wandered down allies and into such a special (and perhaps undiscovered) gem.
A young man, probably somewhere between the age of our two sons, only 3 classes away from sommelier. This is Simone’s (at Da Gemma) passion. Well, that and the Golden State Warriors. We entered in off a back alley and had Simone all to ourselves for several hours. We put our trust in Simone and let him lead the way, showcasing his best pairings. He was a rock star! So much fun. When our new friends from Louisiana came in for their reservation, we convinced them to do the same. The flavors, the art.
Another discovery today: Amalfi paper! This is writer porn. So soft. So sensual. We spent an hour feeling paper, playing with pens, looking at wax seals. So cool. (Hey, everybody’s got their thing.)
Tomorrow we head to Tuscany. We will miss you, Amalfi. So much.🧜🏼♀️🧜🏼♂️
April 14, Travel Day – Travel Day on Palm Sunday—oy vey!
Up at 5:30 in the a.m., our driver met us in Amalfi to brave the treacherous switchbacks to the Naples train station. It’s an hour plus drive weaving through the cliffs of Amalfi. Green, gorgeous, and puke worthy. I didn’t. We made it to the train station an hour early with time for coffee with roasted smells for miles and a croissant stuffed with “hazelnut” (eh hem—blonde Nutella.) We shared the pastry and the server cut it in half to pair with our Americanos. I bit into my half and hazelnut cream shot out all over my scarf and newly cleaned dress. I wanted to lick it off, but I also didn’t want to be a bad American representative so I refrained.
We headed to the train thinking we had this thing down hustling to carriage 2 line about 200 meters (EVERYTHING is about 200 meters btw) and then realized the train backed in and the signs were wrong. We ran pushing our bags back the opposite way. Such novices. We learned a few more things—like the trains go 300 kph and suitcases run down the aisle if people (not us!) put them wheels down. After the 3 hour ride, we wheeled our bag through the streets of…umm, not sure, Florence? Firenze?… to the rental car place where we proceeded to wait for 1.5 hours for a car. Palm Sunday, they said. What does Jesus walking down the streets of Jerusalem fanned with palm fronds have to do with disorganized car rental offices? Not sure. We closed the place down (actually last) so naturally I had to pee. I’m going to do a whole thing on toilets because they’re a whole thing here and there you will have to see the hole in the floor toilet at the rental car place! More on that later. (And the case of this blog, earlier.)
Mike (my hero) braved the driving once we figured out how to turn the car on. We hit about 5 really fast roundabouts and only had to circle back one time. That was a win because things move fast! We hit the autostrade along with lightning, thunder and hail-rain. What could go wrong?
Exiting was a relief. Finding our castle hotel in the Tuscan countryside was not. Google was perplexed. Of course, reception was also iffy. (I can’t hear you…can you hear me?) In fact, we finally needed an escort. But so did the people following us. Nice Germans. The curvy roads were reminiscent of getting out of Amalfi, coming full circle on our day.
Speaking of Amalfi, we may have become locals. We revisited our fave Eolo last night and were sat at the best table in the house. Antonio even took us to the wine cave after and told us we were his first wine pairing to food art people of the season. Amalfi kissed us goodbye with a sunshine kiss and sent us on our way to this Tuscany countryside.
What will it bring us tomorrow when Donnatella picks us up for a wine tasting day across Tuscany? Thank God she’s driving and we can just take it all in. Buonasera, amicos, and happy Palm Sunday.
Tuscany, April 15 – The Wine is Alive!
Donatella picked us up just after breakfast for a full day of Italian wine school in the Chianti region of Tuscany. Well, not exactly school, but we learned so much.
The Chianti zone is Tuscany’s largest classified wine region and to be a Chianti Classico is a WHOLE thing. You’ve got to follow a butt load of rules and there is a governing body called the consortium that has to approve the wine each step of the way. You have to take them samples and they have to pass you. Unlike California, in Tuscany/Italy wine is not identified by fruit, but instead by region. Ergo, take a guess at what Chianti wine is? Basically, Sangiovese, and in fact must be 80% as one of the rules. The Chianti Classico is competed for and marked by a seal by the DOCG (Denominacione di origine controlata and guarntetarify—or something like this) to prove its authenticity and also marked by a black rooster. Super interesting!
