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Welcome to our Tour di Italia,
September 2011
with friends from the BACC (Bay Area Cobra Club).

Latest update, November 1, 2011
Aptos, CA

Updating details. Video coming in a few weeks!

Buon Giorno,

A few years ago a group of us from the Bay Area Cobra Club, an unofficial group of men and women (husbands and wives), that get together for yearly drives and outings in our Cobra's, started talking about a trip to Italy. I thought it would never happen, but was ready whenever it did. Well, this past winter, word went out that the trip was a go!

Our main organizzatore, Mr. Potatoe Head, aka: Signore Testa della Patata, made contact with those who said they were interested and when the dust settled, a group of 14 (7 couples), will be headed to Italy in September of 2011.

O'Brien Travel Service Orrel Aza is taking care of all the reservations and planning with the expert guidance of Mr. P-Head. Our itinerary looks very cool, and we'll be traveling Italy in rented cars for a total of 17 days. Fly non-stop from SFO to Zurich, Switzerland; then puddle hop over to Venice, Italy for the start. I've posted our itinerary here so you have an idea of where we're staying. I'll be updating as much as possible during the trip.

Our trip starts in the city of Venice and ends in Rome. We will be on our own for most of the trip with many side trips planned. We'll have five cars to do the necessary traveling and outings while in each of the five areas we'll be staying. Some of the plans are seeing the Italian Alps and maybe venturing into Switzerland for a day. Many museums and duomo's, a castle, lakes, wineries and several statues I'm sure. We also plan on stopping in Pisa, Cinque Terre and the Tuscany region.

We had our first change of plans even before we left. On Friday the 9th, we got word the (Hotel Simplon) had a mechanical issue so they upgraded us to a nicer and closer to the lake hotel. Check that one out on the new itinerary below for Stresa.

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Just got last minute word again (Monday the 12th 12:30pm PST) that the hotel Grand Hotel Bristol that we were upgraded to, got changed again! Third time's a charm so and now we'll be staying here Hotel Dino in Baveno. If we're lucky, the hotel will change again while in flight! :)

In memory of our friend Fitzroy "Fitz" Killingsworth


Monday, Sept 12 - depart SFO via Swiss Air to Zurich, Switzerland and then onto Venice, Italy

We all arrived at SFO about the same time and got all our check-in bags checked and boarding passes issued. We then headed through security to our flight gate. We had time to stop, relax and get a bite to eat (it was about 6pm) and just reflect on what the trip has stored for us.

Our flight left on time and although a little cramped, we all seemed to be doing fine. Swiss Air was very good in my mind, although I'm not a seasoned traveler, but the service and food was very good. Once we reached cruising altitude and were served dinner, it was time to try and get some sleep. For now, I'm going to watch a movie on my laptop (although the plane does have movies) to pass some time. Movie choice: The Grown Ups.

It's now 3:45am PST and after my movie I did get some good naps throughout the night. We have a little over three hours to go and then we get a one hour break before heading on to Venice.

My understanding is some of our travelers (Grande Ferro, Seniore Patata, Seniore McJilton and a few selected others), got in trouble for disturbing the peace during the flight, and were asked several times to be quiet. I wonder who in the heck doesn't like our group? I figure it was just pure jealousy they weren't invited into the discussion. Oh, it wasn't me because I was asleep like a good passenger. :) We did learn that Mr. P now has a new "handle" given to him by the stewardess, he is officially known as Honey Bunny now. :)

Seniore Testa della Patata, aka: Honey Bunny

We arrived in Zurich, Switzerland on time and excellent weather conditions. It is humid here and quite a change from the Bay Area of California. We were checked through customs and then on to the tram for transport to another terminal where our connection flight leaves. This took us out of the controlled area and we had to go through security again once we entered. We board in about 30 minutes at 17:40pm (5:40pm).

Our gate was at tarmack level and we boarded a transport bus to escort us to the plane. Once aboard, we only had a one hour flight to Venice, Italy.

Tuesday, Sept 13 - Arrive Venezia (Venice) - 2 nights via Motoscafi Venizia

Mtoscafi, Water Taxi

Moon rise in Venice

Venice, Italy

Tuesday evening, September 13, 9pm

We are here! Yipee! I can't believe we're in Venice, Itay. What a thrill. Once we got our bags we headed to the dock where we are to catch the Motoscafi Venizia, which is the water taxi service. We needed two boats and once aboard, the pilot took off like a LeMans start. I wasn't expecting that and banged my head on the doorway to the cabin. Thank god for hair and a hard head.

We taxied accross the harbor to the city of Venice and came into the city at night. What a sight to be here on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy! It seems like it was just last week we were still planning the trip and now are here in person.

We arrived at our hotel Hotel N.H. Manin and got our rooms and luggage checked in. Reno and Jenelle had arrived a day early so they were there to greet us.

We took a walk to dinner at "le Cafe" through some alleys and paths to a square and then took a walk to San Marco Square. What a sight at night. I didn't take my camera because I didn't know we'd be going there. Tonight, pictures for sure.

The hotel is quaint and room is small. How small? Small!!! A one butt room for sure. :)

Wednesday, September 14

Group in lobby of our hotel NH Manin, looking out the front door to Grand Canal. Yes, it's that close!

The day started a little late after going to bed well after midnight. We slept in until 7am and then went down stairs to eat breakfast and start the day. Breakfast had everything we are used to at home, so no surprises. Weather is in the upper 80's and very humid. Take a shower and still feel clammy all day, but so is everyone else. No big deal.

People are friendly and getting around is just a lot of up and down over small bridges, narrow streets and lots of people. Some with us said this is the busiest they've seen here. First stop was the Rialto bridge to place "Fitz" on the bridge with us along with having a picture of Denise and Fitz joining us.

After that, some of us continued on to the open market place and then back to get on a Vaporetto (equal to a city bus on water) and got off at San Marco Square for more walking and a bite to eat.

Al and Cee got in line for the tower and duomo, while Larry, Jan, Jeanne and I decided to get a bite to eat and get out of the heat for awhile. We found a nice litte deli not far from the square.

Rialto Bridge

Fitz and Denise at Rialto Bridge

The biggest glitch I had were the two cell phones I rented from Onesimcard. My phone would ring but I couldn't answer it. I knew who it was but couldn't do anything. They got upset with me bccause I wouldn't answer. However, I couldn't call them back either. I tried to use the phone for Jeanne and it would receive, but not send, so I couldn't use her's either. What a mess. The phones we got just didn't cooperate with us. I finally showed Mike just what was going on so he'd understand. At least it wasn't an emergency!

I spent the next hour on the phone with them after logging in and sending a help request. On a bright note, Onesimcard was very good at getting back to me. Within 15 minutes of sending an email, they called to get things straightened out. We got Jeanne's phone to work and they are going to credit mine because it wouldn't work. So, at least there's a bright side to the story.

Open Market, Venice

Gondola parking lot

Back to the hotel to wait for the others and then off again for a walk and Gondola ride through some very narrow canal streets. Some later went for dinner and Jeanne and I went back to the hotel for rest, along with our gelato!

Somebody's having too much fun! Al and Cee

Larry, Janice, Julie, Lenny, Reno and Jenelle, on the Grand Canal

Tomorrow is an early day and we're off to get the cars (via Motoscafi) and off to Baveno for some good mountain air. I think that's were we'll start to relax and really start to enjoy our time.

