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"La Dolce Vita" in Italy! 
Spring break in paradise

I almost didn’t leave the airport.  Dimwit that I am, it never occurred to me that flights going from Cincinnati to New York right before Easter might be full.  And since I fly standby, a full flight means that I stand a good chance of not getting on.  However, luck was with me, and I managed to get the last seat available on the flight to JFK.

 

Once in New York, it was easier to get to Italy.  In fact, I even managed to get a seat in business class, which makes all the difference in the world.  The meals and wine are served on real china and crystal, and the comfy leather seats actually recline into a horizontal position.  Of course, I still wasn’t able to sleep much, but at least I was comfortable while not sleeping.  My seat companion was an Italian man from Rome who occasionally chatted about the city.

 

Friday, April 13th

 

 I arrived at Fiumicino Airport in Rome around 9 am.  Going through Customs was extremely fast and quick (not a single line anywhere!), and since I had no checked baggage, and only one carry-on, I promptly made my way to the railway station to catch the Leonardo Express to Termini Station.  I bought my ticket (L17,000), validated it in the yellow box near the tracks, and boarded the next train.   Once on the train, I sat next to a young Italian man who offered me a piece of gum.  Since my mouth felt like a garbage can, I accepted it, but then gasped once I bit down.  It felt like I was chewing on a wad of Vics Vapor Rub. 

 

I had a mild headache that had started that morning, and it was getting worse during the 30-minute ride to Termini.  I managed to find the hotel rather quickly, thank goodness – it was located only a few blocks from the train station on Via Milazzo.  The name was Hotel Rubini, and was nothing special – a basic, budget, boring hotel.  The room was very small but clean, and included a shower and toilet, TV, and phone for L200,000 for a double.  It was only one night, so I really didn’t care what it looked like. 

 

The room was ready by the time I got there, so I dropped my bag in the corner and looked longingly at the bed.  I usually don’t advocate taking a nap after an overseas flight, but  decided to catch a few winks in the hopes my headache would go away.  I woke up completely refreshed a few hours later, with my headache completely gone, feeling great, and very alert!  Maybe this nap thing works…

 

My friend, Nona, was due to arrive in the next couple of hours, but in the interim, I wandered over to the train station and bought a slice of pizza to tide me over.  I also found the headquarters for Enjoy Rome, an independent tourist office located on Via Marghera.  I had been to their website before I left, and printed out tons of useful information.  The staff, which spoke excellent English, was very helpful and gave me a free map (much better than the one from the train station TIC), and some helpful info on busses and the Metro. I believe they also offer walking tours of Rome, along with other services.  Next, I spotted a combination Laundromat and Internet Point right down the street from our hotel, and made a note to check email later. 

 

Nona finally reached the hotel around 5 pm, and after she settled in, we headed out to see the town.  I have been to Rome before, but this was my friend’s first visit, so I figured we’d hit all the main tourist attractions right away.  Our first stop was the Coliseum, which we got to via the Metro.  Once there, we found out the inside was closed, and there were huge crowds, along with police and lights set up all over the place.

 

I asked around, trying to find out what was going on, and learned that the Pope does the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday night.  He starts with Mass at St. Peter’s, then leads a procession over to the Coliseum.  The Pope stays at the last Station (on the hill above the Coliseum), and is eventually joined by the other members of the procession who go through all the other stations set up at the Coliseum.  I would have loved to stay to watch, but the crowds were getting very heavy, and we were both very tired.  Neither of us felt like standing around and waiting 2-3 hours for the ceremony, so we took off for the Forum, which was still as impressive as I remembered it.

 

 Our next stop was the Campo de Fiori.  On the way, we passed by the Largo Argentina ruins and stopped to say hello to the cats.  When my brother was here last year, he and his wife met Sylvia, a woman who helps take care of all the cats sheltered in these ruins.  They’ve sent her money since then, and he asked me to say hello for them.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t around.  So we did a little window-shopping, and gravitated towards the Lush shop near the square.  This is a British shop filled with wonderfully smelly bath products that are all natural.  I’ve ordered from their website before, but have never been to the shop, so I was very excited to see it.  Of course, all the products and instructions were in Italian, so it was hard to know what each one was. 

