Friday, October 21, 2016

My 70th Birthday
   This trip of ours was a celebration trip.  The 4 of us, Ron, Nancy, Debby and I are all retired.  Debby retired just this year.  That calls for celebration.  Also, 2016 is the year Debby and I celebrate our 45th Wedding Anniversary.   What better place to celebrate than in Europe?  Ron and Nancy celebrate their 46th.  Ron turned 68 on this trip.  And lastly I celebrated my 70th the day after we landed in NYC.
   For me, we celebrated twice.   Friday night, after a full day of sightseeing, my Niece, Andrea Williams, Ron and Nancy and their daughter,, Rhonda, and husband Steve who flew in from Arkansas to welcome their parents, and Debby and I, had a celebration dinner.  My restaurant of choice was Virgil's Barbecue, near Times Square.  It's a good thing we made reservations because that place was BUSY!  The food is very good (again this time).
   My next choice was Bubba Gump's Shrimp Co. on Sunday evening.  Our 7:00 PM reservations also came in handy.  Times Square was very crowded!  Gump's was also busy.  Apparently, they normally do not accept reservations, but Debby went in on Saturday,  sweet talked the manager,  and walked away with a reserved window table looking out on Times Square!
   Besides us and thc Pinkerton's, we had Steve 'n Rhonda, Elizabeth Tolon, a good Oregon friend who lives in NY, going to school, and my grand-daughter of the heart, Andrea Beekman.   Andrea is a nurse and lives in Oklahoma City.  It was great having her come all the way to NYC and join our celebration! I felt very special!
   Sunday morning was spent at church at the Manhattan Church of Christ.   Afterwards we took a walk through Central Park, had a hot dog and some roasted peanuts.  Ron took part in a street act put on by 4 or 5 street people looking go make a few bucks in tips.
   We checked out of our apartment around 11:00 the next day.  Ron, Nancy, Steve and Rhonda headed for their respective airports while Deb and I checked in to the Hampton Inn in Brooklyn.  Our flight isn't until tomorrow evening.
   We ventured out and found a Mexican food restaurant called Rocco's Tacos.  It was good.
   After dinner, we walked around for a bit, checking out the area.
   The next day we just lounged around our hotel room until 1:00, when we checked out and called UBER to take us to JFK Airport.  Our flight out wasn't until 8:40 but we had no othe5 place we wanted to see.
   We got home about midnight.  We had an amazing trip but it was good to come home.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

   The 9/11 Memorial and Museum was beautiful.  Tourists flock to this area to see remnants of the tragic event that many people will never forget.  It is well done.  The new tower is a majestic structure incorporating many aspects of the Twin Towers.  The Museum is spacious, filled with photos,  videos, narrations, a melted fire truck and twisted I-beam from the original building.  It's very well done and worth seeing.
   We took a boat ride to Liberty Island to see the giant green lady.   She has been cleaned up with new makeup and still stands for the pride we have in America.  She's always worth touring!
  Nearby Ellis Island is rich with history.  This is where many thousands of America's immigrants make a new life.  Some of us have personal connections tied to Ellis Island.  We enjoyed our visit here today.
   Back to the Manhattan mainland,  we still had stuff to do.  We were on the roof of the Empire State Building at sunset.  It was beautiful.
   It was now time for dinner.  I sent a text message to my Niece, Andrea Williams, to meet us at Virgil's BBQ near Times Square.  Today is my 70th Birthday and this was my choice.   😆  The food and company was perfect.
From Genoa to Milano to New York City, Ron and I grew weary of dragging luggage all over creation.  I've decided, if we ever do this again, we need a couple of SHERPAS!!
It was a long flight to NJ, about 7 hours anyway. It felt good to be on board.  Even though the past two months had been amazing,  me and Ron were ready to be done.   Nancy was on the fence, while Debby was just getting warmed up!!  Ha Ha 😆😆.
   It felt even better to touch down on American soil in Newark, NJ.   We came through Immigration and Customs and showed our Passports for the last time.
   We managed to get our luggage on the next train to New York's Penn Station.  From there we loaded into a (hard to get) taxi to our rented apartment on West 47th Street.
   Our apartment was plain with an inconvient shortage of a few necessities. The floors were dirty and necessitate contacting the owner to come and clean.     The apartnent's layout was weird,  it was more linear than square.  Access was through two locked front doors and a  narrow,  steep staircase to the second floor.  The locked entry door opened into the kitchen the wrong way.  There was no room to squeeze between the open door and the refrigerator, so the door had to swing nearly 180 degrees to walk through, then swing it to 90 degrees in order to reach the light switch!  Then swing it back to 180 so those behind could enter. Whew!
The bathroom was at one end.  Next the kitchen, then a bedroom.  Next a living/dining room with futon couch, and then a side bedroom.  That necessitated walking through two sleeping rooms to get to the toilet.  But the price was good!   😆

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Genoa, Italy
   This city is a major shipping port and a place for commerce.  George Bush was here a few years ago attending the G8 Summit.  It is another beautiful Italian city full of life.
