God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I can't quite grasp this place--its realities are so in contradiction with each other. Today it is lovely--almost too perfect. The walls are massive and beautiful; the streets and alleys alive and vibrant; night life exciting and inviting. There must be a hundred languages being spoken. It is filled with laughter and good times.

And yet 15 years ago 70% of the town was either destroyed or damaged by war; anyone over 20 has memories as we learned today when Teo, our landlord's son, drove us high into the hills to a very special place for lunch. He was sharing with us his memories from when he was 4, leaving with his mother on the last ferry out of Dubrovnik, escaping to Slovenia after being detoured to Montenegro in order to be processed by the Serbian authorities. He was scared when the sirens began sounding as the day before bombs had dropped on the port. As we drove in the hills, he pointed out the place where his uncle fought as the front line switched between Serbian and Croatian forces and where after the war he played on army tanks. The confusion and fear of children during wartime is the most profound of war sorrows. I cannot believe the memories ever leave.

One of the few undamaged roof lines with old tiles surrounded by the new tiles and repaired buildings. Few roofs such as this exist now.

So, enjoying this lovely area with a history of centuries, a proud city that held the world at bay--Turks, Austrians, other would be invaders—for hundreds of years is easy to do and yet, lurking, is the specter of its most recent history.

As I write, I am looking out over the blue Adriatic and the golden city of Dubrovnik, watching sail boats and small ferries coming in from Cavtet and Lokrum, listening to children’s laughter drifting up from the beach a few meters away and the talking of fishermen below the veranda. So today is the day to transfer to memory and the visual to take home.

The view as I write--pretty nice!

Tomorrow Teo is taking us to Mostar in Bosnia and then Friday we are taking a trip into Montenegro. I know these places will be beautiful and yet will provoke the same kinds of contemplation each day of this trip has delivered. This is a very special two weeks.

An interesting sidelight about writing a blog: I never know where the narrative will lead. Today I had no thought except to share experiences to bring Dubrovnik alive and yet, the typing fingers went elsewhere to thoughts I had not thought to share—very strange, this writing process!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sans Child

Where we go, Casey goes—always. So, it was with much anticipation that Ken and I started our two week sojourn in Croatia without Casey. Two weeks to do as we want, when we want, how we want--being able to just sit at an outdoor café, watching the passing parade; not needing “lights out” at 10; sleeping “in” in the mornings; not needing to explain why “this” is interesting”; not needing to most urgently pull to the side of the autostrada after just passing the last service area for 90 km..

And we find that we miss him. We miss:

  1. Comments about each and every dog we pass—which number in the hundreds. Look how cute he is. Which one is cuter—this one or the black one yesterday? Can I pet him? Now, unbelievably, we find ourselves saying “Look at that dog. Wouldn’t Casey like him? Let’s take a picture.”
  2. Detailed reporting of which Pokemon has evolved, which one is the strongest, what level he has graduated to and more—as if we have any idea or desire to know or even care.
  3. Crisis surrounding the need to turn the game off before saving it. I have no idea why, but, ask any parent of a child with a DS these days, and you will find the same parental frustration.
  4. Needing to find restaurants with pasta or pizza on the menu.
  5. Occasional comments, but becoming more common with age, “This is boring.” It seems he has had his fill of cobblestone streets
  6. “My feet are killing me!” This is usually in tandem with #5
  7. Chatter which never, ever stops—assaulting ears on an ever going basis—in either language or when needed resorting to “self talk”
  8. Leapfrogging over hydrants or any other obstacle which he can maneuver into his pathway
  9. Running, running, running—his, not ours, for sure.
  10. Prolonged investigation of every window with a toy
  11. Disappearance into that store with a window

And I miss:

1. Kisses and warm hugs
2. “I love you, gramma”
3. Bed time routines
4. Laughing together
5. “I have a good life”
6. Morning snuggles
7. Hearing his beautiful Italian
8. Watching his fun
9. Doing things together
10. Reaching for my hand as we walk
11. “Look at that”’s
12. Sweet singing
13. Sharing life with a 10 year old
14. Him

Yes, we are having a great time here in Croatia and yes, it is beautiful and yes, sometimes we do say “it’s nice to be alone,” but, down deep we miss you, a lot, Casey.

