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My Italian Vacation
My friend Louis is impatient, curious, expressive and occasionally loud. He told a woman in the aisle of the jet we were taking to Rome to hurry as she struggled to get her bag into the overhead, believing she was the cause of our delay on the tarmac, much to the amusement of those who heard. And why isnít there ďJĒ for jet painted on the side of our plane? Louis is four years old. We met as he peeked back through the space between the seats in front of me, safely ensconced next to his mother and his dad, Nick, across the aisle.

With the bag successfully stowed it isnít long before weíre ready for takeoff and the ensuing bumps and noises from below frighten Louis a bit, but the wonder of flight ameliorates quickly. Not five minutes after our jet has penetrated the clouds, he asks the obligatory ďAre we there yet?Ē. No, Louis, it will be nine hours from Philadelphia to Rome, some not-too-bad airline supper with some fair Chardonnay; me watching you sleep peacefully through the night while I fidget for comfort and peek over your dadís shoulder as he watches your Disney movie, the one about the birds, while my wife leans against me snoozing.

When we land, Louisí excitement earns him an icy ďDo you mind?Ē from the ignorant dufus seated in front of him, the same ass who had turned in his seat to shush Louis the day before. ďYes, I do mind.Ē I replied, loudly enough for Louisí parents to hear. This isnít the opera that youíve paid a hundred and fifty bucks to see, buddy. If you donít want to hang with the likes of Louis and me, spend another six hundred dollars and fly in first class. Louis is impatient, expressive, and loud on occasion, but he was never rude unlike you.

Some of us are still in awe of the fact that our seats in an aluminum tube can carry us around the world at five hundred miles per hour. Some of us struggle between the curiosity and terror outside the shade of the jet window, causing us to flip it more than most. Some of us are touched by those that innocently but mercilessly strip our layers of jaded life, built through ďproperĒ behavior and placed as protection from future hurt and trial. What a way to start my vacation and it took the eyes of a four-year-old for me to see.
These are the famous Spanish Steps in Rome.
Here is a repair to the famous Spanish Steps in Rome.

Letís get right to the dirt shall we? My wife and I have had two days in Rome filled with history and great food. We rode a double decker bus with no driver on the top this afternoon after our feet wore out. I bought a genuine Barsalino paglia hat which was broken in by bird poop within an hour of purchase. History and ruins all over the place and what do I want to talk about?

A balding sixtyish Italian in fairly good shape walks into our hotel restaurant accompanied by a twenty something with a body to die for and a dress that stops just before her crotch. Her 6Ē CFM stiletto heels were a foot manís dream. At fifty-five years of age, I can tell you that thereís only one way a guy older than me, with less hair, is getting the attention of a female of her caliber. While Lynn Anne and I eat perfect pasta and gossip, they make small talk before heading to the hotel elevator. I speculate as to what a girl like that might cost. ďYour marriageĒ my wife dryly replies. Sheís funny like that.
Bob of QF

Thanks for the word-picture trip, Kowboy!
Quantum Junction: Use both lanes

Reality is that which is left, after you stop believing.
Dont take this the wrong way Kowboy, but I like your wife.
Thanks for putting me on the plane with you, Kowboy. Nice story.
Looks like it had to be a very interesting blast Kowboy.

Frequently I find that the world is a much more interesting and enjoyable place when viewed through the eyes of children.
Freda and I have been friends since Clay High School, Oregon, Ohio. Iíve had a crush on her since, but she married a guy in her class, í72, and I married a girl three years behind me, í76. We became reacquainted when my wife was in a singing group with her and her husband Tom. Freda couldnít believe that the fine woman in front of her had married the Joe with the scruffy goatee? The one who used to smoke and sell a little pot? Yep, same guy. I married up.

Imagine if I had told Freda in high school, where she directed me in a production of ďSorry, Wrong NumberĒ to little acclaim, that in thirty-nine years she and I and our mates of thirty years would be sitting in an outdoor cafť in Rome, directly in front of the Parthenon, drinking Champagne and eating pasta? Who would have believed it? Not me, but itís true and I can hardly believe it myself.

Tom called me several months ago for information on Italy since he knew I had been there for a few days a decade earlier. He and Freda were planning a trip. I sure wished we were going with them. A month or two and an income tax return check later, I was asking Tom if he would mind if Lynn Anne and I went on his vacation. He said come on and we did. It was great as I didnít have to plan a thing. Tom had it all figured out all I had to do was whip out my credit card and have him increase the capacity of the rental car.

