Italy Trip – The Complete Recap.

You’ve been patient.

I’ve spluttered these posts out over months and months.

I’ve worked my way through the stages of grief and we can finally put these sweet memories to bed.

He was zonked.

He was zonked.

Someday, when I’m reading back through this splendid trip, I’d like to be able to do it in order, so for my own benefit, here’s the trip chronologically:

Italy Trip – First Day Complete – Originally published September 24, 2015.

Our Day In Boston- Italy Trip Day #2 – Originally published October 2, 2015.

Italy Trip – Day #3- Overnight Flight and Istanbul Airport – Originally published October 3, 2015.

Italy Trip- Day #4: Time at the Milan Expo – Originally published October 6, 2015.

Italy Trip- Days 5-7: Lake Como, Part 1 – Originally published October 10, 2015.

Italy Trip- Days 7-9 Lake Como, Part 2 – Originally published October 11, 2015.

Italy Trip- Lake Como- Extra Photos – Originally published October 11, 2015.

Italy Trip- Days 9-13- The Dolomites- Part 1 – Originally published October 11, 2015.

Italy Trip- Days 9-13- The Dolomites- Part 2 – Originally published October 11, 2015.

Italy Trip- The Dolomites- Extra Pictures – Originally published October 11, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 13- 15 – Venice- Part 1 – Originally published October 12, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 13- 15 – Venice- Part 2 – Originally published October 13, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 15-21 – Florence- Part 1- The Apartment – Originally published October 17, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 15-21 – Florence- Part 2- First Day Errands – Originally published October 17, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 15-21 – Florence- Part 3 – A Playground? Don’t Mind If I Do! – Originally published October 29, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 15-21 – Florence- Part 4 – Museo Galileo – Originally published October 30, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 15-21 – Florence- Part 5- David…Here We Come. – Originally published October 17, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 22 – 25 Inside The Walls In Lucca – Originally published January 10, 2016.

Lucca Funk – Originally published January 13, 2016.

Italy Trip – Days 26 – 34 – Our Lucca Farmhouse – Originally published April 30, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 26’ish – Let’s Visit A Shell Of A Monastery – Originally published May 5, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 27 – San Gimignano – Originally published June 16, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 28 – We Say Goodbye to The Grands and Spend The Day In Lucca – Originally published May 5, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 30 – Lucca Farmhouse Day Trip to Barga – Originally published May 3, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 30’ish – Let’s Visit A Cemetery – Originally published May 5, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 31 – Our Lucca Farmhouse – We Take A Cooking Class – Originally published April 29, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 32 – A Lucca Farmhouse Day – The Magnificent Ordinary – Originally published October 26, 2015.

Italy Trip – Day 34 – Cinque Terre – Originally published June 23, 2016.

Italy Trip – Lucca Farmhouse Wrap Up – Originally published May 5, 2016.

Day 34- Italy Trip – Travel To Ischia – Originally published October 29, 2015.

Day 35 – Italy Trip – Funny beginning to our day in Ischia – Originally published October 29, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 35 – 41 – The Island Of Ischia – Originally published June 15, 2016.

Day 35 – Italy Trip – Let’s Find A Beach In Ischia – Originally published October 29, 2015.

Italy Trip – Day 39 – Pompeii – Originally published June 16, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 39 – Pompeii Video – Originally published June 19, 2016.

Italy Trip – Days 41 – 48 – Sicily – Originally published June 19, 2016.

Italy Trip – Days 41 – 44 – Ortigia – Originally published August 12, 2016.

Italy Trip – Days 44 – 47 – Agrigento – Originally published August 12, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 47 – Let’s Go To The Beach! – Originally published August 14, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 47 – 49 Terre Di Himera Agriturismo – Originally published September 2, 2016.

When I was a kid – Originally published January 13, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 49 – The End – Rome and Home – Originally published September 7, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day # Last – It Is Finished. Originally published November 16, 2015.

Extra posts:

Good Choices – Originally published November 18, 2015.

Let’s Drink All the Coffee! – Originally published October 22, 2015.

Shuttered – Originally published October 20, 2015.

Italy Trip – The Stories That Make Me Guffaw – Originally published November 18, 2015.

Fracture Me – Originally published December 5, 2015.

Forty-eight posts and I still haven’t done it justice.

Thanks for reading.

Family photo at Lake Como

Family photo at Lake Como

Italy Trip – Day 49 – The End – Rome and Home

This is it. Our final stop on the Italy Adventure. It’s taken nearly a year, but shortly the write ups will be complete.

Our arrival in Rome was exciting because we picked the angriest cab driver we’ve ever had. His anger didn’t display itself at us, but rather through his driving. Luckily it was late at night, so the streets were quieter, but my heart was pounding the whole ride, and I kept thinking of the Knight Bus scene from Harry Potter. Jump to 1:10 to see the exciting part.

We literally had a little old Italian cross our path and I feared for her life.

The angry cabbie poured out our quivering flesh in front of our really big door, and we found our splendid host, Massimiliano, waiting for us.

The exciting thing about our Rome home was that it felt like we were staying at a really eccentric Grandma’s house. Here’s the official listing, and here’s our tour with commentary:

What might be this little box in the corner of the kitchen?