Casey and his girlfriends. Maybe he isn’t missing us?!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Heavenly Hvar

Hvar--a magnet for all sorts of people—backpacking, little monied young people; run of the mill travelers like us; Croatians savoring their freedom and land; the millionaires with beautiful boats, sailing in from around Europe and the billionaires with huge yachts, complete with crews scrubbing the sides of the boat, polishing chrome and waiting on the laid-back owners who sit and watch the rest of us enjoying the sights and mystic of a new place to explore. I vacillate between thinking how nice it would be to share that life for a while and thinking how glad I am to be me and have the life I have. In the final analysis, I am satisfied with life as it is and believe I would not trade it in for another.

Hvar, if you have not heard, is beautiful and charming and old—as is just about anyplace in Europe. Its history is not unusual, having been governed by a vast variety of countries and royal houses as it has changed hands over the centuries. The seaport is lively and gorgeous. The Balkan conflicts have not seemed to have left visual reminders as in other places in Croatia. Fishing is a lifestyle for much of the population. There is a small wine making tradition and much profit from tourism and the businesses it generates. It appears that many people earn money by renting rooms (sobes) in their homes, meeting the ferries with signs and promises of a sobe to rent.

Hvar town is the main place to be with its glitz, restaurants, sea walk, nightclubs, resorts and glamour; however, for us, taking our car and touring the island became our favorite time here. There are many small villages to be explored—some taking no more than a few minutes, others worth two or three hours, all of them picturesque, lively, clearly having a life of their own beyond the onslaught of tourists.

Our best find was down a road that makes the white roads of Italy (which I have written about) seem like major thoroughfares. In order to reach it, you must travel through a very dark, very narrow, one way, 1.2 km, hewn rock tunnel emptying out to a high road looking down on the Adriatic far below. From there it is a winding, twisty, hairpin curved road to the village of Zavala where there are small beaches and the lovely Hotel Skalinada and its friendly owner Tonci Anticevic.

We ate lunch here, overlooking the bougainvilleas framing the sea—beautiful! Mr. Anticevic has his own vineyards and winery so we ordered his house white wine but when he came and talked with us, we learned that his red is the better one so, of course, we needed to sample that. It was good and a little different from other wines. When we asked if we could buy a bottle to take to our friend in Tuscany who has a winery, he told us it wasn’t for sale. He has other vintages that go to restaurants and the public but what we had he reserved for his own hotel and restaurant guests.

We talked together some more, telling him about where we lived in Tuscany and a little about Alessandro and his wines, giving him our card with Fattoria Viticcio’s e-mail address.

A little later Tonci came back to our table and presented us with a bottle of his special wine and a CD of Croatian music—as gifts—but, the real gift he gave us is the memory of the place, the man and a special serendipity travel moment.

It is these moments that, in the long run, make travel memorable.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Few Observations of Croatia

As we have been here all of 4 days, I have made some profound observations which I believe will hold up as time moves on. I am going to future date this entry so that it will post in a few days in the event that I don’t have the time or, maybe, the inclination to write something readable worthy—or maybe I’ll change my mind and sense that I am wrong in what I say.

  1. The people we have interacted with have, without exception, been nice. Now you may say “but they are catering to tourists so of course they are nice”. I remind you of the times that, even given that scenario, someone has been short tempered, rude or just not interested in providing service.

  1. The simplest effort on the part of a tourist to adapt to the language or the country is significantly appreciated. I have learned to say 4 things: good day, thank you, very good and yes/no. Each time I use them I’m rewarded with a genuine smile and surprise. Last night our waiter brought us coffee and whispered in my ear that it was “on the house because you are nice people.”

  1. Some drivers make Italian drivers seem tame—but only some. We have seen cars passing on the blindest of curves with a steep drop-off on the side..and, yes, we have driven the Almafi Coast.

  1. We gave one young hitch-hiking Croatian hip-hop singer a ride for a few kilometers and had some interesting conversation. One of the things he shared is still milling in my mind. Eight of his friends have been killed in drunk driving accidents in the last year. He told us drinking is a serious problem with many younger people.

  1. English is deliberately becoming the second language of Croatia. It already is widely spoken but now, beginning in the second grade, it is a mandatory part of children’s education. People who do speak it now, speak it well with little trace of accent that is found in other countries.

  1. The Croatian language is soft and easy on the ears—a sharp contrast to the vibrant, excited language of Italy. It is nice for a change--relaxing.

  1. There is more smoking here than we have seen in other countries in recent years; perhaps because it is still allowed in restaurants which does not encourage a reduction.

