The ash clouds from the volcano eruption in
Iceland threatened our trip, with Heathrow
closed on the days prior to our scheduled
departure while a British Airways cabin &
grounds crew strike threatened our return,
ending the day before we were to leave. All in
all we were very lucky.
We drove down to New Orleans on May 17th where we stayed
overnight with Robin‟s mother. Early on the 18th her sister Carole
picked us up and drove us to Louis Armstrong Int‟l Airport for the
flight to Chicago‟s O‟Hare. From there we connected with a
British Airways flight to London. The overnight flight was a long
one but very comfortable and enjoyable. No complaints at all!
The only problem we had was at Heathrow, where we had only an
hour or so to catch the connection to Venice. Though we arrived
and departed from the same terminal we nonetheless had to pass
through security again – along with what looked liked hundreds
of others international travelers.
When we finally made it through, we heard our names called out
over the PA system: “Last call for the DiNapoli family”. With still
20 or so departure gates to go, I told Ben to RUN as fast as he
could and let them know we were following. Luckily he made it in
the nick of time, thanks in no small measure to the years he ran
cross-country and track at Episcopal.
First leg of our trip
In Venice we were met at the airport by a
young woman whom our travel agent had
contracted to take us by private boat to our
hotel: the Violino d‟oro across from the Hotel
Ben woke up our second day in Venice with
one of the worst cases of hives we‟d ever
seen. We went to a pharmacy not far from the
hotel and the pharmacist gave us some pills
to take – 1 three times a day (as I understood
it) and 1 a day for three days (as Ben thought
he‟d heard). As just one example of how nice
every Italian we met was, the hotel clerk
walked down to the pharmacy to clear the
confusion up: Ben was right! After only a
single dose his hives cleared up completely.
Robin‟s fascination with some of Venice‟s delicacies!
Robin & Ben
by St. Mark‟s,
from the hoards
of tourists seen
On our first trip to Italy 22 years ago, Robin & I celebrated
my birthday at a small restaurant we‟d come across near
our hotel*: “Al Gondolieri” . On that night back in 1988 the
restaurant was celebrating a kind of birthday of its own: a
6 month anniversary of its opening. Only family and
friends had been invited, but when we asked about a table,
adding it was my birthday, they invited us to join in which
we did. The menu had been pre-determined and consisted
of 4-5 courses, along with various wines and dessert.
So on this trip we decided to find the restaurant again, which
we did. Not having made reservations we weren‟t sure
we‟d get a table, but when we told the waiters our story
and showed them a photo we‟d taken back in „88 they
assured us they‟d reserve us a table. In fact one of the
waiters had worked there on that night so long ago and
couldn‟t believe we‟d remembered the evening for so
many years. *Hotel Messner (which we also found again).
Robin and Tom – 22 years later.
The Hotel Messner, greatly updated, since we stayed there in 1988. Today it looks an
awfully lot different – but then again, so do we!
It‟s a short walk from the hotel to the Al Gondolieri restaurant.
Now and Then
The grainy photo on the right shows Tom outside the Goldonieri on his birthday
back in 1988.
Not far from the restaurant was the Peggy
Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art.
From St. Mark‟s Square we took a
promotional ride out to the Murano glass
works for a demonstration of the glass-
blowing for which the island‟s famous.
Ravenna by Car
After several jam-packed days in Venice we were picked up at the hotel and
taken by boat to the “Piazzalle Roma” where we picked up a rental car – a five
speed Peugeot 207
The hotel was a modern one on the outskirts of Ravenna.
To get into the heart of the city we had to take a bus,
though that wasn‟t really a problem at all. On our second
day though a problem did arise – with the minibar or
“frigobar” in our room. It wasn‟t working when we arrived
and we were assured it‟d be fixed. When we got back from
the city and opened our door the ammonia fumes in the
room were overwhelming. Apparently in making repairs,
the refrigerant leaked which resulted in the noxious odor.
The manager was very understanding about it though and
moved us to another room – on another floor! That night
in the hotel restaurant, Robin found a rusty screw in her
food, which was traced back to the kitchen‟s salami slicer.
Nonetheless we didn‟t let these two incidents dampen our
enthusiasm for Ravenna and its famous mosaics.
Ben suffered a really bad nosebleed on the road
to Assisi. Though he‟s had numerous nosebleeds
since he was very young, this one just wouldn‟t
stop. So for 2-2 ½ hours it bled with little we
could do. When we got to the outskirts of Assisi I
stopped at a fire-station in part to ask directions
to the hotel, but also hoping they might be able
to help. They gave us the name of something
they said would help stop the bleeding, so our
next stop was a pharmacy. Not having it on hand,
the young woman called over to another
pharmacy and about 10 minutes later a man
drove up with the medication, which while
helping didn‟t completely solve the problem.
Unable to check into our hotel which was closed when we
arrived, I found someone who told me there was a walk-in
clinic a short distance from the hotel. We took Ben there
where his blood pressure and temperature were taken –
both normal. But unable to slow the bleeding, the doctor
felt we should bring him to a hospital. Since we clearly
didn‟t know our way around the city, the doctor offered to
drive him & Robin there herself, with me following along in
the rental car.
At the hospital doctors saw him quickly and felt the
situation was more or less under control and didn‟t require
admission, so we were “discharged”, paying only 25€ for
the emergency room care. Robin offered to give the doctor
who drove us to the hospital some money but she
absolutely refused to accept it – another example of how
kind and helpful everyone we met was to us.
