Category Archives: Italy

Posts about our visits to italy

Italy Day 14, a Ferry, Salerno, a Car Rental, Torre Del Greco, and Occhio!



Amalfi’s Fountain in the Main Square


We felt comfortable knowing that the ferry from Amalfi to Salerno ran regularly.  There was some discrepancy in the scheduled times we saw, but not enough to cause concern.  We slept a bit late and packed.  To turn in the key, we walked to the owner’s flat, rang, and were buzzed into her patio. She came out moments later, “Buongiorno, Come stai?” We chatted for a while, mentioning again that Romeo messed up in not arranging to have our bags (and us) whisked up to the apartment.  Would we like a ride down?  “No, downhill is not a problem.”  With mille grazie on both sides, we parted and hiked down to a coffee shop near the ferry bigletteria.


Ellen waited at the coffee shop entrance while I purchased tickets.  The next ferry was at 10:20, roughly an hour away.  We ordered cappuccino and a doppio macchiato enjoying the sun.  Ellen mentioned she wished she had photographed a narrow street when we walked down.  “Go do it.  We have lots of time before the ferry arrives”  She came back well ahead of the ferry.  We moved to the dock to wait.  It was a glorious morning with some high clouds in the sky.  Not enough to threaten rain.

The Ferry





The ferry for Positano arrived first and it was packed on departure.  Fifteen minutes later we were on the ferry to Salerno, which was half full.  We sat close to a couple with a baby girl. She was gorgeous.  Part way through the trip, we commented on how beautiful their daughter was.  They were on vacation from Sidney for two weeks visiting relatives in Campania. Their parents live in Sidney with them. He is a firefighter, she a teacher (If I remember correctly).  I have great respect for firefighters.  California is just coming out of a drought and has had four years of severe fires. The 40 minute ferry to Salerno went by quickly.  As we left I joked, “Can we take your daughter for just a few weeks?”  I’m not sure they heard me, probably for the better.  We landed at a familiar port, unloaded and walked to the car rental (europcar) with the help of my Italian Smart Phone (thank you TIM).  It was a short walk away, made longer by heading in the wrong direction for a while before the GPS corrected itself (err, me).



We bantered with the rental host in broken English and Italian.  Had our passports photocopies, signed here, there, everywhere on a form, and were walked to a pristine, white, Alfa Romeo Guilet sitting practically on the sidewalk.  I was shown how to open the trunk (not obvious) how to open the gas lid (would have got that one) and , “Should I show you how to find reverse?”  “No, I think I’ve got that. Thanks.”.  He walked off, while another europcar fellow stood nearby watching closely.  I think there was a bet going, “how far will I get before causing a crash or could I even drive off the curb?”  It took my time settling in, adjusting the mirrors, figuring out how to shift into reverse (lift a ring under the shifter and move the lever into reverse), setup our Garmin Nav with a Fodor’s map of Italy.  It took some time.  The attendant patiently stood by waiting.  Into first gear and a soft push of the throttle and the car lurched forward. I think I scared the fellow who made room for me as much as I frightened Ellen. I was too busy to be concerned. I was free and driving in Salerno.

There are two GPS maps of Italy available for the Garmin Numi today.  The Fodor’s is the best of the two.  It is very good at getting close to your destination, but very bad at locating it.  We use our Italian masterpiece and Google maps for the last 20 km.  I had wanted to see Bacoli, a small town on a peninsula west of Naples, but we thought it best to avoid Naples and went directly to Torre del Greco.   The surface roads getting to the autostrade are hit and miss, some good others not so much. The autostrada was great.  Smooth except where marked, and fast.  I did not see one polizia the entire drive.

I chose Torre del Greco because it is close to Pompeii.  I wanted to visit the ruins and they were just off the autostrade.  Arriving at Pompeii, I parked in the first place I found after some difficulty (fun) crossing cross traffic.  We parked and were told that parking was free if we had lunch there.  We were starving and not thinking very straight.  Sure.  We sat, ordered, then were told that we had to spend 40 euros for free parking.  Our order was less.  But you could get the mozzarella and a water and be ok.  Humm, 3 euro per hour, we could stay overnight for 40 euros, but we were starving.  Ok.  The pizza was good, not great.  The mozzarella was not buffalo.  The beer was good!  We felt like we had been had, and we had been. With a shrug, we were off to the ruins.


