Friday, July 20, 2007

The End

We're in the air again and I've watched two movies but still don't feel tired enough to sleep. I wonder if I will sleep at all. There are less than 3 hours to go before we land in Sydney - at around 6am in the morning I think. Hopefully I'll nap on the bus ride to Canberra. I'm feeling pretty weird about being home again. A year really is a long time and the places we have been over the past few weeks so different from each other, Canada, the UK, then Italy, then Singapore and finally Australia. Well the first and the last are probably the most similar. We are all very quiet really - but maybe Richard and Darcy are just catching my mood.

Singapore was really relaxing. I had forgotten just how comfortable a place it is to be. Richard and Darcy were wondering why we didn't spend more time there and less in Italy but I hope on reflection they will be glad that we spent the time we did in Italy. They also noticed how friendly and helpful Singaporeans are. As I reminded them, Singapore is a relatively cheaper place to get to and to holiday in so they are likely to get a chance to spend more time there themselves when they are older. I didn't push them to do any sight-seeeing as I'm sure they'll be back one day and they'll be able to explore it for themselves - except to take them for a walk along the riverside last night, past parliament house etc. Other than that, they slept, shopped and swam in the pool and Richard finally got to eat Char Keow Teow again - his favourite dish back in Australia but hard to find in Canada, the UK and Italy. He has been craving it ever since he left Australia. The food is so great and cheap in Singapore. Italy was hard for them food wise because of the cost. I was able to cook when we stayed those few nights at the cottage near Assisi, but other than that we had to eat out all the time.

I hope Chris, Richard and Darcy had a good holiday. They can post their comments - come on guys !

I would just love someone to give me a magic voucher that would allow me to fly to wherever I wanted for holidays periodically. Maybe when Anthony is a Qantas pilot I'll get cheap fares if I'm not too old to travel then.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Leaving Italy

I'm still mid-air on the flight from Rome to Singapore though there is probably less than an hour to go as we have been flying for more than 10 hours now. It probably seems like an incredibly long flight to you Canadians but 11 hours is a short flight from those of us leaving at the arse end of the world. Usually I'd been spending just an hour at Singapore airport and reboarding for the second leg of 8 hours or so for Sydney but this time we are stopping over so the boys can visit Singapore, albeit only for 2 days and 1 night. Singapore airlines are a very good airline I think and I have had my oick of movies and TV to watch which has been great. I was getting used to that flying with Qantas and thought all long-haul flights had that capabiility until I discovered Air Canada.

I have just finished watching "in the Land of Women" and wiping the tears away - it's one of those tear-jerker chick-flick type of movies I enjoy. I also watched 'Music and Lyrics' - a Hugh Grant playing Hugh Grant movie and 'WIld Hogs' which I quite enjoyed and made me want to do some long-distance motor-bike riding. I'll have to buy myself a motor-bike capable of long trips. With sons living in Sydney and Newcastle next year there will be plenty of excuses. I bought a leather riding jacket in Florence yesterday - that was my 50th birthday present to myself.

We drove from Florence to Rome yesterday all the way on the Autostrada so it didn't take long. No problem driving straight to the guesthouse this time and we got our old room back. All the luggage we had left was still there. We didn't go anywhere last night. The boys caught up with their friends on the internet and watched movies on the laptop. I did much the same though I went for a walk along Via Tuscolana which is quite a shopping street out in the burbs. Spent quite a lot of time re-packing the suitcases to distribute the weight. I had them all weighting around 24 kilos and fortunately they were all checked in without comment including the snowboard bag which had two snowboards, boots and a pair of ice skates in it. I read in the SMH online that we're having a great ski season this year.

Chris was disappointed to find that his tickets for the concert in Spain had not arrived at the hotel. They were posted by registered mail from the UK and he was able to check online via the tracjing number that they had arrived in Italy but the tracking doesn't work further than that. He has a dilemma as he is booked to fly to Valencia tomorrow but without the ticket he can't attend the concert with his friends and it goes over a few days and includes his camping permit. I hope it arrives before he has to leave. It was great to have him along on the trip and Richard and Darcy enjoyed his company a lot. They call him Cristabel which is a name I fear will stick.