Two days ago we visited the Coliseum. It was fascinating, but the barbarity of the place still permeates over two thousand years later. Like polishing a turd, the Romans can put all the spin on it they want but the slaughter of animals in a contained space for ďsportĒ, public executions, and feeding fellow humans to captured and starving lions is incomprehensible to this modern man. I guess things havenít changed as much as Iíd like to believe regarding the human condition.

Yesterday we visited the Sistine Chapel and I took a picture on the sly with no flash just because it was against the rules. Apparently Fuji film paid for the ceiling restoration and subsequently own all the rights. Kiss my ass Fuji. Itís some guyís job to shout ďNo photoĒ and shush us as we passed through. Maybe he could get a job with the airlines.

We left Rome today in the cab of the taxi driver from hell. The kid who took us home last night had been a taxi driver for four days got us right to our hotel. Even with help from our front desk at the hotel, this moron couldnít get us to the Thrifty car rental at the airport. He blathered on his cell phone in Italian the whole way, speeding and changing lanes without looking and tried to drop us off at the wrong place. I wanted my five Euros back from the fifty I gave him for the forty-five Euro fare and he didnít even offer change. A pox on his house.

After an hour wait in the Thrifty queue, we met a writing professor from Boston in the line, we managed to make our Pompeii tour pretty much on time. It was amazing. Iíve got pictures but Iím too tired to fool with them right now. The view from our hotel in Sorrento is nuts. It is quiet and lovely here. Lynn Anneís asleep and Iím joining her soon; my gin and tonic is dead.
Edited by Kowboy on 06/21/2011 22:00
Kowboy, I have been to Rome twice and visited the Colosseum both times. Two things struck me about the place, one is that fixed up it would be hard to differentiate it from a modern stadium at least a football one.

The other is that I really did not want to spend much time there because the barbarity of what occurred there seemed to hang over the place. I once visited the remains of the Dachau prison camp. Similar to the Colosseum it was a quick visit.
Again its morning, Lynn Anneís asleep and Iíve got to recap or forget and regret forever. Two days ago we drove the Italian coast on a weaving wonderful road, so narrow in spots we had to pull in the mirrors of our rented SUV. I made a small video entitled ďI Hate You in Tank TopsĒ in which Freda plays a cantankerous character, Tom flips me off and Lynn Anne tries to moderate. I wonder aloud why I hang with these people as I pan the stunning scenery. The food, the view, the weather and company could not have been improved. My life has never been better.

We had sparkling wine with lunch; I bought two bottles at the ceramic shop along the way which we drank before dinner. We drank two bottles with dinner and the management bribed us out of our table with another. I know I was in the dumb kidís math class last year, but thatís six bottles of wine in one day for four people and thatís about our limit, so we made up by only having one bottle last night. To drive us back safely, Tom quit early.

We took a ferry from the mainland to the resort island of Ischia. Tom and Freda got a massage in one of the famous spas while Lynn Anne and I took the zillion stairs from out hilltop room down to the beach and natural spring spas. From the safety of our beach chairs, we watched a group of four pre-teen boys climb from the sea up a near-vertical rock face only to launch themselves back into the water. The youngest had the most trouble climbing and mustering the courage to throw himself back in the drink, but he had to keep up with his friends. They were always one slip away from catastrophe and as a safety professional, it was killing Lynn Anne to watch. ďTestosterone poisoningĒ she muttered as they overloaded their small Zodiac and motored back to the safety of their parentís boat anchored in the bay. The natural spas were warm, not hot, green, not blue, and take some getting used to if youíre a chlorine-smelling hot tub kind of person. Iím not and had no problem.

Weíre going to have breakfast and catch the ferry in a bit, then take an eight or ten hour drive up to Venice. Tom says the Gondola rides are 300 Euros, which is about five hundred bucks, so Iíll have to decide when I get there. Lynn Anne isnít too romantic if she is tired or hungry or both.
We arrived in Venice at 11:30 p.m. and checked into our five-hundred-year-old hotel. The brass sign out front is about 6Ē x 10Ē. We would have never found it without asking for directions. When you get to Venice, do as the GPS lady says and pull into the parking garage as soon as you hit the island as youíre not driving anywhere anyway. Itís walk or water taxi here.

In the morning, a Gondolier coaxes immediately outside our hotel door. Itís only eighty Euro, I donít know where Tom heard his previous figure, and you can put six in a Gondola for a better value although less romantic voyage. We pass as Tom has made arrangements for a ďfreeĒ water taxi to the famous Murano glass blowing operation here. This is marketing genius on Muranoís part and a lesson for small businesspeople. If youíre staying in a Venetian hotel, they figure youíre a qualified customer and are willing to spring for the water taxi to bring you to them. In our case it worked beautifully as Tom, an amateur diver who isnít known for art collection, purchases a glass stingray. It would probably be tacky to say how much he paid, but you could have a real nice granite countertop for the same amount. Real nice. I paid more for my new hat than I charge for a service call, so Iím in no position to criticize. I promised Tom Iíd build him a lighted pedestal or shelf if he bought it so Iíve got some work to do when we get back.