What might be this little box in the corner of the kitchen?

Cheese grater? Very large veggie steamer? Salad spinner?

Cheese grater? Very large veggie steamer? Salad spinner?

Just your standard Torture Chamber washing machine!

Just your standard Torture Chamber washing machine!

I swear to you it felt like Massimiliano’s grandma had just died the month before and he cleaned out her clothes and started renting the place out. Or, as Monkey likes to say, the Rome was her favorite apartment because it felt so “homey.”

The family photos wall...in our bedroom.

The family photos wall…in our bedroom.

The Mary Poppins light.

The Mary Poppins light.

Photos of Grandma's dead relatives.

Photos of Grandma’s dead relatives.

Grandma likes a cluttered kitchen.

Grandma likes a cluttered kitchen.

Grandma had lots of glassware.

Grandma had lots of glassware.

Grandma left all her umbrellas and canes for us to use. Kind Grandma.

Grandma left all her umbrellas and canes for us to use. Kind Grandma.

We shared our bedroom with the perky-breasted one.

We shared our bedroom with the perky-breasted one.

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I was sitting on the bed above on a video chat for work one afternoon, and one of my bosses said, “I feel like you will be reading people’s palms after we get off this call.”

Monkey loved her cozy space.

Monkey loved her cozy space.

A semi-cozy nook for reading.

A semi-cozy nook for reading.

We did love staying here. We were in the Trastavere neighborhood in Rome, which was an excellent location. There was a cafe right by our front door. A little grocery store/veggie stand was right across the street. The large grocery store was about 17 blocks away. The tram stopped directly in front of the apartment. And we were high enough up that the apartment was quiet, although the rumble of the tram was noticeable at first.

The "Thank you Santa Maria" wall we walked past on the way to the grocery store.

The “Thank you Santa Maria” wall we walked past on the way to the grocery store.

The Santa Maria wall from the picture above lead to some interesting conversations. There was a little shrine with a statue of the Saint behind glass. People would write their prayers on little slips of paper and slide them behind the glass.

After the prayer was answered, they would create a “thank you” plaque and have it put up on the wall.

Many, many prayers, and a great deal of faith.

Because we were close to the end of our trip, we made sure to grab some great tours for these last few days.

We were waiting for one of our tour guides to find us:

Waiting for Valentina.

Waiting for Valentina.

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Family selfies are hard.

Family selfies are hard.

Valentina took us through the Coliseum:

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Dice and gambling have been around for a very long time.

Dice and gambling have been around for a very long time.

She was a treat!

She was a treat!

People sharing their passion for a subject makes it fascinating.

People sharing their passion for a subject makes it fascinating.

The holes show where the marble "wallpaper" was removed from the walls.

The holes show where the marble “wallpaper” was removed from the walls.

So much history.

So much history.

The Coliseum had canvas tarps to block the sun.

The Coliseum had canvas tarps to block the sun.

Then Valentina took us UNDERGROUND!

The Basilica di San Clemente is built on not one, but two previous houses of worship, including a pagan temple. It fascinating to wander through these ancient areas.

No pictures were allowed underground, so you’ll have to trust me. It was amazing…and dark…and a lot spooky.

Valentina wrapped things up with a trivia game to see what we remembered from the tours.

Valentina wrapped things up with a trivia game to see what we remembered from the tours.

On another day, we trekked to the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain to toss in our coins to ensure our return.

The Pantheon is fascinating, and we sang some as we walked around inside. It’s a building designed to have singing inside it. From the Rome.info website:

However, the Roman Pantheon in its present state allows us a glimpse into the marvelous and stunning world of Roman architecture. The dome would have been gilded to look like the heavenly sphere of all the gods that the name Pantheon evokes. The oculus was an engineering gem of the Roman world. No oculus had even dared come close in size to the one in the Pantheon. It is still lined with the original Roman bronze and is the main source of light for the whole building. As the earth turns the light flows in to circle the interior making the viewer aware of the magnificence of the cosmos. The oculus was never covered and rain falls into the interior and runs off the slightly convex floor to the still functioning Roman drainpipes underneath. (The oculus is the hole in the center of the roof.)

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The Trevi Fountain:

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We had a different tour guide for The Vatican on another day. The Vatican was crowded, and having a private guide allowed us to bypass lines and large tour groups. We pushed about 45 minutes past the Buster’s point of tolerance on this day, but everyone did their best.

It was crowded.

It was crowded.

The amazing art everywhere.

The amazing art everywhere.

The most human looking lion you will ever see.

The most human looking lion you will ever see.

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Buster is about done at this point.

Buster is about done at this point.

I was fascinated to learn that in St. Peter’s Basilica the priests didn’t want the paintings to fade over time, so they had all of them done in mosaic tiles.

Rome was a great place for feeling comfortable and relaxing for all of us. Buds and I had some lovely walks. The children slept well, and we all took a deep breath as we prepared to head home.

One last cafe outing.

One last cafe outing.

One funny story I want to remember in a few decades: We were taking the tram to meet up with one of our tour guides. The tram driver made such an abrupt stop that people flew around inside the tram cars. It was one of those universal moments that connected all the people inside the tram. People grabbed onto each other for support and to protect each other.

