Sunday, July 31, 2011


Monday, April 8, 1996 Santa Margherita Ligure, Italian RiveraWoke up about 6 am. Jim said he had to have some regular water, couldn’t stand one more drink of the sweet water that we’d been using since yesterday afternoon. We got dressed and went to the lobby to try to buy a bottle from the hotel…the clerk reminded us that there was water in the room bar. Went upstairs and got one out. It was 2,500 lire for a small bottle, but we didn’t care about the costs at that time. Barbara brushed her teeth using the sweet water and said it was really terribly. We knocked on Barbara’s door about 7 am and woke her up. She’d been up until nearly 3 am she said. But we were all down to breakfast by 8 am and checked out of the hotel about 9 am.

We tipped them well and left the loaded car in the hotel driveway while we took a taxi to Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. Two of the many things that we felt that we just had to see while in Rome. I missed the fountain with my first coin and had to do a second one. Saw Gucci’s first store and some other famous designer shops. Everything is closed as today is a holiday for the Italians. Back to the hotel and off to see the leaning tower of Pisa.

We made a very fast trip on the Autostrassa considering several stop and go areas when the traffic was so thick we couldn’t move. Went around Florence and headed towards Lucca. A bicycling friend of Jim's Gian (John) Simmonetti was born there and Jim wanted to see it; and, if possible, find the bicycle shop of John’s friend. We found the town, it is very unusual as it has a well preserved wall all around with a moat between the wall and the outside roads. We found a pharmacy open and were able to find some cold medication (Nyquil) for Jim and Barbara. Then we asked about the bike shop. Finally got an address from them, but then still couldn’t find it. After checking about four different areas we finally got back on the road to Pisa.

You can see the tower from the main highway about ten miles away. We were surprised at the huge church next to it as no one ever mentions it There is a wonderful large church and a separate baptistery. The tower was to hold the bells for the church. They were all built about the same time. All three are sinking to varying degrees. One of the causes they think is the fact that too much water is being taken from the ground by “shower mad American visitors”. We found a parking place very close by, Barbara couldn’t believe how close we were able to park to it.

We took turns taking pictures of each other holding it up. The tower is surrounded by a large fence and is closed to tourist. “Look but don’t touch!” There is a large grassy area surrounding the three buildings. There are signs all over about not walking on the grass. The grass was literally covered with people walking and sitting all over the place; so much for Italian signs! (On a more recent trip to Pisa we were able to go to the top of the tower as it was opened again after repairs.) We found an open air Restaurant and had a delightful pizza and beer lunch. Then back on the road again. This time we started going through tunnel after tunnel after tunnel. Some were nearly a mile long, one was over a mile. In one that was about three-quarters of a mile, we came to a dead stop. Traffic jam and we were about half way through. Kept the windows closed and the air off. Didn’t think we’d ever get out of there.

Really a bad day to travel so many miles due to the holiday. Especially since Jim is sick and his tolerance level is rather low. But, he’s doing pretty good considering everything. We finally arrived in Santa Margherita Ligure, which is on the Italian Rivera; just below Portofino. A lovely seaside resort town. We found a great hotel named Nuovo Hotel Garden and got their last rooms. The price is great also! Barbara has a very strange toilet. Her bidet is like a lid on her toilet due to the size of her bathroom. Very, very strange! But it is a toilet in her room and there weren’t many available by the time we arrived in town.

We went for a walk and met a nice young couple from Virginia who are here on a two week whirlwind trip. We compared notes, they were at the Mass at St. Peter’s also but hadn’t had our great viewing spot. He’s a fan of Rick Steves but she seemed to be more inclined to go a notch higher. He’s from Chicago…name was Cocoa….Barbara thought that his Dad could have been in John’s class. Finally found a restaurant where we could get seated. The town is packed for off season due to the Easter Holiday. But, this shouldn’t be a problem from this point on as this is the last day of the holiday for the Europeans.

