A Travellerspoint blog


In February of 1999, I got my first chance to visit the island of Sicily, the land of my Grandfather's family. I took the train from Salerno to Catania. Was sooooooo cold. Oh, but I thought the further south I got, the warmer it would be. Haa haaa. Train went through a BLIZZARD... got stuck somewhere in Calabria. Twice. Finally we arrived in Villa St. Giovanni and waited... and waited... for the train to be disconnected and transported onto the ferry to take us to Sicily. Sat there on train forever. Finally, we got moving, only to get STUCK on the tracks somehow. They jerked the train back and forth trying to get the train un-stuck, but to no avail. There was some announcement over the intercom, and people began to grab their belongings and exit the train. It was now getting really late, like about 10:00pm; already we were 5 hours late. We all exited the train, and stood around wondering what to do next. I cannot remember if we were on the ferry or not, but soon a conductor came and led us onto a ferry, were there were several tracks, but as yet no train. We all stood around in the cooooollllllllld for so long looking like a bunch of refugees. I remember seeing one old gentleman that reminded me of my Grandpa Alessi. He wore the classic Italian hat, and smoked a thick cigar or cigarette. He had the classic Palermo nose, and tweed coat. Just like Grandpa Alessi.

My grandfather's nose was so big, and he smoked so much that it was stained with nicotine. Worse than that, he had his two fingers amputated because of holding a cigarette so much (at least that's what my mother told me.) Ohh, and he drank like a fish too. I remember more than once I was in the bathroom at home when he barged in to use the toilet. Instead of telling him I was in there, I would hide in the shower. What would then happen is an indelible memory to me... the endless stream of, yeah, you know. I promise you, it was what seemed like eternity to me. It was worse, because I always feared getting caught hiding in the shower. Never was the job complete before he passed gas... yeah, in the same volume as he urinated. No one farted like my grandpa. I remember my grandfather on a fishing trip in Arizona. We were just kids, but I remember he got his fishing line stuck in the trees, got soooo angry and cussed like a sailor, wading into the water, teeth clenching that ever present cigarette, farting away as he flailed away with his fishing rod!

Well, this old gentleman was an old fart like my grandpa.... ohhh.. was he mad! Steaming mad! Being treated like a refugee on board the ferry!!!!!! His wife was trying to calm him down, but he wouldn't be comforted. He paced back and forth smoking his stogie... I watched him, and waited for him to let loose with a tirade of curses. I confess it made the whole affair worthwhile!

Ohh, back to Catania. We finally made it sometime past midnight. At the train station I took a taxi to my hotel that I had booked ahead of time in Aci Trezza. Got there in the pitch black middle of the night. I checked into my room and opened the curtains to a view of the moon shining on the 'o Isole Ciclopi.'

Posted by terrav 01:03 Archived in Italy Comments (0)


The Man in the Kilt, and the Woman Dressed to the Hilt'

From Bolivian musicians in Florence to the Bushman of San Francisco, it is always exciting to come upon a street entertainer or troupe doing their thing. I can think of many that I thoroughly enjoyed, and gladly contributed to. My most memorial one, besides watching the bushman covered with camouflage hiding behind a few branches in his hand and scaring the willies out of unsuspecting people as they walk by, I have to say the one that reallllly got me was in Seattle. Standing at a busy intersection was a man in full Scottish regalia, playing his bagpipes. At first glance, you walk past; appreciate his guts and commitment to this instrument to play in such a public crowded place, but after a few minutes of listening it's time to keep moving.

