Souvenirs from Pontorson-Mont St. Michel, France

 

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You may have noticed that a recurring theme in this blog has been the pattern of proud accomplishments followed by pitiable humiliations resulting from my tendency to make assumptions.

For example, I thought it odd that the check-in time at my B&B in Pontorson, Normandie-Basse was 5:00 pm which is extremely late considering that the only train arrives in the morning. Still, I assumed I would be able to leave my bags at the train station or the B&B office and go out and explore.  Well, there was no train station (or rather a tiny defunct one.)  There was only a platform.  Furthermore my B&B was locked with the curtains drawn.  There was a hand-written sign on the door stating check-in is at 5:00 pm with no exceptions and this was confirmed by the tourist office who said it was no use asking them to phone the owner, Catherine.

This is one of those times when you must turn on the charm and cast yourself on the mercy of the charming young man at the tourist office.  They are not supposed to hold baggage but they will if you are sufficiently sweet and imploring.  I proceeded to take a walk and was astonished to find that Pontorson was absolutely the cutest French town imaginable, very old, very well maintained, with flowers everywhere and real shops frequented by locals.  This was not just a tourist front or a movie set. Residents later informed me that the town had not always looked this way.  English people had bought homes here which they renovated into charming vacation cottages.  The locals had been shamed into keeping up appearances and were now just as house and town proud as the newcomers.

The weather was perfect with a slight sea breeze and so I decided to take the bus to the island of Mont St. Michel, about a 15 minute trip. I got there just as the last tour bus dropped off its passengers for a three hour visit.  I had made a grave mistake in timing. The ancient narrow streets were packed with souvenir shoppers.  It was hot and claustrophobic and there was nothing to do but climb onward and upward to the abbey at the top.

At one point I saw a Thai man laughing with his friends.  He had just bought a souvenir hat only to discover it was made in Thailand!  The craze for finding just the right snow globe, doll (dressed in traditional Norman costume), or painted tray or local cidre (lightly alcoholic cider) in souvenir bottles was just laughable.  I walked out to the muddy beach and looked for shade to wait out the two hours until the bus was to arrive.

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While waiting, I met two Australian ladies who said that thirty years ago one could stay at a hotel on the island and, after the last 5:00 pm local bus left when the tide came in, the place would be peaceful and charming and mysterious, a pleasure for sunset roaming. The ladies had hoped to recapture that experience but now buses ran until midnight and the streets where noisy all night long.  What’s more, the bureau of tourism was now constructing a super tramway so they could bring even more tourists in 24/7.  Depressing.

When I finally got to my B&B at 5:00 pm, Catherine could not have been more welcoming and I was delighted when I found my room was actually an attic with several airy sunny views of gardens, the church, and cute shops.  It had two King beds with perfect shabby chic decor (the table had tea cups and Russian chess set.) The room was large enough to hold a square dance.

 

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When you are a lone budget traveler in Europe you get so used to staying in rooms that you could swear are converted 19th century broom closets, these lucky breaks are a great pleasure. Even though it didn’t get dark until midnight, I just stayed in the room reveling in luxury.

Breakfast the next morning was extremely well-presented with Catherine entertaining the guests in her perfectionist hostess way.  She had been so shocked at my hanging my washing to dry in the bathroom and window, she had substituted her own rotating drying rack and rearranged the clothes.  I found out why check-in was so late.  Catherine works nonstop.  She only has four rooms and they are constantly booked.  She does all the work herself and the neighbors say she never gets out for leisure activities anymore. She is a slave to the B&B and her own perfectionist standards.

After breakfast I decided to rent a bicycle and ride the eleven miles to Mont St. Michel before the tour buses arrived.  The only bike rental place was at a nearby extremely plush campground that was more like a country club with lovely gardens, fountains, stunning swimming pool, and every amenity imaginable.  I was fascinated by this look into a certain lifestyle that is very European and fairly common among the retired middle class. I would see these people shopping in the grocery stores, picnicking with friends in lovely scenic spots, riding bicycles which they had brought on the back of their campers, playing games, and hiking with light day packs.  To me this appeared to be a delicious lifestyle for those who could pull it off with style. While their campers were state-of-the art and somewhat expandable, I doubted that any of these people were wasting money at expensive restaurants or buying absurd souvenirs.

