firenza day 2

a good nights sleep, other than a few mosquitoes which we’ve not encountered before and immediately brings to mind west nile fever (paranoia.) the hotel has a great breakfast and is not too crowded as we’re first to arrive. we’re still getting used to having prosciutto and other sausages to start the day, along with great breads, florentine eggs and other goodies.

we set of to see the piazza santissima annunziata, a medieval square and ancient church just down the road from us. it features brunelleschi’s hospital of the innocents. this is considered the first renascence building from the early 1400’s.

we head towards the duomo, but are soon distracted by a side streets and end up at the bargello (the national museum) to see donnatello’s david. to our great disappointment it has been pulled for a few weeks for a tune-up (they could have waited until the season was over in another week.) this is one of the oldest buildings in florence dating to the 1200’s; it looks like a palace but was actually an administration building then a prison. along with donnatello it has works by michalengelo, cellini, giotto and assorted knick knacks collected by the medici’s.

lunch…pizza for rick and lasagna for me and wine…of course. both are simple and delicious and the house wine tastes as good as some our better wines.

the duomo is the central cathedral of florence and a work of art on the outside and not so much on the inside (it’s free) except if you want to climb to the top of the dome, which i do, but change my mind when i see the line up and decide to do the tower instead, a couple of euro’s cheaper. the tower is only a few yards shorter and has exactly 414 step…and i climbed them all!! the view is incredible and i took pictures in every direction. rick stayed behind as his ankle is still a problem (or so he claims:) ..kidding, he has done well, all things considered, but decides to call it a day as we have a lot of walking ahead in the next few days. after climbing down, we go our separate ways.

i continue on, looking for a jacket for blair (my son) but still no luck as everyone is quoting prices only the medici’s can afford…too bad blair:) i wander down a few streets before heading off to see santa croce church which is near the arno river. i love just wandering the streets, having no real plan and discovering whatever there is as i go. santa croce is a great surprise, brilliantly white (and newer) on the outside, facing a large piazza where musicians are playing excellent music with a variety of instruments, one of which includes some ancient piano cum xylophone cum zither or harpsichord.

inside the church are the graves of the mighty and famous: michelangelo, donatello, galileo, machiavelli and others. it is quite austere but has a wonderful wooden ceiling and many carved gravestone on the floor. the real magic is outside the church in adjoining courtyards. the first is like a cloister full of modern art by popollo and a building partially underground with floor and walls covered literally with wall to wall graves. there is a very old church by brunelleschi and dome which i will have to do some research on as i could not find any info. the most magical experience though is bruncelleschi’s cloister, so peaceful and serene that people are sitting around in a meditative state. it’s quite intriguing to think that this was used so many year ago and is still in tact and equally tranquil as it was then.

as i head home, still window shopping in hope of finding something for blair, i discover yet more palaces, cloisters and piazzas at every turn. so many turns in fact that i get thoroughly lost. yet again the people here are friendly and i struggle with minimal italian asking directions. somehow they understand and i, in turn, can follow their instructions as i move in the right direction. my final request from a guy getting off his scooter gets me home, as he speaks english and is very kind with his time and explanations of where i need to turn etc.

we’re going out to dinner tonight at a restaurant next door to the hotel as we have an early start tomorrow.

buona notte.



ok, i’m over my snit about rome and italians. florence has redeemed italy! the city itself is too magnificent to describe, the red tiled roofs, the towers, the architecture in general, the narrow streets, the way too many palaces and medici clan hovels. the museums…there are so many that i think it is impossible to count.

the people here, starting with our hotel, are excellent, they are helpful and friendly; it probably helps that the view from our room includes the duomo and other domes, and classic houses surround us along with lush gardens.

the clerk at the desk quickly arranged reservations for us to tour the uffizi and accademia galleries (lucky for us) as they are on strike the next day to protest something or other.

we wander down truly narrow streets, so narrow that they are almost dark as little sunlight gets down to the paving stones. we discover, with little direction, the duomo, the ponte vecchio bridge, the uffizi gallery and miscellaneous other sights.

