Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rosemary in St Gallen Switzerland

Driving North to Switzerland 8.17.06

Early on Thursday morning, the 17th of August, under cloudy skies, Bob and I packed up the car and headed north to Switzerland. We enjoy the drive north from Verona with all the vineyards and mountains that are part of the pre-Alps and under foreboding skies, it was all the more dramatic. We had carefully planned our route to make a few stops along the way, expecting to be in St. Gallen, in Switzerland, by the end of the day.

Our route took us west, around Milan with a stop for coffee in Lake Como.
The weather was uncooperative and raindrops fell on us as we wandered around the small historic part of the city and looked out over the lake, stopping to admire the 14th century Duomo. We ordered cappuccinos and cornetti and sat at a café by the lake, but not for long, as it was clear the rain was imminent.

Back in the car, we headed into Switzerland. The northern border of Italy, the top of this tall, slender boot has a curved and lacey edge that rises up into Switzerland and Austria to the north, flares out to France in the west and Slovakia to the east, with Croatia directly across the Adriatic. It's a fascinating area with all these cultures overlapping each other and at the border towns, melting together so that some places in Italy seem more Germanic or French and others in Austria and France, more Italian!

Switzerland dips down into Italy at Lakes Como and Lugano, where you cross the border. We made a point of stopping to have our passports stamped, although this is not required any more when traveling through Europe. No one even checks to see if you have a passport, or documents of any kind; your car is just waved through. We found this a bit surprising in the current state of world affairs and wondered if perhaps there is what we Americans would call "racial profiling" going on, but did not witness anything like this. Crossing into Switzerland, almost immediately the mountains seemed taller, the Alps began to grow before our eyes. The darkening, cloud-filled sky and falling rain made the views all the more dramatic and everywhere we looked there were waterfalls, pouring down from incredible heights but with nowhere to stop the car and take photos we had to just soak it in to our memories. Photos I snapped from the car windows do not do it justice!

The rain had let up and we were able to enjoy lunch at an outdoor café in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, where we did what most tourists who are passing through do: we had our passports stamped and we bought postcards and mailed them from this tiny little principality! I painted a small watercolor of the cathedral and we drove up the road to a park behind the prince's castle (the crown prince and his family actually live there, in a castle on a hill overlooking the city) where we decided a short nap would be more beneficial than a short walk in the woods and we took advantage of the peace and quiet to do just that.

Driving into Switzerland we were very aware of once again being illiterate and not speaking any German it was a challenge to do even the simplest things. We managed however and most people were kind and helpful.

We arrived as planned, in St. Gallen in the late afternoon, found a place to park our car temporarily near the train station and called our friend Helena who came to meet us. After hugs and greetings she suggested we move the car to a less expensive place. Parking in this garage cost 2.50 euros for every 15 minutes. We were beginning to see what she meant when she said that Switzerland was very expensive!

(to be continued: St. Gallen, Switzerland 8.17 - 8.21.06)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

We are home, in Verona

We are back from our vacation from our vacation. We drove from Verona to Liechtenstein to Switzerland to Germany to France and home to Verona. We will fill in with photos and story when we are not so tired. For those of you who are still interested.
Lots of LOVE

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Piazza Bra cafes at night, Verona

Off to Switzerland and France 8.16.06

Tomorrow morning, early, we will head off to visit our friend Helena and meet her family in St. Gallen, Switzerland. We are excited about doing both! Our route will take us past Lake Como, where we plan to stop to admire the lake and then up into Switzerland with another stop in the little country of Liechtenstein. By the end of the day we expect to be in St. Gallen. We will spend a few days in St. Gallen, with a day trip to Zurich and a few days in Basel. This is our first visit to this country and there are many things we want to see, especially the wonderful art museums. We don’t expect to be online during this time so you will not see any new posts for a couple of weeks.

Leaving Switzerland, we will head south into France passing Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) and Grenoble, heading into the region known as the Chartreuse and the Vercors and spending a weekend at the family home of Andrea’s new husband, Vincent, who we met at the wedding. They kindly invited us to come and visit and we are taking them up on their offer.

We expect to be back in Verona around the 28th of August. If you are still with us, check back again in early September to see what we’ve been up to!

