July 1-25, 2011
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Click on flag for Foto Show; click on country name for text and photographs.
Click on any photo to see it enlarged. It will appear as part of a slide show of all photos on this page. The image size can be changed by clicking on the plus and minus buttons. In the upper-left corner of a slide show click on either of the small-blue triangles to see another album (sets of photos). One of the albums is of us in in northern Italy, July 1-17.Rome:
On May 28 we were just a month into our stay in Rome and had still a month to go. By then we felt that we knew a lot about Rome, especially compared to our April 29 arrival, but were looking forward to enhancing our feeling for it. And also for getting out of town and seeing some of the important nearby sites. We always visit a city or place by spiraling out. We were also hoping Gerry's legs would improve enough that we could ride our bicycles all over and thereby wean ourselves from public transport
We had started off our stay in Rome by sampling its magnificent churches. For each and everyone of them we said that we'd like to return. We got to return to three of them because of free concerts. All were performed by traveling American groups; there must be specialized travel agencies that set these us. One of the concerts was really terrific; unfortunately the two others gave us what we paid: not much.
On June 2 Italians celebrated their national day. We'd learned that the parade route would pass by the Forum and had even seen the VIP reviewing stands being constructed. But we couldn't learn where was a good place for we plebs to go. We got up early June 2 and found that we couldn't get off the Metro at the station that we thought would give us the best chance to see the parade. So we got off at the next station and walked past the Circus Maximus (or at least the field where it used to be) to where we hoped to see part of the parade; along the way we saw a half dozen new churches and even the remains of three different Roman temples, one in pretty good shape. And then great luck: we reached what turned out to be the parade route and recognized it by the thin line of people behind police lines. We sat down at about the only front-row places left and waited an hour; the parade came to us. We enjoyed seeing all the various Italian costumes of the difference groups.
On our first day we'd passed by the Castel Sant'Angelo on our way to the beatification ceremonies for John-Paul II. We finally made it back and enjoyed touring this mausoleum that became a fortress. The views from the top were terrific. It's very close to St Peter's Basilica and, while you don't feel that you can touch it, you do feel very close. Another high point, literally and figuratively, was the top of the Victor Emmanuel monument. Somehow our guide books had never made it clear to us that we could go to the top – perhaps that's because we hadn't read them from top to bottom. One day we met by accident another American tourist and she told us how much she loved the view. So following her instructions, which weren't all that clear, we went around to the back (surprise) and found our way to the top. Wonderful.
In mid-June we finally started to explore pre-Christian Rome. We made a trip to Ostia Antica, on the coast; 2000 years ago it was a day's walk from the center. Now it is a commuter suburb of Rome where some make the in-out trip everyday. We found ourselves going against them. From the station we walked through some fields and arrived so early the gate was just opening. For an hour or so we had the place to ourselves, something we always like; then the hordes came. Ostia made up feel that we really know something about how a Roman town of 2000 years ago worked. We could easily imagine ourselves being in a local pub or theater there.
Ten days later, towards the end of June we had our Archeology Week And More. We started by going to the farther end of the most interesting part of the Via Appia and walking it back into Rome, doing maybe 5k on foot. It was a Sunday and it was great weather. We shared this stone-paved narrow road with many Romans who were out for weekend fresh air. Walkers and joggers and bikers. The road is lined with many tombs, with many inscriptions and we duly appreciated them. Even better were the ruins of a few palaces and villas along the way. Before we started out walk we bumped into a local 15K run and enjoyed seeing the Romans puffing away. The right-of-way that makes up the reserved archeological area is mostly a strip of about 100m. On both sides, to our ignorant surprise, there are many exquisite country estates, owned by movie stars and other glitteri.
After that we bought a ticket that gave us a week to see eight of the most important archeological sites and museums. It saved money but forced us to rush. We started with the Forum and went on to the Colosseum and the Terme di Caracalla, all outdoors, and sites as opposed to museums. Then we turned to Renaissance and later palaces that had been converted to hold the extensive museum pieces. One cannot summarize these treasures, so we won't try. We'll just say that the palaces themselves were magnificent and the collections equally so.
Gerry never did recover his biking legs and that always left Jan frustrated. We did make longer and longer rides, but they only amounted to a total of 5k; in other words we never really got far from home. We said goodbye to our bikes a week before we left. They buyers were happy. We weren't.Going Out of Town
Before leaving Rome we wanted to make day trips to Tivoli, Orvieto, and Viterbo as well as Ostia Antica. Our time ran out before getting to Tivoli but we visited the others with great pleasure. Orvieto with its superb mesa-top location and richly decorated church just wowed us. We got there by taking the train towards Florence; we'd passed it, and even stopped at the Orvieto station an hour before our late April arrival in Rome. On that day we'd talked to two Brits who had rented bikes and were planning to bike up – a long way up – to Orvieto's top to their hotel. We took the funicular.
When we bought our first monthly transit ticket for the City of Rome we discovered – still unknown as to why – that it included Viterbo which is 80 km and 1.5 or more hours away from Rome. We decided to go and set about learning something about it. Fortunately we had Veronica to rely on and she told us she'd walked through on her previous pilgrimage to Rome. Our monthly pass specified which station we had to go to to get the train to Viterbo. We cased the train station thought we knew the system. Yet the day we arrived, very early to take the early train, we found out there was no train. Instead we were told to take a local commuter train north and change to a bus. We were skeptical, doubting that we'd understood the Italian but it worked. We arrived very early in town and had a nice breakfast there on a patio across from the old ways and near the northern gate. Not only did we see the ancient remains of Viterbo but we also got treated to a classic car event; in the morning we saw them all parked in a square and in the afternoon we saw them parade out of town.
