Monday, July 25, 2011

Arrivederci Florence--Buon giorno Sorrento!

Saturday, May 21, 2011:

We finished our last minute packing and while the girls dashed into the cafe for coffee, I ventured back to the Internet location to check email. I was deliriously excited to see that my daughter-in-law, Colleen, had sent pre-prom photos of Gabby and her date! I was so thrilled to see those pictures, and Gabby looked totally grown up and beautiful. I sent a thank you reply, hoping it went through because the system was dangerously close to timing out. I felt as though I was playing "Beat the Clock" while attempting to function on those computers, but having the opportunity to see Gabriella's photos absolutely made me smile all day long!

Everyone needed one final chance to pick up any items that they had examined, had not yet purchased, and were feeling haunted by the fact that we may never be in Florence again during the rest of our lives, so the time to buy was likely now or never. We checked out of our hotel, the desk clerk being willing to split the bill in half for both rooms so we could each allocate our share on our individual credit cards. Sharon returned the converter she had borrowed from the front desk, and with her 10 Euro deposit refunded, it was Arrivederci Florence! It's been fabulous, but we were ready for the next leg of the exciting adventure--Sorrento. Marianne has done an outstanding job in planning our relaxed itinerary. Instead of having to be up at the crack of dawn and join others on an organized bus tour, we are able to take a leisurely approach to moving on to Sorrento. We can set our own pace as long as we eventually arrive at our next hotel at some point today.

After one last trek across the street to the train station with luggage in tow, we purchased our train tickets to Naples. The cost was 76,32 Euro each. With clearer minds and less exhausted bodies, we were finally able to understand how these trains actually function. Although our tickets indicated Napoli (Naples), the huge board stated Salerno, so it was important for us to:
  • Inquire at the information desk as to what city would actually appear on the board for our particular train because it lists the final stop only.
  • Look at the teeny, tiny print on our tickets and locate the train number, matching that very important number with the information displayed on the board.
Following this advice will greatly eliminate tremendous confusion if you happen to travel through Italy by train.

Upon reaching Napoli Centrale Station, we will need to change to a local train to reach our destination of Sorrento. We dreaded managing our luggage (especially mine) during the train transfers, so we developed a system for maneuvering our belongings. Marianne and I stood guard over our miscellaneous items while Sharon and Laura attempted to hoist all of our large suitcases onto the train. The idea was that some big, strapping Italian guy would take pity on us and offer to help. While it was a plausible theory and had already worked to some degree, in practice, the hunk didn't always materialize. This was one train where no one cared whether or not we ended up in permanent back braces.

At 12:00, we were settled in for our three hour train ride, and we purchased sandwiches from the train's dining car. They seemed to be made with some type of ham, though it was not always easy to bite through. The bread was light and satisfying without overfilling us. The trip was a relaxing, comfortable ride that seemed to move along without a hitch. We have been told, however, that it is important to be extremely wary of unscrupulous people in the Naples train station, so we were ready to be on guard.

We arrived in Naples at 3:10 p.m., and unloading our luggage again was not an easy task. Just as we exited our train and were walking toward the station, a taxi driver asked if we wanted a ride to Sorrento. Being cautious, we initially said, "No." Suddenly, the idea of taking a taxi and not having to handle our luggage again seemed massively appealing. Laura and Marianne returned to the driver and negotiated a reasonable price. The next thing we knew, all of our belongings had been squeezed into the small taxi and we were riding to Sorrento rather than having to schlep our luggage onto yet another train and then scurrying to locate a cab to take us to the hotel.

I have to stop right here and say that there were many friends and family members who recognized that we were four Italian language-challenged ladies traveling all over Italy without a guide, and a great number of those people were seriously praying for us. During this trip, there were times when God sent true angels out of nowhere to be of tremendous help to us, and this taxi driver, Ciro, was the first example of one of those angels. Thank you, God, and thank you to the people at home who love us and were concerned enough to take the time to include us in their thoughts and prayers! It's not as though there were multiple taxi drivers hanging around, waiting for the people to exit the train. There was only one--Ciro--who specifically asked us if we wanted a ride to Sorrento. Coincidence? I don't think so.