Enjoying a calzone at an
outdoor café in Assisi
Bent on avoiding the autostrada so as to see as much as
possible in the small towns along the way, Ben asked
“Garmina” – the name we‟d given our seductive GPS guide
– to pick out the shortest rather than the fastest route,
which she did. The route she chose took us on what she
referred to as an “unpaved” road -- an understatement. It
was a windy, steep dirt road (path?) no wider than our car
over the mountains. I had to constantly shift back and
forth between 1st and 2nd gears throughout the hour-and-
a-half trek before finally reaching a paved road.
Throughout the drive, we didn‟t see a single human being
and only occasionally a single farmhouse in the distance.
We did see a large roadrunner-like bird and a flock of
sheep, but little else. My fear was the road would just
dead-end and we‟d have to backtrack. Fortunately that
didn‟t happen and we all – including Garmina and the
Peugeot – survived the shortcut through the hills.
The only living creatures seen on the 1 ½ hour trek
This was the view from our hotel at night. The
lighted area at the bottom right was a soccer field.
A city within a city. That's what is hidden under
Orvieto. A series of tunnels, caves and wells,
about 1200, that wind beneath the city. These
tunnels and caves were built by the Etruscans in
the sixth century BC (about 2600 years ago!!!).
The holes in the walls (see next slide) were used
for pigeons, important at that time, for money
and food. The Etruscans created “pigeon holes”
where pigeons could reproduce and eat. The
pigeons' owners were rich because they could
sell them or eat them. The pigeon is currently a
traditional dish of Orvieto.
Cortona was one of our favorite towns. We stayed at the beautiful Hotel “San Michele”,
which was located about the middle of a steep, narrow cobble-stone street leading up to
the main plaza.
We‟d learned that the University of Georgia
had a school in Cortona, as it turns out
mainly for students interested in art and
Italian. After running into a group of UGA
students who told us where the school was,
we made our way up there and even got a
brief tour of the studio. UGA also has a
program in Verona, which offers a wider
selection of courses.
It was at the hotel that Robin found a
Carnelian necklace she liked and Ben found a
beautiful hand-made bracelet for Kloe. The
jewelry maker, his brother and father own a
small shop off the plaza, run by his American
wife from Kansas.
These are the steps where
we met the UGA students
studying in Cortona.
Initially sorry we had only allotted 2 days near
Florence, but after bussing down into the city
from Fiesole where our hotel was, we were
grateful that we hadn‟t stayed in Florence, given
the absolute hoards of tourists throughout the
city, especially around the main attractions such
as the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, and the Uffizi
Gallery. Robin & I had been there 22 years ago
when it was a pleasure to walk around and visit
all the historic sites without having to wait in
lines for hours.
View of Florence with the Duomo in the center right, taken from Fiesole
Robin on a walk along the walls of Lucca.
On her walk she and a German bicyclist collided,
fortunately with neither hurt seriously.
The famous old restaurant Robin found for us to eat at in Lucca, said to have been
frequented by the town‟s most famous resident, the composer
After leaving Lucca, we drove to La Spezia to
drop off the car and pick up the train to
Cinque Terre, actually to the first of the five
towns: Riomaggiore. I was thrilled to finally
return the car even though it served us well,
given the stress involved at times. We took a
taxi to the station where we boarded a train
for the 8 minute ride to Riomaggiore. There
we stayed at the Hotel La Zorza, located right
outside the tunnel that leads into the town
from the station.
Map showing the five towns of Cinque Terre
Note: It was in the city of La Spezia that
we returned our trusty Peugeot 207
The trail along the cliffs from Riomaggiore to the second of the five towns –Manarola
is called the Via Dell'Amore ("Love Walk") and hikers leave locks in every possible
location to symbolize it.
One of the checkpoints along the trail. Tickets were required to hike
between the five towns – also valid for the buses and the local trains.
Ben relaxing in Vernazza,With Robin
in the background, next to the boat.
Monterosso: the last of the five towns of Cinque Terre. The walk from
here back to Vernazza took us about 2 hours.
We departed Riomaggiore on June 8th by train for
Sestri Levante, where we picked up the train to
Milan. Sharing our compartment was a professor
of Italian from the College of Charleston and his
daughter, both in his hometown for a summer
program he directed. Arriving in Milan it took a
while before determining we needed to take a
taxi to our hotel – Ibis Milano Centro, since it was
much too far to walk, especially with luggage.
It was about a 10-15 minute ride, costing only
With only a day and a half to see the city, we
made the most of it, leaving immediately
after checking in to walk to the main
attractions: the Duomo, the La Scala Opera
House, and the world‟s first shopping mall.
The entire next day was spent walking around
The magnificent Duomo
Note: this is not a photo any of us took.
The Last Supper
Given the fact that reservations were required, made months in advance, to see
Leonardo da Vinci‟s “Last Supper” we weren‟t able to do that, and so enjoyed
instead our own “last supper” in a wonderful small restaurant near our hotel.
We got up very early – around 4 –
to await our arranged for ride to the Milan
airport. At 5:15 or so, our driver met us in the
lobby of the hotel and drove us to Milan‟s
international airport Malpensa. The ride took
about an hour, during which the driver chatted
with us about a number of topics from the oil
spill in the gulf to the volcanic ash clouds over
Europe that stranded travelers, some of whom he
was hired to drive them from Milan to
destinations in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland or
We left Milan on schedule at 7:55 and arrived
in London at 9. Fortunately this time we had
more than enough time to make our
connection to Dallas, which left at 11:40. As
with the trip over, this overnight flight too
was very comfortable. Arriving in Dallas at
3:40 and having several hours before the
flight to New Orleans, we enjoyed a relaxing
meal at the DFW TGI Fridays
Carole met us at the airport and drove us back to
Mimi’s. Since we’d all been up a minimum of
24 hours we chatted only half an hour or so
before crashing. Next morning we left for home,
having spent three tiring but wonderful
unforgettable weeks in Italy!