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Italian Field Trips, Beach Days and Gritty City Vita

Preface: My wife and I were fairly active travelers 25 years, 3 kids, a mortgage (a second mortgage) and many other events ago. Great Britain, Thailand, Singapore, and Germany were some favorite locations. We sent our children overseas many times with school trips run by EF Travel. Italy, Germany, France, Galapagos Islands. After much talk about where to re-commence our travels we decided to visit the same areas in Italy our children had all visited so we could have the shared experience.

To get started on planning the trip I checked out Rick’s Italy 2018 and the most recent Fodor’s, Frommer’s, and Lonely Planets from the local library. I reviewed itineraries from Tauck Travel and the EF Tours our kids used. I am a compulsive planner/organizer and work professionally as a project manager so, I realize less the need to say, but I loved the planning process. After a couple weeks of research I presented my wife with the 1st pass.

She shared that she was having second thoughts as she is the primary care provider for her 80 year old mother and we were planning to be away for 3 weeks. We discussed options and decided to cut the trip to 2 weeks and to get a positive verbal confirm from her mother that she would be OK with our adult children still home to help her.

Thankfully everything worked out and we got the green light to take off!

Overview: 15 full days on the ground. Milan, Lake Como, Venice, Bologna, Ferrara, Florence, Pisa, Cinque Terre, Genova

Tuesday, 10/2/2018

Left Dulles airport on flight to Munich. Didn’t realize the plane would be full of Oktoberfesters! Much beer drinking in general on the plane and I think an international love connection took place with 2 drunken Australians befriending what appeared to be an American nun at the beginning of the flight, but turned out to be quite the vivacious seat mate after take off 2 rows behind us.

Departure was dampened by jerky airline employee that snippily told my wife to check her carry on to make sure it was the right size by putting it in one of those little metal box measurer things. He had been rude to her earlier when she was trying to confirm our seats would be together. Out of a full plane I saw 1 other person have to check the size of their luggage. Anyway...being bigger and stronger than my wife I picked her bag up and put it in the measuring thing. It fit easily, but along the way I didn’t undo the little neck pillow thing she had attached to the handle, so the rope thingy got cut and I cut my finger taking the bag out of the measuring thingy. Cut as in MAJOR blood streaming from my finger. I didn’t realize how bad it was until we had walked down the galley way to get to the plane. A very nice flight attendant brought me lots of bandaids and I managed to staunch the blood flow before anyone passed out (most importantly me).

Our seatmate on the flight to Munich was a very nice German woman who had been in the U.S since 1986 and was taking her first trip back home to visit friends and family. Her husband had passed away last year. My wife and I got to practice our German with her which was fun.

Connecting flight from Munich to Milan took off one hour after we landed, so we raced through the airport only to get snagged at passport control. If anyone knows what people have in folders and all kinds of other files that they show to the passport people I’d be fascinated to know. One person literally had an accordion style file case that he kept pulling more and more papers out of.

Anyway, we made the flight, but all the overhead bins were full, so our brilliant packing strategy of only carry on luggage basically got thrown out with the bathwater and the baby. Getting the luggage after landing was seamless, but it was the principle of the matter that irked.

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681 posts

Hope this is not the end of your report 'cause I want to hear more.

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1894 posts

Tis guy knows how to hold our attention!
I want to know more about the "nun" on your flight!

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Wednesday, 10/3/2018

I wanted to say a brief word about the Munich airport. Absolutely beautiful. We had no time for lollying or gagging, but the shops looked awesome and so clean. You feel really safe too as there are many security polizia who basically appear to be all beautiful young Italian or German girls/women. I was going to ask their Nationality, but my wife warned me they might lock me up. It was a risk I was willing to take even if they took turns interrogating me all night and day, but in the end prudence won out e Andiamo !

Now...here we are in Milano at the Malpensa Airport. We grab our bags and begin our trek to find the Malpensa Express that will take us to Porta Garibaldi. We find the ticketing office which has a long line to actually talk with an Agent, but luckily there are the automated machines Rick talks about. We make our way to one of the machines when behold and lo a nice Italian train employee steps up to help us through the process. Sadly he steps away before the machine declines our credit card, so with hearts dissened we make our way to the long line for the Agent.

The Agent was very nice, spoke better English than I did Italian, got us pointed in the right direction and the fee was exactly what I had planned it to be based on Italiarail info.

So, waiting for our first train...we were pretty impressed there was an electronic sign telling us the train would arrive in X minutes...we later found out this is quite an anomaly in Italy at least in our experience….so...train arrives, we hop on...I stow our bags on the racks above and we plunk down across from 2 young Italians so in love you can actually see the does in their eyes.

Now we knew we had to get off at Porta Garibaldi and we knew it was roughly 50 minutes...this information was kind of like being thrown into the Sahara and being told there’s water and it’s ‘over there about 1 mile’. The Malpensa Express does not (to my knowledge and belief) have any information about stops along the way. As you pull into a station you can kinda crane your neck to see where you’re arriving and hopefully if it’s your stop you’ve craned early enough so you can grab your bag e Andiamo! There was an electronic screen about 1 foot square hanging from the ceiling, but it appeared to be showing the distance of random stations from Malpensa. At least that’s how I understood it. I couldn’t ask my wife as she wasn’t able to sleep on the plane, so she hit snooze pretty much when the train took off and I couldn’t ask the young Italians across from us as they were lost in love. I decided it was best to remain quiet while panicking on the inside.

Luckily we made it off at Porta Garibaldi. I honestly don’t remember how we knew we had arrived, but perhaps the sign worked out it’s issue and alerted us, or maybe the train announcing system started to work, or perhaps when everyone else moved to get off we went with the flow.
Having arrived in Porta Garibaldi it was time to show my wife I am a brilliant trip planner and whisk her on a ‘short 10-minute’ walk to our hotel. I had printed out the instructions from our worthy inn-keep and had the directions on my phone. First step: “Go out by the main entrance of the train station (where there are bars, taxis, etc..)” This proved to be my undoing.

How one determines ‘main entrance’ is a skill I suppose some are born with. And…’where there are bars, taxis, etc’ is not really much help when to your American eyes there appears to be a bar every 5 meters, but you can’t spot a taxi to save your life. We noticed most people were heading up the escalator, so we headed up and having guessed correctly stepped out into our first lungfuls of Italian air.

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Our next step per my instructions was: “on the right side (after some steps and 2 traffic lights) there is a pedestrian street (Corso Como)” Sounds simple enough...but...Italy being the Old Country they were apparently too busy discovering New Worlds to discover what we as Americans refer to as Street Signs. I shared this story with a friend and she explained her father-in-law came to visit the US of A from Peru and spent his entire visit marvelling at our street signs. My friend’s husband apparently gets lost while driving even around their neighborhood so he constantly uses a gps which his father could not believe as how could anyone get lost with our marvelous street signs.

In Italy, they have elaborate (often beautiful) street markings on buildings (maybe). You have to find the side of the building with the marking. Sometimes it’s the same color as the building making reading it next to impossible (but still beautiful) and more often than not it’s too far away to see from the other side of the road. So, my plan to just find the “Corso Como” was stymied.

Luckily there were several hundred Italians wandering about so I asked one, “Scusi signori, dovi Corso Como?” He promptly replied, “Mi piaccari, non lo so”. My wife was very impressed until I explained to her I’d apparently asked an Italian with less knowledge of the local streets than us. I persevered and was pointed in the right direction after my second attempt.

Step #3: “go through this street and at the end you will see a BIG ARCH” How tough could this be? Surely a BIG ARCH is something you don’t happen upon every day, so something quite noteworthy. We continued our ‘short 10-minute’ walk feeling we were really getting our money’s worth as we were now in minute 20. Behold and lo we spotted the BIG ARCH from some distance away and were now ready for:

Step #4: “go right and at the end of this street there is Via Farini. Find number 4.” Nothing could be simpler non e vero? The problem is we weren’t sure whether to go ‘through’ the arch or turn right just prior. We had the street names on our instructions, but couldn’t match them up to any buildings. In the end we went ‘through’ the BIG ARCH and headed right.

We ended up with me needing to exercise my Italian again. There were 4 men standing around their scooters so I inquired, “Scusi signori, dovi Via Farini 4?” I knew we had to be close, but maybe these fellahs were from out of town as 2 of them said it was in the direction we were heading and 2 the direction we had come from.

There’s not much more awkward than being stuck in the middle of a disagreement on directions when you don’t speak the language. Which pair should we trust? Would there be a rift in their friendship based on our next move? Perhaps an operetta type altercation would break out!

Luckily another couple wandered by and they sent us off in a third direction.

As we neared the end of our saga we determined we were on Via Farini, but couldn’t find #4 to save our lives. Luckily nobody was threatening them. Typically in America when we say, “Find #4” it’s a simple process...you find a random number...look left and right to see which direction goes in the direction of the number you want e Andiaml! Not so in Italy. We found #70 and then #30. Where were the missing 40? Remains undiscovered.

Thankfully we stumbled upon a UPS driver who had worked in Philadelphia and he explained we had to go through a Gate into a courtyard and #4 was on the left.

Next up: The Duomo, Galleria Vitto Emmanuelle II and the Secret Society of the Five Keys...

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1678 posts

Loving your report. Can’t wait for the next installment. You’re a very descriptive writer. I can visualize hunting for the hotel since the directions sound like the ones our hotel gave us for Venice. I have until May to study every map available.
Did you rent a car? We plan to drive from Naples to Calabria. Would love to hear your experiences with very scary toll roads and Italian drivers.

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Buongiorno Horsewoofie,

We did not rent a car. Stay tuned for more details and good luck with the drive from Naples. I'm contemplating driving from Salerno into Sicily stopping 2-3 nights along the way, so am interested to hear what you're thinking for your trek.

Ciao !

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Allora, we met our Inn Keeper staff member (sadly don’t remember his name, but believe he was from Thailand) who sat us down in a little hallway that I guess they thought was a Lobby. He was very nice and offered my wife and I water, but we really just wanted to get to our room. We took the water and listened as he explained (for what seemed a very long time) how breakfast worked and some other various issues necessary to get us acclimated. Then he revealed the 5 keys to the room. There was one key for the front gate leading into the courtyard, one key to open the door off of the courtyard, one key to get into the ‘actual’ bed and breakfast part of the building, a 4th key to open the door on the balcony type area/runway leading from the ‘main’ inn/b&b area to where our room was located which...natch...required the 5th key. They were all arranged in order from the 1st to 5th so it was non che sono problemi ! This was our first (but not last) encounter with what’s involved key-wise getting in and out of your room in Italy.

So..we re-freshed ourselves briefly in the room which was very cute and nice. La Favia 4 Rooms is the place and we found it in Lonely Planet I think. http://lafavia4rooms.com/?lang=en The pics online are pretty darn accurate to what you get. They are ‘staged’ somewhat, but all in all I would stay there again. Tucked in our money belts e Andiamo !

We exited La Favia and jumped on the #2 bus. The staff had told us this was the easiest way to get to the Duomo. Naturally we had to buy the bus ticket in a shoppe down the street. I thought the inn staff was directing us a couple blocks away to an Irish Pub, but thankfully my Beloved thought it was another place and so after checking in that place they directed us to the correct place and we ended up in a little multi-purpose shop where I used my burgeoning Italian to explain we needed dui biglietti per al busso. Actually now that I think about it we got a 24 hour bus and metro pass.

So..we jumped on the bus e Andiamo !

The bus ride into the Duomo area was awesome. Milano is a major cosmopolitan city, but there’s plenty of Italian charm. Our first siting of hams hanging in store front windows, white-aproned men lounging in the doorway of the shoppes smoking, and the fashion? Santo Cielo !

We exited the bus and there was the Duomo, I had really been looking forward to it and it didn’t disappoint. The police presence was very high in the Square although not quite as beautiful as the Munich airport. Large group of what we assumed were migrants trying to sell ‘selfie-sticks’ and cheap braided bracelets. “Basta, Basta, A Bastante !” typically sent them packing.

We put on our headphones and started with Rick’s Milan’s Duomo Neighborhood Walk guided tour. Even at 1.5 speed the tour was awesome. We did not actually go into the Duomo as..well..honestly we figured you seen one church you seen ‘em all….so...we weren’t paying the do, re mi for the Duomo….line was around the corner also which was somewhat surprising, though I suppose I was naive...I was assuming October in Milano wouldn’t be many turisti...wrong !

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We walked through Galleria Vittor Emmanual II which was pretty cool, but reaches Amazing status when you think about how it was built in late 1800s. Dancing on the torino’s testicles though did not happen as we were kind of turned off by how many people were in line to do so...not a line per se, but a mob...people had their tripods out to capture each other doing this..and their selfie-sticks.I was a little disappointed, and was going to mug it up and have the lovely Missus Say take a pic, but was not quite overewhelmed enough...high end shops were fun for window shopping, but the one shop I stopped into seemed all business which is fine for them, but didn’t encourage me to stop into any others...checking the facade of La Scala was nice and with that our tour ended.

We should have called it a day then and again over there, but it was only about 3:00 pm and we were bending Hell to stay awake until at least 9:00 or 10:00 so we asked a friendly Italian whose English was far superior to my Italian where we could find Peck e Andiamo !

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Ok...so...we set off to find Peck https://www.peck.it/en Our plan for the trip was to always have a salami in a back-pack in case we needed to eat and were in an out of the way location and couldn’t procure food. I was pretty sure Peck was like right next to the Duomo in the opposite direction the friendly Italian sent us...but...off we went in the direction he pointed. I was excited because I found Via Dante which is a pedestrian only street in Milano...I think maybe it’s like the longest pedestrian only street in Europe...could be wrong...but I assumed Peck could logically be off this street...we started walking and never did find it, or any of the streets and/or landmarks our friend had provided. Not to worry as up ahead in the distance we saw a shimmering sight...I was darn sure it was Sforza Castle !

Quick note about Via Dante...it’s just kind of a normal street….nothing fabulous..I don’t know what I was expecting and I only included it on our ‘official’ itinerary as it leads right to Sforza Castle...not an unpleasant street/walk, but don’t go out of your way….lots of peddlers demonstrating cheesy toys and similar trying to get you to buy.

Walked through Sforza Castle we were about an hour ahead of schedule as the whole thing is free after 5:00 pm I believe (double check the times if you’re trying to go for free). Was a pretty darn big Castle. I would have liked to have seen Michelangelo’s Unfinished Pieta https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rondanini_Piet%C3%A0 but we were starting to get a little overwhelmed and didn’t want to just kinda stand around for an hour.

Found a bench in Parco Sempione https://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/milan/parco-sempione-milan and sat for a while just soaking it all in.

Got up and found a little trattoria (it was actually Pizza Ok which I think is a chain) ...sat down outside and had some pizza and beer...things were looking up...local polizia chased down a guy on a bike and demanded his papers so that was some good people watching...all in all we were doing fine...THEN...we decided to head back to the hotel...now...sadly we didn’t have a real map of Milano...just the Rick Steves map which didn’t cover the streets we were in/looking for...so...I decided we needed to find the #2 bus again and it would eventually get us back to the hotel. Sadly, the restaurant staff didn’t know where the bus stop was. I found that really odd and still do.