Thursday, Sept 15 - Pick up vehicles, drive to Baveno - 3 nights

While waiting for our Motoscafi, I found out how they did the laundry on the inner part of Venice. It is taken to and from by water. We transferred into our taxi and waited for the rest of the group to board their's and headed down the Grand Canal to the rental car agency (Hertz). I have to say that riding along the canals is very peaceful. Watching everyone work their boats is quite a site and the occasional disagreement between captains when someone doesn't like the other cutting them off is entertaining. Of course, all is forgotten and they go on their way. Doesn't seem to be very much road rage because they can't get out and start fighting on water very well.

Laundry Boat

Group outside our hotel boarding the taxi.

Jeanne and the Grand Canal aboard the Motoscafi.

One of many side canals throughout Venice.

Duomo along Grand Canal.

After a short boat ride we arrived at the car rental (Hertz) and were then shuttled off to the "holding pen" of cars waiting for us. Getting from the canal to Hertz was a chore. We had to wheel/carry our luggage up steps, down the street, accross the street and up the other side to the main office. I don't think I would've found this without some good directions. Good thing Mr.P. had been there before. Once we were through checking in, we loaded up in vans to the car area where we were given Ford Focus wagons, which turned out to be just right as you can see by the luggage we had.

Driving in Italy is an experienc and you just have to pay attention to...EVERYTHING!! There is no real "rules" other than don't get hit or hit someone. Speed is about 84mph on the Autostrada (same as toll road highway) and you DON'T drive in the left lane. That is for passing and if you stay there, you'll find out. They will tailgate you at 80+ MPH until you move over. So, just stay in the right two lanes and you'll be fine. After driving for a day, I became more at ease and then had to concentrate on learning and reading their signs, which is another thing all together. Once you get that down, you're all set.

Jeanne and Cee.

Packed and ready to roll.

We took the A4 toward Milano and then the A8 to Baveno.

Milano sign along A4.

Our final destination of the day was the Hotel Dino in Baveno. What a gorgeous hotel! Right on Lago Maggiore in northwestern Italy. This place looks like the type you see in a movie.

Hotel Dino, Baveno, Italy.

Jeanne and I were placed on the fifth floor of the hotel along with another couple of our group. The view is outstanding and is something I would never had imagined in my lifetime. What a view! Taken from our balcony.

One of two views from our balcony, over looking Lago Maggiore.

We all took a short walk to a small outdoor cafe (Bar Clipper) next to the hotel for a bite to eat after unpacking. This was right on the launch area for the boat tour we're planning for tomorrow. As you can see, we were having a good time.

Lunch at Bar Clipper.
Larry, Al, Reno, Glenn, Mike, Gayle, Jenelle, Cee and Jan (center)

My spork napkin.

The hotel greeted us with a small reception at 7pm later that night. As you can see, it was a simple gesture of appreciation by the hotel and especially for our tour "non director" Seniore Test della Patata. We can't thank him enough for putting this together for all of us to share. Grazie seniore!

right to left: Reno, Mike M., Lenny and Seniore Testa della Patata (Larry)

right to left: Debbi, Jenelle, Gayle, Janice, Jeanne and Julie

Friday, September 16

This morning's sunrise over Lago Maggiore.

Today was the trip to Isola Bella on Lago Maggoiore by way of Ministero delle Infrastrutture. We didn't have to go far as the launch ramp/dock was just a two minute walk from the hotel, just happened to be next to the place we had lunch the day before.

We left the town of Baveno around 10am to Isola Bella by way of Isola Superiore as the first boat stop (we didn't get off here), because we were headed to Isola Bella. One could easily spend a few days taking the ferry accross the lake and stopping at the islands and little towns along the shoreline. If you wanted to, you could also go into Switzerland at the other end of the lake!

Town of Baveno.

Isola Superiore.

Isola Bella
Isola Bella (320 x 180 m), perhaps the most admired destination on Lake Maggiore, derives its fame from its stunning Baroque palace and elaborate Italian gardens. It was the crowning glory of a group of famous Italian architects in the 17th century who, thanks to generous sponsorship from the Borromeo family, were able to create a unique masterpiece. Although Isola Bella was originally just a rocky crag inhabited by fishermen, in 1630 Charles Borromeo began the colossal building work that would utterly transform the island. The ambitious project saw palace and garden brought together in the form of an imaginary ship: the dock represented the prow of the vessel, the main palace was the bow deck and the raised terrace was the bridge. Construction lasted forty years and dramatically changed the face of Isola Bella. The results had a significant impact on the landscape and represent a triumph for man shaping nature to his will. The four-storey palace is a typical example of Lombard Baroque architecture. The most interesting rooms are those located on the first floor, radiating from the hall of honour, with its grand architecture, balcony and dome. Around the hall you can visit the Neoclassical ballroom; the music room, with its selection of valuable musical instruments; the “Medals Room”, so-called because of the gilded wooden ornaments recounting the life of Saint Charles Borromeo; the Tapestry Hall, featuring a display of rare Flemish tapestries from the 16th century, woven in silk and gold; and many other rooms decorated with paintings, furniture, plasterwork and crystal chandeliers. The most inventive part of the palace, however, can be found underground: six natural grottos decorated with dark-and light-coloured pebbles and shells in designs reflecting nautical themes. The Italian gardens are spread across ten terraces that form a truncated pyramid ornamented with balustrades, hedges, obelisks and statues. A stroll through the gardens will lead you to the amphitheatre, an elaborate construction on three levels with walls decorated with stones and tuff; dotted about are tasteful niches, reliefs and statues representing the triumph of the Borromeo family. From here you exit onto the upper terrace, which is 37 m up, and boasts an impressive panoramic view of the mountains surrounding the gulf. On one of the lower terraces, a lily pond, handsome flowerbeds and criss-cross box hedges lend a romantic atmosphere to the Giardino dell'Amore - or “Garden of Love” . Majestic trees, spectacular flowers and exotic plants flourish throughout the gardens.

The following pictures are of the grounds, which are very well groomed and beautiful. The colors don't do justice from what you see and the architecture of the area is just amazing, given the fact it has stood the test of time.

Tapestry Room.

I was taking pictures here when Jeanne popped in and took a rest. Perfect timing for a shot of my "Queen"!

Ms. Jeanne

Volpina local brewery beer and lunch salad. Mmmm, Mmmm, Good!

After visiting the grounds, we stopped at the Caffe Lago on the island for a bite to eat. I tried a local brewery beer Volpina with a small salad and bread. The waiter also talked about the wines of the area with Al. This is where it comes from Winery Farmhouse "Parusso Vini".

Waiter discussing the wine from an area 150 miles south of Baveno.

We got back on the boat to Isola Madre for a stop. Some decided to stay and tour while some of us just stayed on for a lake boat ride and stops along the way. Stops included Pollanza, Villa Taranto and Intra. This was a good way to see more of the area and enjoy a relaxing ride in the open air.

