Firenze Con Gabrielle

Posted by admin on March 27, 2015 in Travel |
After breakfast, we rode the Circumvesuviana to Napoli and our high speed Fracciarossa to Firenze. Its new leather smell, speeds of 185 mph, and smooth ride are a testament to what the United States’ rail system SHOULD be. The fields are green, trees are beginning to bloom, and there is snow on the Apennines to the east of us. 
A short walk brings us to our Hotel Balcony where we once again have a private balcony. We are ideally located just behind Santa Maria Novella and looking from the front balcony, the Duomo is just down the street.
For our history lesson of the day, we journeyed to the American Military Cemetery where GG Granduncle Elmer Bunyard is buried. PFC. Bunyard was killed in April of 1945 as US troops began their march north to the Alps and the final defeat of Germany.  We left our little US and MN flags before returning to Firenze. 
I was discouraged from getting a Firenze Card because it is “low season,” so our destination is the Accademia for reservations to see David. Surprisingly easy and worth the four extra Euros. After a short wait, Gabrielle was able to see Italy’s sexiest ‘buns’ along with several other of Michelangelo’s marble pieces. The weather is beautiful so we strolled to a restaurant to dine  beneath Santa Maria del Fiori, enjoyed our evening gelato fix, then returned to relax on our terrace. Beautiful evening. 
A bit like the winged statues of antiquity, my niece is able to ‘spread her proverbial wings’ a bit  and accomplished her first passengiata tonight. As expected, Italian men recognized a good opportunity and Luigi befriended this lush-haired beauty. It is a lesson in cultures as the streets are busy well into the evenings with young and old doing nothing more than walking streets, chatting, meeting new friends and being typical teens wherever they are or whatever language they speak. It certainly won’t be the first Italian encounter on my watch. I am traveling with a mature, intelligent and observant but sixteen-year-old. A worry-worthy combination. 
Our full day in Firenze is a wet one so these novice umbrella-holders gingerly navigate the streets to the beautiful Uffizi Gallery and Basilica of Santa Croce with its tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machelvelli. The Ponte Vecchio and Porcellino Straw Market along the Arno create a shopping distraction. However, the straw market repetitively offers the same two items of scarves and leather. 

We walked to the Duomo, incredibly beautiful Florentine architecture with its pink, green and white marble facade and soaring red dome. Building began in 1296 but it was left domeless for over a century. Florentines knew someone would eventually figure how to construct an appropriate dome. A young 24-year-old Filippo Brunelleschi designed the legendary bronze doors of the Baptistery and went on to complete the dome in 1436. Gabrielle challenges the crowds and 300+ steps for its rather cloudy views of Firenze’s red rooftops, bell towers and streets. Our Life360 locator app is hit and miss so called her on the cell phone to reconnect.
The San Lorenzo market offered a better selection of stuff Italian. Made a few purchases, including a bottle of vino for the room, before returning to dry out. Gabrielle wandered a bit, I relaxed, and we both ate a nice dinner including tiramisu at a restaurant overlooking Santa Maria Novella. No surprise it was Luigi for the evening’s distraction. 


 Thursday dawns cloudy but drier and we are enroute to Pisa for its leaning tower and an additional plate for my Buon Ricordo collection. Pisa is always a must escape from the crowds of Firenze. The square, with is duomo, baptistery and bell tower, is uniquely beautiful. And the tower is open for climbing once again since successful efforts to strengthen and straighten this Italian icon. I remember the nightmares I had after climbing to the top over forty years ago. Gravity seemed to pull me from the edge with each circular circuit made. At that time few restraints would have prevented one from toppling over the side. We decide to pass on the experience. 
Amid light sprinkles and many visitors, we enjoy the beautiful interior of the Duomo with its spectacular carved ceilings. Of course one must snap the ubiquitous photo holding up the leaning tower.
Osteria del Violino offers a fine meal and a Buon Ricordo plate. Lacking their newest version, I am treated to one of their original plates – all the better. The meal consisted of seafood including mussels and snails, gnocchi, fish and Crème brûlée. Gabrielle is doing a good job of sampling the courses but she does pass on the little snails. With plate, we exited the restaurant into bright sun and balmy temps for our train back to Firenze.
Santa Maria Novella was the first great basilica built in Firenze beginning 1246. We walk past everyday so must step in, after a fee, and see this hulking basilica across from the train station.  Like most Florentine churches, it is spectacular architecture on the outside and rather austere on the inside. But here, the 14th and 15th century frescoes and stained glass are beautifully preserved.