Anyway...we started walking in what we thought was the right direction...of course it was not...spotted what we were sure was the tracks the bus ran on as we both recognized it from earlier and set off following the tracks...guess this was a trolley not a bus but anyway we found the little place where everyone was waiting for the bus and there’s a sign pointing in the direction saying “Duomo” so...we jumped on the trolley as we were positive we could find our trolley #2 from where it dropped us near the Duomo...BIG mistake..after 5 minutes we realized we were heading to the outskirts of town...jumped off the trolley and asked a very pretty woman pushing a baby stroller where the Duomo was...she sent us off in a direction and 10 minutes later we were back at the bus stop we had just gotten on and then off...imagine our surprise when a trolley comes rolling up with the #2 on it. Divine Intervention ! No such luck...after 10 minutes we realized we were going all wrong again...jumped off and decided to walk to the Duomo just using landmarks and our common sense. Quickly realized common sense was not going to help as the streets have no grid system at all and make no sense. Would have hailed a taxi at this point, but we were in such a residential area none ever showed.

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Thankfully we found a bus station and determined it was heading for the Duomo...jumped on (again) and there we discovered there was actually a map on the inside of this trolley ! Now surely there would be non che sono problemi. By God there was the #2 line all marked out….all we had to do was jump off and then jump on….we proceeded to do just that only to discover one big issue we’d failed to realize was the buses, trolleys and metro are ALL depicted with the exact same symbol !

Ay yi yi...so...we did make it off the bus and onto the metro #2 line...it was around 5:30 by now so basically quittin’ time (!) for all the Milanese...we shoved our way into one of the way crowded metro cars and managed to shove our way off at the way-crowded correct stop. We found the hotel, managed to operate all 5 keys correctly, not yell at each other after what had turned into a somewhat trying day (as in trying and failing to get back to the hotel all afternoon !) took a short rest on the balcony outside our room and then just breathe for a while.

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Decided to head out to look for food around 7:30. Had list of recommendations from hotel. Exited hotel (using all 5 keys successfully) and She Say (Missus Say) and I could not agree on which direction to go to find the Main Drag we’d been up and down twice already to get to the hotel that had lots of cute little shops and eateries. As she is much the smarter of the 2 of us I acquiesced and took comfort knowing I would be proven correct at some point...not to be though on this occasion as we turned right out of the hotel and roughly 3 doors down there was a lovely menu hand written by a ristorante door so we decided to play it safe and just eat here before we got hopelessly lost again.

While we were checking out the menu and a nice woman came up behind us exclaiming ‘buona sera’ so I asked, “Il cibo e delizioso qui?” Is the food delicious here is what I’d hoped I’d said. She replied ‘oh si, si’ as she opened the door to a completely empty ristorante. So, we followed in and I asked ‘la cuoca?’ are you the cook and she replied, “no...ah...waitress”...so she took us to the best table right in the corner by the stairs up to the kitchen.

Menus were presented and through a mix of Italian and English we ordered.

Prosecco for starters. Served in big red wine goblets...or at least what I consider red wine goblets.

She brought bread and Santo Cielo ! Such bread. We were off to a good start.

She Say had ordered via her English, my Italish and the waitresses Englalian a spicy spaghetti with garlic and oil. It wasn’t on the menu, but it was really good. I had charcuterie and fried polenta. We had ordered a bottle of red wine after the Prosecco, so things were doing pretty, pretty good.

Since the food was good so far we ordered some meatballs and a Costolleta alla Milanese. Both were rather pedestrian. We wrapped up about half of the secondi and then split a torta al ciocolatto. Was really good.

The chef had come out earlier to talk. He was from Puglia. English was not as good as the waitresses who was up in the kitchen drinking diet coke and smoking, but I had been fairly well lubed up by the wine and my Italian was getting better and better. Chef explained the olive oil was from his family farm.

By this time it was about 8:30 and the place was packed. There was a man eating alone and two gentlemen eating at a third table.

It was notable when 4 guys came in and the cook rushed out to greet them in Spanish. I joined in as my Spanish is better than my Italian. We were all paisan by this time. The 4 new friends used to work with the cook and were from Argentina.

The waitress brought our bill. It was 103 euro, but she rounded it down to 100 euro.

We got up to leave and they invited us into the kitchen where we now outnumbered the paying guests 3 to 1. The lemoncello came out and I hoovered mine down as we really wanted to get back to the hotel and fall asleep finally. I failed to realize that if you knock it all back in one fell swoop they fill you up again. So...I nursed this one a little. Finishing up we thought we were free when the cook brought out a bottle of Clorox and exclaimed Grappa ! Well...She Say didn’t want any hybrid clorox/grappa, but the waitress translated that the Albanian cook’s family makes Grappa every year and some people think it’s too strong (hence the Clorox comparison) so I drank mine and my beloved’s down, proclaimed it the best Albanian Grappa I’d ever had and that we’d be back tomorrow for dinner.

Everyone hugged and many tears were shed e Andiamo to get some sleep !

Ristoranted was: Ferrelli Milano...here’s a link to the veal cutlet pic: http://www.ferrelliamilano.it/piatto/costoletta-milanese

There’s a video on the home page...that’s the cook alright. Nice guy. He promised to cook us a special meal when we came back the next night.

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Your trip report is wonderful! I can practically smell the Clorox grappa - lol. Can’t wait to read more.

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Thursday, 10/4/2018

Day 2: Milano to Lake Como

Work up fairly bright and early. She Say and I had both "dropped" a generic sleep aid the night before around 11:00. Can't say if it helped or not, but I would guess we woke up around 6:00.

I headed off to get some coffee for us as breakfast didn't start until 7:00. Thought about skipping breakfast and heading bright and early to Lake Como, but the hotel breakfast had good reviews

Getting to the coffee maker required only 1 of the 5 keys. So far so good. The coffee machine was an Italian Keureg type thing. I have very little experience with Keuregs, so needed to read the machine for instructions. Found the intstructions and luckily they were in English, but sadly the machine had such a small cord I couldn’t turn it to see the side that the instructions were printed on. It was also a tad dark at that hour and I had no idea how to turn the lights on. Finally got it to work after about 10 minutes of pushing every button I could find in between crying jags. Next task was trying to figure out how to get back into our room with two hot cups of coffee in my hands and a path that now required 3 of the 5 keys. Nothing is easy in Italy.

We had coffee and then headed to breakfast. There was one other guest having breakfast. We had seen this person twice before as her room was on the path to ours. The first time she was lying in bed over the blanket in her pajamas when we checked in the prior afternoon. This was rather awkward, but we wrote it off to perhaps she was unaware there was another room next to hers and that’s why she didn’t think to close the blinds. The second time was again when she was in her pajamas over the blankets, but this time just pajama top on. Not sure whether she saw us the second time as it was later at night as we were stumbling home from Ferelli Milano, but it was rather odd. Anyway, my wife really was opposed to me entering into conversation with our neighbor given her fear of closed shades and clothing, so we all three ate in silence.

The breakfast was quite good. Yogurt, oatmeal, cereal and other similar cold items you could help yourself to. Eggs to order, toast, espresso, cafe americano, bacon and then a cheese and salami plate. Think there was a dulce also.

We were satiated after our breakfast (we being my wife and I...we can’t vouch for our neighbor, but we never saw her again and I would definitely not have been allowed to inquire in such a fashion even if we had) we headed out to get the train to Lake Como.

Now...per all the guide books, hopping a train to Lake Como is easy 1-2-3. Trains depart every 20 minutes yada-yada- yada...far from it. To begin we got lost just walking back to Port Garibaldi. Thankfully we were only lost for 2-3 minutes as my wife realized I was taking her in the wrong direction. So, we asked some passing Italians “Dovi Garibaldi” to which they all replied we were in Garibaldi, so thankfully I thought to switch to English and ask Where is Garibaldi Station?

Arriving at the station we tried again to use the auto ticket thingy a certain someone whose name ends with Steves and begins with Rick says is so easy. Didn’t work for us. So we headed up to the Travel Agency type place where we were the only people in the place. So, I approached the counter and was told I had to take a number. By this time 2 other parties had come in and taken numbers, so we took a number and waited while the other 2 parties had their numbers called pre - us.

The ticket counter guy was really nice, but spoke ah no Inglese so was a fun combo of my poor Italian and his just as bad English. Our train didn’t leave for 45 minutes so we went outside to find a bench to sit on. Along the way a commuter had gotten her skirt stuck in her back pack strap, so hiked it was and there was quite a parade of uomini d'affari in hot pursuit. Nothing is easy in Italy, but it is worth the trip.

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Allora we people watched outside Porta Garibaldi and then realized we didn’t actually know where the train was leaving from, so high tailed it back into the station. The platform information had not yet been posted even though the train was leaving in 15 minutes. My wife and I took opposite views of this. She wasn’t worried, I was out of my mind worried we were going to have another situation like yesterday’s train and bus expedition.

I told her to wait there and I raced into the Travel Agency type place. I quickly grabbed a ticket although there was no one else in site. 2 Americani entered and went up to the counter as I stood patiently. The ticket counter guy didn’t even bother explaining to them before singing out “Ventuno!” I pushed forward and presented my number 21. This small victory was darkened when it became clear the ticket counter guy did not know where our train was departing from and wasn’t sure that anyone did, or would. He did offer up it ‘usually’ left from platform 14.

So off I run to explain to my wife that the train ‘may’ be leaving from 14 and we needed to get there tout de suite as it was the entire distance of the train station away. She asked if we should stamp our tickets and I explained we could do that on the platform before getting on the train.

Platform 14 had no information whatsoever about any trains, so we tried to remain calm now that we only had about 8 minutes before the train left from whatever mystery platform it was at.

8-7-6-5-4...minutes until departure and the train information actually appeared on the little kiosk departing from platform 2..so...the entire distance of the train station. Off we run. Amazingly we make it to the platform and jump on only to realize we didn’t stamp our tickets.

Tune in tomorrow to learn if we're even on the right train and/or if il conduttore fines us each 50 euro.

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So...when last we saw our heroes they had boarded a train to Lake Como.

We quickly realized the other people on the train either didn’t speak English or if they did they were mad (as in bonkers, looney tunes, whatever word you’re familiar with that means crazy).

Nobody had any idea they were supposed to stamp their tickets, so we began to feel that at least we wouldn’t be the only ones getting fined 50 euro for not following simple instructions. We found this out by asking around if anyone knew if it would be possible to jump off at the next station and stamp and hop back on. If anybody knew they weren't a sayin'.

We had to transfer at Monza so She Say came up with a plan that we would just exit the train and make like we knew what we were doing so il conduttore wouldn’t peg us for tourists...yeah right !

Off the train we barrelled and asked a nice gent where the machine was and raced into the station and back out properly stamped. Now we could relax and enjoy the lovely train ride to Lake Como naturally seated on the more scenic left-hand side per Mssr. Steves guidance.

And oh! What scenery ! Now we were talking.

You start to get glimpses of the water about 20 minutes after leaving Monza. Darkish blue water that you somehow know is deep without having to swim to the bottom or look up the fact that Lake Como is one of Europe’s deepest lake. Soon after the water views commence the mountains come in to show you God is truly an artist. Che bellisima!

Is it me or is one of the greatest pleasures of travel just looking out the window of your train, or bus, car, ferry, low-flying aircraft, as you move through a foreign city or landscape?

We hopped off the train at Varenna-Esino without il conduttore ever asking for our tickets. The whole trip from Milan was roughly 50 minutes just like the guidebooks said. We were beginning to unlock the mysteries!

We followed Rick’s walking guide tour of Varenna for a little bit. Walking down a narrow street taking in the bridge Rick mentions. We stopped at a corner market too charming for its own good. We picked up 2 water bottles and exchanged witty banter with the shopkeep.

After a quick walk across the street we plunked down in a small courtyard to get our bearings and listen to the other tourists. All of this punctuated by She Say mentioning quite frequently that she’d never seen such a beautiful place. Music to my ears!

Our plan was to get an all-day ferry pass, visit Villa Carlotta on Tremezzo, have lunch at Ristorante Alle Darsene di Loppia on Bellagio, visit Villa Balbianello on Lenno and then andiamo back to Milan.

Was it a great plan? Heck yeah! Did it get shot all straight to Hades? Read on Italian lovers for answers to these and more of your questions!

We made our way to the ferry station with more She Say punctuated most beautiful place in the world. Ah sweet mystery of life la la la !

Now, of course a tour bus had just pulled into the lot next to the ferry station, so we were a tad flummoxed. The big topic of conversation while waiting in line was whether to purchase the all day pass, or just a one way hop. With my highly precise itinerary for the day we were going all day all the way.

A nice couple from Texas was in line in front of us. They had been there the day before and just raved about how beautiful the area was, but how unhelpful all the Italians they interacted with were. We wrote it off as cultural differences.

Our tickets bought we jumped in the next line we saw without asking many questions. We were definitely now part of the tourist herd. Moo I say!

Turns out the ferry we boarded was only going to Bellagio...so..that put a monkey wrench in visiting Villa Carlotta nice and early...it was about 11:00 am when we got to Varenna...so it wasn’t actually early, early, but the shoveling in of breakfast at our hotel had taken precedence...timing travel around meals is an ongoing learning process.

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So glad you are back - can’t wait for the next post.

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So, we jumped off at Bellagio...our only option being to go straight back to Varenna. No worries, all the guidebooks explained there are ferries every 20 minutes give or take, so off we went to explore Bellagio. We were going to give it an hour and then head on the next ferry to Tremezzo/Via Carlotta.

We wandered to the right of the ferry landing which takes you on a beautiful walk along the lake. Gents and gentle ladies playing accordions, guitars and other musical instruments all around. Some type of small fish swimming in the shallow water near the shore. I was surprised not to see any recreational fishermen. Maybe there’s a law though to keep the beautiful lake beautiful and not mucked up with bloodworms and other tasty fish bait.

Our path kinda/sorta dead-ended at what was an apparent swimming club. There were slides and diving platforms pulled up onto the shore. Looked like it would be a crazy scene in the high season for people much more beautiful and fashionable than your humble narrator.

We reverse coursed and headed into Bellagio’s main streets. The steep climb up the cobble stoned walks were far too charming for human consumption. We had some migrants trying to give away the strange, worthless, strings like they did in Milan, but “Basta, Basta, A Bastante !” worked its magic again.

A (needless to say charming) leather goods shop had a selection of leather bracelets for 15 Euro. We picked up one for our youngest son and have been kicking ourselves for not picking up any for ourselves ever since.

A beautiful grocery store at the top of the town was also a highlight, but we didn’t buy anything no wanting to schlep groceries around all day.

Next on our route was the Bellagio - San - Giacomo Church. I think this is listed in Rick’s book. There was also a nice handout in different languages explaining the history of the church. We began what would become a ritual in every church we visited of giving thanks to God for keeping us safe as we travelled and blessing us with the means to do so.

We headed back to the ferry landing to pick up what was supposed to be (per Saint Rick and others) a new ferry coming in every 20 minutes to whisk us all around the lake. Che picatto this was not the case !

