Shakespeare on the Hudson July17,2017

Oh summer!  A reconstructed mansion from the early 1800’s, a picnic on a grassy hill overlooking the Hudson ( WestPoint Military Academy across the river provides intermittement booms,”oh the cadets are firing something,”  the guide tells us, and of course Shakespeare under a tent.  

The troupe of actors romped in the tent, around the tent, gamboled through the pouring rain, and generally provided a highly entertaining version of Twelth Night.

Yes I can produce a downpour at any outdoor Shakespeare performance I attend.

Boscobel, a relocated 1810 mansion – at  sunset.

Cartagena, Colombia , January 6-9 2017


After some technical glitches, we made it to Cartagena Colombia on January 6. A friend told us last week that years ago the Colombian government had changed the celebration of Three Kings Day to the Monday following Three Kings Day, so the only parade we say was the long line of traffic that  extended the four miles from the airport to our hotel, this being the big holiday weekend in Colombia, the city is hosting two music festivals, one of electronic music and the other classical. That and the fact that many Colombian familiest celebrate together in their vacation condos here, meant that the  four mile trek from the airport took upwards of an hour.

Myra successfully negotiated a room change to a room that had a balcony-something we most definitely enjoyed.  Especially Saturday night, while browsing through the picture postings of the snow accumulation in New York on our Facebook pages..  We did need to wait a bit until the room was ready, so we hung around by the pool.  I tried to go down to the beach, but my inability  to commit to the vendors who procur you shade for a fee caused an argument between three of them and I left, returned to the grassy areas maintained by the hotel and listened to Gabriel Garcia Marquez tell of Cartagena of a gentler time.  I had the audio book of love in the Time of Cholera on my cell phone.


The Mural in front of Gabriel Garcia’s house in the Old City

We returned to the traffic to go back into to town for dinner.  Myra had reserved a table at 1621, a fusion restaurant of Colombian and French food.  We got our first taste of the Old City.  The Spanish built 11 km of walls around their premier  port city in the 1600’s to keep out the English, and today they still stand protecting the visitors, inside, outside and on top of them.


We celebrate at 1621

We walked around the Old City for a half hour, looking at the artisanal crafts and other fare available in tourist magnets like the Old City.  Many of the shops did have nice things, but we availed ourselves to none of it.  We did have an extremely nice dinner.  The service was top shelf luxury, the food delicious and they brought Myra a birthday cupcake of a sort and sang Feliz Cumpeanos.  A most satisfying experience.

The ride home was also quite an experience.  We got a good look at the city walls as we drove by much of it.  Slowly.  Very slowly.  As the Swedish guest at our hotel described the city had much tourist trade and little structure. Our taxi driver at one point decided to back up down the highway lane, swing right, drive fifty yards more along the entrance ramp and return to the traffic.  A one hour ride home covered four exciting miles.


Saturday January 7


We tried the beach experience. Friday we abandoned the beach for the hotel property after three different locals got into a fray about who had offered us  the opportunity to pay some unspecified amount of money to  rent beach chairs and some shade.  We tried again.  The price dropped from the equivalent of thirty dollars US to the equivalent of fifteen dollar by the time we finished negotiating.  Myra wondered if it would have gone even lower had we spoken Colombian Spanish well.  But, then we wouldn’t earn the amount of salary we earn in the US either.  Probably the trade off worked real well in our favor.


We spent three hours on the beach, dipping in and out of the warm Caribbean waters, while watching hawkers, hawk just about everything.  electronics for your cell phone, pails, shovels, blow up kiddie pools, and every food that could be ported around the beach including Carmen Miranda like fruit sellers with baskets of tropical fruit on their heads.  A local young man stood behind my chair and tried to get my attention.  He wanted a pair of broken styrofoam airplane model wings that were stuck inside the prongs of the beach umbrella.  I returned them and he returned to a series of hawkers.


w20170107_180009We showered and headed back into the Old City shortly before sunset.  We strolled onto the street of sweets, Calle de Dulces where women dressed in colorful dresses sold every version of coconut candies.  We found the Torre De Reloj or the clock tower in the Plaza del Coches.  We strolled under an arch where the slaves had once been brought to auction in the city.  The port was right outside.  We saw a couple of models of old sailing ships and strolled around the outside of the walls around the Naval Museum.  Crowds were gathering on the walls to watch the setting sun, but with waning sunlight we chose to re enter the city and continue through the plazas.  In front of the Iglesia San Pedro we watched an orchestra set up.  The classical music festival was in town as well as an electronic music festival.  The orchestra must have been in some way part of it. We listened to small excerpt from the opera Carmen before moving on.  We walked through the Plaza de Aduanas, the seat of the colonial government and then we stopped to watch the local dancers in the Parque Bolivar.  They  brought to mind  the local dancers we watch often in Flushing Meadow park on summer weekends, the local and the global often overlapping in our lives.  There are many Colombians who have made their homes in Queens and sometimes the food and the folk culture felt familiar.

We past the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, a giant church festively lit, and Myra asked if we could enter. “No,”  the policeman answered it was a matrimonial.  Alas we were not invited to that wedding and we moved on.   We wandered through the darkening streets, lit with electrified versions of what I suppose were supposed to be colonial lanterns.  The already busy streets filled with even more tourists and coches or coaches, pulled by horses competed with taxis and strollers for space. We turned one corner and a mother struggled with a sobbing child, who wailed in Spanish that she wanted to ride a horse. Neither she nor we did that night.

Myra, ever vigilant in researching the best restaurants choose La Mulata from my guidebook. It was the opposite of 1621, small and spare except for the walls that were covered with pictures of famous people from Che to Marilyn Monroe to Mick Jagger.  We again had very tasty dishes, fresh fish with local flavored sauce.

We had another exciting taxi ride home.


Sunday January 8


Alex, our first taxi driver,  had offered  on Friday to give us a tour of the city.  We had not committed one way or the other, but when he picked up us again to bring us into the city of Saturday we decided it was meant to be.. I am pretty sure the doorman at the front of the hotel was not quite convinced that Alex’s English was good enough for us, nor was our Spanish good enough for Alex, but in the end the communication was just fine.  