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The bike ride along the river on the auto-free greenbelt was simply glorious and I could see Mont St Michel in the distance most of the time.  On the way back, I stopped at one of the towns between the island and Ponterson where prices at seafood restaurants weren’t quite so high because they had no view of the Mont (trust me, you pay for views at restaurants).  The food was wonderfully fresh and delicious including cold snails and prawns and a fabulous hot grilled fish accompanied by the local “cidre rose” which I loved.

I ended this perfect day with a long snooze for I was exhausted after about thirty miles of bike riding.  I woke, refreshed, to a glorious bright sunny morning  and quickly dressed for my brief walk to the train platform.  Catherine seemed surprised when I checked out and I was wondering why she hadn’t laid out the fancy breakfast.

I walked to the train station and waited patiently.  French trains always seemed to be late.  A man came by and asked in French what time my train was to arrive.  I told him 9:00.  He remarked that I would be waiting twelve hours.  It was now 9:00 at night. Once again my unquestioned assumption (in this case that it was 9:00 am in the morning) had done me in.

Summer Solstice in Paris

 

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High season in Paris is intense but add in a two–week train strike and you’ve got pure madness. While I had booked a hotel for six days, I was unable to get to Paris on the first night.  I knew I would be charged for that day as a no show but was stunned when Booking.com canceled all six nights without even asking me.  The hotel manager instantly rented out my room to desperate people unable to get a train or a flight out (all flights were booked all week.) I emailed the manager during one of the rare moments I could get 3G on the one train from Cannes to Paris. I typed three words:

“Help me, Madjid!!!”

They must have been the magic words because the next cancelation he got, he gave me my room for the remaining five days and I didn’t have to camp out with hundreds of other hapless travelers in the train station.  The hotels made out like bandits with all the cancelation fees and raised rates with waiting lists.  Needless to say, I am no longer a fan of Booking.com considering how they botched the situation knowing full well what was going on.

There were a few wonderful blessings that week.  The weather was spot on perfect – sunny and cool with azure skies.  My room, situated in a women’s clothing district between Pere Lachaise cemetery and the Bastille, was more like a turn-of-the-century rooming house than a hotel. It was tiny with a bathroom shared by everyone on the fifth floor.  Still it included a huge window, a sink, tiny fridge, and microwave.  If the microwave had been a hot plate it would have been the perfect setting for a fifties Paris beatnik.


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The clothing shops in the neighborhood seemed to be wholesalers dealing in fashions imported from China.  They all had an Asian man smoking in the doorway when he wasn’t unpacking huge crates of clothes delivered in vans. The clothes displayed in the windows were rather wild and extremely colorful.  This seemed odd since I never saw a single Parisian, male or female, wearing anything but blue or black or grey (usually denim or leather) with color limited to shoes, bags, scarves, or hair ornaments. I have no idea who buys all these crazy clothes.

Most of the tourists I observed seemed to be French. Their appearance and behavior were no different than small town folks from Ohio visiting Manhattan. Real Parisians were quite easy to spot. For one thing they wore way too much clothing.  They seemed compelled to pile on sweaters and jackets and scarves as if expecting a blue norther whereas the tourists were dressed much more appropriately for the weather.

During my five days in the city, I played at being a Parisienne, buying fabulous food for my tiny fridge and microwave at Monoprix and Franprix supermarkets and taking the subway or walking everywhere.  The exception was the first day when I hopped on the wonderful local bus #38 that cruises through some of the most interesting areas of the city for the price of a subway ticket.

Since I had already seen most of the tourist must-sees (the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Montmartre, Arc de Triumph, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, St. Chapelle, Luxembourg gardens, etc.) I decided to adopt a leisurely pace and attitude, focusing on the few truly wonderful places that many tourists miss.  What’s more, none of these places required waiting in a line.  My suggestions:

1. Cross Pont Alexandre III  – go at sunset taking a small bottle of wine and real wineglass to enjoy while gazing at the view from what may be the most beautiful bridge in Europe.


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2. Meander around Pere Lachaise cemetery (not fabulous but a shady place to stroll on a hot afternoon and contemplate mortality and the brevity of human happiness.)

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3. Visit the Opera Garnier (self-tour this stunning structure for ten euros.  The interior is not to be missed!)

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4. Stroll down Boulevard Haussmann and visit the lovely Musee Jacquemart-Andree, a true gem of an art museum housed in the collectors’ private 19th century mansion.

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5. Walk through the magnificent Tuileries garden and visit the amazing Musee de l’Orangerie.