Once we were all sure we were fine, there was a bubbling up of laughter and shock as people relived the moment.

At the next stop, three or four of the folks who got off the train went up to the front of the train to the driver’s cab (which is not accessible from inside the tram), and gave him a grand telling off. The driver got out of his cab, gave them his perspective in no uncertain terms, and then they all wrapped it up and went on their way.

What was fascinating to me was the difference in tenor and cadence compared to an argument in the U.S.

There was never any sense that things would escalate or get out of control. It was both women and men yelling at the driver. The driver was doing just as much hand-waving and yelling as everyone else. It was like watching a pantomime of an argument. Everyone wanted to express their opinion…then they were done.

The end of our time in Rome was a little anti-climactic.

Our flight to Istanbul was leaving very, very early in the morning, and because of recent terrorist attacks, we expected extra security. This meant we stayed at a hotel by the airport on our last night in Rome.

Final packing up of the backpacks.

Final packing up of the backpacks.

The hotel was attached to the airport so we boarded the train for one last ride to the airport.

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The Leonardo Da Vinci Statue at the airport could be seen with his upraised arm slightly in the distance.

The Leonardo Da Vinci Statue at the airport could be seen with his upraised arm slightly in the distance.

On the long walk between the hotel and the airport, we passed this same person’s space a couple times.

A dry, safe space.

A dry, safe space.

Such a reminder after our 7 weeks of paradise that we had been living in a fairytale.

Our last Italian sleeping spots.

Our last Italian sleeping spots.

Buster's apple juice at dinner in the hotel.

Buster’s apple juice at dinner in the hotel.

The odd apple juice color and our last supper in Italy at the hotel, which served American-esque food, was a clear reminder that we had left food paradise behind.

The hotel pool required swim caps, which kept slipping off their heads.

The hotel pool required swim caps, which kept slipping off their heads.

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A few last family pictures.

A few last family pictures.

Ready to load.

Ready to load.

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We stayed overnight in Boston in preparation for a very early flight to Nashville.

Eating at the Mexican restaurant attached to the hotel was a bit of a shocking return to American food, but we managed to enjoy ourselves.

You're not in Italy any more, Buds.

You’re not in Italy any more, Buds.

One last flight, here we go:

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And we're back.

And we’re back.

Here we were at the beginning of the adventure:

Whole Foods for dinner.

Whole Foods for dinner.

And here we are at the end:

We look the same, but we're not.

We look the same, but we’re not.

We were grateful to be home, but oh, what an adventure it was.

Can’t wait for the next one.

Italy Trip – Day 47 – 49 Terre Di Himera Agriturismo

This was one of Buddie’s magical finds; a bed and breakfast on a farm. Run by Maria and Febricio (I always had to think “febreze,” then I could remember his name.), this was a magical place.

We were here over Yessa’s birthday, and that morning, we scooped up two of the farm kittens and dropped them into bed with her as a birthday surprise.

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We stayed in one room here, with no kitchen, so we loved the amazing breakfasts that Maria brought out, and we also had dinner here both of the nights. We were tucked high up on a hill, and driving down to find food at night wasn’t an appealing option.

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Ready for breakfast.

Ready for breakfast.

This tiny little cup in those strong hands.

This tiny little cup in those strong hands.

All three kids had dinner with us one night. Here’s a google album that shows that gorgeous meal.

On the other evening, we delighted in having Monkey along to enjoy the meal. She’d had the day alone at home to work, and the younger two were exhausted after a full day of play at the beach, hiking around the hilly town, touring the cathedral, then a late lunch.

He was zonked.

He was zonked.

Monkey ate with us for awhile, then she headed back to the room, we thought. After we finished eating, we came out to find this:

They trapped her!

They trapped her!

On this day, while Monkey had her needed alone time, the rest of us headed into

Cefalu (Pronounced "Chief-a-loo.)

Cefalu (Pronounced “Chief-a-loo.)

It was a gorgeous day.

We made time to wander around the city, play on the beach, have gelato, purchase gifts for loved ones at home, and tour the Duomo.

He needed help getting the sand out of his pants.

He needed help getting the sand out of his pants.

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This one.

This one.

In one of the alleys we wandered down, this tiny car came toodling past us and executed a three-point turn toward a wooden garage door. A woman exited the passenger side, the garage door rolled up, and she pulled out a tiny little wooden ramp that exactly fit against the cement side of the building to bridge the 6-inch step that the angled street gave their garage.

It was an elegant, simple, fascinating process to watch.

The car was made for this garage.

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And at the Duomo, we had to wait for it to reopen at 1 p.m. As we sat and watched, an Italian gentleman came strolling up the path, unlocked the giant doors, and let us all in.

That’s his JOB! To care for the Duomo. I love Italy.

The "unlocker" comes back after his lunch.

The “unlocker” comes back after his lunch.

This peaceful haven was a glorious way to end our time in Sicily. Buds and I walked the jasmine-lined paths around the building, talking about plans and dreams, and our magical trip. We got to taste freshly pressed olive oil. We saw the beautifully restored building and slept well in old beds, surrounded by the soft breathing of those we love best.

We had time to visit, time to breathe, and time to laugh.