But even more fascinating was to see how wine is at the center of Italian family life and always eaten with food. Not just drinking is a part of family life, but 2 families were living on the farms with generations still living together from children to great grandparents and working the land. Donatella and Nancy (her van) took us to 4 wineries we would never have had access to down long curvy dirt roads, through beautiful towns, where we would reach a destination and then were greeted by a wine dog. One tasting, we sat in the winemaker’s living room eating charcuterie (because always food remember). At the 3rd winery, a charming family (children translated tour, mom made our food, Grandpa was “more possessive of his grapes than his wife” and is the only pruner in his 80s) showed us around and fed us so much we thought it was lunch UNTIL we ended up in a private home with Ramo waving at us so happily as we arrived with homemade pasta and a TON MORE FOOD with tiramisu for dessert. I said no more and they just wouldn’t take no for an answer. Mangi! Mangi!
After, he took us on a stroll of their 700 person town, San Donato in Poggio in Chianti with 3 streets which he has lived in all his life, the last 41 with his wife. She grew up 2 towns over. It was such a special gift to eat with them in their home and see their town as our guide translated between us.
April 16, Borgo Scopeto Relais – Siena, Spa, & Pizzeria
Siena. Our first walled city. A little fender bender (big car backed into us and couldn’t find horn), a grazie and a prego and on our way, stunning cathedrals, the Holy week, red poppies as birth and resurrection fill the air, the white puffy clouds, spring flowers, coconut gelato, the piazza, toddlers chasing pigeons, no clothes dryers, no cars in the walled city, statues, more cathedrals, the spa—Nectar of the Gods, bathe in wine while drinking wine, steam, jacuzzi under waterfall, couples massage (each snoring at different moments), a local pizzeria with Chianti Classico (copied neighbors, found Marco who works in our castle hotel, so many types of prosciutto (breakfast, lunch, dinner), late night wine tasting in castle before we leave tomorrow for Florence! Dennis & Michelle, for you we eata the gelato! Dennis, we found the church (bad knee so did not go to top!)
April 17, Florence Firenze
We have arrived in Florence, but not before driving inside the city walls where only city vehicles are allowed. Terrifying, hilarious, and possibly a ticket coming our way as a souvenir. Elizabeth says it’s a right of passage. We were only flipped off once and honked at twice and we didn’t hit anyone! A win! See the three-foot-wide alley Mike had to navigate which seem like the narrowest yet.
We are steps away from this most majestic cathedral and museum which we stumbled upon. (Actually almost drove into😂). We’ve activated our 72-hour Firenze cards and are now on a museum-orama immersion program. The breadth of history, art, creativity fills every crevice in this place. The sheer size of the cathedrals makes you stop where you stand and stare. The intricacies make you question (or at least me) how humans could have contributed so so much to their world in one life time. I guess they didn’t have Netflix.
April 18 – Florence, Italy – Galleria Degli Uffizi
Firenze. Florence. So many museums and each one has different rules for entering. We have a “fast pass” just like Disneyland, but unlike DL, it’s harder to figure out the offsite ticket acquisition using your pass and the rules for the respective lines. But being Bruins, we know how to navigate bureaucracy! And we were so grateful to have Firenze card because it’s the only reason we got in to the two main museums during Easter week. Reservations are backed up until 4/22 and without them, you can’t get in (like when they close the pirates at DL.) I can’t help see the influence of Walt from Italy btw. I don’t know the history, but I’m sure it’s there from our regular walks through the park while living in So Cal then seeing this. The busts in the Haunted House, for example. Or today we walked by The Pinocchio store.
Now to The David. HE’S SO LARGE. And his feet and hands seem XXXL. And his veins. I thought he was going to be smaller, I think because Mona Lisa at The Louvre was so small. Anyway, outstanding. The Pitti Palace and Gardens—WOW! The elaborate details! We just walked through with our mouths hung open. A beautiful wine tasting paired lunch (from what we suspect may be a Lorenzo/Elizabeth regular date night hang out) across from the Pizzi and then Mr Toad’s Wild Ride to our afternoon reservation at the Acadamia! This time, someone else drove. Our server and restaurant manager said “Next time you come for more wine and less Acadamia!”
Tonight we cross the River Arno for what we think is a late dinner, but is actually the first restaurant setting at 7:30. I don’t know if we’d make very good Italians. But we do excel at the manji manji part so we got that going for us. Arrivederci!
April 19, Golden Tower Hotel Florence, Italy
Last night—full moon over the Arno. We sat and listened to music in the quad where people gather and amazing musicians play. Magical.
