More of Italy "Under the Tuscan Sun".....

Trip Start Aug 28, 2012
Trip End Oct 02, 2012

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Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

12 September 4 - Tuesday

I had somewhat of a "restless sleep" last night, so didn't have any trouble waking at 06:00. I finished packing my gear, and left the Hotel about 06:35.  I stopped at the kitchen and thanked them for packing my lunch, but they must not have been awake as the only reply I got was "OK, goodbye".

There was one girl waiting in the Bus shelter and she indicated that the No. 170 Bus would be arriving at 06:45.  The Bus arrived on time, and bought a ticket from the driver and loaded my Pack in the cargo area.  The driver didn’t wait for the posted 07:00 departure time but left immediately.  The ride back to Bolzano was pleasant but the Bus stopped numerous times along the way to pick up or drop off passengers.  I finally arrived at Bolzano station and was dropped there rather than the Bus Depot, which was about a block away.  I validated my tickets, bought a coffee and then proceeded out to the platform to wait for my train.  I used the waiting time to get started on my bag lunch, leaving the rest for later.  The train arrived on time and departed for Verona Porta Nuova, arriving on time at about 10:55.

On arrival in Verona, I checked the charts to determine which platform my next train would be departing from and again used the waiting time to finish off the rest of the lunch.  The "Partenza" chart indicated Track 10 but there was no track number listed on the electronic board, even a few minutes before departure.  I'd been speaking with an Italian girl earlier and she told me that they just announced the train would instead be leaving from Track 3.  I hauled my gear down into the tunnel and got there as quickly as possible.  I probably could have deciphered the P.A. message if I was paying attention, but someone with no Italian language skills would have surely missed the train.

The trip was uneventful and I tried to doze a bit as I was starting to feel a bit tired by this time.  One interesting incident was that an Italian guy sitting across from me must have  been using an incorrect ticket, which was caught by the Conductor.  The guy got “mouthy” and go into an argument with the Conductor, which didn’t end well for him as he was fined €50 on the spot!  I recognized the fine from the yellow paper that he was given.  He spent a long time looking at the paper, and hopefully he’s learned his lesson.  The moral of the story is that “it’s not nice to be mouthy to the Conductor”!

At Bologna Centrale, I went to find the washroom and found that it was a “pay facility” (€0.80)but it was refreshing to wash up.  My next train would be departing from Track 6, but I looked at Track 6 in the part of the station I was in, and noticed that it was labeled “Track 6 Ovest” (west).  The other Track 6 was on the other side of the station. I went through the tunnel to the track for my next train which would be a Freccia (fast) train.  Unfortunately, it didn’t arrive until well past the listed departure time.  At first the electronic board showed no changes, but eventually it indicated that the train would be 10 minutes late, then 15 and finally 35 minutes late.  As I've found on past occasions, one has to be "flexible" when travelling by train in Italy, as things don't always go according to schedule.

The "late" train arrived well before 35 minutes had elapsed, but again they changed the track number.  Fortunately in this case it was the next track so it wasn’t hard to adjust to.  I boarded my reserved car and found my seat.  There was virtually no room at the luggage rack at the end of the car, but I managed to stuff my main Pack into the pile so that it wasn’t blocking the corridor.  I put my Daypack and Camera bag on the rack above my seat.  There was a large Italian sitting in the aisle seat so I had to ask him to get up so that I could get to my window seat.  He kind of scowled at me, put his newspaper down and then got up without saying a word.

The 40 minute ride to Florence was quiet, but the train was extremely crowded so it was like navigating through a herd of cattle to get to the exit. Due to the late arrival of the Freccia train, I had missed my planned connection to Camucia-Cortona.  I checked the charts and found a run that looked similar, and asked a Conductor about it.  He confirmed that my choice was the right one.  I also remembered that I had my iTreni App on the iPhone so I checked that and got all the times and other details.  Travelling with a Smartphone certainly does have it’s benefits!  The ticket looked non-specific, so I didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be able to use it.

I was starting to get hungry by this time, so stopped at McDonalds.  While I was standing to the side of the tracks eating my meal, I was watching a man and woman taking photos with SLR Cameras.  The woman seemed like a “poser” who was more interested in impressing those around her, while her husband was taking pictures of her in various poses with the Camera.  I found the behaviour a bit annoying.