The boys were very good and were up and ready to leave at 8am this morning. It was a good thing I had allowed us a lot of time to drive to the airport as there was quite a traffic jam on the ring road. Everything went very smoothly though - returning the car and checking in etc - which is always a relief.

I am looking forward to visiting Singapore again. I have transitted at the airport many times but haven't stopped over since we stayed there on our way back home from Ghana in 1992.

I am getting excited and sort of nervous now about being home again.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Our initial plan was to leave Turin early in the morning and drive straight to the coast near Genoa and take the scenic coastal route all the way to Pisa and then to Florence, stopping to see the sights of the Italian Riviera. Because of the nocturnal activities of the last night in Turin there was no way the boys could get up early and even then I knew they would be sleeping in the car all the way and wouldn't see anything. I also wanted to get Chris some closure for all his efforts the night before and so I wanted to take him to a police station to report the theft - a process I knew from experience would take a long time. I would be driving so wouldn't have much chance to enjoy the scenery so I made an executive decision to take the Autostrada straight to Firenze (aka Florence). I will luxuriate on the Riviera on my next visit to Italy, funds permitting.

The weather was very hot (almost 40 I think) and stopping for meals on the Autostrada was not pleasant. Huge queues, fast food and failing air conditioning. Our hostel was next to a church and formerly a convent now used as student accommodation during most of the year but tourist accommodation in the summer. There was no air-conditioning so we had to leave the window open. I provided some lotion for insect protection but as usual not everyone felt the necessity so there were bites the next morning. We walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. I felt like going into town but saw the sense of going back to the hostel with the boys and having an early night.

I was able to get up early this morning and walk the 6km or so into the city getting some good photos in the early morning light. I caught a bus back to the hostel and waited for the boys to get ready and we all caught the bus into town. Chris went off to mass at the Duomo while Richard, Darcy and I cruised the streets looking at shops, stalls etc They then joined up with Chris to climb to the top of the bell tower to see the panoramic view of Florence and walk to the Ponte Vecchio, while I meandered around on my own just soaking up the sights as this was my fourth visit to Florence having spent a week here for work-related activities three years ago. I arranged to meet them in the Piazza della Signoria, one of my favourite spots, and from there we did some more shopping and went back to the hostel for another early night. I had bought myself a leather jacket for riding the motorbike and I arranged for the sleeves to be shortened (quite an operation with the cuffs etc) overnight and arranged to pick it up the next morning on our way to Rome after checking out of the hostel.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Yesterday morning was the day of the funeral in Tovo. I left the boys to sleep late and then pack up their stuff and walked around the village a bit and watched the the procession of people walking behind the hearse (which was pale blue) the very short distance fro the church to the cemetary. Olga attended the funeral as Giulio Omodei was a friend, though not a relative, then we had arranged to have lunch together at a restaurant at the next village up the road that served traditional local cuisine. It was very nice of her and she insisted on paying the bill. Afterwards we drove her back home, said our farewells and took to the highway again - this time our destination was Torino.

Again it was a very scenic drive all the way along the valley to Lago di Como, the largest lake in Italy and a favourite summer holiday destination for Italians. The road follows the shores of the lake for quite a distance then goes on to Milan. We didn't really see Milan as we were using the ring roads and making our way back onto the Autostrada towards Torino (aka Turin). We managed to find our hostel in Torino without a map and only stopping once for directions. It is on of the International Hostelling chain and was good for the price, with internet, laundry, a room for the 4 of us with ensuite, and not too far from town.

Being a hostel it was easy to find people to chat to sitting on the Verandah. Chris hung his Australian flag outside the window of our room which was visible from the verandah. I think they were all glad to have people to talk to instead of just each other and me.

They found out that is was the start of a free 4 day music fesival (the largest free festival in Europe) and that Daft Punk was on that night so they spruiked themselves up and went out. Free buses were supposed to be going to and from the venue so they said they would be able to go and get back by themselves. I was really tired as i had been up at dawn and it had been a long drive during which they slept as usual. I had bought Italy sim cards in Rome so that Chris and I could always be in touch so I said if they got stranded to give me a call.