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So incredibly grateful.

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And then the last morning arrived. We snuggled kittens a few last times, and headed down to return the rental car and board our train, bound for Rome…and our final stop before the long journey home.

We suspected there would be no cafe car again (and there wasn’t), so we were well stocked with fresh fruit, pastries, plenty of water, and NO saltines.

We had our own little room, like the Hogwarts Express.

We had our own little room, like the Hogwarts Express.

A beautiful ride.

A beautiful ride.

(I’m laughing a little at the picture above because I’m the only one looking out at the glorious view. It’s good to remember the train ride was 11 hours long. There was plenty of time for videos and staring out the window.)

On the road to Rome!

Italy Trip – Day 47 – Let’s Go To The Beach!

We were driving from Agrigento to our Agriturismo, and our host from the gorgeous apartment had told us a splendid beach where we could easily stop and spend a few decadent hours in the water.

We had to hunt up a pharmacy to purchase sunscreen, but it was worth the effort to find one, and then to hunt up the beach.

The beach was free, we had it mostly to ourselves, and the one restaurant that was open right on the beach was staffed by friendly folks with good food, and it gave us plenty of time to visit. I’ve already written a post about one of our conversations while we were at the beach.

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Buds trekked around at the beach much more than the rest of us, and found some superb white limestone rocks that created a perfect natural beach. This “Sicily Compilation” video shows everything from part of our ferry ride and the train being loaded on the ferry to our time at the beach.

Italy Trip – Days 44 – 47 – Agrigento

We were so sorry to be leaving Ortigia. How could another location in Sicily measure up to the beauty, comfort, and learning we had done in this incredible place. Not only did we want to return, we didn’t want to leave.

But, leave we must.

We packed up our backpacks and food bags and walked across the bridge off the Island of Ortigia to the rental car location. It was another red Panda that would be our vehicle for the rest of our time in Sicily.

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The rental car agent did us a huge favor by telling us to return the car at the airport in Catania because it would be easy to get a bus to take us to the train station. Returning it to the rental car station in Catania would mean an expensive taxi ride to the train station.

The kindness of strangers once again…

The drive wasn’t very long, but we’d had a little trouble connecting with the owner’s son for our next apartment home. We ended up parking at the local train station, and he and his girlfriend were able to find us there. We then followed them through the incredibly twisty-turny roads to our apartment. (More on these roads later.)

I found this beginning to a post I wrote right when we got to the Agrigento apartment, and it captures our excitement in this newest home:

We made the move from Syracusa to Agrigento yesterday. This week finds us in Sicily, which is a part of Italy, though it is often spoken of as if it is its own country. We’ll be on this island until Monday when we board the train to Rome for our last week in Italy.

The drive was a leisurely 3 hours with the children squished in the back of yet another Panda.

Hillier than I expected.

Hillier than I expected.

Lovely views on the drive.

Lovely views on the drive.

Why yes, I would like to sit in your pocket.

Why yes, I would like to sit in your pocket.

We were met at the train station by the son of our host so he and his girlfriend could lead us to the apartment which was up and down a warren of one-way roads. This was the most intense driving I’ve done so far, and I’m glad we are only here for two days, but the apartment is amazing.

We are the very first visitors staying in this completely refurbished home. We’re on the top floors and the bottom is still being redone. (Interesting note to self: Our door to our upstairs apartment is on an entirely different street from the people downstairs. That just occurred to me.)

The alley in front of our door.

The alley in front of our door.

The "intersection" closest to our front door.

The “intersection” closest to our front door.

In part because we are only here two days, this is the location where it feels most likely that we’ll get lost. It’s an absolute labyrinth up in here.

But inside the house is a sheer delight. Here’s the AirBnB posting.

The view  of the entry way.

The view of the entry way.

Looking down on the entry way.

Looking down on the entry way.

We took extra pictures here because there are parts we’d love to emulate.

Living room

Living room

Book case and stairs to the left of the entrance to the living room.

Book case and stairs to the left of the entrance to the living room.

Fireplace

Fireplace

Dining room/Living room

Dining room/Living room

Looking at the bookcase while standing in front of the fire place.

Looking at the bookcase while standing in front of the fire place.

Looking back toward the kitchen. Front entrance hallway and stairs on the right.

Looking back toward the kitchen. Front entrance hallway and stairs on the right.

(Disclosure: I took all these pictures on Buddie’s phone. My glasses were lost sometime around Venice, and I’m realizing all these pictures are blurry because I was holding the phone too close to my face to be able to tell they were blurry. Jeesh, eyes…)

On to more pictures:

Full frontal of the fireplace.

Full frontal of the fireplace.

Gorgeous kitchen

Gorgeous kitchen

Kitchen sink and window

Kitchen sink and window

They stocked the fridge.

They stocked the fridge.

The bottles of water in the fridge alerted us that drinking water from the faucet was not a good option.

We didn’t know what these were at the time:

Peeled Prickly Pear

Peeled Prickly Pear

We were to learn at our next Sicilian home that they were Prickly Pear, and are beloved in Sicily. After we knew what to look for, we saw them everywhere:

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Monkey's bedroom. Dad added for scale.

Monkey’s bedroom. Dad added for scale.