 

 Next we found a little restaurant (Trattoria er Grottino) on the Campo that had outdoor tables, so we plopped ourselves down to graze a little.  The food was good and filling – nothing fancy, but it hit the spot after a long day.  I had pasta carbonara and insalata mista; Nona had fettuccini in some kind of sauce, and prosciutto with melon that was extremely tasty.  We also shared a big bottle of mineral water and a bottle of the red house wine, then each had espresso for “afters”.  Our bill was around L67,000, which included a L4000 coperta.

 

We sat, ate, talked and watched the view for a long time, then wandered over to Piazza Navona, where we walked around and bought a few cheap souvenirs.  After a while, though, our bodies started giving out, so around 11 pm, we found a #64 bus to take us back to Termini.  It was extremely crowded, and we must have missed our stop, because we wound up making the rounds again on the bus.  On the second trip, the bus went to the San Pietro station and parked, turning off the engine.  We were the only ones on the bus at this point, so I started to panic.  The bus driver assured me, however, that he was indeed going back to Termini, and basically told me to sit down and shut up (well, that was what it seemed like -- unfortunately, I didn't have the vocabulary to understand him).

 

We finally left the station for Termini, passing Largo Argentina for the fourth time that day, and made it back to our hotel by midnight.  The beds never looked so good…

 

Saturday, April 14th

 

 Both of us slept in till after 9, waking up to rain, thunder and lightning.  We ate a quick breakfast of a stale roll, orange juice and cappuccino, packed up and headed out the door with umbrellas and rain jackets.  On the way to Termini, we stopped up the street at the Laundromat to check our email.  The price was very reasonable – only L4000 for 30 minutes.  While we were there, we checked on the rioting and curfews in Cincinnati.  CNN and BBC World News had both mentioned it, but we wanted to check out local news sites as well.

 

After reaching Termini, we bought our rail tickets to Firenze (using one of the convenient machines) for L42,500, and were soon on our way to Florence.  As the train got farther away from Rome, the weather got better – and by the time we reached Firenze Santa Maria Novella Stazione, the sun was shining again and the rain was gone.  Yippee!!!  The weather was beautiful – crisp, cool and sunny!  We picked up a map at the TIC in the square outside the station (poor map – not worth the stop), and headed over towards our accommodations on Borgo Pinti.

 

 I managed to get us lost a few times, but we finally made it to the B&B at #31, rang the bell and were admitted upstairs.  I was taken aback for a minute when I saw the five flights of stone steps (she DID warn us!), but gamely headed on up.  The place was beautiful – the stairs were stone, and decorated with a black wrought iron railing.  The building was labeled a palazzo, and dates back to the 1600’s.  Once we reached the top, Paola Fazzini, the owner, met us with a friendly greeting and showed us to our room.

 

 We actually gasped with delight when we saw what we would be staying in.  The room was extremely large with twelve-foot high ceilings, whitewashed walls, and hardwood floors.  Two twin beds sat in the middle, and an antique desk with a bowl of potpourri graced the corner, along with two matching chairs and a wall filled with shelving and drawers.  However, the best thing was the view!!!   Huge French windows overlooked a large, lovely garden filled with paved stones, trees, and colorful displays of azaleas and geraniums, interspersed with clipped topiary hedges and tiled roofs.  It was one of the nicest views I’ve had while abroad. 

 

 Paola then showed us the two bathrooms we'd be sharing with the other guests -- one had a tub, and the other a shower (and shower doors!).  Both were spotlessly clean, quite large, and contained a blow drier and assorted other soaps and cleansers.  She next took us to the kitchen, which was filled with gleaming white appliances (including a dishwasher and stove), set off by a terracotta-tiled floor.  Various plants filled corners of the room, and a skylight brought the sunlight in.  The refrigerator was stocked for the guests’ breakfast the next morning, containing eggs, cheeses, milk, yogurt and butter.  The pantry contained various cereals, jams, bread, coffee, and tea and assorted other items.  In addition, Paola had bought an enormous Easter cake for us to feast on over the holiday.  One corner of the kitchen was devoted to guidebooks, maps and a choice of reading material left behind by other guests – a table contained a phone for our use (although she asked that we leave L200 for local calls and L2000 for calls to cell phones).

 

The kitchen was available to all guests for their use, so we could fix any amount of meals there.  There are four rooms, and two bathrooms, and everyone shares the kitchen.  All this for the incredible price of (get ready!) – L150,000 for a double, which included the breakfast!  We couldn’t believe this place, and immediately fell in love with it.  In fact, we liked it so much we decided to see if we could stay there the whole week, rather than leaving on Monday like we had originally planned.  After asking, Paola told us we could stay until Thursday, which suited our purposes perfectly.  This way we could still make day trips to places we wanted to see, and we didn’t have to worry about traveling around on buses with our luggage looking for a place to stay.