Today started out disappointing with our cinema guide not showing, but we decided to head to the Franco Zeffirelli Museum she was going to take us to anyway. We ended up having the best time! First we walked in this empty church (Jesus dressed like Tuesday Morning) and then had the whole film museum to ourselves for like an hour! Amazing! He’s 96 now and lives in Rome, but comes to Florence each October. His list of works is OFF THE HOOK and his process soooo interesting. We ended our cinema tour day with “Becoming Leonardo Da Vinci” which was perfect to see in Florence! Happy Good Friday and Happy Passover!
April 21, Monterossa al Mare – The Land of Cinque Terra: the Hike from Monterosso to Vernazza
Happy Easter and Buona Pasqua! We had quite a day! We set out to hike “Lover’s Hike” after breakfast which sounds like it would be a nice meandering stroll, arm in arm, through sweet red roses or something. Alas, it was more like climbing a ladder of uneven stairs with uneven stones to Heaven—like ALL the way there. If you know me well, you know I’m missing my left ACL and meniscus (since 23 skiing accident) and bone on bone at this point. I survive off those new shots and have pushed off a knee replacement for many years successfully. Additionally, my weight is way up which does not make my knee happy. Still, we climbed those stairs to the top of the world. I had a lot of feelings about this. At first I was really irritated nobody had described these steep steps. Then, I was a bit panicked we’d not brought water (for a two-hour hike straight up! What were we thinking?!) Next, I was amused because I had my own personal international cheering squad who could see I was struggling and would cheer me on. If I wasn’t so touched, I’d have been embarrassed. Finally, as we reached the top, my knee throbbing and my throat like sandpaper, I felt nothing but pure gratitude. This man in his goldens was standing there squeezing fresh oj and selling cold bottled water! An Easter miracle. While Mike got juice, I plopped myself down next to a young man with a sweet, gentle spirit and we started talking. His name was Ahmed and he was a PhD in chemical engineering. He was on a figure out the next step trip and we so enjoyed meeting him. After refueling, we started noticing the gorgeous views, vineyards, spring flowers, and met Chris and Renee who loved wine and the study of it. He was at Davis with the Mondavi kid back in the day. She told us the story of her name. She was Japanese but named Renee and said Japanese have challenges with “r” so asked her mom why she did that. She told her she liked the name so that’s that.
We stopped more than most, partly because I needed to breathe and partly for the breath stealing vistas that made us stop and stare in wonder. When we arrived to Vernazza, a man piping saxophone through the canyon welcomed the pilgrimage. We stepped into a town lost in time, making our way to our reserved lunch by Elizabeth. When we arrived, we could not believe our table nestled away in the side of a cliff. Magnificent! Our waiter Andreas was the star of the show, blowing us kisses from other terraces, singing to us, changing up costumes to serve us, and taking pics with us. What a magical meal! (Please can we take him home?!) We will never forget our buona Pasqual with Andreas!
We ferrired back aftet lunch and met a foreign exchange student from Iceland living with an Italian family. She LOVED the idea of California. In fact, most people we meet do. They all dream to move there. We are very lucky to live in such a diverse, sought after state. I’m Cali through and through, but never realized how others so idolize it, especially the 18-28 crowd.
I iced my knee for quite awhile after we returned and it was so worth it!
Varenna, Italy – April 23
Each time we settle in a new spot I find myself saying, “Ooooh, I love this one best next after Amalfi.” Now in Lake Como (Varenna to be exact), I really mean it. It’s so peaceful here, space to digest and integrate such beautiful people, places, images, experiences.
Our entry into Varenna was followed by two long train rides, one regional where they switched tracks at the last minute and we had to rush down and up stairs lugging our bags (against cattle-like herds yelling PERMISO) to the correct platform with only 3 minutes to accomplish that. QUITE a scene. We were happy we had lemoncino and biscotti for stress snacks after that!
One of the many awesome parts of our adventure has been the people we meet. On the train from Monterosso to Milan we met Peter and Jane from Australia. Their daughter is a child and adolescent psychiatrist there and her partner works for Headspace, a movement I’ve been tracking in Australia. We were then joined by another couple from Melbourne, and chatted for 3 hours nonstop.
