In September and October of 2008, I went to Italy for almost a month with my sister-in-law Connie, the widow of my late older brother Ray.  We went with Go Ahead Tours, which is connected to EF Tours, long a mainstay of my mother’s many trips abroad with her college students and which also provided a European tour for one of my sons when he was in high school.  I definitely recommend EF and Go Ahead Tours!

But now, to our trip!  I’m going to break it down into cities and areas as we experienced them.  We were able to spend several days in each city or region, which was really valuable to get a good feel for the places we went.  Although we had a great and informative tour director, the tour was structured to give us a lot of free time, too.  Our first stop was Venice.  We got there on September 17th.

Venice

This city was probably my favorite place in Italy and not just because we went there first.  I had many literary associations with it and also the maritime and cultural connections between Venice in the Middle Ages and Renaissance with Constantinople/Istanbul, where I had visited in 2001-2002 and lived in 2006.

Our boutique hotel was on the Lido, one of the islands comprising the city of Venice, and the island that is the famed beach setting for Death in Venice, a favorite novel of mine by Thomas Mann.  The first day we arrived was the only day that we had rain on the entire trip, but it was sporadic, very light and not at all troublesome.

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Me on the Lido

On the beach and its waterfront street were a variety of interesting, humorous structures and sculptures.  The most curious, and our favorite, was the golden bull on its back:

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Then we hurried back for our first glass of vino:

Our hotel was small and charming.  Our tour group was also small, and our director, Enrico, was erudite, charming, handsome and Neapolitan (also married–LOL). Our room, complete with a balcony, where we stayed three or four nights:

After relaxing a bit in our room, it was off to see the sights:

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We saw a demonstration of the famous Murano glass-blowing and a sample of glass-ware:

More sight-seeing in Venice.  We had plenty of time on our own to shop and hang out, and some of us also took a gondola ride:

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A short clip of our singing gondolier and his accompanist on the accordion, which also shows one of the beautiful old palazzos:

We had dinner together at a nice restaurant in Venice one night. Enrico chose our wines; they were very tasty! 🙂

We took a ferry to the island of Torcello, home of an ancient ruined basilica:

One of my favorite islands of Venice was Burano, famed for its lace-makers.  I got a lovely lace tablecloth for my friend Josie, with whom I’d been best friends since I was five.  I loved its canals, lined by brightly-colored houses:

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A nice lunch with a friend from the tour on our last day in Venice:

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Saying my goodbyes to Venice, late on a sun-kissed afternoon of our last day there:

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Florence, Siena and Tuscany

Then it was time to pile ourselves, plus our baggage, into the bus and head to Florence! 🙂 We stopped at an overlook and got these glorious views of the city spread below us:

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Overlooking Florence

Even our tour director Enrico played tourist here!

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Connie, on the right, and me, overlooking Florence

Although Florence was magnificent, my favorite thing about that part of our trip were the day trips we took from the city to experience the countryside of Tuscany. First the ancient walled town of Siena:

And we went to a winery, inspected the vineyard and had a wine-tasting.  I didn’t expel all my tastes, as we were instructed to do, and so I got a bit tipsy. I demanded, and received, a kiss from Luigi, the proprietor!  That made for much merriment on the part of the rest of the group. 🙂

A bunch of us ordered cases of wine from Tenuta Torciano, which were shipped to our homes in the U.S. Here I am, a bit rosy-cheeked after the tasting and The Kiss!

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Back in Florence, Enrico took Connie and me to an ancient Borghese family palace for a dinner dance. There were costumed performers playing music on the harp and other instruments and doing Renaissance dances. I recognized the pavan and the saltarello dances from my studies of Renaissance music.  One of the dancers asked Connie for a dance.  Unfortunately, the lighting was too low for my camera to capture Connie regally stepping forth with her partner.

In Pisa, we toured the Basilica and saw the Leaning Tower:

Lovely Florence, upon our return from Pisa:

Another beautiful walled hilltop town in Tuscany, where we sampled the delicious gelato:

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Rome and the Vatican City

Onward to Rome.  Connie and I were amazed by the Colosseum:

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The Arch of Triumph and the sunken ancient City, where the Roman Senate was, which is being excavated:

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The next day, we went to Vatican City, a country all its own. Sadly, my photos of it are not nearly as impressive as the place itself. I was overwhelmed by the architecture and the art, as well as the pomp and majesty of it all.

We kind of snuck up on it from the side:

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We went into the Vatican Museum, which fascinated me with all its antiquities. When I was a girl, one of my ambitions was to be an archaeologist when I grew up (or alternately, a zoo veterinarian–lol–little did I imagine I’d become a lawyer!). The Hall of Statuary in the Museum:

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Architectural delights:

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More magnificent artworks:

And in Saint Paul’s Cathedral:

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Connie and I are over-awed in St. Paul’s Cathedral

Once outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, we got a second breath as we took in the vast expanse that comprises St. Peter’s Square:

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Connie overlooking St. Peter’s Square

Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius

We took a day trip from Rome to the ruins of the Roman city of Pompeii, which was blasted out of existence by the gigantic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius in August of the year 79 C.E. (A.D.), just a few decades after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The eruption immediately preserved the town and its inhabitants, sometimes in excruciatingly painful or tragic poses.  But Mt. Vesuvius itself, now dormant (although that could change at any time), is beautiful:

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The ruins of Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius in the background

Pompeii, because of my longstanding interest in ancient cultures and archaelogy, was probably my next-favorite place after Venice (although Tuscany is right up there, too).  Here I am, modeling the haircut that I got in Rome by wandering into a salon and saying one of my few Italian words that might apply to the situation: moda, or “fashion.” 🙂

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More of Pompeii:

We got to look at some of the amphorae, or storage vessels, that were found in Pompeii, as well as the remains of some of the people who perished there so long ago. However, many of the remains and the artifacts were being displayed at the museum in Naples, which we didn’t visit.

More of Pompeii:

 

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Connie looking studious in Pompeii

On the way to Pompeii, we stopped at the studio of some cameo-makers, who did their work in the traditional way. Although I mostly resisted buying souvenirs on this trip, I did get a lovely cameo pendant and earrings set in silver.

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After Pompeii, we returned on the bus to Rome. We saw the city of Naples in passing from the highway, but it and southern Italy would have to wait for another trip.  Once we got back to Rome, we packed our bags, said goodbye to Enrico and flew back to America.  Italy was a most beautiful experience. Arrivederci, Italia!