Jane's Travel Blog

New Chapter: Explore the World


All Roads Lead To…

Wow, it’s been five months and ten days since we arrived in Italy. The countdown to visit family and friends begins.

Bob and I decided one last trip was in order before we leave this fine country, and you know where all roads lead. Yep, Rome it is, with an amazing side trip to the Mediterranean town of Gaeta.

The train was the mode of transportation. I love the train. You can see the countryside, relax and read. As long as I am facing the direction the train is traveling, I’m good.

Rick Steve’s guide book helped with a seamless visit to Rome. I did my homework and planned a delightful two full days of seeing the sights in Rome.

We arrived Thursday midday to a rainy yet warmer day, found the hotel, and took off to wander. No plans for this day except to get a feel for the city.

Friday morning and we’re off to the Colosseum. As you walk through Rome’s delightful​ streets, it’s normal to see an ancient ruin here and an ancient​​ ruin there. There’re almost as common as Starbucks in the states.

It was rainy and in the 50s so the crowds were light when we arrived at this 2000 year old ruin, the Colosseum. When I go to places like this, I like to think that I’m sitting in the same spot as someone 2000 years ago. What was “game day” like?” I found a painting that helped with the visual, and there it was, a guy tailgating.  And I thought Packer fans invented​ tailgating. It turns out, it’s an ancient activity. Truth be told, I’m glad it’s present day, as I have zero interest in seeing people killed by lions. I’m just saying.

It’s still raining as we walk to the Roman Forum. Thanks to our umbrellas and great rain coats, the weather’s no problem. When ​in​ Rome…

The Forum is lots of ruins that were once the commercial center of Rome. With a little imagination, you can see and hear the hustle and bustle of the city so many years ago. Here I needed to find a WC​ (bathroom)​ and was happy to discover that it was not ancient, in fact, one of the better WC’s I’ve experienced on our travels.

Next we continue walking to the Pantheon. No ruins here. It’s the only ancient building in continuous use.

It’s later in the day now so we stop for a coffee before walking back to the hotel for a rest and then a nice dinner.

Saturday brings a bit of sun, and we head for the Vatican, but our first stop was Castel Sant’Angelo. Bob loves a castle! It was built as a tomb for an emperor and later was used as a refuge for popes under attack. Lots of mysterious secret passageways.

We walk the few blocks to The Vatican ​and ​enter the square. First thing we notice is a crazy long line, maybe 2 or 3 hours to get into St Peter’s Basilica. Once again, Rick Steves saves us. The guide book tells us to buy a ticket that gets us into both the Vatican Museum and the Basilica.

The museum is overwhelming with literally miles of displays. We moved somewhat quickly​,​ lingering at the Egyptian exhibit, the Raphael Room and of course the Sistine Chapel. We learned of a secret door that leads to St Peters, that can only be used by tours, so we just pretended to be a​ ​part of a tour and walked with them through the door. It was quite covert of us!

Now we are in the Basilica and it’s beautiful – the size, the marble, the feeling of quiet. I loved just being in this space. Bob headed for the cupola and I found a cafe for a rest and a wine.   Here’s Bob to tell what’s up on top………

I couldn’t resist a climb to the top of the dome of St. Peter’s.  There are over 500 steps.  It all starts out with a spiral staircase, which leads to one ever more narrow staircase after another.  Finally you go outside, up another staircase, through a door back into the church, and suddenly, I wasn’t expecting this, you’re inside the rim of the dome of St. Peter’s looking down from a safety cage to the tiny altar below. Then you look at the walls around you and discover that all those grand paintings on the walls of the church are not paintings at all, but rather elaborate stone mosaics, made to look like paintings from below.

Next you enter another even tinier staircase, but this one leans to the right because now you’re actually walking within the dome itself, which is, of course, curved.  After a couple of times around, you finally emerge on the outside observation balcony near the very top of the dome, with a spectacular 360 degree view of Rome all around you.  My favorite experience here in Rome.