Isola Madre
Isola Madre (220 x 330 m) is the largest of the islands on Lake Maggiore and boasts a 20-acre park that is considered one of the most impressive and well-preserved in Italy. The rare plants and exotic flowers in these English-style botanical gardens have been enchanting visitors for over a century. The island was first cultivated at the beginning of the 16th century, when the Borromeo family, impressed by the exceptionally mild climate on the island, began to introduce citrus trees and vines. During the nineteenth century, the orchard gradually evolved into landscaped botanical gardens. The unique character of the park can be largely attributed to Count Vitaliano IX Borromeo, who was a passionate botanist. Over fifty years, he spared no effort to expand his collection of valuable plants from every continent in the world. The passage of time has not dimmed the appeal of Isola Madre, which today plays host to ancient trees and a delightful population of peacocks, parrots and pheasants. Every latitude and altitude, from South America to Asia, seems to be present here; so much so that a visit to the island is transformed into a multicoloured journey around the world. It would be hard to improve upon Flaubert's appraisal of the island as an “earthly paradise”. The austere historical palace, which sits on the jutting outcrop that dominates the island, now serves as a museum: inside, furniture, paintings and tapestries recreate the magnificent rooms created by the Borromean family. The doll and china collections and the delicate puppet theatre are particular highlights. Outside, there is a neo-Gothic, sepulchral chapel with elegant terracotta decoration that overlooks a circular pond filled with lilies, reeds and irises.

Swan on Isola Madre.

The boat ride was very relaxing and taking a break from walking did us all good. Reno, Mike, Jenelle, Gayle, Jeanne and myself toured the lake for the next hour before arriving back in Baveno.

I was busy taking picture of the shorline and just thinking how cool it would be to have the Cobra's here and drive these roads along the lake. Someday, maybe someday, I can arrange to do just that. I guess it'll be put on my "bucket list".

Jenelle, Gayle and Jeanne.

The lake town of Pallanza.

Upon our return Mike, Gayle, Jeanne and myself decided to get an early dinner at the Ristorante Posta just a few blocks from the hotel. The food was excellent along with the company as we dined outside in the warm night air. Of course, we took a walk after to the local church and then a gelato stop before turning in for the night.

Ristorante Posta, Baveno, Italy.

Church in Baveno.

I decided to take my camera (duh) and go off for some night shots after returning to the hotel and thought this proper.

Shot of stained glass from outside hallway dome, Hotel Dino.

Shot of the same dome from inside looking up, time delay shot, Hotel Dino.

Shot of stained glass dome at the opposite end of the hallway, Hotel Dino.

Outside entrance gazebo.

Moonrise over Pallanza.

Saturday, September 17

Up early this morning to shoot this picture of Isola Bella in the dark. Yes, it was dark when I got up. 4:30am to be exact!

Early morning on Lago Maggiore looking at Isola Bella.

After our morning breakfast at the hotel, we're headed for the Mount Mottarone cable car to the top of Mt. Mottarone via the Mountain Cable Car to an elevation of 1491 meters. Finding our way along the lake to the parking area was another adventure. If you look to hard, you'll miss the turn to the marina where the venicular is. Also, if you don't look to hard, you'll pass right by like a few of our group did. I did a little routine scouting with a map prior to our leaving and it paid off and one quick turn got us to the parking area. Then we had to learn how to use the parking meters. Again, the lack of language was an issue, but not enough to get instructions on how to use them. As it turned out, you just put your Euro's in the meter and it'll tell you how long you can park. We just put in enough for three hours and figured it would be enough. It was. We also found out if you have a "parking wheel" on your windshield (most rental cars have them) you can put the wheel clock to the time you arrived and you'll get a "fine" ticket mailed to you. I would avoid that and just put the money in the meter. As we learned throughout our trip, that was much easier.

Two cable cars delivered us to the top. We decided to bypass the botanical gardens due to time issues and headed instead to Stresa for a bite to eat and shopping. As you can see, the pictures are very hazy due to a LOT of moisture in the air. The temperature at the top dropped about 15 degrees from the lake level. We were also surprised to find the lake elevation at 200 meters, approximately 620 feet. Riding the tram was a lot of fun and I was amazed at the span the cars crossed, as you can see.

While riding up we saw paragliders in the sky and after getting off, one more took off. I just don't think I have enough intestinal fortitude to do that. Once at the top you could feel the cool air. I can only imagine what it looks like in the middle of winter here. I think you can see all the way to Switzerland accross the lake. The views are just amazing with five lakes within view from the top.

We found out they also had a ride there called Alpyland. It was like the Wild Mouse roller coaster and you controlled the speed by using a handbrake. I knew I wanted to do it so Jeanne and I were set. Mike M. got a jump on all of us and he rode down and then the rest of us followed. I got my GoPro out to have Jeanne video and just as we were set to go, the card became full so no video. Major bummer on my part for not emptying the card before we left today. Larry and I were going to go again but there were no sleds empty for some time so we all headed back to the tram for a visit to Stresa. If you're interested in what it looks like, here's a link to a YouTube video: Alpyland Video.

We got lucky today as there were predictions of thunder storms and they were right. Just after sitting down to eat in Stresa it started raining lightly and the thunder and lightning was intense for a few hours after that. All of us decided to walk around town and do some window shopping. Some found a gelato store and checked it out to see if it was o.k. for human consumption. It sure looked like it was!

Stresa from the tram ride.

Tram ride to the top of Mount Mottarone.

Longest span on the ride. You can pick out the car coming the other way (green).

Paraglider just after taking off.

Mike and Gayle coming up the final lift to the top. Proud of Gayle for making it all the way!

Me and Jeanne at the top of Mount Mottarone.

Our group at the top of Mount Mottarone.
L-R: Jeanne, Janice, Gayle, Al, Cee, Larry, Debbi, Mike M., Julie, Mike T.
Lenny and I were taking the picture. Duh!

Mike M. testing out the Alpyland glider.

Nothing like father and son bonding.

Our Hotel Dino from the tram.

Main road in Stresa.

Testing out even more gelato! Can you ever have enough?

Inner Stresa streets. Yes, there were cars on some of these streets!

Tomorrow is going to be a long day. The girls are going with Larry straight to Lucca, while the boys are going to Maranello to the Ferrari museum and then on to Lucca. Our day is going to be at least a five hour drive total with the first stint a three hour and then two plus to Lucca. Not sure how long we'll be at the Ferrari museum, but I'd guess at least an hour, so our arrival will be late for sure. Our plan is to leave Baveno around 10am.

As it turned out, Larry and the girls got lost around Milano. Maybe they were looking for a shortcut or the girls wanted to shop. Who really knows, but they all found their way to Lucca just like the rest of us did.

Sunday, September 18 - Drive to Lucca - 3 nights

This was a long drive day, but broken up into two parts. Part one was the drive to Maranello to visit the Ferrari Museum and part two was the drive to Lucca. We left Baveno around 10:30am and arrived in Maranello about 1:30pm. We toured the museum for about an hour and decided to call it a done deal. Lots of Ferrari's on display including an Enzo and the Italia 458. A full display of the manufacturer's F1 cars were on the second floor viewing area. I took a complete video that will be posted when I return to the States because it's HUGE and I don't have time or software on my netbook to edit, so you'll have to wait for that. :)

V-10 engine from 2006.

Enzo Ferrari

We arrived at Villa Cheli at 5:34pm. That number is our "mantra" number as it shows up everywhere. Even the picture below from Jenelle is numbered DSC01534. It is just too funny! I'll have more to post after we arrive in Florence in a few days. The web service here is butt slow and I want to have some time to enjoy the area as well. If I get a chance I'll update more later today after we get back from Cinque Terra.