So the mobile rang around 2am and they had not been able to find bus transport back to the city so armed with a map of Torino I set off. I had to stop many times to re-orient myself as it is impossible to see the names of streets until you've passed them or you stop and get out the car to try and find them. They all reported that the concert was awesome, and had the most unique and spectacular stage/lighting show they had ever seen.

Today we went into town and found an on/off tourist bus for 6€ and saw a bit of Torino. There was a old roman palace that had a new baroque facade put on the front that was pretty awesome. There is a lot of baroque architecture in Torino. I especially enjoyed climbing the hill of the Cappuccini to the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Monte (Church). From there you can get a panoramic view of the city.

Turin is a large industrial city with an impressive past. It was the capital of the Savoy Duchy and was also the home of the Risorgimento which was the movement towards the re-unification of Italy after the Napoleonic wars and which finally happened in 1861 with Turin the first capital of the United Italy. In 1864 the capital was moved to Florence and in 1871 to Rome. Turin is also the headquarters of the Fiat car company. We had wanted to tour the museum but ran out of time. I did see one of the new Cinquecentos on display in a piazza though - very cute!

After going back the the hostel after out tour the boys veged with their laptops and internet access. I went out again to have a good look at the permanent exhibition they have erected in the centre of town for the 2006 Winter Olympics - held in Turin and the nearby alps as you know. I was reminded that Canada did NOT win the hockey which must have been a terrible blow. I saw a picture of the victorious Swedish team with my hero, Daniel Alfredsson, who is the captain of the mighty Ottawa Senators.

The boys went out that night to Murphy's (Irish pub, obviously), and I was told later they actually had in irishman behind the bar. One of the regulars there was an Aussie from Brisbane, and he was glad to see some aussies so shouted them a few shots of a dangerous mix of Malibu, Jagermeister and Pineapple juice. Richard was very tired fortunately and came home early. Darcy and Chris lost each other and Darcy eventually staggered in to the hostel at about 2:30am. Chris didn't get back until 6am, fortunately for him he didn't wake me up. Apparently he had spent the previous five hours walking all over Turin looking for a Police Station to take his statement about having his wallet stolen when he entered a disco around 1am. Fortunately he had prepared himself for such an eventuality by emptying his wallet of everything but the cash he might need but he had 45euro in his wallet (a little more that he could just let slide).

So it was a Herculean task to get them up in time for breakfast and packed in time for check-out. We then went to a police station just nearby the hostel where I had a wonderful time explaining Chris' predicament to the lovely Caribinieri there in my very confused way but with lots of laughing and joking. By the time we left with the police report there were about six caribineri gathered around making jokes. Very enjoyable for me both visually and feeling that I was finally making some headway with communicating with the locals but Chris must have found it all a bit overwhelming as I wasn't able to to much translation. I am struggling so hard to find the right words to say next that I can't afford to distract myself by switching to English to try and explain what I think I understood - because I was never quite sure anyway.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The alps

What a magic day ! We took the opportunity of being so close to the border with Switzerland, to take a day trip by train from Tirano (only 6 km from Tovo along the valley) to St Moritz. The train is called the Bernina Express and according to the brochure has the steepest gradient of any rail line that doesn't use ratchets or pulleys. It winds its way around on viaducts and through tunnels steadily climbing to the highest station which is at 2250m and the highest peak next to the rail line was 4000m.

In his essential guidebook for Alpine train travelers, Switzerland by Rail, Anthony Lambert writes:

"This line is the highest rail crossing of the Alps, helping to make it one of Europe's outstanding train journeys. Where else can you travel from glaciers to palm trees in two hours? In summer open-air cars enable passengers to experience the views and glorious air without the interference of glass, making it perfect for photographers. The climb is made even more astonishing by the fact that it is achieved without rack assistance [cogwheels], compelling the builders to devise tortuous loops and spirals to gain or lose height. Sit on the right."

