Friday, July 15, 2005

Goodbye, Europe!

June 22, 11:44 AM (European time), Somewhere Over Northern Europe

Okay, so we’re back on Austrian Airlines heading for Dulles. One thing is definitely for sure. Flying Business Class is the way to go! Since I learned all the seat maneuvers, along with the negotiations of the personal TV and dining table, I’m really comfortable. I have my seat in a perfect position to write, eat and watch TV. And when I’m ready to sleep, I just need to put the back down more. The Austrian Airlines flight attendants are wonderful. The head attendant is so nice and attentive—and very beautiful.

Okay, back to the story of our last day in Florence. After walking to the river, we got some great pictures of some rowers and saw what we thought was a rat swimming across the river.

We stopped at a ristorante and had our first set menu three-course meal in Italy. The waiter was adorable! His name was Gavino, and he was an aspiring rock singer. He posed with us for a picture, and even sang an Eagles’ song for us. The food was…magnificent! My first course was spaghetti pomodoro, and believe it or not, I ate every bite, and was ready for the second course, a mixed salad with delicious fresh tomatoes followed by the main course, veal scaloppini in a delicate lemon white wine sauce. It was absolutely bellissimo!!! And we got pictures of us eating the spaghetti, which I’m sure Frank will appreciate! Later, after I found my skirt (Yay!!! Paid 20 Euro, but who cares?), we were walking through the markets, and guess who we saw approaching us? Gavino!!! I don’t know why he was coming from the other direction; I do know the restaurant closed just as we left, and he was on his lunch break, but maybe I spent more time choosing my skirt than I thought. Anyway, it was like greeting a new friend! Kathy even got a hug. I would’ve, too, I’m sure, except I was so excited to see him, I stepped on an Italian vendor’s toes, and had to apologize profusely, admitting that I’d had maybe a little too much vino at lunch. (I know I said I wasn’t going to drink any more vino, but I guess I lied.) He laughed and leaned toward me and said, “Do not worry. I often have too much birra.”

It was time to leave Florence. We went back to the hotel to get our luggage, and had them call a taxi for us—and we were on our way to the Star Hotel Vespucci. That’s when things started going downhill.

As we drove out of Florence and the meter started clicking higher and higher, and the taxi just kept going and going, Kathy and I were exchanging rather alarmed looks. By the time we got to the hotel—finally!—the meter was at 32 Euros. Much more than we expected. (Turns out we passed the airport. I guess my research for a last night hotel wasn’t all that good.)

Then we received even more bad news when we checked in. The girl at the front desk told us there was no airport shuttle—even though I’d thought Vespucci was an airport hotel (my mistake, and a big one) and it would cost about…are you ready?...40 Euros!!! To get to the airport!!!! Shit. We were in deep shit. Between us, we had only about 25 Euros. That meant we had no choice but to go find an ATM and get cash. But I didn’t remember any pin numbers, so Kathy had to do it. We walked to a mall about ten minutes away, and she had to get a minimum of 50 Euros. Needless to say, we were both stressed about that unexpected expense, and well…things got a little tense between us for a while. I guess neither one of us deal well with money problems. But we ironed it out, and apologized for our harsh words to each other. I guess I felt responsible (and defensive) about screwing up so badly, and the only way to deal with it when I get angry with myself is to be a bitch. I fully admit it, and I’m not proud of it. But I’ve never been one to hold my feelings inside, and at 52, I don’t think I can start now. But that has gotten me into trouble more times than I can count, and I can’t blame Kathy for getting angry with me. And even when she’s angry and says hurtful things to me, I know she still loves me, just as I still love her. I don’t know why it is we seem to hurt most the people we love.

We just flew over my beloved Ireland, so I’m having a Bailey’s to toast it.

Anyway, we got up this morning at 4:30, and the taxi arrived at 5:32, and we got to the airport in time. The flight to Vienna via Bologna was good, even though we were in a small plane. There was a delay getting through security in Vienna, so we got a fifteen minute late start. We’re just west of Ireland now, flying over the ocean.

Soon we’ll be home, and our Austria/Italy adventure will be over.

I can’t wait to get back to Ireland.

June 23, 2005, 10:11 AM, Back Home

I managed to stay up last night until 9:00, but fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Slept solidly until 5:00 this morning when Ruby woke me up with her usual morning ritual of licking my hand. I think she missed me.

It’s good to be home with Frank, Leah and Ruby, but all night last night, I dreamt about Europe. I guess I'll be dreaming about Europe for many nights to come. :)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Cramming in the Last Hours in Florence

June 21, 2005, 11:33 AM, Florence

We’ve got about twenty-five minutes before we have to check out of the Hotel Castri. Kathy is taking a quick shower before we go. We’ve already been through the open air market this morning, and I’ve spent more money. God help me when that credit card bill comes in. (NOTE: It was worse than I imagined it would be.) But I wanted to get Frank an Italian wallet, and I decided to go ahead and get me a leather travel purse and the guy made me a deal, so I added on a smaller travel purse for a Bunco gift. I’m going to give Leah that purse I bought yesterday. I’m still looking for that olive green skirt, though. If I find it, that’s the last thing I’m going to charge on this trip—except for dinner, of course. God, can I spend money or what??? (Money I don’t actually have, in this case.)

We’re going to explore more of Florence before we leave for the airport hotel tonight, and we’ll definitely eat a late lunch/early dinner here because we don’t know what’s available there. I can’t believe our adventure is almost over, and tomorrow at this time, we’ll be flying across the Atlantic.

The breakfast buffet was exceptional this morning. The bread on the table was delicious. I guess I’m a little “croissanted” out, just as I’m a little “pizza’d” out, so I passed on that and just went for the rolls. We got lots of great pictures in the garden behind the hotel—of the statues, fish pond and from the solarium terrace above.

Well, the shower just went off, and it’s 11:40. We’re sucking every bit of time out of this hotel stay that we possibly can, since we’ll be “homeless” until we get to the airport hotel tonight.

June 22, 9:00 AM, Somewhere Over Northern Italy or Austria

Well, we’re on the second leg of our flight back home to America. I thought we only had two legs, but after we got to the Florence Airport this morning, we saw that our plane would stop in Bologna. It was a twenty-minute flight—the shortest one ever for me, I think. Now, we’re on our way to Vienna, and should be landing in about a half-hour.

I wish I could write about how wonderful yesterday—our last day in Italy—was. And parts of it were wonderful, and I’ll tell you about them. But it ended on a very unpleasant note. I’ll get to that in a minute.