Once we got our things settled in our rooms, we took a brief walk around the villa and then dined in the dining area of the villa. It was just as well, because I was tired of driving all day and staying put was just fine with me.

Monday, September 19th, Happy Anniversary Jeanne

Our anniversary started early for Jeanne and I with a drive to S. Lorenzo a Vaccoli to do our laundry. We asked the villa manager where we could do wash without going into Lucca and he told us about this place the day we arrived. We took a drive to find out where to go and purchased our tokens along with reading the directions and knowing how long the process would take. Lucky for us it was only about a mile from the villa. It was a very small place with two washers and two dryers but we got all our laundry done in an hour and a half and were back for breakfast by 8:30am ready to enjoy our day.

At the lavanderia.

We did check out the International Academy of Italian Cuisine school early before going into Lucca today so I'd know where to go tonight. Good thing I did, it's up one hell of a narrow road. I met Gianluca Pardini (chef) and he was glad to see us. We talked about what to have for dinner and decided on a meat that would be o.k. for everyone (I hope), but I left it to Gianluca to surprise us. Dinner will be explained at a later date but I do have a couple of pictures for now. We then went on to the village of Lucca and those will be posted later as well.

Cee and Jan walking up to the school in the morning to check it out.

Old cemetery in S. Lorenzo a Voccoli.

Jeanne at the Villa Cheli.

The walled city of Lucca is very impressive. Small streets and narrow walkways make this place a human maze for sure. Without a map you can navigate by keeping track of where you go, but it's much easier with a map (which we used). I did get separated from some of our small groups because I'd be off taking abstract pictures that interested me. A lot of shops were closed (Monday) but many were open and Jeanne found a nice new wallet for her checkbook so all wasn't lost, just me.

Putting the wall in perspective to who might try to attack.

Streets inside the walled city.

Piazza Anfiteatro inside Lucca.

Seniore Testa della Patate (and the book about him).

We spent the day there just wandering around. I did climb the Chiesa di S. Giusto tower (227 steps) to the top for a view of the city and surrounding hillsides. The wind was blowing very briskly but the view was outstanding. I do have a video that will be displayed once I edit the film. We left around 3pm to get ready for our cooking experience later that night.

A view from the top of Torre delle Ore from which you can see an attacking force.

If you couldn't see attackers from the towers, you'd surely see them in the clearing surrounding the entire city.

We arrived promptly to the International Academy of Italian Cuisine at 4:30pm and were greated by Chef Gianluca Pardini. We were offered coffee or tea and we all put on our aprons for the night. We were going to dine outside but a sudden thunderstorm decided to have us inside. It rained on our parade but didn't dampen our spirits. We continued on through a light show and boomers and a torrential rainstorm. Oh, we were inside. :)

Our menu was:
Antipasto: Crocchette di patate fritte con salsa di funghi
Primo piatto: Pasta fatta in casa con sugo finto
Secondo piatto: Pollo nostrale al rosso delle colline lucchesi con cipollotti in agrodolce
Dessert: Crostata con ricotta e frutti di bosco

All dishes were prepared fresh. Some of the vegetables were from their own garden at the school. Other ingredients Gianluca purchased that day from the local markets. I think everyone had a great time in the kitchen taking turns doing the different preparation chores and learning new ways and ideas on Italian cooking. I never made or rolled out pasta in my life so that was exciting for me and knowing how to use oil and water in cooking was new along with many other little tips. I'm sure others in our group remember little things to make cooking more fun.

I was also able to meet Carla whom I corresponded with to setup the cuisine experience. I can't thank the International Academy of Italian Cuisine enough for the entire experience.

Men Chefs.

Women Chefs.

Cooks in the kitchen with Chef Gianluca.

Me with Carla from the International Academy of Italian Cuisine.

Fitz showing us the way in spirit to the International Academy of Italian Cuisine.

Reno and Mike M. hard at work.

Mike M. and Al doing the gnocchi.

Reno the tomatoe man.

I'm not sure what to say about this!

On a happier note...

Ah yes, dessert.

A moment to remember.

It was Jeanne and my 12th anniversary on the 19th and it was nice to have everyone there and doing the cooking class, dining experience. I think everyone had a great time. I know we did! While we were in Stresa I found a shop that made wooden toys and got Jeanne a nice cat to add to her collection. I know how much she (and me) miss our cats. I also gave her a handmade anniversary card I did at home before we left on our trip.

Glenn and Jeanne, 12th anniversary. Yes, it did rain a little too.

After returning from our cooking experience, I walked into our villa and the chef there saw me in my apron. I thought he was going to blow up! He started asking me where the place was, what was I doing with the apron and so on. He also said this could be a problem and I said, "problem for what?" I tried to tell him it was a one night experience and of course, he didn't understand (me his Italian and him my English). We gave him the card from the school and told him to call or do whatever he wanted. We didn't care, but I will have a talk with the villa manager today and ask for an apology because I don't think it's polite to treat your guests in this manner. If I knew Italian, I know I would've told the chef where to go. Oh, well, just another experience on vacation and another chef with a head as big as they can make it. Ciao.

Tuesday, September 20th

We left early on Tuesday (Mike T's birthday) for Cinque Terre. I've come down with a nasal cold and I think Jeanne is getting it too. We'll struggle through because we have no choice but will take things slowly.

Good thing we all had GPS units as we didn't know exactly what the address was for the ferry to the towns along Cinque Terre. We plugged in the port address hoping that would get us close. It did, but a few miss turns here and there made it a little exciting at times. We finally found our way to the parking area in La Spezia and got our tickets for the ferry from Consorzio Marittimo Turistico. Knowing what we now know, the next time will be easier. Without our "bitch in a box" it would've been a nightmare. One nice thing was it's only a 30 minute drive to La Spezia from Lucca.

Leaving the port of La Spezia.

Jeanne on the ferry boat.

Coming in to Porto Venere.

The fishing village of Monterosso. I think more a tourist town.

The ferry took us through the harbor of La Spezia to Porto Venere where we changed boats and then on to Vernazza Monterosso. The seas were a little rough so they didn't stop at Riomaggiore, Manarola, or Corniglia but we were able to do "float by's" to view them. If one decided to walk the entire route from Porto Venere, you would need to get a real early start and be in shape as it would take you all day. The other option is to take the train from La Spezia to Monterosso and then stop at all the ports coming back. However, doing it by foot or train does not let you see the grandeur of the ocean view, which I think is much better.

Jeanne in Monterosso.

Narrow walkway staircase in Monterosso.

This is one of the churches in Monterosso. The columns are striped like a zebra
and the outside looks the same.

Local wildlife. Well, it was somebody's pet for sure.

Me and Jeanne getting ready to board the ferry back to La Spezia.

The ferry on it's final approach to Monterosso.

Sailboats moored in La Spezia harbor (it's a HUGE harbor).

I wasn't feeling that great with my head cold but stayed the course (pun) and kept up with the group and spent the entire day with the group. I'm glad I did because it was so nice to see the town of Monterosso, otherwise, we would've missed it all.

After the return from La Spezia, I spied birthday boy Mike T. having dinner with wife Gayle, so I snapped this shot.

Birthday Boy Mike Tirri.

To end the day, I walked down the driveway and took a shot of the villa we stayed at in Lucca.

Villa Cheli, Lucca, Italy.