  1. The history here is excruciatingly convoluted—which has much to do with the conflict between people in the Balkans. Coming from a country with little history, it is difficult to absorb the centuries that have preceded this one in this land. It is true that all countries in Europe have evolved over centuries with multiple rulers, coalitions, wars etc, but it seems that this is even more so in these countries.

  1. There is a difference between Croatian and Dalmatian thought and food. I haven’t quite figured it out yet but have been corrected when I have used them interchangeably. Clearly it is a part of the history mentioned above. Tonight we are eating with a man whom I think can delineate the differences for me. I’ll let you know.

OK, I now have the answer. Dalmatian food is prepared more simply, with olive oil and allowing natural flavors to predominate. Croatian foods rely more on spices and traditional,inland preparation—at least this is the information provided by Ivan (John) the owner of the konoba we ate at tonight. Konoba is the Dalmatian word for restaurant—not used in other parts of Croatia.

  1. People work hard here; although, our guide today in Split told us that the people of Zagreb call the people of Split lazy because they take too many breaks. She was quick to admit that they did like breaks but that they worked hard, too.

  1. The people and country seem to be leaving Tito and all that followed behind as they move forward with expectations of being allowed into the EU and NATO in two years.

  1. Croatia has much to offer and is a special country to visit. We are enjoying it—a lot.
We are missing Casey but wasn't that expected? It is nice, though, to be alone for a few days.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Beauty and the Beast

Yesterday was a day of contrasts, moving from the exquisitely beautiful and awesome to the heartbreak and scars of war and violence.

The first was God made—the numbing wonders of Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. There are uncountable numbers of waterfalls as well as lakes with colors so beautiful and water so clear that the only response is the awe that accompanies pure, unfiltered beauty. To come to Croatia and not walk the trails and marvel at this fairy land of waterfalls and lakes is to leave the country too early.

In mind-numbing contrast to the park are the surrounding villages and towns that still show the horror of war between the Croats and Serbs in the 1990’s. The area around the park was a major area of violence and atrocities born from hate. As you drive the road to the park or, more telling, turn off the major road and explore small side lanes, you become aware of house after house still peppered with bullet scars, sometimes partially repaired, other times being lived in just as they were left 15 years ago, sometimes abandoned.

Worse, by far, though, are the remnants of homes and buildings that were totally destroyed. They stand now as shells, with sightless windows. The sun streams in where roofs once were and interior walls are non-existent. Many are so encroached upon with weeds and foliage that seeing the structures is difficult. They were abandoned and left to time. Knowing that thousands of people were massacred during those years, the haunting question is what happened to the families living in the houses when the guns and bombs came.

Many were far worse than this one but by the time I decided to take a picture, this was the last one we saw. I really did not feel right taking photographs.

Now, 13 years later, Croatia is rebounding, showing the resilience of people. At least this is true in the urban and tourists area as well as in some of the more rural areas we explored. I am told, though, that there are many areas where daily life continues to be rough and demanding. Doubtless many people are as scarred as the landscape but they give testimony to the adage that life does move on.

Today we arrived in Trogir, a charming but totally touristy island close to Split. Our hotel, which was recommended by friend Gail, is perfect. This is the view from our window looking over to the old town center—don’t you like that? We do.

Hotel Villa Sikaa is a small hotel, dreadful looking from the outside and stairway but delightful upstairs where it really is. Anyone headed this way, would do well to check it out and ask for room 16—the best. It comes complete with a spa/sauna shower, double paned windows (to block the disco noise from next door,) delightful attention to detail and nice people. The room is air-conditioned which may seem like a bit of unnecessary information; however, if you were with us, you’d know just why this is important. And...there is free wireless access.

Finally for now, I can’t say enough about the food—fish, shell fish, fish and more fish. It is beyond good. Maybe because it is truly fresh or because preparation is pure and simple, whatever, I will dream of it all when I order fish in the states—probably accompanying the dream with “if only this were Croatia!”

Now, it’s time to shower and get ready for dinner. Hopefully, I can upload this tomorrow.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Zdravo from Croatia

Surprise! We have free internet at the hotel in Zagreb, so hello or zdravo!

We just have this one day in Zagreb before starting our road tour tomorrow. Sometime in the future, I'll do a little slide show of what we saw here but did want to share two things that were unexpected.

When we arrived at the main piazza, via efficient tram service, we stumbled upon an International Folklore Festival stage. Imagine our surprise (being from California, bordering on Mexico) to find ourselves watching maybe the most talented Mexican dance and singing troop we have seen--anywhere. I suspect they were from the folkloríco company in Mexico City. The crowd was thoroughly enjoying the very festive performance.