Two sad developments which I notice as we travel. Most churches are charging an entrance fee and have blocked off large sections, including the pews for sitting and enjoying the interiors. Secondly, military and police presence is everywhere. Does this make me feel more secure? 

Gabrielle is becoming more comfortable and confident with each experience. Train stations, metros, public transportation are always a challenge and she is doing well handling them. No complaints on the walking and we have been doing at least 10 miles a day wandering the streets, museums and churches. The dining has been easy and no requests to stop by a McDonalds. The rain no one likes. All in all, she is doing very well. 

I hope the rain is over as it does dampen the enjoyment of strolling the streets. Our last evening, much like true Italians, was spent in passengiata through the streets and piazzas listening to the sounds of the city. A wine there, a pizza here below the imposing facade of the Duomo. It’s a joyful evening of life among the Italians.  

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Rome Through My Eyes

Posted by admin on March 25, 2015 in Travel |


 Rome is a huge city full of many different types of people, transportation, and smells. Being from a small town of about 800,  going to a city with 3-4 million residents is a huge change. I had to learn how to become aware of my surroundings at all times, use public transportation, and communicate with people who know little to no English. 

Style: One of the first things I noticed was style and how differently Europeans dress. They dress so much better here we would consider some of it semi-formal. Some people from these different European countries would wear heels. I kept thinking about how much their feet must hurt because they do so much walking. People can also tell right away when you are American because of our clothes. We wear t-shirts, leggings, and sunglasses while people over here don’t usually wear those types of things. 

Street vendors: There are so many people over here who will try to sell you stuff. One time a guy with flowers came up to me and shoved the flowers in my face while talking in a language I didn’t understand and if I had accepted the flowers I would’ve had to pay him. And don’t look too long, otherwise the vendors will start chatting and it’s difficult to get away. 

Transportation: I have a love-hate relationship with public transportation here. The busses here are nuts. Their driving is horrific, its amazing how they don’t hit anyone. The subways are so crowded in some places. Its pic-pocket heaven there with all of the tourists. People are pushin and shovin to get on or off the subway. And if you are unfortunate enough to be in a crowded subway you better not have space issues because people will be touching you where you do not want to be touched. 

Food: They know how to eat here. Everything is so fresh it makes American food look pathetic. The coffee here is so much better than what you could get at Starbucks. It is also very strong, one cup and I felt like I was going to start bouncing off the walls. Here they also tell you if anything has been frozen, other than that, everything is fresh. One thing I noticed is there is an abundance of alcohol and it’s so cheap compared to the stuff back home and it’s so good. And it was so cool when a waiter asked me if I wanted a beer.

Churches: One of my favorite things about Rome is their churches. They are so big and beautiful. My favorite church is St. John (the church of Rome). It has this beautiful painting on the ceiling. If it was acceptable to lay on the ground and stare at the ceiling I would have. 

Ancient Rome: Definitely a good one to visit. The Colesseum is huge and there’s only a third left, it’s hard to imagine it at it’s original size. There are some great gardens with orange trees and my favorite tree here the Cyprus tree. 

Fun times in Rome but now it’s time to go to Florence. More posts to come.  -Gabrielle

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Roma Con Gabrielle

Posted by admin on March 24, 2015 in Travel |

What, me worry? Well, no matter how much I plan, comfort and confidence are relative. Anything can go wrong, or in 21st century speak, TSCHTF, so I do worry. It is always after-the-fact, when all goes well, mostly, that I heave a sigh of relief and know I waste time with worry. 