But wait! The sound of the bagpipe has mesmerized one of the onlookers. It happens to be anyone's dear mother, dressed to the hilt for shopping at I. Magnine, or Sacks Fifth Avenue. High heels, WHITE gloves up to her elbows, hat with mesh extending halfway down the face. She's not a model; she's the one who HIRES the models. She's not out making money; she's out SPENDING money. But there she is... eyes closed, in a trance. Her arms extended out like one of the dancers might have entertained Queen Hatshepsut of ancient Egypt. Long strides she took, reversing her extended arms in a still life but mesmeric rhythmic motion to the sound of... BAGPIPES. I was caught up watching this gal. She has flipped, I thought. I expected her to stop, blush, and dissipate into the crowd, but she kept at it. Then to my dismay she discarded her scarf. What is she doing? Her wrap came off. Now I was the one mesmerized. My jaw was dropped open... as one by one she discarded her gloves, her skirt, her blouse, littering the sidewalk with her elegant clothing. She did it so subtly, that I kept wondering if she had indeed flipped, or if she and the bagpipe player were working in consort. I finally realized, as she went all the way to the bare minimums (lol that is, without getting arrested!!) that the egg was on my face... yes, they were a team. I had been completely taken in.

Posted by terrav 01:00 Comments (0)


'There's peace in the Valley' (except at Helmut's)'

All is peace and love in this Paradise called Gimmelwald. Everywhere but at Helmut's. Helmut runs a hostel and a hotel there. I made a big blunder, allowing the tourism office at the Bern train station make a reservation for me, and they arranged things at Helmut's. I was told the hostel was full, so the reservation was at the more expensive hotel. So I am hiking from Murren to Gimmelwald, and the first thing I come to in Gimmelwald was home sweet home! The Mittaghorn hotel, run by Walter. Nothing fancy, but quaint as can be. Big beautiful cows, with bells around their necks peering through the windows! This place was heaven. Some places, you know when you arrive you belong there. Such was the name of this place.

There was only one slight problem. My reservation was for another place, TWICE as expensive, down the road. Hmmm. Although I know I have arrived home, things aren't totally settled yet. Better explain this situation to the other place, then get settled at the Mittaghorn.

So I leave my large pack at the Mittaghorn, and head down the hill to the place where my reservation was, and to back out of it.

As a child, I remember my dad telling me a story about a giant that was soo cruel that his garden froze all year around. When spring time came, everywhere the blooms were out, except in this giant's garden. This was how I felt as I approached this hotel.

Now I know what most readers may think: I made a reservation, and I am under obligation to stay there. But I just couldn't. It wasn't because it wasn't beautiful, it was. Even more so than the Mittaghorn. But it wasn't home. And with one night to spend in this paradise, I wasn't about to budge.

There to meet me was Helmut. With a fake smile he led me to the room that was prepared for me. Bleeaauuugh. As beautiful as it was, my heart sank. So I level with Helmut that I just don't feel like it's the place I should stay. This was paradise alright, but Helmut wasn't a happy camper. All of a sudden his countenance changed, and he became a monster. I stood my ground. He told me I was obligated, that he had had the chance to rent the room to others, but I had it reserved. It was then I agreed to pay him a portion of the price of the room. I hastened the conversation, gave him the money, and left him standing there seething, thinking, another blot for the American tourist. But I just couldn't stay at Helmut's.

I went back to the Mittaghorn, and joined in with the happy family that was there. Oh, the spaghetti wasn't anything to write home about, MEATLESS at that, old Walter really wasn't much of a cook, BUT IF YOU TELL HIM THAT I WILL CALL YU A LIAR!

That night, and the next morning was what travel is all about. Kids herding the goats. Cows looking through the windows!!! Meeting people from all over the world... Australia, USA, other countries in Europe, South America. Ohhhh, did we have a time.

I am so addicted to travel.

Poor Helmut.

Posted by terrav 00:55 Comments (0)


Someone asked, what are my greatest memories in Italy? I thought long and hard, and in all honesty, it has to be the following:

(start the music)

Sitting on the embankment next to the Arno River in Florence, right next to the Ponte Vecchio, watching one of the hundreds of motor scooter riders buz into a place to park a little Vespa. The rider dismounted her scooter, removed her helmet, let down her hair... and as she joined the throng on the street, immediately she was transformed from a faceless rider to a descendant of Venus. no kidding... truly unforgettable.

