The Way of St. Francis: A View Through Two Countries


Were it not for the line of curiosity seekers, we might never have found the peephole we were looking for.  It’s there, just to the right of the white hat brim, looking very much like a round keyhole.  It is, in fact, known as The Aventine Keyhole and is part of the property owned by the Priory of the Knights of Malta, one of the last surviving orders of knights left from the Crusades.

It was the rumored view through this peephole that led us to climb Aventine Hill to the piazza Cavalieri di Malta.

Was it worth it?  I don’t know…what do you think?


Categories: Italy, The Way of Saint Francis, The Way of St Francis, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Pompeii mystery solved!

What “lurked” behind the artifact in Pompeii? Yes, it was a dog, as a friend in Scotland wrote. Dogs have quite a history in Pompeii and still inhabit the city. They seem at home despite the parade of visitors wandering the ruins. I had not seen the signs warning about the dogs and nearly stepped on the snoozing guy.


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A Floating Icon

I snapped this photo as we wandered alongside the canals of Venice, not realizing the history that surrounds this one-of-a-kind shopping venue. After a little online research, I believe it is known as The Vegetable Boat at Campo San Barnaba.




A little while later, I couldn't pass up this red hot photo-op…


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Surprise lurks behind ancient artifact in Pompeii

We went on our recent adventure to Italy without a roadmap of expectations and were pleasantly surprised by our discoveries most of the time. In this case, I should have read the warning signs. Can you guess what living thing I have found in this photo taken in Pompeii?


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The Ziplock Method

Our luggage is designed to both roll and carry as a backpack.

As we checked out of our San Baronto apartment this morning, our host commented (again) on our lack of luggage. She couldn't believe that we each brought just one piece of luggage for a three-week trip. With a roll of her eyes, she described the “other American couple” who had checked in three days after us with what must have been a cartload of baggage. We couldn't help but feel (maybe just a little) superior!

Would we do it again? You bet! How did we do it? I scoured the Internet for tips on traveling light. With some thought, planning and a wash-and-wear wardrobe, you can do it too!

You can spend a lot of money on actual packing bags and envelopes, but simple Ziplock bags were the secret to our success. I bought a box of super-sized bags at our local grocery store (I love Raley's in Oakhurst!). These were great for Reg's clothes (which are larger than mine) and worked well for my pants. The regular size bags, that you probably all have in your kitchen drawer, are perfect for socks, underwear and worked well for my T-shirts.



You'll fit a lot more in a bag if you roll your clothes.





Roll everything! I really did roll everything, sliding each piece into a bag with the same type of item. Pants in one bag, shirts in another, socks and undies in a third. Stuff them full.





It's surprising how flat your Ziplocks can be.

Once your Ziplocks are packed, zip them closed nearly all the way, leaving about an inch open. Then, find a hard surface (a wooden chair works well) place your bag on the chair and promptly sit on the bag. Once all the excess air is out, and before you stand up, zip your bag closed. You should have a perfect vacuum-sealed bag ready to fit neatly in your suitcase!



Most hotels and apartments offer an iron and ironing board if clothes need a quick touch-up.


You may develop your own technique, but we found this to work well for us. The Ziplock Method allows me to find exactly what I need without rummaging through my entire suitcase; something that has always driven me nuts! Happy Travels!

I love a tidy suitcase!


Categories: Italy, travel light | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

It’s Not a Pickup, It’s a Panda


Back home, Sue and I often find ourselves following a slow-moving “old man in a pickup.” There are not many pickups in Italy, but we still inched along behind an “old man in a (Fiat) Panda” many times. However, to some Italians, I was the “old man in the Alpha Romeo.”


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Learning Any New Language Is Foreign to Us!

Conventional wisdom says travelers should learn a few basic words in the native language for convenience and to show respect. I think this is true, so here are some Italian terms we found useful:

First, I found many Italians spoke English as soon as I tried my Italian. My theory was that they were proud that they knew English. Sue disagreed; she thought they wanted to avoid hearing any further assault on their beloved tongue.