The scenery was amazing with long deep valleys, blue/green glacier-fed lakes, glaciers and soaring peaks. It was very cold considering that not that far away in the cities of northern Italy the temperature was climbing towards 40 celsius and at points it was snowing (lightly). I had warned the boys to wear their warmest clothes but I don't know that they took me seriously. They refused on a point of honour to leave the open-air carriage we were sitting in to get the best views for the relative warmth of the normal carriages.

We actually went a decent way into Switzerland, going to St Moritz, which although possibly a good place to shop if you wear Armani, Gucci, and Dolce & Cabbana gear, it wasn't really my cup of tea. We had less than two hours there and the boys found an out-door game of chess to play.

When we got back to Tovo we went to spent an hour or so with Olga & Tulia and compared family notes and trees. The boys wanted to go dancing and Franca said there was a good disco in Tirano with Latin-American music. I drove the boys the 6km to Tirano where we saw a sign on the way in saying 'Night Club', but as we pulled up and looked closer it was obvious that 'night club' refers to something more sinister in Italy than in Australia. I left the boys in town and went back to pick them up later in the evening. The found the disco only to discover the Wednesday night is the only night it doesn't operate !!
They found a small pub which had the soccer on and played darts there instead.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The ancestral home - Tovo di Sant'Agata in Valtellina

I really enjoyed the road trip today. The first part was a high-speed Autostrada affair from Padua to Brescia. We decided to take a break there and have a look around as I had never been there either and we thought we might find an internet cafe there as well. The only one we found turned out to be closed on Tuesdays - why Tuesday and not Sunday or Monday? We looked for another one, unsuccessfully, and found ourselves at the main train station. Brescia was obviously a more industrial and busy city than Padua and there seemed to be a larger percentage of immigrants (visible minorities using Canada-speak) from Asia, Africa & Middle East.

From Brescia we turned off the Autostrada and from here on the driving became much more interesting. We took quite a minor highway travelling north towards the mountains. We passed by Lago d'Iseo, a very picturesque lake not as well know as Lago di Como or Lago di Guarda, but just as beautiful and from there the climbing really started. At the top of the mountain range was the ski resort of Aprica. From there it is an extremely steep and winding goat track down into the valley on the other side where Tovo di Sant'Agata, our destination, is located. This valley lies between the range we had just crossed and the alpine range that forms the border with Switzerland. The valley stretches from Lake Como in the west to Bormio in the east and the region is called Valtellina and has its own dialect quite distinct from standard italian.

During the first half of the 20th century, many people from this area migrated to Australia, in particular to Western Australia and to North Queensland. Tovo is where my grandparents grew up and were married and had the first two of their four children before all migrating to Australia. My grandfather, Guiseppe Omodei, travelled to Australia first with one of his brothers to work and earn good money in the mines in west Australia in 1901. They both returned to Tovo, but my grandfather decided to take his wife Caterina Armanasco and two children Jane and Mary, to settle in Australia permanently, and my father Daniel and aunt Margaret were born in far north queensland where they settled.

My father visited his relatives in Tovo at least twice that I know of, the second time with my mother. My aunt Margaret also visited and maintained a correspondence with Olga Armanasco, a relative who I visited in 200 when I toured Italy with my daughter Daniella. Olga and her sisters Tullia and Iside remember my parents and Aunt Margaret quite well. The three sisters live in the same street, two of them next door to each other. I'd love to visit the three of them with my siblings all together one day. They are getting on though - in their seventies and eighties. Their grandfather, Giacomo, was a brother to my grandfather.

Legend has it that half the people in Tovo have the surname Armanasco and the other half Omodei. This is not strictly true but the proprietor of the hotel where we stayed is called Walter Armanasco and the big funeral that was held while we were in Tovo was for one Guilio Omodei. The population of Tovo is just over 500. It is one of many small villages set 2-3 km apart along the length of the valley, many of them perched precariously on the steep slopes of the mountain sides. You see them in the distance and wonder how anyone gets there as the roads are not visible through the trees. The main produce of the area is apples, grapes and dairy produce.

