Sep 20, 2014

September 2003

This update is from a letter I wrote to a dear friend, on the way home from a trip to Italy in September 2003. The letter was written while I was on Delta Flight 71 from Rome to Atlanta. 

In 2003 I was 45, my Dad had died in Panama, 8 months earlier. All of my travel updates & observations, handwritten in a shiny blue spiral notebook. 

Dear …… 

Here is my travel report from Italy. I hope this finds you well and that you will enjoy my mental vistas and memories from my recent journey and adventures in Italy. 

We visited, Venezia, Riomaggiore, Manorola, Vernaza, Monterosso, Portofino, Santa Margarita, the Tuscany Region, Florence and Rome. 

We had many highlights, incredible hospitality from the Italian people and wonderful food, cheeses, pastas, breads and wines.  The best olive oil and balsamic vinegar ever and I even tasted a typical anchovy dish in the Cinque Terre region that was superb. It was called TEPONE @ La Vernaza. Roasted potatoes, cooked with rosemary and olive oil, layered with fresh anchovies and fresh sun dried tomatoes with a thin marinara sauce.  It is a favored dish of the Vernaza fishermen. The restaurant, Ristorante Al Castello, 104 steps up a rocky point that looked over the Bay of Poets. 

Venice Water Taxi 

The Italy trip started in Venice. We flew from Atlanta directly to the Marco Polo airport and took a water taxi to the hotel. Venice is such an experience, the first few hours in this city traversing all the canals, is like being on a movie set. 

In Venice we had a 2 hour walking tour which included the church of Saint Mark. We also had a 90 minute Grand Canal tour aboard a private boat. Also rode a local vaporetto and visited the Peggy Gugenheim museum, her private collection of modem art displayed in the palazzo she lived in during her years in Venice. Our tiny hotel, Al Piave, is owned by an Austrian family and they took great care of us. 

We shopped, walked, wandered and got lost in Venice. We had dinner at restaurants frequented by locals, Trattoria alla Scala one of the trip highlights. Our first night in Venice we joined a small dinner birthday party, a group of Italian Russians and danced and celebrated with them till the early morning hours.  It was quite fun, we were included like family. 

After 3 1/2 days in Venice we traveled by car to the village of Monterosso in the Cinque Terre.  Our days here were magical. We stayed at the Porto Roca hotel perched high above the Ligurian Sea, every vista from the hotel framed by incredible blue and green colors of the ocean. The colors 4 and 5 different shades as the sea ebbed back and forth. I remember light blue, dark blue, indigo blue, I saw hints of purple and shades of green I can't name because they were so beautiful.  The movement of the ocean against the rocky cliffs, creating a giant "Alka Seltzer" fizz effect. Certainly, a sea with passion. 

View from Hotel Porto Roca 

The five villages of Cinque Terre are hundreds of years old, steps everywhere and small, very small houses stacked high, the colors alive, emotional. And no cars !  One day we hiked 5 hours at a very slow pace along the sea side on a worn trail that connects all of the villages. The views were spectacular, the oxygen extra rich, it was so wonderful to complete the hike. Every vista creating a mental postcard, this area of Italy is extra beautiful. 


After 3 days on the seaside, we drove inland to the Tuscany Region  We stayed at a farm, simple and very comfortable, Salvadonica. We were right in the middle of thousands of olive trees. The establishment is owned by the same family for the past 14 years.  We spent 4 days here as a base to be able to explore the hills and towns of Tuscany. We visited San Gimignano and Greve. 

Pietra Santa 

We also went to a small town called Pietra Santa, beneath the Carrara marble quarries.  Our guide said the the Colombian sculptor, Botero, had a house here.  We visited a small marble workshop the size of 2 or 3 basketball courts and we were able to observe large marble sculptures coming to life. It was fascinating to see the different phases of the work. They were working on 8 or 10 large statues for a plaza in Madrid. This place was not a tourist stop. We are able to visit because our guide, Nello, was friends with one of the sculptors, or at least that is the story we were told. Pietra Santa was also memorable because we had a very tasty and delicious Chinese lunch there. We actually went to a Chinese restaurant, owned and managed by a Chinese family that had immigrated to Italy years ago. 

From our base at Salvadonica we also visited Florence for a special dinner at the American Consulate. We had invitations because we knew a close relative of the consul. We dined in the private quarters of his residence, a palazzo built in the 1500.  Our host was extremely gracious, he made us all feel right at home. We had drinks in the formal library before dinner. Tall, expansive flower arrangements decorated the formal room, the high ceilings were the tallest I'd seen in a private home. 

Dinner was in the formal dinning room, the ceilings in that room adorned with frescos. The dinner was served on silver trays by the consul staff, the dinner table set elegant, I remember the table was very long and we were all very comfortable in the formal setting. That evening we had risotto, veal, vegetables, tiramisu and 3 wines. After dinner we had the traditional toast with limoncello.  


The American Consulate location in Florence has been in the palazzo since 1947.  There is a rooftop area where we were able to view the evening sky in Florence, the Arno River almost within reach as the lights twinkled in the background. The consulate told us that with the current academic school year, 10,000 American college students were in Florence, along with about 25,000 Americans that live throughout the Tuscany area.  Part of the consulate role, to help mitigate any issues for US Citizens in the area.  It was a magnificent evening, memorable and fun. 

Inside St. Peters in Rom

Our last 2 days were in Rome. And that was a city, city.  It was loud, crowded, lots and lots of traffic. We visited the Pantheon, St. Peters and walked around several of the large piazzas.  When I visited St. Peters Basilica I felt especially close to my Father. It could feel him with me, pacing slow, every step for 10 or 15 minutes, he was right next to me. I cried. I cried. His presence was powerful, my heart filled with love and comfort.  He knows how much I miss him, he joined me at St Peters. 

We had a wonderful guide, Nello DeLibero, he took great care of our group. We always felt safe and he made the experience up close and personal ! It was a wonderful trip. I am looking forward to being home.