Free Parking with Lunch, Do Not Eat Here

I have been to a number of ancient archeological sites, some very well preserved.  Nothing I have ever seen prepared me for Pompeii.  It is massive.  It is an entire Roman city that was destroyed when Mt Vesuvius erupted. Think about that: an entire city.  destroyed, volcanic eruption.  I’ll post a photo showing Mt Vesuvius today. If you run a line up both sides of the volcano, they intersect well above the saddle in the current mountain. The area below that intersection is the amount of the mountain that was blown into the air along with probably an equal mass of molten lava from the earth’s core.  This is astounding in its magnitude.


The Nine Regions of Pompeii, Pompeii is Vast!


Modern Sculpture Abound on Site, Beautiful but do not be fooled.

Equally astounding is the extent of the city the Romans had build by 79 AD, the year the city was destroyed. You have to see it to believe the size. And not just the size, but the quality of life shown in the layout and decorative skills of the artists and artisans of the period.  The mind runs in several directions when confronted with Pompeii.


A Human Body Encased in Ash and Turned To Stone


More of the Same

Destruction, annihilation, extinction.  When randomness in the universe was first proposed, the church opposed the theory on the basis that God would never allow the earth to be destroyed by some random act of “nature” (or God).  That a massive asteroid ended the dinosaur’s evolutionary path is well accepted.  Ours, mankind’s, could end just as abruptly.

I hope this video gives you a sense of the size of Pompeii.  This is a video of one small part of one of the nine sections of the ruins of Pompeii.

Quality of Life.  What defines quality of life.  Nearly 2000 years ago, these people had a very good and relatively advanced culture.  Arguably, from a literary or philosophical point of view,  as advanced as our own today.  Scientifically and gadgetarily there is no comparison of course.  But does having more “stuff” imply a better life?


Classic Tile Floor from 79AD, Pompeii


Mosaic 79AD, Pompeii

Empathy. Why did I feel such abject sadness that an entire city was wiped out.  I have no immediate connection to these people who perished 1,938 years ago. Yet I felt sorrow, tearful at the event and what remains now.



It felt strange walking the paths that these long gone people once walked, embraced on, and even were immolated on.  There are ash encased remains on display here and there, with clothes and muscles as detailed as in life as if clinging to life.  Hands held to mouths to shelter one more breath from the heat or ash.


The mosaics, the two amphitheaters, that must have played a role in entertainment.  Making the mundane more bearable, like our jaunts to the big screen for some escape.


The Lesser Amphitheater


Expanse of ruins

We got lost finding our way out.  Who knew there were three entrances and therefore three exits.  Which entrance did you come in?  Well, we don’t know.  Let me check our ticket.  With that and some help from a docent, we found our way out.  In the process we saw much more of the ruins that we expected.  At some point anything as large as this becomes overwhelming.  I cannot take more than a few hours, three at the most, in the Louvre.  Saturation sets in, I get “punchy” and have to leave. Pompeii is huge, far too big in size, scope, and implication for more than three hours.


Painting On Stone, Pompeii


Steam Heated Walls in 79AD, Pompeii


A Courtyard, Pompeii


Another Stone Body, Note Clothing and Hair Detail


Mt Vesuvius In the Distance

Look at Mt Vesuvius in the background of the photo above. If you continue a line along the right slope and left slop they intersect at a point high above a little below and left of the left cloud.  The part of the mountain that is missing was blown away.  Probably an equal amount of molten core material exploded into the air, rising up into a column of super-heated rock probably miles high.  When that column collapsed back to earth, it engulfed Pompeii destroying parts of the city while covering other parts in ash leaving Pompeii largely intact but buried.


“Herculaneum was discovered in 1709, and systematic excavation began there in 1738. Work did not begin at Pompeii until 1748, and in 1763 an inscription (“Rei publicae Pompeianorum”) was found that identified the site as Pompeii.Sep 13, 2016”

Leaving Pompeii, our Garmin Numi got us close to Hotel Poseidon, Google Maps took us to the doorstep.