Second fondest memory was spending the morning with Michelangelo's Florentine Pieta... unforgettable, but not quite as exhilarating as the beauty on the motor scooter........

Then there was the day I took the train from Rome to Napoli, walked from the station to the Bay of Naples where I caught the ferry to Sorrento. Got there in early evening. It was ccccoooooolllld (was in Feb) so I decided not to stay. From Sorrento, took bus to little town on other side of Amalfi (will find the name and write it in later.) Sheeeze, what a bus ride! After 10,000 tries by telephone I finally made contact with a hotel that was a Rick Steves recommendation (see what I mean about no planning!!??), that was in a little village on the other side of Amalfi. I followed the directions they told me on the phone. I actually walked down a stairway to the little village down below! When I got there it was really late, and still really cold. Wended my way through little streets that had been hollowed out of the cliffs. Finally I made it to the hotel... The room I was instructed to go to was up a few flights of stairs (it was allll stairs !!! I opened the door, and before my eyes was a large cave, just hollowed out of the cliff, plastered and whitewashed. It was a dormitory with several beds, but no one was there. I put my back pack in the room, cleaned up a bit, and decided to try to find a place to eat, I was STARVING. I started wandering through the streets that were carved out of the cliff.. most of which were totally enclosed, plastered and whitewashed. I finally came out on an open street. There was the perfect.... did I say perfect? PERFECT little Italian ristorante... all lit up, and comfortably filled with people. I walked in as if I was a weary vagabond and was seated at a table.... mmmmmmmmmm..... the perfect meal.. perfect setting. Miraculously enough, I staggered back to my little room, and fell asleep in total bliss~

Posted by terrav 00:50 Archived in Italy Comments (0)


Dorothy really ment to say, 'there's no place like ROME'

In the Travel Section of the bookstores across America you will find umpteen travel essays, I suppose written much the same reason as this one is written. Once a trip is finished, what more can you do than to relive the experience through pictures as well as a travel log of some sort? People write of their experiences, and I of mine. Thus I begin to tell of the trip taken in the month of March, '97 to Italy, having obtained a very cheap fare-war ticket, and having a desperate need to get away. Solitude. As an excuse, I called my brother up, who was also planning a trip, alone to Europe, and suggested that we rendezvous in some designated place in Europe. We finally agreed that that would work, but that neither of us would be obligated to showing up, in case our itinerary got so jumbled that we just couldn't make it. I could perhaps entitle this 'How NOT to Travel in Europe, as you will soon find out that I indeed do not have my act together.

I settled on a day pack and one rolling carry-on to take. I try to travel light, washing clothes along the way rather than a suit of clothes for each day. I believe Rick Steves makes the point that for all the people you will see, no one in Europe will notice that you have been wearing the same shirt every other day! Hey... I am not over there to make a fashion statement anyway... and the less I bring the less I have to lug around. So light I go.

So with no guarantee or assurance I would meet my brother, I took off for my destination, Milan. My brother's destination was Zurich, and then to Prague, after which if it worked out, we would meet in Florence on the Ponte Vecchio (The Old Bridge) at a specific time on a specific day.

After driving to where I meet the shuttle bus, I fork over the $44.00 round trip fare that will take me to Los Angeles International where I would catch my early Monday morning flight. I get there in plenty of time. LA to JFK for a brief layover before I board the international flight to Milan. I arrive in Milan on a Tuesday morning, rush to the money changer and buy a few dollars worth of Lira in order to buy a bus ticket to the downtown train station. My plan was to stash my suitcase and go on a whirlwind tour of the historical section of Milan, then catch the train to Rome. Yet as we wended our way through the city, I began to change my mind. For one thing, got to figuring that by the time I toured Milan and rode the four hours to Rome I would really be pooped. Second of all, Milan from the bus just didn't appeal to me. Maybe I was too quick to judge, I'd made my mind up to skip my tour, and board a train outta there immediately.