Allora, primo there is no way I would want to visit Bellagio during the high season. The lines for the ferry in early October were manageable, but just. Maybe they have more staff working in the summer months and maybe more frequent ferries, but I felt uncomfortable with the (ahem) pushiness of our fellow travellers. This was our first experience with an “Italian” line..as in...no real line. When you did make your way to the agent at the ticket booth they were unhelpful proving our friends from Texas correct.

I don’t mean to disparage the Italian ticket takers. I’m sure they were doing their best. It was frustrating though as surprisingly they did not seem interested in helping anyone. Given, there is a language barrier, but politely saying “Tremezzo?” I would think would cue them that I was looking for that ferry. No such luck.

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The only option we were told (or that we understood) was to hop on a ferry heading back to Varenna.

The scene turned interesting as roughly 100 people were in the same situation we found ourselves in of not wanting to be on Bellagio any longer, but not willing to give up and head back to Varenna. It was at this moment that a strong, manly voice spoke out. The voice was attached to a man with a strong enough chin that when it comforted us all that the next ferry was indeed heading to Tremezzo we took hope and darn near applauded. Several women-folk had the pilot-light for the ol’ love light in their eyes at the ready.

As the ferry pulled in we managed to allow the arriving passengers to disembark before marching steadfastly onboard. Sadly before our chant of “Tremezzo, Tremezzo” could burst forth the crew explained the ferry we wanted was departing from the other pier.

I suppose we could have wrested control had our strong-chinned leader thought to lead us in mutiny, but he was last seen exiting to the left of the stage n a feeble attempt to catch the departing ferry.

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I can't wait to read more posts!! some of this reminded me of our mishaps in multiple trips to Italy and other European countries!

Looking forward to tomorrow!

Mimi

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Now by this time we were close to abandoning all hope. So, naturally we went for a beer.

I don’t remember the name of the little restaurant right on the street by the water, but as I’m sure you can guess it was charming. We ordered two beers and I explained we were in a hurry...so...as I’m sure you can guess it only took 15 minutes to get the beers. We did get a nice bowl of chips also.

As the beer was helping to ease the situation we decided to just head back to Varenna and maybe we’d have better luck there.

Allora Andiamo !

Arriving in Varenna we headed to the ticketing place to ask for info. on the ferry. They did seem much nicer in Varenna, so maybe Bellagio is just such a zoo the staff gets a tad flummoxed. The nice worker explained the next ferry to Tremezzo would be departing in about 15 minutes. We headed to a small enclosed place kinda like a ferry stop version of a bus stop. What should I see as we sat down but a nice looking couple with the same Rick Steve’s Italy book I had been carrying!

I showed them mine as they had already showed me theirs and we became fast friends. They agreed that Rick is fantastic, but does gloss over how really, really, really tricky it can be...I guess that’s ok though as the other option would naturally lead to, “Rick Steve’s Italy - Why you should just stay home” or some such.

Our new friends were from Hawaii and co-miserated that they too had been stuck in Bellagio (woe is us right?) trying to get to Villa Balbianello. Thinking back on it now I’m guessing there’s a frequent ferry running just between Bellagio and Varenna and the ferry that hits all the stops just was leaving from Varenna and then stopping at Bellagio last.

The ferry pulled up and we jumped on, but sadly lost our friends in the hullablloo...one of the greatest parts of our trip was actually getting confirmation that we had figured out the most mundane of daily Italian life...case in point showing out tickets to the ferry crew member and him allowing us on and saying ‘Yes’ when we said ‘Tremezzo?’ Sweet success !

The ferry stopped at one stop before Tremezzo and then we were off. Now...about 40 of us disembarked and I suggested to She Say that we cool our heels for a minute to allow the crowd to thin out before heading to Villa Carlotta. I didn’t see any other destination, so was assuming everyone was heading there. We plunked down on a bench and watched the water for a while before realizing the Villa shut down in an hour. Such is life eh ?

Off we went and bought our tickets. Racing past a tour group of maybe 60 we decided it was better to have some missed connections and other fun adventures along the way rather than be bogged down with that lot !

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The actual Villa of Villa Carlotta was beautiful with some interesting art, but the real jaw dropping-ness was the gardens. The guidebooks do mention this, but they should have put something in along the lines of ‘if you like gardens and only have an hour, don’t waste any of it on the villa itself.”

We spent roughly a half hour inside before heading outside...the reason we didn’t feel the need to vamoose outside quicker I guess is you don’t realize how big the gardens are until you’re in them...some of the self-guided walking tours were estimated to take 3 hours. The views of Lake Como were spectacular. As someone who lives on a one-third acre lot in suburbia it’s darn near impossible to understand what it must have been like to actually live in such a beautiful location. I’m proud of my one-third acre lot and our landscaping is sorta/kinda impressive but ai yi yi...to have the alps and the lake as your backdrop...madonna santa!

Headed back to the ferry landing. Older gent pulled up on a massive motorcycle at a little wine bar across the street from the bench we were sitting on. Greeted affectionately by the 2 younger girls working there so we assumed he was a local regular. Looked like fun so we almost wandered over for a pint, but got nervous we’d miss the ferry. She Say went up to the ticket booth as I assured her it was unoccupied and I wasn’t going to go waste my time. Sure enough she knocked and an employee of some sort opened a window (and I would imagine his eyes as you can’t convince me he wasn’t sleeping!). Confirmed ferry would be along ‘any minute now.’ Ferry arrived, I had a panic attack as I couldn’t find my ticket and then relief there it was ! We piled on and headed back to Varenna via Bellagio.

Jumping off at Varenna our plan was to take a quick walk up to the train station to confirm what time the last train was leaving for Milano and then grab a drink or a bite time permitting. All of a sudden our Hawaiian friends appeared (to our wondering eyes no less). They said they were staying in Varenna just down the street from the Tourist Info spot and they could help us with the train schedule so andiamo !

After a walk up a really steep street we got to the TI only to find it closed...our new friends walked us back down to where they were staying and provided the internet access code so we could check the train without hiking to the station. Last train was at 10:20, so we had time to grab a bite.

We had previously decided returning to Ristorante Ferrelli Milano was a dangerous idea. The chef had said he was going to cook us a special supper, but She Say and I both tend to excess, so as much fun as Round 2 could have been we decided dinner in Como with our new Hawaiian friends was the way to go. I believe it was about 7:00 at this time.

Our new friends recommended a place they had dined at the night before. We all enjoyed the obligatory complaining Germans who were at the table 2 down from us and really not on Italian Time. Such poor service! Schneller Paisan!!

We had a nice time and they were kind enough to pay for the whole shebang on the agreement that we would pick up the tab next time our paths crossed!

It was more or less 9:00 when we made our exit saying aloha as we didn’t want to take any chances of missing the 10:20 train. It was roughly a 30 minute walk to the station and we figured we’d take our time to look at the stars as we walked. Also after 2 hours we were reaching that dangerous place in conversation where we’ve talked kids, jobs and other resume questions and are now broaching politics!

As luck would have it (or maybe not, you’ll have to be the judge) the 9:20 was running 10 minutes late so we were able to jump on.

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Now...reader of the dearest kind imagine my supreme satisfaction knowing we had successfully overcome the public transportation hiccups of Day 1 in Milano and our only issue on Day 2 was forgetting to stamp our tickets for the first leg of today’s train trip to Como and a few ferry bumps and now here we were a full hour ahead of schedule and on the way back to Milano. Such pride and sense of accomplishment must Napoleon and Alexander have felt upon executing their less ambitious plans.

Now...reader of the aforementioned dearest kind imagine my (still understandable at this point) surprise to hear our train was not traveling all the way to Monza and we’d have to hop off and grab another one. The million euro question though, was which one?

The only other passenger in our car at this time was a nice older Italian woman. I’m guessing 70 or 80. We had exchanged some pleasantries on the train so far as she heard our English. She reminded us of my dearly departed Great Aunt Josephina (rest her Neapolitan soul!). Between the 3 of us we got off the train and found where the monitors were showing the arrivals and departures. Sadly...no trains listed heading to Monza or Milano.

Now I cannot remember the name of this station, but it was what we in the US of A call ‘in the boonies’. Very small with nobody apparently working. We flagged down some other passengers and were assured Platform #1 was what we wanted. Allora andiamo !

Platform #1 was populated with She Say and me and our new Italian Great Aunt and roughly 20 male migrants. It was not a fun scene. Our new Great Aunt showed She Say the proper way to hold her purse to cut down on having it stolen. Great fun. Our Great Aunt had learned English years ago when she was a girl, but had not had any opportunity to practice. My bad Italian and her bad English had us getting along splendidly.

And then...the platform for our train changed..again! Off we went to Platform we didn’t know...but...off we went anyway...we surveyed the monitors, but no luck...then….Maureen O’Hara’s Scottish cousin showed up and led us all to Platform #3.

We had been saved by a lovely woman who had moved to Italy 20 years ago to teach English, married an Italian man and never looked back. She explained we’d be at least another hour on the train just to get to Monza. Apparently this is a common occurence taking the train from Varenna back to Milano after a certain time. We never did figure out what time that certain time was, but I got the sense that the later in the night you went the shoddier the train service got. We literally sat in each station along the line for 5 minutes...minimum. Dios mi.

So, our 48 minute train ride had turned into a little over 2 hours. Probably 2 hours and 45 minutes is not an exaggeration.

We asked Maureen’s cousin what we could do to make the buses, subways and trains work better for us. She suggested we visit Germany or Denmark if that kind of thing was important to us.

We asked if we should rent a car in her opinion and once we explained our itinerary she said no way.

So….what to do? She suggested staying off of local/regionale trains. Use the velocite and freccia rosso trains as much as possible.

She bid us Ciao somewhere before Monza leaving us to tend to our Great Aunt.

Easy transfer at Monza and then it was only a few stations to Porta Garibaldi. We escorted our Great Aunt out of the station. It was funny She Say and I both assumed she was coming home from work, but it turned out she was visiting a childhood friend. I can only assume she made it home safe and sound after we abandonded her, but hey...you can only do so much for family right??!?!

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No wrong turns walking home which was a miracle. The city was truly alive at what was around 11:00 pm. Was fascinating. All the Italians had come out for dinner. In our neck of the US of A restaurants would be shut down 9:00 or 10:00. Maybe a few strays, drunks and/or politicians eating at a bar but the tables of every eatery we passed were full with fashionable, beautiful people. We were tempted to head over to Ristorante Ferrelli Milano, but alas it was not to be. Discretion better part of valor again.

We successfully navigated the mystery of the 5 keys and made it into our room.

Final comment on Milan..the people were literally dressed to the Italian for nines (nove!) and if they had not just jumped out of a fashion magazine it was only because they were too handsome/beautiful to need the money or public adoration.

So...to sum up on Day 1-2.

Our goal was to use Milano as a base for day tripping to Lake Como. We made this decision as I didn’t want to travel all the way to Milano from home and then have to get on a train to travel another hour before hitting a hotel and then travel back to Milan to head onto Venice. Also, the rates for hotels in Lake Como were much higher than what we paid in Milano for comparables.

While I didn’t think we’d love, love, love Milano I wanted to give it a fair shot and definitely see the Duomo. Looking back we got some great stories with our adventures and mis-adventures and while we didn’t buy the t-shirt we were definitely entitled to do so. I am calling Milano a Gritty City as it was primarily a working city with some tourist appeal...not sure if I’m conveying this in the best way possible...but...I think the artwork and beauty while there are overshadowed and perhaps overlooked due to the hustle and bustle.

Lake Como is someplace we definitely plan to return to in the future. I could see spending 3-4 days there and not worrying about checking off any boxes. Just splurge on a hotel with a view and/or a balcony and soak it all up. I am calling Lake Como one of our Beach Days. It was just so beautiful that the scenery and the charm took la torta.

Tune in tomorrow when our heroes board a freccia rosso Venice-bound!

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Thank you for the comments Nancy, Diveloonie, S Jackson, Horsewoofie, Mary, and Mimi!

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Very entertaining read!! I lived in Italy for several years and was also told by an Italian that if I wanted simple and dependable public transport, I should move to Germany!! 🤣

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Sen say, you have a gift for humorous travel writing. Enjoying your travels as I sit in chilly Salzburg in my hotel, anticipating spending some warm weather time in Varenna next year.

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Okay, I can't wait for the next installment! This is funnier than Chevy Chase's movie "European Vacation" from years ago.
Write a screenplay and star in the movie. I'll pay to go see it.

Hope to read your next chapter soon.
thanks for taking the time to write it

Mimi

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Friday, 10/5/2018

Day 3: Milano to Venezia

We had another lovely breakfast at La Favia 4 Rooms a final visit to the beautiful gardens on their rooftop...don’t think I mentioned these...nice seating areas and lots of beautiful plants, flowers...remnants of a vegetable garden. Definitely wish we had spent some time there with a bottle of wine rather than so much time bottle of wine-less on public transportation.

Our host Fabio took payment in dollars which was convenient and ordered us up a taxi.

TAXI ! So worth it.

I’m betting many fellow travelers have different views on tipping the taxi driver just like me and my lovely wife (who truly is lovely and good at most everything including electrical work and minor plumbing which I am not). I think she didn’t tip this guy as we were operating under the ‘just round up’ approach and we didn’t have any small bills, so rounding up would have been 5 euro on a 10 euro taxi ride.

We arrived at Milano Centrale to get a train to Venice. This was much easier than our first train attempt, though we ended up using the Travel Agency and having to pay a service charge. It was for a Freccia Rosso and la madre mia ! So nice. The Agent was even able to tell us what platform it was leaving on and we upgraded to business class. Che elegance !

Milano Centrale was touted in the guidebooks as being a site worth visiting in and of itself. Rick’s description of the Fascist architecture is interesting and added to the experience. All in all though we thought the shopping options were blah and wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to stop by.

Getting on the train was pretty uneventful. The station was packed with people. Still lots of beautiful Milanese. Guards with high powered rifles abounded, but sadly not the beauties from the airport.

We boarded and the train took off. She Say and I had 2 seats to ourselves. Was awesome. I think the upgrade from 2nd class to business was 14 euro. Well worth it! We got coffee, and a little cookie packet at the start of the journey and a water bottle and more cookies near the end.

I think the top speed we hit was about 140 mph. Didn’t feel like a rollercoaster by any means, but you knew you were moving.

Our original itinerary called for stopping in Verona, but after the adventures in public transportation so far we skipped it. Maybe next time!

Scenery out the window from Milano to Venezia was surprisingly boring right up until you hit the lagoon. Felt like the train ride from Heathrow to London just 5 times longer. Total travel time was about 2.5 hours. Was so much better than the Regionale trains I kicked myself for not simply planning our trip around the freccia rosso line!

Once you start to see the water passing by the windows there’s a tremendous feeling like when you were a kid heading to the beach for your fambly vacation. The city then comes into view and the excitement of the exotic buildings combined with the mystery of what secrets the water holds kick starts sensory overload.

