26 April 2023
I am sitting on the edge of Lake Como, a vision of sparkling blue, nestled in the Cyprussy hills of northern Italy. Yesterday we arrived here in the train after eight hours of travel, much of which was through the alpine valleys of Switzerland. Tomorrow we’ll train into Rome.
Everything is so breathtaking here.
Our first associations with Lake Como come from the Star Wars movies we’ve seen, which reframe it as the planet of Naboo. It’s no wonder they chose Como as background for the Anakin-Padme love scene: there could be no more beautiful or romantic place in the world!
Yesterday evening when we arrived, we set out to find pizza. We didn’t have to walk far; pizza and gelato are available on nearly every corner. We found a nice café and sat down to four pizzas. As our meal was ending, a Bangladeshi man with a giant bouquet or roses asked if we wanted to buy one. He pulled out his karaoke microphone, with blinking rainbow lights, and proceeded to serenade us! He told us about his wife and children, and really made us laugh with his jokes and stories. We paid all the change we had (which wasn’t much) for the laughter and a photo, and he gave us two roses!
Friday, 28 April 2023
We’ve been in Rome for two full days now. We stopped briefly in Milan on our way to Rome, and went to meet my aunt and uncle who are living there. It was fun to see their faces, amid the bustle of Mussolini’s grand train station. He is said to have executed train engineers whose trains were late!
Gladly we arrived in Rome on time. After finding our shared room, we set out to find some dinner.
The food here is absolutely fabulous. We’ve had pizzas, pastas, ravioli, bruschetta, salads, canoli (pasteries), and lots and lots of gelato. For breakfast each morning we especially love the red orange juice. It’s divine!
Today we stopped into a mini mart, expecting just to buy a few things for lunch, but we found it well stocked with beautiful cuts of fresh fish, salads, a bakery, a wall of cheeses, another wall of pastas, and much, much more. The man behind the salad counter salted and dressed my salad to perfection. Italy must have the best array of food in the entire world!
On the other hand, we are not impressed with their administration, especially communication. This morning while visiting the Colosseum, we found a ticket office that would not sell tickets! They just kept pointing to a QR code we were supposed to use to ‘purchase’ free tickets for our children. We got into what seemed like dozens of lines, each one leading to a dead end. Combined with the endless onslaught of aggressive vendors trying to sell us bus tickets, umbrellas and gaudy souvenirs, our nerves were shot by the time we made it to the Forum. The cool and empty museum bathroom offered some reprieve.
The Forum was quite amazing, though thronged with people. We saw columns of every kind, some walkways and reflecting pools, statues of vestal virgins missing arms or heads, and many buildings that were centuries old. Needless to say, I took a million pictures!
After our amazing supermarket lunch of ciabatta-salami-provolone sandwiches, salad, chips, drinks, and hazelnut chocolate, we wandered the alleyways until we found a canolo to share. Pistachios, chocolate chips, and ricotta cheese filled the pastry tube, and covered our lips after each bite.
Later, Val was gripped with a wave of generosity and bought a Roma jersey for Marten, a watercolor of Michaelangelo’s Pietà for me, and a gorgeous olive-green handbag for Lucy with a delicate golden bee clasp. The tail of the bee connects to its body to close the purse.
I snapped a few photos of Marten (now lovingly called ‘Martini’) in a flatcap, reading a copy of Little Sicily, Val’s new book. One was in an alleyway, another on Piazza Navona, where we are now sitting and drawing. This piazza figures into the story of Little Sicily, as does Ponte di St’Angelo, which we photographed with the book a few days ago.
We walked along the Tiber and then into the beautiful Trastavere district where we enjoyed a wonderful meal. The pasticceria where we ate served pasta handmade by ‘Nona Antonietta.’ We watched her make ricotta-filled raviolis by hand. We ordered Pasta Cacio e Pepe for Lucy, Arrabiatta for Marten, Crema di Zucchini for me, and Rosemary Lamb for Val. For dessert we shared a slice of the most divine cake, filled with layers of sweetened ricotta and cherries. So delicious!
Even though we found it uncomfortable to have our waiter loitering around our table for most of our meal, we recognized that it came purely from his delight to see our reactions to each new dish. Must be an Italian thing.
30 April 2023
The past few days have been packed with more sightseeing in Rome: the Piazza Venezia, Villa Borghese, Trajan’s Column, and the Pantheon. It was difficult to get in everywhere because of the massive numbers of tourists, but we tried to make the best of every situation.
At the Pantheon, we found a gelateria called Della Palma: 150 Gusti, which offers no less than 150 flavors of ice cream, including avocado, basil, lavendar (which I tried), profiterole, Sicilian canolo, and many other less unusual but equally delicious flavors.
3 May 2023
Now we are in Florence. Everything here is about art, and the art here is breathtakingly beautiful.
Brunelleschi’s Duomo is the crown jewel of the city. It graces the main square with its elegant presence of multi-colored marble, lacy arches, guilded doors, and statues. It is breathtaking. The dome of the cathedral has a beautiful shape, like an elegantly styled hat on a reclining body.
We saw the duomo from above today, laid out with the rest of the city, from the high Piazzolo Michaelangelo. Florence sits in a valley surrounded by green hills. Nature and architecture combine in such harmony, it’s hard to believe there was ever a time it didn’t exist there.
We visited the Uffizi gallery with its wonders in marble and paint. Works by Raphael, Da Vinci, Michaelangelo and others held our hearts for a few hours. We marvelled at the beautiful round faces and winged angels, the vibrant colours and gold backdrops.
Crowds of tourists and vendors are here, too, filling every alley and square. We can hardly blame them–we’re tourists too after all–and the city deserves the attention. Getting into the attractions is slow and uncomfortable but each one is always worth it.
Along with the great masters of the past, Florence is also packed with contemporary talent. From opera singers on the street, to public artists, cooks that create delights for the pallet, and artisans creating beauty from leather, cloth, and gold.
4 May 2023
We just finished visiting the Galleria dell’Accademia where we saw firsthand Michaelangelo’s David! Tall and majestic he stood, with a pensive look. The figure is beautifully executed, with anatomical exactness, except for his exceptionally large hands. They actually look best that way!
It’s our last full day in Italy, and tomorrow we’ll leave on a train, carrying an extra bag of Semolina flour and a bottle of olive oil, postcards, a puzzle of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, an Italian chef’s hat, a linen shirt and a Roma football jersey, a million photos and a lot of new memories.
Thanks, Italy, for a week to remember forever!