At reception we met Germano, who was very accommodating. Room Keys, Breakfast downstairs 7:30 to 10:30, park out back, take the elevator to your room, this is a seafood town all the restaurants serve very fresh seafood. Enjoy.  We tried to speak our limited Italian, but Germano was having none of it.



Hotel Poseidon, Torre del Greco

Hotel Poseidon is modern and decorated as if you were staying at the bottom of the sea.  It is so modern, I could not figure out how to use the elevator! Seriously.  I’ve seen electronic panels with touch sensitive regions that spring to life when you press them.  I pressed away to no avail.  Lights came on, but nothing happened. Germano,, at the desk said (as if he’s done this many times), “Slide your thumb, don’t press!  Like this”  He slid his thumb across the panel, the up/down indicators glowed red, and after some whirring the elevator doors opened.


Looking Down to the Lobby, Hotel Poseidon, Torre del Greco

The apartment was new and clean. All the fixtures in the bath room were bright shiny new.  The shower had a wand and overhead rain head with plenty of hot water. The bed was firm and comfortable.


Taverna a Mare viewed from the Lido

Settled in, we left to explore the town. We walked down to the wharf/marina which clearly is a working marina. We walked until we could walk no further and had to turn back. At that point on the 2nd floor was a restaurant that looked inviting, but wasn’t open. “Let’s go check it out”. It was not obvious how to get there and in the process we passed an interesting café/bar with enclosed street side seating. Cool. We continued on trying a few dead end streets and eventually came upon the front entrance to Taverna a Mare.


They were setting up for dinner. At the entrance was an ice lined display case of seafood that one fellow was setting up.  It was enormous.  Scusi, then I said in English that I’d like to make reservations for this evening.  He spoke with another fellow who scurried off to find someone.  I followed close on his heals. Moments later I was face to face with the manager, a tall big hulk of a man in his late 30’s, imposing with jet black hair and a full beard.  We do not open until 8pm.  We can seat you then if you like.  Yes, that would be fine.  Then he did something strange.  He paced his right index finger just under his right eye with the finger running down his cheek, lowered his head, and glared at me for too long. It was unnerving.  What is this guy doing?  I had the sense not to react at all.  After probably 30 seconds of this he relaxed and showed us out. Strange. The gesture is called occhio, and it means, “I’m watching you and I am not a fool”.. Check these Italian gestures out:




Da Ciccio

To kill close to an hour we went back to that bar we had seen, Bar da Ciccio.  This was a fun place to stop for a while.  I ordered a birra della spina and Ellen a limoncello.  Where are you from and we were off.  We used google translator to talk to each other.  First the gal then a guy.  We went back and forth.  Later I ordered another round and the conversation grew.  Ellen took photos of the group, who said, No let’s all be in the photo. The time came to go to Taverna and we parted with many Arrivederci’s, salves, and ciaos.


Da Ciccio Crew

We were seated at Taverna a Mare beside another couple. The Italians do this. They are a gregarious lot and expect cross table conversation to flourish.  I had seen scorfano on ice when we entered, and ordered scorfano.  Ellen had coveted my spaghetti vongole the last time I ordered it.  We had house wine by the glass.  Ellen asked if she could have extra clams on her order. “Si, madam”.  I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the vongole, clams, are very small and very tasty.  They’re smaller than little neck clams of New England.  Ellen’s vongole was excellent, but my fish was amazing. The first bite was firm, mild, and very flavorful.  It was like a bit of perfectly cooked Main lobster, but tender.  I was ecstatic.


Video of Taverna a Mare, just for the audio.

The couple beside us each had spaghetti vongole for their first course and salt encrusted fish for their second. This reminded me of the time Markus and Axlexandra visited in Venice.  The four of us wanted to share salt encrusted fish at a restaurant, but a Russian party ordered the last one.  That started a conversation about fish with the couple, Jonathan and Anna. Anna joked that her name is an anagram, demonstrating a thorough grasp of English.  They had driven down from Switzerland on a two week vacation.  They would go as far as the Amalfi coast.  I recommended Da Gemma in Amalfi and we raved about Ravello. Anna is a PhD candidate in biochemistry.  She is striking, poised, and very quick witted.  It would be fun to get to know them better.