Arrivederci for now!
Rosemary & Bob

Brescia 8.13.06

On Monday we drove to Brescia, just on the other side of Lago di Garda, for the day. It’s a short drive with some pretty scenery and we were delighted at how pretty this city is. We arrived early – around 9 am and the streets were fairly deserted. This week was a holiday week in Italy, one of the biggest vacation times here. Ferragosto is the time of year when most Italians are on vacation. Many shops and restaurants have signs on their doors giving the dates that they will be closed for “ferie” (vacation, or holiday). I enjoyed this time period last year in Perugia as there were not many people there and the tranquility of the normally busy year – most students and residents out of town, was a delightful change from the norm.

Brescia was experiencing this same feeling of having been abandoned by its residents and we loved being able to wander around, taking photos without maneuvering around tourists!

We had a cappuccino and a cornetto in one of the piazzas, visited the wonderful city museum in a former convent of Santa Giulia, which had originally been a roman villa, admiring the mosaics on the floors and the crusty Roman bits. We visited the Duomo Nuova and its predecessor, the lovely round Duomo Vecchio, many of the beautiful piazzas in this very fine city. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue with some puffy white clouds.

Here is just a sampling of some of the details that captured our attention:
Duomo Nuovo and Duomo Vecchio New and Old Cathedral, Brescia

Building Detail in Piazza Loggia

Ancient Lamp in Duomo Vecchio

"Great Knockers" Those of you who are Young Frankenstein fans will get the reference.

Colors of Brescia

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Verona Market Day 8.5.06

Last Saturday morning I took the bus and went to Verona. It's quite easy to do, as there is a bus stop right on our street that leaves you at the train station. It is then a few minutes' walk to the stadium, around which the market takes place. It is much, much larger than the little market near our apartment on Wednesday mornings and I wanted to experience it for myself.

There are many stands selling clothing, all sorts of clothing, shoes, shirts, dresses, underwear, bathing suits, socks, for everyone from babies to grandmothers and all sorts of household goods, sheets and bedding, carpets, kitchen utensils, you name it. These markets are like big open-air malls and you even see people trying on clothes, over the ones they are wearing! This one even had a stand selling pets, like birds, puppies and kittens. On every side there are also the fruit and vegetable sellers, the cheese and cold cuts, the grilled meats and the raw meats. It is a veritable feast for the eyes and I love just walking around and seeing what is on display. This is much tamer than the Ballerò or Vucciaria markets in Palermo where everything is literally spilling out all over the streets and in your face, and the meats here were more ordinary looking roasts and chops and cutlets - I don't believe I saw a single animal head or strange unidentifiable innards hanging anywhere!

I had fun though and then decided to walk into Centro, around a 10 or 15-minute walk from the stadium. It fun to just wander around on my own and I enjoyed doing a little window-shopping. The sky was a most beautiful shade of blue with white puffy clouds and I stopped to make a few watercolor sketches.

Here's a little sampling of the things I saw on my walk through the market and around Verona, which is fast becoming one of our favorite cities.

Summer Peaches

Abundant Zucchini

Colorful Pepperoncini

Verona on my market day

This area is called the "listone" with outdoor cafes, bars and restaurants in Piazza Bra

I really enjoy the colors of the buildings that curve around Piazza Bra

The "Porta del'Orologio, the gate that leads into Piazza Bra and Centro

Window detail in Verona

16th century frescoes on the facade of a palazzo in Piazza Erbe

Madama Butterfly at the Arena, Verona 8.5.06

Last Saturday night I went to the Roman Arena in Verona with our friend Laura, while Bob and Giorgio (not big opera fans) went off for a beer and a pizza. I had decided that I really wanted to see this opera here and as I knew that Laura also enjoyed going, we decided to go together and leave the men to themselves.

It was a lovely evening, even cool enough for me to be glad I had brought a sweater. Our seats were in the less expensive (26 euros a tickets), non-numbered, first-come-first-served section. Fortunately, even though we didn't arrive very early, our seats were pretty good, if a bit further away from the stage than would be optimal. But since we had splurged on the better seats when Nick and Jessica were here, I thought this would be fine and it was.

From the moment the sky darkened and the audience started to light their little candles to the last dramatic scene, I was mesmerized. The sets, the lighting, the music, the performances, were all magical to me. Laura, who is more experienced than I at watching live opera performed in this venue has a more critical ear and we talked about which of the performers she felt really excelled and which could have had more power. I just loved it.