Alex told us how he used to be a policeman in southern Colombia but the job was not for him, how he lived with his two daughters and parents since the children’s mother had moved to Spain without them, how his brother worked security in the Emirates and how he would like to a job like that, but the new found peace in Colombia made many army personnel available to compete for those jobs.  So he drove the taxi and looked for better opportunities.


I had read about the Bazurto market in one of the guide books and asked him if he would take us there.  He was skeptical when I asked him Saturday evening but was willing to take us there Sunday morning with many warnings to not take out our cell phones or cameras. (the photos included, demonstrate that we were not exactly compliant). We drove through neighborhoods with a variety of Caribbean style houses in varying states of repair and disrepair.  The market lined several streets and unlike the tourist shops of the Old City, the stuff for sale was strictly things locals could eat, cook or wear.  Alex strolled us down a street of fish and fruit vendors.  At one fruit stand  we purchased two unknown fruits.  Alex identified them as nisperos and zapote. Myra used the Google translator and defined them in English as meldar or loquat and sapodilla.   We carried them back in a my daypack which made them kinds of squishy and sticky but very sweet and delicious nonetheless.

With our crazy request out of the way Alex was able to continue on his proposed tourist tour. As we  looked over the harbor from the Bazurto market we noticed two cruise ships in port.  The tourist sites were filled with tourists.


We drove through the barrio of Bolivar to La Popa.  Alex, unfazed with American political correctness, explained the La Popa was founded in the 17th Century.  Myra questioned how a hill could be founded especially since Alex noted that it had been a traditional place of worship for the native people before the coming of the Spanish..  But we settled on the guidebooks interpretation that it was the home of convent built in 1606, by Augustinian Monks and afforded beautiful views of the City along with a mule dressed in Colombian colors and a the usual assortment of souvenir hawkers.20170108_100714


We stopped at a plaza with a bronze statue of old boots that  honors  the poet Luis Carlos Lopez whose poem compares the city of Cartagena to old boots. The information board stated that the poem was on a plaque in front of the boots, but alas there was none to be found. We were told the park was being renovated. I wonder if has a copy.

We did not wait in line to take our pictures ensconced in the boots.botas viejas cartagena


We proceeded on to the Castilo de San Felipe a huge Spanish Fort,  Today it flies the Colombian flag, but once it protected the city from attacks by the English and pirates who wanted to sack the city.  We did not go in.


We drove through the neighborhoods of Manga, named for the Mango Groves that once grew their. We took a picture in Manga Park of a small Spanish Port.


Alex checked in with his mother as he drove through Manga and onto to Boca Grande.  His younger daughter was ill causing Alex lots of stress.  We drove down the main street of Boca Grande, and you could convinced me were on Collins Ave in Miami Beach, high rise residences and hotels interspersed with lots of high priced shopping.  Our last stop was the neighborhood of Getsamani.  Like the Old City, though outside the Muralles, the Old City, walls Getsamani is a colonial city of narrow streets and two storied buildings with ornate balconies, all painted in  pastel colors.   We ate lunch in another restaurant thanks to Myra’s research, Cocina de Pepina.  A waiter, with perfect colloquial English offered us translated menus and again we had a wonderful lunch of soup with shrimps in flavorful broths.  We ordered two different kinds of soup and the waiter brought two bowls for each of us, each with one kind of soup.

The ride back to the hotel might have been the most exciting in a series of exciting rides.  Again the two, perhaps three laned highway whittled down to one lane as we left the city center.  This time, however, a whole host of motorcycles, from little weeny scooter-like sized cycles to big ape hanger, Hell’s Angels Harley styled ones, weaved in and out of the heavily packed traffic.  At one point, our driver, who agitatedly explained to his father on the cell phone why he would be late for some family event,  gave up  driving in the right lane and flew down the left lane, the one supposedly assigned to oncoming traffic. We survived.  We sunned, slept and swam in the pool before Myra found yet another wonderful restaurant.  With a little bit of research we discovered and then located the Restaurant Sara, right next door. There we were served beautifully prepared and presented, new style food, in a restaurant mostly devoid of other customers.  It was delicious yet again and we noted that we had a surprising wonderful experience with Colombian food at very reasonable prices.

We ended our short vacation,but  long enough to miss a snowstorm in New York on Monday.  We strolled the beach in the morning, had the resort style buffet breakfast and got to chat with a young Colombian woman and her German boyfriend before packing up and hailing one last cab to the airport.The driver asked politely, so politely it took us a few tries to figure what he meant, how much we paid for our airline tickets.

Ay, he sighed, he would like to got to Tampa.  Like so many of the Colombians we met, he longed to go to the US.

But fortune, had us born Americans, and we boarded our flight back to New York.


Montreal, Canada August 3-5


Here’s how you get to Montreal from Vermont.  You get in a car and drive for an hour, then you wait in line at the border for an hour, show your passports, answer a few questions, and drive one more hour.  Then you are in Montreal.  It used to be even easier, but then 9-11 happened and you have to remember to bring your passports and answer the questions right.  Like why if you live in NY are you driving through Vermont.  This is not the time or place to be sarcastic about map reading skills.  We answered we were visiting friends in Vermont, and got wished a lovely stay.

We followed the lady in the phone with no problems, right to the Hotel Chrome, even though she insisted it was the Days Inn.  The hotel had changed names two days before, but we took our chances on the review-less Hotel Chrome, which was about $50 less than other hotels per night, and it was just fine.

We parked the hotel a few blocks away, followed the reception clerks directions through Chinatown and we were in the Old City.  The port is on the Saint Lawrence River, where the French settled New France in the 17th Century. It20160803_212938 is filled with old world style buildings and swarms of tourists.  We wandered around.  We watched a bunch of buskers and then we watched a movie projected on a large wall of a bunch of beavers protesting.

Its called City Memories or Cité Memoire in French.  Top directors developed and filmed clips highlighting Montreal’s  375 year history.  You can download an app, which explains and narrates the clips.

We found an A &W.  We hadn’t seen one in the States in years.  We drank root beer and downloaded the app.  I’m still not sure what the beavers were protesting. We hiked up the hill and went to sleep.