Some of Torre del Greco’s Fishing Fleet

A word about Torre del Greco.  For fresh seafood, this is the best place we have visited thus far. The ice bar, to your right as you enter Taverna a Mare, is at least thirty feet long and five feet deep.  It is filled with whole fish and shellfish, fresh caught that day.  There is more seafood on display in that restaurant than most seafood mongers have in their entire shop.  The variety as well as the extent of the display was staggering.  Yes, they had scorfano and clams and muscles, and lobster, and fish I’ve never seen before.  Use Torre del Greco as a stopover to see Erculano, Pompeii, and perhaps Bacoli.  Walk the beach, check out the working marina and fishing boats.  Enjoy a drink or two Bar da Cicco.  Talk with the staff, they’re really happy friendly people.  Iif you’re really lucky (or unlucky) you’ll get “the occhio” at taverna a Mare. There is a “there, there” at Torre del Greco, but it is not on the surface.


We walked back to Hotel Poseidon happy, sated, and ready for bed.

U.S news is poor at best, Florence in November 2016

Italy: Clashes at anti-government march in Florence

  • 5 November 2016

  • From the sectionEurope


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Media captionProtesters turned out in Florence over the Italian referendum

Hundreds of hooded anti-government protesters have clashed with Italian police in Florence as they demonstrated against a constitutional referendum put forward by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

They threw smoke bombs and firecrackers at police, who responded with tear gas.

The bill aims to reduce the role of the Senate and cut powers of regional governments. Opponents say it will lead to an excessive concentration of power.

Mr Renzi has vowed to resign if he loses the 4 December vote.

He says the plan will streamline the Italian parliament, cut costs and give Italy more stable government.

But recent opinion polls suggest voters will reject it.

Demonstrators clash with police during a protest against Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, in FlorenceImage copyrightAPImage captionOfficers in riot gear and protesters clashed during demonstrationA protestor is arrested during clashes between police and protesters at an anti-government demonstration in FlorenceImage copyrightEPAImage captionIt was the first time that a protest against Mr Renzi’s government turned violent in Italy

The young protesters were marching through the centre of Florence trying to reach a building where Mr Renzi’s Democratic Party was holding its annual convention.

Demonstrators, some carrying banners reading “No to Renzi”, tried to separate from the police in riot gear by dragging metal fences into the streets.

Reports said they were among a larger group of peaceful protesters against the referendum.

Florence’s Mayor Dario Nardella condemned the protests, saying: “Demonstrating is a right, but the use of violence is despicable and unacceptable.”

One officer was hurt in the leg during the clashes, Italian media said.

Planning for Spring in Italy

Today Rick Steves, ” A Pocket Guide to Florence” arrived in the mail.

Last year we visited Rome ahead of a Seabourn cruise of the Greek Islands. The cruise landed in Venice, where we met our friends, Markus and Alexandra, before moving on to Florence for four days. We absolutely loved the Greek Islands and Italy. We vowed to return to Italy for an extended stay. We also hope to do some island hopping in Greece, but on another trip. For us, a return trip to Italy came first.

Today, thinking back on our last Italian sojourn, Florence stands out as the place to stay for an extended time. Rome and Venice are outstanding. We had a wonderful time learning how to live in both cities; walking the streets seeing the piazzas, seeing world renound art in museums and discovering lesser known ones. We both enjoy taking chances on trattorias with an occasional forgettable experience. Rome and Venice are perhaps the most stunning cities in the world. In spite of all that, for us, Florence felt like home.

I remembered vividly two Florentine restaurants where we had lunch.Unfortunately I did not remember their names and couldn’t locate them on a detailed map. But… looking back over our Florence blog, I found one is “Il Barroccio”. I remember that the other is closer to the Giardino della Gherardesca and the Four Seasons Hotel. There it was in our blog: Trattoria Cibreo. Many other restaurants were memorable for service or for their location. These two restaurants were unassuming and served the most wonderful dishes.