The drive was pleasant, though we went through several tunnels (not my favorite thing to do, as I'm excessively phobic about tunnels and have to close my eyes until I can see the light at the end--really difficult if I happen to be the driver). Motorcycles and scooters bobbed and weaved in, out and around cars and taxi cabs as though they were in a road race, but Ciro handled the maneuvering with calming ease. He explained that our hotel, the Grand Hotel Due Golfi, was located high above Sorrento. Technically, it is in Massa Lubrense in the Province of Naples, which is in the Campania region of Italy and just along the narrow, winding road to Sant' Agata Sui Due Golfi, a small village. The climate is Mediterranean, and our view from the hotel almost sucks the breath right out of our lungs because of its remarkable beauty.

We all moaned and groaned as we stretched and tried to get our legs moving after the lengthy ride in the small taxi, but Ciro assisted in carting our luggage to the lobby and gave us his business card. He suggested that if we wanted to visit Pompeii before we leave for Rome, he could return and pick us up on the appointed day, bring us to Pompeii to tour, wait for us, and then bring us to the train station in Naples for a very reasonable price. We would definitely consider his offer, as Pompeii is on our "to do" list.

Our hotel room is spectacular with glass doors that lead to a balcony. We can leave the doors wide open to enjoy the breezy, clean air and a view of the Bay of Naples in the Tyrrhenian Sea that is any artist's dream. We haven't detected any flying insects, so we take full advantage of the refreshing connection with the outdoors. The tile on the floor of our room is a brilliant blue, there is plenty of closet and counter space, and our room is very clean.

The other ladies commented that we should propose a reality show where four American, middle-aged women tour and shop all over the world. Laura suggested the title should be The Traveling Divas. Maybe that could be our retirement gig some day!

After unpacking, we set out on a walk to the next village, Sant' Agata, which is a bit of a trek with no real shoulder on the road and definitely no sidewalks or foot paths for quite some distance. This was an incredibly narrow, heavily traveled road, with vehicles zipping past us at close range. It was early on Saturday evening at this point, and our first venture into Sant' Agata was somewhat creepy. As we walked into town and had to make a decision as to whether we would go right or left, we chose left. We couldn't locate any restaurants, and there were groups of men hanging around on the corners, gawking at us as we walked by. We must have looked distinctly out of place, as we seemed to be a novelty to them. We stopped at a small grocery store, where I picked up some shelled peanuts and San Benedetto peach flavored iced tea. At a produce market, we bought some large oranges, strawberries, and other produce. They offered the most gigantic lemons we had ever seen in our lives, but we didn't purchase those.

Not in our best interest to continue exploring Sant' Agata and end up walking that narrow, winding, busy local road after dark, coupled with the fact that it was beginning to spit rain on us, we opted to walk back to the hotel and enjoy a nice dinner with a salad bar and choice of three entrees. There was a wedding in an adjacent room and a group of French tourists there for a gathering, so it was just a touch noisy, but not really annoying. We could hear the song "YMCA" echoing from the wedding reception. We weren't sure where the bride was from, but "YMCA" is apparently a universal phenomenon. The dining room offered a view of the magnificent blue sea with a steady flow of boats and seafaring vessels, including cruise ships, gliding in and out of the Sorrento harbor.

From our room's balcony, we have the same lavish sea vista that is so perfect it almost seems unreal. We look straight down on Sorrento, population approximately 16,500, and gaze across the sea to the lights in the city of Naples. Tonight we heard shooting noises, stepped out onto our balconies (though perhaps that doesn't sound like the best decision when you think you hear gun fire) and could see sparkling fireworks in the distance. Our balconies are large enough to comfortably house a table and two chairs for lounging outdoors and soaking in the impressive scenery. This is one location I wish I could share with Fred. I believe that he would agree with me that this is, by far, one of the most romantic settings in the world. Che vista meravigliosa sui mare! Translation-What a beautiful view of the sea!

We can hardly wait until tomorrow when we will begin to fully explore this area. We'll be off to the Isle of Capri!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day of Culture in Florence

Friday, May 20, 2011:

Sharon and I went for a short walk on yet another glorious sunny morning in Florence and then made a stop at the cafe on our corner to sample the apple strudel and peach flavored iced tea. We all then set out to locate the Uffizi Gallery at Loggiato degli Uffizi and discovered that if you haven't purchased your tickets in advance, you can still go there and acquire a ticket for 15 Euro and not have to wait in a line. You also choose the time for beginning your tour. A regular ticket, which places you in a very long queue, is 11 Euro. The extra 4 Euro was well worth it to avoid standing in line, and it also enabled us to explore the surrounding area and return at our designated tour time. Tickets were cash only. We strolled around the adjacent area for a short time before our tour and encountered a mime with a sense of humor. Marianne is wearing those adorable turquoise sandals that she purchased on our first Florence shopping spree while Laura is sporting a lovely scarf. Sharon and I are just hanging for dear life to our handbags!