We disembarked at Venezia - Santa Lucia and headed outside into the shimmering sun. It wasn’t exactly a mob scene, but I could see how in the summer months the numbers would be difficult to bear. I had told She Say my plan was to buy a 48 hour vaporetto pass. She suggested perhaps we didn’t need 100% instant access to vaporettos as we both like to walk and find it’s the best way to see a city. Also, Rick had several walking tours in his Venice guide, so I opted for just a one way ticket. The plan was to get to our hotel tout de suite and then after checking in jump back on and finish Rick’s Grand Canal tour.

We managed with only slightly hiccuping to find the correct vaporetto stop and boarded the gang plank. I found a good spot for She Say to sit on bench rather than have to stand and thought we were ship shape. We then figured out we were only in a type of loading zone and had to andiamo on the actual ferry when it arrived.

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It was early afternoon at this time...I think around 1:00 or 2:00 ish. Getting a seat in the front, or back so you could have a really good view proved impossible. Even with only 1 carry on bag each manuevering wasn’t really easy. We did get a couple of seats near a window and clicked on the Grand Canal audio tour we had downloaded.

Our stop for the hotel was San Stae - 3rd stop from the train station. Amazingly, we managed to get off at the stop and determine our hotel was actually only 50 meters from the canal just like the literature said.

The lovely She Say had asked if we could just walk from the train station and I pointed out where our hosts had written, “It is possible to walk from the train station, but we are unable to provide directions and do not recommend this method.” Advice well heeded !

We entered our hotel for the next 2 nights the lovely Hotel Ponte Al Mocenigo.

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I am so enjoying your report and hearing about your adventures with public transport. Haven't yet been to this part of Italia and it's definitely on the list. Love your writing style too. Thanks.

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sen say, I'm lately come to the party of your trip report-must have missed which platform?!? In any case, I am thoroughly enjoying reading every word of what you are posting. You do indeed, have a gift for writing and it's so much fun in the reading. It sounds like you are really enjoying even the kinks in the road (tracks?) and are having a wonderful trip. You do need to return to Milano sometime, though, and see the "Unfinished Madonna"; it's truly awesome. I also love using the Munich airport and do so every chance I get! I haven't experienced the trains nearly as much as you and She Say and am not sure after reading your experiences, that I really have missed anything! I can't wait for the next installment and have bookmarked your report for future enjoyment! Enjoy Venice!

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Allora !

We found the Hotel Ponte Al Mocenigo via Rick’s Italy book. It was funny one of his tour groups had actually just departed the morning we arrived. The hotel was great and most of the pics on their website do do it justice with the exception of the pic of the canal. It kinda makes it appear as if the hotel is on the canal..(or has a fabulous view)....I don’t know...maybe some other rooms were, but ours wasn’t...the 2 rooms on the website are really similar to ours, but look a tad more spacious...the courtyard is actually nicer than it appears on the site as the pic was taken without anything in the courtyard and they actually have some nice statuary and seating now.

I would definitely stay there again.

So, we check in and rather than 5 keys we get 1 key card that we have to turn into the front desk whenever we leave. The reason being is the electricity in the room is activated by the key card, so it must be a pretty pricey key. This is kind of annoying, but makes great economic sense for the hotel in saved electricity I reckon. Took a little getting used to and coordinating for as when I ran out of the room to grab wine glasses or something I couldn’t take the key as She Say would be left in the dark...so...minor inconvenience.

Our room was right behind the check in desk, so that was fun too as we could exchange small talk every, dang time we exited or entered.

So...checked in..back out to the vaporetto...Rick’s audio tour of the Grand Canal. Really good time. Sure enough when we got to the Rialto Market stop an older Italian gentleman boarded and sat right across from us after apparently buying every single onion they had for sale. I love onions, but this was strong, strong, strong! Sadly, my Italian doesn’t include, “Are we having onions for dinner?” or some such, so opportunity missed!

We de-vaporettoed at Piazza San Marco and used Rick’s Walking Tours from his Venice book...I don’t have the books any longer as I checked them out of the library, but I think it was St. Mark’s Square tour and then like a Backstreets of Venice tour...both were awesome and well worth the cost of the book.

We skipped going inside the Doges Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica..lines weren’t too bad, but we just didn’t feel like it….I guess our travel style doesn’t include going inside some of the Big Ticket items. We’re happy just ambling around failing to not get lost.

The highlight was really Rick’s Backstreets tour...I think it was actually called, “St. Mark’s Square to Rialto Bridge Walk” now that I think about it. Lots of fun things to see like a church with the tombs of the ruling family at the time in the facade...don’t think it was Medicis...but...can’t remember who, but darn impressive...also a 5 star hotel that we wandered into and thought about having a drink on the patio, but decided against it...was simply beautiful...an asian couple was trying to decipher which bathroom they should use and as I was wandering by having temporarily lost She Say I was able to help the couple figure it out which was male and which female..great fun!

We made it across the Rialto Bridge which was mobbed...unbelievable...and set up to have some snacks and an aperitivo. Cicchetti and aperol spritz for She Say and a Negroni Sbagliato for me...this was great fun as the waitress was really, really insistent on teaching me to pronounce Sbagliato correctly...sadly I did not think to pull her into my lap so she had to stand for 5 minutes which must have been tough on the feet..I can’t remember the name of the Ristorante, but we were literally right on the water...I believe there’s only one stretch where the sidewalk runs right next to the Canal and that’s where we were...there was 5-10 places all in a row. Now we were talking!

This was our first time ordering Spritz, but was definitely not the last! Che bella !

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The Cichhetti were good. Just bread with spreads on them. It was about 3:00 or maybe 4:00, so of course there wasn’t any real food available, so we took what was left over of the lunch-time Cichheti (I believe this pronunciation is what we were using “chee (as in cheese) ke (as in ketchup) tea (as in tea)”) The whitefish spread was the best...forget what the other ones were..maybe octopus of some sort. The menu listed it as '5 types' but by the time we arrived they were down to 3.

We drank, dined, settled up and headed back to the hotel.

Now...amazingly we did not get lost very much at all in Venice. If you’ve been there you know it’s a tad confusing...and...from what we heard from others GPS devices don’t work. She Say is usually definitely better than I am at getting us where we are supposed to go. I still get confused traveling in the US of A wondering if Pennsylvania is North of Maryland. However, in unusual circumstances where logic doesn’t help I am a Genius!

So, without making one wrong turn we headed back to the hotel where I dropped off my lovely bride and then I headed back out to a little grocery store I had noticed along the way that sold wine. I picked up a bottle of Prosecco, some bread and crackers and cheese and salami. Then ! I made it back safe and sound to the hotel all by myself.

We had a lovely picnic in the courtyard. Other guests were wandering in and out looking even more confused than we felt, so things were looking up. One thing the Says know well is sitting in a courtyard drinking Prosecco and picnicking while the World is burning around us!

Of course our solitude could not last and we were joined by a lovely English gal and her Australian husband. They had been in Venice for 3 days and had not visited the Doges Palace or St. Mark’s Basilica either. They spent today visiting the Lagoon islands. Their trick was you take the vaporetto to the farthest island and get off rather than jumping off at the nearest one. This goes counter to what most everyone else is doing theoretically so cuts down on crowds.

Our new friends picked up a bottle of wine from the hotel bar and soon we were all fast friends. After my 3rd glass of Prosecco I invited them to come fishing with me anytime they were in the States, but don’t think we exchanged contact info. If they show up one day poles in hand I’ll take it as a sign from above.

It was about 6:00 or 7:00 or maybe even 8:00 by now so She Say dashed off to get dressed and then I followed suit. In our carry ons we had made room for fancy attire. I had dress pants, sport coat, cufflinks and tie. She Say had several dresses and heels. Tonight was our first night dressing up and thank Heavens !

Tune in next time to see if Our Heroes can get a table for 2 without reservations on Friday night in Venezia !

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Allora, we had passed by a small restaurant right down the street from our hotel and that was our intended destination. Osteria Mocenigo!

We stumbled in after our bottle of prosecco and were greeted by a cheery site. Packed house and no line of waiting customers! We found out later this was because no reservation, no tavolo typically !

We were greeted by the host/owner from his perch behind the bar. In my best Italian I asked if it was possible to get a table for two. He asked if we had a reservation and I said, no but explained in my best Italian that “Mia moglia vorabe mangiare qual cosa deliciosa”. We were in luck as while there were no tables available they brought out a 2 top and squeezed us in...right next to the servers path to the kitchen, but hey we were dining.

The place was definitely hopping!

We started with a bottle of Amarone and things just got better from there!

I don’t remember everything we ate...but we started with a giant octopus salad...lemon, herbs, cherry tomatoes...yum-oh ! then squid ink pasta with shellfish in tomato sauce...best ever! She Say had the grilled shellfish with polenta and I had something with squid ink I’m looking at a picture of, but can’t remember what it was...oh yeah...octopus or perhaps cuttle fish..was yummy, but kind of one dimensional, but still fun !

Talking in broken English/Italian with our waitress it turned out her uncle had move to the United States a few years ago and she had visited him, but couldn’t remember exactly where he lived, but was pretty sure it was in Maryland...well...that’s our home state, so we tried to help her remember, but no luck. She Say did take down the uncle’s name for future reference. Further review showed he lives 20 minutes from us and worked at a restaurant we visit 3-4 times a year. Like Walt said it’s a small world after all !

We skipped edible desert, but ordered up a round of Fernet Branca Menta and then the host/owner bought us a round! Things were looking up.

Now...throughout our meal, which was probably only about 2 hours time...She Say and I were speaking in a mix of Italian, Spanish and German...and when speaking English using a heavy Italian accent. All the while we were bumping elbows with an elderly English speaking couple seated beside us. At one point, probably an hour into our meal, I leaned over and asked the gentleman how his food was. He said it was very good and complimented my English and asked where we were from. I explained, the great United States of America. They were very surprised having believed we were Italian.

Our new friends were from England and while I can’t remember her name, I do know his was Joffrey as his missus mentioned many, many times that ‘...when Joffrey retired, so did I’...they were nice enough and it’s always interesting to make new friends, but sadly we had one of those job interview type encounters where you never get past what you do for a living, where you live, if you’ve ever visited such and such and if you know who and who…

The other awesome events transpiring during dinner was watching our magnanimous host/owner turn people away who did not have a reservation. The guy was a mix of Falstaff, Fagin, and Pagliacci. Potential guests would stop in and ask for a table for X only to be asked if they had a reservation and when the reply was (inevitably) ‘no’ they were invited to come back around 11:00 and they might have a table then. This was always said with great kindness and lingering sadness, but firmness. When the guests explained 11:00 was far too late he would take out his reservation book and ask if a date several nights away would be ok? Occasionally this would work for all involved, but more than likely it was a crestfallen tourist wandering away asking themselves, “How’m I gonna get unhungry?” in their native tongue.

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She Say and I can only figure we got a table without a reservation as we were dressed to the nines and...in my opinion she especially looked like she’d just dropped out of Vogue Italia.

We finished our drinks and headed out the door. It was raining slightly, but that didn’t stop the Venetians seated outside from enjoying themselves just getting started with their dinners.

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Sen Say, I see by your itinerary that you visited Bologna. Since I will be there in May I’m hoping you continue your fascinating travel report with news of your activities there.

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Hi Patricia, I can guarantee you I will have gotten the Bologna escapades transcribed by May...most likely ! :-)

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Saturday, 10/6/2018

Day 4: Venezia

Allora!

We started our day with breakfast at the hotel. Food was good with everything you’d expect served buffet style. Some not quite hot enough and some not quite cold enough, but was perfetto at the time. Eggs, meats and cheeses, pastries and I believe the Italian version of pigs in a blanket.

Our destination after breakfast was the Peggy Guggenheim collection. We both enjoy historic homes and we were anticipating learning more about Peggy’s avant-garde lifestyle as well as seeing some neat art.

But first we had to find the dang place!

No problem I said to my lovely wife as I remembered exactly where it was from our Grand Canal tour Rick had narrated the day before. Right next to the Accademia Bridge Vaporetto stop and how tough is it to find that!?!?

So...one slight bother I had with Venice was finding locations by using Vaporetto stops seemed to be easy squeazy on paper, but in reality not so much...the closer you walk to the Grand Canal the more likely the streets will hit an unexpected dead end...like say a building or the Canal itself...so...I tried to navigate by sticking as close to the Canal as possible, but leaving enough space to not get dead-ended...sometimes this worked..sometimes the other one. And...as far as I could tell the Vaporetto stops are not marked simply and easy to find once you wander away from the Grand Canal.

Our first stop was the Rialto Market. Santa Cielo ! So much beautiful food and so much fun. Segulls stealing fish from the unconcerned fishmongers, fish shoppers pointing out to the mongers ‘no no, that one...no that one..the other one my friend!’ and a fruit monger chastising a young woman for touching the fruit and her yelling back !

We then ended up basically walking to the very tip of the more southwest part of the island (the lower belly of the fish)..overshooting our destination by a mile or so...well...the distance may not have been that far if we had had a map and could have walked from where we were to where we wanted to go, but what basically happened was I was leading the way and we came upon the lagoon...I knew this because the water was way big..so..I knew (just knew it by gum!) that we had to simply walk towards where the water was getting smaller and we’d eventually hit the Guggenheim…so...we followed the island all the way around the shoreline rather than saving time and cutting directly inland.

Anyway..this was kind of fun and would have been even more fun if I had the map I’m looking at right now in order to recreate what occurred for this travelogue. We could see Giudecca and San Giorgio in the not-too-far distance which was neat (but...likeIsay...didn’t know this at the time...I think I guessed it was Murano).

Our journey took us past the Punta della Dogana which was kind of neat as they were hosting an event related to a big Italian design or art week type thing...or maybe a month..not sure...had a card saying what it was, but think I tossed it assuming I could always find it online later...silly moi.

The event consisted of some multi-media art installations...some better than others...there was a short art film about Murano glass and then 3-4 exhibits highlighting the differences between light and dark...I can’t really explain this, but the one was hanging lights that looked like icicles all just slightly larger than the next...hundreds of them really close together...was pretty neat and definitely a through the back door type of thing….and did I mention it was free? Oh yeah...the piece de resistance was a Rube Goldberg type of thing that took 5-10 minutes to go from start to finish. Flashing lights and images and coordinated noises type of thing.

There was a really nice young girl working the front desk. We exchanged Ciaos on the way in and out and I put a few euro in the donation box they had left out. She confirmed the Guggenheim was just a short walk away.

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Allora, andiamo!

As we were walking along the canal we noticed the water had crested the walkway in several large stretches. We weren’t sure if it was the tide had come in or the beginnings of the flood! Peligroso!

We passed by the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute and had a plunk down on the steps. People watching was fun. Gads of asian tourist groups, families with young children we thought way closer to the water than we’d allow our progeny, and a lovely couple having a major tiff...our guess was they were as hopelessly lost as we had found ourselves several times. We finished up our people watching and went to see about heading inside the church. Sadly they were closing for lunch right as we realized entry was free.