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6. On Sunday, be sure to visit the Marais district between the Village of St. Paul and Place des Vosges followed by a cruise through the enormous open air market at the Bastille.  The breadth of food and merchandise available at this market will take your breath away. This is real Parisian life at its best!

 

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For me, the challenge of Paris was not staying well-fed or getting from place to place nor making myself understood.  Rather, it was the psychological challenge of dealing with space. Paris is an extremely crowded city and outside of Haussmann’s grande boulevards, the sidewalks are narrow.  Parisians do not routinely move out of your way or pass on the right.  I can’t say anyone bumped into me but I usually felt in danger of a collision.  I tried to counteract this anxiety by going to large open spaces like the Tuileries or Place des Vosges. I truly believe these places are what keep Parisians the least bit civil.

And they truly are civil despite what one hears.  Civility and a carefully guarded privacy are their armor. Yet they rein nothing in when it comes to showing public affection for family and close friends. As a lone traveler, these sights may give rise to poignant moments when you will very likely seek out a quiet spot where you can Skype a loved one.

Allow yourself to feel what you feel. As the French say, “Tu as le droit.”

Fear and Loathing on the Italian/French Riviera

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Yep, I was starting to think I pretty much had this traveling thing down.

Hadn’t I stayed in a gorgeous historic pallazzo in the shadow of the duomo in Florence for thirty-four euros? Wasn’t I clever making an advance reservation for the Uffizzi gallery and breezing past the long lines waiting in the heat?

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Hadn’t I stayed in an ancient monastery in Lucca for twenty euros and walked the entire circumfrance of the city walls observing the natives enjoying real Tuscan life in one of the loveliest places in Europe?

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Hadn’t I stayed in a lovely villa in Cinque Terre with a sea and garden view? And hadn’t I successfullly completted the treacherous three hour hike (it had rained the day before) from Monterrosso al Mare to Vernazza?

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Naturally I was feeling pretty good gazing out at the deserted beach at six in the morning sipping my cappucino and chatting with some American ladies as we waited for our train in Monterosso al Mare. The ladies were going to Milan while I would be changing trains at Genoa to head up the coast on my way to Marseilles where I would catch the fast train to Paris.  I felt pretty smug knowing I would get to see the Ligurian coast (Cinque Terre to Ventimiglia)  as well as Nice, Monaco, Antibes, and Cannes without having to pay for the pleasure.

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The American ladies and I enjoyed the train ride and lovely views on the way to Genoa.  They congratulated me on traveling light and I chuckled as one told me she could easily post a blog on how to do everything wrong on a trip to Europe while I obviously could give advice to the clueless.  We merrily shouted “safe travels!” as I hopped off at the Genoa station.  I distinctly remember this because it was the last happy thought I experienced.  Genoa has five train stations and I had descended at one of the four incorrect ones.

At this point the dreaded travel gremlin was just warming up, rubbing his palms together with relish, licking his claws and chortling in anticipation of the glee that was to come.  I had just arrived in traveler’s hell.

I discovered that if I waited twenty minutes, I could still get to Ventimigia but it would take much longer since this was a commuter train that would be stopping at any place with a beach umbrella and I would surely miss my connection to Marseille but I really had no choice.

After three hours of the Italian Ligurian coast the thrill was gone and I gratefully trudged into the Ventimiglia train station almost on French soil. I vaguely heard someone sighing “greve de train” but was not concerned until I looked up at the departure board and saw the word “CANCELED” next to every destination. Quelle douleur!

Just as I was about to collapse into fetal position in the train station cafeteria, I met my personal role model, an American woman about my age traveling with her daughter.  She was an extremely experienced traveler and had raised all five of her daughters to be great travelers.  She assured me that, when there is a train strike, they are required to have one regional train run around six o’clock in the evening to allow all of the workers to get home.  The train would be packed solid and would stop anywhere there was a beach umbrella to let people on and off but we’d at least be in France where they usually have buses.

I stuck to this woman like glue as she regaled me with wonderful stories of her travels and reassured me that everything would be okay.  We did get on the evening regional train and it was a nightmare with all the crowding and pushing and shoving.  Even the thought that this was great practice for India did not comfort me but the sight of that woman sitting across the aisle, so alert and calm, did. Her daughter was totally unconcerned with full confidence her mom could handle anything.

In this case, there was nothing at all glamorous about the French Riviera. With standing room only, about fifty people got on at Monaco because most of the people who work there don’t live there.