So I completed the bus ride from the airport that seemed never to end. There must not be any direct way in... no off ramp to the train station. Perhaps the driver was trying to dodge someone. If so, I don't think the devil himself could have followed the bus it took so many turns. But finally we pulled into the station. Now I was impressed as I entered the great train station. I wandered around trying to get my bearings. I read the huge board and saw which train was leaving for Rome and when. I had to hurry and get my bigletto... (that's Italian for ticket) and realized I had to climb all the way down the stairs to the Bigletteria... (the place where you buy tickets.) So I go downstairs and get in line. There is always someone smoking so close to you that you choke half to death. There is always someone with some problem they are working on at the ticket counter that seems never to end. but FINALLY it was my turn, and I was quickly told that they do not accept Visa, only American Express, and I would have to go UPSTAIRS to the money changers to get more Lira for the ticket. So upstairs I rush... this time for a load of lira. Then downstairs again, I buy the ticket (round trip, for I will need to return to Milan for the flight home) and it's UPSTAIRS again, and, in a great sweat, before board the train, seeing that I had about 15 minutes to spare, I stop to buy a jug of water and something to eat on the train.

Now on the train, I travel from car to car dragging my rolling suitcase, looking for a seat. It is full, but finally I spy an empty seat in a compartment that seats six people. I nod at the others, place my belongings on the overhead storage, and wedge myself between a young girl and an elderly lady, both Italians. Across from me is a middle aged American couple with a young boy. We commence our journey in silence, although it is not long that I am conversing with the Americans, learning all about their trip and where they are from. We have a jolly time exchanging stories. They are on their way to Florence, and I tell them I am headed there after a brief stay in Rome. I also am able to share with them a little of the knowledge I have on the art in Florence... or should I say my little knowledge I have of the art in Florence....

I also learn that the journey is longer than I thought. There was another train that was more direct, and less time, but of course I wasn't on that train. So it would be 5 hours on the train. I began to think what a dingbat I was for not flying directly into Rome. But there was nothing I could do to change it, it was just poor planning on my part. So sit back and enjoy the scenery... and finally we arrived in Rome.

Again I confess I was not impressed as we rolled slowly through dilapidated buildings that looked as if the next earthquake would turn it into powder. At last we arrived at the Termani Station, and I pulled my light carryon through the throng of people on to the street outside. I had my guide book with me that would direct me to the cheap pension I intended to stay at. But I was met with an official looking man that approached me and asked me where I intended to stay. My plan was to stay at the cheapest place listed which was a place run by nuns for Ukrainian pilgrims and had an 11:00 p.m. curfew. After all... all I wanted was a bed to sleep in, I was not in need of any ritzy room. The man looked at the guide book with disdain and suggested another hotel... one that I would have my own bathroom and the like. He pointed me in the direction of the hotel he was recommending, and I took my leave of him. As soon as I turned the corner, I stopped, got my bearings, and proceeded to head to the cheap pension run by the nuns.

I was in Rome! Now I was absorbing the city as I was heading down the street. All of a sudden another man approached me with a small box of Kleenex in his hand. He was pulling one out and telling me he wanted to help me. I was somewhat startled as he pointed to some brown liquid that was on my jacket. Then he showed me that it was on my suitcase, and told me it was on my pack! And this fine man was there to help me clean it up. But I somehow sensed that this man that was so nice to help me clean up this mess was also responsible for getting it on me also. So instead of stopping, I told him I was 'outta there' and immediately he melted into the crowd. Yes, it was a team working together. Throw liquid on a tourist, and while they are getting cleaned up, someone else appears to hike their bag away.

At last I find the street I am looking for, and the address of the Soure di Saint Anna but alas! It is locked up. Closed! I am foiled here. Never mind that fact that I had no reservation anywhere... I who flies by the seat of my pants cannot see 5 minutes past my nose most of the time.. And no, I couldn't even call at the train station, which really is the wise thing to do. So I bear the brunt of times such as these. I realize how tired I am, and the thought occurs to me that perhaps I should have gone to the hotel the man was trying to point me to. Never mind the fact that the cost would be the difference between around $100.00 per night between the two places.