Right before getting to the Guggeneheim we saw what appeared to be an insane older Venetian in a small gondola with a woman he had kidnapped, or perhaps she was his therapist of some sort. The gondola was much smaller than the ones the professionals use and we guessed this guy had rented or stolen it and was now having a dickens of a time getting it back to the dock. There were 3 Italians watching also and I asked if we should call for help or get a butterfly net ready in case he made landfall. They explained there was a private gondola club and in fact il signore had everything under control and was just waiting for the club rep to notice he was out there and ready to dock. Apparently it’s quite a prestigious club that requires entrance exams and demonstrating you can use the gondola, etc.

We arrived at the Guggenheim. The building is actually pretty darn tough to find. I expected there would be a sign and there was...or were...2 or 3 actually….of course they all point in different directions...I believe the conundrum is there’s a Peggy Guggenheim foundation building, a Peggy Guggenheim school building and then the actual building the tourists are all mostly looking for.

Having arrived my beloved was surprised there was a line to enter. I promised I would set my stopwatch and if we were still in the line after 20 minutes I’d call it a day. I’ve found this to be a good trick as you both agree how long you’re willing to wait….if the end is near and your timer goes off you can give the extra time...if you’re far, far away then you hit the road for an aperitivo!

Thankfully this line moved pretty quickly. I think we paid $15 euro each for the tickets. There was a courtyard with statues and then one building to the right with Peggy’s collection as I believe she had acquired it and then a building on the left with more ‘newer’ works.

All-in-all I was happy we persevered and visited. We were both a bit disappointed there wasn’t much actually about Peggy’s life, but it was (I guess as billed) an art museum with some incredible modern art. Not sure what we were imagining, but for instance one of the rooms is labeled ‘kitchen’ so I thought we’d see ol’ Peg’s actual kitchen as it was, but they had moved everything out to hang more art. Maybe one of the audio tours you could purchase would have more info. on this. We used Rick's tour printed out from his Venice book.

The highlight for us was walking out onto the one building’s ‘balcony’, or ‘terrace’ overlooking the Grand Canal. To imagine what it must have been like to live like that was worth the entry fee.

So, off we went back through the maze to our hotel.

We passed the Rialto Market and bought some fruit for our aperitivo picnic...it was a tad awkward as my Italian and the vendor’s English had She Say and me thinking we paid $23 euro for 4 figs, 2 oranges and a handful of black grapes...reality was it was $2.30 euro.

I bought 2 pairs of murano glass cufflinks which were snazzily gift wrapped. We picked up a bottle of prosecco, poked our heads into Osteria Mocenigo to ask for reservations at 8:00, but had to go with 7:00 as the other option was 9:00 and we figured we’d be bombed or asleep if we waited that long.

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Nice picnic in the courtyard followed by a fun, crazy dinner (see prior Osteria Mocenigo entry for more details) complete with new cufflinks and stunning dress for She Say and then lights out.

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Sunday, 10/7/2018

Day 5: Venezia on to Bologna

First Sunday of the month! Free entries!

Ok..so...it seems many museums are open for free on the first Sunday of the month in Italy. On the plus side you save the moolah, on the down side apparently it gets molto crowded. Our plan was to skip breakfast at the hotel, hit the maze early, get to the Gallerie dell'Accademia at 8:00 pronto, see some great art and andiamo before the cruise ships woke up.

Walking there was going to be easy as it has its own vaporetto stop, but please see prior entries for difficulties in finding anything in Venice based on Vaporetto stops.

Won’t belabor the travails in finding the joint, but a few interesting tidbits along the way were wine drinkers at outdoor walk up bars at 7:30 am, our excitement thinking we’d get a quick peek of the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge before it became a mob scene, but alas something was being done with a drone and they had blocked off access to the bridge...it didn’t really look ‘official’ and we could have probably hung out for 5-10 minutes to see if they finished up, but we had no idea how long it would be...so...andiamo!

We ended up (sorry can’t resist) walking past the Gallerie dell'Accademia similar to yesterday’s mishap, but not nearly as far. We then almost walked too far past it the other direction, but thankfully She Say spotted it and saved the day!

Upon entering we were greeted by a very stern Italian woman who we think was an actress apparently playing a German Museum Volunteer. As the place was practically empty she descended on us like a turkey vulture on a squirrel who had seen the wrong side of a BMW. We asked if today was free to enter and she indicated it was and showed us the counter to go to. This was all done in Italian as I had memorized “is the museum free today?” so she assumed we were Italian or at least spoke Italian which proved awkward in a few minutes.

We got our free passes and were ready to get started when Frau Blucher(!) accosted us once more. It was then she began to explain in Italian how to best approach the museum. I thought about just smiling and nodding, but couldn’t contain myself from explaining, “scusa signora, non parlo molto bene Italiano”. Well, the look of compassion she gave us was immense and the gateway to her taking a good 20 minutes to explain in halting English how to best approach the museum...this was really nice...but a tad frustrating as...well...1) it’s not that big 2) it’s laid out pretty intuitively 3) we’d umm...brought Rick’s Gallerie dell'Accademia visitor’s guide from his Venice book that laid things out pretty darn well.

Allora!

The museum gets high marks even though we’re not fanatical art lovers. Much preferred to the Guggenheim collection, but that’s our personal bias for enjoying more classic art over modern art and possibly that we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves and it was free!

After about an hour we decided we’d had enough and made to exit so we could hit the hotel before breakfast shut down. When….Frau Blucher(!) appeared! She inquired what we’d seen and where we’d been and when we explained how much we’d enjoyed it and we were now andiamo-ing she insisted we visit the entire museum...so...being good Protestants off we went.

The museum is laid out kind of like there’s the entrance and then you have 3-4 different areas all accessible from the main-entry-lobby-type place...kind of like a hub...we had done the 2nd floor...there was still the courtyard with statues and sculptures, another wing like across the courtyard and then another ‘area’ off the main entryway.

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She Say had had it by this time so she plunked down on a couch in front of a giant painting of something or other that may have also been a clock while I posted up as a lookout for Frau Blucher(!).

When I noticed her swooping in on a much younger and prettier couple than us I gave She Say the signal and we took off in a mad dash to gain our freedom. We ducked (just barely) under the anatomically correct horse guarding the exit and burst through the doors into a clear, blue Venetian morning.

We raced back to the hotel. They were kind enough to let us mop up the buffet even though it ended at 10:30 and it was now 10:28.

One final mis-adventure: we had been trying to find an atm to get some euros as the hotel had an 8% cash discount, but had encountered many problems finding one which I won’t bore anyone with as I’m sure we all want to get out of Venice, but quick points 1) not all ATMs are created equal, some charge a lot for service fees which I think Rick talks about 2) finding anything in Venice is tough and usually involves walking 3) we had a limit of like 300 euro a day for trading in from our bank and 4) I think our cash savings was going to be 28 euro which I really, really would have liked to save, but the time and effort we had put into it had already far exceeded that.

So, we packed up our bags and began the trek to the train station as yes avid readers we were now so confident in our knowledge of Venice we decided to save the vaporetto fee and hotfoot it through the maze to the train.

Andiamo!

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Thanks so much for posting your trip report! You are a talented and funny writer. I am enjoying traveling along with you and eagerly await the next entry!

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Thoroughly enjoying your trip report. Each installment if funny, entertaining and informative! Eagerly awaiting your next post as we will be undertaking the trek on foot to the train station from our hotel in a few months ... having doubts already about the wisdom of this but maybe your experience will reassure me that it is a piece of tiramisu.

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We squared our bill at the hotel and the front desk guy showed me on the map they handed out how to get from the hotel to the train station. He didn’t actually use a writing implement on the map, just pointed with his finger...so...I guess I could have come back with a pen and asked him to write on the map, but you don’t think of these things at the time.

The funny thing about asking directions from the locals in Venice is every interaction feels like the scene in Goodfellas where De Niro tries to get Lorraine Bracco to go into a warehouse to pick out some ‘nice dresses’..there’s lots of hand waving and pointing, but you end up feeling like you should just run away..in Lorraine’s case it was out of fear in my case it was being overwhelmed with a crushing fear I’d end up lost (again).

But...out we went into the maze one last time...we had given ourselves an hour to walk what I think was a little less than a mile...a freccia rosso train left roughly every two hours to Bologna so we didn’t want to miss the one we were shooting for and have to wait for the next one.

The area we walked through had a much different feel than the rest of the City...streets felt wider and less Venicey...this may have been as it was still early Sunday morning, but when we return (someday hopefully) I plan to explore more...apologies for not knowing the specific area, but it’s the stretch between the train and Hotel Ponte Al Mocenigo.

We managed to follow the directions we’d been given pretty well...this was amazing...and I was feeling pretty good...I did ask She Say at one point to pop into a shop and ask if we were on the right track to the train station and she came out to say she thinks they said ‘yes’.

So, we were getting close to our train’s departure time and trying to boogie woogie as fast as we could, but the closer we got to the station, the more touristas we were getting jumbled up with. It was then (not for the first or last time) that all the time spent reading Rick’s books and following his packing advice really made things awesome!

With only a wheeled carry on bag each we navigated the cobblestones (which aren’t that bad) and stairs (many bridges have stairs rather than simple arches) magnificently while those around us struggled, yelled and sometimes cried transporting the majority of their Worldly Goods.

The piece de resistance came as we spotted the railway station on the far side of what I think is called the Santa Lucia train station bridge...it was big...and steep...and crowded...I took She Say’s bag and we agreed to meet on the far shore..no matter what! Like lovers escaping the fall of Saigon..or some similar...sorry I can’t come up with an Italian theme here.

The bridge was chaotic...I had a bag in each hand...both weighed around 20 lbs, so it wasn’t really a problem, but any more would have been ridiculous. There was lots of ridiculousness all around us ! The site of a man and a woman transporting 4 full-sized suitcases was probably the highlight...it took both of them to carry each one...they’d move a few steps and then rest...was amazing.

We made it to the far shore, headed in to buy our tickets, failed to be able to do so at the kiosk, so had to do the full service travel agency again like in Milan...time was getting tight on catching the train, so naturally there’s 2 kids who dart in front of me in an otherwise empty travel agency type place...naturally they have no idea where they are going, or if they want 1st class etc.

Of course when my turn came to buy our tickets I didn’t have the euros to pay the separate travel agency fee, so had to race out and ask She Say for the money.

I think that was it for our Venetian adventures. We made the train and were off to Bologna !

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So...to sum up on our time in Venice..I was calling Venice part of our Beach Days as there was water everywhere and the maze reminded me of a boardwalk or promenade you’d find in resort towns..She Say said it’s not so much a Beach Day and when I asked her if she’d classify it as a Field Trip or as a Gritty City she said (rather poetically) that it’s ‘just a magical place unlike anything else’.

The only thing I think I’d change from how we did it would be to splurge for the all-inclusive vaporetto ticket for at least one day...the walking the maze gets a bit overwhelming due to getting lost and distance...for our second night we had actually made reservations at Bistrot De Venise which I think we read about in Lonely Planet, or the Fodors and we called to cancel as the idea of walking there just didn’t cut it..if we had the vaporetto paid up we probably would have gone...que sera!

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Thanks fisher !

Ricarda if you have specific questions about walking please shoot me a pm. I think others may have more better experience, but I'm happy to try and help.

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The train to Bologna was nice and uneventful. There was always some underlying concern we’d be blown to bits or attacked by knife wielding fanatics, but fortunately none of that took place.

Beautiful farmland along both sides of the tracks. Would love to return to see it in the summer when I imagine the fields are full, but in October it was simple, lush, dark earth and bales of hay with some small kitchen gardens. Still pretty in its own way.

We passed right through Ferrara which my original itinerary called for jumping off at and having a look see. Problems were I couldn’t verify they had a baggage storage area, and much like our plans to jump off at Verona on the way from Milano to Venezia we just didn’t want to bother with it. Perhaps if She Say realized I’d planned to return there on a day trip out of Bologna we would have been wise to jump off there and then.

Arriving in Bologna Centrale train station was promising. Nice and clean and large, but not too large. She Say navigated us to the taxi stand with some help from passing Italians and others who seemed to know what they were doing.

Then commenced one of the strangest waits for a taxi ever. It was roughly 1:00 or 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon so perhaps that explains why there was a 10 minute wait in between taxis pulling up to the taxi stand. Maybe there was a soccer game on?!?

We were 3rd in line and after 10 minutes with no taxi, the 4th in line took off and headed up an escalator. I surmised to She Say that he was heading up to the street where there were probably a horde of taxis waiting to carry us to our air BnB. She Say wasn’t having it and so we waited another 10 minutes. Eventually a taxi did roll up after a 30 minute wait.

I had included Bologna in the itinerary as Fodors, Frommers and Lonely Planet all had great things to say about it. Better leaning towers than Pisa, fabulous food of Emilia-Romagna, oldest University (or 2nd or 3rd depending on who you believe) in Europe. I also wanted to get off the beaten path and explore “non-tourist” Italy and force myself to speak Italian.

All this sounded good on paper, but when our taxi driver spoke-ah no English-ah..it proved scary yet exciting..I mean he spoke zero English...was exhilarating, but our biggest concern (well She Say’s) was that he’d drive us to the outskirts of town, steal our luggage and abandon us to wolves or worse.

Not to kill the suspense too soon, but of course none of this happened.

“Numero chinqway, quatro Villa Garibaldi per favore” was about all the convo needed for him to deliver us to Cozy Flat Castglione 35. The taxi took us through the center of town where there was a huge outdoor festival taking place.

Our host Matteo met us and showed us the apartment. Matteo was a great guy and it was fun practicing my Italian with him. He did speak English and explained most of the younger people in Bologna did also.

The apartment naturally came with 3 keys. 1 to get through the main gate at street level, 1 to get into the elevator shaft and the final one to the apartment door. We’re talking real, old-timey type keys also, not just simple ones like you pick up at the local Home Depot. These keys had charm!

A couple other factors in choosing Bologna was we were going to use it as a hub to visit other places that were a short (ha!) train ride away. And the final factor was I was believing it would be a bit cheaper in Bologna than the other big-name tourist towns. The air Bnb par example was only $83 a night.

Allora!

We bid Matteo ciao and set out to soak in Bologna.

One of the coolest aspects of Bologna is the 40 kilometers of porticoes. You can walk all over the whole town and never have your head exposed to the rain!

We actually had a map this time around as I’d copied one out of fodors. Was great being able to find the Two Towers without getting lost. It would be tough to miss them though.

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We thought an aperitivo would be great before we hit the big festival. There were musical performances and performing school groups all over a huge city square right around all the main sites. The Fountain of Neptune, Piazza Maggiore, Basilica di San Petronio. We plunked down at an outdoor cafe and were dumbfounded to see they wanted $10 euro for an aperol spritz. Way more than we’d been paying in Venice.

We wrote it off as the place being hoity-toity and in the high profile district and set off to find a cheaper spritz.

We never did figure out what the festival was about. The best we could come up with was apparently they shut the city down once a month and do something similar. It was really a blessing to find the place so hopping as we had to keep walking and walking to find an affordable spritz, so it made for an exciting journey.

We saw breakdancer groups among other fun things you just don’t see in our beloved Republik of Maryland.