Next we jump on the subway to another area of town for a walk to see the Spanish steps and the Trevi Fountain. Unfortunately the fountain is under construction, but we still got to toss a coin into a makeshift fountain. The legend says if you toss a coin into the fountain, you will return to Rome. I tossed a coin 18 years ago, so it looks like it’s true. I wonder when Bob and I will return?

I called it a night and Bob headed​ out to hear one of his favorite operas, La Traviata, performed by stars from the Opera Theater of Rome in a Renaissance church downtown.​

Sunday we hopped the train to Gaeta to visit our landlord, Tara. We stayed at her beautiful home overlooking the ​Mediterranean​. I honestly think Gaeta and Tara’s family was my favorite part of this week​-​long adventure. The energy and love of this family is contagious. Our first stop was Tara’s mom​’s​ house for a happy hour.  The group included Su​z​ie – Tara’s mom, ​Giada​ – 9 year old daughter, Luca – 18 year old son, and Bob and ​me.​  We were instant​ friends. Later, we head back to Tara’s for a perfect dinner. She whipped up a d​i​vine pasta with white beans and squid in tomato sauce served over bruschette. Seafood is quickly becoming my favorite food.

The next morning we hiked with Tara in the ​Parco Monte Orlando, discovering breathtaking views and getting a​ bit of exercise. We pick up Luca and Giada from their schools. (at one o​’​clock – for my teacher friends) and headed back to Su​z​i​e’​s for a delightful lunch. The FOOD!, SOOOO Good. She served a light  pasta with tomatoes, olives, and olive oil, followed by a “​Tiella”​.​ Amazing. It’s basically a pizza with the crust on the bottom and top with  lots of yummy filling.  One was filled with octopus. One of my favorites now.

We sai​d​ our goodbyes at dinner that night as everyone was headed to school o​r​ work early the next morning. Tuesday mid​-​morning, Suzie drove us to the train, we shared a coffee and more wonderful conversation and we were on our way back to Verbania.

On the train ride back, Bob and I talked about how relaxed we were on this trip to Rome. We are quickly picking up the “travel skills” needed to better enjoy this new lifestyle.


What’s Been Happening Since Thanksgiving

Hello All,

Oops. I’m a bit behind in my blogging so here’s a quick catch-up sung to My Favorite Things. You know the one – Rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Bright copper kettles and …

What’s Been Happening Since Thanksgiving: The Catch Up Blog

Blogging was missing, so friends want to listen

Pleasant Thanksgiving with five pounds of chicken

Jan and Dave joined us to share tasty pie

These are a few of our holiday highs


Walks in the city to see Christmas essence

Chestnuts and holly and lights are quintessence

Luceran and Nice because they’re nearby

These are a few of our holiday highs


Lots of nativity scenes all around town

Even one lit under water deep down

A trip to Milano for Christmas sighs

These are a few of our holiday highs


When the rain leaves, when the sun tries

When it’s holiday time

I simply remember the holiday highs

And then I am feelin’ prime


New Year upon us, and a friend come to stay

The south and Milan, they were places to play

Fun and exploring and then a goodbye

These are a few of our holiday highs


When the rain leaves, when the sun tries

When it’s holiday time

I simply remember the holiday highs

And then I am feelin’ prime


Tuscany A Tour

A new experience – Taking a Tour to Tuscany

Bob and I were a bit burned out on planning, so we decided to join an Italian tour – 4 days, 3 nights, visiting Pisa, Florence, Sienna, San Gimignano, and Lucca. As we predicted, there were pros and cons.

Pro: We saw a lot in 4 days!

Con: We saw a lot in 4 days!

Our tour stated at 4:00am stepping out of our building into four inches of flood water. (See last weather blogs.) Luca, our friendly taxi driver took us to Gravallone to join the tour, and the bus ride to Tuscany began.