Following this troop was something new for us, making it truly special. A troop from the desert of India. The musicians were very talented, playing instruments of India--not the western world. Their "Butterfly"--a woman dancer--amazed everyone with her speed, dexterity and beauty. I think the entire audience was entranced. The video clip gives a small indication of her grace and delicacy. (Well, the connection was too, too slow to upload the video so this photograph must do. Maybe, I'll try again when there is a better connection.)

This was followed by a Slovenija--Slovinian--folk dance group. They were at a significant disadvantage following the first two nations which presented rather dynamic, exciting performances. This group was very traditional and enjoyable but definitely lacked the vitality of Mexico and the Indian Desert.

Finally, for now, as we were talking down the street, Ken comes to a stand still and says "Look over there!" And.....this is what we saw. I wonder how people knew we were coming?

That's All Folks--for now! I promise to tell about beautiful Croatia soon. Tomorrow we are leaving for Plitvice Natural Park which everyone, literally, has told us is a wonderland.

Oops, one more finally, we just returned from a fantastic dinner at a restaurant friend Ann in Hawaii recommended--Restoran Ciho (Konoba Ciho). We ate downstairs in the "traditional" environment. The waiter Darko was a delight and the food excellent or "tako dobro" in Croatian. Thanks, Ann.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Milan—Oh the Drive

Driving in an Italian city always promises to be a daunting experience to be ventured only by the brave of heart with nerves of steel or by the fool. I seem to be married to such a man.

Using points, not € or $, we were staying in Milan at the Westin Palace on Piazza Repubblica—not in the centro storico but well within the maze of the city, which, of course, includes areas under construction, one-way streets, roundabouts, few streets with seeable names and the dreaded ZTL’s (zona traffico limitato) with cameras snapping license plates and zapping drivers with HUGE fines which eventually show up on the visa/mc/amex bill—don’t be lulled into thinking that having a rental car is a ticket to freedom.

Having had our share of such tickets while living here, we proactively called ahead to ask about these zones. Ken was assured that there would not be a problem as the hotel was outside the ZTL areas. With that, we proceeded with confidence, intending to follow what seemed to be very easy directions provided by the hotel—how could we miss?

At this point, I’m sure you know the rest……suddenly, I cringed as we sailed past the posted ZTL sign with all of its posted restrictions and its clicking camera. We were zapped! Now, I hope that the hotel rescues us or there goes another $125 +/-. My advice is to hire a taxi to lead the way safely to a destination. Maybe we will take that advice and do that next time.

As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, maybe not, we had three reasons for going to Milan—which is most certainly not our favorite city in Italy.

  1. Taking Casey to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper
  2. Taking Casey to the amazing roof of the Duomo
  3. Meeting a long time internet friend from Slow Travel and Expats in Italy, Sylvia, AKA Alice Twain.

Goal #1: As soon as we settled into our very adequate room, we set off for lunch and then walked to the Duomo, passing through the spectacular Galleria with its beautiful glass roof and turn of the century architecture—and €3 gelato. The Galleria then opens onto the Piazza Duomo..

We did a quick tour of the interior of the church—Casey, having been in so many cathedrals, duomos, churches, chapels and monasteries, has ceased to be enthralled unless there are crypts with withered skeletons or truly enrapturing works of art. He did, minimally, appreciate the exquisite stained glass windows which soar high into the upper recesses of this duomo. He likes identifying the Bible stories in them.

There are two ways to get to the roof—for € 5 you can walk up innumerable stairs or for €7 there is the escalator. Can you guess which we did? A clue-- it was a very hot day.

If you have never been to the top of the Milan duomo, think about doing it some day. It is truly fascinating. The carvings, spiries, statues, buttresses, walkways and views are unforgettable—quite unlike anything you may have seen elsewhere. One can only wonder about the vast number of artisans and lives it took to complete such a project. Casey enjoyed it.

