Friday, 12 June 2009

Catching Up in Venice

Hi all.  Sorry for the lull in postings but the little bed and breakfast in Tuscany lacked Internet service.  It was a great old house but without a car we couldn't see much.  Wednesday we walked for more than three hours, 7 km, all downhill.  Although we loved the sights, my body said enough.  

We arrived in Venice last night after a brief stop in Florence to see Michelangelo's, "David."  We were unprepared for the beauty and magnitude of this work.  He was huge and amazingly detailed.  Without exaggeration, every other sculpture we've ever seen pales greatly in comparison.  On most of our trips I've been struck by the awesomeness of our God.  This trip, seeing all the beautiful art,  architecture, and creativity, I am struck by the talent and ability of his creation, man. 

Today we set out to explore the beautiful, romantic city of Venice.  Pray for me.  My husband thinks he's Italian - mispronouncing Italian words with an accent, ordering his food in courses, waving his hands when he talks (wait... he already did that).  It's going to be a long day.


Buonjourno, my friends,

I have loved Italy. We have not had TV or Internet for 4 days and its been wonderful and relaxing. I am ready to head back to work. (i know the thought of me rested frightens some of you including my wife sitting beside but get ready) Mission year folks with no TV and limited Internet, I don't know why they complain? It's great!  We have been walking everywhere which has been just awesome, even with Donna's complaints.  I have been the photographer and did not load pictures on the computer yet. Donna is complaining about me being behind at this moment. I will get them done today. 

I can't say enough about The statue of "David". I was not prepared and it just blew me away. The detail, size, leaves you standing there just gawking, which is what most people are doing- just standing there taking it in.  

We are in Venice now and there are no streets just water and its beautiful. Donna has no choice but to walk or i suppose we could swim where we need to go as well.  We have been in debate about whether France or Italy was better and of course in Barber fashion i think Italy and Donna France, 24 years of this. Please pray for me.  I try.



From the City to the Country

Yesterday (Tuesday) we made our way from Pisa to the countryside of Tuscany.  It was a welcome change.  Pisa was a somewhat grungy city, grey and graffiti ridden, lacking the joy of Cinque Terre.  We hopped a train at Pisa Central and an hour later we were arriving at Gallicano, a quiet little Tuscan town at the base of a beautiful mountainside. 

The train station appeared to have only one employee who sold the tickets, provided information, called the taxis and whatever else was needed.  When we inquired about a taxi she offered to call the owner of the Bed and Breakfast where we held our reservation.  Not long after Umberto, the owner, arrived to personally take us to his home.  It is a beautiful, old house, 7 km up the mountain, with a breathtaking “panoramic view,” as Umberto proudly describes it.  There are beamed ceilings, antique furnishings, a pool and patio.  After settling in our room we headed out to find the pizzeria Umberto suggested for dinner.  It is in fact the only restaurant near his little village, a 1 km and 600 meters walk back down the mountain.

I suppose the food was worth the hike, delicious as usual, but I did not look forward to the trek back up.  We passed several B&B’s on our way and I wondered aloud why we didn’t stay at one that was closer to the food.  We made the hike without stopping since night was falling fast and the little road had no streetlights.  I’ll take the sirens, barking and occasional loud neighbors of the city over the silent, pitch-black darkness of the country any night.  Several of the places we passed had grapevines growing in the yard which prompted Leroy to again insist how easy it would be to start a vineyard in our inner city neighborhood.  Oh, Lord.


Monday, 8 June 2009

Good-bye Cinque Terre; Hello Pisa!

Plans for Sunday were to continue our hike of the cities of Cinque Terre but fortunately Leroy agreed to spend the day at the beach instead (enough with the hiking already!).  Our first day of blue skies and sunshine since our arrival at Cinque Terre demanded a day of play in the water and lounging in beach chairs along the rocky shore.   Thankfully, a relaxing paperback provided a welcome distraction from the numerous grey-headed men in Speedos. 

Later we enjoyed another delicious meal at a beachside bar.  In Italy a bar is a small local shop serving a light meal, snacks, drinks and coffee.  Meals are different here.  Food is savored, conversation enjoyed.  There is no hurry.  Waiters come only when called.  “Happy Hour” includes an assortment of folks gathered in the village square to laugh and converse.   Children run and play.  Groups of women and groups of men are seen chatting leisurely, seemingly enjoying the company of friends and family.

 After sunset we walked some interesting trails, taking pictures of the full moon and nightlife.   At one point Leroy disappeared up a dark path, curious about where it led.  I declined to follow.  I don’t have that kind of need to know.  After a few minutes I called after him with no response.  He reappeared just as I was planning how to break the news to the children.  I’ve seen enough movies to know how these things can turn out.  I’m an American city girl.  We don’t go into the darkness looking for the man you warned not to go there.  Fortunately it all turned out well.  Ciao Bella.