We’re headed to France tomorrow. We’re trying to spend the lire as it will cost us to turn it into Franc. Jim hardly ate his dinner and went straight to bed after taking two doses of the Nyquol medicine we got this afternoon. Barbara is feeling better but her ribs hurt when she laughs. She thinks she hurt herself with the coughing. But she’s definitely better than Jim. Well it’s nearly midnight, so better close and get some shut eye. We have an electric train nearby, will be interesting to see if we sleep through the noise during the night.

Jim is checking mileage: Monday: odometer: 1346 - Tuesday: odometer: 2076 = 730 meters

Gas on Tuesday is 42,000 lire @ 1810/liter = 23 liters = 32 meters/liter

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Sunday, April 7, 1996 Rome, Italy

Barbara is still sick but seems to be on the mend. She called John this morning and he said he liked her low voice and asked if she could keep it for him. She told us some cute stories about their grandson Connor and his trip with John to check on the fishing spots. Jim definitely has a cold, he was up most of the night; but is determined to go with me to the Vatican Mass at St. Peter’s celebrated by the Pope. We ate a light breakfast, knowing it will be a long time between bathrooms. Had a tray sent up to Barbara. Off in the taxi, we arrived at St. Peter’s Plaza at 8 am.

Just as we arrived they opened the barriers and everyone including us took off for the area as close to the church as we were allowed to go. They made us open our bags and then we ran. We were able to secure a spot directly in front of the altar with only two people in front of us. That sounds great but we were in the standing area that starts at the obelisk in the center of the there were hundreds of people in front of us who had chairs to sit in. There was a very wide area blocked off between our section and the reserved seating. Eventually the soldiers marched in at 10 am and were put into this area. But this still didn’t block our unbelievable view of everything. (On future trips we arranged for tickets for seats...lesson learned!)

I had binoculars with me and shared with everyone around. We were still quite a distance from the altar. We had five American girls who were on a two week tour, they’d just arrived from Greece at 6 am this morning by train; three American boys who are studying for a year just south of Florence (near Siena). They’re in one of the small towns on a hill in a Monastery. They go home in May, but were very interesting to talk to. An older American couple were also in front of us. Had a German, lots of Polish, a few Japanese and several Italians in our group. It was a fairly congenial group until communion time. We were able to receive communion, I broke my host in half and shared with Jim as I was closer to the barrier. The priest came to the barrier to distribute communion but didn't go any further. Suddenly, the people began to surge forward to get communion which was fine, but then some wouldn’t return as they wanted to stay in our area as you could see so much better. It was full body press time and I could have probably lifted my feet and not fallen…something like sardines in a can! But we held our ground and survived.

Jim was getting sicker all during the mass. Fortunately, we’d brought some water with us which helped him make it through. We arrived at 8 am, the music started at 10 am, the Mass began at 10:30 am and the final blessings from the balcony was over at 1 pm. A very long morning. We managed to get over to the side area and some shade. It was a very bright sunshiny day and got really hot in the Plaza. We managed to get some chairs from the ticketed area and sat down for about half an hour until they opened St. Peter’s. It is the largest church in the world. About the length of two football fields. The Pieta was beautiful. But Jim was really feeling the effects of the morning so we grabbed a cab and headed back to the hotel. There were a lot of private cars trying to be cabs and they wanted twice the normal rate. We managed to get a real taxi and a semi decent rate. Barbara had watched everything at St. Peter’s on TV. They televised everything from 10:30 through the final blessings from the balcony.

Jim went to bed and I went for a walk for about an hour. Wouldn’t you know it….Barbara and Jim both in bed sick and we’re sitting out in the suburbs with no where to walk. But it’s good that they’re getting some rest. Barbara got dressed and went to dinner with me in the hotel. We had spaghetti and beer. Apparently when I purchased the water on Saturday I misread the label and picked up a very sweet lemony water instead of plain “natural” as she thought. Jim had noodle soup from the sweet water…said it had a very strange taste. I was on the computer all night while watching an American movie dubbed in Italian. When I turned on the computer today, it knew about the clocks changing to an hour ahead (daylight savings time) and had already changed the computer clock. Really surprised me to say the least.