We arrived in Tovo in the early evening and unloaded our gear. I think the hotel proprietors were taking their annual leave before their main tourist season started so the hotel was empty but for us i think. I had booked quite a few months ago and they probably decided to close down their restaurant and take a bit of a break after accepting our booking. However, Franca, the proprietress, was there to welcome us that evening before setting off back to their holiday house near lake Como the next day. She was very chatty but spoke no English, so we struggled along getting confused but sorting things out. She rang Olga for us to let her know we were in town and showed us to her house which was only two blocks from the hotel. I had lost Olga's street address and the email address I had used previously to contact her trhough her son was no longer active so it was a surprise for her and Tullia and Iside. Tullia, the eldest, joined us for dinner at a restaurant in a nearby village before we dropped her home and called it a night.

The younger members of the family, Olga's children, grandchildren (and even a great-grandchild who was born recently) had gone for holidays to the lakeside and were coming back just after we were leaving unfortunately. They don't speak English either which is quite unusual and a bit of a surprise for me as her grandchildren are named Patrick and Denis - go figure !

My mother was not from an Italian background so unfortunately I did not learn to speak the language as a child. I studied it a bit as an adult in evening classes but I am still a beginner. I am not too bad at reading simple stuff and can manage filling out online forms alright and very basic conversation. I would love to be able to speak the language more fluently but I have decided to focus on improving my French for the next 12 months at least.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Motorcycles and Palladio

Today we drove around the the region of Veneto (of which Padova and Venice are a part) to Noale & Scorze for Richard to visit the Aprilia (motorcycles) factory. We found the Aprilia headquarters and we left Richard to frolic amongst the bikes, drooling. When then followed their directions to the factory, only to find that they don't allow visitors (a missed opportunity on their part I believe).

We then made our way west to Vincenza, home to the famous architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), widely considered the most influential person in the history of Western architecture. I became very familiar with the Palladian style when I was in Bath for a conference about three years ago. So I was keen to see his home town. It is much less Palladian then many other cities in Europe as his style became very fashionable at the time Bath and other cities were being massively expanded, but Vicenza was not expanding at the same rate. Still he seemed to have a hand in anything that was going on there during his lifetime and was responsible for the design of many amazing villas for the local elite in the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately Monday is the day the museums are closed in Vicenza. This was a bit of a theme running through our trip. We seemed to be able to pick with incanny accuracy the one activity that was closed for whatever city we were in that day of the week.

Had a meal in a Chinese restaurant for a change from pasta and pizza. Chris met us there after taking time out to find a laundromat and do his laundry. The restaurant had a glass floor revealing a large aquarium below. Below us were some huge gold fish (1-2 feet long) and a shark of comparable size, swimming amongst plants & waterfalls. After dinner the boys went to the Crocodile Pub, which they had walked past earlier in the day and noticed the Aussie theme. I joined them there later in the evening as I had a long drive the next day. It was fairly quiet (it was a monday night) and there were certainly no Aussies there. However the bartender was quite a character. Slightly eccentric, never been to Australia, just thought it was a novel theme. There are so many Irish pubs all over Italian cities - and everywhere else. Chris had his first Fosters (Australia's most famous beer, which not many australians seem to like or drink)

Sunday, July 8, 2007


I had originally intended to spend the day in Padua doing my own thing and let the boys go on their own to Venice. I was beginning to realise though that this would have been stressful, especially for Chris who would have felt responsible for organising things. So we all caught the train from Padua to Venice - it takes about an hour. Then we caught the water bus up the grand canal from the train station. I think Venice inspired Richard and Darcy more than other cities because it is so different.

Apart from walking around the streets for a while they went to the Gallery D'Academia. I said that Richard and Darcy had to visit at least one art gallery while in Italy and it might as well be this one. They were polite about it afterwards at least, though they never asked to go to another gallery again. Chris of course got a lot more out of it. While they were doing that I went ahead by ferry to the Lido which I had never visited before. Darcy took the plunge and went for a swim in the Adriatic. The beach there was absolutely packed. We then split up from Chris as it was Sunday and he wanted to go to mass. Our plan was to visit Murano to see the glass blowing. So we talk the longest, slowest ferry route, stopped off in Burano for a wander around, then onto Murano. By the time we got there the glass-blowing was over for the day so we stayed on the ferry, bot back to the mainland and walked to the train station and then on back to Padua.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


After cleaning up the cottage and packing up we made a fairly late start to drive to Padua (called Padova locally). I wasn't able to get in touch with the owner/manager of the cottage and no-one turned up to take our money so I left a note with the keys in the letter box with my mobile phone number.