 

Now that I’ve rhapsodized over this place, I must point out the two downfalls to this B&B (which is called B&B, by the way).  One, as I’ve pointed out, there are five flights of stairs to climb.  I didn’t really mind it, since I figured I was working off all those Italian meals, but it is a strain – especially that last flight!

 

Second, Paola only accepts women as guests.  I’m not sure why, since we didn’t ask, but I have a feeling that since the place is more like an apartment than a hotel, she feels it’s better to house only women here.  She herself does not live on the premises, but comes by every day around 10:30 am to clean, and restock the fridge and pantry for breakfast the next day.

 

After Paolo left, we proceeded to settle in and started meeting some of the other guests.  The first group was Melanie and Fiona – Melanie is from the Isle of Wight, and Fiona is from London.  We chatted over coffee in the kitchen, and eventually met the rest of the group as they wandered in.  Katinka and Karin are both from Hamburg, Germany; and Christine is from Chicago – she’s here visiting her son who is going to school in Florence.  All in all, they were a very friendly group of women.

 

We soon arranged everything in the room, contentedly stacking our clothes and cosmetics in the various drawers and shelves, knowing we’d be here for a while.  We then headed out into town to eat a late lunch, using the map Paola had given us (much better than the TIC ones).  It was still chilly, but the sun shone brightly on Florence as we made our way through the Easter crowds.  We stopped at a little place near the Duomo, where we each got a sandwich and a glass of wine for about $4 each – the owner insisted we sit at a table and eat, and pooh-poohed the idea of a table charge. 

 

 Afterwards, we headed to Perche No for gelato – I ate a heavenly concoction of tartuffo chocolate and raspberry, and Nona had a meringue mixture.  We licked our cones on the way to the Ponte Veccio, and just strolled around sightseeing.  Our first stop was a street called Lungarno Acciaiuoli, which runs along the Arno.  There is a store there called Sacchi that specializes in silver.  My sister-in-law had bought some pieces there, and recommended it so we decided to stop in.  They  had a beautiful array of silver jewelry and other items, and I treated myself to a gorgeous chunky silver and lapis lazuli ring.  Nona, not to be outdone, bought a replica of a small silver sandal on a chain.  We spent a few moments admiring each other, then headed on.

 

At this point we just meandered around for a while.  The church of Orsanmichele invited us in (or seemed to), and we stopped to marvel at the beautiful 14th century work.  It looked to be in the process of restoration, but we were still able to see most of it, including the altar in the middle, with its striking Madonna and child painted by Bernardo Daddi.  By now, we were winding down, so decided to head back to our room for a brief respite.  Nona opted for a nap, and I headed to the guidebooks in the kitchen to look for a restaurant recommendation that was close by.  I spent some time chatting with Fiona and Melanie while they fixed their dinner for that evening, and finally settled on a place not far away. 

 

 The place I chose was closed over Easter, however, so we headed farther down Via Degli Alfani, and came to Trattoria il Teatro.  The menu posted outside was completely in Italian, so we decided to trust to luck and went in.  Our luck held out because we wound up having a wonderful meal.  The server was friendly and extremely helpful, taking the time to explain the menu and what some of the dishes were.   Nona ordered a dish containing a mixture of some fish I’d never heard of, tomatoes, potatoes, and garlic – it was wonderfully tasty.  I had a plate with pieces of scrumptious grilled chicken, pork and sausages that lay on a bed of grilled vegetables and potatoes – the potatoes alone were worth the price of the meal.  I forgot to note the names of the dishes we ate, but note that I did almost lick the plate clean  We also shared a big bottle of agua mineral sensa gas (regular mineral water without the fizz) and a bottle of Chianti. 

 

After dinner, we ordered dessert, which must have come from heaven above, I swear!  One was an elegant and delectable crème caramel that literally melted in our mouths; the other was a white Bavarian-type cream covered with tiny luscious berries.  Both were mouthwatering and indescribably delicious.  Our bill for the entire evening came to L112,000 – a bargain at the price.  Afterwards, we headed back to Borgo Pinti and collapsed.  Tomorrow, the Scoppia della Carre!