Downstairs bathroom. It was very orange.

Downstairs bathroom. It was very orange.

Upstairs living room. Yessa stuffies enjoyed the crib.

Upstairs living room. Yessa stuffies enjoyed the crib.

Parent bedroom.

Parent bedroom.

Bunk bed for littles.

Bunk bed for littles.

Fantastic master bath.

Fantastic master bath.

Loved the soaking tub and burnt umber tile.

Loved the soaking tub and burnt umber tile.

The view from the upper balcony.

The view from the upper balcony.

This apartment was gorgeous. It was in an ancient (truly) section of town, and the doors we walked past to get here gave testament to that.

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As much as we loved this space, we’ve got to take a minute to discuss the drive to get to this gorgeous apartment.

As I mentioned above, this was the most harrowing driving we’d done. Steep hills, one-way roads, blind corners, and incredibly tight spaces. My heart palpitates thinking about it even now…10 months later.

Here’s a visual to try to explain:

Heart Palpitations

Heart Palpitations

If you click on the picture above to make it larger, you can see there was parking very close to the apartment. That’s where our host led us for our initial unload.

Here’s an example of the streets we drove up to get to the apartment parking spot:

One of the streets we had to drive up.

One of the streets we had to drive up.

Steep, tight, and if you met a car coming down, a battle of wills over who would back up to let the other pass.

So, after we went out for our tour of the Valley of the Temples (More on that shortly.), our tour guide led us to a different place to park. It was a long walk, but it didn’t give me stomach pangs, so it was a win.

Enough of the traumatic driving experience, on to the beauty of Agrigento.

The highlight of this stop was a tour of The Valley Of The Temples.

We had a wonderful tour guide here, yet I cannot remember her name because I only got about an hour with her. Buster and Yessa were done after that time, so we left Buds and Monkey to enjoy the remainder of the tour in peace while we headed back to the car to snuggle in with games and stories.

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Again the magnificent light.

Again the magnificent light.

While we were still all together.

While we were still all together.

Starting the tour.

Starting the tour.

The long road linking the temples.

The long road linking the temples.

The "u" shows where the rope would have been inserted to lift the huge rocks.

The “u” shows where the rope would have been inserted to lift the huge rocks.

Interchangeable statues: Old ruler out, swap out the head for the new ruler.

Interchangeable statues: Old ruler out, swap out the head for the new ruler.

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Buds just said last night, ten months after this trip, that this was the most beautiful sunset he’s seen in his entire life.

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He had brilliantly booked our tour so we’d be at the temples for the sunset, and it was worth it.

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Our walk down to our apartment after we've driven back from our tour.

Our walk down to our apartment after we’ve driven back from our tour.

Buds and I did make time on our last morning to head out on an early morning walk to find a coffee shop and to see some of the other sights.

A church near us that was closed for renovation.

A church near us that was closed for renovation.

This felt like the most rushed of all our stays in Italy, but it was worth the effort.

Upcoming, our final stop in Sicily: An Agriturismo Bed and Breakfast. It keeps getting better!

Italy Trip – Days 41 – 44 – Ortigia

We arrived late at night in our first apartment in Siracusa (Syracuse), Sicily. Stumbling off the train, miming our need for a taxi, and Buds showing the address on his phone, the kind, non-English speaking taxi driver bundled us all into his taxi on this dark, rainy night, and off we went.

We were all laggy from the long, long day of travel and subsisting on saltine crackers and no water for the last several hours. It was with an air of disbelief when the cab pulled into the empty courtyard of a church and indicated with gestures that this was where we should disembark.

“Are you sure?” I asked Buds.

How could he be sure? It was dark. It was late. We were trusting in the kindness of strangers once again, and as it always had been, it was the right decision.

We were on the Island of Ortigia, on the Island of Sicily, in the city of Syracuse.

Let’s take a digital look at where we were:

Italy, with Sicily in the very bottom.

Italy, with Sicily in the very bottom.

Just Sicily. Notice Syracuse on the bottom right.

Just Sicily. Notice Syracuse on the bottom right.

Zoom in on Syracuse.

Zoom in on Syracuse.

Ortigia is the upper snaggle tooth of the witch’s mouth underneath the c in Syracuse.

Zoom in on Syracuse to see Ortigia.

Zoom in on Syracuse to see Ortigia.

The taxi driver pointed down an alley to the right of the church courtyard. With repeated motions he indicated that was the way to our first Sicily home.

Later we were to understand how close we actually were:

Ortigia Apartment

The kind owner was waiting for us. She had stocked the kitchen with food we needed for a late night meal and an easy breakfast in the morning. A quick tour, and then she left us to settle in.

The first apartment.

Lots of pictures in the link above which do a fantastic job of showing the apartment, so I’ll not give my normal exhaustive tour. A few highlights:

The alley from the church courtyard to get to our doorway.

The alley from the church courtyard to get to our doorway.

The kitchen that gave us the vision for our new kitchen.

The kitchen that gave us the vision for our new kitchen.

He matched his shirt to his chair, which I'm sure helped his productivity.

He matched his shirt to his chair, which I’m sure helped his productivity.

The toilet was so tall even my feet wouldn't touch the ground, hence the helpful chair to use as a footstool.

