Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Best of Times and The Worst of Times

We are home from Italy. Returned to a spotless house and happy puppies (thanks to our great housesitter who even washed the sheets!). Spent the first half of the night tossing and turning while Italian sped through my head and Brio pressed himself against the small of my back like a blast furnace. Finally got up at 2:30 and lay on the couch, with Brio stretched full length against my legs. He can't get enough of me. Even sedate, unemotional Maple bounced around with a grin on his face when we came home, and when I picked him up he went so far as to lick my face, something he's only done maybe twice in nine years. I think they missed us. As I write this, Brio is a hot, heavy weight on my feet under the desk.

I feel I've been gone a lot longer than I have. Somehow I'm astonished that things at home haven't changed much. The grass hardly looks longer. I guess this is because we packed so much sensory input into our time away. I won't bore you with a travelogue, but here are some highlights and points of note:

  • Rome is a toilet. It is unfortunate, because I didn't find it that way when I was there 8 years ago, but things have gone downhill. Many homeless, the stench of urine in the streets, filth and litter and graffiti everywhere. I felt I was walking through a crack den every time I went from the hotel to the Termini. The proud Romans have lost all dignity, and the city authorities need to think about their appeal to tourists or they will find they won't have any, Colosseum or no. I won't be back. Also this is where I got eaten by mosquitoes that were more like black flies, which left bruises and welts all over me until I looked like a Dalmatian. I had a few funny moments in pharmacies where I got the word for mosquitoes mixed up with the word for gypsies... Italian is like that. Many words differ from other words by only a letter, resulting in some humorous mix-ups, which I jotted down in a notebook for future use in a book.
  • Turin was much, much better, much cleaner, and our hotel was great. We got to visit friends and attend church (lovely ward full of friendly people, though when one speaker dragged on and on, Angela - in her late 80s - leaned over and whispered in Italian to me, "Only 25 more minutes of torture!"). I am pleased to report that over the 4-hour stretch of a dinner at Angela's home, I understood probably 95% of the conversation. And I even dared speak a little myself, and was able to convey such concepts as "The car Eva drove us home in yesterday is sufficiently large to carry our luggage to the train station" and "These rocks are made of compressed sand." (We took her some rocks from Utah to put on her daughter's grave -- an old tradition). Felt great to understand and be understood. Angela and her family are kindness itself. The museum of modern art was bizarre, and the basilica where the shroud is kept is being - noisily - restored after a fire some years ago. The shroud has now survived two major fires, and I wonder if the Catholic Church has to up their insurance premiums...
  • Siena was the best and everyone's favourite. The train ride alone was worth it, going through classic Tuscan landscapes and stopping at tiny, beautiful hilltop towns that make you want to hop out and explore. Another idea for another trip. Our lovely hotel - with kitchen - was just outside the gate of the old city, and we were able to see everything on foot. Even full of tourists, it was a walkable and beautiful and CLEAN place. And the city fathers were brilliant in installing a series of escalators and moving walkways to transport you down to the lower part of the town where the train station and major grocery store were. We spent a lot of time eating cheese and chocolate -- more about that later. Bought several books. In fact, I read 5 1/2 books during the trip, and the only souvenirs my son wanted were books...
In short, a great trip but next time I would cut out Rome, and I'd probably start in Switzerland so I could see more of the Alps, which we saw only distantly. It rained at least part of almost every day, but that didn't hinder us at all, and it kept the temperature down a bit. And gave us a fair bit of reading time while we rested between walks.

I will pursue some themes I thought about while travelling in later posts. That mass of writing should do you for now! And now I need to switch my head back into English/French mode.

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