Our trip to Viterbo turned out in retrospect to be a disaster for Jan. While there she walked too much without realizing it. When we got back to Rome she was tired but we still decided to walk several kilometers through town to a metro stop and that really killed her. The next day her hips were really painful. For our last week she just wanted to rest and recover as much as she could.
We spent the last two days of June cleaning out the debris that we'd accumulated in two months. We cleaned and prepared to go. Then on July 1 we had an early call from the official cleaning lady, had a nice chat with her, and set off by taxi for Rome's Terminal station. We were off to Assisi and points farther north and east.Northern Italy
Our trip to Assisi, Perugia, Urbino, Ravenna, Parma, Milan, and Bergamo came off very well. In planning it 17 days seems as if they would be enough, but they weren't. Our thinking has been that if tour buses go from Rome to Florence in one day, with only a half-day stop in Assisi, then our planned three nights should be enough. On the train to Assisi we met two women who were coming for their third visit; that clued us into the idea there might be lots there. And there was; we'll have to go back.
We mostly went to Perugia because that was where we were told we had to catch the bus for Urbino. So we got up very early one morning to catch the local bus that would take us Perugia to catch our main bus. (And we paid 15 euros for a taxi to 700 meters to the Assisi bus stop because we were a captive market.) Imagine our surprise when after catching the bus it immediately went back to Assisi (actually Santa Maria??) But that was small potatoes, because we'd already spent the better part of a day in Perugia and gotten to walk the main streets of the medieval town. First Gerry went while Jan watched the bags, then Jan went. While she was out she stumbled upon the main court and learned that a hearing that day was being held for Amanda Knox. Later that day Gerry spoke with an American TV journalist coverning the events.
Urbino is hard to get to because it is not a major tourist destination. Nonetheless there are thousands of foreigners there because it has a major university. We stayed at a hotel on a ridge about 500 meters from one of the gates into the walled city. Our first morning we took the bus but after he realized how close it was Gerry walked home; Jan rode, unfortunately needing to baby her joints which were really a difficulty.
The story in Ravenna, Parma, Milan, and Bergam was mostly one of medieval churches. Those in Ravenna were actually a thousand years older, having belonged to the byzatines and somehow been mostly preserved. We pre-booked trains for each of our travels but as we got into it doubted our wisdom a lot. At every station the elevator was broke or never had existed and there never had been escalators. So we had a mountain of bags to carry down and up to get from station proper to our departure track and then an hour or two later we had the same mountain of bags to carry down and up to get from train to station and taxi. It can't have been that bad as the memories of the struggle are much faded.Switzerland
A week that went by all too fast. From Milan we took the train to Zurich and then to Wil and were picked up by Sandro. In a few minutes we were home. It was their home but we felt at home having spent a week there in 2008. Then we had met 1-year old Fernando; now we re-met a big four year old and his two year old brother, Luciano. Two delightful kids. With their parents we took lots of walk in the countryside, which is just outside the door: Off to the dairy to get milk. Down to the river to hear the water bubble. Oh, and we also went up into the Alps for two nights and went for a day trip to a former castle city. And then it was time to take a train to Geneva and switch there for Lyon.
From Italy we'd booked with the SNCF our ticket Zurich-Lyon via Basel and Mulhouse. Only after the SNCF had our credit card number and we couldn't cancel with out a penalty did we realize that we were supposed to pick up our ticket in France! But we wouldn't be in France until after our train ride! We thought that in Switzerland we'd figure out a satisfactory way of handling things – but we couldn't. Unless you call what we did satisfactory, which is sort of was: At a loss of 30% we canceled the original ticket and bought a new one from Swiss rail, which of course cost more money. But we got a nice ride and got to Lyon nicely on time.Lyon
Lyon was Jan's choice and it was a good choice. She wanted someplace new to celebrate her birthday and found it there. Gerry had been to Lyon a dozen times but hardly knew it. In 1972-1973 he used to change trains there on his way to St Etienne. He knew there was a hill and a funicular that went to the top. We discovered together how nice it was and how nice the view way. And the great church at top. And the archeological museum and the nearby restored theatre.
Then it was off to Paris by TGV. We hardly spent any more time on the super fast train than we did in getting out of the station at Lyon and taking a taxi a few kilometers to our old haunts 'Chez Veronica'Paris Back to the future?
Not exactly. But unlike most years, where this Frontpage discussed what we'd done in the last several months this one also includes a lot of now only what we might do in the future but what we will do in the future. This continues the trend set in our May Frontpage where we told where we would be for the next months and even included a map.
Working our way north from Rome we took a route of about 800 km (or 500 miles), about the same as London to Darlington and back. Whereas we do that trip one-way in 3-6 hours here we took 17 days in all. Assisi was a must as was Ravenna. Both get three stars from the Michelin Green guide. Milan had a double reason to be visited: it also gets three stars and it's the easiest way to get to Zurich and on to Henau. Given that we're on an art kick and that Urbino was home to Raphael and is half-way between Assisi and Ravenna we picked it. (It wasn't until after we made our hotel reservation that we learned going only 100 km would take half a day.) Parma was chosen for similar reasons: we wanted to stop between Ravenna and Milan and had already spent a day in Bologna. The cherry on the cake is Bergamo. We went to a special exhibit on Lorenzo Lotto and learned he spent a good deal of his life in Bergamo and that many of his works are still there. When we checked and found out Bergamo was at the foot of Alps we were sold.
Then it was off to Henau and Lyon.