August 4


The interior of Bagel Etc. on St. Laurent Street

I am always interested in the visitors to New York City who look at the map and say, oh- it can’t be a long walk from Times Square to Wall Street.  No-its four miles, which is a nice stroll on a country road, but distances on the hotel’s map may be further apart then they appear.  Which is all to say- I thought it would be an easy stroll up to Mount Royal.  First of all, its all uphill, there is quite a bit of interesting street art, which distracted us a bit.  The guidebook suggested we get breakfast of Boulevard Du Mont-Royal.  We just didn’t seem to get there.  We gave up finally and ate in Bagel Etc., a funky cafe with a tin ceiling and interesting decor.  The egg dishes we ordered, were so large we packed up our Montreal Bagels for lunch in the park.


Carvings from the roof of the Chalet at the top of Mont Royal

We found the park long before we found Boulevard Du Mont-Royal.  Mont- Royal, the park, is a series of three peaks surrounded by a park that was designed by Frederick Olmsted, who designed Central Park. We walked up,  and up and then we were at the Chalet and looked out around the city. (the picture at the top is a panoramic overview). We met an interesting couple from  Newfoundland, who took our picture- soon to be this year’s Facebook profile.  He is a high school math teacher and she is a physical therapist who did her training in Montreal thirty years ago.  So of course we discussed schools, and health care and the experience of returning to Montreal after so many years (we too had been there decades before).

We walked across, the series of three peaks, one of the other peaks has a large cross and the third has large antennas.  We were debating on the best way to get down when we met a lovely man with walking poles, who took out his reading glasses to help us with the map.  The way we were  thinking of descending turned out to be through a cemetery or actually a series of cemeteries.  He assured us it was a most lovely route, with quiet tombs ( I am not sure about the alternative to quiet tombs) and lovely trees.  And we were to follow the green line out of the cemetery.  All that turned out to be accurate, and again longer than it looked.  At  the end of the Main Cemetery were two Jewish ones, the Spanish and Portuguese—Shearith Israel Cemetery, inaugurated in 1854 and Shaar Hashomayim . Both were beautiful cemeteries that led us onto a street of beautiful big homes,  many had a modern architectural style.  It was like spending the morning in SoHo, then  walking through a park and a cemetery  and ending up in Forest Hill Gardens.

Back where we entered the park,  we ate our bagels.  We had a brought a dozen bagels to Wendy’s and the taste of NY bagels was not long from our tongues.  Montreal bagels are not NY bagels.  Neither are they an inferior version.  They are their own culinary art form.  One guide book said they are soaked in honey water. The taste is sweeter and crispier.  Equally good – just different-a pleasant surprise.

With our blood sugar level raised and rehydrated, (we drank both large bottles of water we brought and refilled them at the park’s water-fountain) we headed out to find McGill University. I feel obligated  to state at least once, we had our traditional map reading squabbles.  The use of Google Maps in our phones has alleviated much of that, but without a data plan in Canada, we were forced to revert to the paper map and hence the squabbles  But we did find McGill, (Eric was right),  and we walked through blocks of interesting stone townhouses.  We parked ourselves in front of a   small green market tent, and rested.  Eric asked a passing security guard where the Redpath Museum was, and he pointed out we were sitting right in front of it.

Another paper map reading success- sort of.

The Redpath Museum, named for Peter Redpath, is a good example of what museums used to look like.  Lots of exhibits stashed in glass boxes, spread around three un-airconditioned floors.

A stuffed polar bar infront of Peter Redpath

A stuffed polar bar infront of Peter Redpath




One exhibit featured a giant crab shell discovered in a restaurant (-What are you thinking of ordering for dinner, honey?  -I think I’ll have the giant crab.)

Perhaps the most interesting exhibit was a set of correspondence letters between Charles Darwin and John William Dawson.  Darwin used some of Dawson’s research for Origin of the Species, and Darwin subsequently sent him a signed original edition of the book. Dawson was one of the founding presidents of McGill University.

We headed downhill, always a good plan, especially when you are pretty sure your hotel is at the base.  We walked down Rue St. Catherine , a big pedestrian shopping mall of a street.  We took the briefest of looks at  the Montréal First Peoples Festival at the Place du Arts.

Festival of the First People

Festival of the
First People


Mostly I was jealous of the kids running through the fountains.

We returned to the hotel, hot, smelly and exhausted.  Two hours later, we had remedied all three of those conditions and headed back to the Old City for another night of tourist street-strolling, dinner at an unimpressive outdoor cafe and some more barely fathomable, yet enjoyable  viewing of City Memory film clips projected on various parts of the Old City architecture. One series featured a famous hockey player  (we know two hockey players : Gretsky  and Bobby Orr and that’s the sum total of our hockey knowledge), on the perpendicular walls surrounding a parking lot.  The beginning of the clip featured a family moving its belongings out of an apartment onto the streets on a Montreal winter night.  The end of the clip featured a rather impressive three story high, hockey player with CH on his uniform skating right at us.  (had it been baseball- we would definitely have known the back story). The second installation, we actually got, -sort of.  This one was projected on a only slight urine smelling, alley way.  It included a river with fish- which responded to the steps of those who walked on it, by flowing around them.  We got the app to work enough so, that the cell phone narrated a First Nation creation story, while we tried not to inhale too deeply.

August 5, 2016

Okay- we got it now. Montreal is big.  And it has a good Metro system, the couple from Newfoundland told us a one day pass costs $10.  We purchased one each.  And just like New York City, when we couldn’t figure out how to use them, some helpful stranger appeared and showed us.

We were off to the Biodome in the Olympic Park.  It was pleasant, it was well done, it was crowded.  Oh well- I have developed,late in life, a somewhat blaise view of animals in man-made settings.  That said, there is a benefit to seeing jellyfish and their stingers close up and separated from you by  a layer of glass, also we got to look some racoons straight in the eyes,  without having to spend the next hour gathering up the strewn garbage can garbage.   It was a pleasant experience and it got us out to the Olympic Park.


Montreal was hot, the whole time we were there.  So much for going north to escape the heat.  Wandering around the Olympic Park was just short of enjoyable because of the heat, but we did read a plaque of the 1976 Olympic Track and Field gold medal winners and noticed that Bruce Jenner was once famous for something other than having a sex change.