Wednesday, September 21st, Drive to Firenze (Florence) - 2 nights

We slept in a little today because we were just going to Florence, which is only an hour away. We decided yesterday that going to Pisa after the boat tour would be too much for one day so the next day was a go. Before we left I took a walk up a road next to the villa to get quite a few shots of the area. A lot of small homes with small vineyards and olive tree orchards littered the road. It was more like a driveway than a road, but the experience is something I may never have a chance to do again.

An old church behind the villa we stayed in Lucca.

Grapes on the vine in a nearby vineyard.

After taking my walk, we left for Pisa 10:45am to see some tower that leans. What? They can't make it stand up straight? No, I didn't do the lean and look like I'm holding it up. I saw so many people doing it and that was show enough for me. Very humorous to see people doing weird things. The best part was trying to find a place to park and then walk to the tower. I can say this, if you ever go to a famous spot, GET THERE EARLY! We finally found a spot about a 10 minute walk away and headed over to the tower. Seeing it in person is quite a site, but other than that, there's really not much else there. We stayed for about 30 minutes and I went back to get the car and come back to pick up Jeanne, Al and Cee for our drive to Florence.

Me with the tower in the background.

Actually, the tower was built on a marsh and then started to lean. Recently the Italian government spent over 30 million dollars to pump out soil on the low side and reinforce the area to stabilize the tower. Now, you can walk up the tower. I chose not to because of the crowds (duh) and the fact we didn't want to arrive in Florence in the rush hour. Read on...

We arrived in Florence around 2pm. What a zoo! It's like driving a car 50 mph through a maze streets as wide as 10' with scooters, bikes and people all over. What a thrill! Without the "bitch in a box" I think I'd still be driving around town. My navigator Al was great! He kept telling me to stay in this lane, that lane, turn here, don't turn there, all the while saying he could do a better job if he saw street signs. I had to tell him the street names are on the side of the buildings at each corner. Well, most corners. Anyway, we only had to detour once due to the "b-i-a-b" said to turn right when it was a no enter street. Guess she was testing us. We continued on a large decreasing radius to the right and arrived at our hotel around 2:30pm. Good thing for me is they park the car for you and we don't need it for the next two days.

The hotel Hotel J and J is very nice and if you weren't paying attention, you'd drive right by it. It is on one of the very small streets in Florence. We were given room number 1, which happens to be off the courtyard and dining area. Very nice room that reminds one of the "Hansel and Gretel" fairy tale.

We met some of our group for lunch (our dinner), on the street. Literally, on the street! A lot of restraunt/bars here have their seating right on the street. So, you can sit and have a nice meal and smell exhaust at the same time! What a concept. However, with the lack of room and the cities being built hundreds of years ago and there was no thoughts of bigger cars, more people, more scooters, more bicycles, etc., so, the cities and businesses had to so something to keep themselves going. I guess arrangements are made with the local government to allow them to have some of the street to serve clients. Keep in mind the tables are not quite in traffic, but you can "reach out and touch someone" if they happened to be stopped waiting for traffic. I guess you could do a handout if someone wanted something. :)

Jeanne coming out of the J & J Hotel in Florence.

Lunch in the street with, Al, Cee, Mike, Gayle, Reno, Jenelle, Jeanne and me too.

Tomorrow we go to see the Statue of David, at the Accademia which we got tickets for today for a 9:30am appointment. Thursday, September 22nd

I can't get on my website or ftp my site so this update is going to wait until I get somewhere it'll work again. I can get on the web, but either my or their ISP is blocking the site, address or whateve due to some sort of potential virus or tampering. That's o.k. I'll just keep my diary going so I don't forget.

We were up early today, me at 5:00am doing all the web updating and editing pictures and then took off for the David exhibit at 9am. Al is usually the late one so we left on time without him and Cee. We passed Pasquali along the way so I took his picture...


Once we arrived at the Accademia, we waited for Reno and Jenelle to show up after dropping off their laundry. All of the sudden Al was first in line! What happened???

Al on time, he blamed being late Cee. :)

Well, to tell you the truth, I wasn't all that impressed although it was nice to see and very BIG. I think I spent about 30 minutes in the museum and to top it off, no pictures were allowed and they were watching too. So, I had to settle for the "fake" David outside near the Uffizi. Oh well, I guess I'm just not an art lover.

Jeanne and I took off toward the Ponte Vecchico over the Arno River and looked at all the gold shops. All 18 karat and pretty much all the same looking but they had people looking and buying. Jeanne tried to buy, but couldn't find what she wanted. I guess I'm off the hook for now.

Arno River from Ponte Vecchio

Jeanne doing "gold" window shopping.

Can you say crowded?

I asked first before taking this. It was free too Reno!!!

Front of the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore

Horse and buggy in the Piazza S. Giovanni having lunch.

While walking back toward our hotel we heard music and decided to take a walk to see what and where. I was surprised to see a man playing opera on a classical guitar. His name is Piotr Tomaszewski and I purchased both of his cd's. I can hardly wait to listen to them. Jeanne took a picture of me saying thank you. To hear his music live in a square is just awesome! Some of the music acutally choked me up.

Piotr Tomaszewski playing classical music by the Uffizi Museum.

Arch and doorway on Borgo S. Croce on the way to Piazza S. Croce.
There are a lot of doorways like this on all the streets.

What's a European town without narrow streets and No Entry signs.
Always pay attention even if your GPS says otherwise.

This is the Basilica of Santa Croce where Galileo, Michelangelo and Popes are buried.

Tonight we're all dining at Il Latini and that will be continued...

Inside the J&J Hotel sitting area waiting for taxis to take us to "da" Il Latini.
Debbie, Al, Julie, Jeanne, Cee and Lenny.

After our taxi ride (what a ride, I took video on the return trip), we waited outside for them to open. They have two seating's, one a 7:30pm and one at 9:30pm. Once they're full for the seating, they shut the door until the next seating. While waiting, a couple came up to us and asked about how to get in. Larry started a conversation with them and then we just added them to our reservation, so, we were 16 now.

The couple was recently married in May and were traveling Italy for a late honeymoon vacation. Their names are Matt and Karen from upstate New York. He is a Broadway singer/actor and she was a dancer. We were led into this small doorway and then directed through the kitchen to a huge open courtyard surrounded by dining tables. What a setting! It was fantastico! We sat at a long table and had a family style dining experience.

Dinner was antipasta with salad and cheeseballs, followed by soup, ravioli, noodles with meat sauce, then came the main course, pork, chicken and steak. I'm not done: we also had wine (red and white), water (gas and no-gas) and bread. Now came dessert, which consisted of a platter of cakes, tarts and rolls. Of course they had liquor's that you could power your auto with. This stuff was just plain bad-ass potent!

I don't know how many "toasts" we made but when we did, we got everyone in the place to cheer along with us. So, when they "toasted", we joined in as well. This was definitely a highlight of the trip.

After dinner some walked back to the hotel and the others took taxi's (including us). Once back, it was off to bed and get some rest. The sniffle's are definately keeping me down just a bit.

Waiting in street to enter the Fiaschetteria.

Talking with Matt and Karen.

Walking through the kitchen area in Il Latini.

Our group at the dinner table.

Main course.

Matt and Karen outside after dinner. Yeah, little brother, he did dine with us!

Glasses at the table...