The first stop was Pisa. I thought it was going to be a hokey tourist trap, but I was pleasantly surprised. Once you pass the stalls of tourist knickknacks, you enter the Field of Miracles with its emerald green lawns, bright white marble cathedral, and yes, a leaning tower. It’s just crazy to see the tour defy gravity and of course I couldn’t resist trying to hold it up. Most people come to see the tower, but you can’t miss the rest of Pisa. In our free time, we just roamed the streets, stood on the bridge over the Arno River,  and ate slices of pizza in a sunny piazza filled with university students.

Day two –  Florence

Florence was predictably amazing! It’s so chock full of great buildings and great art that it’s almost overwhelming. It did surprise us that it’s all in the middle of a very busy gritty city. Guess we thought it would be a little more like a hushed museum. And one of the highlights of the day was finding a little off- the-beaten-track restaurant for lunch, where we enjoyed great food and a chat with the chef.

By the end of day two, I’m tired. The town we’re based in, Montecatini is known for its thermal healing baths, so yep, I ditched the tour on day three, roamed the town and enjoyed the baths. It was just what I needed.

Bob kept the pace of the tour and traveled to Siena and San Gimignano . Here he is to tell you a bit.

These are two of Italy’s most famous tourist attractions, and they deserve the honor.  Both are “hill towns” in Tuscany.  But beyond that they are very different.  San Gimignano is small, remote and isolated.   Siena is large and bustling, even in the driving rainstorm we encountered. San Gimignano’s medieval streets are lined with shops selling local specialties like wine and cheese and sausage. Siena is kind of like Beverly Hills meets the Renaissance. I loved them both.

Day four – Lucca

On the last day, we explored the small medieval town of Lucca. It’s a beautiful sleepy city with a huge intact wall surrounding it that is now used as a park. You can actually ride around the whole city, about 3 kilometers. Another highlight of Lucca was that Puccini, the Italian composer, grew up and studied here.

All and all a good tour.


Weather Update 2

It rained more and flooded our plaza all the way to the buildings. We had 4 inches of water outside our door. The city worked hard to support the community by erecting a large orange tube. Think of it as a gigantic hi-tech sandbag. Later they put up planks over the water so you could get to the businesses.

One of the hotels removed the bottom panels of glass of its lobby to let the water in so that the flood water would not break the glass. Sandbags blocked the doors. I think the hotel was designed for floods.

Kayaks and row boats were out and about surveying the scene. One boat stopped for coffee at one of the cafes still open. The boater waded through the water with two cups of coffee. It was fun to watch. Everyone seemed to take the flood in stride.

After the flood waters receded there were small amounts of damage. There was a lot of debris everywhere, a boat was torn apart and some of the bricks on the walkway were pushed up.

The city is quickly cleaning up and the Christmas decorations are starting to appear.


Weather Update

And now for a quick weather update:

It’s raining now, it’s been raining and it’s going to continue to rain. There’s a front parked over northern Italy right now and it’s bringing the rain. Last week it rained four days in a row and the lake flooded. It wasn’t too bad, just over its bank and a little on half the road. Basically the ducks and swans were swimming in the piazza.

Of course, the skiers are thrilled.  Since we’re living in the very foothills of the Alps, the rain here means heavy snow less than an hour away.

The rain stopped for the weekend and it was a sunny and a warm 58 degrees Friday and Saturday. Sunday was cloudy, but warm. Today, Monday rain again and the weather report says it’s going to rain until Wednesday again.

So, I have two new purchases to help me navigate the rain. My first pair of rain boots, not yellow – I tried, and a new bright pink umbrella. My friend Lori told me to wear bright colors on rainy days. I love putting on the boots, and opening up the cheery umbrella and going for a walk in town. It’s too rainy to hike so we are doing more “urban hikes,” stopping for a hot chocolate or an espresso and exploring the town.

The other news is that we have moved into a bigger apartment in the same building. We have a very long balcony and… (drum roll…) a fire place! There is nothing better than a warm fire and a steamy bowl of homemade soup on a rainy day. Looks like I’ll be building a few fires this week.

Thursday we are off to Tuscany for a long weekend, and it’s not suppose to rain. Stay tuned.