We love it..
Travelling Light... The truth weighs heavy on our hearts!!
We sat down before we started this Blog and asked ourselves what we would call it: 'Jen & Eil DO Europe' (not true), 'France & Italy Immersion' (sounded as though we might drown in it!), or simply France & Italy 2016 (too boring). We then considered our focus: not to burden ourselves with things that we have to cart so we are weighed down rather than able to move around easily. Hence the aspiration, 'Travelling Light'. Having spent over six weeks now in the same sets of clothes and shoes, we are convinced we could live far more simply at home as well. What has become evident through our time on tour with Glen & Mary-Anne is that we appear to also 'travel smart'! Jen has been knick-named 'Dr' because every time there was an ailment, Jen could produce a remedy: aching ankle (heat rub), upset stomach (QuickEze), hay fever (Zyrtec), backache (panadol), chest infection (Bisolvon Chesty Forte + lozenges). What a woman!! (Jen's dad, Howard, would be SO proud!) Glen & Mary-Anne were very impressed with many of our 'travelling smart' ideas which we thought were pretty basis: blowup hangers, our Scrubba, sealable plastic bags, clips and even our little coolie bag with snacks in!
This is where the confessional must begin: check out the photo of what we have added to our luggage to bring home so far!! We brought an extra soft bag just in case we had a blow out... Needless to say, it's in use!!
Best Bits lately
Cremona : the home of the violin makers (best known is Stradivarius, after whom an impressive museum on the art of violin-making is named). Eil took on the challenge of climbing the highest bell tower in Italy (502 steps up and 502 steps back down!) She was very impressed with herself, however, 'pride goeth before a fall'. When she went to take a selfie to honour the moment she reached the dizzy heights, her camera battery took a well-earned rest.
Bologna : the home of many towers (180 of them during the Middle Ages), porticos (80 kms of them), a very risqué statue of Neptune, cuddly putties (cherubs without wings) and 4 rather sensuous women and a long history. We had Amalda take us on a walking tour around the old city. She was delightful and very informative. She also shared her home city of Parma with us the next day.
Cavazzone : our farmhouse experience in the hills behind Reggio Emelia was a refreshing and picturesque change from our nights in the middle of the same old city. The photos say it all! Our knowledge of the painstaking method of making true Balsamic Vinegar (unique to the Emilia Romagna region) has improved as well!!
The Big Pav..
There are Italian icons and then there is Luigiana Pavarotti. Italy mourned for months after his sad death from pancreatic cancer in 2007. His second wife has given Pav's country house, situated just outside his beloved hometown of Modena, to the world. It's as if Pav has just stepped out for a singing engagement when you visit, with amazing, intimate and invaluable items in every room (we even checked out the dear man's bathroom!!) Glen bought a Pav hanky and it suited him perfectly.. So, hence forth, Glen has a new name..
Venice. : home of the gondoliers, canals, UNESCO-protected masterpieces, Casanova, Marco Polo, the glittering mosaics of the Basilica de San Marco AND 30 million visitors every year. We have an AirBnB apartment on the ground floor (no steps!) right in the middle of the islands of Venice. Every time we walk out the door, we seem to get lost in the maze of narrow alleys and countless bridges over the canals. We've only disagreed a few times over which way to go!
'Spending a Penny' costs..
Venice has excelled itself in many ways in our hearts and minds but it must be said that it is also a winner when it comes to the cost of everyone's basic need of going to the loo.. They hit the jackpot with €1.50/person entry.. That's $2.25 approx just to use the facilities! The other option, of course, is to find a Cafe but one has to then imbibe for the privilege. We found a Maccas at a train station once but so had about 50 others. (There are not many Maccas around Italy. They have far too much of their own wonderful cuisine to bother with American fast food!)
'Good Health is an essential'
Jen is very humbled at everyone's concern for her health. She is still very stuffy with her infected sinuses but is battling on with her antibiotics' support! Eil is healthy! Both of us are probably a couple of inches rounder (great food and wine consumption) and possibly a couple of inches shorter (our legs having been ground down from walking on the ancient paths in Italy... So many of them solid, unforgiving marble!)
Some Reflections on Italian life...
We've had a few minutes to do this activity since we finished our amazing 12 day tour of Northern Italy even though we feel our brains have turned to mush nearly as quickly as the food we have eaten has turned to fat!!
The thing about the Italian people is that that are definite, defined and decidedly dedicated folk. Because they are so definite, they hold onto the things of importance to them with both hands. Family, food, coffee, wine and their history are the biggies. It has been a wonder and a delight to us to begin to understand more of this strong tie. In some ways with so many Australians those ties with our roots have been weakened or even broken completely. The idea of a 'fresh start' enforced, from necessity or from the sense of adventure caused so many to 'neglect' their heritage to look forward. The pain was often too great at the loss and the knowledge that they may never see their homeland again. We can be ever thankful that many migrants to our Great South Land have brought some of their culture with them and we can enjoy so much variety of food, wine, cars, coffee, designer clothes, pasta....
As our friend Mary-Anne (known to some as Carol!!!) said on tour "our strength lies in our diversity". As much as the Italians' strength is in holding on to tradition, our strength as Australians is opening our arms to a 'fusion of ideas'.... And, boy, can we be glad of that!!
- Cars - Ferrari, Lambourgini, Fiat
- Motor Bikes - Piaggio, Vespa (Jen's personal favourite)
- Coffee - Illy, Lavazza, Vergano (and at least 1000 more regional varieties)
- Pasta - Barillo Brand but... A different pasta for every region
- Cheese - Parmigiana Reggiano (and that's just the one famously and proudly produced JUST in the Reggiano Region)
- Wine - every region has it's specific grape variety and produce unique wines.
This is where we are going to introduce the word 'parochial' which can foster a negative response for some (lack of tolerance; unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect opinions or beliefs contrary to one's own), but here in Italy there is immense pride in being 'parochial' (original meaning: from a specific Parish!) This is where the 'defined' Italians come into it... There is NO WAY that you would claim a cheese, a wine, a pasta dish as yours unless you were from the exact region it was grown/discovered/developed there. It's quite uncanny...
We haven't had to mention the weather lately but we are in glorious Spring in Northern Italy (not so good for those with allergies to pollen). The air is thick with flying blossoms from great white chestnuts, plain trees and every flowering shrub. The hay is being harvested in every field along the highways and the temperature has been a perfect 20 degrees about. The sun has even shone its radiant light most days.
The countryside is picture perfect.. A great time to visit.. As we flew along the expressway to Venice, we casually watched the snow-clad Alps in the distance, the rolling hills covered by the odd castle or church and the plains covered in vineyards or hay bails.... Not trying to make anyone green with envy.. Not really!
One of the significant revelations we have had while travelling here in Italy is that, so often, the external appearance of an historical building (and there are ample of them) can often be a plain disguise for the extraordinarily ornate & decorative interior. We came across many churches that looked fairly ordinary on the outside but we walked in to find priceless treasures of paintings, sculptures and relics, hundreds of years old, in every nook & cranny. Our Venetian guide explained that this was symbolic for Christians in that what is on the inside is more important than what is on the outside. This reflects a Bible verse that says: "Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart!"
The glorious inner sanctuary No wonder the artists of all ilks
flocked to monasteries across Europe,
to make visible
the infinite dimensions
of the invisible God
and work there yet in its pursuit.
They devoted themselves to this end.
They believe as we do
that spirit is greater than matter,
but matter is the starting point.
(Joan Chittister 'The Monastry of the Heart')