This trip first lands us in Palermo, Sicily where we rent a car and drive the north shore of Sicily to Messina. From Messina we take a ferry and train to Salerno. From Salerno we self-tour Capri, Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello before renting a car for a month at Salerno. From Salerno we drive the coast visiting Paestum, Pompeii, Torre del Greco, Erculo, Bacoli, Gaeta, and Sperlonga before turning inland toward Tivoli. We will visit some of the castle towns of Velletri, Genzano, Ariccia, Albano, Laziale, Castel Gandolfo, or Frascati then stop in Tivoli. The road from Tivoli to Orvieto runs near Calcata and Bagnoregio. From Orvieto we drive to Florence. All our lodging for this eighteen day trip as well as our six weeks in Florence is now booked and confirmed.

Booking accommodations was amusing if sometimes frustrating. I used,,, and Often a listing was common to all with different prices. Sometimes one site would have a listing the others did not. Where prices differed, some included the taxes and fees in the price, some included just fees or just taxes, some included neither. The least expensive listing often was acutally the most expensive after fees and taxes. We booked six stays through, four through, three through TripAdvisor, and two through We booked our stay at the Villa Igiea, Palermo directly.

We would book our connections now, but it is not possible to do so online. Train tickets can only be booked 120 days in advance and the 2017 ferry schedules are not yet avaiable online. Then too, it may be better not to book ahead to avoid missing a connection.

What a marvelous adventure awaits.

Here are some stock photos that present the scope of our travels from Palermo to Florence.


Lavenzo Island


Lorenzo petroglyphs

Petryglyphs on Levanzo Island

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Villa Igiea, Palermo





Capri BlueGrotto capri

Capri and the Blue Grotto





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Amalfi Coast and Amalfi







sperlonga 2 Sperlonga




arricia ariccia(1)


 albano laziale

Albano Laziale

Calcata italy




tivoli 1 Tivoli 2


orvieto orvieto 2



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A long time comin’

In the past year “almost daily” had become “almost never”. We did squeeze our Galapagos trip in, but for the most part we were selecting materials for our “new” home. Our contractor deserted us toward the end. That really surprised me, though I was on his case pretty much the last two months with time and performace issues. There are a few things left to be done; nothing beyond my capability.

On our retirement celebratory cruise, we visited Rome, Istanbul, Venice and discussed returning for two months to live like a local. This was not possible in 2016, ongoing work on the house anchored us here. Next year will be vastly different. We will take a discount tour of Vietnam to see how that experience compares with extravagant (seabourn) and luxury (Nat’ Geo) cruises. We’ll also tour some of the U.S. in the fall. The highlight of next years trips will be a two month return to Italy. In 2017 we will fly into Palermo, explore Sicily’s north shore, take a ferry and train from Messina to Salerno, explore Capri and Amalfi, explore Tivoli and the castle towns just north of Rome before settling in Florence for six weeks. The Vietnam and Italy trips are all planned out and reservations booked.

We will be staying in a quiet neighborhood of Florence that’s not touristy. In fact you would not know it’s a vibrant area until early evening when the roll up doors open to reveal bars, trattorias, and night clubs. All our accommodations have been confirmed. It will be interesting to post why we selected these particular hotels, B&Bs, and apartments and what our expectations are. Then later see if our experience exceeds our expectation. For the last month in Florence we will be staying close to “our coffee shop”, il Baretto del Rifrullo that sits below the climb to Michelangelo Square. I have fond memories of having our morning cappuccino there.

Here are a few photos from our four day sojourn in Florence last year

Botticelli, Birth of Venus and Allegory Of Spring

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Local Coffee Shop

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A View over Florence

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The old ciy wall

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A Garden in Florence

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This looked to be a film class creating a film about an impromptu classical music street jam.

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Travel Itch

I miss Europe. I love the mix of culture, cuisine, antiquity, and beauty that we have found in Italy.