I got off at Cannes, having had about all I could take.  I had been able to book a last minute reservation there because other travelers couldn’t get in and had to cancel.  The people at the Hotel Florian were kindness itself. Of course they had reason to be pleased.  They could collect a charge of one night for last minute cancelations and still fill the rooms with people who were stuck in Cannes. Still, Christian is my personal hero. When I couldn’t get a train or a flight out the next day, he gave me a huge apartment next door designed for a family of four for the same price as the single room I had occupied the night before.

The first night, after calming down with a Spritz Campari, I walked the block to the beach.  All of the territory around the hotel was covered with designer clothing shops, Prada, Ferragamo, Chanel, etc.  The streets were crowded with French tourists.  The women were dressed to kill with bleached cropped hair and dark tans, their skin looking like well-oiled leather.  Rock bands were playing all over the beach and cafes that charged sixty euros for six escargots and a French roll were packed. It was a David Lynch scene for sure.  I was in the French version of the Hotel California!

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The next day, Christian gave me advice on how to deal with the one regional train that would take people to work at eight o’clock the next morning. He said to go to the Monoprix grocery store and buy enough food to make a couple of sandwiches for the six hour trip to Paris, taking at least two water bottles.  Get to the station early and board as quickly as possible taking the first available seat and sticking to it like glue the whole way.

I thanked him and asked if someone would be at the front desk so I could check out at six-thirty in the morning.

“Alors  . . . ”

I don’t know what he actually said but what I heard was:

“You can check out any time you like but you can never leave . . . ”

 

The Veneto, Italy – Il buono, il cattivo, il brutto

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Il buono, il cattivo, il brutto (the good, the bad and the ugly) – that’s what I’m going to tell you about the Veneto.  If you intend to make a relatively thorough job of exploring Italy, you should not leave Venice without checking out a few of the nearby cities that shared in Venice’s heyday and decline, specifically, Padua, Vicenza, and Verona.

Il buono:

You are going to see some thrilling art and architecture and I’m not kidding.  Padua is the home of the Scrovingi Chapel (aka Arena Chapel) where Giotto changed art forever with his 13th century frescos.  Although you must make a reservation and only get a fifteen minute peak before they shoo you out and proceed to clean/dehumidify the air for the next twenty visitors, you will not be sorry you went to the effort.  From there it’s only a short walk to the Baptistry adjacent to the Duomo.  The frescos there were done fifty years later and definitely show Giotto’s influence. The dome interior is truly magnificent and they won’t shoo you out until six pm when they close.

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Giotto – Judas Kiss

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 Padua Baptistry

Vicenza is Palladio-land where large signs show where you are on the pilgrimage to visit all twenty-three of the buildings he designed there.  But first, you should go straight to the Palladio museum where you can examine huge models of all the buildings with cut-away sections so you can see how Palladio brilliantly solved various structural and aesthetic problems.

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Palladio’s Villa Rotunda

Verona may be Romeo and Juliet territory, but you can always skip the touristy stuff (Juliet’s balcony, Romeo’s house, their tomb, etc. Hey, folks, these are fictional characters!) and visit the Basilica of San Zeno and Sant Anastasia church.  These are simply incredible places even if you aren’t into saints’ relics and such.

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San Zeno cloister


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Sant Anastasia

Il cattivo:

The Veneto is hot and humid in June.  By comparison, Houston, Texas and Calcutta, India are cool and dry.  What’s more, there is almost no air conditioning or fans or airy open spaces until you hit the piazzas for a cooling “spreetz” around eight pm.  If you keep your passport and global pass next to your body in a safe pouch, both will be soaking wet with perspiration as will the water-resistant pouch and any large bills you put there for safe-keeping.  You will feel ridiculous staring at some of the most beautiful places on earth when all you long for is to take a shower and hang out an open window in your dreary hostel dorm.  Females should wear sundresses and comfortable walking sandals.  This is one place where men can freely ignore the guideline to eschew shorts in Europe.

Il brutto:

While Rick Steves may merrily traipse around the Veneto hopping on and off regional trains with his global pass, that’s not really how it works.  Most of the Italian trains these days are from the Freccia line and they all require reservations even for a fifteen minute ride.  That’s ten extra euros in spite of your global pass.   Even the intracity trains require reservations although you can chance it and hope for a seat. If you didn’t get all your reservations by mail before your trip and if you do not have a credit card with a four-digit pin for the automatic ticket machine, you are out of luck.  You will have to stand in line at the ticket office for a long, long time and you better be prepared to tell them exactly which train/time you want or they will send you to wait in the customer service line to get a printout of the possibilities – no multitasking here!