The toilet was so tall even my feet wouldn’t touch the ground, hence the helpful chair to use as a footstool.

The water was fine for drinking everywhere we had stayed, but I thought this water dispenser we found in an alley over from our apartment was cool:

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With only 2 full days here, Buds got us out on a tour our very first morning in town.

This was a walking tour with archeology student Enrica and she was great. The children had about 3 hours of walking in them on this first day. Buds and I took a tour with her the next day where we got to just absorb all the history we were surrounded by.

We started with the Temple of Apollo.

Overlooking the Temple of Apollo, built before 550 B.C.

Overlooking the Temple of Apollo, built before 550 B.C.

History.

History.

Duomo di Siracusa

Duomo di Siracusa

The amazing thing about the Syracuse Cathedral above is that it began as a Temple to Athena, and the inside and parts of the outside show many of the original features of the temple.

Saint Lucia is the patron saint of Syracuse, and we also toured her church just across the courtyard from the Cathedral. In her church we saw the Caravaggio painting explained in this Wikipedia post.

Also on this tour was the glorious moment when Yessa asked me how St. Lucia got three arms.

Our beautiful setting for lunch:

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The next day Buds and I toured alone. We took a taxi to the Archeological Park, and Enrica took us around this place she knew so well for several hours. This website has a great write up about the three main areas of importance we saw: The quarry, the Greek Theater, and the Roman Amphitheater.

The Archeological Park- looks a little like Pompeii.

The Archeological Park- looks a little like Pompeii.

The map of the park.

The map of the park.

Erika led us through the quarry first.

Yup, looks like an ear.

Yup, looks like an ear.

The Ear of Dionysus

The Ear of Dionysus

Yup, looks like an ear.

Yup, looks like an ear.

The lines from the hand tools of the slaves who mined these walls are still visible.

The lines from the hand tools of the slaves who mined these walls are still visible.

This locally famous plant...

This locally famous plant…

Appears on lots of columns and decorations.

Appears on lots of columns and decorations.

We started at the top, looking down into the amphitheater.

We started at the top, looking down into the Greek Theater.

Obligatory shot.

Obligatory shot.

Notice the teepee shaped building in the background. We’ll visit it later.

The bubbling "fountain" at the top of the Greek Theater where patrons could get a drink.

The bubbling “fountain” at the top of the Greek Theater where patrons could get a drink.

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The elite families had "box seats" with their names on them in the front row at the amphitheater.

The elite families had “box seats” with their names on them in the front row at the amphitheater.

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These are plants.

These are plants.

Enrica picked up a few pieces of pottery off the ground and told us they were from a certain archeological age. No way of knowing if it’s true or not, but it sounded good.

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Buds and I decided to walk the couple miles back to our apartment from the tour. This gave us a chance to visit the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Tears. We visited respectfully, but still found ourselves in jaw-dropping awe at the curious space. It was beautiful, in its own way, but it would not be a soothing place of worship for me.

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One of the evenings, Buds and I settled in the children in and popped around the corner to a tiny restaurant that served delicious food and wine and seemed to only be open due to the interest and whims of the jovial owner. We told him to bring us whatever sounded good to him, and we loved it.

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We wanted to go back the next night, too, but he wasn’t going to be open because he wanted to be with his family instead. Can’t argue with that.

Whenever Buds and I talk about Ortigia, we always speak in reverent tones about “the light.” The light here was so golden, so beautiful, it makes my heart ache to think about it.

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It was really bright, too.

This was Buds attempting to take a picture of the rest of us, but since he couldn’t tell what the screen showed, we got this squinty-eyed selfie:

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One of the afternoons The Buster and I wandered around in the church at the end of our alley.

For a small church by Catholic standards, it had many beautiful pieces, too.

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I love the comfortable homeyness of the priest’s glasses sitting on the side table, ready for the next worship.

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This statue/coffin/display would be carried through the streets on holy days. In the following picture you can see the metal slots at the bottom where the wooden posts slide in to be lifted onto the worshipers’ shoulders.

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And since we haven’t had many pictures of Monkey so far, here’s a reminder that she was still taller than Buster during this trip.

She's not taller anymore.

She’s not taller anymore.

This was a perfect beginning to our Sicilian Adventure. From the little cafe where Buds, Yessa, and I (and maybe Buster) would grab an espresso and a croissant each morning, to the golden light that greeted us by the Cathedral, to the gelato shops we tried out by the center fountain, this is a town Buds and I hope to return to.

Italy Trip – Day 34 – Cinque Terre

We were nearing the end of our time at the Lucca farmhouse, and we needed to choose our last day trips. Buds and I had been to Cinque Terre on both our trips to Italy.

On our first trip, back in the mid-’90’s, Rick Steves had been recommending Cinque Terre to travelers in his books, but it was still relatively unknown. There were few other tourists, and when you got off the train there would be large-busted Italian women in dresses, wearing aprons, asking if you needed a place to stay.

Times have changed…

We left Lucca early, and drove to La Spezia to catch the train into Cinque Terre.

The travel overview.

The travel overview.

We toyed with the idea of driving and parking at one of the five towns (Cinque Terre is Italian for “Five Lands.”) As you can see from the map, the driving would be twisty, and you’d still have a decent hike to get into any of the towns.