We noticed on the directional, a Jackie Robinson statue.  Baseball speaks so much louder to us than hockey so we went off in search of it. What we didn’t know was that Montreal had a baseball team from 1928-to 1960 that was related to the Brooklyn Dodgers,  Jackie Robinson played there the 1946 season before breaking the color barrier and joining the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Back on the Metro.  The Montreal trains appeared newer than NYC, the stations modern and clean BUT, the trains were not air conditioned.  A fellow rider, later that day, told us it was an environmental decision- hmph!  Next goal the Museum of Beaux Arts.  We got to see a bit of Montreal’s Underground City, before emerging into the hot streets.  It took a little searching and the help of the fast food clerk who went and got her own personal cell phone to find the directions but we made it to the Beaux Arts Musee , the Fine Arts Museum with three gloriously air-conditioned hours to see everything.  We did not nearly see everything.  What we did see was a wonderful exhibit on Pompeii- complete with a room where the Volcano blows up.  Two thousand years later, I still felt pretty sad viewing the volcano ash encrusted bodies, including a mother clutching her child.   We took a quick look at the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit and squeezed in a visit to  Partners In Design. Alfred H. Barr and Philip Johnson.  This was an exhibit  of modernist furniture and design elements that the two men popularized in North America. I told the docent who was managing the virtual reality glasses, that what I knew about Philip Johnson was that he designed the United States Pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.  Of this she wasn’t sure.  Also that he got involved in fight between Robert Moses and Andy Warhol about the murals on the building.  ‘oh, yes”, she said, “that’s the same Philip Johnson.

Then I put on the virtual reality glasses and strolled through Philip Johnson’s Manhattan apartment.

Eric taking a virtual stroll through Philip Johnson's apartment

Eric taking a virtual stroll through Philip Johnson’s apartment

We got ejected from the museum at 5:00 pm, closing time, even before museum fatigue could set it. Anyway, it was nap time- back to the hotel.

Before we left for Vermont, Eric had the need for a pastrami sandwich before a long weekend with vegetarians.  But the one thing that he discovered about Montreal was that it was famous for its smoked meat.   Another Friday night, another city , another Jewish deli.  So off we went in search of Schwartz’s. Not so hard to find, we took the bus, this time up St. Laurent Street.  And there was the predicted line in front.  But we took two seats at the counter, which gave us time to talk to the deli man and yenta in his conversation with the two women next to us who also took the counter seats.  He wanted to know if they were going to go to the Celine Dion’s concert-she was doing a multi-night stand in Montreal. They were- they had tickets for next Tuesday.  Then he told them her main body guard, who she used to leave her kids with, was a good friend of the deli’s and was there the other night.  Nobody recognized him since he was only the body guard.

The smoked meat sandwich was delicious and like Montreal bagels not exactly like its NY cousin.  The counterman, who told us,  between him and his father-in-law, they had spent 50 years working at the deli, asked us to compare the sandwich to Katz’s.  We couldn’t.  We can’t recall ever eating in Katz’s Lower East-side deli.  We  could compare it to the pastrami and corned beef from Ben’s we had the previous Friday- less salty, which, to me,  made it more flavorful and softer.  In Ben’s favor, there was no matzoh ball soup or diet cream soda available and poutine, a cheese drenched french fries dish was an unimaginable substitute for a k’nish.20160805_203047.jpg






With few hours left in Montreal we went up hill in search of Fairmount Bagel Store. It took us through the streets of Le Plateau which were hopping with a young crowd of Friday night celebrators.  Loud music pumped from many open doorways and celebrations spilled onto the street.  We found the bakery on Fairmount Avenue in the Mile End neighbourhood of the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough. (Okay I copied the location from Wikipedia- maybe the links work)

Gone were the young people, replaced by a sprinkling of Chasids on Friday night walks- complete with the distinctive fur hats, probably a lot more comfortable in the winter months, as well as other less identifiable neighborhood residents.  There was a long, long line at an ice cream store, but we didn’t avail ourselves.  Our bellies were full of smoked meat and our backpacks filled with bagels.  We skipped the bus ride back walked downhill to our last night in the hotel.

One of Eric’s favorite photo opps are firehouses.  And Montreal provided him with a doozy.  (Castle or fire station?)









Years  ago, in a restaurant in Buenos Aires,  a friends of a friend insisted Montreal was a two hour drive from New York City.  I realized when I returned home that he had confused New York State with the city.  It took us about seven hours to be back in our driveway.  Not so far in the  climate controlled Toyota, on summertime roads.  A world away, but a place I hope to return to in the not very distant future.

Vermont, July 30- August 2, 2016


When I was 18 years old, I started my freshman year at Harpur College, now known as SUNY Binghamton.  So did the other three old ladies in this picture.  We get together from time to time, when Wendy comes to the United States for a house exchange.  And here we are together in the summer of 2016, 43 years later.


Daniel, Wendy, Iona (a friend of Wendy’s and me)

I have learned that vacationing with Daniel, Wendy’s husband requires conditioning, and this year was no exception.  Here we are at some summit, on the trail behind the Warren Elementary School.


Knoll Farm, Fayston Vermont

Sunday morning we went to Knoll Farm for blueberry picking. I read the literature, the barn pictured above is reported to be from the 1830’s.  Later that day we went to the Waitsfield Vermont Art Show, and the barn was featured prominently in more than one watercolor painting on exhibit.



Vermont is filled with images of summer, I best remember, as those that are featured in lemonade commercials that promote an idyllic vision of summer not necessarily the one I experienced personally.  (In all fairness I would like to say I spent my childhood playing in opened fire hydrants- on hot busy streets but the truth is  I experienced the joys of summer through organized summer camp activities)


Not the kind of activity summer camps encourage.

Monday July 31, 2016

Eric and I remained after the others departed on Sunday night.  Monday we awoke to a rainy day.  We walked along country roads to the Von Trapp nursery.  I have my doubts  there is a human alive on the planet, who has access to regular electricity,  who hasn’t seen the Sound of Music.  When the movie ends, the Von Trapp family valiantly sing their way over the Alps  and escape from the Nazis.  In reality their, escape was far less dramatic, but nonetheless- where they ended up was Vermont.  And anyone who has seen the movie knows there were lots of them- and some descendant or another run the nursery.