 

Sunday, April 15th

 

We woke up early to another crisp, clear and sunny Easter morning.  After showering and dressing, we headed to the kitchen for breakfast only to find Fiona ready to cut the Easter cake.  I made some coffee in the French press, and we all dug in to the luscious cake.  It’s almost like a bread, very dense and sweet and flavored with bits of orange rind, and is covered with a rich, crusty sugared topping.  Soon the whole gang was gathered around the cake, munching away and chatting about our plans for the day.

 

 Our plan was to head to the Duomo for the Scoppia della Carre ceremony, which happens every Easter morning.  Paola told us the best place to watch it was the square right between the Duomo and the Baptistery.  By the time we got there, a huge crowd had already formed, but I managed (Nona hates crowds and opted to stay back) to work my way towards the middle.  It was hard to see, but the procession slowly came towards the Duomo, then waited outside the doors.  The “cart” was actually more of an ornate structure – it was roundish, with a dome, and looked very old.  At 11 am, the priest saying Mass inside the cathedral releases a mechanical dove, which flies out into the square and ignites the fireworks attached to the cart.  So for the next 15-20 minutes, fireworks went off, along with huge puffs of smoke and noisy explosions.  It was slightly alarming at times, since the fireworks were practically on top of the huge crowd.  At one point, an ambulance barreled its way through the swarm of people, barely stopping while people rushed to get out of its way.

 

Afterwards, we headed over to the Accademia.  We had no reservations, but only had to wait in line for 20 minutes or so.  We spent the time chatting with a group touring from Australia.  The Accademia was as superb as I remembered it, and Nona was duly impressed with the “David” and the other pieces there.  We next continued on to the train station to check timetables for Assisi, since we were planning a day trip there.  We didn’t see it listed on the Partenze board, but managed to find the times by using the ticket machines.

 

Next we tried to find the SITA bus schedules for Siena, but the terminal was completely shut down for the holiday.   So we wandered down the streets, checking out the shops that were open (and I was surprised at how many were open on Easter Sunday).  One stop we enjoyed was at a shop called Spinellis on Via del Conte.  We found an interesting collection of old Firenze maps and prints, and an affordable assortment of lithographs.  They also have unique postcards for sale, including some black and white prints of historical Florence.

 

Soon we headed back to the B&B, where we ate a snack of yogurt and blood oranges while figuring out our next move.  This turned out to be a visit to the church of Santa Croce.  I hadn’t seen it on my last trip, so Nona and I thoroughly enjoyed our excursion through the church, although I was appalled at the number of tourists who disregarded the “no camera” signs, and shot flash pictures of Michelangelo’s tomb.

 

Next stop was the Boboli Gardens, although we pooped out before reaching the very top. In addition, it looked like it might rain, so we grabbed some sandwiches and wine for dinner, then headed back to the B&B.  As we sat in the kitchen, stuffing our faces, Katinka and Karin came in, followed by Christine, so we invited them to share our wine.  One bottle led to another, and soon the five of us were gabbing away as if we’d known each other forever.  We talked about every subject under the sun – from American to German politics, race relations, education, and Oprah.  I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard – especially when Katinka told about her experiences as a liberal Catholic German exchange student staying with a southern Baptist family in Mississippi.  We finally headed off to bed around midnight

 

Monday, April 16th

 

 Everybody slept in this morning.  I was the first one up, and was eating breakfast, when Thatcher, Christine’s son who is studying in Florence, stopped in to pick up his mom.  We chatted with him for a bit, and finally made it out around 10:30 -- our destination was San Mineato.  To get there, we walked across the Arno on the Ponte Alle Grazie, then continued straight through to Via Di San Niccolo, where we turned left.  We then turned right at Via San Mineato, and soon veered left up the staircase steps called Via San Salvator al Monte.  The stairs are long, but there are landings along the way to rest, and the walk up is beautiful. At the top, Piazza Michelangelo is to the left, and San Mineato to the right.  We walked around the Piazza for a bit, maneuvering past the tour buses, and looked at the gorgeous view of the city.  The morning was beautiful, although clouds were gathering, and I didn’t think our good weather would last for long.  For the moment, however, the sun shone on blooming wisteria and azaleas, and multi-colored petunias and pansies graced the beds on the terrace below.