Taking the train definitely the correct decision.

Taking the train definitely the correct decision.

As seasoned train travelers by this point, we relaxed and enjoyed the trip.

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You go through many tunnels on the journey.

You go through many tunnels on the journey.

We had plans to trek around in a couple different towns, then hike The Lovers’ Walk between two towns.

After being dropped off in the tunnel :

The long trek to the town proper.

The long trek to the town proper.

We wandered down to find some gelato:

An easy start to the day of tromping around.

An easy start to the day of tromping around.

Then back on the train to Vernazza for some time down by the water, climbing on the rocks.

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By this point in the day, we were hungry, so chose a seafood restaurant to have some lunch, then from there we’d get directions to head off on our hike.

Instead, we learned that the Lovers’ Walk was closed due to mudslides, so we relaxed, visited with the young, white, American woman seated at the table next to us who was traveling on her own through Italy, on her way to meet friends in Venice, then headed back up to jumble up with the crowds to get on a train out of town.

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We were able to catch a train, and ended up back at Lucca, ready to enjoy the remainder of our evening at “home.”

I’m glad we spent the day in Cinque Terre, and that the children had the chance to experience it, but I won’t be in a rush to return.

Italy Trip – Days 41 – 48 – Sicily

Ooooh, jeepers-creepers! We’ve finally arrived at my favorite part.

I didn’t want to go to Sicily. Sicily is sooo far south. We didn’t know anyone who had gone there. It seemed so foreign for some reason. Mobsters…you’ve heard the rumors.

Buds thought we should go. Stretch as travelers. See something new for us, too.

I told Buds, “You plan it, we’ll go.”

We left the days open on the calendar.

I waited to see what would happen.

By golly, he not only planned it all, it was fantastic, and my very favorite place of the entire adventure.

We stayed in three distinctive locations while in Sicily, and I’m going to give them each their own post because of the unique flavor of each.

This post focuses on the travel portion. To get to Sicily, if you don’t fly, you get on a train, which eventually gets loaded on a ferry. Yes. The TRAIN gets loaded onto the FERRY. It had to be seen to be believed.

We were up bright and early to have Erika take us to the ferry for our exit from Ischia.

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Reliable Felice met us one last time at the Ferry Terminal to drive us to the Naples Train Station. (And we knew he wouldn’t miss us this drive because we accidentally underpaid him for the Pompeii excursion, so we owed him money. Oops.)

The Naples train station, which was large and modern and comfortable, was a good spot to pass a couple hours while we waited for our departure.

Buster was tickled he found a way to hang the tablet for easier reading.

Buster was tickled he found a way to hang the tablet for easier reading.

The two goofballs behind the column wandered around while we waited to board our train.

The two goofballs behind the column wandered around while we waited to board our train.

We had a very long train ride ahead of us, so we purchased first class tickets. We took a little food with us, and we had our water bottles filled up, but we were looking forward to enjoying some espressos and food on the train.

We found our spots on the train, and were pleased with our seats, right at the back of the train.

We could see right out the back.

We could see right out the back.

After the train set off on its long journey, the children explored the train, as had become our habit. When they returned, they had surprising news.

There was no food car.

Buds and I were sure they were wrong. This was an eleven hour train ride. The other trains we had been on, some for short runs of only a few hours, had all had food cars.

Off we went to make sure they just hadn’t missed it by not walking far enough down to the other end of the train.

Of course, they hadn’t missed it. There was no cafeteria car.

We had read that the south got little love in the train transportation area, but this was the first sign we had seen of that being true. There may be some other reason for there not being a way for folks in the train to eat, but I’m not sure what it would be.

As well-fed folks, we ended up being hungry by the end of the trip, but it was fine. The biggest issue was having several packs of saltine crackers as our main food, and running out of water because of the saltines.

A little wrinkle, and it’s funny now.

We learned our lesson: Always take extra food on the train.

Overall the trip was smooth and uneventful.

The electric window shades were a big hit.

The electric window shades were a big hit.

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Naps happened.

Naps happened.

Hello, World!

Hello, World!

The tracks run right along the coast, so it was a beautiful ride.

A beautiful trip down the coast.

A beautiful trip down the coast.

And finally, the moment of excitement arrived. Time to cross over to the Island of Sicily on the ferry.

Loading a train onto a ferry is actually a simple process when it goes smoothly, and a very slow process when it doesn’t. Having a seat at the back of the train so we could watch the folks who did all the work was fascinating. They were very kind about letting us look over their shoulders while they worked.

Getting ready to back up.

Getting ready to back up.

Yessa watches our progress.

Yessa watches our progress.

The tunnel we back down for getting on the ferry.

The tunnel we back down for getting on the ferry.

Loaded on the ferry, time to wander around.

Loaded on the ferry, time to wander around.

Enjoying the view from the upper deck of the ferry.

Enjoying the view from the upper deck of the ferry.

When our train finally arrived in Siracusa, Sicily, in the dark, on a rainy night, we were so grateful to walk out of the train station to quickly find a cab waiting to whisk us off to our first Sicilian apartment. In general, we found many fewer English speakers in Sicily, and our cab driver was no exception, but he was kind and helpful, making sure to point out the correct alley for us to walk down for the last bit of our journey on that night.