Once again the Appenines provided great scenery on the road from Assissi to Bologna where we made a stop. Most of the way we were on the Autostrada. These connect the major cities of Italy and are tolled. The speed limit signs are there to be broken I reckon. I was doing up to 169k kmh and still I was being overtaken. I did overtake a Porsche though. They also have very slow vehicles on the Autostrada so it is quite an intense experience. It is a quite a mountainous area we were driving through so there were lots of long tunnels - different from Aussie toll roads like the Sydney-Newcastle freeway where they blast great gashes through the mountains instead. However the pit stops are very similar as you can see in the photo.

When Charles and I did our tour of Italy by train when Dannii was a toddler, I remember we took a stop in Bologna and I was quite impressed with the old university area. Unfortunately I wasn't well prepared with maps or anything and we didin't find an open tourist information centre. Using a map we got from a shopkeeper the boys walked to the area where the university was marked on the map but I don't think it was the original buildings from medieval times which I had seen before. One thing I've noticed in Italy this time is an obsession with Nutella that I didn't notice before. There was even a Nutella restaurant serving Nutella with crepes, sandwiches, pizzas etc.

Another good hotel! We have been lucky so far with accommodations, except for the one night in London. It is called Al Fagiano and the concierge we found on the desk who is called Alfred was the most amazingly efficient and helpful I have come across ever in Italy. He is really a character. The hotel had been refurbished less than a year ago and I really liked the decor. The room we had was quite large and the bathroom roomy as well. It has a queen bed and two singles, like most of the rooms we have been getting. When one books a quadruple room it doesn't mean there are actually 4 beds. In each case when I was booking I always made a point of letting them know we were not a standard family group and there were no couples amongst us. Chris always had his own bed. Ricky slept with me once but after that one experience convinced Darcy to share the queen bed with him whenever that was necessary.

I shooed the boys out after we settled in as I badly needed to sleep. They went pub hunting. After a nap I went and sat by myself in a piazza where there was live music and observed the mostly young crowd enjoying themselves. They all seem so sociable - it is part of the Italian tradition I suppose and I never saw any drunken rowdiness in spite of the fact that they don't seem to bother about age restrictions serving alcohol. Ricky and Darcy certainly were never asked how old they were. I joined up with them later in the evening to make sure they all got back to the hotel okay. They were a merry lot!

I like the feel of Padua. It certainly has quite a lot to offer the tourist but it is not swamped by them and the majority of the people out and about in cafes, restaurant and bars in the evening are locals. By now I was feeling much more comfortable with the language and although still very much a beginner I felt I could communicate and that always adds a different dimension to being in another country, especially Italy where away from the most heavy tourist areas many people serving in shops, cafes, driving buses etc don't speak English. The boys were feeling a bit cut-off I think because of that. I wish I had been more successful in getting my sons to learn another language at school but the system conspired against me as they never had proper language teachers in primary school and at high school it was not made compulsory.

Friday, July 6, 2007


We drove again to Perugia today as I wanted to catch up with Katia Mugnani who manages the guest house where Dannii and I stayed when we visited in 2000. We have had the odd correspondence since and I wanted to ask her advice about what the boys would enjoy doing while we were in the area. We would have stayed at her guest house, but because of the Jazz festival, her rooms were all booked out months in advance. I was confident I remembered the location but I failed to find it. Perugia was far more busy and large than my recollection and of course both times I have stayed in Perugia previously I was trvelling by bus from the railway station and the bus stops right outside her guest house - easy! I drove round and round and never found the street and the boys had had enough so we drove out of Perugia and towards Gubbio - which had been recommended by the Canadian tourists the previous day as resembling Minis Tirith - which was a bit misleading we thought.