lunch is a pizza at a little restaurant, again friendly and helpful. a scottish couple from douglas, just outside of glasgow, join us in a conversation where we share our experiences. they travel often as they are both retired and it’s a short flight to anywhere in europe. they don’t recommend bus tours, however, as their experience has been similar to ours with ‘schultz’ (for the bavarian castles.)

on to our first museum, the uffizi, statues, paintings and icons everywhere. it amazing to see so much work by artists we’ve heard of most of our lives (michelangelo, da vinci, botticelli, raphael, etc., etc.) and suddenly they are real and in front of us.

we have a short time between museums and wander a little further to the duomo and baptistry and the ponte vecchio bridge, which is a real relic of medieval times and fascinating to actually walk on with its rows of jewellery stores, true to its history of gold and silversmith shops since the 1300’s — talk about longevity!

our next appointment is at the accademia gallery, noted for the statue of michelangelo’s ‘david’. it is a relatively small museum and has both paintings and statuary. the first room is full of michelangelo’s statues that appear unfinished (‘slaves’) but are beautiful as the images emerge from the stone. then, david! pick an adjective: fantastic, beautiful, miraculous…. we are in awe. we walked around and around trying to take it in, you want to touch it but of course it is well protected. they keep you well back, so much so that they forbid photographs… you can see mine later as i’ve become quite adept at surreptitiously taking forbidden images.

the museum also had a special exhibit of russian icons dating back to the 1400’s and truly glorious.

it’s been a long day so we head back to the hotel for a nap and a glass of wine. it must have been the wine, but i never woke up until morning. rick, poor soul, stuck around and ate miscellanous snacks we had in the suitcase and others from the bar fridge in the room.

buona notte.


our last day in rome and rick is holed up in the hotel with a swollen ankle. he twisted it a couple of days ago and then compounded the problem by the amount of walking we had to do in pompei.

i’m off to vatican city and an organized tour with angeltours. unfortunaley we left this to the last day as it is near our hotel, we should have checked it out earlier as all of the things we were looking for in the way of shopping were just a short walk or metro trip away. vatican city is a walled compound, they like to call it a country but it is really a walled fortress, then and now. though it is quite old, the inner city does not have a particularly old or even medieval feel about it. shops and cafes abound and everyone is there to make a buck, the average cost is generally more than in rome proper.

my first real experience when i entered one of the gates to the city (or tried) was to encounter one of pope’s guards, dressed in some blue concoction with black floppy hat and jack boots. i did not really want to enter at that point, just take a picure of his cutesy outfit and some of the buildings; this guy had other plans! immediately he is yelling at me to get out; as i’m not really in i figure he’s got it wrong so continue to take pactures of him and his buddy (the one picking his nose in the photos) and some of the buildings. but now the guy is irate and starts to approach me, ‘senore blah, blah, blah’. so i back up a foot so as not to be in his territory and take some more pictures. he’s still not happy and comes closer, so i tell him to (‘please leave’…usually spelled differently and ending in off) and he does. we give each other a roman hand signal and go our separate ways.

after walking around the parts of the city taking pictures of st. peters square and further around the perimeter trying to get shots of the dome i discover a set of stairs that look like they’ll give me a better view…nope! but i did discover the pope’s personal railway and viaduct jutting off from the walls…ah poverty!

lunch on a bench outside the wall, pizza, a ball of risotto and cheese (delicious) and soda, all the while watching the beggers work, some of them appear to be in terrible shape. most people pass them by. i decided to give one woman some change and some of my pizza when i left, only to discover her basket was adorned with pictures of the pope…i guess she’s still hoping.

time for the tour. our guide is a young irish guys with a degree in art history as are most of the guides in the company, others have background in history and archeology.

the tour takes about 4 hours and covers brief history of the vatican, a tour through the vatican museum stopping only for the highlights as it is second only to the louvre in size and impossible to cover it adequately in a short tour. the items we see are impressive and include marble statues, many of them with their wee wee’s chopped off or have had a fig leaf one of the popes had hang ups…when they buried him they lopped of his legs (what goes around comes around.) the tapestries, wall paintings and ceilings are all incredible. interesting there are several items that provide optical illusions including one of the tapestries which maintains the same view as you move past it.