Here are a few of the photos I took.

Candles are lit at the beginning of each performance

The geishas singing and dancing so gracefully around on the stage with their parasols

Another scene in the opera, with Madama Butterfly's house at the center

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A Day in the Dolomites 8.4.06

On Friday, after the rainy day in Verona, we took a drive through the Dolomites, in the area around Bolzano. We stopped in this very German feeling city to see the “Iceman” – a fully preserved glacier mummy 5300 years old found in the mountains north of here around 1991. A huge section of the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology is devoted to this incredible find, along with his clothing and tools that were also preserved in the ice. Fascinating. (

We enjoyed just driving through this amazing part of Italy. Most of these little towns feel more like Austria or Germany with their mountain chalets and every balcony and windowsill brimming with brightly colored flowers and the German language spoken as readily by the locals as Italian. Even the bakeries seemed more like the German “bakerei” with their pretzels and brown bread! The scenery is breathtaking! Here are a few of the views we enjoyed as we drove off the main highway and made our way along the narrow roads that wind through the Dolomites.

Views of the Dolomites

We had a bird's eye view of these vineyards on the way back to Verona from the Dolomites

Views of the Dolomites

Waterfall in the Dolomites area

More Dolomites

Dolomites near Passo Sella, with snow!

Another view of the Dolomites

A castle we saw from the road, heading into the Dolomites area

One of the mountain chalets in this area of Italy. This one is a hotel.

Views of Verona, after a rainy morning

Silhouette of San Giorgio, with reflections in the Adige

View of Ponte Pietra with Teatro Romano and Castel San Pietro at the left

More views of Verona

Detail of the Ponte Scaligero that leads to Castelvecchio

Porta Pietra, one of the city gates, from the bridge over the Adige

In the San Stefano neighborhood, near Ponte Pietra

Dried Flowers near the bridge (what are they, do you know?)

Monument to the Caduti (the "fallen," or war dead) at the entrance to the Ponte Vittoria

Verona morning 8.5.06

I woke up early today, around 5, quietly tip-toed out of the bedroom so as not to wake Bob, walked into the living/dining room, pulled up the shutters and stepped out onto the cool balcony. The stars were still visible overheard and the sky was a deep blue. Now it's almost 6 and it's getting brighter outside and so peaceful and quiet. There are no other lights on in the houses around us so I guess everyone is still asleep. There are no cars driving by at all and just that gentle breeze that comes at sunrise. I have always been an early riser (if I don't stay up too late the night before!) and enjoy these quiet morning hours. Usually I have a cup of coffee by my side. I have just put some on to brew and I'm waiting to hear the familiar bubbling sound telling me the coffee is done. Since we have been in Italy, and even before we left the states many mornings, we use a Moka pot to make our morning espresso. That's the kind where you put the water in the bottom, the coffee in the strainer in the middle and screw the top on. When the water boils, it bubbles up through the middle and into the part of top. We have a little manual frother also that we purchased in Perugia (one of our few possessions here and almost everything else belongs with the apartment) so we can make some foam and have our cappuccinos every day. For breakfast we usually have some bread and butter or jam, I might have some cereal or, if we can find it at the Erboristeria, a bowl of oatmeal and some fruit. Occasionally I make a frittata or some fried or scrambled eggs, but usually it's a simple affair.

We finally had some great rain! It was raining the last day I wrote here and it rained on and off for most of the day. It was so cool and lovely! I wrote and pulled photos and sat in front of the computer and looked out the window, still in my pajamas until well after lunch! Then Bob went off to run and errand and came back telling me we had to go out and walk around Verona. That it was gorgeous out, too nice to be in the house. So off we went. He was right. The sky was a gorgeous blue with lots of drama as the clouds were still swirling around and the temperatures had dropped from the previous hot days. We parked near the Castelvecchio on Corso Cavour and walked along the river, enjoying the views of the bridges and the views from the other side of the river, looking towards the historic center. A river flows through Verona, in a serpentine shape and it is said that the city of Verona is "on a bend of the River Adige." And because of this, every bend reveals another panorama or ancient bridge. We find ourselves falling in love with this city as we come to know it better and we always enjoy just walking along the river, attracted as we always are, to the water and the reflections and the colors of the buildings, the many beautiful churches and tall bell towers that rise above them. The sky up until now has been disappointing and hazy and we haven't felt that it has enhanced our photos but this day was an exception and Bob went off to photograph my himself while I stopped to do a watercolor sketch of one of the bridge views I like especially.