Friday, July 29, 2011


Saturday, April 6, 1996 Rome, Italy

Barbara was up about 5:30 am, we got up about 7:30…Barbara is not feeling well but wants to go to the Sistine Chapel with us. We went down to breakfast in the hotel and then called a taxi. We went to Vatican City, paid the taxi driver and got into a line which was already around the block. But, it was moving fast up until we reached the entry to the building. Then we had to wait for a while. The number of people are unbelievable. The Sistine Chapel was beautiful. Jim could have stayed all day, but I had seen enough and Barbara was feeling quite sick by now. We got a cab and returned to the hotel. Barbara went directly to her room and soon discovered she had flu! Jim and I walked to the grocery store again for water and food for lunch.

Then about 2 pm we left on our tour of the ancient city. It was a very good tour and we returned about 7 pm. Saw the Coliseum, Church of St. Peter in Chains, and St. Paul’s. We drove by many of the ruins and had an Italian guide who spoke excellent English. I was surprised to learn that there is a pyramid in Rome from a ruler who had lived in Egypt. All during the tour the guide and the police kept reminding us to be careful due to the large number of pickpockets in the area of the Roman ruins. After we returned to the hotel we had a light supper in the hotel dining room. Took crackers up to Barbara. Will make it an early night as we need to get breakfast by 8 am and get to St. Peter’s for mass which starts at 10 am. Jim is starting to come down with a cold...says it's from having wet feet in Venice.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Friday, April 5, 1996 Rome, Italy

Well the ear plugs didn’t work very well for Barbara or myself. Jim seems to have slept through most of the night. Up and on the road by 10:30 am. Jim bought us rolls and water and a newspaper for him. We were happy to be back on the road. Barbara has a cold and sore back from bad beds. We put Bengay on her to help. Have some medication and she’s got more medicine in the car. She took it as soon as we got the car and slept all the way to Rome. We’ve noticed that the Italians seem to build almost all two or more stories for their homes; barns and other buildings. They use mostly brick for building material. We don’t see much else except for stone which they generally cover with stucco. Everything is brown in color. We saw more vineyards today. Also a few cows, lots of sheep and also many cultivated fields. Don’t know what they’re growing. Arrived in the Rome area about 2 pm. Stopped early for directions and got good ones. But from that time on, we had problems. Rome is a very large city. The streets go in four to six directions at every corner and they change names ever few blocks!!

By stopping four times and following a motorcycle for a short time….but we goofed and stopped following them too early. They had told us in broken English that they were going near the area we wanted and we could follow them part of the way. We just kept going in different directions as we knew we were in the general area. Finally we found the street it was off of and then Barbara spotted the hotel sign. The actual hotel is down a very narrow alley which they consider a street. We were able to pull in after being forced to drive to the end and then back up! A police car was creating a jam on the street. That car was still there hours later with the two policeman still there. Can’t figure out if we’ve got an important person staying at our hotel or what. (Later we found out that there were many foreign embassies in the area and each one has a permanent police car parked outside. Most were marked with a name, but although we verified with the hotel man that we had an Embassy on our street, no one would tell us the name of the country.)