We headed back to the open air markets in search of my skirt. I had three criteria—olive green, 20 Euro maximum, and being able to use a credit card. It wasn’t looking good. I couldn’t find the same stall I’d seen the day before—the one where the girl would take a credit card, but wouldn’t reduce her price of 18 Euros. Now, that deal was looking good.

We walked through the market—several times, and then decided to make our way to Ponte Vecchio, the bridge over the Arno River. On the way, we stopped at the Uffizi Museum and got some pictures of some really grotesque statues—one man held another man by the hair and had a club in his other hand, so it didn’t take a rocket science to figure out the poor guy was about to be killed. Another one—and this one was so awful, I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of it—was of a man who’d just killed the woman at his feet. This was rather obvious because her body was headless, and he held the dripping head in his hands like it was a trophy. Disgusting! (And I knew it was a woman because of her naked boobs.) What on earth had she done to deserve such a horrible death? And the acts of cruelty man has inflicted on each other. It sure makes you wonder about life and God and eternity.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Florence--Only Two Days Left!!!

June 20, 2005, 4:50 PM, Florence, Italy

And so…the adventure continues. We arrived in Florence around two o’clock. Everything had gone smoothly up until the point where the taxi driver dropped us off in front of our hotel, The Castri. Just as he pulled off, and just as we got to the glass doors, Kathy realized she didn’t have her red cosmetic bag. Apparently, the taxi driver had missed it when he took our bags out of the back. We immediately had the front desk people call the taxi people about it, but it hasn’t turned up. And Kathy has pretty much accepted that it’s lost. But she’s bummed about it, all the same. She had some pretty expensive cosmetics and hair stuff in there. Luckily, though, the medicine she had to buy in Austria was in her other bag.

After we got our luggage to the room—it’s not a spectacular room, but the entire ceiling is painted with a gorgeous mural of flowers, cherubs and faces of grim-looking people from the past. I’ve already stubbed my toe twice, though, on the raised floor into the bathroom. Why on earth do they do that????

June 20th, 10:08 PM, Florence, Italy

Good news! Kathy’s bag arrived at the hotel. I guess the taxi driver brought it back. She’s just thrilled, and all is right with the world again.

We just got back to the hotel, and we’re ready to call it an early night. After we checked in, we went out to walk around, and right away, found ourselves at the famous open air market. There is a lot of stuff for sale, for sure, but I wasn’t greatly impressed with the prices. They certainly weren’t as good as the prices at the Athens open air market. But Kathy found a leather wallet for Vince for 15 Euros, and I bought a purse for a Bunco prize, and almost immediately wished I hadn’t because the ones I really liked in Siena were only 12 Euros, and I paid 13 for this one. Kathy got a great deal there in Siena with her red leather belt bag for 26 Euros. The same ones were 58 at the Florence open air market. I saw an olive green skirt I liked at one of the stalls, and she took credit cards, but I couldn’t talk her down to 15; she wanted 18, but said if I could pay cash, she’d sell it to me for 15. (Kathy told me you were supposed to haggle at this market, so I did.) Of course, I don’t have any cash to spare. But I think I’m going to change my last $32 tomorrow to make sure we have enough cash for taxis. (NOTE: Ha!!! Or so I thought.) Maybe I’ll go ahead and get it for 18. It’s really cute, and it would be cool to have a skirt from Italy. Hmmmm…I’ll sleep on it.

Dinner was pretty good. We found an outdoor trattoria, and since I decided I wasn’t drinking tonight, I ordered pizza and a Coke. The pizza was really good—at least the crust and sauce were. I didn’t like the way they dropped chunks of mozzarella over it, though, and it was really soggy and greasy in the middle. Still, it was the third best pizza we’ve had, I think.

Tomorrow we have to check out of the Hotel Castri by noon, but we’re going to have them keep our luggage, and we’re going to walk around the city some more, and hopefully be able to kill enough time to have dinner at this trattoria where they have a set menu for a four or five-course dinner for 14 Euros. And they take credit cards!!! Then we’ll come back to the hotel, call for a taxi and head for the hotel near the airport. We’ll have to make it an early night because we have to be at the airport by five in the morning. Ugggh!!! That’s just way too early!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Italian Vino--the Best Deal in Italy

June 20, 2005, 11:47 AM, Somewhere Between Siena and Empoli, Italy

Well, it had to happen. I knew I wouldn’t get through an Italy trip without over-indulging with the vino. It was as inevitable as the little spat with Kathy, and just as unpleasant. Here is how it happened.

After Kathy appeared in the garden, we left for the walled city, and stopped in this bar just above Piazza del Campo for a pre-dinner beer. (In hindsight, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea because I’d already decided it was a pasta night which meant it was a vino night.) But I only had a small beer, and then we went walking through the winding cobble stoned streets, looking for some cathedral named after St. Catherine. (I don’t even know who St. Catherine is, so I really didn’t particularly care about finding her church, but I was trying to keep in mind Kathy’s admonition about us always doing what I want to do.) Anyway, we had trouble finding it, and we were getting hungry so we decided to look for a restaurant that we’d found earlier in the afternoon that had Spaghetti Carbonara on it—a dish Kathy pleasantly remembered from a previous trip to Tuscany. And believe it or not, we found it again, even though it was off the main route. And what a setting! It didn’t look like much from the street—almost like a hole in the wall. But when we walked through the restaurant to the terrazzo, oh, my God!!! It was like a Tuscany movie set. The terrazzo was built on a hill, and it looked out all over the Tuscany countryside. Honeysuckle vines and other greenery grew along both open sides of the terrazzo, and the perfume of the flowers wafted in with every breeze. The sun was going down and the sky was the most gorgeous colors of blue and pink and orange. It had started to sprinkle a bit as we’d entered the restaurant, but the sun was still shining. Still, the storm came upon us almost as soon as we sat down at one of the tables at the end of the terrazzo, so we moved back to the next row of tables. At first the rain was just breathtaking as it slanted across the panorama in front of us while the sun was still shining. But then the wind came up, blowing the rain onto the terrazzo. The waiters came out of nowhere and began to close up the terrazzo with a clear plastic curtain, obscuring the view, but keeping us dry. Fortunately, the rain didn’t last long, and they opened up the curtain, and we had our view back. By this time, we’d ordered wine and pasta. Kathy got her carbonara, and I ordered penne del casapomodoro sauce with pesto. Yum!!!! It was awesome. Ate every bite of it. (They know just how to serve the perfect amount of pasta in Italy; back home, I can never finish it because they give you too much.) And here is where I made my fatal…well, not exactly fatal, but you know what I mean…mistake. I ordered a half-liter of white wine. It was only 3 Euros—the best deal in all of Italy!!! And I paced myself, drinking it all, but very slowly. (Dinners in Italy take hours because everything is so unhurried, and they expect you to take your time and enjoy it.)