We have excursions planned for this fall and next spring that will be novel and exciting. The Amazon will no doubt present its own set of adventures. Peru and Ecuador are mysteries to us. It will be amazing to visit South America and dust off a bit of Spanish. (can you feel the but…)

I miss Europe. I do. I had planned our last trip to Greece and Italy to continue for another two weeks. We cut short. I was told the weather in late June and into July and August gets oppressive. With some depressing grumbling, I changed plans and literally yanked our last two weeks of our Tuscany trip. In retrospect, I am glad I did. I flagged on some of our walks in Florence in late June. It was hot, still reasonable but hot. If July gets still hotter, I am so glad I came around and dropped the last two weeks.

Our plans for the next year: this fall, winter, and next spring are complete.

Next fall we are planning to return to Italy for a few months. I’ve started looking into villas for rent around Florence and Rome. We’ll use a villa as home base for our excursions into the Italian hillside and coastal towns. I can relax, content in the knowledge that we’ll be returning to Italy soon. Troubling though, I would also like to do some island hopping in Greece. On our cruise we found that there is an extensive ferry system throughout the Greek Islands. It’s not difficult to see Greece by ferry. Perhaps we’ll fly into Greece and wend our way back to Italy.

There is so much to do. We hope to visit Alaska by RV; tour China and Thailand; revisit Africa a few more times; visit friends in the south of Spain; visit family on Madeira Island; tour Ireland; drive through Eastern Europe, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and into Germany; visit Paris and tour the south of France; go skiing in the French and Italian Alps; drive through the Old South, the South West, and North West; canoe in Ontario. That’s just for starters. I have a scrapbook of places we hope to visit tucked away. Every time I come across an amazingly beautiful location or an adventure that’s not life threatening, I paste it into the book. I’ve done enough wacky and dangerous things in the past that I’m no longer interested in pushing the safety envelope. “Moderate” danger is ok. A charging elephant, canoe on the Amazon, bare boat cruising, diving with hammerhead sharks without a safety net, those are all OK by me. Class IV white water kayaking, technical rock climbing, or base jumping are “right out”. All this would be possible but for Ellen whose sense of “safe adventure” is clearly a subset of mine.

I truly hate the word, “blessed”. It smacks of a religious sense of “blessed by God”. As an atheist, that drives me crazy. I would rather say that decades of hard work, some risk taking, and a bit of luck made travel and adventure possible for us. We have the opportunity to enjoy ourselves after retirement. We will.


Our Photos, Did You Notice?

Did You?


Michelangelo’s David is NOT in Corfu!

Some of the shots in Istanbul were out of order. The Blue Mosque appears in two sequences, though we only visited once. That’s not egregious. Worse I had neglicted to remove photos from the root directory, Europe2015, when the subdirectories were created. That too is not egregious. However, there were a significant number of photos attributed to Corfu which clearly should be placed in Florence.

I have also included hi-res images and links to them from the thumbnails. The hi-res images can be downloaded.

All is right with the world now, or at least all is right with one vastly small part.


Getting Specific #2, Venice


Our apartment in Venice: We met both Nina and Tony briefly, they are wonderful people.

I asked Tony to recommend local restaurants that he would frequent. We had time to sample only one of those he mentioned: Ai Gondoleri just a few blocks away. It is more pricey than your typical pizza trattoria, but it was worth it. The risotto for two is a huge amount of risotto. It is quite good, but becomes monotonous about half way through. The zucchini flowers are good and the potato mousse is great. Their wine selection is amazing, we opted for wine by the glass which is a limited selection, but very very good. I’ve probably stated this earlier: the Tuscan wines are the equal of Napa and Sonoma wines.

out favorite restaurant in Venice:

We sampled a very limited number of restaurants, I am sure you can find your own favorite as well.


Frienze Day 5 morning

This morning Ellen asked if we can read this blog from the airplane. I just copied the blog to a file so that she can read it on the airplane. I expect she will be sharing her perspective on the blog soon.

We’re packing this morning and will head off for our last cappuccino at our local cafe until we return in a year and a few months, in the fall of 2016. For now it’s Arrivederci Firenze.