 

 San Mineato was a short walk up the hill, and I was very excited to be here, since it’s one of my favorite churches.  It’s a beautiful 12th century church,  hardly ever crowded, and the view of Florence from here is incredible.  I wanted to walk around the back and re-visit the cemetery, which is filled with graves and mausoleums that mimic palaces and cathedrals, but it had closed already for the day.  However, I did notice that this time they actually have the cemetery entrance marked with a plaque (it’s to the left as you face the church before you get to the toilets).  The plaque says in part, “Among hundreds of elaborate tombs in the neo-mediaeval style, the cemetery has the graves of many famous people such as Carlo Lorenzini (author of Pinocchio), Giovanni Papini, Vasco Pratolini, Pietro Annigoni and Giovanni Spadolini.”  Of course, the only name I recognize is Pinocchio, but I was still impressed.

 

Walking back down, we took a slightly different route – this time traveling down Via del Monte alle Crochi, a winding road that takes you past some beautiful private villas.  It was just starting to drizzle as we walked back, so we quickly picked up some bread, olives, pesto, and wine at the Grana Market near our B&B.  That, combined with the array of cheeses in the fridge, made for a tasty late lunch.   After lunch, Nona decided to nap, and I caught up with my journal.  I also met some new arrivals to the B&B who were both from London.  After our afternoon siesta, we went to check email at the Internet Train on Via Verde, which was open on Easter Monday, but the rain continued to come down, so we headed back and ate lunch leftovers for dinner – very tasty!   We went to bed early, since we had to be up early to catch the train to Assisi.

 

 

 

Tuesday, April 17th

 

 

 

By 7:30 am, we were up and on our way to the train station, and soon boarded the 8:10 train to Assisi.  In hindsight, I wish we would have taken the 6:40 am train, since that one heads directly to Assisi without any changes.  As it was, we wound up having to change trains in Terentola, and again in Perugia.  It was a long trip, but we finally made it around 11:30 am. Along the way, the rain stopped and the sun came out!  Once at the station, which is located about 5 km outside Assisi, we found the Tabacchi shop and bought a ticket for the shuttle bus.  Luckily, one was leaving a few minutes later, so we took it all the way to Piazza Matiotta in Assisi. From there, we proceeded to head downhill, stopping every few hundred feet to gawk and admire.  The town is absolutely fantastic – every single step reeks with charm.  I took some photos, but was cursing myself for not buying a zoom lens.  The very dust of this area is photogenic -- especially the views of the Umbrian countryside.  And by now, the day was beautiful, being graced by the sun’s presence, a bright blue sky, and white billowy clouds.

 

We stopped at all the sights, such as the Duomo, the Temple of Minerva, and so on.  We picked up a map of the town at the TIC near the Piazza de Commune, but found it less than helpful (what IS it with these tourist maps???), so we relied on the one from my Rough Guide.  I bought a few gifts along the way – a shop called Ferdinando Tontino at Via Portico, 31 had some unique examples of pottery and tiles that I liked very much.  Plus, the sales clerk was exceptionally handsome – and as Nona pointed out, “If you’re going to fork over money, it might as well be to a nice-looking man”.  In fact, that’s one of the pleasures of Italy, in my experience.  There’s something about those Italian men…

 

 

 

After a slice of pizza, we headed to the Basilica di San Francesco.  Again, the views of the surrounding countryside were simple incredible – I wanted to move here on the spot.  I think my next trip will be devoted to Umbria – and maybe Marche, which I’ve been reading about.  On our way in to the Basilica, I stopped at a little table and had a Mass said for my brother-in-law, who is gravely ill. 

 

 

 

We finally started to wind down, and headed downhill from the Basilica to catch our bus.  We bought a return ticket in the square at the booth (don’t ask me why we didn’t just buy two tickets each when we first got them – brain fever, I suppose), and finally found ourselves headed back to Firenze.  We managed to avoid any changes on this train trip, which made us very happy.

 

 

 

Once back in Florence, we headed over to Antico Noe on Volta di San Piero, which was very near the B&B.  We shared a Bruschetta alla Pomodore that melted in my mouth.  The tomatoes were bursting with flavor and complimented the seasoned bread perfectly.  We each had gnocchi al pesto that left my taste buds gasping for more, a salad, and wine and water.  The total was L72,000.  We took pity on two young American students who wanted to eat and had no reservations (neither did we, but we got the last table), so we invited them to share ours.  They were studying in Paris and were in Florence on holiday.