Goal #2: Many years ago, Ken and I visited the Last Supper while it was still under restoration. We simply took the metro, walked over to the small room that it is in, paid a few (thousand) lira and were the only people there. We were able to stay as long as we wished. And, although the restoration was not complete, being alone in what had been the monks’ refectory, trying to absorb this painting with a perspective making it seem that a meal is being shared with Jesus and the twelve, was special

This time was quite different. Reservations need to be made months ahead of time or you lose. The fee is expensive by the time you pay the initial cost, the booking cost and the guide cost (not optional.) Each group is allowed 15 minutes exposure. The group passes through a series of hermetically sealed doors, filtering the air, before entering the room. And…there before you is Leonardo di Vinci’s masterpiece; his experiment in non-fresco, painting on dry plaster. The deviation from the technique of painting on wet plaster, alla fresco, was not successful; and so, the painting deteriorated over the centuries. Nonetheless, it is beautiful and exquisitely emotive. Casey was fascinated with its depth perspective which he immediately saw when stepping back further from the wall. He was still talking about it at dinner time.

Goal #3: Meeting Sylvia. What a treat this was—Casey’s favorite part of his time in Milan. He loves her already. I must tell those who know her, Sylvia is greater than her internet personae, which seriously under-represents her. Alice Twain is serious, opinionated, quite knowledgeable and helpful. I am certain that Sylvia is all of these things but she is also funny, fun, entertaining and just plain good company. She had Casey laughing so hard that tears flowed—and still do today as he thinks of her. She tried to teach him a Milanese tongue twister that he is committed to learning.

She introduced us to a small, neighborhood, working peoples’ restaurant. I am certain that it is not a place ever found by tourists. There was a simple price fixed menu with a few choices for each piatti (course.) It was good!

Reluctantly we parted after lunch so that Sylvia could return to work and we moved on to the Sforza castle/fortress.

And this was our day and a half, two nights, in Milan. It took us 30 minutes to find our way to the A1—I am sure that a native does it in no more than 10 minutes. But, we did find it without transversing any ZTL areas, I think. If so, it was a successful exit.

Now, I am writing this pool side at our “home” in Greve as I look out on this scene—taken specifically to elicit envy.

Tomorrow—Croatia which may mean a couple weeks before another blog entry—but do check in from time-to-time.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Thunder and Lightening

Yep, that’s what we have here this Sunday morning at Lake Como. We are looking out steamy windows at grounded tour boats, grey capped mountains and bedraggled sheep and feeling sorry for those in tents at the nearby camp grounds—particularly those who must pack up and leave today in time for tomorrow’s work. It can’t be fun!

Frustrating for me is that we don’t have an internet connection; in fact, it seems that the age of internet dependency hasn’t reached here yet—maybe a blessing?. From what I gather, private connections are rare and there are no internet cafés or hotspots. So, Casey and I write our entries and save them until we can upload at some point. The result? By the time they are posted, we are already on to another place, another experience.

We have discovered that, in spite of the beauty, we are not enamored with the lake region of Italy and probably will not return. If for some reason we do, we would not follow the “slow travel” mode of several days in one location but would move quickly from place to place—seeing specific things and moving on.

Many years ago Ken and I were here and remember Bellagio as totally charming, romantic and quiet. In the intervening years it has, not surprisingly, dissolved into a tourist mecca with a surplus of shops, restaurants, hotels and B and B’s. I wonder if the glitz of the Bellagio in Las Vegas has had anything to do with this. Maybe? Probably? I suspect so.

Interestingly, when we stayed in Bellagio, we ate at a restaurant recommended by our hotel and it was good. Coming this time, I had a recommendation from a fellow traveler which we decided to follow. As we meandered up the attractive outside stairway, we were surprised when we stepped into the same place and it was still good. And, as is true with all of our experiences this year, once it was discovered that Casey is quite fluent in Italian, they were charmed and attention to our needs became a priority.

We are so pleased the way that Casey has continued to become bolder and bolder with his language skill as the weeks have progressed. It’s fun to watch the expression on faces when he starts speaking—first surprise and then big grins and then long, convoluted discussions with him as is so, so Italian. He matches them word for word. He never neglects to inform whomever that his nonni do not speak italiano—just him.

One day we tripped to Lake Lugano and into Switzerland--the highlight for Casey being the visit to the Alprose Chocolate factory which produces candy for many of the famous Swiss labels. He plans to write his blog about that trip so I’ll leave most of the details to him.

On the way back here, as we were meandering the alleys and byways of Gandria, a charming tiny village running directly into the lake,

a mountain storm hit which sent us scurrying back up the hill to our car. By the time we reached it, we were drenched. The drive back through the mountain passes was quite an adventure which Casey has claimed the right to tell—giant hail and all.

Of course, we have eaten well here—where in Italy is that not true? The pleasure for me has been the break from the pasta which I love in favor of delicious lake fish. It is prepared simply and is soooo really good—along with patate fritte or fresh vegetables. Now, soon it will be time for pranzo (lunch)—think it will be pizza and save the fish for dinner. Wish that some of you could join us!