Roma has gone well. The weather has been pleasantly cool, or balmy according to my travel mate Gabrielle. She’s a Minnesota girl where any temp above 50 is balmy. The crowds are a bit daunting, more than I expected. Lines into St. Peter’s were ridiculous, wrapping entirely around the square. This inconvenience is caused by the need to pass through intense security screening. FTT and those who have no respect for this world. Once through security, well over an hour and an entire solar eclipse, it was pleasant walking around the church, appreciating its vastness as the largest church in Christendom, and checking out the well-preserved body of Saint John Paul II.
Roma is churches. Roma is walking, people and life.  
We arrived in Roma after a rather harrowing and poor flight from Chicago: cramped space, no free drinks, no sound on the movies, future pilot strike with Lufthansa threatening. I must lead a fortunate life for despite the discomfort, things go well. We make a fast train connection to Termini and walk the short distance to our Hotel Pelliccioni. Thankfully the room is ready so we were able to crash for a couple hours. Then begins our exploration of Roma.
A pleasant afternoon was spent at the San Callisto Catacombs sans the Christians. Returning to the city, two stops include my favorite churches, San Giovanni in Laterano and Santa Maria Maggiore. We enjoyed a dinner and bottle of Vino Bianco before retiring for a well-deserved rest in our room with a balcony overlooking the activity of Via Cavour. 
Roma was not built in a day and certainly it cannot be seen in ten times that time. I always enjoy a stop at San Pietro in Vincoli which contains Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. The Colosseo remains impressive as is the Roman Forum. We saw the site of Julius Caesar’s cremation after his ignoble death at the blades of Brutus and friends. Gabrielle, being under the age of 16, was admitted free, something for which one may have to fight. Ticket sellers will never offer, some will play dumb or try to ignore, but ALL under the age of 18 are entitled to free admission to state sites. Shouldn’t be a hassle as this benefit has been official for over a year. 


Dinner in the Piazza Navona.

Other sights? We had quite a walking day of over 12 miles. In Roma that means a lot of churches, but also some impressive monuments: elevator up Victor Emmanuel’s ‘birthday cake,’ down Via Corso to the marvelous churches of Saint Ignatius, Saint Minerva with its Michelangelo statue, originally, of a nude Christ, before walking around the Pantheon and  exiting into the lively Piazza Navona for a relaxing dinner. Our evening ended with other Italians on a passeggiata around the Trevi Fountain, under rehabilitation, and the Spanish Steps. 
A good start to a new day begins with a visit to the Capuchin Crypt’s imaginative displays of their brothers’ bones and a newly opened museum. It is an easy ride via Metro to Vatican City and the before-mentioned extremely long lines of visitors waiting to pass through metal detectors. Once in, St. Peter’s dwarfs the crowds. We walk through the Museo and Sistine Chapel before exiting to find the lines impossible to negotiate for a trip up the Dome. Instead, it is a twenty minute walk along the Tevere to Trastevere and a relaxing dinner at a local Osteria. 
Sunday finds the Pope in town, rain, and cancelled bus routes. We tried to reach Trastevere’s  Porta Portese flea market but because of a 40k run, buses not operating. Two strikes against us so on to Plan B. Visited the National Museum of Modern Art.  Neither of us artistic fangirls. Bus disruptions causing difficulties so just took the metro to the Vatican. A shorter, faster line and went directly to top of Dome, after 300+ steps. Great views. Dinner near Vatican City and the exciting challenge of the Metro through its busiest stations.
I have learned that I had little to fear but fear itself. Gabrielle has mastered Roma traffic and drivers; the crowds, streets, walking the city, and most importantly, the Metro, are taken in stride. It was like a duck to water in adapting to this new environment. She is observant and a quick learner. Many would be intimidated by this city and Gabrielle held her ground. Enjoying Italy will only get easier. 
When asked:

It’s a good thing: Capuchin crypts, San Giovanni in Laterano, Pope John Paul on display, ancient Roma from the Colosseo to the Roman Forum, St. Peter’s Dome, and generally the lively street scene and street vendors. All things that make Roma one of the great cities of the world.

Appreciated not so much: Steps. Catacombs “were just holes in the earth” and can’t argue with that.
So it is early morning as we say Ciao to Roma and board the high speed Fracciarossa for Napoli and Pompeii. Hate these early mornings but you do what you got to do. Uneventful leaving Termini, weather is spectacular, trip and connections fast. We walked a couple hours among the ruins, a couple hours at a local cafe and then, after arriving at our hotel in Ercolano, some time at their rather small black sand beach overlooking the Isle of Capri. 

Vesuvius looms just five miles away. When asked to decide on an afternoon activity, the choice was “not to climb a mountain.” Can’t fault that choice. She has already conquered quite a mountain. 

Our little hotel balcony overlooks Capri, someone’s dog yaps below while we drink a glass of vino bianco. Can’t get much better than this.