 

And of course, the wine took its toll, and we were soon back home sleeping peacefully in an alcohol-induced haze…

 

 

Wednesday, April 18th

 

Once again, I breakfasted on muesli (I LOVE that stuff!) and coffee.  This morning, we are off to Siena via the SITA bus.   Round trip tickets (NOW I’m using my thinking cap!) were L22,000, and we got there just in time to buy them and board the 9:10 am Rapido Express bus to Siena.  Once again, the weather was sunny and warm with crispness in the air.  Mostly I just gazed out the window at the picturesque countryside as the bus moved along, although it got exciting at one point when the bus driver, obviously suffering from an excess of testosterone, played “chicken” with another car.  But we arrived in one piece, and were soon on our way to the Campo.  I had been here before on my last trip, but Nona was gazing around in admiration.  It truly is a scenic town.  We wandered around for the next few hours, snapping pictures here and there, and visiting the sights. 

 

We ate lunch at Antica Osteria da Divo, which I read about in Time Out: Florence and Tuscany.  It's located at Via Franciosa, 29.  Not only is the food wonderful and the service impeccable, but you sit in atmospheric splendor -- deep in huge vaults or rooms carved out of old stone.  It feels like you're in the middle of an archeological dig. 

 

 The tables are covered with linen and silver, and the servers gave us glasses of champagne to tickle the palate, bruschetta for starters, and delectable pastries to go with the espresso we ordered after lunch.  All of these were complimentary (and we checked the bill to make sure).  I had a salmon and dill mouse over tender young green beans for an antipasto (delicious!), then ravioli stuffed with porcini mushrooms in a cream sauce and topped with black truffles (which made me want to lick my plate).  The dishes were beautifully presented on fine china, and served with wonderful crusty Italian bread.  Our bill for one antipasto, one salad, two pasta entrees, two bottles of mineral water and two espressos came to L72,000. 

 

 After lunch, we explored some more, then headed back to the Piazza de Gramsci to catch the bus back to Florence.  We still had plenty of time, so we decided to go shopping!  I come from a large family, and everyone’s birthday is coming up – so what better place to buy gifts than in Italy?  I even brought an empty bag to carry them back in.  One of our first stops was the "Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella," and is located at Via della Scala, 16 n.  In a nutshell, the products here have been around since the 13th century when Dominican monks concocted herbs and potions for their infirmary.  Around the 16th century, they started selling them to the public.  During the turbulent 1800s, the Italian Government took it over, and passed it on to the Stefani family, who has owned and managed it ever since then. 

 

Now for the products: first, their potpourri (they sell only one kind) is the best smelling stuff I've ever put my nose to.  It's made from herbs and flowers from the hills of Firenze, and is incredibly potent.  The bag I bought, which is in a plastic bag and wrapped in another plastic bag, is scenting my whole bedroom now.  The women at the shop told me it lasts a whole year with proper care.  They have wonderful toilet waters and soaps with fragrances like Verbena, Pomegranate, Lavender, and Orange Blossom.

 

They also sell many antique preparations for the skin and body, and a scent called "Water of the Queen" which was devised and produced for Catherine of Medici.  The building is in an early 17th century palazzo, with huge rooms and frescoed ceilings. One room is devoted to herbology, and the others to the perfume and body products.  It's located near the station, but is difficult to find since the only clue is the street number and the historical plaque located right outside.  I bought sinfully smelling Verbena toilet water in a beautiful bottle for around L80,000, a bag of their potpourri, and several bars of Verbena latte soap (did I mention I love the smell of lemon verbena?).

 

We hit a few more places, then stopped to buy a lovely piece of hand-painted tile from a woman in a shop on Borgo Pinti.  The outside of the shop is decorated with beautiful hand-painted tiles of Florence scenes, and the inside is filled with ceramic pieces that she has made and painted.  Many of them show pictures that tell a story, and all are hand-painted by Perla.  When I talked to her, she told me that she is doing this because her father did it, and his father before him.  Her brother was carrying on the family tradition, but he died at a young age, and so she inherited the shop.  She was so sweet and pleasant that I left with more than just a souvenir -- I had the memory of a delightful encounter with a charming woman. 

 

Nona had gone shoe shopping, so we arranged to meet a little later at the Internet Train on Via Del Oriuolo.  After checking email, we headed over to Antico Noe, our restaurant from the previous evening.  We had learned that they run a sandwich shop next to the restaurant that supposedly has the best sandwiches in Florence.  And they were right – my sandwich was mouth-wateringly delicious and huge!  It consisted of lean roast pork loin with mozzarella cheese and pickled eggplant on a hard crusty loaf.  I’m salivating as I’m writing this!  The sandwiches are made to order, and very moderately priced – mine was L5,000.