The Regionale arrived as listed on Track 16, and this one was REALLY crowded.  I found a seat early and got seated, which was fortunate.  People kept entering the car, and it seemed almost like a “clown car” as people kept entering but I'm not sure where they were all going.  The crowds thinned out at the trip progressed and by the time the train arrived at Camucia-Cortona, there were only a few passengers left.  The Conductor didn’t seem to care about the ticket I was using, so I guess it was satisfactory for that train.

Just prior to arrival at Camcuia, I had collected my gear and was waiting in the Foyer for the train to stop.  I was chatting with an English woman there (Jenny), who mentioned that she had bought a house in Cortona and lives here part of the year.  She also mentioned that a group of kids sitting near her were just fined €50 each for not validating their tickets.  She thought it was despicable that the authorities would victimize someone this way, simply because they were visitors and didn’t know the rules.  Unfortunately, that's the reality of travelling by train in Italy.  I've seen some people get fined, while in other cases the Conductors are more lenient and simply let the passenger pay for the reservation or ticket on the spot.

I asked her about the Bus that goes from the Camucia station up to the Cortona, and she indicated that it wasn’t possible to buy tickets from the driver and there was no Tabachi shop in or near the station, but one was located uphill on the way to the town.  I enquired how people are supposed to buy a ticket to get into town and she just shrugged her shoulders.  She indicated that a friend would be picking her up at the station, and she thought they might also have room for me.

When the train stopped, we both wandered outside and she immediately spotted her friend.  As it turned out, they would have room for me so I loaded my gear in the back of her small SUV and we proceeded up the hill.  They dropped me right at the entrance to Hotel San Luca, which was sure a nice treat after the long day that I’ve had!

After checking-in, I spent a few minutes chatting with the girl at the front desk.  She’s exceptionally interesting to talk to, and has a bright and bubbly personality.  I had to go through the usual procedure with my Passport, but it only took a few minutes.  She indicated that I could have a view room for two nights but would have to switch rooms on the third night.  I told her the view didn’t matter, as I didn’t want to change rooms.  I can appreciate the importance of "view rooms" at this Hotel, as it's located on the edge of a cliff and has an incredible view over the valley and Lake Trasimeno.

Hotel San Luca seems a bit older, perhaps built in the 1960’s or 1970's.  Some of the carpets and other items are a bit “dated” but the rooms have been nicely renovated with marble tiles and modern fixtures. One unusual feature is that each room has a push button mounted outside, which activates a door buzzer (I haven’t heard an old-fashioned “buzzer” for a long time).  The Elevators are quite small, and I had to turn sideways to get through the door.  The interior of the Elevators is comprised of a type of “ribbed” aluminum, which is again something that was popular in a previous era.  Despite the age, they work well.

My room was on level 4, below the front desk and I was pleased to see that it was a large room and had a full Queen sized bed.  The window overlooks a street, but that wasn't a big concern.  I was looking forward to having a shower, but discovered there was no hot water.  I phoned the Desk and was told that a “technician” was on the way to fix the problem.  It took about 15-minutes to provide some hot water.  I only wanted a light dinner tonight, and decided on the main floor Hotel dining room (they have several).

It’s been a LONG and tiring day and one with a few problems, but at least I’m here now and can explore more tomorrow.

12 September 5 - Wednesday

I was curious to see what type of breakfast would be served in this part of Italy.  It turned out to be somewhat “standard” with cold ham and cheese, Croissants, Yogurt, various types of fresh fruit and berries, juices and buns.  They had a small amount of Blueberries, Raspberries and Blackberries, which I enjoyed as that's not something I'd ever get at home.  The weather is mostly sunny today, which is a nice change from what I’ve been experiencing since I arrived in Europe (except for the one day in Castelrotto).

While having breakfast I visited with several mathematicians from the U.S. and elsewhere, who are attending a conference in Cortona.  There was also a group of ten ladies from Denmark (I mistook their accent for German).  The staff eventually opened the plastic shutters which provided an incredible (albeit hazy) view of the valley and Lake Trasimeno in the distance.

I asked the Desk Clerk about laundry and he said that there are lots of places in Camucia, but none in Cortona (that's rather inconveient!).  I also asked about Taxis and he said they were available, and if I had called from the station they would have sent one.  That’s good to know for future reference.

After breakfast I went back to the room and got my gear organized to do some exploring and photography.  My first task was to find the location of the Escalator that leads to the car park.  It’s right across from Piazza Garibaldi, so wasn’t hard to find.  As I left the Hotel, the first thing I noticed was the smell of wood smoke in the air.  I wonder if that’s something unique to this time of year (fall approaching) or something that’s common throughout the year (wood-fired bakeries)?