Monday brought a change of scenery from the beautiful beaches of Cinque Terre to the fast life of the city in Pisa. We arrived into Pisa and the familiar sounds of the city, we checked into the hotel and headed to the leaning tower. The 20-minute walk there from the Hotel was interesting as we passed many street venders through the familiar small streets. We crossed the river and there it was the leaning tower of Pisa. It was leaning a lot more than I expected. I don’t know what I thought it would look like but it was another great site. It is hard to believe this structure was built in the 15th century and still stands tall (except for the lean) today.  We headed back to the hotel after viewing and took in Dinner with more amazing food and wine. I have no idea how I am going to eat Italian food in the states again after the great meals here. We are off to Tuscany tomorrow.





Sunday, 7 June 2009

Hiking and Dreaming

Saturday we decided to walk our way through Cinque Terre, which is 5 cities all within a few miles tucked into the mountains along Italy’s coast. The scenery is amazing. There is a path that leads to all 5 complete with murals (although not as good as the Sweet South Atlanta mural but they were ok) We started in Riomaggiore walked through Manarola and ended up a few hours later in Corniglia. Once we got to Corniglia we decided to call it quits and hopped on the train back to Monterossa.  These cities are small yet full of beauty, and culture.  We watched children playing soccer, women working in small shops, and men in the Barber shop all nestled into small winding streets with clothes hanging out to dry from the porches of most homes. It’s like beauty and simplicity are tied together here in a wonderfully creative way that leads one to dream. You almost lose track of time except it were for the wonderful chimes reminding you that the day is moving along as they ring each hour from the clock towers in each city.

Leroy (the King)  


Of course, as we hiked along the footpath between the villages of Cinque Terre, Leroy got to dreaming.  At one point, upon noticing the vineyards planted up the side of the mountain, there was the epiphany that we could plant grape vines in the south Atlanta community garden and produce our own neighborhood wine.  I insisted that it was improbable since none of us know anything about planting or caring for vineyards.  As usual he failed to see any problem with his idea and was certain that it could be done.  Personally, I don’t think a vineyard the size of our small plot could produce enough grapes for even a good glass of wine.  But, again, what do I know?


Saturday, 6 June 2009

Friday was a travel day.  We crawled out of bed at 6:15 am to take a taxi (first time in a car since leaving Atlanta; Jeff would be so proud!) to the train station.  After 12 hours and one connection we arrived in Monterosso al Mar, Italy, one of the five small villages of Cinque Terre (worth a Google search if you've never heard of it).

Leaving the train station, we step out into the unimaginable beauty of the beach of Monterosso.  Mountains rise up around us, blue water splashes over black rock beneath us and colorful, Terra cotta houses dot the mountainside.  We take the walkway through a tunnel and arrive in the Plaza Girabaldi where we have reserved a small apartment for the weekend.  As we wander the streets with our luggage, I begin to wish we had purchased an Italian phrase book prior to our arrival for it seems that, unlike Paris, not many people here speak much English and we speak no Italian.  Fortunately, God arrives in the form of an older Italian woman who notices our confusion and immediately takes up our cause to find our lodging.  (For CFers, think Ms. Rachel and Ms. Mary combined and suddenly Italian.)  She quickly locates our destination only to discover that no one is there.  She seems to take this personally and begins to help us locate a suitable alternative, all the while fussing passionately in Italian.  In less than 20 minutes we are putting down our things in the cutest little studio apartment, with warm greetings from our new host, Gabriella.

Soon after we went in search of our first authentic Italian meal which can be summed up in three word -!!!  Spaghetti with pesto served with the most flavorful bread, olive oil and grated Parmesan I have ever tasted.  We began to discuss how we might arrange living here - bringing Joel, setting up a school and starting Mission Year Italy.  We feel confident that we have capable people in place to run things back in the states.  

Dinner was followed by gelati, the wonderful Italian ice cream that is everywhere here, and a great nights sleep.  Amazing.




Day three in Paris was a slower one Donna needed to sleep in because of our walking and 4 hour bike tour yesterday that was amazing. We got to see a lot of Paris.  Bikes and scooters are a part of life here. We biked through the crowded streets for hours and the tour guide seemed amazingly comfortable with the cars and traffic. There were no helmets either. You can rent a bike anywhere in the city and it does not seem odd to drivers.

This is an amazing place and looks just liked it is portrayed in movies’ and books., Small streets, sidewalk cafĂ©’s, small cars, and great French bakeries everywhere. The open-air market was really cool. I hope our market in South Atlanta can have the same community feel.