Firenze Day 4 notte

It is around 19:00 and it was a warm day today, a full day. We walked home down from the Michelangelo Piazzale, changed, packed for the day, and went to our local coffee shop for a cappuccino and a doppio machiado. The cream croissants looked good this morning and we took one of those to an outside seat. The cafe was busier than usual. I don’t know if we were later getting started or if Sunday was a busier day. The cream croissant was soooo good, we shared a second one.

The idea today was to get into the Duomo, this was a priority for Ellen, and to see the Big Blue exhibit for me. Big Blue is a presentation of lapis lazuli pieces running in Florence through October. We don’t get turned around in daylight anymore. Finding our way to the Duomo was easy. On the way we found the “New York” shop which specializes in creams for men and women. Andrea, the shopkeeper, was a very personable fellow and quite easy to talk to. Ellen would up purchasing a set of creams at a 30% discount. As we talked, Andrea became more animated he began giving us samples. Six samples at first, then six, then two more. As we were about to leave we exchanged names and Andrea pulled out six more samples for Ellen for her eyes. Andrea was a joy.

We were in a hurry to the Duomo to beat the crowds, but with our stop with Andrea, that did not happen. We arrived at the piazza to find there were no lines for the Duomo. There were plenty of people milling about, but the crowd was perhaps half what I expected. We rushed over to the Firenze Card entrance and found that the Duomo was closed until 1:30. That was not good, our Firenze Cards would only be good to about 2:15ish. Still, that gave us time to walk to the lapis display near the Pitti Palace, and off we went down Via Por Santa Maria and across Ponte Vecchio toward the palace.

I distinctly remember the location of the door to the Lapis gallery, it was on the left side of Via De Guicciardini. We walked its length from Ponte Vecchio to Pitti Palace and did not find the entrance! It was closed. Ellen walked on in the sun past the palace as I headed to the shade of the palace by the main entrance. I noticed that there were two huge flags hung on either side of the entrance. One advertising the Big Blue Exhibit. I waited for Ellen to return, hoping that she would see me and that I would not have to run down the slope from the palace to the Via and catch up to her before she disappeared into a crowd.

As luck would have it Ellen was looking up at the Big Blue flag (in red) as I was searching for her. I waved my arms frantically and we were reunited. She had been looking for a ceramic shop and found nothing of interest. We asked at the gate if the Lapis display was in the palace. Yes, you can enter with your Firenze card go to the library for validation. We knew this from our Friday visit and headed to the library. At the library the ticket gal scanned our card and informed us that the card was good for one visit to a museum, we had already been through the Pitti Palace. True, we had, but we had not seen the lapis exhibit. There was no arguing with this woman, we were not getting in.

The entrance to the lapis gallery was just on the right near the exit. As we were walking by, I said to Ellen, lets just see if we can get in with what we have. We tried and we did get in.

There is no gem quite like the deep blue of lapis sometime coupled with the aggregate embed. I found the pieces displayed in the gallery fascinating in their simplicity, form, and workmanship. Many pieces were very ornate and festooned with gold. These were less to my liking. We photographed the lapis part of the exhibit, taking time with a few pieces that appealed to us, and we breezed through the remainder to get out to the Duomo.

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We had nearly an hours time before the Duomo opened and we were both fading. We had a quick lunch of Magherita Pizza with fresh tomato and basil, a beer, and water and were off to the Duomo. Lunch was quite good.

At the Duomo entrance we were told we had to have tickets. Go to #7 by the baptistery entrance to get tickets. OK, great. Off we trotted. It was now 13:45 and our Firenze Pass would expire soon; we had no idea when exactly, but we knew it was close. We flew around the baptistery dodging tourists in heavy heat. We continued half way around the Duomo and found nothing. Walking back toward the baptistery, we walked past a line for tickets and Ellen barged the line to enquire inside where we could use our Firenze Pass. She was not popular with the one or two hundred people in line. Again Ellen was told #7 near the baptistery, but this time “right across from the baptistery entrance” was the necessary clue. That made the difference, we found #7 and had tickets for the Duomo in hand a few moments later. Our Firenze Pass had not expired!