There were no worries last night about separate checks because to make up for the two times I put everything on my charge card, it was Kathy’s turn to pay. And we’d already made sure they took credit cards, so dinner was very relaxing—and inexpensive, by Italy standards. We knew exactly how much our bill should come to, even figuring in the requisite “service charge” they all tack on. And it should’ve been around 27 Euros. Well, damned if the check didn’t arrive, and the total amount was 40.50!!! We knew there was no way our dinner could’ve cost that much, and Kathy refused to sign the charge slip. We asked for an itemized total, and the waiter disappeared. When he came back, he said, “Is not possible.”

So Kathy said, “Well, it’s not possible for us to sign this credit card slip then.” We asked for a menu, then wrote down everything we’d ordered and how much it was. With the 10% service charge, our total came to 26 and change. We showed it to the waiter, and he disappeared again. The time was about 9:40. I told Kathy that if he hadn’t returned to our table with a correct bill, we were leaving at ten. I was just getting sick and tired of having restaurants try to pull stuff over on us—like the electricity going out so they couldn’t take a charge card, or the place in Pietrasanta when Kathy’s card “wouldn’t work.”

(At a shop in Siena that afternoon, when I bought those Murano earrings, the shop girl told me her charge machine wouldn’t work and asked if I could pay cash. I told her no, that if her charge machine didn’t work, I wouldn’t be buying the earrings. Funny enough, she got it to work.) Well, about five minutes later, the waiter appeared, handed Kathy 15 Euros and apologized, saying they’d gotten the tables mixed up. Hmmmm…very interesting. Of course, it could’ve been an honest mistake, but in the light of all these little incidents involving our charge cards, it certainly makes me wonder. But I’m glad we stood our ground. I don’t know if they think we’re stupid American women to be taken advantage of or what (especially in light of our wine intake), but we showed them! Hey, we come from Foley stock, no doubt some of the biggest tightwads that ever lived. No way are they going to cheat us out of our hard-earned money.

Okay, so we’re walking home, and I don’t know if it was the fresh air or the fact that we’d won a victory against the Evil Euro Empire, but suddenly, the vino took control. Kathy said I was fine in the restaurant, but as we walked through the streets of Siena, I was laughing—who knows about what, because I sure can’t remember—and Kathy had to hold onto me to keep me from tripping over my own feet. (Hey, I’m not proud of this, but I’m telling you like it is.) But let’s just say I was in an extremely cheerful mood all the way back to the hotel.

Once inside our room, my memories are a little murky. I vaguely remember taking my jewelry off and undressing. I must’ve taken my hair down from its French braid, but I don’t remember it. I just know it was down from what happened later. I laid down on the bed, and suddenly I got really hot. And yes, the room was spinning a bit. I remember asking Kathy for a wet washcloth, and she said, “There aren’t any washcloths. Europeans apparently don’t use washcloths.” So, I said, “Well, get me a wet dishtowel then.” Next thing I know, Kathy has covered my face with one of those soft linen towels that hang over the bidet. It felt good on my flushed skin, but the room was still dipping and spinning. And that’s when I knew it was time to make an acquaintance with the toilet bowl. And so I did. That being said, though, I’m glad to tell you that I did not have an “up close and personal” relationship with the cold tiled floor, as those of you who know me well may remember from a couple (just a couple!) past experiences. So, I count myself lucky.

I went back to bed and slept straight through until eight o’clock, getting up only once to get a blanket out of the wardrobe because I’d grown cold in the air-conditioned room.
This morning, except for a slight headache, I felt fine, but I didn’t feel much like eating breakfast. I forced myself to eat a small croissant and some yogurt because I knew I’d be starving later if I didn’t. And I am. I’m ready to eat again. But one thing is for sure. I don’t think I’ll be drinking any more vino on this trip. No beer either. It’s been over two weeks since I’ve had a Coke. Maybe I’ll have one with my pizza tonight. It is a pizza night, after all.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Is the Penguin Native to Italy?

June 19, 2005, 12:45 PM, Siena, Italy

Just got back from walking all over the walled city of Siena. It’s mighty hot outside. Sure wish there was a pool at this hotel. It would be nice to spend the afternoon siesta floating in a cool swimming pool.

But let me catch you up on what happened yesterday. After I dropped off my Alpha Smart in the room, I headed back downstairs to leave my key at the front desk. There were several people standing there, checking in, I presumed. I reached past this one man to put the key on the desk and said, “Scusi.” He turned to me and said, “So, do we just leave the key instead of carrying it around?” And I responded with, “Yes. You’re American! Where are you from?”

Turns out he and his wife were from Indiana, just like me! Southern Indiana, around Evansville. His wife walked up as we were talking, and then Kathy came through the front door. I introduced Kathy to the couple, telling her they were from Indiana. Their names were Kurt and Bonnie Knight, and they were in Italy celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary. Anyway, it was like talking to two old friends. We stood in the lobby for at least twenty minutes just getting to know each other. They’d just left this gorgeous palazzo in the southern part of Tuscany, and Bonnie was more than a little disappointed in our hotel here. Kathy and I assured her it was much nicer than “the cave” in Sestriere. I’m not sure if that made her feel better, though. It sounds like the place they were staying in Tuscany was like from a movie.

We finally parted to go up to our rooms, making tentative plans to see each other later. As soon as Kathy and I were alone, of course, we apologized to each other and hugged. So everything is back to normal. :)

While Kathy showered, I took my Alpha Smart back downstairs, ordered a beer and went out into the garden. Kurt and Bonnie were sitting at a table there, and waved me over. So we had a good time talking while I waited for Kathy. And then when Kathy arrived, we chatted some more. While Kathy was talking to Bonnie, I told Kurt about the pigeon incident in Piazzo San Marco, and when I told him how the pigeon had landed on Kathy's hat, he started laughing. I mean, really laughing. And then then said, "A penguin, huh? You don't often see penguins in that part of Italy." I cracked up, realizing what I'd said. (So, for the rest of the trip whenever Kathy and I saw a pigeon, we called them penguins....okay, maybe you had to be there.) After the four of us finished our drinks, we decided to all walk into the walled city together and find a place for dinner.

It was really magnificent—very old and Gothic. The Piazza de Campo was incredible with the tall tower and cathedral. We chose a ristorante there in the piazza, and Kathy & I ordered pizza and beer. (It was our pizza night, after all.) It was okay, but again, nowhere near as good as Roberto’s. Not even close. But the conversation was fun, and we really enjoyed hanging out with Kurt and Bonnie. They are so cute together. It’s so sweet to see a couple still in love after thirty-five years. She told us that they got married when she was 17! Kurt reminded me a lot of Frank with his personality; he’s so easy-going and laid-back. I know Frank would’ve loved them.