the next stop is what i came to see, the sistine chapel. it is surprisingly smaller than i expected but overwhelming in the intensity of the paintings. the colours are quite intense since it was cleaned a few years back. ironically all of the paintings are copyrighted by fuji film who paid for the cleaning so you have a bunch of guards either shushing you or screaming at people to put their cameras away, in no uncertain terms. these guys remind me of old images of the kgb and just about as friendly. it always surprises me that most religious organizations have real sob’s keeping everybody in order. regardless i got a lot of pictures taken surreptiously of course. next stop st. peters. big, bigger, biggest! this place is monstrous in scale, so large that you would need a fish eye lens to try capture a panoramic view inside. i took a few pictures in raw and hope they turn out as the program i have does not deal with the format. i was surprised to find several dead popes in glass coffins waiting for saint hood, including john paul ii and the guy who lost his legs. though it would have been an awesome sight, i decided against going to the top of the dome (it was a grey rainy day) and another 7 euros over and above the 14 i paid to get in on top of the tour cost of 25 euros.

back to the hotel and pick up rick for our last dinner in rome. i’m still searching for something for my son and thought i’d get a second opinion on some of the clothes i’d seen near the vat city. sore ankle and all i dragged him along to no avail, we could’nt find anything we were 100% sure of.

as you’ve probably guessed, rome, in fact italy has not been as enjoyable as we’d hoped for. our last meal was good, however the service was so poor we ended having to go find someone to pay the bill.

buona notte.


an early start to the day. breakfast at 6:30 and onto the metro and termini station for a trip to naples and pompei.

though we have first class tickets the train does not reflect this. our coach was launched in 1975 which was probably the last time the windows were clean. we literally could see nothing clearly and the compartment left everything to be desired in terms of cleanliness. the only service was a young kid who was flogging bottles of water, coke and home made sandwiches…we settled on water.

the country side is very much like kamloops only hotter and bigger cactus and palms. arriving in naples was going smoothly until we were singled out to take a different exit from the train (we should know better by now!) almost as soon as we stepped out of the coach this unassuming older gentleman approached and spoke to us in very good english. asking where we were going etc. he soon offered to show us the way to the connecting train, chatting all the way. i should have twigged in when he bypassed the ticket agents and went to a food stand and picked up return tickets to pompei (all legit and priced the same as the ticket office.) as soon as we passed the turnstile the guy turns into a slug and demands 20 euros (10 each for being so helpful… his words) after much consternation we decided to give him 10 just to be rid of him…we actually thought he was just being helpful until then…. duh… mmm.)

pompei is just a few steps from the station and is incredible at first sight. we toured for almost 5 hours and covered most of the highlights and then some. it is the most amazing sight i have ever seen and really brings home the history, the life and the advancement of such an ancient time. almost all of the site dates from 2 b.c. or older, the oldest being the amphitheatre which goes back to 70 b.c. and is the best preserved and the world’s oldest.

i was surprised at the condition of the buildings, including the mosaics, paintings and intensity of the colours from so many centuries ago. the well off truly lived well and had more privacy with high walls and gardens that separated them from the vast majority who mostly lived close to poverty. the streets, vendors and even ancient campaign posters brings the whole place to life with little imagination needed.

it was an amazing place to visit and worth the long day trip which took almost 6 hours in total. the return train was no better than the first and had even fewer services (no kid flogging overpriced water, even.) take a look at all my picture of pompei

buona notte

roma day 3

we’re feeling done in and agree that we’ll put the brakes on today. We limit our activities to a visit to the main station to make all our reservations to naples (pompei) florence and venice. I probably sound like a whinger by now, but we are getting frustrated too often by the total indifference to us as customers and to the endless runaround we are facing. Italy is the only country we’ve experienced this in, almost like they feel like they’ve got the whole tourist thing sewn up and so don’t have to bother offering any kind of concern for the customer. You get the feeling that tourists, for the locals, are just one big nuisance (which is probably true, but it’s clearly the tourists fueling the economy around here, not to mention providing naive victims for the endless scamming that is a constant.)

