The Dolomites are called the Italian Alps, for good reason. The mountains themselves are not extremely tall, but they rise so abruptly from a low valley floor their tall jagged peaks are very impressive. The area is a mecca for skiers, hikers , mountain bike enthusiasts and para-sailing. Many inhabitants do not like that this region became part of Italy after World War I, so there continues to be a strong Austrian influence in the buildings, language and menus. We hiked most days here and learned about Italian rifugios.
The thought of Venice likely conjures up romantic notions of riding in a gondola while being serenaded to familiar Italian songs such as Volare. The truth of the matter is a bit less romantic, but I would likely come across as a real scrooge by talking it down. So yes, we did hear many, many a gondolier sing a variety of wonderful songs. Our balcony overlooked a canal and we watched boat captains skillfully maneuver their beautiful wood power boats, gondolas, delivery boats and the occasional ambulance through the congestion. All the boat drivers pitch in and pass signals to other boat drivers regarding traffic around blind corners. We frequently heard the loud call of “Ooui!” which apparently means, “I’m coming around the corner so you had better get out of my way.”
Cinque Terre is a series of five small fishing villages on the west coast of Italy, known as the Italian Riviera. In these towns there are basically no cars, no stop lights and few roads wide enough to drive cars if you had one. We stayed in Corniglia, the middle of the five towns. To get to our condo we walked up a series of narrow sidewalks bordered by 4-5 story buildings several hundred years old. Adding to the interest of our stay were three turtles in the back yard. The first night we saw the Mom Turtle dig a hole with her hind legs and lay eggs. The very close proximity of the buildings does not provide much privacy but adds to the quaintness. If not careful, our just washed clothes could drip on the people walking below when hung out to dry. Corniglia was on a high hill requiring 400+ steps, arranged in a series of switchbacks, to arrive in the town from the train station. The bus service between town and train station was unreliable, so walking was the preferred method for us as it also provided good exercise. So here you have an entire town that is not wheelchair accessible. If you wanted to go to the scenic beach, that would be another 400+ steps down on the other side of the cliff, no bus service. I would say the Cinque Terre area is a highlight of Italy and wonderfully unique area.
Florence, or Firenza as they say, is a required stop for any newbie traveling Italy. It is big on the museum side with the Uffizi Gallery, among many, and one certainly needs to see the most famous sculpture in the world, Michelangelo’s David. This iconic statue has had a hard life. When first unveiled it was greeted with jeering, rock throwing and general disapproval. Later, during some riot in the 1500’s a bench was tossed at David which broke the left arm in three places. Still later a crazed, jealous artist smashed the toe with a hammer. It was also greatly damaged by a museum cleaning with hydrochloric acid. The statue sat outside in the elements for over a hundred years. David stands proudly today in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, alone in a large open room built just for it.
The short story on Rome is…. If you ever get a chance to visit Roma, do so! To understand Roma, it helps to realize it has been a vibrant city for over 2,500 years. Walking around this ancient city one can turn the corner and suddenly see the Roman Colosseum, Pantheon, Saint Peter’s Basilica, another statue of Romulus and Remus, or some other site we were required to study in school. Everything Rome has done seems to be over the top in excess and grandeur. For example, Trevi Fountain is so large it basically occupies the entire plaza where it was built.
We have all heard the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” So my Dad asked me to find out what it is the Romans do.
Slide Show of Seven Photos
Visits to many of these port towns in Italy remind us that ‘graffiti’ is an Italian word. It seems that every spot, every corner is tagged with spray paint. There also is not much evidence that anybody is trying to stop it, no places sprayed over with tan or gray paint to hide the artwork. An investment in a spray paint producing company seems like a good idea. However, I wish to stress that Cagliari was a very pleasant, attractive town to explore on our own, no ship excursion. Preparing for the next phase of our European adventure, I bought our Italian phone here and a SIM card. The theory is that this will be cheaper than using our existing phones and paying Verizon for the additional usage abroad. So we got a new phone and new phone number and we should be ready to call our future landlords in Europe to arrange meeting places.