 

We also stopped at the Paperback Exchange, which is a boon to Americans in search of reading material.  It’s on the corner of Via Fiesolana and Via de Pilastri.  I picked up a used American paperback for L12,000.  Expensive by American standards, but cheap when you’re in Italy and dying for something to read on the plane back.  Then finally back to the B&B and our last night in Florence.

 

Thursday, April 19th

 

 We had packed the previous day, so we didn’t have much to do this morning.  We ate a quick breakfast, paid for our stay, and said goodbye to Paola and the other guests.  About 10 am, we headed out with our backpacks to the train station.  On the way, I stopped by the Studio Art Centre International (SACI) on Via San Antonin, which is where my daughter had attended school the previous semester.  The staff was extremely friendly and welcoming, and were thrilled that I had stopped by.  They took us on a tour of the school, showing off all the facilities and studio workshops, and letting me see some of Katie’s work, which the school had bought and put on display.  I was then taken to meet the director, who was both gracious and charming, and who gave me a work apron with the school’s logo on it.

Finally we got to the train station, where we bought our tickets to Roma, this time paying the L54,000 for the EuroStar train, thereby cutting our travel time by 30 minutes.  The ride was uneventful, and we were soon at Termini Stazione in Rome.  We did not have a hotel for the night, so we went to the hotel reservation counter in the TIC.  We didn’t have to wait long till we were at the front of the line.  The woman at the counter informed us she didn’t have anything under 200,000 lira, which was fine with us.  So she booked us a room for L200,000 at the Hotel Cambridge on Via Palestro, about a 5-minute walk from Termini.  The hotel was fine – a little bigger than our last one, and with a more extensive breakfast.

 

Once we were settled in, we headed over to Termini to pick up the #40 bus to St. Peters.  It let us out around the corner from the square, so it was an easy walk to the Basilica.  The cathedral was as moving as I remembered it from my previous visit, and Nona couldn’t believe how immense it was.  After touring the inside, we went below and visited the Popes tombs.  We didn’t have a lot of time, and we still had to throw our coins in the Trevi Fountain, so we left then and walked over to the Piazza Navona to see the Pantheon. 

 

 We had a brief meal at a pizzeria on the Campo de Fiori, and then made our way to the Trevi Fountain.  Again, Nona was impressed with the size of it.  The fountain was crowded, but not as bad as I thought it would be.  We took pictures of each other throwing our Italian coins in, then sat for a while, basking in the cool evening breeze and listing to the chatter around us.  After a bit, we got up and walked to a nearby bus stop to catch the bus back to Termini.  We stopped at the station to buy our tickets for the Leonardo Express so we wouldn’t waste time in the morning, then headed back to the hotel and to bed. 

 

Friday, April 20th, 2001

 

 Next morning, we woke up to a steady rain outside our window.  We got dressed and packed relatively quickly, and headed up to the next floor for breakfast, which consisted of cappuccino, rolls, brioche and croissants and orange juice.  It was filling and tasty.  All too soon, it was time to leave for the airport.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten my umbrella someplace (probably Florence), but I managed to pull my hood up on my windbreaker and get to the station relatively dry. 

 

Once at the airport, we had to split up, since Nona was flying Air France, and I was using my buddy pass on Delta.  Soon, I was back in business class, making my way home.   Nona didn’t have the same luck as I did, and wound up getting stuck overnight in Paris.  I should mention that she had a very bad experience with Air France; stating that the staff was curt and unfriendly on both the trip there and the return trip, and unsympathetic to  the stranded travelers’ plight.  Evidently, she and the other passengers were given incorrect information about the shuttle to the hotel, and it took them almost an hour to figure it out on their own.  After reaching the Hotel Ibis, which is where the airlines put them up, they were served a buffet dinner that was, in Nona’s words, “…the worst meal I’ve ever eaten in my life”.   It consisted of badly roasted chicken, mushy vegetables, and hard potatoes.  The only good thing was the free wine, which she and the other passengers partook of plentifully.  Nevertheless, she finally made it home, to her cat’s delight.  My own cats were happy to see me as well, although they were a little disgusted that I was gone so long.

 

And in closing, I have to say that one of the joys of traveling is finally being home again, and snuggling up in your own bed.  After all, as Dorothy Gale says, “There’s no place like home."

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