At the Uffizi, headsets are available for an extra fee for a self-guided walk through the enormous gallery. Additionally, it is possible for two people to share, as you can rent a remote that is attached to a headset and an extra corded ear device is included. What you have to remember, however, is to walk together and do not stray in order to prevent yanking the other person across the room. We learned this the hard way.

Each room is numbered, so on the remote, you press the number of the room you are in and the "play" button to listen to the commentary. We enjoyed hearing some of the background and history relative to the artists and their works, but soon found that by the time we spotted which painting was being discussed on the recording, the commentator had already moved on well in advance of our ability to follow. Some of the paintings were enormous and their frames so intricately constructed.

We toured many of the forty-five rooms, which are arranged in chronological order from the 13th to the 18th centuries. We eventually gave up on the commentary, instead choosing to read any information that was displayed. It was easier! We saw the paintings, one of Adam and one of Eve, by Lukas Cranach Il Vecchio from 1528, which Laura pointed out is the same Eve displayed at the beginning of Desperate Housewives. Good catch, Laura! There were also ancient Roman sculptures to behold.

We stayed in the complex for lunch, dining on a second floor patio and soaking up the pristine fresh air setting. Once again, only cash was accepted at this location. Bottles of water were 3 Euro and a small personal cheese pizza was 5,50 Euro. We weren't allowed to have the tops to our water bottles to take with us, as everything had to be consumed in the restaurant. We found the restrooms on the second floor level to be quite crowded with another very long line, but there was a first floor ladies' room that was clean and had no line. A welcome discovery!

The Uffizi Gallery was amazing, and we could have stayed there all day just looking at the ceilings in the hallways. This is a location that requires unhurried days to explore and absorb the history. We learned that the Michelangelo statue of David--the real one--the one which is kept indoors and photography is not permitted--is actually not located at this gallery. David lives at Galleria della Academia on Via Ricasoli, so Laura retrieved her trusty map and navigated us in the direction of that site. Once again...walking, walking, walking.

During our trek to Galleria della Academia, we encountered the filming of three Jersey Shore guys. It was easy to recognize "The Situation" from Dancing with the Stars. I wondered how much time he spends working out because he does have quite the muscular physique! There was a gang of screaming young girls literally running after the Jersey Shore boys, and the body guards were trying to silence them. Not an easy task. They were truly on a mission of some sort.

Arriving at Academia, we paid our 6,50 Euro and entered the museum doors after waiting in a short line. We were in awe as we gazed at the enormity of Michelangelo's marble statue of David, reported to be 16 feet tall. In 1873, he was moved into the gallery from his outdoor location at Piazza della Signoria to preserve him from weather conditions, vandalism, and any other maladies he might experience while being exposed (pardon the pun) to the elements 24/7. A smaller copy stands in front of Museo di Palazzo Vecchio, as noted in the photo below.

We were particularly astounded at the detail of the original statue, including the prominent veins in his hands and arms. Okay, I realize he is naked, but his hands and arms were what we were concentrating on. Photos of the original David are not allowed inside Galleria della Academia, but several people were spotted sneaking a shot or two with their cell phones and cameras until the guards would sternly chastise them. Did anyone in our group break the rules and take photos? We will not offer any admission of guilt, and whatever happens in Florence stays in Florence.

One guard told me that it took Michelangelo five years to create David. I have read a variety of time frames for this job, but perhaps the guard knows best. This gallery houses works of other artists including Botticelli, as well as the "Luigi Cherubini" Conservatory of Music musical instrument museum, which displayed many old musical instruments including a venerable harpsichord. We could almost visualize men with powdered wigs and women with long, puffy dresses dancing the minuet to the music.

Thinking that it was definitely time for me to check email, I had noticed an Internet, fax, copy, phone card store across the street from our hotel in the underground mall area and proceeded to dive into my neglected email following our return from our day of culture. In this store, the clerk looks at your identification, gives you a pass code to type in, and assigns you to a particular computer. The charge was 1 Euro for 15 minutes and 1,50 Euro for 30 minutes. Time begins to tick as soon as you enter the pass code. I truly believe that the keyboard was adjusted to prevent rapid typing. I decided that this is definitely done by design because in the interim, that clock is tick, tick, ticking away. It warns when you are close to timing out, and I've always read that it is important to actually sign out from where you are on public computers in order to clear everything that needs to be removed. If there was unused time left on that pass code, they could actually enter it and be exactly where you were in your email or whatever task you were performing if you weren't completely signed out.