We met the Knights’ again at breakfast before they left for the train station. They were spending a couple of days in La Spezia, then taking the night train to Rome where they’d spend a few hours before flying to Spain for Kurt’s sister’s wedding.

Kathy and I went into the walled city this morning to walk around and possibly…shop. I saw lots of things I liked—especially the Tuscany pottery—but it was all very expensive. I thought maybe I’d find a tiny olive dish or something to buy for a Bunco gift, but even those were well over my budget.

Right now, I’m sitting in the courtyard of the Hotel Moderno, and the bells are ringing from one of the cathedrals in the walled city. This really is a gorgeous place. To my right is a circular fish pond with a ring of cherub statues around a palm tree. In front of me are magnolia trees and rows of terracotta pottery bursting with multi-colored petunias. Slightly to my right and up above a fence and a couple of manicured trees, I can see one of the massive cathedrals from the walled city. Wish I had my camera out here with me. It would make a nice picture.
We had done a lot of walking this morning, mostly uphill—what a work-out for the calves—we came back to the hotel and I tried to call Frank to wish him a happy Father’s Day. Couldn’t get through. We returned to the walled city, went to the Duomo Cathedral, shopped some more and bought some delicious gelato in the Piazza de Campo where we had dinner last night. I found some Murano earrings to match my necklace…well, it kind of matches. If I’d been smart enough, I would’ve bought earrings in Venice because there, I could’ve got them for 5 Euros. Here, I paid 10. I also bought a Murano bracelet for a Bunco gift. I think the “Bunco Babes” will love it.

I called Frank and we talked for a few minutes. He and Leah were going out to breakfast with Barb and Jack, and then Leah was taking him to play golf followed by dinner tonight at a Chinese restaurant. Then Kathy called Daddy, and got to talk to him for a full minute—using her so-called “free” ten minute calling card that Eurail Pass gave us. I still have about twenty minutes on my card, and I offered to call him back but she said no. I guess I should have. He’s my father, too. Maybe I’ll try him again later when we go into the walled city for happy hour.
We came back to the room about three-thirty, intending to rest just for a few minutes and then come out here to the garden to read. But we made the mistake of lying down on the bed in the dark, cool air-conditioned room. An hour and fifteen minutes later, we woke up, and it was time to shower and get ready to go out for the evening.

I’m sitting down here now, waiting for Kathy. It’s cooler than it was, thank God, and I’m feeling fresh and energetic and ready to start walking again.

Tomorrow we leave for Florence. Only two days to go, and we’ll be on our way home. Yes, it’s always sad to see a vacation come to an end, but I have to admit, I’m ready to go home. Ready to go back to my real life. Ready to be home with Frank and Leah (even though Leah will be leaving for Atlanta just a few days after I get there.) That’s going to be weird—just me and Frank in the house again—the first time since last October. No more listening for the garage door opening, telling me Leah is home safe. No more sleepless nights waiting for her to come home. No more fighting for refrigerator room because of all the weird vegetables she’s stuffed in there. And…oh, no! No more Sunday night gourmet dinners prepared by my talented daughter’s hands. Yes, it will be hard to get used to. But I just want her to be happy, and hopefully, she will be in Atlanta.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Sisterly Squabbles

June 18, 2005, 4:32 PM, Siena, Italy

Made it to Siena. The stop sneaked up on me, so I had to quickly put my Alpha Smart away.

Okay, where was I? Oh, the naked “breakfast man.” Well, there is really not much more to say about him and his topless wife. But just to summarize…Europeans are different.

Last night we walked back to “town,” and had dinner at a lovely little ristorante outside near a goldfish pond and waterfall. I ordered caprese (tomato & mozzarella salad with basil topped with balsamic vinegar and olive oil), and penne d’ salmone (penne pasta with salmon sauce) and it was out of this world! Absolutely delicious! Oh, and sparkling white wine, which was also delicious. Kathy and I are amazed at the low price of wine here. A liter usually runs about 8 Euros—and that’s a lot of wine! It’s just too bad Kathy likes red and I like white, so we go for the ¼ liter or ½ liter.

We got back to the room last night about midnight and slept well until 7:30. The train trip to Siena went very smoothly, even though we had to change in Pisa and in Empoli. It wasn’t until we arrived at the Siena station that things began to go downhill.

Kathy bought bus tickets to get to our hotel. The lady at the station told her that we needed to catch bus # 17. So, we made our way to the bus stop, luggage in tow. Looking back now, it’s amazing that things can take a turn for the worse so suddenly.

A bus pulled up. Kathy said it was # 17, so we struggled to get our luggage up on it, then Kathy made her way down to the driver to ask him to tell us when we came to the Hotel Moderno. He shook his head and said we had the wrong bus, that we needed # 16. So, we hauled our luggage off again and set to waiting. I was already disgruntled at being told the wrong information at the station, and then Kathy said something about hoping the hotel was within the city walls, and how that was the whole reason she wanted to come to Siena, and then for like, the third time, she said, “I don’t like the name of the hotel. Why would anyone want to come to such a historical place and stay in a modern hotel?”

Naturally, I took that as a barb aimed at me, since I was the one that had made all the hotel arrangements. So I shot back something like, “Well, I was the one who spent all those hours on the internet, trying to get us a good deal at the hotels, but I wish to hell I had let you choose the hotels in Tuscany because if they’re not going to be up to your standards, I’ll never hear the end of it.” Of course, that pissed her off, and her retort pissed me off, so by the time another bus arrived, we weren’t speaking. Kathy goes over to ask the driver if he went by the Moderno Hotel; he nodded yes. We got on. But once we had our luggage on with us, then he tells us that no, he doesn’t go past the hotel, that we need to catch # 17—the first bus we were told to catch. Well, by this time, my Irish temper is at a simmer. And yes, I guess you could say I acted like “an ugly American,” but by God, I’m not going to apologize for it. I wrenched my luggage back off the bus—all four-hundred pounds of it—and snarled, “Fuck this! I’m getting a taxi.” (I’m sorry, folks—those of you who don’t like that word, but I vowed to tell the truth in this blog, and that’s what I said.) I slung my tote bag onto my shoulder, fastened my cosmetic bag to my suitcase and turned to Kathy. “I’m going back to the station to get a taxi. You can go with me or you can stay here and wait for the bus.” And I started walking. Well, damned if she didn’t stand right there watching me go. I got to the crosswalk to cross the busy street, and luck was shining on me. Down the hill came a taxi. I stuck my hand up in the air, all the world like I’m standing on 7th Avenue in New York, and he pulls over. The driver jumps out and begins to load my luggage in the car. I yell over to Kathy, “Come on, Kathy!” And do you know what she does?