The water taxi took us to the famous lace district, Burano, where you can buy a fancy tablecloth and a set of napkins, machine washable, for just a thousand Euros or about fifteen-hundred bucks. We passed. I felt my first thousand-dollar silk negligťe; unfortunately no one was wearing it at the time.
While I admire the Venetianís marketing, their sales skills have them leaving money on the table. They are much too quick to discount. Whether Gondola rides, lace or art glass, a price discount should only be used as a closing technique on a particularly tough but very qualified customer, not offered if the prospect doesnít bite immediately. When art glass is discounted too soon, it cheapens, not enhances, the value. If I sold art glass here, youíd hear all about how obviously fine an eye you have for selecting one of the finest pieces in the gallery and Iíd sell you the artistís background. Plus, Iíd break out the afternoon celebratory champagne before, not after, closing the sale. Iíd swipe your card at the table, not on the way out either. We are a captive market. Do they think weíre going to shop art glass? A piece moves you or it doesnít. If I didnít outsell every Venetian in a month, with little or no discounting, Iíd jump into the stinkiest canal of their choice and swim back to the States in disgrace.

Ever since weíve arrived, Iíve been trying to find a grilled fish as good as a particular Italian place in metro Detroit. At lunch the waiter demonstrated a tray with raw sea bass, soft-shelled crab, and my fish, the Gilthead. He picked up the gills of each fish so you could see how fresh they were. Sharing a small salad, spaghetti with tomato sauce, Sauvignon Blanc white wine, and dessert of a cream cake, the Gilthead was the best meal Iíve had in Italy and Iíve been here over a week. You know itís good when the fish platter has been mopped clean with bread. Tomís eyes were about as big as the platter when they brought the bill. We just ate a ninety dollar fish and it was worth every penny. No discounting and great value.

Arriving in Siena last night, the Palazzo Ravizza was full and had no reservation for Lynn Anne and me although Iím sure I made one. They somehow found us a superior room anyway with an amazing view. We are moving to a cheaper loft on the third floor today so itís all going to work out the same. Tom and Lynn Anne just wheeled our laundry down to the Laundromat. Itís a good thing, as my suitcase was starting to get that not-so-fresh feeling. More later.
Click on the pic:
We tromped around Sienna the day before yesterday and drove to a charming old village on the way to Pisa yesterday. I canít remember the name, but thatís been typical of me on this vacation. If it werenít for the calendar popping up every time I open my computer, I wouldnít know the day of the week. My cell phone doesnít work here and if I want to know the time I have to ask. I believe this is the best part of this trip. I just ask Tom where Iím supposed to be and when and he tells me.

The leaning tower of Pisa is really interesting and really leans. It cost me sixty Euros for the four of us to climb to the top. Ladies, you have to check your bags at the provided locker. Cameras only. Lynn Anne was creeped out by the height but more so by the lean. People have been climbing this thing for eight hundred years and itís finally going over on the day we try. Itís kind of fun to watch her rational mind struggle with her fear.

You can wear quite a dip into marble stairs with eight hundred years of use. They started this joker at the end of the twelfth century, built a few floors, took another hundred years off, and then finished the job a few hundred years later. These guys make Michigan contractors looks like real speedsters.

As weíre lying in bed this morning, Lynn Anne says ďYou havenít written about my fall, have you?Ē with a slightly accusatory tone. No, as a matter of fact, I havenít. Iím just trying to remember the good stuff. Back in Ischia, on our last trip down the zillion steps with our luggage in tow, Lynn Anne missed a three-inch riser at a landing and did a face plant on the cool tile. I was just ahead of her, heard her fall, and turned around to see my wife lying face up in a daze. The hotel staff rushed to help and we let her sit a spell then pulled her up. Although she hit her cheek, it didnít bruise unlike her wrist, foot and ankle which have done the purple and yellow thing several days later. Sheís at the pharmacy as I type, picking up more Ibuprophen. We were very lucky. This could have been a trip-ending disaster.

We flew home yesterday. The trip back was much easier. My brother from Seattle and his wife picked us up at the airport. Everything seems fine except one of my cats is missing or may be hiding and my grass is very tall. Iím drinking some morning coffee from my French press. Itís good but itís not Italian.
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