But before I capitulate to the expensive hotel I decide to try another recommendation in the guide book, and this time head for the Hotel Flavio which was nearby, and although not as cheap as the the Soure di Saint Anna would have been, it was still cheap. After dragging up and down the streets like a dragnet trying to find it I finally find tucked neatly in a little alcove of the alley way the Hotel Flavio that I had been looking for. With apprehension I approach the desk, for I am too tired to go through another hunt. I repent of my ways. I will call next time! I will buy a phone card first and at the train station I will CALL before I embark through strange streets to who knows where! And there is ROOM! Hurrah! The Great God of Heaven heard my prayer... or he just shook his head in total pity, or both! I am given the key to room 7 on the 3rd floor, am pointed to the elevator, and as the door closes I am whisked upstairs, OK, I land on the 4th floor and decide to take the stairs down a floor. In Europe, the first floor is the 2nd floor, so I overshot it by a floor!

But I find room 7 on the 3rd floor (the second floor) and I take a little time to wash up, wash off whatever was thrown on my belongings and me, Lay down on the most comfortable bed on the continent of Europe, and fall asleep. Oh that pillow. Now in America, at a cheap hotel, even an expensive one you are likely to get a foam rubber pillow. This one was duck feather, the kind that keeps its shape. It happens to be the kind of pillow I like the best.

The Hotel Flavio! Not the Ritz by a long shot but what do you expect for thirty buckaroos a night? But one thing about Europe. My experience has been that a $30.00 hotel in the U.S. can be a horrible place, whereas in Europe albeit humble, is generally very clean. Such was the hotel Flavio. And very quiet, for the most part, except for the fella that lived across in the other building. I was awakened in some horrific hour an argument at top vocal chords, of course in Italian. He carried on for quite a while, and then it died down. I don't know what it was that made me think that his harangue blended in with the antiquity of the city... like perhaps a stray cat that belongs amid the ruins of the ancient Forum, but it really did fit the decor perfectly. I wondered who in Rome arranged it? Since I failed to bring an alarm clock or even a watch for that matter, (just a Sony Walkman with a digital clock on it that I hadn't set yet) I was laying there wondering what time it was... actually wide awake at this point, when somewhere in the not too far off distance I heard a jackhammer blasting away. Well, with this noise, I figured it must have been early morning... perhaps 6:00 or maybe even 7:00. So I decided it was time to start my day in Rome.

Now this essay is not intended to be an authoritative commentary or travel in any sense. It is just my experience and my observations. And here inside my humble little room I begin a philosophical experience as I ponder the two plumbing fixtures there with me. One is a sink, pure and simple. But next to the sink is another fixture, which still has me baffled as to its function. The reason I do not know is 1) I cannot figure it out, and 2) I am truly afraid to ask... especially when there is a language barrier. So I sit there and contemplate this apparatus. It is somewhat shaped like a toilet, and is as low as a toilet, yet has no toilet seat, no swirling drain that holds water, but instead has regular sink drain with a plug on a metal chain, and there are hot and cold water faucets on it. I sat there and thought, what in God's green earth could that thing be used for? It looked like a cross between a toilet and a urinal. Do you pee in it? Do you wash your feet in it? I saw absolutely no earthly function for it at all, except for perhaps washing feet. I was told that the shower and toilet was down the hall... and at this juncture I will leave the reader up to their own imagination as to whether or not this apparatus or even the sink for that matter would have been used as a urinal, given the handy jobber that us men are endowed with, faced with using the former or the latter or traipsing down the hall to pee in the wee (again no double meaning intended) wee hours of the night. We leave you to fill in the blanks there. Be that as it may, I gathered my essential things for taking a shower together, and there, down the hall the drama continues!