The rain continued, so what else was there to do but take the factory tour at Ben and Jerry’s ice cream plant.  We had to wait a couple of hours since, everyone else vacationing in that area of Vermont also were looking for rainy day activities so we strolled through Waterbury before watching an informative film about two industrious young men from Long Island and then touring the factory and of course, sampling the wares.

Outside the factory

Outside the factory

We ate dinner in Montpelier in a Vietnamese Restaurant.-Pho Capital.  We did get to see some of the State Capital buildings while searching out the restaurant.

Tuesday- August 2

Rain over.  Back to hiking.  Ambitious. The rocks were wet, the trails were slippery and Eric and I fell enough times for me to think about canceling my bone density scan next month.  If I didn’t break anything on Tuesday, my bones can’t be that brittle.  We made it to one of the three summits Daniel planned, on the long trail, before abandoning the hike for a more level country road stroll.

Another one of those bucolic summer images.

Another one of those bucolic summer images.










We stopped in Bristol Vermont on the way back and had unbelievably good ice cream at Lulu’s.

We went to another waterhole between Bristol and Lincoln before making our way back to the house.  Daniel was able to point out the quintessential Vermont image, on the way home.











October 8, 2015, Rome-The Vatican, the Pantheon and back to the Jewish Quarter


A Rafael Sculpture at the Vatican

I am egalitarian.  I visit all houses of worship.  Well, that’s not true- who could ever live long enough to visit all houses of worship?  But could one go to Rome and not visit the Vatican?  We used to respond to questions like that with the answer, “Is the Pope Jewish?”  (As I type this, I am thinking- I have no idea what that means, but I digress)

Eric’s coworker told Eric – that the way to visit the Vatican was to be there at 6:30 am.  That didn’t happen. The alarm rang at six. (Yet another use of our trusty cell phones) We stumbled over to Piave Square, unable to sustain ourselves on the chocolate croissant and cup of espresso served at the cafe by our bed and breakfast.  Filled up on the English breakfast (eggs and real toast) we purchased bus tickets and somehow made it to the Vatican by 8:30.  More tour touters.  This time we didn’t bite.  We stood on line for a little over an hour, which was made very bearable by the members of the Brazilian band Los Bigodones.  I know that because they gave me their card.  They spoke English very well- and they noted that our English, that good old New York accented English, was the English they understood the best on the whole trip throughout Europe.  Probably because they get to listen to a lot of American rock music and watch American movies.  So chatting with these pleasant young men (they told me some museums had a special price for people under the age of 26 which they could do)  made the time pass quickly.  We followed the crowds up some elevators, down a hall that had 500 year old murals of maps
of what is now Italy and then we were in the Sistine Chapel.


And that what was why we went to Vatican.  Another Rick Steves audio tour went into to detail about how the  pictures were painted,  Michael Angelo stood up and worked over his head, he didn’t lie down as we have been told.   He pointed out how the relative sizes of the biblical figures changed and how Michaelangelo changed in  his vision of the world during his decades at the Vatican and then ended with how we were probably stairing at the greatest work of art ever produced.  That’s Rick Steve’s opinion, but not easily rejected.  We look at some Rafael sculptures, a variety of paintings , some Egyptology exhibits and the gift shop.  Then we walked over to Saint Peter’s Square, though we couldn’t bear another line to get into the basilica.


The Concrete Dome of the Panthenon

Nuns on a bridge

Nuns on a bridge

We tried to figure out how to get back to the Pantheon using our remaining bus tickets, but by the time we had a plan, we were at Navonna Square and we knew the Pantheon was right behind it.
This time we did get inside and it is far more impressive on the inside than the  outside.  Okay, Rick Steve’s audio tour again, explained how it was the largest dome built for over 1500 years.  And even comparing it to the Duomo which replaced it as the largest dome, it is amazing to consider how the Romans were able to devise the technology to build a concrete dome with exact mathematical proportions in a time before computers, fossil fuel powered tools and electricity.  We can’t find our way back to the hotel without a cell phone and working GPS

I bought five leather pocketbooks as souvenirs- the girls will be surprised I didn’t bring back earrings.  Next  trip they get earrings again, much easier to pack than five pocketbooks.

Octavia Portal Ruins in the Jewish Quarter

Octavia Portal
Ruins in the Jewish Quarter

We returned to the Jewish Quarter for another look.  This time we were able to get into the site with the ruins from Octavia Portico, a building built for a Roman Empress that served various purposes over the years including being used as a fish market.  Though there were other lookers,  and at least one small tour group walked through, it was the first site we had been in, in Italy where the ghosts outnumbered the tourists.   Eric said it best, it was good to spend at least a little quiet time with history.

I will end with this statement the restaurant in Casibianca, a young woman and her two year old son sat next to us.  The waitress spent lots of time chatting with the mom and playing with the son.  She told the mom that she had a three year old son at home.  Did she plan to have another soon the mother asked.
“No,” the waitress replied, though her husband was currently employed he had been out or work for six months and they were Albanians, her siblings and parents were spread across the continent and there was no one to help out.

“Oh,” the woman at the next table, replied, “you should have another one soon, its not good for children to grow up alone.”

Some people live thousands of miles away from their families and wait tables day and night, some people get to take their two year old son on vacation in Tuscany for two weeks.   The world is not fair- I am not unaware of that.  I also am aware that I got to raise two children, surrounded by family and in my sixty-first year climbed over the top of the Siena Hill three times, to look for a car we forgot where we  parked, carried luggage across Venice Canal bridges, viewed Florence from a bell tower 414 steps high and enjoyed the Colosseum in a rain storm.  As well as far more things than I could ever record.

And for this I am truly thankful

October 7, 2015, Rome


Once, forty-four years ago I was in Rome.  I was with a group of teens headed to Israel and we had problems with our flight.  We flew to Amsterdam, where we were given a tour on a canal boat, since our layover was so long, and then on to Rome- and a hotel.  We had been awake close to 40 hours straight – given a bed, I went straight to sleep, but some intrepid members of the group went out (without permission) to see the Colesseum.  I regretted not going  with them but forty-four years later, and well rested, I tried again.