This was our final full day in Florence, and we considered our thoughts on this location. The population of Florence is approximately 450,000, but it is a relatively easy city to navigate once you have your bearings. We laughed at recalling that on one of our numerous long walks, there was a store with orange luggage displayed in the window, and this was our landmark to turn onto a street that would take us back to our hotel. This particular evening, we walked past that piece of luggage and continued marching for what seemed like miles and miles, only to spot that same store with that lousy piece of luggage looking back at us. How on earth did that happen? We had been walking for a very, very long time and ended up right back at that same store again. There was sort of a "v" of streets at that location and we had chosen the incorrect section of the "v," making a complete circle and being astounded to come face to face with that orange luggage. Once we determined our error, we proceeded along the correct section of the "v" and found our hotel.

Our weather in Florence had been extremely pleasant with temperatures in the 70's and 80's, mostly sunny except for two brief late afternoon showers, with the sun quickly returning.

We agreed that we all felt safe, that it was incredible to experience all of the historical works and the architecture, that it was fascinating to see the strikingly well-dressed, gorgeous Italian people including guys in impeccable suits, and that it was enjoyable to be re-introduced to accessorizing with scarves. Laura had an excellent suggestion to use two-sided fabric tape to hold a scarf in place, as they do tend to shift. Marianne felt that the police uniforms were really sharp. Sharon noted that in our hotel, no iron and ironing board were present and we had been told that they were not permitted in the rooms. We thought it was interesting that we never felt rushed over a meal. As Marianne mentioned, we were encouraged to linger and fully enjoy the dining experience.

This was our final night in Florence, and we had planned to dine at a restaurant recommended by my friend, Sandi, but unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring the address with me. I had emailed her to ask for it once again, but was unable to retrieve the message in time for us to experience her suggestion. We decided to dress up for our last Florentine dinner and to return to the restaurant where we dined on our first night--Ristorante Coccodrillo.

Our waiter, Donnie, recognized us and seated us in a lovely rear outdoor courtyard where he treated us like royalty. He brought us champagne, a platter of cheeses, meats, bruschetta, mushrooms and honey bread, along with a platter of focaccia bread. Patrons at the next table wanted the same thing, but he told them it wasn't on the menu! He topped off our meal with Limoncello and gave each of us a big hug when we said goodnight.

Tomorrow we will do some last minute shopping and then forge on to Sorrento!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Just Another Typical Day in Florence

Another scarf vendor was willing to spend some time sharing her scarf tying skills with us, using Sharon as a model to demonstrate. Will we ever remember the styles we have been shown and how to achieve them?

We simply have to laugh because while we are completely charmed by Florence and everything Italian, there are moments when the simplest task becomes an ordeal. Sharon needed to mail the postcards she had purchased. I realize that this should not be a complicated process, but it can be challenging when one is unfamiliar with the postal system and the language. Entering the post office, we looked all round to attempt to get our bearings and determine what section or line we needed to be in for purchasing postage stamps. In addition to mailing letters and packages, apparently there is a great deal more financial activity occurring within the walls of the post offices in Italy.

A young American girl was watching us, saw that we were perplexed, took pity on us and explained that we needed a number. There were several boards displaying flashing numbers, but we needed to find out where to acquire one of those numbers. We found a yellow machine that offered three categories for obtaining a number, depending upon your intended purpose. Sharon chose one that appeared to be completely logical and walked up to the counter with her number. The clerk told her that she needed the "P" option, which has the symbol of an envelope. After obtaining her new number, she waited at the appropriate location where there were two clerks, both currently helping customers. Her number 44 appeared on the screen, but there was still no available clerk. Number 45 was called and a man marched right over to one of the busy clerks, whose customer was still standing there filling out papers. They called number 46 and I said, "Let's go on up quickly!" We approached the clerk who was now free and Sharon explained that she had number 44. The clerk shook her head negatively and said, "It's go!" She was trying to tell us that this number was already gone and it was too late.

I said, "It's gone??" She reluctantly agreed to wait on Sharon, whose two postcard stamps cost 3,20 Euro. Each postcard requires two stamps, which must be placed in precisely the appropriate locations. Who would ever imagine that purchasing postage and mailing two postcards would almost require an operating manual? We continued to laugh!! It's all you can do because every task carries a learning curve here.