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Traveling With a Minor Exceptional 

Posted by admin on March 18, 2015 in Travel |

18 March 2015

When I asked my 16-year-old niece if she had any concerns about traveling to Italy with me for three weeks, I typically got a ”no.” So far, few questions have issued forth. She seems to be taking this adventure in stride, as are her parents. I am not even sure they know where I am taking their daughter. Her family in Minnesota seems extraordinarily calm with few concerns. As for me, not so much.
My total 24-hour experience with teenagers has been several exchange students who neatly arrived at age 16, all possessions in a couple heavy bags. About a year later, they packed those same bags, plus a little more, and I put them on an airplane destined for “home” and “real” parents. It was a perfect opportunity to borrow children and play mommy. The experience  proved fulfilling and fun. My present apprehensions come from practicing these rather tenuous parenting skills on a relative.
Holy mackerel! What if I misplace their kid?
My niece has flown before – to CA to visit Mickey Mouse and friends. She has a passport but not traveled out of the United States. What’s the longest she has been away from her parents, a hot shower, McDonalds, or text messages? Does she snore? Will I? Is she a morning person? Is she prepared to walk? How interested in the “new” or “different” is she? What of food? I know she doesn’t like tomatoes but thank heavens she likes tomato sauce. She is going to Italy after all. 
Does she know that Italians did not invent pizza? (Yes, she does.)
I recently had dinner with my Swiss daughter in Mandalay Myanmar. When told of my pending plans to take my niece to Italy she kindly replied, “You know, you taught me how to travel. You were always so calm and easy.”  She was 16 when she arrived at my California home tho she points out that she currently is just two years short of my age when I received her. “I don’t know how you did it,” she admits. She was less kind when I explained I was trying to show my niece how to pack light. With a look of horror, she pleaded “OH Pat, don’t do that to her, she can’t match your packing, can’t be done, please tell her for me you ask too much!”  
Well, sorry, I did pass on the warning to my niece but I still expect a lot from my packing challenge. 
In fact, I designed a dozen lessons on travel, ranging from how to book flights and rooms, how to use online mapping, how to plot a sight-seeing course, to lots more tips. And yes, the challenging Lesson Nine was on how to pack. She did a great job. But does she really know what she’s getting into? For that matter, do I? 
During these lessons, my niece was able to choose destinations, sights to see, and hotels in which to stay. Why not? I have this opportunity to instruct a neophyte traveler. Being a committed world traveler since 1968, the year I learned of my travel guru Arthur Frommer, I want to pass on my experience and hope for the best. 
For what do I hope? To instill a love for travel. To develop a fascination for new places and cultures, thus bringing pictures, books and history to life. I would want my niece to learn about herself and come away with a sense of accomplishment and confidence that is denied those who constrain their experiences to a narrow environment and limit their understanding of others. 
Her style of travel will develop over time. But I hope she returns to Minnesota with a desire to research her next destination. Hopefully, she saved her lessons. And if her style becomes one of independence while carrying light luggage, all the better. 
Now, I’ll just need to beat the Italian men off with my umbrella.  


Yangon, Myanmar. 2-5 February 2015

Posted by Pat on February 5, 2015 in Travel |
Celebrating 100th birthday of General Aung San

Celebrating 100th birthday of General Aung San

Yangon Airways: “We’ll get you where you are going,” eventually. Our short flight to Yangon has been extended by returning north to Mandalay, then “Hi Ho Hi Ho its off to Heho we go” to the southeast, before flying southwest to Yangon, Rangoon for those who remember this country as Burma. Like many cities, its colonial name was replaced with its traditional name.  Read more…

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Kyaikhtiyo, The Golden Rock, Myanmar. 4 February 2015

Posted by Pat on February 4, 2015 in Travel |

DSC08686Leaving bumper to bumper traffic, we drive northeast toward Bago. First stop is Taukkyan War Cemetery near Htauk Kyan. This is a British Commonwealth cemetery for Allied soldiers who died in battle fighting the Japanese in Burma during the Second World War. The pillars of Rangoon Memorial are etched with names of 27,000 Commonwealth soldiers who died but have no known grave. The cemetery contains graves for 6,374 soldiers who died in World War II, and 52 soldiers who died in Burma during the First World War. There are 867 graves for the “unknown soldier.” Read more…

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Mount Popa, Myanmar. 1 February 2015

Posted by Pat on February 3, 2015 in Travel |


A bumpy but scenic bus ride on Burmese roads takes me through landscape characterized by prickly bushes and stunted trees, simple villages and poor roads. Ox-carts carry wood, water tanks and families. Most farms still use oxen to plow fields. First stop is a Palm Tree farm where a man scurries up a very tall palm tree to get drippings for his pots below. Palm produces alcohol, palm oil, palm sugar, baskets and ornaments from fronds. A 25-year-old ox grinds peanut paste which tourists feed back to him in a nice symbiotic relationship.

Read more…

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