Still, it is a very well-preserved medieval fortress town clinging to the hillside - which in Umbria still seem to be real towns with active agriculture and craft-based industries and not just tourist theme parks. The photo is of Gubbio. On our return to the cottage, rather than go back along the major roads we attempted to follow a minor road which should have led us back to the cottage without going through the middle of Assisi. Big mistake! It almost certainly did lead back but we must have taken a wrong turning somewhere. The road was extremely winding and narrow and like a lot of roads in Italy you get deceived by the signage, which will be good and reassuring for a stretch and then mysteriously be absent the next time you come to a fork in the road.

As usual I flaked after a late dinner while the boys stayed up. We have a longish tomorrow to Padua (well not long really but I am the only driver so I don't want to be sleepy). There is a pattern emerging where I drive during the day and they all nod off in the car so they are awake until the wee hours while I'm zonked. Then I get up early to chase sunrises which doesn't help either. I am going to have to give up this habit soon unless I can organise my life so that I have a siesta each day. It's all Mathieu's fault! It was good to have my own bedroom for 4 days. From now on we are all in one room.

Thursday, July 5, 2007


As usual we started the day fairly late. The boys has stayed up late so I let them sleep in. By the time they all had a shower and breakfast it was almost noon. We headed towards Assisi and found the road to Monte Subasio, one of the highest peaks in the Appenines at 1290m. It is a bit like Kosciusko in that it is just another hill among many, if slightly higher, and there is a dirt road that winds its way quite close to the summit. It happened that we were of like mind as another family of tourists and every time we stopped so did they and we ended up walking to the peak of the mountain with them. It was a bit sound-of-music-ish. They were from Vancouver so I had to tell them the last mountain I climbed was Whistler.

I don't need to describe the views we had today as you can see them from the photos. We stopped in the small medieval hill-town of Spello on the way back. Like Assisi and Perugia it is walled and perched atop a hill, and you park your car outside one of the gates and walk about the town. I think one of the aspects of these towns that gives them such a peaceful feel is the absence of cars as you walk about.

We returned to Santa Maria degli Angeli for a fix at an internet cafe, some grocery shopping then the hunt for a video store. I was not prepared to help in any way except to drive the car wherever I was told as I didn't feel the need to watch a movie. After more failed attempts from poorly expressed (or understood) directions we found a supermarket on the highway that also sold books and DVDs. They bought Madagascar and Casino Royale which we watched tonight.

It's actually 4:30 am in the morning. I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep so I decided to write while listening to some Quebecois folk music courtesy of Mathieu who burnt a CD with lots of music on it for me before I left. When it gets light I'll take a sunrise photo from my bedroom window. I picked up a CD/DVD "Ricky Martin Unplugged" at a service station on the Autostrada out of Rome the other day. We have been listening to it in the car and watching it on the screen also. It is just the right sort of music to set us in a Latin frame of mind and watching Ricky strut his stuff is not too hard on the eye. Even the boys agree!

So if 'Hymns of the 49th Parallel' is the soundtrack to my last few days in Canada, Ricky Martin is providing the soundtrack to our Italian holiday. I already have a soundtrack from my tour of Italy with Dannii which was 'Born to it' by Craig David.

One thing that is different from the other times that I have visited Italy is that this time I have a car to drive around. It is quite liberating but also provides more adrenalin rushes than downhill skiing. The roads in the Umbrian hills and towns are so winding and narrow and at many points only one car can fit. You really have to know exactly how wide your car is - a challenge when driving a hire car. Italians also beep their horns at the slightest thing and any hesitation produces the inevitable honk.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Casa Paradiso, Assisi and Perugia

After yesterday morning's tour or Rome, we caught the metro back to the hotel, checked out and set off northwards. We had some great scenery driving along the slow route through the mountains via Spoleto to Assisi. I didn't realise how mountainous and dramatic the scenery can be in Umbria. On my previous visits I had travelled by train and obviously the rail route avoids the mountainous areas if possible. I had seen pamphlets advertising white-water rafting tours in Umbria and now I realised how that could be.