Today we lined up at the national (domestic) travel section for italian rail where the sign claims everyone speaks english… not! or more correctly, not for us. After being shuffled to two different agents (“no inglese! no inglese! go ‘dere!” – pointing vaguely off in another direction) we finally get someone willing to help us in english — only to overhear the previous two agents speaking english to other customers! Complaining does no good as they smile, offer some inanities and walk away. There are several profanities on the tip of my tongue and i must admit that i no longer hold them back if the the service is not suitable (am i turning into ‘the ugly canadian’ ?!?) They don’t care and i’m getting that way.

After escaping from the station we decide we’ll do a little shopping but have difficulty finding stores until we return to piazza popolo for lunch and discover via de corso which was a major road in caesar’s time and is still in use. There are lots of stores but nothing we want to buy.

On our way back to the hotel we stroll through many fascinating streets with no shortage of character or restaurants. The architecture is almost uniform in design but colour and age distinguish them and provide a rich background to our walk. We stop for a glass of wine in piazza narvona, an old roman circus with some marvelous fountains, which unfortunately like the trevi are under wraps for maintenance. The centre of the circus is full of small scale painters and portrait artists.

our final event for the day is a visit to a very modern museum containing a very ancient structure (the “ars pacis” or arch of peace) as well as a modern art display.

a glass of wine, a nap and dinner near the termini station.

buona notte.

roma day 2

it is our second day or first full day in rome. We’re up late and have a great breakfast at the hotel as part of the price. We head back to termini station intending to transfer to the b line, however the crowds are so intense at termini, that after two trains we decide to hike to the hop-on-hop-off bus as an easier option.

Our first stop is the the forum and adjoining palatine hill. It is spectacular, both as an historic monument and more so as a display of the size and obvious power of imperial rome. These guys did not fool around when it came to erecting buildings to match their egos. It has an obvious beauty and the feel of an era that we all know from our history lessons, making it easy to imagine the goings on in the various buildings and temples.

There are a lot of people here, mostly italian and finding anything resembling a clear guide in english is next to hopeless. Many of the monuments have little or no information attached to them so we spend a great deal of time trying to decide what it is we’re looking at. Unfortunately we don’t get to see some items as they are not well enough marked and the guidebook we picked up seems to function with a randomness only comprehensible (perhaps) to italians. Regardless, it is fantastic site to visit. I have too many pictures to share.

Following the forum and palatine area (where the bigwigs built their palaces and temples) we headed off to see the coliseum. This place is gimungous and worth visiting if only to see the scale of it all. Again too many tourists, apparently mostly italian (fortunately our roma pass lets us walk past a very long ticket line and directly into the site) who likely come from the country to see the capital. There are also a lot of americans, of course, and it doesn’t help our disposition any that everywhere we go we also get mistaken for americans (shoulda attached those canadian flags to our packs, i guess!)

After the coliseum we decide we’re in need of food and water, which we get, for a price… a very steep price by a bunch of razzle dazzle (baffle them with bullshit) artists at a nearby kiosk. Lesson: never buy from a place without a price list. We paid 14 euro for two sandwiches, but another 13 for cokes and potato chips! (That’s roughly $40 for two lousy sandwiches, pops and chips.)

Following lunch we decide to hop on the bus and head back to the vicinity of the trevi fountain and pantheon which we find rather easily. The trevi is a beautiful monument, alas it had a huge crane and men running all over doing some kind of work. With luck it will be operating before we leave. Next stop the pantheon, an amazing and intact building from ancient rome. the floor tiles the condition and the engineering are a marvel considering the age. Next stop, the spanish steps again to get a photo as i didn’t have my camera the previous night. Interesting…i guess (touristos – like us – by the thousands everywhere.) We head for the hotel and a nap before heading out to dinner.

We thought something near the vatican would be happy and asked the desk for a recommendation, and of course! he knew vito who was a waiter at quite a nice restaurant and off we went. Vito was there to greet us and find a table as the place was packed, we think we are the only non italians there. Before we knew what was happening a plate of flat bread is delivered and shortly thereafter we had about a half dozen plates of anti pasta . some of the items were more than everyone else was getting and much more expensive choices. As an example we had a large serving of buffalo cheese which was excellent and a large ball of mascarpone cheese. (we noticed the locals got a small ball with their pancetta) we had a bottle of water and a bottle of chianti ruffino which was quite good. For our main course rick had the largest steak i’ve ever seen and which cost way more than the menu said as they charged by the gram! I had fettacinii with mushroom , excellent and so simple.