Finally we found a small locals-only cafe where we could afford the spritzes. The locals were drinking beers and espressos and what I thought was a small shot of clear liquor. My dream of nobody speaking English arrived so it was a challenge to determine what the small shot was. She Say suggested it was just carbonated water. I said ‘bah’ and asked the cute Bolognese gals at the counter who had no idea what I was saying. So, we went to hand signals and since She Say had suggested it was carbonated water I threw out the word ‘gaseo’ which led to the cute gals pointing me in the direction of the bathroom which was not how I saw the scene playing out. Luckily another cute Bolognese gal wandered in who spoke-ah English-ah who confirmed it was club soda basically.

Andiamo!

We headed back to the hotel grabbing some picnic supplies, watching the street performers and making reservations at a restaurant I cannot remember the name of. It looked awesome. Had outdoor seating on a quaint street on the way to our hotel from the city center.

Everything was working out just swell. We sequestered in our air BnB kitchen and had a great pre-dinner picnic, listened to some of Matteo’s great music collection from the late 80s/early 90s and got all duded and dolled up for our reservation.

We saw a high wire walker on the way to the restaurant about 10-15 feet up in the air. He was great interacting with the crowd pretending he was going to fall and etc.

So, first slight problem was the restaurant was a lot farther away then what we’d thought when we made the rezzy. She Say in heels on cobblestones was a good sport, but flats would have been better. Second slight problem was our fellow diners consisted of loud mouths that were ugly Australians, or Brits or some accented (to our ears) English speakers...so...we didn’t want to speak English for fear of ending up stuck talking to them.

On the plus side there was a gent playing a guitar down the street and being a guitarist myself I recognized many of the classical pieces he was playing and he was downright awesome. The other plus was the waiter was nice and a character and the wine was free flowing and the outdoor scene was just great.

Final slight problem was..the food...just wasn’t delicious...we had the full 3 courses and I can’t remember anything we ate except I had the pumpkin filled ravioli and She Say had the pasta with Bolognese sauce. The pasta with Bolognese sauce may have had a different name, like pasta with meat ragu as apparently sauce Bolognese is an American GI thing handed down over in the states, but that’s what it was.

So, these 2 dishes are the creme de la creme of Bolognese cooking and they were just...meh...bland...anyway...we had a great time sitting outside and the weather was beautiful and my only real regret was not having any euros to tip the guitar player !

We stumbled back to the airbnb and got to work trying to figure out how best to approach our next 2 days in Bologna.

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Glad you are back...was hoping to read about the rest of your adventure!

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Glad to be back ! I suffer from on and off hand pain and had a flare up so had to take a break.

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Nice story

I love visiting Italy, and I love visiting through somebody else's (or in this case two somebody else's) eyes. Fabulous.

Mille gracie.

To help you with what you freely say is fairly Italianish - some words translate simply but mean completely different things - When relating your Lake Como adventures you say you were never visited by the "conduttore". Sounds right but wrong. You've said that you weren't visited by the wire. Conduttore is an electric conductor. You meant Capotreno - the person in charge of a train.

Just FYI...

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I especially enjoyed hearing about Milan, Varenna, and Venice, all places I have been. I had a running video in my head to match your story. Thanks for sharing.

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DAY 6: BOLOGNA TO FERRARA
Monday, 10/8/2018

Bene ! So...like a lot of things in our lives She Say and I may have had a glass too much vino when we were figuring out how to best approach our 2 days in Bologna. We flipped through the info. I had and when She Say saw Ferrara had Castello Estense with graffiti from prisoners locked up and tortured in the 1300s she exclaimed, “Who wouldn’t want to visit Ferrara.

So, we headed off fairly bright and early to the train station (naturally) to pick up a train running at roughly 9:30 from Bologna to Ferrara...a quick 22 - 45 minute journey...we’d be in Ferrara in no time and have a great day! Why...in fact...we both remembered passing through Ferrara on the way from Venezia to Bologna and it didn’t seem that far away at all.

Allora...when we got to the train station every resident of Bologna had also decided to hop a train...so...we had to ‘take a number’...and...we missed the 9:30 train...we did manage to get the 10:30 and (happy day!) whatever block our credit card had on it for purchasing tickets from a machine somehow magically disappeared..so...this made life going forward much more less rough.

With some time to spare we hit a bar and drank espresso doppio standing at the counter like true Bolognese!

Made it to the correct platform well in advance of the train arriving and were feeling pretty good with ourselves...just hop on the train and in 22 - 45 minutes...andiamo a Ferrara..

Well...we took our seats and 2 nice Italian lads by way of North Africa settled in behind us having an animated conversation...they continued this conversation only until one or both of them received a phone call and so then the conversation went on hold while they conversated even louder on the phone and then after the call they re-commenced the original conversation exactly where they left off at exactly the same tempo, cadence and volume.

So...after 10 minutes we got up and moved further down the car to get some peace.

As the train conductor approached these lads it became apparent they didn’t have tickets. So, for whatever reason the conductor stopped the train. For about 20 minutes we sat there while the conductor worked out some sort of payment plan, or similar financing option from what we could tell. Of course, the lads continued to conversate between themselves and on the phone. Was one of the most bizarre scenes we’d ever seen.

So, that issue settled the conductor left the car and tooted a whistle and then came back in a different door.

And then we were moving ! Chuggity Chugg….stop...we came to a halt and we realized we weren’t on an Express train at all and so we were on the longer end of the 22 - 45 minute journey. So...45 minutes...non che sono problema...we had books to read and scenery to see.

1 hour and 30 minutes later we pulled into Ferrara.

I still have no idea what was happening, but I’m pretty sure there was an il furbo (sly one) trying to avoid having to use a ticket….I think this because at every station a kid would walk very quickly through our car...not running, but moving quick like...the kid would duck out the door at the far end of the car and then duck down below window level and hot foot it back to the front of the train...and then 30 seconds later here comes the conductor not running, but to all appearances chasing someone….and...he’d jump off the train...look down the platform both directions...and then take off his cap...run his hand over his head and then put his cap back on and then straighten up and toot his whistle and then come back in a different door and andiamo !

Ahhh...the mysteries of Italian life.

So, I escorted the lovely She Say straight to the taxi stand! No fooling around on public transportation any longer and off we went to the Center of town to Castello Estense.

We arrived and were greeted by a fun looking open air market...lots to see and did I mention the weather was beautiful?

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And then there we were at the entrance to Castello Estense...a beautiful moat (who doesn’t want a moat! (Dig The Moat !!)) and only moments away from medieval tortured lovers graffiti when we bumped into a Castello Estense - Closed Mondays.

Santa Cielo !!!

Yup.

Many months of planning, many, many travel guides read, many, many, many, “What kind of moron forgets it’s Monday!?!?” lols at others and...here we are in Ferrara with the town closed.

If we couldn’t laugh we’d cry non a vero!?!?

So, we toured the outside open areas, popped into the visitor center and picked up a town map.

Flustered but not defeated we headed on to Enoteca Al Brindisi the ‘oldest wine bar in the World’ where no less than Copernicus used to drink. If we couldn’t tour dungeons we’d get liquored up.

We happened upon a couple of young college lads and in my muddles Italian they told me the spoke English and were heading in the same direction and off we went! They sent us down a shady looking side street, but lo and behold there was the Enoteca Al Brindisi exactly as advertised, but CLOSED on Mondays! And….I tell you honesttagawd the Lonely Planet guide book AND the Frommers did NOT mention this.

Santa Cielo !!

Of course by now we were starving...we had skipped breakfast to get an early start and usually we don’t eat lunch until 2:00 or 3:00 even in the US of A, but since all doors were closed to us (it being Monday and all and what fool wants to eat on Monday in Italy?) we couldn’t get our mind off of eating.

Most folks would be daunted by now, ma non io! Possibly due to the fact that right across from the Enoteca were two Italian college girls (Ferrara = big college town) languishing on an old stone wall more or less 5 feet above the street...it was kind of a ledge on this building that for whatever reason they had scaled to lie down on and hit the books...grind the nose to the stone...tee the eyes and cross the dots!

Ahhh...the mysteries of Italian life.

So, off I went with my “Scusi Signorinas, io e mia moglia voglia mangiare cual cosa deliciosa” (I know I’m not spelling this right and anyone who is a real good Italian speller can point this out and I’d be happy for the information, but just fyi this is a phonetic spelling that I’m using for comedic effect)

To which they replied something I have no idea what they said to which I replied “Io non parlo molto bene L’italiano. Parla l’inglese?” to which 99% of people under 25 I tried this with said ‘yes’ and then we progressed in English, but not so today !

I gave my best smile and pushed forward in Italian and they happily obliged in Italian most of which I didn’t understand and then I picked up them explaining I could use my cell phone to translate to which I happily replied, “Mi cellularie non functionah!” which was a phrase I must have practiced a hundred times with my Pimsleur language tapes.

This caused them to descend from the wall with extremely somber looks on their faces….a universal truth had been unveiled...no matter where you find yourself in the world if you want help from a millenial explain that your cellphone does not work!

Tune in next time to find out if these Angels of Ferrara deliver us to a dining establishment, or if they steal a besmitten Sen Say blind!

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I'm late to this literary party but it's fascinating! I'm headed to Venice and Lake Como in August, along with a few days in Florence, and have not previously been to northern Italy. So this is especially helpful (and entertaining). Anxious for the next chapter!

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Sen say, you’re leaving us hanging, wondering if the cute girls in Ferrara helped you out or if you ended up wandering the streets looking for sustenance. More, please....

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Mi dispiace !

Been hectic ! Update later today to hopefully get us out of Ferrara and back to Bologna.

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Allora!

I explained (again) my wife and I were looking for a place to eat and they explained there was a McDonalds around the corner...so...I explained maybe something nicer...so they walked us around a few streets while the whole time She Say sent me ESP messages, “Do not invite them to lunch. Do Not invite them to lunch, Do NOT invite them to lunch.”

So...I did NOT invite them to lunch.

As we neared the destination they explained, they had never eaten here, but it was the kind of place the parents take the college kids when they visit them at school.

At this point in time we were asked if we were Americans by a group of Mormons. This was one of the more unexpected encounters we had. Naturally, I asked the guys if they knew Elder Dan, but they had never met him. She Say wanted to know where their bikes were and they pointed them out. Our hometown has quite a few Mormon missionaries as we’re close to Washington, D.C. I guess. We asked our new Mormon friends why anyone would choose D.C. over Ferrara and they were perplexed also.

Anyway, andiamo al ristorante!

We bid the girls Ciao and it being only 1:00 there was nobody else hungry in town, so we had the place to ourselves.

We plunked down at an outdoor table for 2. The location was beautiful, quintessential small-town Italy. We were in some sort of a street where no God-Fearing American car could possibly squeeze through. Lots of bicycles up and down the street and grandmothers watching us from upper story windows.

Our waiter approached and spoke-ah no Ingles-ee at all. But...how can you really go wrong when you have a menu and can just point at what you want?

Well, we started off well. A bottle of prosecco, smoked goose prosciutto per mi and an arugula salad per mia moglia.

Time for the entrees.

Now...when studying a foreign language I found certain words just create a mental block and I can’t remember what they mean. This could be a complicated, irregular verb, or a simple noun. For Italian, I got stuck on burro.

So, add in to this that I really, really wanted to stop in Verona as they are apparently famous for serving donkey and that we bypassed it as we’d had enough of trains...yeah duh...and then add in the prosecco was flowing freely and the lovely setting and so, back to time for the entrees.

I saw they had ravioli with burro and asked the waiter, “burro is?” and then put my index fingers on either side of my head and said, “hee haw, hee haw”...no reply.

I tried again, “is assinino? Hee haw, hee haw!” still with my index fingers on my head….niente.
Finally I said, “Pinocchio! Hee haw !” This was the key! The waiter simply said, “no donkey, butter”

She Say had already ordered a pasta with shrimp, so I said I’d take the ravioli with butter.

The food was served and was beautiful. The ravioli with butter turned out to be pumpkin filled ravioli same as I’d ordered for dinner the night before. All in all this was one of our best meals, but the best dish was the arugula salad.

I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant. We would definitely go back. I just don’t understand the appeal of pumpkin filled ravioli. Call me Philistine!

We finished up lunch and were off to see the sites. I had a Fodors map with the top draws...incluing the Castle that was closed.

We set off to find the Diamante Palace. Ferrara is actually really small as far as we could figure, but it seems much larger. I seem to remember the buildings are smallish compared to how big the sky seemed.

We found Diamante fairly easily. I seem to remember we followed an Italian couple who we asked for directions to a street on our map and they showed us and we followed them for a while. We entered a courtyard that may or may not have been Diamante, but was a nice place to sit for a while.

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We left the courtyard and headed to where the Fodors told us the entrance should be and discovered some Australians or Irish who asked us if we were headed to the Diamante and when we replied yes they explained we should all just find a pub as the ‘whole town is closed.’

Yup.

So, we wandered around a while longer. Got some euro from an ATM. Visited a War Memorial that listed all the citizens of Ferrara who had served in war. This was actually very moving and I think was highlighted on the Fodors map. Some went back to the 1800s and there were fresh flowers and candles all around.

Ferrara must be a field trip destination for school children as there was a big group of them in the City Center usually underfoot. We decided to head back to the train station as if we hot-footed it we could catch an earlier train than we’d planned.

We took off at a brisk pace up the streets we’d taken the taxi down. I know hindsight is 20/20, but I’d recommend more frequent use of taxis for anyone trying a trip like this. When you’re walking if you turn right one street too soon, you’re wasted 10-15 minutes backtracking to get on course. We did a LOT of backtracking.

The brisk pace turned into pretty much an outright spring once we caught sight of the train station. We had 5-6 minutes before the train was scheduled to arrive. We bought tickets thankfully from the kiosk, stamped them and raced to the platform joining a throng of commuters...who...had all just found out the train was coming on another track...so...we all set off down the stairs and underground to cross the tracks….where...honesttagod we all found out the train was now coming on the track we started on...She Say and I dared not complain as nobody else seemed to mind.

When the train did arrive we were pretty sure it was a higher class than we had paid for, but today we would be gli furbi (sly ones!).

We took our seats and sat staring out the window. A final vision of a Ferraran college girl came into focus and sat down across from us. Her shirt instructing, “think of me as a dream”. Con piacere signorina and all of Ferrara on a lazy Monday while we are at it.

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To paraphase AC/DC we were Bah-hah-hah-hah Back in Bologna!

She Say decided to take a nap so I headed out alone to grab provisions.

I was trying to also scout out a restaurant listed in the Fodors, or the Frommers, but of course got helplessly lost. Thankfully I got lost in the area where the University is. There was great excitement taking place. I guess some kids were graduating and all their friends gather around and cheer and sing songs and drink sparkling wine. At first I thought it was maybe a riot or something that should have me fearing for my life, so when I realized what was going on it was a relief.

I managed to find my way back towards where we were staying and stumbled upon Tamburini! Santo Cielo! Such cheese! Such Salami!

To tell the truth dear reader, it was a bit overwhelming and I became a tad shy. I couldn’t bring myself to interact with the guys behind the deli counter as I was sure I’d make an ass of myself. I grabbed some pre-packaged cheeses and salamis and a couple of bottles of wine and headed to the counter. The Mama working the cash register was very kind and beautifully wrapped up my purchases.