Now these Europeans... they don't do things on the scale us Americans do. The bath towel that was left in my room was more like a dish rag... and there was no floor mat! I am beside myself how these fastidious Italians put up with this! And the toilet... again no lid, not even a seat! Next to it another one of those strange contraptions that was in my room. And no familiar pool of water in the toilet... at which part I again must leave the reader to their own imagination here... of what it must be like to use a dry and empty toilet. In all due respects (no double meaning intended) to the Europeans it's sort of like the dog finding his spot on your lawn to do his thing. It sort of reminded me of the experiences camping... when nature calls... you know, in a big way... so you traipse into the woods armed with nothing more than a little orange shovel and a roll of toilet paper!! Talk about being one with nature!!!

Well, 'nuf said. Now to take that shower... or bath... since although there was a removable shower nozzle there was no shower curtain. Let the reader remember that if you use the shower nozzle you better aim it well or you'll have water everywhere, and be reminded that all you have is a small dishrag in which to mop up all water. So I stand in the tub, turn on the water, and commence to having what amounted to a sponge bath. I soap myself up real good, just like I was in a shower, then cup the water with my hands to pour over me to rinse off the soap. And yes, I will even dare to put the plug into the tub to let it fill up a bit, adverse as I was to this ordeal becoming a bath, since the idea of sitting in a tub shared by others does not set too well with me. Bad enough in a hotel with a private bath! How well was it cleaned? then the thought occurs to me... perhaps that is what the shower nozzle is for... for me to clean the tub with myself before I take my bath! So I use it, squirt it down real good, but now the truth comes out. I feel rather stupid sitting in a tub! Where's the rubber duck to play with? I'm just not a tub person. Others may take a bath... I like a good hot shower. Well, I am clean enough now anyway, squatting in ankle deep soapy water like a chicken trying to act like a duck. So I use the detachable shower nozzle to give myself a final rinse off, pull the plug on the tub, and stand there drying myself off with the dish rag. And now... since I absolutely recoil at the thought of stepping on a cold linoleum floor, I toss my dirty underwear... yes I confess... my DIRTY UNDERWEAR onto the middle of the floor, wipe my foot, and gingerly place it upon the underwear, then dry my other foot, and I am out of the bathtub. And there I stand on my dirty underwear... like I was stranded on a small island surrounded my piranhas. Yes... I know... the notion of me being some bold traveler is thoroughly dispelled. Somewhere years ago I read where Jacqueline Onassis used seven towels... SEVEN TOWELS for her bath! I confess that oft times when I crawl out of the shower even at home in less than ideal times... and step onto the bath mat I am reminded of that. Here was by far less than the ideal. And there, perched upon my underwear I am reminded of the pink flamingo... that balances upon one leg. I do the same as I very carefully put don my garb for the day.

I turn now to the sink to shave, which is never a pleasant experience when the water is not hot enough. Oh the pain dragging a razor over stubborn whiskers. All that comes out of the faucet is a trickle of luke warm water, but I manage. I gather up my stuff, mop up the water upon the ground with the wet underwear, pick them up as gently as possible, and scurry off through the hall to my room.

Just before I depart for the day I fill the sink up with water, add some laundry soap, and one at a time wash out my dirty clothes (underwear included) wring them out real good, repeat the process several times, and hang them on hangers to dry. With that chore done, I pack my day pack with the belongings I am likely to need, open the door and walk the two flight downstairs to exit the hotel. The attendant, who wonders what I am doing at such an hour, meets me. I ask him what time it is, and that is when I realize I am a bigger idiot than the fella with the jackhammer, for it was only 1:30 am. With that information, I sheepishly make gestures attempting to show that I am messed up time wise because of my flight over here. I wonder what he thought I was doing. Another blot for the American tourist. And with that, I crawled upstairs again to wait a more decent hour to begin my trek for the day. I decide to just lie down in my clothes. But before I do, I set the time on my Sony Walkman cassette player. Laying there the magic of Rome began to work on me. No... Rome wasn't about to disintegrate. Rome thrives... it works... it lives. It was so old... so antiquated... I couldn't help but to think perhaps I am in the most beautiful city in the world.

(to be continued when I get 'round to it... or when I think you can stand some more...)

Posted by terrav 00:45 Comments (0)

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