Category Archives: Italy

Walking in Tuscany

When I imagined Tuscany, I pictured gently rolling hills covered with vineyards and tall, narrow cypress trees. That may be true for southern Tuscany, but the north, where I spent a week hiking with thirteen other women (eleven Brits, one German, and one Canadian) is hillier and more forested. I’m glad I wasn’t the only North American bumping into language differences. I learned to refer to my vest as a gilet (“g-lay”), half nine means 9:30, not 8:30 as in German, elevensies is break time, and route is always pronounced “root”.

We went on five “8-mile” hikes in the Garfagnara Valley. The first several were through forests, vineyards, villages, and fields with an occasional vista. The last two involved 750-meter (almost 2,500’) assents, first to the highest point in Tuscany, Monte Prado in the Appennines Mountains, and then to Monte Sumbra in the Marble Mountains (Alpi Apuane). During the steepest parts, in beautiful Beachwood forests, conversation ceased and all I could hear was my breath and the rustle of dry leaves beneath our feet. There were hints of fall color, but most of the trees were still green. When we popped out of the forest, the views were wonderful.

One day we got back early enough to enjoy the swimming pool, but usually there was just time to shower before rejoining the group for drinks before dinner, most often Prosecco or Aperol Spritz. With all this exercise, I’d hope to be losing weight, but given all the bread, pasta, and liquid calories consumed, I’ll be lucky to stay even. Our fourth day was free. Most of the women took the train into Lucca; a few of us stayed behind and enjoyed a relaxing day doing very little.


It took two days to get home, thanks to my desire to use mileage points for my flight and misreading the train schedule before I booked it. After getting dropped off in Tuscany, I had lunch with a fellow hiker and then took the train to Geneva (three trains, almost eight hours) where I spent the night. In the morning train service was disrupted due to “an accident involving a person” so I shared a cab to the airport with another stranded passenger. I transferred at the Dullas airport, with a four-hour layover, and got home late Monday. Zelda, Timbre, and Abby (my dog and cats) greeted me at the door. I’ll only be home for a week, and then I’m off again, this time traveling domestically.


20 September

Five hours of train travel: Bellinzona to Milano, Milano to Firenze (Florence), Firenze to Pisa. I commiserated about the lack of AC on the final train with a British woman returning from a conference. I found my hotel, a few blocks from the station, thanks to Google Maps since tourist information was only open 9:30-13:00. It was hot and muggy as I hauled my suitcase on it’s broken wheels, now heavier than ever loaded down with Swiss chocolate.

After a short break, in a refreshingly air conditioned room, I walked over to check out the Leaning Tower. The streets were mobbed with people, both locals and tourists. Many had red dots on their noses in connection with a blood donation drive. Shortly after photographing the tower in the early evening light, my camera slipped and I broke my UV filter. Fortunately I found an open camera store and they were able to remove the broken glass. Hopefully the lens is fine, but I won’t be able to use a polarizer for the rest of the trip. I cheered myself up with a nice meal near the hotel: ravioli, salad, wine, and tiramisu.

21 September

I was tired in the morning and wished my ticket to tour the Leaning Tower was later than 10:15. I ate the rest of yesterday’s lunch for breakfast and walked back to Piazza del Duomo, checked my bag, and got in line. As I spiraled up the inside of the tower, I felt the odd leaning sensation I recalled from my prior visit here, thirty-one years ago on my honeymoon. At the top, we were given adequate time to circle around and take pictures, then they rang the bells, warning us in advance. That was a nice surprise. I spent most of the afternoon in the hotel lobby, finally posting my Bern blog entry and resting my weary legs until it was time to join up with Walking Women for a week in Tuscany. (That will be my last post for this trip).


4-6 September

I’ve been on the go so much I haven’t had time to sort photos, hence the delay in this posting.

Rome is definitely a walking city. Each morning we ate yogurt in our tiny apartment, then wandered our way through the numerous twists and turns of the historic district. Like San Francisco, it consists of many hills with surprise vistas around every corner, except on a much grander scale – piazzas, columns (many Egyptian), cathedrals, colorful buildings, and performers. The street musicians were particularly good.