She shakes her head. “No, thanks. I’ll wait for the bus.” Can you believe it? So, I got into the taxi, and we took off. Five minutes later, I was checking into the hotel. It cost me 5 Euros and 55 cents. All I had was a twenty, and the driver was put out because he had to make change, but too bad. That’s his damn job.

Up in our room—and believe me, just because the hotel is called Moderno, doesn’t mean it’s modern. The room even locks with an old-fashioned key, and that’s how you lock it from inside, too. At least, it’s right across the street from the walled city, so hopefully, Kathy won’t have any complaints about that. Anyway, I had time to go to the bathroom, count the remainder of my rapidly vanishing cash, unpack the clothes I want to wear tonight and tomorrow, come downstairs and check out the courtyard and back garden—probably a half-hour before Kathy walked into the entrance of the hotel.

At first, we were cordial, and she told me about how nasty the bus driver was, and how he refused to tell her where to get off for the Moderno, saying, “I drive bus. No more!” (Asshole!) Then I asked her why on earth she didn’t get in the taxi with me. And she said something like, “I needed some time away from you because you were in a bitchy mood, and you were mad at me, and I don’t have the slightest idea what I did.” Well, I couldn’t leave well enough alone, I admit it. And yes, I admit that sometimes I’m a bitch. I don’t know too many women who aren’t. But I just couldn’t let this go. So I told her, yes, I was mad at her because she kept making these snide little comments about my arrangements, and how it didn’t matter what I’d done, she always seemed to find fault with it. So then she really let me have it, saying that from the very beginning, she’d gone along with everything I wanted to do, and that I had to be in control of everything, and it didn’t matter what she wanted to do because I always shot her down, and she just went along with me to avoid trouble. And when I demanded that she give me an example of what she was talking about, she brought up the timeshare in the Alps, saying that I’d coerced her into going there, that she wanted to wait for something better to turn up, (translation: something in Tuscany) and I retorted that it was probable we wouldn’t be here at all if we’d turned down Sestriere because it isn’t all that easy to get an exchange to a specific place, and she shot back something about how maybe that would’ve been better and after all, she’d paid for the airfare and…well, it deteriorated from there.

I stormed out of the room, announcing I was going for a walk, and I came down here to the courtyard with nothing but my bottle of water, and sat here for about ten minutes, trying to cool down. When I went back in to the front desk, they had our key, which meant Kathy had left the hotel. I took a shower, did my hair and began writing in this journal.

It’s now five-forty-two, and I’m still out here in the courtyard. Once I finish this up, I’m going to take my Alpha Smart back up to the room, then go out and explore the walled city.

Maybe I’ll run into Kathy. Maybe I won’t. But when I see her, I’ll apologize. I’m not saying I’m wrong, and she’s right--or vice versa. We share the blame for the fight. But she’s my sister, and I love her. And in the end, that’s all that matters.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

"The Breakfast Couple"

June 18, 2005, 1:15 PM, Somewhere Between Empoli and Siena, Italy

On the rails again (sung to the tune of “On the Road Again.”) Hey, Kathy and I are becoming pros at getting our luggage off and on the trains. Today (so far), has been the easiest train trip yet. Of course, the day is still young. But we are on the train to Siena, no changes on the horizon.

You know, I’ve come to a conclusion on this trip to Europe. Europeans are different. Take “the breakfast couple” we encountered several times at the Hotel Lombardi. We nicknamed them that because we got such a kick out of watching the male counterpart at the free buffet breakfast. We guessed they were German because that’s what their language sounded like. First, we noticed that he was eating fresh fruit, but we didn’t see any on the buffet table, so concluded that he bought it at the street market. But he was also eating an abundance of the buffet contents—at least three cartons of yogurt, a plate of croissants and other breads, and coffee. Then he asked the waiter for a cappuccino. A few minutes later, he asked the waiter for hot tea. We didn’t think he was ever going to stop eating and drinking; and that poor waiter scurrying around for him! It just seemed odd. Oh, and when his wife was at the table with him, which was only a short time on the first day, they barely talked at all. I guess they’ve been married for a long time.

Later, on the beach that day, we saw the carabinieri (police) striding down the walkway leading to the ocean with purposeful expressions on their faces. Turns out a horrible crime was being committed right down by the water where a tourist couple was (gasp!) sunbathing on towels instead of the 20 Euro bagno chairs and umbrellas. (That was something Kathy and I actually contemplated doing when we saw those beach mats on sale at one of the shops for only 2 Euros.) But it turns out that you just can’t do that! If you’re going to sunbathe on the private beaches, you must pay for a chair and umbrella. Otherwise, you go to the free beach which is a 2 kilometer walk away. Next thing you know, here comes “the Breakfast Couple” with all their belongings, heading back to the hotel, the carabinieri trailing behind them, looking mightily pleased with themselves. They’d chased the vermin off the beach! The carabinieri are very efficient, too. They patrol the beaches in helicopters, apparently sweeping them for towel-bathing perps, keeping the nation safe from lowlife, money-scrimping tourists who are not supporting the local economy.

So, yesterday, I guess “The Breakfast Couple” decided not to spend the day at the beach, or if they did, they returned to the hotel early because they appeared at the pool in the afternoon, and it was almost as if they were on a schedule. (Germans, for sure.) The woman appeared first and marched right to the outdoor shower, rinsed off and jumped into the shallow end of the pool. The man appeared, went to the shower, rinsed off and jumped into the shallow end of the pool. By this time, his wife was about ¾ of the way down the length of the pool. “Mr. Breakfast Man” jumped in and started to swim after his wife. She pulled herself out of the pool, marched around the perimeter and went back to the outdoor shower. Rinsed off. Went to the chair where she left her clothes. Her husband pulled himself out of the pool, went to the shower and rinsed off. Then he joined his wife who had sat down sideways on the lounge chair. The husband disappeared into the courtyard that led to the hotel. So, Kathy and I are sitting there, and suddenly she says, “Look at the Breakfast Lady.” I glanced over, and damned if she wasn’t sitting there with her bikini top off, just displaying her boobs (okay, so they were nice and firm) to the world. There were construction workers up on the roof, and the lifeguard/gardener working not far away, and I’m sure they all enjoyed the scenery. So, the husband reappears as she’s still sitting there, semi-nude. He’s wearing his little black Speedos (and believe me, this guy did not look like Alberto Tomos) and carrying his clothes. Watching him, Kathy mutters, “Well, I hope to God he doesn’t change here.” And even as she spoke, he wrapped a towel around him and began to remove his Speedos—right there at poolside. And no matter how he tried to be discreet with the towel…well, let’s just say we got an “up close and personal” view of his naked butt.