The desserts were delicious and vito gave us a free(?) liquor made from lemon…magnifico! It was a special meal and was truly excellent, however we were taken, as we had no way of controlling what was being delivered or the choices for the antipasta and so resigned ourselves to enjoying an authentic italian meal regardless of the cost.

one of the things we are certain of in italy is the structure of kickbacks, bribes or payoffs, whatever you want to call them they are epidemic, even the desk clerk gets a cut by the taxi for calling them or the taxi driver gets paid for delivering a customer to the hotel. everyone is out to screw you, particularly if you are a foreigner. It is leaving a bad taste with us and we’re not sure how we feel about rome at this point…but we’re not enjoying it as much as we expected. The social hierarchy is very evident and i found it distressing the way those subject to others, like the junior waiters, etc. are bullied (you can’t say asked) to do things.

buona notte


we’ve arrived! after much trepidation, our arrival is a non-event. everything we’d heard about the rome train station (termini) was a red herring; gypsys, pickpockts, con-artists etc – we experienced not one of them only the total indifference of the employees at the tourist office, and railway employees who gave us the wrong directions and a bit of forshadowing to the attitude towards tourists on our first day.

checking into our supposedly 4 star hotel is less than expected. the neighbourhood is great but the room, though well appointed is less than expected and our view of the alley and wall of adjoining building has pissed me off. a former palazzo, we are obviously in the servants quarters, however the amenities and bathroom are above average. the attitude at the front desk was “what the f….. do you want and why are you bothering me”

after a quick shower we’re off to see the sites. our first encounter takes our breath away as we do not know what to expect, before us are the gates to the borghese gardens and palace and to our right an archway dating to god knows when. we enter through the arch and discover marvelous churches, statues, fountains and a state-of-the-technology helicopter, along with martial art experts and an obelisk from eygpytian times – all sharing the same square. so this is rome! after a short tour of the plaza popolo we decide it would be wise to take an orientation tour, and do a hop-on-hop-off bus tour to see the major sites and get an idea of the city. fantastic! ancient rome is much bigger than expected, it covers and area as large as downtown vancouver or more. we hopped off the bus at the forum but tweedle dum (moi) has forgetten his pass in his bag (back at the hotel) so we did not walk through the ruins yet. i will post pictures as soon as i can but not for a few days as the hotel only has a single computer with very lowspeed internet access.

afer a full day of sights we returned to the hotel for a brief r&r before heading out to dinner. 8 p.m. – take the subway to the spanish steps and stroll through the area looking for a restaurant. we chose a lower priced one on a typical roman street and sit down outside. our waiter(?) could not give a damn about us and it showed. his service sucked and his attitude left us quite cold to rome. fortunately we had a couple of french women sitting next to us and i was able to strike up a conversation for a while. our food was ok, high on the mediocre scale. two bottles of wine helped make it through, that and the company of our other neighbours, a young dutch couple who were camping in rome (literally) for 13 euro per night. we chatted for quite a while and ending up enjoying the evening regardless of the service. we also learned that the subway shuts down at 11:30 on sunday so we had time to change tack and skip the trevi fountain tonight, instead we headed back to the metro to get back in time ,instead of walking home.

buona notte

night train

we boarded the train at innsbruck at 11:02 p.m. and departed at 11:04. the gentleman looking after us gave us the instructions on operating items in the cubicle and how the door locks worked…trust me, you need these details.

within a few minutes we were in our respective bunks…i had to climb the ladder and set up the safety net; we fell asleep within minutes rocked like babies as the train moved over the brenner pass and into the italian alps. we awoke quite refreshed in the morning. i passed on the mini shower as i had visions of being tossed about as i lathered up (not a pretty sight.) a boxed breakfast was served with an endless supply of good coffee. i have not adapted to the idea of cheese and assorted sausage meats for breaky but hey, we’re on a german train. it’s 7:00 a.m. as we pass through tuscany, we expect to arrive in rome at 9:00 a.m.