The entire journey from Ischia to Sicily was an interesting beginning to the final portion of our entire Italian Adventure.

Italy Trip – Day 39 – Pompeii

Neither Buds nor I had ever been to Pompeii, and it was high on the list of things we wanted to do with the children. Getting there was no small undertaking. We had to get tickets for the ferry…a very early morning ferry. (Buds and I walked over to the ferry the day before we were headed to Pompeii to try and get tickets, but to no avail. You could only get them the day of your trip. Sounds shockingly similar to a ferry trip we’re taking in Maine soon.)

We had to leave the house before sunrise to catch the earliest ferry. Erika was right on time to drive us to the ferry, as she insisted on doing.

We trundled across in the darkness, on this ferry that feels like a floating casino boat.

Good morning, Sun! (Or goodnight, can't really tell anymore.)

Good morning, Sun! (Or goodnight, can’t really tell anymore.)

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Felice was waiting for us, as planned. Having him as a connection, thanks to Erika, was such a tremendous blessing.

We zoomed away from the ferry terminal, slipping through morning traffic. It was interesting to see Mount Vesuvius as we made our way to Pompeii.

Felice dropped us off at the main entrance, and we made plans for him to pick us up later in the afternoon.

We were quite early since we weren’t meeting our tour guide until noon’ish, so we grabbed a meal at an open air restaurant across the street from Pompeii’s entrance.

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A few quick photos at the entrance:

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The early morning hit some of us more than others.

The early morning hit some of us more than others.

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A little hand jive to pass the time.

A little hand jive to pass the time.

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Roberta, our guide, was our first tour guide of this trip. She was fantastic with the children, and an encyclopedia of information. She grew up in the area, and was able to immerse us in the history and culture, making Pompeii come alive.

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She had an ipad for making it a multi-sensory experience for the kids; she set up a contest between the children and the adults to keep us all interested (Adults lost.); and she condensed the ending when The Buster began to melt. So respectful and kind and fun.

Roberta guided us all over Pompeii, showing us the tiny and intriguing stories written in the walls and stones and mosaics of this city that was buried by a terrifying natural disaster.

Inside a bathhouse.

Inside a bathhouse.

Wall sculpture

Wall sculpture

Beautiful inlaid mosaic

Beautiful inlaid mosaic

Reviewing facts on the ipad app.

Reviewing facts on the ipad app.

A beautiful home

A beautiful home

Though the spigot is new, there were fountains scattered throughout the town for anyone to use.

Though the spigot is new, there were fountains scattered throughout the town for anyone to use.

Walking the walls.

Walking the walls.

In the amphitheater

In the amphitheater

Another view- where the grass is used to be all seating, too.

Another view- where the grass is used to be all seating, too.

Shiny stones reflected the moonlight for "streetlights."

Shiny stones reflected the moonlight for “streetlights.”

Stables

Stables

Another book Roberta used to help us envision the history of this amazing place.

Another book Roberta used to help us envision the history of this amazing place.

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The "Beware of Dog" mosaic at a merchant's front door.

The “Beware of Dog” mosaic at a merchant’s front door.

So excited to see ancient "Beware of Dog," I dropped my phone.

So excited to see ancient “Beware of Dog,” I dropped my phone.

Still works fine.

Still works fine.

The map of Pompeii...it's shaped like a fish!

The map of Pompeii…it’s shaped like a fish!

The children's prizes.

The children’s prizes.

Roberta's final gift to us.

Roberta’s final gift to us.

Pages from the book that show what Pompeii looked like before the eruption...

Pages from the book that show what Pompeii looked like before the eruption…

And after excavation.

And after excavation.

Notice the beautiful inlaid marble. At one time, the entire floor would have been white marble, which would have been dazzling.

Notice the beautiful inlaid marble. At one time, the entire floor would have been white marble, which would have been dazzling.

Note that the picture of Monkey and me above is us walking across the very ground featured in the book pictures above.

I’m missing pictures from Pompeii, and I know I’ve forgotten so many facts. For example, the chariots that were allowed inside the city gates had a very specific width for the wheels. The ancient grooves and blocking stones are still visible, showing how any other width would not have been able to fit through.

We saw an ancient “fast food” restaurant, as well as an ancient bakery where petrified loaves of bread were discovered when Pompeii was excavated.

On a steamier note, we did walk through the “Red Light” district where there are still mosaics on the walls showing the “options” for “services” and their cost. (Lots of quotes in that sentence.)

We saw plaster molds of the poor souls who were caught and suffocated by the ash. We saw the beautiful homes and dishes and the statues of this amazing city that once held thousands of people who laughed and worshipped and loved.

There’s an aura at Pompeii. I would be grateful to go back to listen once again to the whispering souls who rest there.

With hugs of thanks, we left Roberta and made our way back to the waiting Felice. Another careening car ride back to the ferry, and the long trek home, arriving after dark to find the dearest Erika waiting in the mist to drive us home.

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Much to discuss after a full day.

Much to discuss after a full day.

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Definitely worth the effort, and having Roberta as a guide made it spectacular.