Leaving Venice I shared a train car with an American tour group on their way to Florence with their competent American tour guide.  I studied their faces. They were happy, relaxed, and trusting. For a moment I was envious of these travelers who were completely cared for . . . but then, that’s not what this around the world trip is about, is it?

Death (and Swoons) in Venice

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View of Grande Canal from Pallazzo Barbarigo Minotto

After a perfectly dreadful day in Milan with everything going wrong I was peevish when I reached Venice on my birthday facing five days in what some consider the ultimate tourist hell. But there are some things that even hoards of tourists, horrible heat, high prices, and bad food can’t spoil.  It’s just one of those miracles.  Like Gaudi’s Barcelona, there’s nothing on earth like this place.

The first two days, I practically killed myself with exertion during the heat of the day.  On the first day I went on a two hour walking tour that turned into a six hour walking tour (a few of us die-hards just continued to follow the poor guide, Francesco, a native Venetian, until he’d led us to every “secret” non-touristy bizarre spot in town.)  Francesco ended up paying for our water taxi ride and buying us all drinks, the incomparable Aperol “spreetz” (although I learned to love the Campari spritz as well.)  The Venetians drink this stuff all day more or less the way Americans drink ice cold beer in hot weather.

A walking tour with a character like Francesco is a real treat.  There are so many goofy things about Venice history, e.g., the fact that the bone relics of Alexander the Great have almost certainly been revered by Venetians for centuries as the bone relics of St. Mark (San Marco the Evangelist.)  The merchants stole the bone relics from Alexandria and hid them on the ship under dried pork because the muslim inspectors wouldn’t touch the stuff. Then of course there are the antics of Casanova including his daring escape from the  dungeon of the Palazzo Ducale. The kookiness just goes on and on. The mayor of Venice and thirty-five of his subordinates were arrested for corruption on my first day in town.  No one seemed to think it was a big deal that the city was under a military government for ten days.

 

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“Hidden” Pallazzo called “the snail” from walking tour.

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Ancient used book store with winding stairs made of old books to a balcony with a view – from walking tour

The second day, I took the Vaporetto to the Lido and wallowed in the genteel setting of Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice”.  Of course, the Grande Hotel des Bains was closed for renovations so I wasn’t able to indulge in my spritz there but I did have a good fish dinner (head and tail on) at the beach. All I can say is that the Lido is a fabulous break from the crazy noisiness of Venice. Everyone should spend their second day there, renting a cabana and riding hired bikes (there’s almost no traffic.)

 

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Lido Beach

Now let me say this.  When you walk twenty miles in the heat of the day, you can forget about seeing Venice in the evening (sunset around 9:00 pm in May.)  I was dead on my feet by five and spent my evenings in bed with my feet propped up watching movies set in Venice on You Tube.  These included Death in Venice (the male lead dies in Venice), The Comfort of Strangers (the male lead dies in Venice), Don’t Look Now (the male lead dies in Venice), and the Casino Royale sinking pallazzo scene (the female lead dies in Venice.)  I realized that trekking around in the day with a bunch of European and Asian tourists, I just wasn’t appreciating the gothic aspect of Venice with all the “momento mori.” Like the old sections of New Orleans, you have to experience it nearly empty in the cool evening.

I made a firm resolve to force myself to stay in bed during most of my third day and rest up for a long evening out starting around 7:30 p.m.  Around that time, I had a brilliant idea.  I had heard about the “Musica Pallazo” opera concerts held in various rooms (rather than changing scenes on stage) of one of the most fabulous pallazzos in the Veneto, the Pallazzo Barbarigo Minotto.

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Pallazzo Barbarigo Minotto (Musica Pallazzo opera concerts)

Trying to find this place was like going to a speakeasy.  You just have to be in the know or you will never find the back door.  Fortunately this was one time Siri was an angel and didn’t try to make me swim or base jump. The Musica Pallazzo only allows about forty spectators into the concert but I was lucky in that apparently they can always manage an extra folding chair (I had no reservation) for a single supplicant ($100 but worth it!) The evening was thrilling. Sometimes the singers would hand the audience glasses of champagne as if we were guests at the heroine’s party in Paris in the first act.  Often they were inches from our faces.