...and the wine that went in them.

How old are you anyway?

After dinner we watched some local boys play in the street.
There names were Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe.

Larry and Janice.

Cee and Al.

Jenelle and Reno.

Lenny and Julie.

Debbi and Mike.

Matt and Karen.

Friday, September 23 - Drive to Orvieto - 3 nights

After checking out, we waited for our cars to get to the hotel. Some were accross the street and some had to be parked away so we just waited until they got there, afterall, we can't go without them. We left Florence around 10:30am for Orvieto. Some of us planned a stop at the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial about 7 miles south of Florence, which is a resting place for over 4,300 US soldiers who gave their life during World War II. After usign the B.I.A.B to get us out of town, we headed toward the cemetery.

Prior to our trip, I did a LOT of searching and reading about the areas we were going. One of the areas was the cemetery and how to get to it. Well, Google maps says to take the SR2 once you get to the round-a-bout at A1/E35. However, if you do, you'll miss the cemetery becasue SR2 is a toll road and the exit has been barricaded off from what it used to be. Instead, you should take Via Cassia, which is off the round-a-bout as well, but travels beside and under SR2. Once I entered the round-a-bout and got to the spot, I told Jeanne "this is exactly what Google maps looked like on the computer", so I felt I was on the right road. As it turned out, I was.

We arrived at the cemetery around 11:15am. What a site! This place is beautiful and is nestled on the hillside surrounded by sycamore trees and well manicured green grass. The view is humbling and the headstones are all in white granite with the names of the fallen, with rank and state of birth. There is also a wall at the top of the cemetery which houses a chapel on one side and map of the Allied campaigns of Italy during WWII. In between the two is a wall with over 1,400 names of missing in action soldiers.

We walked the grounds for about and hour and spoke with the docent there about markings by names on the wall as well as how it was decided who was buried here and why. We were told that families had two years to decide if they wanted their family member returned to the states or buried on foreign soil. 61% chose to have the remains returned and 31% chose to have them remain on foreign soil. There are five sets of brothers buried in Florence as well.

Mike and Jenelle at the entrance to the American Cemetery and Memorial.

Left side view of markers.

Reno and Al walking down the center path.

Marker of unknown soldier.

Cee, Al and Mike searching names on the MIA wall.

Right side view of arching crosses.

View looking toward entrance from the top level of the monument.

View of crosses.

Jeanne and Gayle on bench.

After leaving the cemetery, we drove the smaller roads to get a feel of the countryside. A lot of twisty roads, good for Cobra's, and lots of little towns dotted the drive. If you know where you're going, its a nice way to see the countryside. We were headed in the direction of Orvieto via Siena and got separated from our other car when they took a different road than us. I thought we were going to head toward Siena but on a more direct route and there was a miss communication between us, which can happened with groups.

Jeanne and I had Al and Cee with us and past a couple of hill towns and then decided to drive up to Siena to see it. They call them hill towns for a reason. They are built on the top of the hills! So, that means a lot of hiking up narrow roads within the walls of the towns that were constructed for protection from enemies trying to take over. Any army in their right mind wouldn't attempt to tackle one of these towns because they would get slaughtered if they tried. I think that's why many are still intact today.

Al, Cee and myself went into the Duomo while Jeanne waited outside. She is fighting the cold that I guess I'm giving everyone (I'm better now) so she decided to sit and wait. She found pigeons to keep her company. While there, we ran into more of our group that bypassed the cemetery.

We walked to the center of town called Piazza Il Campo, which is a very large open area where masses would gather for information and market. This is also where the Palio takes place. The Palio is a horse race of 10 riders from the neighborhoods of Siena that race bareback around the square three times to take victory for their neighborhood for the next year. I can't imagine the noise and excitement of this race after seeing the square. Thousands of people will fill the area to cheer on their rider and horse. Jeanne and I watched a segment on television before coming to Italy that actually showed this race and the training the riders put in to prepare. What a site! It means so much more to us now that we've seen the actual area.

Jeanne's favorite find in Italy.

Siena Duomo.

Corner of Duomo showing craftsmanship.

Front of Duomo with sun glistening off engraving.

Floor in Duomo which took approximately 200 years to finish.

Inside the Duomo.

Roof inside the Duomo.

Duomo pipe organ pipes.

Jeanne feeding pigeons outside in the plaza.

Main plaza where the Palio is run. They cover the gray area with dirt.

Main plaza tower.

Side street in Siena.

We arrived in Orvieto at our villa Villa Cioconia around 6:30pm. Everyone else had already arrived. We had a simple dinner around 7:30pm and then got some rest for tomorrows journey to AZIENDA DEI Vineyard/Winery for a tour and wine tasting near Montepulciano.

Saturday, September 24th

On the go at 10am, we all headed to AZIENDA DEI Vineyard/Winery for our tour. On the way to the winery we witnessed a brutal accident. We came to a turn where a driver in the opposite lane was going much too fast and swerving from lane to lane. I slowed and moved as he continued to lose control. As we passed I looked in my rear view mirror and watched him pitch the car sideways twice and then veer off the road and make contact down a slight slope with a guardrail, which then launched the car straight up and flip before hitting ground in a cloud of dust. The people behind me had slowed down seeing what was coming. We're not sure what the outcome was but did see police, ambulance and fire headed that way a few minutes later. My best description of what it looked like was a Rally Car race where they don't make a turn and do flips.

The winery is an "old and new" because the older winery is too small to keep up with the demands of their business. Actually, the family that owns the winery also owns two quarry's and originally started as a travertine tile business. It now does both and the new winery (under construction) will enable them to do more. Much of the new winery is built underground in the hillside. During the tasting I inquired about the soil in the area which is very clay like. This makes wine growing very good for the Sangiovese grapes. It also has fossilized material that aids in the minerals for the vines.

Barrels in the "old" winery section.

DEI aging room.

DEI fermenting tanks.

DEI aging barrels.

Bottles of wine ready to be labeled and boxed for shipping.

An original wine press.

Half of our wine tasting group...

...and the other half, minus me. :)

After our tour, we headed for Montepulciano to tour the town and get a bite to eat. We all went to a place called La Dolce Vita. We dined inside a brick cavern area surrounded by wines of the region displayed for drinking and purchasing. It was a cool setting out of the sun and made our experience special.

We walked to the top of the town and got a good panorama of the surrounding area. Even though the sky was hazy, you could see for miles across the countryside. More narrow streets and walkways of similar towns dotted the landscape within the city. I'm still surprised to see cars parked down a narrow street that many of us wouldn't travel, and don't even think of driving one of your cars here, it won't fit!

We started our walk back down the hill to our cars and were greated by four marching bands coming up the streets. This was very cool as all the shop owners and tourists stopped to watch and listen and even follow (I did and take video) them as they played. It was quite a nice surprise to add to our Italy trip.

We returned to the villa and Larry, Jan, Reno, Jenelle, Jeanne and me drove to the hill town of Orvieto for dinner at Buca di Bacco.

Our lunch setting at La Dolce Vita in Montepulciano.

A view looking toward the street.

Fitz and Denise with us at lunch.

Another narrow find!

Jeanne and a find. However, she didn't buy them.

One of four bands that marched up the street playing music.