   We were fortunate enough to have found a great walking tour guide in Christine Christina.  She spoke very good English and had a good understanding of Genoa's government.  She answered all of our questions and took us to some of the "hidden gems" of Genoa.
   One place in particular was a trip down  a narrow, 13th century street which turned right onto a more narrow walkway between high rise buildings.  Ron and I noted you could walk 4 people side by side if they were small, otherwise the two on the outside would be dragging their shoulders on the buildings!   Christine opened a rather plain door and stepped into a tiny candy shop.  This family run candy factory made various varieties of chocolate.  We enjoyed sampling some of those before deciding on what to buy.  Naturally we bought too much, although, some say a person can never have too much chocolate!   😊
   As we stepped outside, a man began talking to our guide.  Not knowing the language, I asked Christine what he said.  She said he was complimenting her for taking her tour groups into real Italian, family owned places instead of those  big commercialized stores that do not depict the REAL Italy..
We went inside a bank that our guide called "the bank of banks".  Hundreds of years ago the bankers were those with money enough to have made Genoa into a rich business with the trade routes.   Large paintings lined the walls of this bulding that looked more like a palace than a bank.  It had a beautiful marble floor and large marble columns.  I was snapping a couple photos when two well dressed security guards came quickly towards us and said " NO PICTURES"!!  
   Christine said with Christopher Columbus discovering America, it marked the beginning of the demise of the greatness of Italy because the trade routes changed to the new country.  We thought that was interesting.
   We headed up into old town and had a photo op in front of Christopher Columbus' home until he was 18.  It was surprisingly small.  But he grew up in a beautiful area  with a nice garden next door.
   Just up the street was the main gate entrance through the castle walls and into old town.  I bet there's some rich history here!   Today it is full of old, elevatorless apartments, shops and cafes.
   We were able to take a peek inside the Palace.  Not quite as ornate as others we have seen but, still, beautiful.  Christine told us about the dammages sustained during the war from bombs being dropped.  Ron asked her, "who's bombs?"  She said,  "Well, it was the Allies.  We chose the wrong side",  Ron said, "I just wanted to clarify".  She laughed.
  We also looked at some of the churches.   Many were of the 10th and 11th Century eras.
   The Duomo displays an old bomb that stands against one wall.  It's  about 3' tall and is a part of their decor.  It was about 1943 (or 45) during an Allied bombing run during WW II when it came crashing through the roof of the Duomo.  It was on a Sunday morning during church services and the pews were packed with people for Catholic Mass.   There was no explosion and the people ran.
   A few hours latee, people began to return.  They saw it as a miracle from God.  The shell was kept as a reminder of what God did for the people this day.
   We went up onto the top of a high tower to get a birds eye view of this huge city.  Elevators are great!
   Our tour guide took us down a narrow and dark street and showed us where the more common people lived.  She said at one time this was the red light district, but no more.  As we turned left down another narrow street, she pointed behind us and said, " now the red light district is down that way.  I don't rake my tours through there! ".
   A little bit further and we stopped in a small corner bakery and walked out with some "train food".
   Tour was over after a few more stops.  A taxi took us to the train station, where we caught the Malpensa Express train to the Malpensa Airport.  From there we called the Hilton for a ride.  We had a little trouble getting hold of them.   Thought we might just take a taxi.   We walked up to a string of white taxis and asked the driver how much?  He said 40 Euros.  We laughed and started walking off.  He changed to 30 Euros and tried hard to convince us that was fair.  We still walked off because 20 should be about right.  We went up on the next level to the shuttle stop.  Nancy tried calling the Hilton again but no luck.  A few more taxis waited a few yards away so Debby walked over and asked, "how much"?  "100 Euros".  We thought,  where do these guys come from?
   I called the Hilton number, they answered.  We soon had a ride.  It was a very nice hotel.
   We had a good night's rest and was back on the hotel shuttle at 0700.  Though our United flight didn't take off until after 10:40, we wanted to be sure we had enough time.  We had to walk one at a time through a high security area, though,  at the time I didn't know what it was.  There were two army types , big guys, on either side, with automatic rifles, dressed in cammos and berets, one standing in the shadows pointing his rifle at us.  I followed Debby when told.  The guy in the shadow said, "SHOW ME YOUR HAND.....SHOW ME YOUR HAND!!!"   I was not aware I couldn't walk with one hand in my pocket,  until then!
Now I know!
Santa Margherita Liguria and
   Santa Margherita(ville) is another beautiful town and the gateway for Portofino, a picturesque fishing village.  We had a pleasant walk down to the harbor.  Santa Margherita was 80 minutes away via two trains.  
  We walked alomg the harbor enjoying the beautiful buildings, churches and resort hotels.  We caught a bus in front of the Best Western Hotel.   It was crowded.  It wound it's way along the often narrow road, offering great views of the deep blue Mediterranean.   On the hairpin turns, the driver would lay on the horn to warn small, approaching cars to "WATCH OUT,,,I AM BIGGER!!"