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Pallazzo Boudoir where Violetta dies in La Traviata

It was Saturday, the night they do La Traviata and in the final death scene of Violetta, the lady sitting behind me fainted or had a seizure and they had to briefly stop the performance for her friends to get her out.  One of the musicians from the orchestra was on the vaporetto after the performance. I asked if people often fainted during their performances.  He joked that “it was a double tragedy!”

The view of the illuminated Grande Canal at night was enchanting but only because I was standing on the edge of the packed vaporetto. I could breathe the cool night air (it was midnight) and see the people partying in the hotels and bars although most of the pallazzos seemed to be vacant and abandoned.  Again, a woman swooned because she was in the center of the crowded vaporetto with no air!

The next day, I didn’t have much choice about staying in during the day.  It was the day of the famous Vodalonga (longboat) race ending on the Grande Canal so the vaporetti weren’t running most of the day and it was rather hot and crowded on the streets and bridges with people cheering the international rowing teams (one was from the “Republic of California.”)

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 Vodalonga Boat Race – Grande Canal, Venice, Italy

Still, later in the day, I was able to trek to the Scuola Grande and Church of San Rocca, an incredible art museum and church, a true Tintoretto pig out (one art pig out in Venice is obligatory.)

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Scuola Grande and Church of San Rocca

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Scuola Grande San Rocca Second Floor Interior

My five days and nights in Venice were complete. One day less wouldn’t have been enough and one day more would have been too much.  Still, I never did really get to see gothic Venice in the dark and empty of people. Maybe that would be worth an autumn visit.

Lake Como, Italy – Ode to a Nightingale

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Villa Carlotta View from Third Floor Ballroom

This is one of those totally counterintuitive travel surprises. I thought Lake Como would be a feast for the visual and taste senses – gorgeous villas and fresh lake fish.  The auditory senses were pretty much overwhelmed by the automobile traffic around the lake but I was in for a surprise.  Once relaxed in my lovely B&B  near Laglio with a fabulous view of Lake Como, I was eager to explore. George Clooney spends his summers here in the Villa Oleandra and I can easily see why. James Bond recovered here after his torture scene in Casino Royale.  This is the perfect spot to recharge.

Yes, it was the auditory sense that made my first night memorable; the evening song of the nightingale.  I’m not a bird fan and I’m not particularly gifted when it comes to music appreciation.  I had also heard the nightingale in Spain and France. This was different.  The song was so intense and passionate, it made the intense and passionate Italian speech I heard all around me seem dull. Maybe by June, the male nightingale is just desperate for a mate, but the little guy made Caruso sound like a bored teenager.

After my harrowing hike against Italian traffic to Laglio where I gaped at George Clooney’s villa and pigged out on lake fish at La Locanda del Cantiere I was ready for a break on the terrace of my B&B soaking up the sunshine and stunning view of the lake. That’s when I snapped to the magnificence of the bird. We read Keat’s “Ode to a Nightingale” in school but we certainly didn’t have an inkling of what he was talking about.  I read it again on my ipad and “got it.”

The next day after another fabulous breakfast, my host, Allesandro, at the Ca Spiga B&B in the tiny hamlet of Torriggia Alta, explained the bus system to me and recommended that I visit Villa Carlotta before catching the ferry to Bellagio.  Allesondro had thoughtfully picked up bus tickets for me (I had forgotten to do so when I arrived in Como.)  In no time I found myself in Caddenabbia looking with dismay at the long line of tourists waiting to get into the Villa Carlotta.  I hesitated but joined the crowd and was very glad I did.  It was the second day in June, cool and sunny.  I would have been nuts to miss it. If you are only going to see one museum/villa/garden on Lake Como, this is the one to go for.  On this second day, the sensual experience that most surprised me was the complex mixture of scents.  There were so many – roses, jasmine, orange blossoms among many, many others that I felt as if I might swoon.  I only wish I had packed a picnic lunch so I could have stayed all day.  What’s more, I am certain one couldn’t have a better view of Bellagio across the lake.

Now I understand why Rick Steves makes such a big deal out of local family-run B&Bs.  This “country villa” right on the lake has been in Allesandro’s family for generations.  He and his family could not have been kinder or more helpful.  They had a real stake in me experiencing absolute delight in their home and their hamlet.  Needless to say, other than the scary Italian traffic, I experienced nothing but absolute delight during my stay at Lake Como. My only advice is to make sure you buy bus tickets upon arriving and pack a picnic lunch for all of your outings!

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Allesandro in the Ca Spiga B&B kitchen