Tomorrow we’re off to Milan and a hotel stay where, for a hefty price, Casey and I can upload and read our mail. I guess that’s good. Casey will be able to share his impression of Da Vinci’s Last Supper—the reason for our willingness to brave the big city. However, at this point, he is telling us he would much rather return to Viticcio and Camilla—not a surprise coming from a 10 year old. If you have time and haven’t already done so, you may want to read about his disastrous double digit birthday day.

Now, off to pranzo in the rain and thunder and lightening—how fun--I really mean that!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

And—How Was Gardaland?

Not as bad as I anticipated. Although I will let Casey tell most of the story as it was his day, I do want to share that it was a much more delightful excursion than expected. In fact, I actually had a good time. I think because Casey’s excitement was infectious, it was fun to be a part of it with him.

Gardaland is well done, smaller (thank goodness) than Disneyland and has some good mini-shows, not of the Mickey Mouse/dancing bears variety. And…….importantly, the weather bordered on nice with a breeze much of the time, heat that was bearable and humidity that was at least livable. Between water rides and sitting time in the shows, we survived 11 hours with smiles and good humor. I am amazed to find myself saying that I would do it again.

Today was a day to visit the tourist mecca of Sirmione, an area of land that has held history from the first century BC when Catullus, or someone, built a rather large villa with thermal spas on this Lake Garda peninsula,

through the 13th century when a wealthy Verona family built a castle there and then subsequent years when it was lived in and called home by whomever. Now, with its dramatic castle gateway entrance—a moat sculpted from the waters of the lake, charming alleys and streets similar to those in the Cinque Terre, lovely lake views, upscale shops and uncountable gelateries and restaurants and capped with the villa grounds at the tip of the land, it is a fun day’s excursion or…if one wants to spend the money---it would be a great place to spend a night or two, savoring the romance of what it is when the day-trippers leave. But then, since there are many hotels right outside the castle area and then lots and lots inside, maybe night is no different than day. Since we are not staying there, I can’t tell you.

Entrance to Sirmione--Disneyland? No, Real!

Tomorrow we leave for Lake Como. We are hoping that I made a better choice there in terms of location, plus it is an apartment close to the lake which will give us more room and freedom—maybe a lake breeze to enjoy as we sit outside and relax.

I must say though that Anna and Jacques have been delightful hosts. They are warm, friendly, very helpful, including giving Casey a free pass to Gardaland, and just nice people. We would enjoy becoming better acquainted with them but, the location just hasn’t worked well for us.

With that said, we did find pleasure in being in a small Italian town that was not motivated by the tourist trade. The piazza, which is the gathering place both during the day and at night, is delightful with both a large duomo and a small more ancient church. It is quite amazing that every town and village in Italy historically felt a need for a monumental church while also having several smaller churches surrounding it. Our last night as we joined the residents in the piazza, we were surprised when stepping into the smaller church, we found an evangelical service with people singing the same praise songs as we sing in San Diego. This is very unusual in Italy.

The night that Casey came down with a terrible ear infection, one gentleman spent time with us trying to find the doctor or pharmacist as it was after hours. He took us to several doors in the search. Mara, the waitress where we were eating, was gentle and loving with Casey and was intent on taking us to the hospital. The kindness was genuine and so Italian.

And, we found here the Mozart Gelateria which ranks right up with the best we have found in Italy. Florence should be so lucky as to have a place like this! It doesn’t even come close—at least in the centro storico. Minimally there were 30 flavors ranging from ricotta and fig to licorice to other truly unusual ones. This was a place that had each offering in individual, lidded silver containers—the sign of the truest form of gelato artisan. I think it was even better than our favorite in Castellina in Chianti or the K2 in Parma. Yum! Just thinking about it.

So, as with all things, there is no place or nothing that does not have its own special qualities. Here in Montichiari it is Anna, Jacque, Mara, the gentleman who walked door to door with us, the people of the passiagiata and piazza and the fig/ricotta gelato. Maybe we will come back some day.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Montichiari--Lake Garda

These are late posts as I have been saving until we had a connection--so these are just catching up with us. We are actually at Lake Como now and have a connection for just a few minutes. I will post another to show up in a couple days.

A Presto!