   PORTOFINO, Italy is a gorgeous fishing village and resort where famous Hollywood stars like Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Goldie Hawn,  and others, have been coming for years.  It was told that Gretna Garbo liked to stay here.  She would often sneak down at night to the harbor and go swimming in the nude.  Little did she realize, half the town was watching.  😂
We all had great food at a sidewalk cafe next to the harbor.  I ordered a pepper fillet steak.  It was awesome!  Five thumbs up!     😆
   The word must have gotten out that we were in town, because when we got on the bus for the train station, a horde of people crowded on with us.  There were so many we were standing in there like cordwood!  I met the short lady on my right arm.  She was from Albany, Oregon.  I told her, "We have to stop meeting like this!"  She agreed.
   It was dark when we got home.  Just about right!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

After leaving Collodi and getting ourselves to the train station in Lucca, we boarded a Regional Train to Pisa.  Unfortunately for us, a lot of high schoolers were also getting on the same train after studying for the day in Lucca.  Some of the boys were extremely obnoxious, very rowdy and an embarrassment to their parents.  It occurred to me that the future leaders of Italy might have trouble getting along with other nations.  Just an observation.
   We grabbed a Taxi and were dropped off in front of the main entrance.  A great crowd of tourists were making their way inside the castle walls to see the Duomo, the Baptistry and the Tower.  Many nationalities roamed the compound.  Many photos were being taken. We weren't much different taking regulars, selfies,  us-ies and phonies (where you appear to be a giant, pushing on the leaning tower).  Yes, we did that.
   We didn't go into the Duomo as the crowds were unmanageable and we were limiting out.   As we headed for the main entrance, I noticed two Italian Army types in cammos and carrying Uzzies.   Not to be messed with!
   After a few minutes of souvineer shopping, we grabbed a taxi and were soon on a train to Manarola, where we stopped for dinner before heading up to our apartment.  It was a great day!
   We were up and fixing coffee getting ready for another day of traveling.   At 0720 we were boarding the Regional Train for a 10 minute ride to La Spezia to catch another,  a 45 minute ride to Viareggio.  When we stepped out onto the Platform, our next Regional to Lucca was there,  as if waiting on us to arrive (although it wasn't).
   From Lucca, we caught a bus to Pescia, a small town about 30 minutes away from Lucca.  We caught a taxi in Pescia  for a 7 minute ride to Collodi.
   We chose to visit this town for a couple of reasons.  Second,  it was the birthplace of Pinocchio.  His creator was Carlo Collodi,  although his last name was actually Lorinzini.  He changed his last name to match the city.  He was born in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1826.  Debby's life has always centered around children and the story of Pinocchio was a character that delighted children.
   First, because of her "Uncle Gino".  Uncle Gino was born Gino Baiocchi in 1900.  He emigrated from Collodi,  Italy to America as a young man.  He met and married a nice opinionated Italian woman in San Francisco.  Among their California neighbors was Debby's family.  Their Italian charm created a bonding.  Enough so that Lil and Gino soon became "Aunt Lil and Uncle Gino" to Debby and her siblings.  She has many fond memories and funny stories of their lives together.
   So traveling to visit Uncle Gino's home town of Collodi, Italy was a dream of hers.  Ron and Nancy and I came along for the ride, because visiting new places is what we do.  As it turned out, visiting Collodi was a serendipity. It was a highlight of all our places.
   The Taxi driver let us out near the main entrance to the Garzoni Gardens, near the bus stop sign.  The first thing we did was walk into one of two sidewalk curio shops across the street.  We were perusing the many souvineer, Pinocchios and curios hanging around while Debby struck up a conversation with the shop keeper,  who was about my age.  When Debby asked her if she knew the name "Baiocchi", she lit up and begin talking.  She said her grandmother had married a Baiocchi.  Debby explained about her Uncle Gino and the shopkeeper (DeAnna) seemed to enjoy the conversation as much as Debby.
     We went into the Garzoni Gardens and looked around.  A couple of water fountains were shooting up about 25' in the air.  One pool had water plants and the other had hungry fish coming at you when you walked up....piranhas, I bet!  😆
   Tony Baiocchi told us that his Uncle Gino was born in Collodi and worked in these gardens as a kid.  He said he also recognized DeAnna, the shopkeeper in the photo, as the one he met on his trip to Collodi in 2007.     She is related to his Uncle Bruno's wife.
Some of the statues within the garden were of a fantasy nature.  The main fountain that cascaded down the hillside was shut down and would have been fun to see running.
   The Butterfly exhibit was very cool.  Those lethargic creatures were very colorful and unafraid.  A couple of them appeared to be suicidal.  They were parked on the stairsteps and in the middle of the walkway.
   I wouldn't lay on the sidewalk in front of ME!   😎