Ready for our bus tour at 2:00 p.m., the tour meeting location was convenient to our hotel--just across the street, as almost everything we were doing just happened to be. We departed on the Chianti Tour with driver, Giovanni, and tour guide, Giovanna. On our way out of Florence, we passed by a British cemetery established because so many British writers and poets came to the city of Florence to gain writing inspiration. After arriving on their Florentine journeys, many remained until they passed away, so a special cemetery was created for them.

During the bus ride, we passed green, rolling hills where grapes and olives were growing in carefully plotted vineyards. We even spied a golf course, and the particular hole that was visible from our vantage point was seriously situated on the side of a steep hill. It probably wasn't a popular walking course!

We were whisked away to a Tuscan winery, Castello di Querceto, the meaning of which is related to oak, and has been owned by the Francois family since 1897. Alessandro Francois, a descendant of the original owner, Carlo Francois, took over the vineyard in 1978. Even in 2011, the grounds maintain magical historical charm.

Arriving at Castello di Querceto in the northeastern side of the Chianti Classico area, we were brought to a pristine dining room that was beautifully arranged with lovely table settings complete with bread, cheese and some sort of smushed bruschetta, water, and wine glasses. At our table were three young girls in their twenties from Delaware, though one now resides in Philadelphia. We thoroughly enjoyed the wine tasting and accompanying munchies and were treated with just enough of a sample to be able to determine our favorites. I knew I couldn't fit a toothpick in my luggage so I wouldn't be purchasing any Italian wine or olive oil.

As we exited the dining room, almost as though on cue, a brilliantly colored peacock presented a perfectly timed show for us, strutting around with a full display of his feathers in order to please the crowd.

During our return drive to Florence, we stopped in the small village of Greve, where we were given a short time to wander the streets, visit the shops, and absorb some sense of what life in a small Tuscan village represents. Apparently, we were soaking up more local color than the others on our tour, as the entire bus was filled and everyone was waiting for us when we arrived at the appointed site to re-board the bus.

Dinner this evening was at a small restaurant called La Divina Osteria on Via Guelfa, which we happened to walk past on our way to find the square where the Duomo is located (Piazza del Duomo), which we never actually found that night. We dined indoors and I enjoyed the spaghetti--deliciosa! There were two rooms in this restaurant, and the room adjacent to ours was filled with about twenty very boisterous school children. The noise didn't bother us, but some diners appeared to be shell-shocked as they walked out of their dining room.

I'm not sure why we keep encountering such odd restroom issues, but this one was really bizarre. There was only one restroom in this restaurant, and it had a sign saying "toilette." Okay, we get it, but one walks into this room and encounters three stalls with doors. There could be any combination of men and women in there are any given time. Forgive me, but I find that to be beyond strange. Sure enough, when I was washing my hands, a man started to walk right in, but thankfully had the courtesy to turn around and leave when he saw that there was a woman present.

Once again, it has been a long, but wonderful day with many more miles added to the soles of our shoes. Marianne had suggested that we bring a foot cream with us on this trip, and I brought something called Mentha Foot Tingling Foot Cream-Peppermint Oil with Aloe by C. O. Bigelow Apothecaries. My tired feet could almost be overheard saying, "Ahhhhhhhhh....." when I applied this fabulous cream. Someone had mentioned putting Vaseline on their feet, but that sounds a little too messy in my opinion.

We all crashed in our rooms to rest for tomorrow's new adventures. It is refreshing to have our respective quiet time to re-charge our physical and emotional batteries! We all agreed that visiting Tuscany's Castello di Querceto was a major highlight of our trip up to this point.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Florentine Journey

Florentine Journey:

We arrived at the River Arno bridges again and located the section featuring the jewelry stores. They were teeny, tiny shops where more than five occupants would constitute a crowd with an oxygen deficit. The girls investigated the merchandise options, but decided that their favorites were generally rather pricey and they might fair better in NYC.

Laura was further pursuing the possibility of a purchase while Sharon, Marianne and I were more interested in finding a place to sit for a few minutes. The search for available seating is like a treasure hunt, and we eventually spotted a couple who were looking ever so comfortable on a second level balcony that overlooked the streets and shops. As a bonus, it was affiliated with a gelateria. It looked so inviting, we left Laura in the jewelry store and walked over to order a snack. The gelato servings were huge, and Marianne was being so good, ordering a fresh fruit cup instead. We loved sitting on this balcony that overlooked the constant flow of shoppers on the street below. I noticed a gathering of police on the corner, but couldn't detect any evidence of a threatening issue of any kind. The large group of officers just seemed to be hanging around.