To be continued…

Friday, July 08, 2005

It's 2005--Aren't Credit Cards Accepted Everywhere?

June 17, 2005, No Watch—Probably around 1:30 PM, Poolside, Lombardi Hotel, Marina d’ Pietrasanta, Italy

It’s another gorgeous day in Marina d’ Pietrasanta. Since we didn’t want to pay another 20 Euros today, we decided to hang out at the pool. We’re the only ones here right now. In fact, there’s not even a lifeguard whom we’re supposed to get our pool towels from. Hopefully, he’ll show up soon.

Okay, last night. We left the beach about five-thirty, and went back to the hotel to shower. I let Kathy have the bathroom first, and while she showered, I sat out on the terrazzo and read “The Heiress” by Claire Delacroix. It’s a wonderfully written historical romance—one of the best I’ve read in years. Brava, Claire! I wish I could find more romances like hers. It’s a damn shame that writers like my friend, Hope Tarr, who writes just as good as Ms. Delacroix, is having trouble finding a publisher these days. Not to mention writers like me who write just as good as the big names out there—Nora, Susan Wiggs, Barbara Samuels, Sandra Brown—and still have trouble finding a publisher who believes in her. Uh oh, sounds like I’m falling into my whining mode. Time to move on. (NOTE: Both Hope and I found new publishers since this was written. Yay!!!!)

After I showered, I joined Kathy out on the terrazzo, and we went to find a restaurant, walking south along the ocean boulevard. Not to brag, but we looked pretty damn good—especially Kathy with her long, lean body. She wore a short, red, fitted dress with a halter top and red sling back heels and gold jewelry. I wore one of my favorite blue and white sundresses with a scooped neck and fitted bodice, and accented it with my lapis lazuli necklace I bought from the Southwest Indian Foundation catalog. Kathy let me borrow her lapis and mother-of-pearl earrings which I almost lost (twice) during the evening. (They were studs, which I can’t seem to keep in my ears.) Anyway, as we turned onto the sidewalk from the hotel walkway, a couple of male bicyclists were coming toward us. One of them—and he was typically Italian gorgeous—threw me (me, not Kathy!) a big smile and said, “Bellaissimo!” Talk about an ego stroke! It made my day. :)

We walked farther down the ocean boulevard than ever before, and saw a sign for a restaurant down one side street. So we went that way—and lo, and behold—we found a whole street of restaurants, shops and markets, pedestrian only. We explored for a while and then found a pizzeria with outdoor seating that took credit cards. We decided we felt like pizza so we each ordered a Margherita (pizza, not drink) and I got a beer while Kathy ordered red wine. It was good, but not nearly as good as Roberto’s. We had specifically asked if we could use credit cards before we sat down, and they had assured us we could. But about halfway through our meal, the outdoor lighting went out. And stayed out. We joked about it probably being a scheme so we couldn’t use our credit cards, but we didn’t really believe it. After all, there were lights on inside the restaurant. But sure enough, when we got ready to pay our bill, the waiter told us he couldn’t accept the cards because the electricity was out. That’s two nights in a row now that we’ve had credit card problems at dinner. But tonight, we stuck to our guns, telling him we had no cash. He suggested we walk down the street to the banka and get cash. We refused. He then said, “Perhaps electricity will be on at 11:00.” It was not even ten. I shook my head. “No, I’m not sitting here until 11:00.” Then we wrote down our hotel and room number on a slip of paper and told him we’d return tomorrow to pay them. He took the slip of paper and disappeared. I told Kathy I’d give him five minutes to return, and if not, I was leaving. And guess what? About a minute later, the outdoor lights came back on! Imagine that! What timing! What a coincidence! Next thing you know, the waiter appears with our checks.

We can’t wait to see what happens tonight when we try to pay with our credit cards. :)

This morning we went back to that shopping street and…yes, shopped. I bought an Italian linen tablecloth for Kristin & Jimmy’s wedding gift, and a dishtowel set for Bunco. Also, found a cute linen top for me.

Now, here we are at the pool, waiting for a lifeguard to show up so we can get a towel and go swimming.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Italian Beaches are...Different

June 16, 2005, 10:12 AM, Marina di Pietrasanta, Italy

Ahhhh, the beach! Now, this is a vacation! What a difference from Sestriere. I know when I watch the Winter Olympics next year, I’ll feel a little nostalgia, and wonder how it would be to be there with all the activity going on, but…I’m just so glad we decided to leave there and come to the coast.

I’m sitting here in a beach chair, soaking in the sun and listening to the soft roar of the ocean. Soft, because the waves in the Mediterranean aren’t that big. But the water is blue, and there’s not a cloud in the sky, except for the ones over the mountains to the east. We’re here for the day, having paid (or will pay) 20 Euros for the rental of chairs and an umbrella. That’s the discounted price because we’re staying at Hotel Lombardi. Trouble is, the front desk told us that the beach rental people accept credit cards and…surprise! They don’t. The girl was nice enough, though, to allow us to pay her later.

Anyway, it’s gorgeous here. Not too hot, with a nice, fresh breeze. I wonder if I’ll actually get hot enough to go into the water. It would be a shame to be on the Mediterranean, and not go in the water. Of course, I’m sure it’s not as warm here as it was in Crete.

So…last night. We were on a quest to find our first real Italian meal—something besides pizza. We headed south down the Oceanside sidewalk because we recalled seeing more restaurants that way. I stopped at a phone booth and called Frank; got right through. In the room earlier, I tried unsuccessfully three times before giving up. Frank said everything is fine at home except that he almost killed Ruby last night. (Ruby is our neurotic cat who is always a pain in the ass when I’m gone; well, she’s a pain in the ass when I’m there, too, but I love her dearly.) Frank told me how she woke him up at three in the morning, but didn’t go into any more detail. Bottom line—she’s still alive, which makes me very happy. He also told me that Leah has three phone interviews from Atlanta, so hopefully, she’ll get a job she likes, maybe loves, soon after she gets there.