When we finally arrived in Varenna, Elizabeth had miraculously changed our boat ride by a day because of weather. Yesterday was clear, today rainy. I happen to adore the peaceful, cleansing rain where the water’s edge merges into an all gray mist. I’m so at peace in that space. But for sure, it’s crap weather for a boat ride. Thanks to Elizabeth’s skills, we would go out on the last ride and she would drop us in San Giovanni for our dinner with Ice from Netflix “Dogs”. We were very excited to meet him and get our lab fix.
OMG—the lake! It’s so unique and still, lined with huge villas (including George Clooney’s😂), and the largest, most deep maroon Japanese maples you’ve EVER seen. Bright splashes of vibrant pink azaleas lined the shores in spots, competing for best in show with the sheets of light lavender Wisteria which grows without limits here. Stunning. Sensual. Matteo, our guide, set up an aperitif for us, some Italian traditional tunes, and took us on a journey around the lake, stopping at Bond movie villas, whipping out his computer and showing us the scenes filmed there from various films, including Star Wars. Bonus!
April 24, Varenna, Italy – Lago di Como, Varenna – The Grass is Always Greener
We awoke to a sweet, gentle rain and bird choir that actually sound like people making bird sounds. Such unique warbles I’ve never heard. Mist lay across the mountains surrounding Lake Como, ever changing in shape and formation. Honestly, I could lie with the French doors open, listening to the intermittent pitter patter kissing the balcony and feeling the cool, quiet breezes fill the room. The church bells tell us the time even before our iPhones and we know if we don’t move, we will miss our (God forbid) our illy free cappuccinos and extensive breakfast spread.
So we get up. Varenna is more still today, the Easter crowds gone. I like that. It helps me get to know a place better. After breakfast and purple light showers (this is such a concept I want to take home!) we wander out to the streets of Varenna and into botanical gardens steps from our hotel. The light rain continues lightly touching each leaf with droplets of water, and shooting scents into the air of red rose and Wysteria, nature’s diffusers. We spent the next 3 hours attempting to capture the scene: the beauty of the droplets on the bright petals, the mist playing on the mountains, plants we’ve never seen, miles of Wisteria, and always fountains and statues tucked everywhere. We found ourselves fascinated with a boathouse. Later, after lunch, we wandered through the villa that went with the boathouse and stepped back in time to huge marble staircases and tea party scenes. Truly a paradise of the greenest of green imaginings.
We had a free apertif from the hotel at day’s end, and talked to our server. His dream? To move to California with his girlfriend next year and leave this enchanted paradise.
April 25, Milano, Italy
In Milano, northern Italy financial center, the vibe changes while a different strand of beauty spreads out to street protests right below our window in the city center. It’s a national holiday, Liberation Day, and students are protesting a variety of issues that aren’t entirely clear but feel similar to our own in the States: racism, discrimination, a push against the current government. A quick look around shows Italian freedom of press worst in Western Europe and our own informal interviews of guides show a reticence to discuss the shadow (though some cajoling leads them there eventually.)
The juxtaposition of the Galleria with its literal shoe candy (including Jimmy Choos and the bakery) to this morning’s private tour with an art historian who broke down technique, politics, and nuances of many great creators to the overwhelming cathedrals to the more neoclassical architecture to the Japanese influence creating Milano’s new infatuation with raw fish…it’s simply outstanding. Sensorial. A piece of past, present and transcendent future. Just love it.
As in all of Italy, the cathedral is the highest point in the city one way or another. We learned an interesting local detail today: Italy has the highest rate of usage on psychics, magicians, soothsayers and a famous magician (also a conman according to our source) recently went to jail for defrauding poor people. There are new laws to help prevent this blind following. Such an eclectic assortment of original thinkers and group think as regulated by the church.
To see the last, perhaps unfinished work of Michaelangelo emerging from the marble. To see the only painting left of Leonardo da Vinci because of WWII destruction. To hear the stories of the various creators and see their genius. To glance at the visionary inventions of Leonardo…sigh. First makes us feel lazy, and second, lights a fire. Inspires. Stirs imagination. And always makes us hungry!
April 26 – Art in Every Corner – The Second Religion: Coffee
Something about the way Italians decorate space, like coffee stores, the Apple store, never ending cathedrals, their Michelin restaurants, their opera. We lived this today. When you can turn a coffee store into art, or create an ocean scene with a “gift from the chef,” or create two operas into one, art is created everywhere. Felix La Bosso (2 stars) and the Teatro la Scala were highlights today we won’t soon forget.