Completing her jewelry shopping, Laura joined us and we once again set out walking. We hadn't traveled far when we approached a crowd of people who were following two young girls. These young ladies were surrounded by a camera crew and body guards. What was going on here? It seems that we had stumbled upon Snookie and Sam from The Jersey Shore reality show. Marianne had heard that they were filming in Florence, but we had no idea we would run smack into the shoot. The Jersey Shore girls stopped at a corner vendor and purchased some items as the cameras rolled.

We were fascinated and stopped to observe, taking a few photos. A large group of spectators had formed, and the crew requested that the audience not just stand there staring. The female crew member located by us kept saying, "It's going to look weird if everyone is just standing here. Sweep.....sweep..." she would say, motioning with her flailing arms to keep everyone moving and not stuck in the same spot. Most people weren't really cooperating with her requests, however. She turned to Sharon and me and said, "Look what my life has become!"

We began snapping photos, and a huge body guard positioned himself between the girls and my camera. He said, "Just take a photo of me!" So I did. I'm sure they have trouble distinguishing between the curious tourist and the serious paparazzi whose intention is to sell their photos to the tabloids. We did manage to capture a few photos in spite of their protests.

Trudging on foot back to the hotel to freshen up, we were literally putting miles on the soles of our shoes! I was wishing that I had brought my pedometer so I could see exactly how far we were walking every day. I may have said this before, but that thought frequently entered my mind.

Following a short rest, shower, and change of clothing, we began walking once again toward the area of the various piazzas to find a suitable location for dinner. We chose Il Grande Nuti, located on Via Borgo San Lorenzo, which turned out to be another lovely outdoor dining experience. Sharon and I decided on a pork steak special, just a touch dry, but not bad. Laura opted for steak and Marianne tried the salmon. Once again, the local house wine was an appealing choice.

During our after-dinner walk through the squares and piazzas, we were constantly approached by young guys who were launching these bright and sparkling whirling things they were selling. It actually became annoying because they would aim them to land right at your feet. They were pretty decent about taking no for an answer, however. Then there was the young girl selling scarves. She walked along with us, targeting Marianne to buy one of her selections, and the further we walked away from her, the lower the price became. When she reached 3 Euro, Marianne finally relented and bought the scarf. It was a nice choice, and the price was right. Frequently, we did find that with street vendors, our lack of interest could reduce the price.

By the end of the evening, we were really exhausted again. I believe it will take a few days to adjust to the jet lag/time difference issue. It's almost as though your brain is foggy--sort of like it's too difficult to concentrate on anything that involves intricate details. I found it practically painful to try to look at our map with the tiny print.

Upon returning to our hotel, we all went to our respective caves, closed our doors and settled in for the night.

Thursday, May 19, 2011:

The safe in my room wasn't functioning, so I have been using Sharon's. I called the front desk to see if they could fix it so I won't have to keep bothering Sharon every time I want to get in and out of the safe. The maintenance person diagnosed the problem and had it fixed within seconds. It needed a new battery.

The maid must have removed Sharon's wash cloth along with the towels, but she wouldn't admit it. Sharon attempted to communicate with her in hopes of having it returned, but that simply wasn't going to happen---ever. It's like the maid had no idea what Sharon was trying to convey or she's just pretending not to know. It's difficult to tell.

We ventured back to the leather market area today, purchasing some handbags, scarves, and other souvenirs. We ate a delicious light lunch in one of the restaurants behind the vendor booths. The sandwiches were on some sort of very light bread, and the ingredients were ever so fresh. It was just enough food to fill us without making us feel bloated.

There was one particular oriental scarf vendor who displayed a variety of examples of interesting scarf tying methods. With lightning speed, he could create a sophisticated look. We asked him to take it slowly and start at the beginning so we could follow his styling process and...oh dear....perhaps even remember how he accomplished this. We concurred that we would literally have to practice in order to duplicate and perfect the scarf arranging skills that he attempted to impart to us. We all talked about how we have scarves at home, but don't often bother with them because it takes too much time and effort to fuss with them to get them just right before dashing out the door.

"Don't be afraid of the scarf," Sharon offered.

"That's right--do not fear the scarf," reiterated Laura.

Tomorrow, our oldest granddaughter, Gabriella, is going with a guy friend to his Senior Prom, so I called and left her a voice mail so she would know I was thinking of her. I know she'll look gorgeous, and I wish I could see her in her gown and up-do in person. I sure hope she emails some photos to me! Although I'm having a great time in Italy, I keep thinking about her going to her first prom--and how quickly they grow up in the blink of an eye.