She Say and I had a picnic in the room and decided to stay in Bologna the next day. Fodors has their ‘don’t miss’ section so I went through and drew up a little map for us to follow the next day.

She Say retired early and I stayed up later reading and enjoying the eclectic CD selection when I received a text from our youngest son (Sen the Fourth) explaining he’d lost his wallet which also happened to have his credit card in it which also happened to be the only credit card we had taken along with us. Such good planning!

So...I spent some time (hour or so) on the phone trying to explain the situation to the credit card company. Luckily after some quick thinking they set the card so that it could only be used in Italy. Two weeks later we received my son’s wallet in the mail complete with cash and credit cards. Some Good Samaritan had done did us a good deed.

DAY 7: BOLOGNA

Leisurely wake up and bacon and eggs for breakfast! Not really bacon...I had picked up some pancetta at Tamburini, but it was too thin to actually cook up properly...my bad I guess...put it in the fry pan for a minute, some fat was released and I fried the eggs in that. Was yum-oh with some of Matteo’s coffee we found in a cabinet.

First stop was the International Museum of Music which was free!

Naturally we got lost.

We ended up in a supermarket lookin at all the yummy food. I find it difficult sometimes explaining to friends and family what we ‘did’ in Italy, or pretty much anywhere we travel. She Say and I both love to cook and eat and visiting grocery stores is fun for us.

So, we did the aisles and then gave finding the music museum another try.

Walking through Bologna is an experience all to itself. The buildings are so old and the porticoes are so much fun. We wandered around and found the street where the museum was, but couldn’t figure out the numbers, so we popped into a bar and had an espresso (doppio) while standing at the counter and the bar keep explained the museum was just down the street. That was the good news, the bad news was our tour book (Fodors or Frommers) had lied and there was like a 10 euro admissino fee...so...andiamo!

We headed back through town and found the basilica of Santo Stefano. This was a majorly great church and free! I think we donated 5-10 euro as an offering, but basically free. Many different churches and courtyards to see and some fun art work including a full sized diorama. Wikipedia describes it as, “a large wooden group of the Adoration of the Magi.” Oh yeah...they had the bones of some Saints in the basement chapel. Another highlight!

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I shepherded She Say over to the section of town housing the University. It was still crazy fun with many students cheering on the graduates and lots of sparkling wine. We stopped into a courtyard to see some interesting statuary. I can’t really name any streets, but if you happen to find yourself in Bologna I’m pretty sure you could find the University and there would be lots of kids cheering and drinking.

Next stop was showing She Say Tamburino. We grabbed a table for lunch at a little outside seating area they have kind of in a storage container but with clear sides. The whole thing is about 4 feet tall. It was nicer than I make it sound. Aperol spritz all around and some yummy charcuterie. We were surprised to see several school groups wondering through. These looked to be kids between 8 and 13. Our guess was it was some kind of field trip. It was fun to sit and watch the Italian locals goof off behind the teacher’s backs and then get reprimanded only to goof off some more.

We headed off to find Mercato Delle Erbe. A fun indoor food market. We picked up supplies for dinner that night only wishing we had a bigger kitchen.

Next was the San Petronia Basilica. We waved hello to the Nettuno Statue and approached the Basilica. The polizia were out in full force with some of the lovely, rifle-wielding Signoras from the airport on patrol.

We confirmed we were allowed to bring our market purchases inside and headed on in. Another ‘free’ church. They asked for 5-10 euros if you were going to take photographs, so we just took our memories.

I know there’s some churches you just HAVE to go see, but for us the free ‘lesser’ churches are just as moving if not more so.

By this time we were pretty tuckered, so skipped the Basilica of San Domenico. Apparently it had the tomb of San Domenico posionally in poisson, but we were all churched out.

A quick stop into a tiny grocery store to purchase a couple bottles of wine. This would become our Standard Operating Procedure moving forward. We never found an ‘incredible bottle for ONLY .00001 Euros’ how other better travelers then us always talk about, but for 7-10 euros we were getting good wine and nobody got hungover (not even in Cinque Terre...not really!)

Siesta.

Picnic dinner, stroll out around town for Gelati. The whole city was lit up and it was a lot of fun just to be outside in Bologna, in October.

So...to sum up Bologna...definitely a Gritty City….I wanted our itinerary to include places off the beaten track and Bologna fit the bill...She Say has said she never needs to go back, but I feel somewhat haunted by it...maybe it was the missed opportunities of day tripping to Ferrara only to have everything be closed...maybe the claustrophobia of the air bnb added mystery...maybe the street festival the night we arrived...regardless...I guess we give it a thumbs down and a thumbs up.

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DAY 8: BOLOGNA TO FLORENCE

So, dear friends, the time has come to say Ciao to Bologna and Ciao to Florence.

Our host Matteo had arranged for a taxi to pick us up outside the Air BnB and take us to (where else) the train station. 15 minutes prior we headed out the door of the apartment leaving the 3 keys on the kitchen table as instructed. We made our way down the elevator and then around the corner and straight up to the interior gate which happened to be locked for the 1st time in our stay during the day time. No problem, still plenty of time to make the taxi. I call Matteo, but no answer and then as if on cue the lock clicked and out we went. Matteo followed up with a thumbs up text, so I guess this happens with most guests.

Taxi ride was uneventful with the exception of She Say believing he took us on a run-around...I disagreed...while we did travel a different route that fare was like 2 euro more than the drive in and if that’s scamming..well...I guess we was scammed.. The more interesting event though was as our taxi driver is navigating the many twists and turns of the roads, watching for motorcycles and pedestrians he spots a paisan and they wave...the paisan then comes out into the road to say Ciao and shake hands. My daydream was the slightly more circuitous route to the train station was the result of this clandestine meeting and they were passing drugs and/or numbers!

So, we arrive at the train station. The Bologna train station while not as frantic as Milan did have quite a good custom taking place apparently all hours of the day. It was a fairly small building, but always packed to full capacity. For some reason we encountered an English speaking staff member who asked where we were going and simply took our credit card and handed us two tickets to Florence.

The train to Florence must have been pretty uneventful as I don’t remember any of the events.

Arriving in Florence we (ok maybe just me) had planned to take a taxi to the next Air BnB. Wading out of the train station She Say became convinced we could ‘just walk’...so...Andiamo!

We kinda/sorta pretended like we knew where we were going, but in hindsight I guess we just followed the crowd as we ended up right smack dab in the center of town and bam there was the Duomo and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. We turned left and realized we were probably lost, but not to worry as we had a map.

I’m not sure where the map we had came from. Was definitely a tour guide book...maybe Rick’s special Florence book or something out of Frommer’s or Fodor’s. Either way...I think the problem with all of the maps is there’s really just no dang way to map these places in any sort of detail that you could read on a small scale like a tour book. I’m no boy scout (just ask my prom date!), but I’m pretty good at reading a City map any other place I’ve ever been. You just...follow the dang map...but...alas...Italia!

So, we stumbled around dragging our carry ons and once again nobody in the town new where any streets were...and...when we did find the street we were looking for it was literally like 20 yards from the shop vendor we asked...maybe they were having a go at the Americans? Non capisco.

So, we get to the Air BnB and...the nice hostess buzzes us in and we explain about the hike we just endured to get there and she points across the street to where the ‘other’ Florence train station is literally a block away...she apologizes as she usually sends out this info, but since I had last told her we were taking a taxi...she figured all was well….andiamo!

The Air BnB was called Lux Attic Air BnB. Simply divine. The balcony stretched the entire length of the apartment so we had sweeping views of Florence to one side and the hills of Tuscany to the other. Sunsets and sunrises molto bella!

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Our hostess had some nice recommendations for site seeing and restaurant recommendations and explained how to get the train right across the street to take it back to the main station and the hustle and bustle.

We said “Ciao” and off we went! Oh yeah...the keys here were only 2..but...you had to turn a deadbolt to lock the actual apartment door...much like reading a map...this is something I’m usually pretty good at..alas...not so in Florence...on our first try leaving we had to call the hostess and have her walk us through how to lock the door...opening it was also tricky...She Say and I could never 100% figure out what the trick was, but we only had to sit outside once with our heads in our hands calming down before attempting to lock the door so we could leave.

Anyway...off we went and headed to the Uffizi where Saint Rick of Steves’ advice to reserve tickets made us love him even more! We followed Rick’s guided tour from the Florence book and it was phenomenal.

I am always amazed when people tell me they are going suchandsuch and have NOT bought Rick’s book.

It was also at the Uffizi where we first saw the World’s Cutest Baby.

She was in one of those baby-carry things where the parent puts it on like a back pack and the baby rides in the front of the contraption looking forward. For those who have yet to encounter the World’s Cutest Baby she is of Asian descent and looks to be the cutest, chubbiest baby. She has a full head of hair, including what I believe you could call a top-knot tilted towards the right side of her head. Many fellow Uffizi visitors did not even bother to be discreet about it, but approached the baby to take pictures.

We finished our tour and treated ourselves to aperitivos on the Uffizi balcony cafeteria.

Stumbled back to our Air BnB and got changed for dinner. Tried to find a restaurant our hostess had recommended, but when we did finally find it it had been closed for what looked like months. We headed back to what looked like a nice place where we had poked our heads in to ask directions to the restaurant we were looking for. I’m condensing all this down as we probably wandered for 30-45 minutes looking for the recommended joint that was ‘only 5 minutes away’.

The place wasn’t bad, but there was a loud mouthed American couple in there using their mouths loudly and we didn’t want to be associated with them, so we had to keep it quiet and speak in mingled non-English. There were 2 nice Signoras next to us so we asked what they recommended and then ordered all 3 courses. The only glitch was I told the waitress (or thought I told the waitress) that She Say and I were going to share the 3 courses, but she interpreted it to be bring everything together..so...we had a pretty quick meal which was good, but didn’t get to order a second bottle of wine. If memory serves it was a salad, pizza and a meat dish.

We made it home. Buona sera!

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I am having fun reading all this! For a while I thought maybe you never made it to Florence!

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Glad you are enjoying it Travelmom! I promise we will eventually make it to Genoa and then back to the US of A!

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DAY 9: FLORENCE

The coffee maker was easy to use and that got us off to a good start.

I want to mention something a tad interesting about the Air BnB. The bathroom was one of the largest we saw in Italy. There was a full sized bath tub that felt 3 feet deep, an almost American sized showe, dual sink and toilet. What was interesting was...it was all outfitted in unfinished wood….so...our hostess emphasised that we could not get it wet...see the conundrum?

Anyway...outside of that all was wonderful with the place.

We dressed and shuffled outside to find a grocery store. With the wonderful rooftop lounge there was no way we were going to spend another night wandering around searching for food.

The grocery store was right around the corner and too much fun. Olives, cheeses, breads, salamis. We were on the (way) outskirts of Town so this was about as non-touristy as you could find.

One item She Say and I both loved that we had never seen before was pickled artichokes with the whole stem. We’re very familiar with pickled artichoke hearts, but the preparation with the whole stem was something we’d never encountered. I guess we’re rubes.

We also picked up half a dozen eggs and some pancetta.

Hot footed it back to the apartment. Cooked eggs and pancetta. More coffee. All is right with the world!

We then set off again to the bus stop our hostess had told us would take us to the Piazzale Michelangelo. Surprisingly, we got on the right bus and ended up at the right place.

The Piazzale Michelangelo was one of our favorite sites on our trip. It was just so relaxing and the view...Santo Cielo!

There were (of course) at least 2 parties of crazy, rich, Asians in full wedding attire having their pictures done. It’s amazing. They have an English speaking person in charge who tried to bully you into ‘moving’ out of ‘their way’...of course…’their way’...is..well...right where you wanted to be after flying several thousand miles, etc, etc….we tended to be polite, but kind of ignore them and pretend not to unnnerstan il inglese!

Anyway...we headed up the hill to have a looky look at The Abbey of San Miniato al Monte. This was a great church. Cost = free. I think I threw 5 euro in the donation box and would have bought something from the gift shop, but didn’t want to carry anything around.

You start with some awesome crypts in the courtyard to the church. Some dating back to like way old..1200 I think...you then can wander through a more modern day area..it’s very somber, but beautiful...there’s pictures on the crypts of the person buried there...I believe this is done all over Italy. Actually, I think Rick mentions this in his books...or maybe it was on his podcast or tv show.

It was really a beautiful experience. Fresh flowers, small gifts and letters.

Then Andiamo into the church itself. Was nice and quiet and cooler than the warm day outside. They had closed off a section as the monks were having mass, so we could hear them chanting or singing...forget which actually, but was beautiful.

The most interesting part of the church to me was there’s a ladder right in the center near the altar. The ladder doesn’t reach all the way to the roof, or lean against anything. I assumed it was put there as perhaps some monk was cleaning the windows and fell from the ladder and lived to tell the tale and they made him a saint, but She Say was pretty sure it was there for renovations as I think 2018 was the building’s 1,000 year anniversary and they were cleaning the joint up.

We headed off to see the rest of the graves/tombs including Carlo Collodi, the author of Pinocchio. We really recommend this area if you’re in Florence.

So, we finished up and decided it would be nice to grab an aperitivo. Rather than hang around for the bus we decided to walk down the hill. What seemed to only be a short bus ride (surprisingly) turned into quite a hike even though it was all downhill.

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It was a pretty walk and the street is lined with pine trees, so very pleasant all in all, but about 3 times longer than we’d planned.

We made it back to Florence Central after crossing some fairly non-pedestrian friendly stretches of road including a bridge over the Arno. We popped into a small cafe and grabbed an aperol spritz Italian style as in just standing near the cash register.

Another little bit of walking and we found a nice little beer forward trattoria. It’s funny...the menu was very basic..pizza...so I ordered a pizza and they brought out a potato dish...we had also ordered cured meats and fish and everything was yummy...but...you really do need to be a happy-go-lucky person to be a traveller. I really, really wanted a slice of pizza to go with my beer..and...not today.

We had one more site to take care of and that was the Galleria dell’Accademia for the statue of David. Naturally we got lost as our map didn’t really quite work. Thankfully She Say navigated us to the right place. We had made a reservation, but the earliest we could get was 4:30, so when we got there the line looked pretty darn small, so in we hopped and in no time we were inside where we were re-united with the World’s Cutest Baby!

Her powers were growing as her followers grew in number, but at this time she was still a benevolent ruler. I hope her reign is peaceful. Fare thee well WCB!

What can you say about the David et al? Truly amazing. I’m a hack musician, so really enjoyed the area with the instruments also.

With that we were back outside and headed back to the apartment. The walk home had us passing many restaurants with waiters outside harking passersby to stop in for steak Florentine. Part of me wanted to stop, but it was only 6:00, so I figured they were after the tourist crowd and we had a bottle of prosecco and one of sangiovese waiting for us along with yummy picnic items. So, Ciao to Florence!

So..to sum up Firenze...I’m calling it a Field Trip...but..in the best possible sense of the words….I felt the entire town was a shrine unto itself...there wasn’t just one museum, or one church buried in an overgrown City...but rather...every stone was calling to you to notice it before you had to return to your humdrum life back on the farm.