We walked down past  large government buildings guarded in turn by caribini, in regular police looking uniforms, various military members in a range of military uniforms and even some rather elaborated dressed, with plumes coming out of their helmets,  palace guards. We crossed a series of large avenues – always a challenge in Rome, and we fell back in time two millenium.  I know that because I saw gladiators on the street.  Of course the gladiators tried to convince me to take a picture (for a price) with them.  But, hey, one can suspend any portion of reality one chooses to.  And then there were the tour touters.  You can skip the lines, and get an informed tour of Ancient Rome, I know this because any number of people told us so.  But one woman had a softer sell then most, and the sheer scope of what was in front of us made me think, if I was going to purchase a tour anywhere in Italy- here was the place.
Luciana spent the next three hours doing just that.  She related the bloody history of the Colosseum, pointing out its feature along the way. She told us some Roman history, explain that Romulus and Remus were raised by a Lupa which we were always told was a she-wolf, but she explained Lupa could also be translated as a lady of the night.  While we gazed across the arena we looked at the cages where all sort of exotic animals, slaves and gladiators awaited their fates, and at the ominous clouds gathering above.


The recreation of the lift, used to bring animals, gladiators and or scenery into the arena

“Mama mia, That’s” a lot of rain,”  Luciana, muttered as she looked up.
The clouds broke and the rain poured down.  And everyone huddled in the covered sections of the collessium.  Someone asked how many people the Colleseum held in its heyday.  About fifty thousand Luciana answered, and then told us that Obama had commented that was less than RFK stadium, when he visited.

Luciana explained that no one knew the name of the architect who built the stadium but she did show us the toilets and explained how a stick with sponge like stone at the end was used for personal hygiene.  We looked at different steps and drainage pipes and Luciana was out of ideas for stalling.  Eric had a poncho, I had my windbreaker and umbrella but that was the sum total of raingear on our tour. So Luciana collected three dollars from everyone else, took my umbrella and went off to purchases ponchos from the street peddlar.  We emerged, moments later a colorful bunch of pastel ponchoed tourists (and one  ponchoed guide).


Needless to say, within moments blue sky appeared  and seconds later the sun was shining.  We walked past the ticket booth, if you don’t purchase your tickets ahead of time and don’t want to pay for a guide a good strategy might be to purchase them during a rain storm.  There were no lines when we got there.  As I waited for the tour to begin I had read an article on my cell phone about the Titus Arch and the Jews.  The article was from the Forward,  once a Yiddish language paper, it is now published in English. The author worked for a UN organization and told the story about his struggle to keep a plaster reproduction of the scene of the  enslaved Jews being marched into Rome after the fall of the second temple, from being displayed in the UN associated building he worked in.  The scene represented exactly the opposite of the mission of the organization, he argued.  He discussed whether or not it was forbidden for a Jew to walk under the arch.  It was a moot point for us the Arch is now fenced off.  And the modern Italian governement has made admends.  Both the article and Luciana noted that a ceremony is held there every Hanuka.

A recreation of the lift used to bring the animals, gladiators or scenery into the arena

The Titus Arch with its scene of the Jewish slaves being marched into Rome after the fall of the Second Temple.

We toured the Forum grounds with Luciana and there is so much to see and tell I can’t possibly recapitulate it all. We walked around afterwards for a bit, Eric was eager to look at things a second time, and then headed towards the Jewish Quarter.  By the time we got there we were within an hour of sustaining our record of arriving at every synagogue in Italy after it closed.  But somehow we made it.  We paid admission, looked at the exhibits and were give a tour of two synagogues that were once part of the five synagogues that were housed in the building.  The guide explained,  Rome had had a Jewish Community since the first century of the Common Era.  For this reason, Italian Jews are considered neither Sephardic nor Ashkinazic Jews since they did not go East nor West after the Fall of the Temple.  The building housed five congregations to accommodate all the different forms of worship that existed in Rome at the beginning of the twentieth century.

As we stood on the

The Ceiling of the synagogue in Rome

The Ceiling of the synagogue in Rome

plaza listening to the guide, a bunch of school children in light blue uniforms, the boys wearing yarmulkes walked by.  School had let out.  Rome still has a Jewish Community with a Jewish School.

Jewish artichokes and meatballs

Jewish artichokes and meatballs

We had our Roman kosher meal.  We ordered the Jewish artichoke (not to be confused with the goyish artichoke.). and meatballs.  The artichoke was considered  a speciality – with its fried flower -like leaves and tasty center.  I ordered the meatballs since meatballs with an Italian gravy were always a feature of my families holiday meals  I was curious (though my family was never from that part of Europe) to see if the restaurant’s meatballs would be similar.  They weren’t.  Karen, a woman from Chicago, had asked if we knew how one eats the artichoke.  I gave her my best advice- cut it in quarters and then just pick it up and eat it all. And then asked her to join us, which she did. I don’t know if that was correct or not, but  no artichoke remained on anyone’s plate.  If the meatballs didn’t link me to the community in anyway – the meal’s end did.   The waiter brought us sweetened tea, served not in cups but glasses.  “”A glissel of tea”  just like the way my grandparents drank it. (Truth to be told the glasses came with four hazelnuts each- I’m not sure my grandparents would have recognized a hazelnut let alone served it in their tea glasses).

We began our walk back, but first Eric wanted to see the Panthenon.  Which after bickering over map directions we got to look at.  It was closed at the late hour so we got to look at it from the outside while sitting exhausted on the stairs of the fountain in front of it. I overheard a guide explain to his small group that the relationship between Great Britain and India (in his opinion) for the last 250 years was exactly the same as the relationship between Rome and Egypt at the time of the Roman Empire.  Something to ponder, while being unable to stand up, that and how we would get back to the room.  Eric solved that.  We walked over to the cab stand and got into a taxi.

October 6, 2015- Murlo to Rome.

On the Spanish Steps

On the Spanish Steps

I’ve never liked blogs that are filled with complaints.  I do like complaining, though.  So here’s the good news.  At some time between our trip back from Montereggoni and our ride to Rome, Eric figured out you could plan your route on Google Maps while on Wifi, leave it open and even after you drive out of Wifi into an area where you had not paid for data, the little lady in the phone  tells you just where to go as if you were driving around New York.
And that’s how we got to the Rome  Airport. Here’s the bad news.  We somehow drove up the four levels of  the parking structure, located Alamo, Locauto, Enterprise, the wrapped into one back-of- the van entity car rental place.  Here, in the parking structure-it actually had an office but the service was equally slow, rude, and generally unpleasant. I’m not going to waste time ranting about it, but among other things the liscence plate number on the car was different from the one our contract.  I will never rent from Alamo again.