I am struck by the history here as well, we went to the champ-elysees which is what the Ben Franklin parkway in Philly is modeled after it was a bit eerie to see how much it looks like the parkway in Philly where I have watched fireworks on the 4th of July many years. This is a lot older than the parkway, and the pictures of Ben Franklin create a different perspective on him, to know he was duplicating what was a piece of home to him in a new place called Philadelphia changes things just a bit.

Then there was the monument that looks exactly like the Washington monument that leads to a walk past a reflecting pool up to the Louvre which is where the King’s of France lived, also looks exactly like the Washington monument and walk to the Capital, also not original. This doesn’t take anything away from those things just let’s me know that even the great US has a foundation from which it came like all of us, although we don’t like to admit it; where we come from plays a huge role in our lives everyday.

The Eiffel tower sits as this overwhelming structure in the midst of the city. The elevator up to the top is worth the price alone. Then there is the view of Paris that just gives you goose bumps. It made me feel really small. Donna says it helps me to know I can’t really take over the world, perhaps but I sure felt like I was on top of it from there.

The place of the day had to be Note Dame. It was incredible to stand in front of this massive Church and almost feel the history touch your soul. Its presence alone was enough to take your breath away. The idea of presence takes on new meaning when you look at this Church. It has stood in this place as a refuge for centuries. The massive wooden doors give the sense of safety. I can see why people ran here for protection. The parish of Notre Dame is quite visible and a major part of the history and community of this city.  I know we are not into buildings, but you can feel the power of this place by just standing in front of it.

Well we are off to Italy. Au revoir.

The King (leroy means king in french) please refer to me this way from now on.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Joys of travel

Okay, it's Thursday morning and we're having a hard time getting out of bed after yesterday's adventures.  The day began with breakfast in a cute little cafe on the corner and then a stroll through the open air market that had appeared under the elevated train. I looked while I listened to Leroy dream about how someday this was what South Atlanta's Saturday market was going to be like.

We then decided to take in some sights while we waited for our missed motor bike tour which had been rescheduled for 8pm (a much more reasonable time of day, or so I thought).  It took us 10 minutes to figure out how to purchase tickets from the automated machine for the metro train (why doesn't the guy in the booth speak English??) but then we were on our way.  

First stop was the Arc De Triomphe.  Of course we couldn't read any of the info about it but it was beautiful none the less.  I would have been good with that but Leroy wanted to see the view from the top.  This required a slow climb up a narrow spiral staircase.  Eventually I made it up the thousands of steps (okay hundreds, but it felt like thousands), legs burning, heart pounding.  The view was spectacular.  Up top we met a couple from Baltimore and had a brief conversation in English!  Then it was back down (oh my aching knees) for a stroll down the Champs-Elysees, a long, long...long stroll from the Arc to the Louvre.

Later, after an overpriced dinner ($4.50 for a bottle of water, $1.50 for mayo!) we headed to the meeting place for our tour.  It is important to note that a motorized bike is not the same as a scooter, like I thought.  There is pedaling involved with the bike, easy pedaling but pedaling nonetheless.  The first two hours were good - lots of interesting sights and Parisienne history. By the third hour, not so interesting anymore.  We arrived at the Eiffel Tower around midnight.  After three and half hours of pedaling over mostly cobblestone streets, all I could think about was my bed, Motrin and hitting Leroy upside the head with that darn camera.  C'est la vie.


Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Parlez-vous francais?

We arrived in London Tuesday afternoon and quickly jumped on trains to central London from Heathrow airport. It was pretty easy to get around on the train. At about 330 we boarded a train for France. The country side on the ride was amazing with beautiful green rolling hills and farmhouses.  (more inspiration for my farm)

We arrived in France in the afternoon and it seems like we have been answering the question do you speak french a lot. We had dinner at a nice little french restaurant where the waiter asked where we were from and when we said the US he said I don't speak great English but I know Barack Obama. We talked a bit about Obama being a brave man to close Guantanamo bay, and as we closed our conversation he said. God Bless Barack Obama.  


Our first morning in Paris and we were already late.  We booked a motor bike tour for 9:30 am (what were we thinking???!).  The ringing hotel phone woke us abruptly from a great sleep.  It was the hotel receptionist inquiring about our tour reservations.  "What time is it?" I asked.  "9:10." she replied.  We scurried out of bed, knowing all the while we would never make it since the tour began a 10 minute train ride away.  

Once dressed, I looked at my watch.  The display read 8:34.  I asked Leroy what time he had and his watch read the same.  With some humor, we realized we had spent yesterday, our first day in Paris, an hour behind, unaware of the time change when we traveled from the UK to France.  Other blunders...paying for a local train but getting on the express (they let us stay on the train anyway :-) ), taking our room key when we were supposed to leave it at the desk.  What do we know?  We're Americans.