After a while it became obvious that the clouds were building and, concerned that I would get caught in a downpour, quickly wrapped up my painting, putting my watercolor block into a plastic bag I keep in my cloth bag and pulling out the little umbrella I had stuffed in it earlier. Just as I was doing all of that hurriedly, Bob phoned me to say that he was heading for the car. As we were by now in different parts of the city, it was decided that we should both just head for the car and meet there. I walked back quickly along the river, turning onto Punta Vittoria and back towards Castelvecchio, passing the old Roman gate and onto Corso Cavour, where the little plaque points out to passersby that this is the spot where Tybalt was killed by Romeo (as if this was an actual event!) and passed the sweet little church of San Lorenzo, meeting Bob next to our car, just up the street. Verona seemed larger to me when we arrived and it was all new. The more times we go there, the more intimate it feels and the closer things seem to each other.

Today Giorgio (our landlord and friend) is taking Bob (and our car) to his auto mechanic for a check up. We are planning a trip to Switzerland and France at the end of August and wanted to be sure the car had a tune up and all the necessary oil changes etc. He asked Giorgio for a suggestion of where to take it and Giorgio said he had a friend who did this and he would take him there. Once again we find ourselves in a fortunate position, with landlords willing to help us with whatever we need, generously taking time from their busy schedules and we appreciate this so much. Laura (Giorgio's wife) recently found a doctor for me to see for my thyroid condition (the dottoressa came to my apartment!), have my blood drawn and go for an ultrasound (everything is fine) and faxed all the reports to the doctor for me. She and I are going to the Roman Arena tonight to see "Madama Butterfly" together while the guys (I told you I didn't think I could get Bob to go with me again to the opera!) will go have a pizza and a beer!

Life is good. We can't complain one tiny bit. We hope it's good for you too, wherever you are.

Buona giornata,

Padova images

A view of the city from the piazza, Prato della Valle, with Sant'Antonio in the distance

Giotto's 14th century masterpiece, frescoes in the Capella degli Scrovegni

Arabesque window detail

Botanical Gardens, Verona & Padova

Giardini Giusti, Verona

Cactus, Orto Botanico, Padova

Water Lilly, Orto Botanico, Padova

"Aristolochia" - a fascinating and strange blooming vine

Modena, in Emilia-Romagna

Bell Tower, Torre Ghirlandina, in Piazza Grande

Interesting Building detail, Modena

The Romanesque 11th century Duomo

Summer Days in & near the Veneto 8.3.06

It's raining. I awoke to the sound of rain in the early hours of the morning and rushed to bring in the small load of laundry we had put out last night, closing the shutters in the living/dining room to keep the rain out and climbed back into bed, pulling the sheets up over me. The foam in my morning cappuccino is dissolving in the humidity as I sit here in front of the computer, on this grey and gloomy morning. Not that I mind grey and gloomy. Just the opposite, really. I have always enjoyed a good rainy day and as we haven't had many since we arrived in the Veneto, this is a treat. Well, there have been a few cloudy days with wonderful lightning and thunder but then just a tease of 5 or 10 minutes of heavy rain and the clouds moved away and the hazy blue skies (and heat) returned.

It has been hot. No sooner had we settled ourselves in here in Borgo Roma, just 5 minutes outside Verona's old city, the heat settled in too. We bought a couple of fans (which Laura & Giorgio, our landlords, kindly reimbursed us for), since we don't have air conditioning and tried to keep as comfortable as possible, reminding ourselves that we were living simply, that it was not as hot as Phoenix, surely, and that we could go off to the lake whenever we wanted to. Cold showers helped. Cold drinks helped. An ice pack helped! It was completely still. No breezes blowing in the windows whatsoever. The leaves on the trees did not move. The curtains did not flutter. We were pretty lethargic.