The central city feels like an outdoor museum and we saw more art walking the streets than in many buildings built to house it (the graffiti wasn’t impressive). The old and the new intertwine to form a vibrant city. A couple of the key sights, such the area around the Spanish Steps, were under renovation. A few others, including the coliseum and Sistine Chapel, charge admission, but there is no fee to enjoy the amazing architecture and street life or to enter the numerous churches. At the Vatican, we stood in line for a half hour to see St. Peter’s Basilica (wow), then skipped the lift and walked more than 500 steps to the top of the cupola for an amazing view. When we tired, we stopped at a sidewalk café for a light lunch or snack. Paninis, pasta, and pizza – they are everywhere. After all this exercise I should be in great shape for hiking the Swiss Alps.

We stayed in the Trastevere neighborhood, where I woke to the sound of the bells on a nearby church ringing 13 times every morning at 7:00; Sibylle slept in later. It’s a wonderful area within walking distance to just about everything, plus plenty of restaurants and an active nightlife (which I noticed more than experienced). My favorite dinner was pumpkin ravioli at Marco G, just outside our door.

Tip: If you’re going to the Vatican Museum, which includes the Sistine Chapel, go early on a weekday. This was by far the most crowded attraction. The Sistine Chapel exits close to the entry point for St. Peter’s Basilica saving you from having to wait in that line. There’s an additional fee to visit the cupola. You can reduce the climb to 320 steps by paying an extra two euros to take the lift (longer line). If you plan ahead you can reserve a specific time slot online. If not, you can pay extra to skip the line, with or without a guided tour.


Rome – Arrival

2-3 Sept, 2014

It’s amazing to be here, in a city I’ve heard about all my life but have never visited. Getting here was tiring. SuperShuttle insisted on picking me up at 4:00 a.m., way too early for a 7:50 flight, which then sat on the tarmac for almost an hour and a half due to an unspecified mechanical problem. When we landed at Dulles, I jogged through the airport, no moving sidewalks here, and reached my next departure gate just as boarding began. I was dripping with sweat in hot, muggy Washington DC. The flight to Rome had been delayed or I wouldn’t have made it.

After rolling away from the gate we sat on the tarmac for almost three hours, waiting for a break in thunderstorms. I was hungry and exhausted by the time we finally took off. I used the time to start reading I, Claudius, an intriguing tale of plotting and deceit in ancient Rome, which I enjoyed seeing on Masterpiece Theater many years ago. After dinner, I managed to sleep a bit, and later over breakfast (rice cake and applesauce) I had a nice chat, about travel and photography, with my seatmate, Pam.

Fortunately the thunderstorm delay allowed my luggage to catch up with me; it eventually came off the baggage carousel in Italy. From there another fellow Dulles jogger and I figured out how to catch the FL-1 train into the city. Jacqueline is here from Oregon to lead a watercolor workshop, which sounds like lots of fun. I couldn’t figure out where to catch the tram I needed, so I took a cab from the Trastevere train station, finally arriving at the tiny apartment rented via Airbnb around 1:00 pm. Sibylle was waiting for me.

After a short break we headed out and walked through the winding cobblestone streets towards the Coliseum. Every turn led to another amazing sight – here a cathedral, there a statue, a faded fresco, a fountain, ancient ruins surrounded by modern buildings, cafes, small cars, and scooters abundant. Of the cities I’ve visited before, it felt most like Athens.

Late in the afternoon we stopped for a yummy snack, a bruschetta, greek salad, and for me a refreshing green tea with ginger and lemon. We slowly wandered back enjoying the beautiful late sun. Sibylle led the way using Google Maps. We stopped for an Aperol Spritz, a popular citrus-like beverage made with sparkling wine, along the River Tiber, and later for dinner near our apartment. I indulged in a white pizza (no tomato sauce), suffering no ill effects from the Italian wheat. For a San Franciscan, it was a rare pleasure to eat outdoors in short sleeves after dark.