Our little mini-vacation within our vacation has not begun well, sorry to say. We arrived at our B and B in Montichiari which seemed charming, relaxing and garden like when I was perusing its website in detail. Usually the process works and we find ourselves at charming, relaxing and garden like accommodations. However, this time my infallible

radar failed and things are not as I envisioned. We are not in the countryside somewhere between Lake Garda and Verona, rather, we are in middle of a small Italian town which offers little reason for being here unless you call it home. There is a castle on a hill which we hope to visit—but there are reasons I shall go into below which are working to derail that plan.

The place we are staying is, as promised, a 500 year old palazzo which, I am sure, has witnessed many things over the centuries, including its share of intrigue and conspiracy. The family that lives here today is the same family that lived here 500 years ago. As in any place like this it does hold the charm of wondering what was. I am pretty sure our room is where the servants’ quarters would have been.

The irony is that we would really appreciate a charming, relaxing and garden like environment in the countryside or along the lake right now as we are confined to quarters or sitting in the loggia, which fortunately has a slight breeze passing through, somewhat offsetting the heat and humidity of the day. It seems that something Ken and I ate last night is having a winning argument with our innards. This in turn makes it unlikely that we will climb the many steps to the castle and its promise of interest or drive to the lake and see its beauty or venture to Mantova, which would probably be too hot anyway or do anything else that would be fun. We are hopeful that today’s nothingness will prepare us for tomorrow’s trip to Gardaland—a downscale version of Disneyland—for Casey. Truthfully, not a day I look forward to with anticipation except it is an excursion meant for kids like Casey.

Tonight we are supposed to go to a very nice restaurant—in the countryside, at last—to celebrate Casey’s entrance into the world of double digits. He turned 10 yesterday—a day that was not much better than today. Here’s his report on his big day—he had to leave his soulmate, Camilla, to accompany his grandparents elsewhere (tears), he had an earache which became progressively worse until we ended up at the hospital at 9:30 at night (tears) and he forgot Niki, his beloved nighttime/fur worn off, companion down in the car (more tears.)

At this point, a day spent at Gardaland sounds upbeat and inviting. I’ll let you know.

Friday, July 04, 2008

What's Next? An Update

Tomorrow we leave Greve for twelve days going to Lake Garda, Lake Como and Milan. We are staying at what I think will be a very lovely B and B Villa San Pietro close to Lake Garda and then have rented an apartment on Lake Como. Casey has never been to the lake area so it will be new for him. One day I think we will take a run into Switzerland just so he can say he has been in another country--not that a one day jaunt really counts for being there but he will like that. Of course, if I remember correctly Switzerland at the Italian border is pretty much an extension of Italy.

From there we go to Milan just for two nights. We have three things to do there.
  1. Take Casey to see Da Vinci's Last Supper as Casey believes he has a connection with Leonardo--along with Michaelangelo and Picasso.
  2. Take him to the roof of the duomo as that is quite an amazing experience and place to be
  3. Have lunch with friend Sylvia who is sometimes known as Alice.
The problem with this traveling is that we will no longer have our internet connection and so blog entries will be less frequent and probably shorter. In fact, that may be true for much of the rest of our time here. In our apartment here, we have an ADSL connection which is really nice. I will miss it.

After our Lake/Milan excursion, we return to Viticcio for two nights, deposit Casey with Camilla's family and Ken and I then head for 17 days in Croatia. It will be the first vacation without grandson in several years. I suspect we will end up missing him and the dimensions he adds to our travel experiences. And I am sure that he will have a difficult time even though he will be 24/7 with his buddy Camilla.

From Croatia we return to Greve for a week, then spend a week with good friends Nico and Elena at Sant' Antonio in Montepulciano. Casey and their daughter Sofia have been friends for many years now. From there we go to Bevagna in Umbria for two nights at the lovely Genius Loci which is owned by another friend, Mary. And then...........home to San Diego.

So that's what's happening with us. Casey and I will keep our blogs going--just not as often. A good way to know when we update so that you don't need to check frequently (or infrequently as the case may be) is to sign up for a feed which tells you when a new post is up. There is a link "Subscribe in a Reader" on the right side bars of our blogs. You can click there and select a means of being notified. Then again, just check-in when the thought strikes.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Greve's Piazza Matteotti

Everyone here is up in arms over the desecration of “our” piazza—the center piece of Greve for residents and tourists alike. If you have been here, you picture the unusual shape of the piazza with Chiesa Santa Croce anchoring the narrow end and arcades filled with shops lining both sides as it spreads out to the gastronomia, forno, café, bank and other shops at the base of the triangle.