I feel we strongly we belong to that tiny privileged  minority of the world population who get to travel, and not worry about where our next meal is coming from,  Eric sometimes acts like we are twenty year old backpackers who must find the most economical way of entering Rome.  No uniformed chauffeur holding a card with our name at the airport, we found the six euro bus into the Termini Railroad Station, and now competent technology users that we are, followed the blue dot on my cell phone right to our hotel door.  Which is not exactly a hotel, no sign in front, but a label next to the bell board.  We pressed it, we were buzzed in and safely housed in a very pretty bed and breakfast.
Somehow with all our car rental issues we had not eaten since breakfast. It was now 6 pm.  So we walked out of the hotel and turned left and right or maybe right and left or two rights and a left but somehow we were now right in front of school that was built right on top of some ruins.  We knew we were in Rome, then.


We found a cafe, re-energized and bickered a bit about how to get to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain.  The helpful waiter, pointed us towards the metro and gave us good advice. “Rome is smaller than it looks, you can get anywhere, if you keep walking.”
Which turned out to be quite true. I guess you can say the first inhabitants of the Americas crossed the Bering Straits and got everywhere  in the Americas because they kept on walking.  We didn’t exactly cross a continent or two, but we did see the Spanish Steps – a large stone staircase that leads into a Plaza lined with tourist shops, and the Trevi Fountain, waterless and surrounded by scaffolding.- by walking.  And then we walked a lot more- back to our room and collapsed.

October 5, 2015 Tuscany including Sienna and Monteriggoni


Finally a breakfast fit for the huge appetities of these Americans.  Freshly scrambled eggs- a much brighter yellow than I am used to, and lots of good bread, and cakes and croissants and all sorts of stuff – to stuff ourselves with.  Did I mention the fresh fruit?  Lots of that too.  Okay there is is only so much time we could spend on breakfast especially when we had laundry to do. We were off to figure out how to accomplish that with the very pleasant woman at reception.  She drew us a map of the local town, which consisted of an oval that had a cross on one side, and an outlined open cross on the other (that’s the pharmacy sign).  Next to the pharmacy was the laundromat.  We located it.  A little difficult to get past the church because a whole bunch of people were standing in front, this being a Monday morning, we assumed it was a funeral.  But we found the laundry- which wasn’t self-service but we the woman who worked there was able to make it understood that for 30 euros she would do it and we could pick it up at 6pm.  Also I needed something at the pharmacy so I went next store.  The door was unlocked and Iwalked right in.  Nobody was there.  In came the laundry lady, she needed change, “Fernando, Fer…” she called.  Finally a very cute pharmacist  came in through the front door.

So this is Italy, you rent cars in the back of vans and you buy drugs in unlocked store fronts.

Errands out of the way we were off to Siena.  Our side trip to the town of Casiano Murlo put us on twisting side road.  But who cared?  Wasn’t that what we wanted to see?  The rolling hills of Tuscany?  And when we had twisted and rolled enough I started to question if we were going the right way, and out of the fog over a distant hill, Sienna, with its distinctive bell towers, appeared.

The view from the playground just above where we parked the car

The view from the playground just above where we parked the car

A couple, who we had sat next to at dinner, Saturday night, had told us that it took them over an hour and half to find parking in Tuscany.  They also told us to visit San Gimigmano, but more about that later. Having lived all our lives in NYC, looking for parking was not a condition we were unfamiliar with. So Eric dove into the first available spot  on the side of the hill just below the ancient portal to Sienna.  And next to this, an ancient stone portal surrounding the medieval village was a not so ancient parking meter machine.  Now I remember encountering parking ticket machines in Europe, long before they replaced those individual dials on stick that were the parking meters I knew and didn’t love.  But New York City and most of the rest the places we pay for parking have adopted that central parking machine system these days. Doesn’t mean we are good at using them.  I watched several people operate the machine, Eric finally gave up on me trying to figure it out and fiddled with it until a ticket popped out. So we had two hours to explore Siena.  That town that had popped out the clouds as we drove, was exactly as we had pictured it in the distance, a collection of medieval buildings and churches and a university that rolled up and down the hill.  And  we hiked up and down to explore.  There were a variety of interesting old statues of bronze and stone and then some even more interesting fiberglass ones, placed there recently.  The artist had a Chinese name and though I never found out for sure, I assumed she was associated with the rather large University of Siena.

Modern Siena Sculpture and two tourists, one unknown.

Modern Siena Sculpture
and two tourists, one unknown.

We looked at the churches and their respective bell towers from the outside but with the two hour time limit we did not go in.  And then it was time to go down the hill to the car. But here’s the thing about towns or cities that are built on top of hill, anyway you go from the top is down.  And if this city just happens to be a medieval city, remembering that you came in through a portal is not particularly helpful.  So we went down the hill, through a stone portal- and we were nowhere near where we had parked the car.  So we went up to the top, came down the other side of the university and out another portal.  Still not familiar looking territory.  Then we went up a third time and Eric recognized a building with a crane in front of it. The combination of ancient buildings and modern equipment never gets old for Eric, so he had spent a long time looking at it, which gave us a clue that our third attempt at descent and passing through the portal actually resulted in finding the car.


We planned to continue on to San Gimigmano- because the couple at the restaurant said it had a medieval castle.  We had a map of Tuscany, but those GPS Google Maps on our cell phones, have greatly reduced our ability (if we ever had it) to navigate using paper maps.  Just for the record, here, I note that we could have figured out how to purchase a local data plan, but we assumed that because we have traveled to unknown places before and somehow managed to return we could manage just fine without spending the whopping $30 bucks it would cost us.

We missed the main road again.We were traveling north just past Siena, not near our intended target, when I saw a sign that said castle.  I looked to my right and there was a castle and then a tour bus turned out of a road up ahead and Eric decided there really was a castle there.  It wasn’t San Gimigmano.   It was Monteriggiono.  But the day was glorious, and hey one castle may be as good as another.  Or the castle you found may be infinitely better than the castle you didn’t find.  We pulled in.  Eric had a need to find the WC so I decided I would move the stick shift car across the mostly empty parking lot into a spot.  And I did.  I only stalled out two time in 50 yards.  And Eric didn’t even go to the bathroom, he was too busy watching to see if I would make it.