The first section of the Escalator appears to be out of service for repairs today, but the lower sections are working fine.  I wandered down to the car park to get some photos.  A couple from the southern U.S. were just arriving and asked if it was a "pay" lot.  I told them that I believed it was free, which turned out to be the case.  A young Italian girl arrived about that time, and I confirmed that with her.  She works in Cortona, and was just arriving for work.

The walk from the Hotel up to Piazza della Republica was wonderful, as many of the merchants were just opening their shops for the day. As I was leaving the Hotel, I had a short visit with a girl from the U.K., who is here for a wedding which will be taking place tomorrow at 15:30 at the town hall.  She's a Flight Attendant with one of the U.K. airlines (her accent was very distinctive and pleasant to listen to).

After arriving in the Piazza, I tried to imagine where the stage would have been set up for the Andre Rieu "Tuscany" concert, and which balcony Carla sang the haunting song from.  The ladies that gave me a ride from the station said that the concert was actually filmed over three nights, and all the participants had to wear the same clothing and sit in the same seats each night.

In addition to the scenery, the walk through the narrow streets in the morning provided a mixture of sensations including the odours of various foods and especially the smell of fresh baked bread.  I walked completely through the city and found another car park (pay type) on the far side, overlooking a very picturesque small valley. While there I chatted with two couples from Michigan, and took some pictures for (of) them.  I was surprised at how well the photo function in the iPad works.  One of the women was an Instructor in Pediatric Thoracic Surgery, which I found interesting.  When we came back through the wall, we encountered a group of students from the U.S. and it turned out that one of that group was a Teacher in the same town in Michigan.

After exploring for awhile, I came back to the Hotel to get directions to Bramasole, the house made famous by Frances Mayes.  The Clerk indicated that it was about a 2 kM walk, and provided directions on the Map.  After considering the distance and the hot sun, I decided that getting a picture of the house wasn't really worthwhile.

By this time I was starting to get hungry so I got cleaned up and went back to the Piazza to check out the restaurants.  The outside patio at the Hotel was getting fairly busy, but I didn’t want to have every meal at the hotel.  As I was leaving the Hotel car park, a group of yellow Vespa’s with Umbria in were just parking.  Two of the guys that I talked to said the cost was about €50 per day, and no motorcycle license was needed.  That’s good information to have for future reference.

I ended up stopping at a place that I had looked at during my morning walk.  There were a couple of girls sitting near the menu, so I asked them how the food was and they said “good”.  I ended up being seated beside them; they were only here for a week and were staying in Florence.  I also had a visit with the people on the other side who were from the Midwest.

When I went into the Hotel dining room on the main floor, it was totally deserted but I could hear voices from the formal dining room downstairs so I went down to have a look and found the  room was packed!  The Waiter indicated they had no room for me, which annoyed me considerably since I’m a Hotel guest.  I went up the to the front desk and the Clerk provided a few restaurant  suggestions near Piazza della Repubblica.  I won't patronize the Hotel dining room for dinners again!

After looking at the available choices, I decided to dine at La Grotta, which was the first (and most recommended) of those suggested by the Clerk.  It was located next to a Tabachi shop, down a short alley.  I was going to sit inside to avoid smokers, but it was completely full so I sat out in the small courtyard (fortunately no one was smoking).  I was seated beside two guys from the U.K., whom I correctly assumed were here for the wedding tomorrow.  As it turned out, one of the guys was the brother of the bride.  As I was leaving the restaurant, I ran into the Flight Attendant, who had also dined at La Grotta.

12 September 6 - Thursday

This will be my last day in Cortona, so I hope to visit at least one Museum, as well as get more pictures.

Breakfast was much the same as yesterday.  The group of ladies from Denmark filtered in  slowly for breakfast, and eventually the group was complete.  I sat at one of the tables at the end, and was eventually joined by several of the Mathematicians who would be continuing their conference again today.  One of them was from Denmark, one from the U.S. and the other was American but living in the U.K.  One VERY nice breakfast treat was the fact that the delicious Croissants were freshly baked this morning.  They had a light dusting of icing sugar and were still a bit warm.

I don’t have much planned today except to visit the Etruscan Museum and get some more photos.  The weather today is still sunny, although it’s very hazy so not possible to see Lake Trasimeno.

I first walked through the Giardinni Pubblici (public gardens), which were not far from the Hotel.  The gardens were not elaborate and there were only a few people there, but it was a beautiful setting overlooking the valley.  There’s a small Bar & