When your kid offers you a trip to Italy, you have to be nuts to say no…
At some point, my only child Violet decided that we needed to take a trip together, and that Italy was where we should go. We made plans for a two week trip beginning in early October. Vi is a transgender person and as such prefers the pronouns they and them. They are intensely creative and very detailed oriented as you can see from the agenda that they created. We did add a stop in Rome to break up what would have been a 12 hour day on a train ride from Siena to Calabria (where my Mom’s family is from). To add some relaxation at the end of our trip the beach at Tropea on the Tyrrhenian Sea, (part of the Mediterranean) was our last stop on the Italy leg of our trip. Vi’s Mom was Laurie Jerin, She and I went to Italy in 1988. Laurie passed away from complications of Multiple Sclerosis. This trip was dedicated to her.
It was a 10 hour flight. I can never get comfortable on airplanes anymore. The seats are too close to stretch out. However the plane wasn’t full and I found a row that was empty toward the back and managed to get a good nap in.
On Our Way…
Vi bought the tickets and the rooms. I will tell you that B & B’s are the way to go. Less expensive than hotels and all of them were quite nice whether based on location, the facility itself or both. First, we flew to Barcelona from Oakland. Great fare at $300 per person round trip.
We stayed at a B & B/Hostel in Barcelona. It was comfortable and located on a limited driving street in an area inhabited by mostly younger folks, bars and people out to have a weekend of fun. In the morning we would be off to Firenze in Italy. It was a hard charging night of partying, with the revelers (not us) lasting until well past four a.m. Right around the time we were getting up to fly to Firenze.
Firenze is an amazing City. The following pictures are from there, but first some commentary on Spain, Italy and and the people who live there:
Cigarettes: This is about Europeans in General. It seems like most of them smoke cigarettes. The amazing part of that is that in both Spain and Italy you can’t smoke indoors except at home. It means that you can eat outdoors in most cafes and restaurants but there will be cigarettes at the next table or all around you. Apparently no one told them about cancer.
Garbage and Recycling: In addition to most of the B&B’s, there are bins everywhere on the street for both garbage and recycling. It goes beyond encouraging, it is now a part of their lives. We should be embarrased. Missoula considers itself a progressive city. We are not when it comes to this. 31 years ago when I was in Italy, I was surprised at how little the Italians cared about litter and garbage everywhere. This trip I was not only surprised at how clean most of the country was but also how involved they were in the processes put in place by the Italian government as well as the city governments. More on this later along with Packaging.
From ancient times forward, as demonstrated in their paintings and sculptures, the Italians have always loved horses, half or fully naked people, bridges and churches, and towers…yes definitely towers…and fountains…yes lots of fountains…and statues…fountains with statues of horses and naked people and towers , oh and government buildings with lots of pillars.
Food: The food was fabulous. I was talking with a friend in Firenze and he asked me what I thought of Italian food in Italy compared to the United States. This was my assessment: You could go to 50 Italian restaurants in Italy and at least 42 would be very good, 6 would be amazing and 2 would be beyond amazing. Crappy Italian restaurants don’t stand a chance.
In this country, if you go to 50 Italian restaurants, you will be lucky to find 3 beyond amazing, 5 amazing and a few mediocre to good ones. The rest are (in my opinion) pretty lame. This is in part to chain restaurants offering mediocre fare that sets a lower standard for Italian restaurants making quality a lost cause.
There are American fast food restaurants in Italy and they are amazingly busy, including the Mickey D’s at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. However, a number of restaurants serve great burgers with fries and gelaterias (Italian Ice Cream shops) have milk shakes. Other than one place that I know in Seattle, the gelato in this country (again in my opinion) is pretty marginal.
Why is their food so much better? I have given you one reason above but it is not just Americans accepting the mediocrity of chains. It is that most of the food that you eat in Italy comes from within a few miles of the cities serving it. Corporate farms have ruined our food. Why do you think farm to table is making such strides in this country? People are getting hip to the notion of healthier, foods with more flavor. Again Italy is miles (or kilometers) ahead of The United States.
Last but not least: Very few items for purchase in Italy are made outside of Italy. I saw one thing with a made in China tag…a hat. They are not over priced, and offer pretty much anything you, as a tourist, would want to buy from scarves and shawls to aprons, dishes and cookwear. That isn’t to say made in China doesn’t exist but I checked everywhere I shopped.
Firenze…Some of the world’s greatest Food, Galleries, Amazing Architecture and Beauty!
Next up Pisa…Day Trippers!
I don’t have the patience for long lines to do things. I highly recommend making reservations to avoid those lines. It is more expensive but well worth not spending an hour or more waiting. We made reservations to the galleries that we wanted to see except the Leonardo DaVinci which we were able to walk right into. That being the case, our reservations for the Uffizi and the Galleria dell’Accademia were on Wednesday, so on Tuesday we made the decision to go to Pisa to see the famed Tower.
I had my doubts about travelling an hour each way to see a Leaning Tower it being kind of a one trick pony and all. I could not have been more wrong. It is stunning and worth every minute. For day trips and travel in general, try to find direct or nearly direct routes whether by train or bus. I also recommend looking at both options. It took us a little over 2 hours to get there and under an hour coming back.
It took 199 years to build and was originally a Bell Tower for the Duomo. The project began in 1173 but was in trouble from nearly the beginning. By the time the second story was being added four years later, it started to sink due to unstable sub soil and a just under 10 foot deep foundation. Construction was halted for nearly 100 years while Pisa was involved in wars with Firenze, Genoa and Lucca. It actually gave the subsoil a chance to settle. Had construction continued it would have fallen for certain.
Construction resumed in 1233. To compensate for the lean, the upper floors of the tower were made taller on one side than the other. It was completed in 1372. It is made of Marble and Stone (which probably didn’t help). The doors are Bronze. It is 183.3 feet tall and including the bell tower it is 8 stories high. There are 294 to 296 steps depending on which side of the tower you are standing on. The seventh floor was completed in 1319. The bell tower in 1372. There are seven bells each representing a note of the major scale.
It was closed to the public in 1990. Through a series of engineering marvels, while soil was removed from the taller side and it was held up by a series of cables, the bells were removed to take some of the weight off of it. Part of the stabilizization was to reduce the tilt slightly to its’ 1883 position. In 2001 it reopened and was declared safe for another 300 years.
There are Gallerias (Museums) everywhere so it really helps to figure out in advance which are the right choice for you. There are on line reservation systems which makes it so you don’t have to wait in the really long lines outside the most popular ones (The Uffizi, Galleria Dell Academia being the 2 most popular). I will tell you right now that if you are offended by religious art, stay home. It is a huge part of the artistry from the middle ages and is well represented. That being said there are many other subjects explored as well.
The Leonardo DaVinci Museum
I wanted to go to this small museum to see replications of the machines DaVinci built to test hs theories. This man was more than an artist, (The Mona Lisa and The Last Supper) he was an inventor, engineer and designer. He saw ways of inventing or improving upon inventions that show innovations putting him hundreds of years ahead of his time. Inventions including the machine gun, the parachute, a centifugal force machine, the first drum machine the paddle wheel powered boat and a long range catapult were just a few. Convinced man could fly given the right equipment he designed machines to prove it. The two paintings included here are copies of the original. The Mona Lisa is at the Louvre in Paris. The Last Supper is a mural located in Milan at Santa Maria delle Grazie. This was amongst my favorite museums because it demonstrated a mind so genius that I found it compelling.
The Uffizi and the Galleria Dell’ Academia…There are galleries all over Firenze but the two most famous are the Uffizi and the Galleria Dell’ Academia. I highly reccommend that you prepurchase reservations for these galleries unless you like standing in line because the lines are long.
The Uffizi has been open (by request) since the fifteen hundreds and open to the public since 1765. It was originally supposed to be the Offfices (Uffizi) of the Magistrates but ended up becoming the offices of the State (Tuscan) Archives as well as administrative offices. In 1865 it became officially a museum.
It houses 4 floors of artworks much of it priceless and much of it from the Italian Rennaisance. I am not going to try to show you everthing or expalin most of it but here is a glimpse into art from 1100 forward. I will interject in a couple of places.
When we got to the painting Judith Beheading Holofernes, people at the gallery were very enthused at Vi’s rendition on the back of her Rich-Love Tee Shirt. They thought it was wonderful and having seen the real deal, so do I.
The Galleria Dll Accademia opened in 1784 (before most of you were born) and is the home to some paintings, many sculptures but none so famous as the main feature, Il David by Michelangelo. Standing 17+ feet tall, plus a pedestal, it imposes a striking figure as you round the corner into view of where it has stood since 1873.
It was actually started long before Michelangelo took over in 1501. Agostino di Duccio was commissioned to create the statue in 1463 but he did not get much done before he was for unknown reasons decommissioned to do the job. In 1476 Antonio Rossellino was hired to finish it but was soon fired.
It sat outside for the next 26 years and it was really the fear of wasting that beautiful piece of marble that caused them to hire Michelangelo at the age of 26 to finish the work. Work began on September 13th 1501 and the work was unveiled on January 25th 1504. It sat outside until due to weather deteriorating the stone it was decided to move it inside to the Galleria Dell Accademia where it still stands today. It is said that this pose was before the fight with Goliath but after the decision was made to go into the fight. He carries his sling and in his right hand the rock that he used to take down the giant.
Also in the Galleria dell Accademia is Museo degli Strumenti Musicali or the musical instrument museum which shows you in addition to works by masters, the beginnings of instruments of medievel times.
The Ancient City of Siena…
Siena was founded between (c. 900–400 BC)
Legend has that Siena was founded by Senius and Aschius sons of Remus, who was murdered by their uncle and Remus’s brother, Romulus. They purportedly fled Rome, the city that was named for their treacherously evil uncle and started over in what became known as Siena. They took with them the statue of the Capitoline Wolf which became the symbol of the city. It is a statue of a she wolf suckling the infant brothers. Originally founded as a Roman town (pre the twins) it remained in Roman control. The city was at the time remote and away from major roads from Rome to the north and struggled under Roman rule.
The Lombards invaded Tuscany and occupied it for approximaely 206 years. During that time, it was determined that the road to Siena was safer than the routes being pereviously take to ship goods and suddenly Siena became a renowned trading post and has prospered.
It was a walled City for many years but over time much of the wall surrounding the core is gone while its’ presence is still prominent throughout the town. It is built around a huge square called The Piazza del Campo where tourists flock, to rest, to people watch, to eat, to admire the architecture or to just be. At one end are the town offices with the Torre del Mangia, the 335 ft. tower that stands next to the Town Hall. It is the second tallest in Italy.
The Piazza del Campo is also home to the Palio di Siena, a Horse Race, held twice annually on the Piazza. The 2nd of July and the 16th of August are the chosen dates. I am sure they coincide with something religious, but I am not sure what.
As I stated earlier about Italians:
From ancient times forward, as demonstrated in their paintings and sculptures, the Italians have always loved horses, half to fully naked people, bridges and churches, and towers…yes definitely towers…and fountains…yes lots of fountains…and statues…fountains with statues of horses and naked people and towers , oh and government buildings with lots of pillars.
As we were next to head south to Tropea, the thought occurred to Vi that it would be an really long train ride from Siena. Approximately 12 hours. We found an Air B&B in the center of the Roma and decided to do an overnighter there before heading on. Roma is the capital of Lazio Region, as well as all of Italy. In the greater metro area there are over 4,350,000 people. Founded around 753 BC, it is one of the oldest occupied cities in all of Europe. It is home to some of the worlds best known historical and architectural sites and surrounds the city-state known as Vatican City. Sites include the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and of course the Coliseum or Flavian Amphitheater and many many more. It is bisected by the Tiber River and was named after Romulus, who murdered his brother Remus, causing his nephews Remus’s sons, to abandon Rome to become the founding fathers of Siena.
Vi rested and I walked to the Vatican. On the way, I saw Castel Sant’ Angelo, built between 123 and 139 A.D. a cylindrical castle (one time fortress) which is now a museum. I walked on the Sant’ Angelo Bridge across the Tiber River built in 134 A.D. From there I took my first shots of the Basilica at the Vatican and then realized as the sun was fading, if I walked quick enough I could get a great Vatican shot at sunset and so I did.
I went and had dinner at a place called Saltimbocca. I had the Saltimbocca and a side of Fettucine with Tomato Sauce. It was a delicious meal. I figured if you are going to name your restaurant after a dish, you better be able to make the dish. I went back to crash and did for an hour. Vi, having rested, went out for a walk and found the Pantheon as well as the Trevi Fountain. I asked if I got up and was willing to go if Vi would join me. We not only hit the Pantheon and The Trevi Fountain, we cabbed over to the Colliseum for a night time visit being we wouldn’t be there during the day. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day and you surely can’t see it all in a day, but we did the best we could with what we had to work with schedule wise. Enjoy the pictures.
The Last Stop in Italy was maybe the Most Fabulous…Tropea
Vi figured at the end it would do us some good to have some beach time and picked Tropea because it is less touristy than Sorrento, the water looked inviting, accomodations were reasonable and the scenery spectacular. It was all of the above. Getting there was the biggest challenge. It was an eight hour train ride from Rome, changing trains in Rosarno in the heart of Calabria.
Rosarno was a disappointment in that it was litter strewn and not the least bit inviting. It made me a little nervous about Tropea but it was unfounded. Not only is Tropea litter free, it is making an attempt to be plastic free as well. Like Trader Joe’s in California, they use a biodegradable bag rather than plastic. Recycling bins are everywhere.
The people in Tropea were very friendly and welcoming which is always refreshing in a tourist town. It is built on a cliff overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, a part of the greater Mediterranean Sea. Our apartment (see the pics) was 13 steps down from the top of the hundred and eleven step walkway to the beach. Here is Tropea…
We like to think of ourselves as progressive, especially here in Missoula but we have miles to go to catch up with Italy in areas like recycling and packaging waste. Tropea is a plastic free zone. While there is some plastic there, they are doing everything they can to get rid of it, including recycling bins everywhere. In the laundromat, you put your clothes in the washer, pay at a central control and your soap is dispensed as well as any fabric softeners in a measured dose. There is no packaging and thusly very little if any waste. The payoff for Italy is not only a cleaner country but a resurgence of tourism to a greater degree than they had previously had. This according to some of the merchants that I spoke to along our journey. We need to do more…as a city…as a county…as a state…as a nation and as a world. I challenge the Missoula City Council to find ways of reducing our plastic waste in our fair city.
Next up is the wrap up. Some of the pics I took from the train ride through Calabria, where my Mom’s family is from. We passed within a few miles of Cerisano but because of the mountainous terrain and the distance from Tropea we decided to pass on going there.
What follows are some random samplings that I shot from the train.There may be smudges occasionally because of the window or a little window glare here and there. If I think it is something important I will leave a caption, otherwise they are just countryside around Naples and in Calabria. The cities on the hilltops were built where they are basically to ward of invaders. Many are still active but some are just ruins…
The Last part of the trip was a plane from Lamezia Terme in Calabria to Milan and then back to Barcelona. The only rip off on the whole trip was Ryan Air. They bill themselves as a low cost carrier. We tried checking in the night before but were told by their website that we had to check in at the airport. We needed to be at our flight 2 hours early but the bus couldn’t get us there that early. When we did get there Ryan Air charged us $220 Euros to get on the already paid for flight. They said to make a claim when i got home which I did and they denied. I won’t ever use them again.
We got back to Barcelona in time for a riot a block from where we were staying. Vi went and checked it out but left when they started using tear gas grenades and rubber bullets. Some of the protestors came to our street and set a couple of dumpsters on fire but the police steered people away from our street and although we could hear it, and it sounded like an urban war zone, so we had a dumpster fire and a few straggling protestors but missed the main action.
Two weeks is probably the longest time Vi and I spent together since they were a child. For the most part we did well, at various points having to take care of each other and at various points going our separate ways. I am so proud of how well we actually did. Even moreso, I am proud of Violet for becoming the person they have become. The planning of this trip couldn’t have been better. I feel like I came away with a whole new appreciation for this person that I have known for their whole life. I am learning more all the time about what it means for them to live in the transgender world. I have learned about the dangers that they struggle with daily. I have learned that for the most part they are a community, unto themselves that would like to be welcomed into the greater world but aren’t willing to compromise their values to do so.
The biggest lesson that I learned and in my case, if you look past the labels, there is a loving, caring, intelligent, creative and sensitive human being who I respect, love and thank with a full heart for the trip of a lifetime.
These Tyrrhenian Sea stones sit on my desk as not just a reminder of what was but as a reminder to go again. Thanks for taking the journey with me I hope that you enjoyed it.