We took everything out of the car to reorganize and took it to the room. No CNN, but one English channel and the rooms are padded…walls, door and everything. They advertise …Quiet….. I guess we’ll get it. Only exception is the toilet which is extremely noisy and takes a long time to refill. We went walking about 4 pm to look for a church. Finally found one less than a mile away. It is large but on the modern style compared to most. Walking home we found a Carmelite Convent where they were having a service…we stopped in for a few minutes. Then we found the American Embassy and also the German Embassy. So guess we’re in a good area. Didn’t find a restaurant that we liked so bought cheese, wine, bread, cookies at a grocery store and ate it with our noodle soup in our room. Everyone’s hitting the sack early tonight. Barbara doesn’t feel very well. I think she's happy to be in her own little room tonight.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Thursday, April 4, 1996 Siena, Italy

What a night! It must be the noisiest room yet! They partied most of the night and the street is very narrow so that the sound echoes off the walls. About 6 am there was a street sweeper machine! Each of us thought that the others were sleeping through the noise it was making! But, you can’t beat the atmosphere and the convenience of being so close to the center of the city! We decided to all use ear plugs and spend the second night. Jim went scouting and found breakfast rolls, we made hot chocolate and coffee. Voile….breakfast was done! Off to town to tour the area. We found the young girl who gave us directions to the hotel. She is from Connecticut and living here now. Said she was making ends meet by working for the lady who owned the booth.

We walked all over the center and visited the main Cathedral “The Dommo” . We were about to leave when Jim had us come back in…there was a tour group of a male German choir and they were singing. It was really beautiful. The echo seems to enhance the sound. Then we went down to the Baptistery which is under the church to support it as it is built on a hill top. By the time Jim finished his tour of that, we were ready for lunch. Checked out several places and ended up going back to last nights restaurant for pizza and coke. Barbara wrote post cards during lunch to mail. She’s very good at writing and sending postcards. Then we went back to the room to get film as Jim and I were going to climb to the top of the tower at the city hall. Barbara decided to stay down and visit the shops. But, the tower was closed for repairs, so no hike to the top! And Jim had made his second trip to the car today…quite an ordeal…for film for his camera. So we found Barbara and continued to walk around the town.

Barbara thought we should check into a bus tour around the town. We went to the information place and she was told where to go to catch the “blue bus” which would take us to another town about twenty minutes away. We walked into an entirely different part of town and finally found the blue bus tour. On the way we accidentally found the best view (according to the tour books) of the Dommo and took photos. But, it was getting late, it looked like rain and it was getting colder. So we decided to not go on the tour but check out the new church in this plaza. It was stunning. Another beautiful church….this one was Dominican and dedicated to St. Catherine. Has the only portrait done of her while she was alive. Barbara lit a candle with a prayer that we find our hotel in Rome tomorrow without too much trouble.

(There is a group of people going into the bar singing Jingle Bells at the top of their lungs as this is being written. We may be in for another night! Well back to the story)J We went to several shops on our way home and found our four favorite flags from the yearly races that Siena is famous for and Barbara got her pitcher and salad tongs. Went home and rested for about an hour until dinner time. On the way to dinner we were walking by a building we’d seen this afternoon. It looked like an old church converted to a warehouse and there were shops on the street level. The windows were all bricked in on the upper levels. We decided to follow the people walking in. They were in the midst of an evening mass and it was a beautiful church. Another extremely large one with no windows except for one over the front altar. We stayed for a few minutes listening to the music and then went on to dinner at a restaurant that Jim had found this morning and we’d approved of during our walk this afternoon. Excellent food. We really enjoyed the meal.

There was a young girl who’d gone to Brown University in USA who explained the menu to us. She also brought us some “medieval bread” which was very good. Had a licorice taste and was still warm. Very good. Did a lot of reminiscing about Mother Miriam and other fun times over wine with our dinner. Raced home the fastest way as Barbara and I both needed to use the WC. When we arrived, Jim got the key and went running up the stairs to get the door open…Barbara rang for the elevator and the hotel man came out and said it was broken. We walked up the two flights and just then the elevator started…Barbara was more than a little upset and said “that son of a …….”! I was laughing so hard I almost………….! Back in the room I called home for an update on the business news. We all took a dose of vitamin C as Barbara is coughing, I am sneezing and Jim has a tickle in his throat. Off to Rome tomorrow.