Wow, Italy. We’re impressed. So impressed❤️🇮🇹
Rough Re-Entry and Grazie❤️
By the time we reached MXP in Milan to fly home after an outstanding journey through Italy, my knee had readied itself to stage a protest. It just quit. It’s bone on bone, the shots have worn off, and I was just grateful it waited until we were done to do its thing.
Flying day. Never overly excited about this, especially when we’re looking at 15 hours on planes, finding gates in short layovers, etc. Enter I’m out of this cool Naproxen gel they sell at the farmacia, no Advil, and icing is not going to happen. As we arrive at MXP, I feel nauseous from the pain, disappointed in my body’s current state, and not sure how I’m going to navigate the inevitable stairs that will appear on our way to the gate.
We approach the desk and ask for help. The flight attendant looks me up and down and says, “Clearly you can walk some stairs?” I almost started to cry shaking my head as Mike said, “No! Stairs are the worst!”
And that’s how we got the wheelchair.
I was against it at first, embarrassed, but once I let that go it became a really interesting experience. First one had a broken wheel which lead us to “the Ferrari,” a motorized job with a super kind guy who took us through secret passageways and no lines. Bonus! No checking fluids which bode well on our limoncello. BONUS! I started noticing the ups and downs of using a wheelchair. Up, you meet kind people (the pushers) and hear their stories. Down, people don’t look at you and you sense awkward feelings and note averted glances. Up, travelers scatter like ants to make a path. Also up, you can hang your backpacks on it. Down, well, you wish you were walking and you have to wait around when you’d rather be walking. Up and down, you wait in the “disabled” lounge (with its own handy bathroom and filtered water and comfy chairs, at least at Heathrow) with all the others in your position. The way high positive is I now know very well how to travel with someone who needs assistance in an airport!
Then came the plane. We fell in love with British Air when they moved me on a very crowded plane to the empty back row where I could elevate. The attendants were so kind and made me feel a little less ridiculous. One had a house in Positano near our heart place, Amalfi. The only issue, and it wasn’t their fault, was that the weather in London was crap and we missed our connection. In my current state, all I wanted to do was elevate, ice, and find the English equivalent of Advil. While texting my few British friends, and regretfully canceling our dinner in San Fran with Suzanne and Dennis (😢), my cell died in a final reminder we weren’t frolicking in Italy anymore. We grabbed a handful of vouchers and off we went with hoards of others, including a large group of high school students from Pennsylvania on a 9 day “abroad” trip to France with a frazzled leader trying to keep everyone’s passports straight. I overheard one young man say, “I’m going to wait to call my mom until we figure out exactly what’s happening because she’ll freak out.” Smart boy.
The hotel was actually great for such a scenario and they had decent food and beer. We love British TV anyway so dinner, BBC, and early to bed after various makeshift ice packs (shower caps, laundry bags, dining napkins—fail unless you like wet clothes) and we were all set with our BA overnight packs, which included an XL sleeping t-shirt and the tiniest tube of toothpaste you’ll ever see😂
The next day was a whirlwind. They took me down underground at Heathrow and Mike couldn’t come because there was no room on the car. He had to run and did not arrive until the plane was boarding, panting from the very long journey. The good news? We’ve got this shot for you of the bowels of Heathrow, a once in a life tour, as I don’t plan on wheel chairing it again any time soon.
For all who joined us on our trip through posts, messages, texts, etc., we loved sharing the journey! And to you, Italy, Grazie mille for your warmth and beauty. You’re a class act.❤️🇮🇹❤️
Thus ends my on-the-way blogs.
My favorite of all the beautiful places was Amalfi. I want to go again and again. Mike and I walked down to the sea day and night. Our hotel had a jacuzzi tub on the balcony and you could soak and watch the ocean and village below. The sea breezes blew in through the sheer white curtains and ushered the lapping sound of the water below into our dreams. The moods shifted with the weather, making it look like a different place. Pure magic, this place. Attached to the hotel was a Michelin restaurant, Eolo, which we loved so much we went twice: the first night and the last night. The meal was art, and on our return dinner, we were sat at the best seat in the place making for such a special meal. We let them choose the meal and wine and it was magnificent. My second favorite: Varenna on Lake Como. I want to go back there and explore the lake region, stay in the writer’s cottage in the middle of the lake, spend a whole day wandering through the gardens. Just be.
But honestly, how do you choose a favorite child? They all are so perfect in their own way. There’s really no need, though we will go back and try, I’m sure. Arrivederci, Italia. Until me meet again.