buon giorno

a day with julie

after some excellent schnitzel, strudel and beer and a good nights sleep we awoke to the perfect day. clear blue skies with not a cloud in sight. the hotel breakfast was pretty decent but we had to pay 10 euro each for the pleasure, but after such a nice place we can’t complain. we had packed before breakfast so other than a last few minute details we checked out and took our luggage to the train station and stuck it in a locker for the day.

next stop the sound of music tour! known as the som in salzburg where it provides a living for a significant number of people, though none of them apparently like the movie because of its fabrications (i.e. hollywood), however it has been going strong for over 40 years and shows no signs of slowing down, particularly with american and japanese tourists and the odd canadian.

the bus was packed to the hilt with about 80 paying passengers at 37 euro a head. we had the typical jovial and corny guide, but he was funny at times and much more likable than the schultz, our tour guide in munich (so i lied – this was our last bus tour.) the tour covers lots of the sites from the movie including the houses, various settings and the glass gazebo. we were also taken to the lake district outside of salzburg where the opening scenes were shot and given a chance to walk around the small town where “maria and the captain” were married and the beautiful church used in the ceremony.

all in all quite a bit of fun and we didn’t have to sing along; they did however play the tunes from the movie. after returning to salzburg we did one last tour of sights we wanted to see including a couple of spots from the movie the bus didn’t go to.

we wish we had more time to visit as the town has too much history, museums, events (music concerts and plays everywhere every night it seems.)

back to the station and onto a train to innsbruck. We met an interesting older couple who lived in kitzbul and were taking advantage of the saturday senior discount which lets them travel around austria for only 7 euro. they knew canada, having been with a traveling group of performers doing traditional folk songs and dance and had toured north america. one of their sons was an olympic athlete who had been in three olympics and won a bronze and then a silver at the calgary olympics the worlds a year later in the nordic combined. They ran a ski school in kitzbul and had known steve podborski as a child having had him in one of ther classes.

Innsbruck was not what i had envisioned, a small and quaint ski town! wrong! it is a major city and getting there in the early evening was a mistake as all we saw were empty streets and no charm, something austria has in abundance and we’re sure was just around the next corner had we gone further. we stopped at a local eatery for our last delicious but artery- clogging meal before boarding the night train to rome. we hope the clackty clack and gentle rocking will do the trick and give us a good nights rest.

guten nacht.


we had a nice lazy start to the day, getting up late and having breakfast at the station as our hotel had a large bus tour and was too busy for us to enjoy breakfast.

a two hour train ride through the country to salzburg which is on the border of germany and the beginning of the alps. a quick taxi to our hotel which is better than expected, in fact it is fantastic!
it is near to everything, an easy walk to all the sights.

salzburg is ubelievably beautiful, it is one big postcard and every corner has a new vista, almost all of them historic and dating between 1200 and 1600’s. some more recent or rebuilt following the war are as astounding as the older ones.

this is mozartville with a capital m there are references to him everywhere and there are at least two homes where he lived during his time here.

saltzburg is quite small, at least the historic old town is, and we covered a large portion of it on our first day here. timing is everything and we feel lucky that we waited until now to travel as even though the crowds are still significant, we’ve heard that in summer you often have to line up to get into sights and restaurants.

overall the people are quite friendly and helpful, we even met a women by the name of kristina wilk, an impresario who is currently handling the salzburg festival. she was quite delightful (think dr. ruth) she dropped a few names of people she knows, like governor arnie and seigi osawa, the conductor. she also enlightened us on the social side of salzburg, the politics and background of the new right who seem to have a strong foothold here. as she said they come out of the cellars to ferment dissent whenever they can. the big thing right now is the pending funeral of haider the extreme right wing leader killed in a car accident last week. apparently all the far right is organizing to attend.

back to the bright side, we had great sunny weather again after a day of rain in castle country, and really have enjoyed the day. this was highlighted of course by the food… any weight we may have lost will be put back on in short order. schnitzel, strudel and beer… of course.

guten nacht.