We chose a ristorante called D’ Michele—a rather French name for an Italian restaurant—and because it was a bit cool, we opted to sit inside. We ordered salad, pasta and wine—red for Kathy, white for me. I had penne pomodoro and it was exquisite—the best pasta and sauce I’ve ever had in my life. I ate every bite. Everything was perfect until we paid our bill. We’d asked for separate checks so we could both charge, and that was no problem. He took our credit cards and disappeared. He was gone for some time, and once we saw him looking over at us strangely, and we wondered if there was a problem. Next thing you know, he’s back with my credit slip, but he tells Kathy that her card doesn’t work. So, I had to put her dinner tab on my card. When we got back to the hotel, Kathy went to the desk to see if they could help her call the credit card company. The girl tested her card, and guess what? It worked! So, we have no idea what the problem was. It didn’t seem like a scam because the waiter went to all the trouble to give us separate checks and to run our cards through.

After the full meal and wine, we were ready for bed, even though it was early. And really, there was nothing else to do. It was too cool to sit outside on the terrace and watch the people—not that there were any people to watch. It’s just the beginning of the season here, and apparently, the place doesn’t really start hopping until July and August.

Okay, we’ve been sitting here on the beach for about forty minutes, and we’ve discovered another unpleasant fact about Italy. The beach is swarming with cockroaches. No, not the disgusting bug kind of cockroach, but human ones—people selling beach towels, Louie Vuitton purse knock-offs and God knows what else. And they are persistent. And annoying. Very annoying. I need to learn how to say “go away” in Italian. But watching how the other sunbathers handle it, we’ve discovered that the best way to respond is to simply ignore them. But it’s very irritating to constantly be interrupted from our reading (or in my case, my typing) by these bloodsuckers. That’s one thing we never had to put up with in Greece. Not once did anyone come up to us and try to sell us something. There was that donut seller walking around, but we called him over to buy one. So if anyone ever asks me what country I like better, Greece or Italy, hands down, it’s Greece.

Okay, that’s it for now. I’m going to get out my book and read. Even though I’m sitting under an umbrella, I can already feel my thighs starting to burn, and that’s after slathering on SPF 20 sunscreen.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Marina 'd Pietrasanta--Good Choice!

June 15, 2005, 6:37 pm, Marina 'di Pietrasanta, Italy

I’m sitting out on the terrace in front of the hotel, enjoying the sunshine and the quiet. The only sound is occasional passing traffic, the chirp of birds and the soft tap of my Alpha Smart.

The weather today was somewhat “iffy.” We had a couple of passing showers, one of them which lasted long enough that we took refuge on the terrace of a seaside ristorante; Kathy ordered red wine and I had Italian beer, a taste I’m growing to quite like. We were a little unnerved when the waiter brought us a small bowl of olives, a basket of potato chips and then a plate of hot herbed bread that tasted like a pizza without sauce and cheese. Delicious! But we were really nervous about how much our bill would be. It was that upscale. We figured that they’d tack on one of their huge cover charges, and I’m sure they did, but we were pleasantly surprised when the check came to only ten Euros. I broke my last 50E, so I guess I’m going to have to find a bank and get some more cash. (The waiter told us we could charge it, but had to spend a minimum of 50 Euros. Very, very helpful.)

Once we finished our drinks, the rain had stopped, so we started walking again. Marina 'd Pietrasanta is a pretty little beach town, but I’m surprised that there are so few shops and relatively few restaurants—at least within walking distance. I guess I won’t be buying any Bunco gifts here. We are going to try a real restaurant tonight, meaning we aren’t eating pizza. I want pasta and wine. I don’t think, though, we’re going to find one of those 4-course Tuscan meals that are supposed to be so great. That will have to wait for Siena and Florence.

We’re hoping the weather will be really nice tomorrow and Friday so we can laze around on the beach or at least at the swimming pool. It has to be perfect before I’ll go to the beach, though. The beach across from the hotel is private, and if we want to go there, we have to rent chairs and an umbrella at the “nice discount” of 22 Euros. The “nice discount” comes from one of the hotel people. They might as well charge admission to the beach! Sometimes, I really miss America and American ways. There is, supposedly, a free beach somewhere way the hell down the strand, but damn it, I paid for this hotel room, I should be able to go to the beach across from it! Damn, Italy is expensive! Greece was a bargain compared to here. Especially when it comes to dining out. Much as I’m enjoying this trip, I don’t think I want to come to Italy again. I take that back; I’d definitely go back to Venice. I don’t feel like I got enough of it.

Anyway, I’m glad we came here. It’s a million times better than Sestriere. I did lose that $50 I spent to reserve a tour of “The Last Supper” in Milan, but oh, well. There was no way in hell we were getting on a train today after that nightmare of a trip yesterday. I’m considering it a donation to the museum. I would’ve liked to have seen the painting, of course, just as I would’ve liked to have seen the replica of “the Shroud of Turin,” but it wasn’t worth the inconvenience. I’m just sorry I reserved the tickets in the first place. That extra fifty would come in handy right now.

Kathy and I have made a vow, though. We’re never coming to Europe again if we have to worry about money. It takes a lot of the fun out of it. So…I guess I’m just going to have to hope that CHOCOLATE ON A STICK makes me a lot of money or that I have a big contract offer from Mira when I get home.

It could happen, couldn’t it? (NOTE: It didn't; I'm still waiting to hear from Mira. Maybe my submission fell into one of those infamous publishing black holes.) I never stop believing in miracles, and I hope I never do.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Ahhhh...the Beach!

June 15, 2005, 12:40 PM, Marina di Pietrasanta, Italy

The good news is I’m in a much better mood. The bad news is…there is no bad news. (Okay, so that's good news, too.) We’re back to civilization! We’re staying at the Hotel Lombardi on the ocean…well, across the street from the ocean. It’s a four-star hotel—very nice rooms with a tiny veranda that has an ocean view across from the pool and some trees. The breakfast buffet this morning was absolutely wonderful! We even had our own coffee pot on the table—a real luxury here in Italy. And God, we were hungry.

We didn’t check into our hotel last night until 10:30!!! The hotelier told us there was a bistro about 300 meters down the road, but we were so exhausted, we just showered and then drank two beers from the minibar, and I ate some peanuts. Outrageously expensive, I know, but God, it was good! Especially the cold Italian beers.

We slept like the dead last night, and woke up about 8:15 this morning. After breakfast, we went for a walk. This is definitely a small beach town. We found a couple of tourist-like beach shops where I bought a pair of slides; my right foot has been giving me trouble since Venice, making it impossible for me to walk comfortably in any of the shoes I brought. The ones I bought at the beach shop are cute—a brown and beige snakeskin-like stuff, Italian-made, and they were on sale for 10 Euros. Not a bad deal.