The ticket agent was extremely helpful, telling us to see the baptistery first as it was closing in 5 minutes, then walk to the top of the dome, then see the Duomo. Sure, we thought, but we’ll skip the walk up the stairs to the cupola and just visit the Duomo after the baptistery.

Off we went to the baptistery which was just closing. We were the last two people admitted today. The baptistery was cold and dark, a welcome change from the heat outside. We’ve taken a few pictures of the baptistery.

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We exited and headed to the Duomo entrance. There was an extremely long line to get in, but the priority and Firenze Pass line was empty and we walked right in, skipping the line. We never waited in line for any museum in Florence. Our Pass got us in past the hoards of tourists outside. It was no help with the hoards inside, but that can be avoided by going early or late. In this case we went late mid-day. Not the best planning.

Once inside the Duomo, we followed the couple ahead of us into a narrow corridor and up a flight of stairs for a few steps then stopped. The flight of stairs was maybe a meter wide at this point and the line ahead of us was moving two or three steps then waiting for half a minute then moving up eight steps and waiting. Weird, I thought. Ellen immediately knew we were not going into the Duomo, but going up to the cupola. The steps narrowed and grew steeper, and the temperature in the stairway grew as we rose higher. After about twenty minutes, the stairs opened onto a walkway around the base of the cupola, very high above the floor of the Duomo. This was awesome. As we walked the semi-circular catwalk we took photos of the dome now not so high above us. The walkway led into another narrow corridor that led to a steep spiral stairway going straight up. Again the line moved a few steps at a time. Eventually the stairway leveled out as we met groups descending. It was quite tight in the corridor and on the stairs. In some places two people could not pass each other. The corridor let to very steep stairways going up at maybe 50 degrees that went on forever, but opened onto a landing at the very top of the Duomo dome. This was still more awesome. As we exited the stairway, I asked an attendant how many stairs there were getting to the top. 463 or 464 is what she told me.

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The view from the top of the cupola was a treat.

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We spent quite some time soaking in the view and enjoying a breeze. Going down was much quicker. At the bottom we searched for the Red Firenze Pass entry marker for the Duomo and not seeing one asked an attendant who said, there is no Firenze Pass, the Duomo is a church with access for all. We took one look at the line that was hundreds of people long and chose to skip the ground floor view. We had been IN the Duomo, just not at ground level.

We headed off to find luggage to replace my carry on that is heavy and getting old. We may bring all four pieces back with us and not jettison my carry on. We’ll know later. We found a few luggage shops from very high end to reasonable (read cheap). By now thought of food and wine were paramount. We stopped at a restaurant adjoining a hotel and had another remarkable meal. Antipasti, ravioli with butter and basil, osso buco a la Florentine, water, and a glass of Chianti Classico. Our waiter was a fun loving guy who sang to the ladies and joked with the men. He charged Ellen’s Iphone for us while we ate.

After our very early dinner, we headed back to the inexpensive luggage shop to buy a medium sized hard shell case and headed home for a siesta. We decided to close out the day by watching the sun set from Piazzale Michelangelo and hiked up the stairs to the overlook. It was much easier going up in the morning than it was now; the heat and our exhaustion from the day’s earlier climb had the better of us. Still we enjoyed our last sunset in Florence, a walk back down to the San Niccolo tower, and a gelato at a neighborhood shop.

We’re relaxing ahead of packing to head home. I called a taxi to pick us up tomorrow, but they will not take reservations from people who do not have a local phone number. It would be rude to leave Alexandra’s number so I’ll call a bit ahead of time tomorrow. We’ll leave well enough ahead of time to avoid having to stay another day. Already we are formulating plans to come back to Tuscany for two months in the fall of 2016. Our fall and springs are “booked” until then.

We’ve asked ourselves which part of the past month of travel we loved best and we cannot come up with an answer. There were so many wonderful days in very unusual places that each one stands on its own merit. As for picking a photo to sum up our retirement trip, something I had hoped to be able to do. It is impossible.

We will review this trip in detail on the travel forum when we get home and have time to digest the details of which restaurant, which Island, and the how, what, and when of things.