We went to the lake again. Relaxed in the cool waters of Lago di Garda at Punto San Vigilio. It was so hazy the mountains that had been layers of blue and purple on our last visit disappeared in the distance. Like Mt. Etna on all those days that there were clouds and it became like a phantom and you wondered "was it really there or just a figment of my imagination?" We kept moving our deck chairs to stay in the shade of the big trees by the lakes' edge. Drank lots of water. Swam. A lovely way to spend a hot summer day.

Another day we drove to Lido di Jesolo, a beach along the Adriatic, near Venice. This is the time of year that Europeans go on vacation. The road to the beach is like the road to the beach anywhere on earth, I think, in the hot summer months - crowded! Venice is only an hour away from Verona, door to door, so to speak. But on this day, we spent one hour sitting in traffic just trying to squeeze through the tollbooths at the Venice exit on the freeway! We couldn't believe it! We thought at first there must have been an accident. Some reason why we were completely at a standstill. Men got out of their cars, stood by the open doors trying to see, walked down a way to inspect, to assess the situation, to give reason for this stall. Then we realized there was just that much traffic going into Venice! Some going into the city, others to the beaches, but just going to Venice!

Our destination was actually north of there. We had decided that the Venice Lido (beach) would probably be expensive and crowded at this time of year but hadn't really expected this type of traffic situation. Once we passed the exit for Venice the road was clear and we spent maybe another half hour or 45 minutes getting to the Lido di Jesolo. This seems like more of a locals' beach and many healthy looking athletic young people were enjoying it. We watched a group of 4 young women in the very skimpy bikinis lying in the sun all day tanning themselves, getting up every now and then to take a quick dip and then back on their towels, soaking up the sun, bathing suit straps down, shoulders and etc. exposed. A very attractive young man nearby kept standing up and preening like a rooster but they didn't seem to take notice.

It was not overly crowded however and there were enough oldsters like us around so that we didn't feel self-conscious and enough activity to keep us well entertained! A family arrived later, an extremely overweight man wearing a skimpy bathing suit and his wife and two daughters. They were carrying a large inflatable raft, settled into a spot on the sand and then into the sea. But first, the mother, a woman probably in her forties, not particularly beautiful or shapely, removed the top of her bathing suit and went into the water like it was the most natural thing in the world to do. This must have made some of the other women braver because after that we noticed several others had done the same. Most of the women wear bikinis here. Most look terrific. Even many of the older women, and by that I mean my age and older. Italian women do take good care of themselves. I don't know how they do it, surrounded by all the vino, pizza, pasta, bread and gelato, but they do. We decided they must spend a lot of time at the gym working out! Because we see them eating all of this stuff! But some, well, let's just say, some of these bodies could use a little more cover up!

We love the sea! We spent all day there, alternating between sitting on our deck chairs under the umbrella we had rented, reading our books and swimming in the sea. The tide was out and we had to wade pretty far to get in up to our shoulders and the water was cool but not cold, not like a bathtub or anything, but warmer than the lake had been. It felt soft and was salty to the taste. The sand under our feet felt firm and comfortable, no beach shoes needed and I like my feet bare underwater.

Heading home late in the day we made the decision to bypass Venice and that dreaded tollbooth area and take a route to the north, past Treviso, back to Verona on smaller roads. Not a really good decision, because the route was not particularly attractive and ended up taking us around 3 hours to get home anyway!

There are other beaches along the Adriatic coast that we might have to try but it's probably just going to be crowded through August with all the Italians and other Europeans on vacation now. We've seen so many cars and campers from the Netherlands, we don't think there are many people left up there!

Lago di Garda (Garda lake) is very nearby and there are many little beaches along its shoreline that we can explore. We have discovered that in the Veneto plain (a good name for it, because it is very flat and not very interesting in many places), the views along the road are not particularly beautiful. It is very industrial up here and not always the most picturesque. But the cities we have seen have been very beautiful and interesting, like Mantova, Padova and Modena, so we will keep exploring. There are also many Botanical Gardens in this area I want to see. In Verona, we have been to the Giusti Gardens already and to Padova's Orto Botanico. These are lush green spaces in the middle of these old cities, and some of Europe's oldest gardens. I loved the greenhouse plants in Padova's garden especially, with some wonderful exotic specimens to sketch!