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DAY 10: FLORENCE TO CINQUE TERRE VIA PISA

With heavy hearts we bid Ciao to Firenze. Luckily we knew the train route from the Campo di Marte to Santa Maria Novella by heart now. Campo di Marte is the station closer to our Air BnB, and Santa Maria Novella is the Main station.

So, we bought our tickets and queued up right where we’d picked up the train twice already. And...sure enough...everybody on the platform goes racing off and down some stairs and under the tracks and queues up again at a new set of tracks...and..then...I kid you not, kid...we all race back to where we started...this takes maybe 5-10 minutes.

The train pulls in and we all go to get on and I say, “Santa Maria Novella?” as I step up and thankfully pretty much the entire train says “No, no, Roma!”. So back I step and say pretty loudly, “No Andiamo Roma!” and a bunch of other people step off and I am a Hometown Hero!

After accepting my many back slaps and calls of “Paisan!” we board the correct train and off we go to Santa Maria and then a quick shot to Pisa.

Arriving in Pisa the first order of business was to store the bags which we managed to do fairly easily, but I think it was a tad more expensive than what we’d imagined...maybe 5-10 euro...and then it was the Galilean (get it!) task of finding a restroom which we finally did and then hot foot it through the streets of Pisa using Rick’s walking tour that I believe is in the Main Italy guidebook.

As we followed Rick’s path we were amazed to discover a riot complete with polizia and smoke bombs and all kinds of fun stuff! Naturally we approached to see what was afoot! From what we could glean, the University Students were marching in the streets to protest austerity measures or some such. It was actually more of a protest than a riot and the smoke bombs were probably just sparklers or similar, but the excitement was in the air!

Naturally She Say forbid me tearing off my shirt and joining the marchers, but it was fun all the same.

Several students began cheering from inside classrooms and many on the ground floor climbed out to join in while the marches made obscene gestures to those remaining inside. Great fun!

After our peaceful protest we resumed our trek downtown. The streets are beautiful and charming and it was my goal to find The Most Awesome Scarf at one of the local shops. I believed that my appearance and linguistic skills would allow me to pass myself off as a true Italian, but...my lack of scarfage had so far held me back! After 10 days in Country I was feeling man enough to wrap a scarf around my American neck and fulfill my destiny of reclaiming my Italian heritage!

I had luck in the 2nd shop we stopped in. The clerks were very happy to see my enthusiasm and She Say agreed it was The Most Awesome Scarf and Andiamo!

We made our way through the streets and made our approach the The Tower. She Say had been there before as a child and we were hoping to get a picture of her in the same general area, but...dios mi….the crush of bodies there was immense. We saw a horse and carriage driver coming close to blows with a gentleman the horse had walked backwards into, there were huge crowds that looked as if they had en masse left their cruise ship and descended on the area, every woman was being held aloft by her beau to presumably to get a better look at the tower and/or some strange photo stunt. It was just immense.

We took a quick look and decided there was no way we were getting anywhere near for a pic. I asked She Say if we could walk up along the walls and she said , “Sure”, but after trying to figure out how to get up on them and where to buy tickets we bagged it.

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We sorta kinda backtracked to the train station...I wanted to just follow the same trail back, but my adventurous wife was confident she could lead us to the station without backtracking...so...off we went. We did end up at the train station and found out the next train was about an hour away, so we debated heading back out for a beer, or just waiting in the station and ultimately decided to just wait in the station and watch the people.

Next Stop Cinque Terre!

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You're a very talented writer and I'm really enjoying your posts. Thank you! I bet you and She Say are fun to hang out with while traveling especially after the first bottle of Chianti.

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Finally, someone exists who would understand that after several train fiascos we ripped up the rest of our Italian train tickets and rented a car! Freedom! No hassles!
We have successfully taken trains in other countries without problems including the fabulous , on time to the minute , Japanese trains!
Loved being back in Bologna too, a favorite.
I recommend Sicily for your next trip. You can’t even imagine how much more ITALIAN it is!

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Thanks gparvin!

She Say and I are a barrel of monkeys whether it's chianti or espresso doppio!

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Hi Suki!

We almost made the bold move to rent a car, but figured the devil we knew was better than the one we didn't.

Sicily is definitely on the bucket list, but we're thinking somewhere with less "chaos" for our next adventure.

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QUICK NOTE: HOUSEKEEPING

And now a quick housekeeping note..literally.

Our decision to stay at Air BnBs in Bologna and Florence were partially decided for laundry. I figured we were a little more than halfway through the trip so it would be good to clean some clothes.

I did try using the sink earlier in the trip just to see how that would go. I’m sure many are more smart than I be, but I ended up toting around a pair of damp socks for several days.

So...in Bologna we had a washer with ‘drying rack’.

When She Say and I were younger we used a drying rack at home to save on energy costs and had no problems. We'd put the clothes on the drying rack and plunk it outside. Sun and wind would turn the trick in no time.

In Bologna we didn’t really understand the only thing helping with the drying rack actually drying the clothes was the ambient air. Had we been more adventurous perhaps we could have put the drying rack outside by the elevator (which happened to be outside). But, the building was mostly residential and not some commoner beach rental on the Jersey Shore (no offense intended to fans of the Jersey Shore as it does have its charms I’m sure) and we didn't want to look like Pauly D and JWoww.

So...first order of business upon arrival in Bologna was to put some clothes in the washer. As you can guess, only about half of our clothes would fit in the washer. This turned out to be for the best as after 3-4 days and 3 nights of hanging out on the drying rack our clothes were just creeping past the point of being dry to where they wouldn’t smell like old orange juice when you put them on.

Add in the laundry stress on my poor beloved to the already covered chapters on Bologna in general and this could be a factor in her not loving Bologna, or ‘ever needing to return’.

Florence also had a washer and the bonus of a dryer. I kind of figured back to back lodging with laundry would be a good idea and on paper it really was. We had 3 nights in Bologna and 2 in Florence..so...on paper you could leisurely get all the clothes washed in between seeing the sites, memorizing the memories and overall enjoying your Italian holiday.

What happened in Florence was the washing machine would not ‘release’ our clothes. She Say put a small load into the washer once we checked in and we figured we’d get set up in the Air BnB, get our bearings, rest our dogs, throw the wash in the dryer and off we’d go.

Anyway...after about an hour we checked on the wash and the washing appeared done, but the light was on the ‘door locked’ sign...so...we headed out into Florence and...upon returning many hours later...still locked...and..there was no un-locking it...this baby was locked. Magically the next day it was unlocked and we had a quick consult to agree no-way, no-day were we going to test the dryer, so we laid all our clothes out on the (beautiful) wrap-around balcony in the hot Tuscan sun, sat in a little covered porch-like area, read Italian fashion magazines the hostess had on hand and waited for the clothes to dry.

With clean, dry clothes everyone was happy, happy and the stress of wondering if the dryer would ever release our clothes had we tried it was avoided.

So, on paper it looked great, but the reality was for all the time we were in Bologna and Florence the specter of laundry was upon us.

Bear in mind all of our clothes fit in 2 small carry-on bags, so we’re not talking major wash loads here. Primarily socks and unmentionables.

Had I to do over again I am pretty sure I would just avoid washing clothes altogether, or take Rick’s advice to drop them at a laundromat and pay for them to be washed, etc.

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DAY 10: FLORENCE TO CINQUE TERRE VIA PISA II

Okay, so here we are back in the Pisa Train Station.

The ride from Pisa to Monterosso (where we were staying) was uneventful for the most part. Things got pretty awesome when we started barreling through the mountains and within the tunnels were holes carved out so that you could see the sea. Dark, dark, dark, whoosh, brilliant sea blue! Dark, dark, dark, whoosh, brilliant sea blue!

There was some pause for concern when we realized the train was stopping without any announcements as to where we actually were. In other words, the train stopped, She Say and I looked at each other as if to say, “Do you know where and/or why we are stopping?” The train took off and we thought we saw a sign saying, “ Riomaggiore”, but weren’t sure and even if we were we weren’t sure which town came next and when the stop would be Monterosso.

So, I scrambled for my Rick Steve’s book and the map of Cinque Terre as we came to the second stop. As we sat there we saw people walking from way back of the train down in the tunnel and wondered how they knew where we were and how to get off. Rick mentions this in his book if I remember correctly and explains to walk towards the light...always advice to cause concern but especially so in a train tunnel.

We figured the front of the train was pulling up to the sign that told us where we were and we were too far back to see it until after we were pulling away so we grabbed our bags and started moving towards the front of the train. Naturally panic is starting to set in at least pour moi as I’m sure we’re going to miss our stop and end up not being able to get off until we’re in Switzerland.

Luckily before I tried to coerce She Say into jumping from one open end of a moving car into another (or scaling onto the roof no less) the train slowed to a stop and a kindly voice came out of a speaker somewhere to tell us Monterosso.

It’s fascinating the difference in when they give you information and when they don’t. It was the same way going back to the train from Milano airport into Milan. No communication for many stops and then prego: Information!

Thanks to the kindly voice, we de-trained and followed the crowd into town.

As we exited onto the street: Wow!

I know I have been taking my sweet and old time on putting this report together, but I suppose I have been especially delayed with tackling Cinque Terre for many reasons including: 1) I’m really good at starting things, but struggle to finish 2) this is our 2nd to last stop so once done here I have no more Italy Travelogue hanging over my head meaning I’ll have to find something else to occupy my free time and I really do enjoy writing this when I make the time and 3) to quote good old John Ronald Reuel: “Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.”

Or...at least those have been my excuses...but more likely I’m just lazy! This is probably it because as I think back we had a ton of fun and mis-adventures.

Andiamo!

We debated for...oh 30 seconds whether to get a taxi, or try to hoof it to the hotel. We (meaning I) pushed forward with getting a taxi She Say’s worries about being overcharged be danged!

The taxi driver was very nice and spoke plenty good English. He explained the drive was 5-10 minutes, and by gum it was. Turns out it’s a 5-10 minute walk also, but just getting in a car and having someone worry about not running down passersby rather than being a passeryby worrying about getting run down was worth the money. He also kindly pointed out which stretch of maze held our hotel and told us the beautiful weather was a tad out of the ordinary for the season.

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We were staying at the Hotel Marina which I think Rick recommends in his book. Monterosso is fairly compact, but there’s no way we would have found the hotel as easily as we did without the taxi driver. The town has a small flat area next to the sea and then it’s like a little hill with streets running up it in maze-like fashion. Even after staying for 3 days we were getting lost finding the correct street ‘up’. Was probably only 2 or 3 streets with convenient cut-throughs, but...my directional skeelz...she’s a no-good.

We arrive and there’s a nice lady working the front desk. We had emailed earlier to get the Cash Discount rate, so we had our money in hand and it worked out pretty easily. We were shown to our room and quickly decided to change into swim suits and walk down to the beach to check things out.

We wandered down the street and headed towards the part of the beach closer to heading back to Vernazza (to the left as you face the water). It was about 3:00 or 4:00 pm and the beach was lovely in its lack of other people. We plunked down and just soaked up the sun and listened to the surf. Then...sure enough two United States of America tourists fell off a cruise ship, or bus or something and interrupted our solitudinous bliss.

Somehow this couple had hooked up with two young German girls and were grilling them on all things USofA. Now, don’t misunderstand. I do not believe all tourists/travelers from the US of A are horrible. I am a proud patriot and think we have the greatest country in the world. Living in DC I have also seen some really lousy non-US of A tourists, so it’s not just an American thing but this couple was a complete stereotype of ugly Americanos. (Also...don’t forget Canadians can also be bad Ambassadors when abroad. Two thirds of our sons spent time in Germany on a school trip that included a group of kids from Toronto that sang of the hills and how the sound of music brought them alive for 10 days.)

Dios mi.

But, back to our fellow Americaners. It was a non-stop onslaught of political blather that She Say and I had decided on our extended holiday partly to get away from. It was as if a DJ decided to mix CNN and FOX news with Funky Fre$h Beats from USA Today and the Wall Street Journal thrown in.

I ain’t much on Casanova and me and Romeo ain’t never been friends, but I gotta tell you these 2 frauleins deserved better than this.

Anyway...this worked out to our advantage as heretonow She Say and I had hesitated jumping into the water, but with Mr. and Mrs. Loudmouth jawing away at the poor Mädchen She Say and I took to the sea. We had largely been hesitant as the beach was a tad rocky, but we found once you get over the little dip in the shore right where the waves break it’s pure heaven.

We floated for 10-15 minutes and then She Say decided to head back in. I floated for a while longer. Basically until I saw the two young (but at least 18 years old) German girls pack up and leave. One great thing about the beach, no matter what country you’re in, is it’s almost as much fun to watch the fairer sex put their clothes back on to leave the beach as it is the opposite when they arrive.

I had assumed once the girls had exeunted the Loudmouths would soon follow, but as I came up out of the water I realized I was now fresh bait!

I steeled myself to straight-facedly explain, “No speakah Ahgnlessh” if they dared shout a halloo all the while averting my gaze. Luckily their cruise ship must have been weighing anchor as they thankfully vamoosed.

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She Say and I headed back up to the hotel. Meandering through the streets we checked a few menus to see if any place looked good for deenur, but nothing jumped out. We stopped into what was kind of like a convenience store. They had bottles of booze, snacks, knick knacks, (no paddywacks that we noticed) sweevinirs and similar. We picked up a bottle of prosecco and I seem to recall wanting to pick up something else kitschy, or maybe some bread, but to be honest the other patrons in the shop were so pretentious I just politely pushed my way to the front and paid for the bottle and left.

Back at the Hotel Marina we met the employee from Romania whose name I can’t remember and may never have actually known. He was a really nice guy, but a tad overbearing. I think it may not have been that he was overbearing intentionally, but maybe just trying to please too much. Maybe overbearing is the wrong word. I’m thinking now that it was just that he was ‘always there’ and took a really long time to get things done. I’m not sure there’s a word for these two traits.

Anyway, he spoke great English and when I asked where he learned it he explained it was by playing video games. Who knew!?!? I spend days and days practicing with language tapes, using the duolingo app and trying to self teach with old thrift store purchased text-books. 10 hours of Everquest is all you need amico!

She Say and I took our prosecco and headed to the hotel’s awesome Terraces. There’s a fantastic view of the town and the sea. The hotel bills the terraces as 4 separate terraces and I guess they are, but they’re all kind of all in one just 2 floors separated by a stair case. We had set up on what they call the ‘third’ terrace which has a little table and 2 chairs in like a little covered area. There’s also a fun grape arbor you can sit under, smell the grapes and pray to God you don’t get stung by any of the several hundred bees. We were pretty sure these were Concord Grapes which She Say and I both had as kids growing up. They smell nice, taste nice, but have so many seeds you kind of eat and spit and wish someone had planted seedless grapes like from the Supermarket instead. Best part was we had the place to ourselves. Until a group of 10 Brits showed up for their Happy Holiday.

Tune in next time to see if our wanderers survive the Best of the Brits and as they discover one Brit is using a false accent!