Sunday, September 25th

We were up early today to go to Orvieto around 9am. Al, Cee, Jeanne and I decided to stick together today and figure out what we wanted to do. It started with the hill town of Orvieto. We walked around the streets seeing pretty much the same as we've seen in other hill towns. Al, Cee and I went into the 175' deep water well that was constructed so the city would have water in case attacked. Taking ten years to build, it turned out it was never needed because the city never was attacked. Any army trying to attack the city by ground would be crazy. Maybe that's why they never did. The countryside views were spectacular here though as the city sits about 1000 feet above the valley. Jeanne and I walked along the eastern wall and along the way, she almost fell catching her flip flop on some of the small uneven stones that line the streets. However, she didn't lose her gelato! We made our way back to the car to meet up with Al and Cee at 12:30pm to see if we wanted to stay longer or go somewhere else. We opted to drive to Deruta to check out the porcelain pottery.

Water well looking up (about half way). 475 steps, one way down and up.

Walking through Orvieto.

Looking north up the valley.

The street where Jeanne almost fell.

Jeanne along the eastern wall.

A shot of me at the east wall.

Jeanne at the east wall.

Villa Ciconia.

The drive to Deruta only took about an hour along secondary roads and we stopped for fuel along the way. That was and experience as well. I feel badly for not learning more Italian to communicate with the locals. However, I did figure out how to get them to fuel the car and me pay for it after a few little words. All in all, a learning experience.

We ate lunch first at the Taverna Del Gusto before heading out to the shops. Many were closed and the crowd was minimal so it made it nicer to enjoy the area. The walking wasn't too bad after we climbed the steps to get up to the town center. Jeanne found a nice porcelain cat (black and white) and it was small enough so we bought it to bring home. After lunch, we stopped by the same shop that we bought the cat and the owner showed us the guitar that was made for Santana. He plugged in another one and did some simple cords. I asked if I could play and he gave it to me. I haven't picked up a guitar in 20 years but did remember a few cords so I went for it. Well, the fingernails have to go and I need my fingers to callus again. Anyway, not too bad for me. :)

After returning to the villa, we had a nice lightning and thundershower evening. The others had decided to go to Orvieto for dinner and Jeanne and I had decided earlier in the day that we would just relax and stay at the villa that evening. I can only take a number of 8 o'clock dinners in a row! We got to bed around 9pm for a good needed rest. Now, we should be ready for the remainder of our trip.

Jeanne outside the Taverna Del Gusto in Deruta.

Deruta Catti.

Inside the chapel in Deruta.

Debbi enjoying her gelato.

Larry still trying to herd cats!

Al, Larry and Julie.

Me attempting to play the porcelain body guitar.

Beer dispenser in the Bar, where we got our gelato.

We leave for Rome on Monday for the last leg of our trip. Along the way we are stopping at Gallese to visit Reno's relatives. He and Jenelle drove there Sunday to visit and we found out later that we were invited to meet them on our way to Rome along with a tour of the Duke's Castle there. This should be another exciting and special day.

Monday, September 26th, Rome, Italy

We left Orvieto around 9am to make a stop at Reno's relatives, who he hasn't seen in 40 years, in a small town called Gallese. We had a tour of the church his family has connections to and I'll have to get more details from Reno. We visited the Duke's castle there and were then treated to a wonderful lunch at a local ristorante. Jenelle received some beautiful linens from Reno's family, and then we had to say our good-bye's and start our drive to Rome.

We all stayed together for the most part all the way until the last toll stop where we all got separated. Good thing I had the "bitch-in-a-box" with me and Al, who helped give directions on which way I was to turn. We actually had a very good relationship on the pilot/navigator sessions.

Once we got into the hustle and bustle of Rome (during rush hour), things went smoother than expected. We stopped to fill up the car on last time for the return, and then made our way through, vespa's, bikes, cars (even a C5 Corvette) and people on our way to the hotel. This time I didn't make a wrong turn and we arrived at 4:30pm just before the downpour.

I dropped Jeanne, Cee and Al, plus the luggage at the hotel and then took the "B-in-a-B" (reset for Hertz) with me to turn in the car. The 1.2 miles I had to go took 25 minutes in traffic, along with one missed entrance and a detour around the block and then got the next entrance on the opposite side of the street. As it turned out, we were the first to get to the hotel and turn the car in. About 10 minutes later, Lenny and Julie showed up and then another 10 were Mike, Reno and our fearless unofficial leader, Seniore Della Testa de Patate.

After our business was done, we heard our taxi was in a fender bender so we took the Metro (subway) to a stop close to our hotel (1/2 mile) and finished off getting rid of our ground transportation.

I invited Mr. P, Jan and Jeanne for a gelato and short walk around the area. We made reservations for Tuesday night's group dinner and then took a walk to St. Peter's square. What a beautiful sight. I didn't bring my camera but did check out what I want to get for night pictures. It is big, but I think it'll look much bigger in daylight. We met others in our group there and then Jeanne and I walked back to get our rest for tomorrow, which will start early with Caitlin (our guide) meeting us at 9am in the hotel lobby. I talked with her briefly just to let her know we arrived safely. Looking forward to tomorrow and the city tour.

I thought the room in Venice was small, this one Rome Hotel: Atlante Star Hotel is even smaller. It's just a little below a "one butt" room, but I can stand up in the shower with a nozzle that sprays everywhere. Oh well, just a few more days until everyone is comfortable in their own surroundings.

Church in Gallese.

Reno's family (cousin's) below the Duke's castle. Urbano, Agrippina, Fiorella, Jenelle, Giada, Reno, Paolo, Alba

Jeanne at the top of the castle.

My navigator and "B-in-a-B".

Tuesday, September 27th

City Tour of Rome by minivan on Tuesday to places: Gianicolo Hill, Michelangelo's statue of Moses and Campidogio Square, Circus Maximus, Keyhole, Forum, Colosseum, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Piazza Barberini, Via Veneto, Piazza Venezia, Theatre of Marcellus, Catacombs etc.

We were up early again for our full day of the Rome city tour with our guide Caitlin Miller. We met promptly at 9am in the hotel lobby and introduced everyone and were outfitted with listening devices so all of us could hear the commentary she was giving about the spots we visited as well as passed by along the way. We rode in two vans that have special privilege to drive into restricted driving zones.

Our first stop was the Pantheon and with a diameter of 143 feet across, which is the same to the top, is a marvel in itself. The dome is made of one concrete casting and rests on 20 foot thick walls of brick-faced concrete. It has one hole in the center of the roof where the only light comes in (front doors can be opened as well) and rain does fall in at times and is carried off by drainage holes in the center of the floor (as well as squeegy'd out). It is truly a marvel to see and the columns that support the front are one piece Egyptian granite.

One of the most prominent points that stick out above everything is the Victor Emmanuel Monument (aka: wedding cake) to Italy's first king. This monument is oversized to the max and locals call it "the Vitttoriano". This is also where Italy's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier resides.

We then toured the Colosseum which is much larger (taller) than I expected. It is another marvel of construction that took place over 2,000 years ago. We were escorted around the long lines that were waiting for tickets and then had a private tour of the subterranean area (below the actual floor) and then up to the top. This was truly the way to see and hear about the history of the Colosseum.

Continuing our day were stops at Circus Maximus where the chariot races were held, the Keyhole which is in the Knights of Malta area and is literally a keyhole in a doorway that looks directly at the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.