It is, or one should say has been, a piazza where people stroll, cross easily from side to side and admire the view of the church while sitting with an espresso at the café. The piazza fostered friendliness, camaraderie and a sense of time moving slowly. It has been a mecca for Casey who loved to wander, see friends and sense a space that was “his.” We loved having dinner at Il Portico and watching the activities passing by. Casey treasured the freedom of getting up from the table and roaming for some of his buddies as we adults sat and savored the night.

Monday Greve woke to a travesty that has shopkeepers, residents and people such as we who love this town expressing anger and dismay as only Italians can—well, we primarily commiserate and moan with them, equally astounded.

The Comune has made a parcheggio (parking lot) out of the piazza. The entire center of the piazza has been painted with white parking spaces. The beauty of Greve and what charms people, the visual people take home with them—the centerpiece of this medieval town—is now, to quote our friend Bruno, “molto brutto”-very ugly. This is the phrase on everyone’s lips.

There is a reason for this disaster but that doesn’t pacify anyone. If you have been here, you know that Greve has a parking problem. There has been limited pay parking along the perimeter of Piazza Matteotti. There is a free lot behind the COOP and a small pay underground garage. Across the Greve River in front of Piazza del Popolo, across from the cinema there is a free parking lot. Then there are a few other places that people who live here know about but tourists usually don’t find. During the months of May through October, it can be a challenge to find a place to park—which, of course, is very frustrating for residents who need to go about their business.

In response to this need, the Comune (sort of like a county) has planned a large, multi level underground parking structure. This will be where the current parking lot is in front of Piazza del Popolo; thus that lot will be closed as of July 7—or so that is what is rumored. Therefore, new parking options needed to be found, ergo the disaster in the Piazza, which, by the way, doesn’t provide anywhere near the number of spots now lost.

Of course, the Piazza is where Saturday Market is so we are all waiting to see what happens come Saturday. It will be very interesting. The piazza is home to lovely flower markets as well as antique fairs, wine festivals, and a myriad of other activities that are at the heart of Greve and its traditions. What will happen to these events?

One might ask—and people are—why now in the middle of the tourist season? Does this seem odd? Well-yes! I have heard it was supposed to have been started in March but the torrential rains this spring and early summer, interfered with that plan. This does make sense. But, then, people ask—why not wait until October? So far, there has not been a good answer to that.

The biggest question is: “How long will the Piazza be so disfigured?” Well, things frequently do not move quickly here in bella Italia—often part of its charm to those of us from A type countries. An apartment/shop complex that was begun when we were here in March of 2006 is still not complete. This does not bode well.

So, know that when you come to this village we like to call home-Greve in Chianti, you won’t see it as it is supposed to be. And those who have been here, be saddened that what you see in your mind’s eye, is not what is any longer—for a while. We are sad, too.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

When Traveling in the Chianti

If you have been to the Chianti area of Tuscany, you know that many things happen in out of the way places. The trick is to know about and then find them. Most of them are announced on the community bulletin boards found just about anywhere. These are a great way of letting people know what is happening--where there are festivals, shops with sales, musical offerings, drama presentations, upcoming sports events or anything that is of importance to someone. These boards serve as silent town criers announcing life.

The problem for the tourist is that, of course, they are in Italian and, even if one can read Italian, they don't provide much detail about what will be happening. The locals know and are primarily interested in the date and reminder but those traveling through don't have that advantage. As one ponders the words, it is difficult to know if what you see is a place you want to be, an experience to add to a collection of experience. Is there a special treat lying there just waiting for you to discover?

So today, let me give you two special ways to learn of memory makers that aren't in the travel books you tote or in the research you have meticulously conducted. These promise to enrich your time here.

First is the Toscana & Chianti magazine which can be found at many tourist offices in Chianti. Definitely it is available at the Greve tourist office in Piazza Matteoti.

This is published monthly. It has full page spreads on various aspects of the area and then smaller notices of upcoming activities and events. It is a good resource and one to pick up when you can.

The other excellent and comprehensive resource for the area, covering not only special events but village markets--often sought activities by travelers. Is the:

This is the English speaking newspaper in Florence and covers the surrounding areas including Chianti. It sometimes can be difficult to locate but one place to look is at the English Book Exchange Store in Florence. It is usually at the Odeon Cinema as well. Other than that, just keep eyes out for it where ever you are.

If you have internet connection, you can go to the website and peruse the entire newspaper--a little hard on the eyes but sometimes worth the effort.