We climbed up again. What is it with these ancient Tuscans, wasn’t anything worth putting in the valley?  Maybe the vineyards? We had a very nice, short, but nice time, walking the castle wall, eating pizza and visiting the armory museum.


People notes:
The couple next to us at the pizza restaurant were from California.  We compared trip plans.  Her’s were  more elaborate than mine. I was impressed.  Then she did something I haven’t done in years.  She pulled out a journal and started to write in it by hand.  I told her I’ve kept travel journals for years but I long ago switched to typing them.  (Newest technique- use a bluetooth keyboard to type directly into WordPress’s site on the cell phone.  WordPress saves it even off line)
Oh- she complained, “I’m three days behind,”
I don’t worry about that anymore, I do not necessarily make entries in order, nor do I get anxious about being up to date.  There is always a long plane ride home.

The arnory museum was a charming collection of dioramas- lego-like and murals illustrating the purpose of the castle in the 1500’s.  The sign up front says this is the one museum where you can put on the armour.  A young couple in front of me was busy assembling it on the male.  I pointed out to the young woman, that she could take his picture and post it on Facebook with the caption, her knight in shining armour.
“That’s his exact plan,”  she told me. I am not as original or clever as I think.

Octber 4, 2015 Florence to Murlo, Tuscany.

As we packed our  bags in preparation of moving on a very large sound shook the room.
me: Is that thunder?
Eric: No its a garbage truck.

And then several minutes later another loud noise.  Then it began to pour.  It was at that moment when we left the hotel.  We did actually take  a taxi to the car rental place.  By the time the cab let us off in front of the building with the car rental offices it was sheeting rain.  We had a hard time locating the Alamo office since the word office can only be used in the most general sense here.  It turns out the Alamo office is located in a blue van in the parking lot, more suitable to selling drugs or stolen electronics, but nonetheless a very wet hour and half later we had rented car and had obtained Google directions in Italian to the Agriturismo, our next stop.  We drove threw a series of tunnels and after coming out of one them we were suddenly under blue sky.  We made a few stops to check our route, since it was only later in the trip that we learned the trick of starting the map on the cell phone, while in Wifi accessibility and allowing it to continue  after the Wifi was lost.

We turned off the main highway, onto a secondary road and all of sudden we were in the middle of every cliche about being under the Tuscan Sun we had ever read.   At one of the rest stops, the woman told us the exit for Murlo was 7 kilometers away.  I noticed it as we drove right by it.  A u-turn and then a right and the sign for Casibianca appeared.  I figured we were almost there.  Thirty -nine minutes we asked as woman if it existed, really.  Yes, she assured us we were only a kilometer away. 

It does exist.  A word about my choice.  I decided an Agriturismo, a tradition in Italy of allowing operating farms to have a hotel operation, would be a good break in our three city trip.  The nightly price was less than a third of the price of the hotel in Florence, (which was not in the expensive range).  I figured it would be some back woods cabin, clean, scenic and basic.  Wrong again.  It was substantial hotel operation in either converted stone farms houses, or small hotel buildings built to look like converted farm houses.   Either way, we were met by a helpful gentleman who spoke wistfully of his twenty years in North Carolina and helped us settle into our very large (for anyone’s standards) room.  I threw open the wooden shutters and there were the rolling hills of Tuscany surrounding the vineyards and fallow fields.  Okay – corny but true.  We spent the rest of the afternoon, hiking, well strolling at least, around the the farm, we never got too far too fast because we took lots of photographs and I even got to paint a little.

We had a really delicious dinner at the restaurant.  Rick Steves had advisded to look for restaurants with small menus, the food would be more authentic than the tourist spots with large menus printed in ten languages. We never quite figured out how to do that in the cities.  But the menu at the farm was small and changed nightly,  and it was great.

October 3, 2015, Florence


Back to the Duomo
Eric wanted to see inside.  I didn’t necessarily want to see inside another church, but Eric’s feeling was this was the greatest example of Renaissance architecture and could not be skipped.  We were on the plaza by 8:30 and climbing by 9:00- which was extremely fortuitous.  The notice reads there are 414 steps to the top, some father behind me, explained to his son that it was like climbing a twenty story building.  I did not check for the accuracy of either statement.  I just climbed and climbed.  And then we were at the top. The most impressive view was of the tourists circling the dome across the plaza.  They were exactly at the same height.  We took lots of pictures.  We watched one woman take a picture of herself from about twenty different angles.

P1020470And then we climbed down.  You would think that would be the easy part.  But here’s the thing.  The 414 step staircase was built for a few little 15th century monks, who might of run up and down to do some bell ringing.  I doubt they had time to peruse the roof tops of Florence.  So by the time we got around to descending the morning had advanced enough for the the tower to be full of people going up.  I believe that without a backpack on I am considerably larger than your average 15th century monk and with a bag on my back- passing other 21 Century humans of similar proportions on a twisting stone staircase- was challenging at the very least.  We moved on.  The time we needed to make our one o’clock appointment at the Uffizzi was far more than we needed to stroll down even the tourist packed street, however it wasn’t enough to to sit and order a lunch and that led to out great culinary mistake.  We stopped at food truck which is famous for its tripe sandwiches.   We didn’t order the tripe sandwiches or the ham or cheese sandwiches we ordered tuna fish. I watched the woman put a lot of mayo on Eric’s, I told her to put a little on mine.  That resulted in me being a little sick and Eric being a lot sick.  But enough of that. I feel queasy just writing about it.  We tried to follow the Rick Steve’s audio-tour which did its best to explain the how the Renaissance changed art. The Uffizzi had moved stuff around since the tour had been recorded which made it a little difficult to follow,  We did see a lot of wonderful art, however, I don’t know if it was the bad mayo or the fact that there are only so many Madonnas I can appreciate, but museum fatigue set in, which never happened to me in the Bienniale.But we rested and felt good enough to enjoy a very good dinner at the restaurant Accademia on St. Marks Piazza.