Our day ended with a stop at the Catacombs, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps before arriving back at our hotel around 6pm. Caitlin did a fantastic job and I know tomorrow's tour in the Vatican will be just as good.

We ended our day with a group dinner at L'isola della Pizza for another full size family style dinner. Cheeses, hams, vegetables, meats, wine and desserts came abundantly and it was very good. During the day I paced myself for a big dinner and our lunch stop was a slice of pizza which turned out to be just right. I also stopped for a berry gelato on the walk back to the hotel.

I'm sure I'm leaving a lot of information out right now, but upon my return home, I will be updating more of what we did while in Italy. Documenting this is just keeping me a little on top of what is going on without forgetting too much. I can remember places we've been and things we've seen, but putting detail to that now is pointless while we're trying to enjoy our trip as well.

Our guide, Caitlin Miller.

Our group in the Pantheon.

The Wedding Cake (Victor Emmanuel Monument).

Group at the top of the Colosseum.

Keyhole door with Jan, Cee and Jenelle.

View through the keyhole.

The two of us overlooking Rome.

The Trevi Fountain.

Dinner seating at L'isola della Pizza.

Seniore Patate with restraunt owner (son) and our waiter (who was fantastic).

Corner grocery store window.

Wednesday, September 28th

We started our day by going over to the St. Peter's Square to see Pope Benedict XVI address the general audience. I was surprised how close you can actually get to the Pope. I waited with many others and at 10:30am he arrived in open car to the crowd by traversing the area for all to see. He then was escorted to his platform for the benediction. To me it was exciting and a once in a lifetime event.

I returned to the hotel to wait with Jeanne before we headed over to the Musei Vaticani and meet up with Caitlin again for our tour that afternoon. We entered the museum, got our headsets and were on our way. To keep from typing something I'm not sure about, I will just post some pictures until I return home to detail what we did. There was so much information overload both days, I can only remember where we went, but can't remember a lot of details even though Caitlin was doing a very good job describing everything. We did go through the Tapestry Hall and saw murals by Raphael, the Courtyard and other works.

We then toured through the Sistine Chapel and viewed the ceiling and walls from behind the "screen". You have to keep moving past the "screen" and you can then stop to gaze. It is truly moving once you look and study the paintings.

We were then escorted to St. Peter's Basilica and when entering, I was moved by how plain it looked, but in a majestic way. It was not as Gothic as some of the other Church's or Basilica's we've seen in other towns. It is more than two football fields long inside!

I was able to get a good picture of Michelangelo's Pieta' which is now behind bulletproof glass, due to someone in the 1980's (female woman) who attacked the statue. It was preserved and repaired with the help of an exact duplicate that was made years ago while on display in New York City.

We bid farewell to Caitlin at our hotel and that ended our official trip to Italy. Tomorrow is an off day to prepare for our flight home Friday and to do some shopping for others.'

Pre-Pope ceremonies.

Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Benedict giving the general audience blessing.

Group in the Vatican courtyard.

Stop inside the Vatican Museum.

Arch over doorway in the museum.

Room of the Segnatura, School of Athens.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica.

Top of the dome in St. Peter's Basilica.

Gian Bernini, Altar of the Cathedra.

Symbol in St. Peter's Basilica floor.

Michelangelo's Pieta'.

St. Peter's Basilica at night.

Caitlin leaving us for the last time on her scooter.

Thursday, September 29th

Today was our final full day in Rome and Italy as a whole. Everybody had their own plans to do whatever they wished. Most went shopping and some took in sites again or different from what we saw while here.

Jeanne and I took off for some shopping and were pretty disappointed in what was nearby on some of the main areas that were pointed out to us as good. I did go to the Vatican to purchase some gifts for freinds back home (took more pictures too).

We stopped at an outdoor diner for some simple lunch because the entire group was going out for our final dinner tonight and we didn't want to eat a lot so we split a panini and salad. Being alone with your spouse is special in a city such as Rome. However, we did spend quite a few dinners and days alone which made for a private trip within a group trip. I know the two of us will come back to Europe in the future to travel a little more. We're not sure if we'll visit the same cities as we did this trip, but will definately see more. One of the biggest things I will do before going again is to do more language training. I feel the more I can be a part of the country the better my experience will be.

Jeanne outside the place we had lunch on our last full day in Rome.

Market we found while out shopping. You would never know it was there by the outside.

Gas/Diesel station just down the street from our hotel. Where's the EPA?

As for hotel accommodations, I think I could make one good room out of all the places we stayed. All of them had pluses's and minus's, but all had bad bathrooms (I mean that in a functional role). I knew and heard rooms were small and less than what we think of as four or five star hotels, but didn't really expect to deal with some of the features. I think our bathroom in Rome was the worst as a one-half butt room. I think I turned around in there and ran into myself several times. :) The worst bed was a toss up between Orvieto and Rome, both of them were terrible to say the least. The best bed was in Baveno. The continental breakfast hotels provided were o.k. with the best being in Venice and Baveno. Meals out were good and some better than expected. The "family style" dinners we had in Florence and Rome were outstanding and service was exceptional. I'm not going to say the food was any better than good places in the US, but will say the pasta dishes did taste better.

Our waiter at "Il Matriciano" for our last group dinner.

Checking the menu, which we didn't need.

Me shopping for a new sports car. A Aixam.

Ah, the sights of home from Rome.

Getting ready to check in at the Rome airport.

Somewhere over the Atlantic on our way home.

Friday, September 30th - Fly home

We are leaving the hotel at 6:30am to get to the airport by 7:30am for our two hour check in. We leave at 9:35am for Zurich and then 11:30am for SFO. See you all back home!

As I sit here typing, we still have a little over three hours left (1:18pm PST) on our flight back to SFO. It's been a sore butt day for sure. Trying to get some sleep, listening to music, watching movies just to pass the time. I got up to stretch a couple of times and that helps. I guess that's the price you pay when having fun.

I know everybody is ready to get home, get in their own bed, use their own shower and just get back into their routines. It has been tense at times but I think that's just the way things go when traveling together. On the big picture, I believe we did very well together.

In the past three weeks we have seen and done a lot in Italy. On the go almost daily and the weather was in our favor without much rain on days we didn't travel. I didn't know how humid it would actually be and that was the one thing I wasn't prepared for, but all in all, dealt with it the best we could. I learned what I didn't need and what I should take on our next trips as far as clothing goes. I need more short pants, less long pants, more tee shirts, and one less pullover. I could get by even in the worst weather without the extra stuff I brought. Both Jeanne and I had luggage weighing less than the 50lb. limit plus our carry on's but we could do better. One big headache is all the charging cords and battery systems you need to keep your electronic gear running. Of course, you can leave the Ipod and Netbook home, but I like to be entertained and be able to keep my journal of things I do so that's a necessity to me.

Swiss Air has been very good as far as I'm concerned. They were attentive and the meals and snacks were timed well to break up the flight time. I'd use them again when traveling to Europe.

I still have a bunch of video to edit and more pictures to put on the site after I get home so the site will be active over the next few months before I leave it alone. I know I'll visit it in the future just to reminisce about the adventure.

I do want to give a big THANK YOU to Larry and Janice for putting this all together. A lot of details are taken for granted at times and without their input and help, this trip would be a lot different.

Thank you Larry (Seniore Della testa Patata) and Jan!
Catti herding is now done!

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