It's still raining. Now just a light, almost misty drizzle, but still grey and cloudy and cool. Yesterday we did a lot of driving. We left kind of late in the morning, around 10 and headed for Modena (with Roman origins, and famous for their balsamic vinegar) and I enjoyed making a painting of their 11th century Duomo in the main Piazza Grande. We were just sort of getting the lay of the land, never having been there before and by the time we got there, ate a slice of pizza at a little bar and I sketched the rooflines of the church, everything was closed. It seems a very prosperous place and with its wide streets and covered walkways it was an easy city to navigate. The colors were bright oranges, reds and golds, strong colors against the blue sky and white puffy clouds. We found a wonderful covered market.

We drove on to Bologna, capital of the region of Emilia-Romagna, about 40 kilometers away but were not prepared for the size of this city of half a million people. Our GPS system failed us here and we couldn't locate the information office and frustrated, decided we would have to return, next time a little more prepared.

We took the slow way home, avoiding the toll roads and found ourselves in some lovely farmland, not really rolling hills but fields of tall corn, lush green tobacco, sunflowers, already turning brown, and large and small farmhouses and small clusters of houses, more like little borgos than actual towns and not industrial like some of the other roads we have traveled. We have been listening to an Italian radio station called "Sorrisso (smile)" that plays Italian oldies that we like and that's been fun. But this day we had our "Broadway Hits" CD playing and sang along to all those old Broadway show tunes we love. We're cornballs, I know, but I just can't resist singing "Oklahoma" or belting out the words along with Liza to "Cabaret" or "Don't Cry for me Argentina" from Evita, and making fun of "The sun'll come out tomorrow" from Annie. Cornballs, I know.

We made a quick u-turn when we noticed a shop along the road selling "ricotta fresca" and just had to buy some, along with another hunk of cheese - similar to a parmegiano but with a slightly different flavor. The proud owner of the store said it was his own specialty and offered us a taste. We know we have to go back and find out the name of it and buy more when we've eaten all of this because it was just the most wonderful, slightly salty taste with that little bit of crystallization we love.

These last couple of days it seems the weather has changed a bit. It's not so very hot, the weather forecast has been calling for rain, and finally, day before yesterday as we drove into Verona, it poured. I tried to remember how to say, "it's raining cats and dogs" in Italian (piove a cattinelle). So much so that we had to use an umbrella and it felt really good.

Today I think we will just hang out in the apartment and be lazy. I'm reading an interesting book called "Casa Rossa" about an Italian family in Puglia. Jessica brought us a bunch of books and our friend Janet Gould in Phoenix sent us a care package in Sicily that we are still enjoying. We have no shortage of reading material!

I needed to catch up on my blog writing and now we'll have to pull some photos to show you what I've been talking about. Bob has to move photos off the hard drive, onto the backup as we download what we've shot and it fills up all of our storage space. He also burns to DVD as a secondary back up, in case you were wondering what we are doing with all the thousands of images we have been gathering.

I think I'll go make some more coffee and see what I want to eat. All this writing has made me hungry!

End of August we will do some more traveling. We will visit our lovely young friend Helena (from our school days in Perugia) in Switzerland and meet her family. We're very excited as we have never been there and are looking forward to exploring the cities of St. Gallen, Zurich and Basel. We plan to drive then through France and visit with Vincent's family (the new husband of our "German daughter" Andrea) who kindly invited us to come and see where they live in the south of France.

We hope all of you are well and enjoying the summer. We know it has been a hot one in many places and hope you are surviving the heat.

We look forward to hearing from you and thank you for following along with us.

Con affetto,
Rosemary e Robert

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Museo dei Vigili del Fuoco (Firefighting)

This museum in Mantova collects and displays firefighting vehicles and mementoes from the 18th to the 20th century from the first pumps that were dragged by hand, to ones put on trucks and wagons and shows the evolution of equpment used to fight fires along with uniforms, documents and other objects related to firefighting. They have a website, although it is all in Italian, but with more photos, if you are interested:

Mantova (Mantua)

The Skyline of the city of Mantova

The Mantova Cathedral, the Duomo

The Astrological Clock Tower

Statuary Gravemarker in the Monumental Cemetary (detail)

Roofline of churches in Mantova, with the 11th century Rotonda di San Lorenzo