Unmini (men's room): Sue learned this on our last day, after-the-fact.

Per favore (please), grazie (thank you).

Buon giorno (good morning, good day), buona sera (good evening). I had trouble here because I could not figure out when sera began. I once said something like buon giorno and was greeted with (I hope!) buona sera at 3 p.m.

In Italy, this pizza and calzone are each meant for one!

Arrivederci (goodbye), ciao (hello or so long, familiar)

Stazione (train station). Centrale (central). In big cities that have several stations, such as Florence, it helps to know which station is best for you. Stazione Centrale put us in the right place most of the time, but not in Florence.

Autobus (bus).

Parli Inglese? (Do you speak English?)

Prego (Our book says it means “you are welcome,” but it is used for more basics. Servers used it to tell us they were ready to take our order, for example.)

No need to know: Sono Americano (I am American.) They know that before you speak, whether you are in London, Beijing, or Rome.

Mi scuse (excuse me)

Si and no.

We didn't know many of these, but it would help to know some food words. Kinds of meat, sauces, vegetables, milk, juice, salad, etc. Or have them in your phone or on a cheat sheet. Many menus have English, but stores usually do not. Some menu items are not traditional American fare. Or, be adventurous! A few times, I wasn't sure, but it all tasted good.

Dov'e il bagno? (Where is the bathroom?) In cities, carry some change for public restrooms. Prices usually range from 50 cents to one euro.

You can see this is a very short list. We got by with these and often did not need to know them. We welcome your suggestions.

We try to remember to be ready to laugh at ourselves. Sometimes sense of humor is the most difficult thing to pack everywhere. We often tell each other that we will never see these people again, so it is alright to make mistakes. This did not work so well in Scotland because we have great friends there who remember our miscues, and they still get a good laugh at our expense! Don't worry, I won't mention any names, Trish!


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Tilt Brings Fame to This Bell Tower

The horizon behind the cathedral defies our notion of gravity in this photo taken from the belfry.

The tower leans five degrees, 17.5 feet.


On our last day of an Italy tour that began more than three weeks ago, we drove to Pisa to see another iconic structure, the Torre Pendente, or Leaning Tower. It defies gravity and logic. It throws off your equilibrium as soon as you step inside and even more so as you climb the 300 stairs to the belfry.

As I look at our photos, I still feel off kilter, although it might be partly due to the Italian birra that has left my glass.

The bell tower began leaning soon after construction began in 1173. Modern engineering has halted the tilt for at least 200 more years. I wish engineers could do the same for me.





It took us awhile to get our smiles after climbing the 300 stairs.

One of seven leaning bells near the top.


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Sculptures in Florence Are Memorable Figures

Sue stands next to the Neptune Fountain in Piazza della Signoria.






Piazzas in Italy are still the gathering places they have been for centuries. Today, they attract tourists and often feature great architecture and opportunities to grab a drink and/or meal at an outdoor cafe.

One, the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, is breathtaking as a sculpture exhibit. In a place where a bell once signaled an important public meeting, people from around the world gather and take photos to record their visit.


The piazza features several sculpture of nudes entangled with each other. Can anyone identify this one?

From one piece of marble, Giambologna carved the Rape of the Sabine Women.


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First Disappointment, Then a Surprise

Leaves were painted for fall as we climbed Viale Niccolo Machiavelli.

A winding road as we begin our descent.

We returned to Florence today for a walk through the Uffizi, one of the city's top art museums. After more than an hour in a long line that moved little, we reluctantly moved on to Plan B. What a good decision.

We walked across the famed Ponte Vecchio (bridge) and, after a great lunch (see Possibly Our Favorite Meal post), we were on the far-less touristy side of Florence. We walked around the Boboli Gardens and up the winding Viale Niccolo Machiaveli next to a picturesque park, beautiful homes, and toward views of Florence.

We ended the walk with coffee, sitting in a cafe next to the Arno River, with a stunning view of the Ponte Vecchio. We missed a famous museum, but we made some fond memories.


A marker of the city center in the distance

After our walk, we pause for Americanos next to the Ponte Vecchio.


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