The farm cottage where we are staying is called "Casa Paradiso" - quite aptly I have to say. It is 8km beyond Assisi and you have to pass though the hill town of Assisi right to the top of the hill then through the Porta di Perlici, and on to a narrow winding road down to the valley of the River Tescio and then up another mountainside. The cottage is just perfect. Very old, but comfortable, with balcony and fantastic views to the mountains. Lots of cats around and a puppy who keeps dropping in. The only flaw is the washing machine whose spin cycle has seen better days so we are having to wring the clothes out by hand.

We arrived at the cottage in the late afternoon, and after settling in we drove through Assisi to Perugia, which is the capital of Umbria and where the nightlife is. The Umbria Jazz festival is on at the moment so the town is full. We had fun at the pub where we ate dinner as we had a very cheerful waiter, Christian, who had very little English but was eager to please. My Italian is at the same level as his English so we both learnt a lot and he was very charming.

We spent a long time after dinner trying to find our way to where we had parked the car. We had tried to find a map of the city when we arrived but with no luck. I think the boys thought I was the responsible one - how quaint ! So the experience was a useful one in that they now realised that the error of their assumptions. I was just pleased that we all remained cheerful and in the end it was a group effort that got us back as we each had a little piece we had remembered. Darcy's were all related to particular spots where he had noticed some beautiful girls. Mine the first two street names I had memorised coming up from where we parked the car before I got distracted with the pleasure of just ambling around Perugia again.

This morning we got up fairly late and took our time to get going. We spent most of the day in Assisi looking around. We also drove down to the valley to Santa Maria degli Angeli. We found a supermaket there and provisioned ourselves for the next three days now that we have a kitchen to cook in. I always find the whole food shopping experience very interesting in another country and I think the boys enjoyed it too.

After returning to the cottage, resting and cooking dinner, we ate then got in the car again and drove back to town as Richard and Darcy wanted to hire a movie to watch. They asked quite a lot of people for directions but we were never able to find a video store.

I find the ambience in Assisi very peaceful and staying in the countryside is very relaxing. Tomorrow I hope to be able to walk to the top of Monte Subasio which is between where we are staying and Assisi.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Roma - siamo qui in fine!

We arrived at our hotel in Rome very late in the evening yesterday. Fortunately Chris, my nephew, was already there as the directions we had were no use because driving up and down the main street it was impossible to see street signs or even the name of metro stations. After some aimless driving, we phoned Chris who walked to the main road from the hotel and became a living signpost.

The passport control queues at Rome airport were very long. By the time I walked some distance to find the car rental office and deal with the paperwork, then walked back to the arrival hall where the boys were waiting with the luggage, then all walked with luggage to the parking garage to pick up the car and load it up it was getting on for 10pm.

The day started off with a minor drama as when we went to check in at Heathrow there were no bookings on the flight for Richard and I. I had checked-in Darcy via the web the previous night as he had an electronic ticket. Richard and I have paper tickets and we had made our reservations via the Air Canada office at Ottawa airport in January. I had double checked them subsequently so I was certain all was okay. According to the Swiss Air clerk at their ticket counter, they had contacted Air Canada to confirm the reservations in May and because they never responded, the bookings were cancelled ! The flight was fully booked so I had to pull out all stops to get us on the flight (poor Darcy has never seen that side of me and probably hopes he never does again).

I really like the City Guest House where we are staying and would recommend it to other travellers. For Rome it is very reasonable, we paid 140 euro per night for the four of us and there were two rooms in the suite and it was obviously recently renovated and in very good taste. They have stored a lot of our luggage for us while we travel around Italy for these two weeks. They have an open-air patio where they serve breakfast which is included in the rate. In comparison, where we stayed in London was an expensive dump.

I really struggled to find any Italian in the beginning. All that would come would be French words. Every day though the situation improves and words and phrases are starting to come back to me. The boys did two half day tours, one of Imperial Rome with Chris and this morning I did the Classic Rome tour with them. Darcy is more interested in the sights and the history than Richard so it is good to have him along. They are all getting along really well together which is great.