We walked along the ocean side for a while and found a variety of restaurants for tonight. Prices are high, but I’ll probably just have wine, bread and pasta. Oh, and they all charge a cover for bread and water, usually about 2.50 Euros. Obviously, we won’t be tipping in Italy.

The sun is trying to peep through the clouds, and there are a few people on the beach. It’s getting warm, too. I was walking around comfortably this morning in my sleeveless dress. We walked through a park and saw the cutest baby geese with their mama. Got some cool pictures! Also, took a darling picture of a sweet little bambino in a stroller. As we were walking back past the canal where we saw the geese, we saw a baby stroller racing toward the water, and a man running after it. My heart almost stopped as it fell in, and another man downstream came running with a net. Luckily, though, it was just the stroller—no baby in it, thank God. I don’t know how it got away from the adults.

We just got back from our walk, and we’ve unpacked (since we’ll be here until Saturday) and now we’re trying to decide what to do this afternoon. Kathy wants to go into Pietrasanta and check out the town. That’s fine with me, but we need to either get a bus or walk. The taxi last night from the train station was 15 Euros—not as much as I thought it would be, anyway, but of course, they didn’t take credit cards. We need to find a bank so we can exchange some money. I’m down to 50 Euros.

But it’s so nice to be somewhere where it’s warm, where there are people, where there is activity! Where we can have a decent breakfast with lots of coffee!!!

As for train travel in Europe? All I can say is…I’ll never criticize Amtrak again.

Effortless Travel by Rail in Europe...In Your Dreams!

June 14, 2005, 2:40 PM, Torino, Italy

Okay, I’m having trouble staying in my “happy place.” The travel today has been nothing short of hell—an all day thing, apparently. By the time Paolo got us into Sestriere, it was raining buckets and foggy as all get-out. I swear, I don’t know how he kept from driving off the mountain in that pea soup. We bought bus tickets at the La Stampa in Sestriere, but Paolo had bad news. The 9:00 bus—the one we intended to take—was a school bus. And school ended last week. So, we had over an hour and a half to kill, but luckily, we were able to take refuge from the rain in a café across the street from the bus stop. We had coffee and croissants (seems like we’ve been living on nothing but croissants and pizza since we got to Italy), and Paolo had a coffee with us before he had to go back to work. We said our goodbyes and he left.

So, we sat there waiting for the bus, and it arrived ten minutes early. Luckily, I ran out into the rain to ask and make sure it was the right bus. It was, and a nice guy formerly from Egypt helped us with our bags while the bus driver sat there like a lump and watched us struggle to get on. (Why are bus drivers so universally unfriendly? Is it that bad of a job?) The guy worked as a waiter in a ristorante in Cesana, where we had pizza the first night. He was really friendly and talkative in broken English. We finally arrived at the train station in Oulx, and the information guy told us the next train to Torino was at 12:07. (It was about 11:00.) He told us we’d have to change trains in Bussaleno. So, we’re sitting there looking at the departure board, and we noticed there was a train to Torino at 12:37 that went directly there. So we decided it would be better to take that one, rather than have the inconvenience of changing trains. Big mistake. First of all, the train was 15 minutes late, and then when we did get on it, we found it was a reserved train from Paris, and the first seats we took belonged to someone else getting on at that stop. Well, that pissed me off, and I was bitching about what a rip-off the Eurail Passes were (are), and a couple of young Americans backpacking through Europe started talking to us. That put me in a better mood, but I’m still rankled about how difficult they seem to make it for travelers with all their stupid rules and extra payments and everything. Jesus, we paid almost four hundred freaking dollars for these passes. Why are they nickel and diming us to death? ('Well, "euroing" us to death.) Turns out the train we’d got on was one where we needed a reservation, and therefore should’ve paid an extra price for the reservation. (Have you ever heard of such nonsense? Europe is the only place in the world I’ve ever heard of that they make you pay extra for a goddamn required reservation!!!! What a scam! For once, though, luck was with us. When the conductor came through checking tickets, and asking the American couple for their reservations, we were pulling into Torino Porto Susa, so we got off.

Turns out this wasn’t the right Torino train station to go to Genova, so we had to catch another train to Torino Porto Nuova. Our timing was right for once, and the train was leaving in less than ten minutes. But at Porto Nuova, our luck ran out. The next train to Livorna (which is the end destination for the train to Pietrasanta (oh, and by the way, don’t think for even a second that the information officer actually gave me that information—they don’t volunteer a sentence more than they have to, and God forbid they ever actually give you any essential information that might make things a little more clear for the stupid American) won’t leave for an hour and a half. And God knows how far the beach is from the train station.

I’m hungry and sleepy and disgusted, and I just want to check into a decent hotel and take a nap. I’m hoping that will happen before midnight. If I can get something decent to eat soon, maybe I’ll be in a better mood next time I write.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Escape From Sestriere!!!

June 14, 2005, 7:37 AM, Grangesises, Italy

We’re about ready to make our escape! Thank God! At 8:30, Paolo is going to take us to Sestriere to catch the bus to Oulx, and then on to Torino. My biggest worry now is the weather. It’s rainy and foggy on top of this mountain. I’m wondering if that’s going to affect the bus schedule. Why, oh, why couldn’t it have been nice and sunny like it was on Sunday?

You know, I don’t think I’d like to ski here in the winter, even. Especially if it looked like today. I can imagine the rain being snow, and the mountain all socked in with fog. Who’d want to ski in that pea soup? I don’t like that even on a relatively small mountain in West Virginia; I certainly wouldn’t want to ski in the Italian Alps in fog. That reminds me of Dennis Belluomini’s story about how he and his family skied the Swiss Alps in fog, and how terrifying it was. No, thank you. I’ll take Snowshoe or Stowe any time.

Well, we managed to get through the long, boring day yesterday, passing the time by chatting with Paolo awhile, then walking the different levels of this place (there are a lot of them, and the views are magnificent.) Once we heard cow bells from the gorgeous valley below, and it made me feel like I was in "Heidi." :)

We went back to the room and lunched on our usual staples—bread, cheese and wine. And then we made a few phone calls. To Barb, Frank and Vince. Last night, we walked down to the one little café open and spent 7 Euros on coffee and a cheese & tomato sandwich for Kathy, and tea and ice cream for me. The tea was the expensive item at 2 Euros, 1 Euro more than the coffee!!! We came back to “the cave” and watched a Julia Roberts movie in Italian, following it pretty well, I might add. (Of course, I’d seen it before.) Before the movie came on, we were so bored that we muted the sound and watched an old movie we've never seen, dubbing in our own dialogue. Now, that's bored!!! Went to bed and slept through the night with the sound of rain pelting down on the shutters.

So, here we are, ready to get the hell out of this place!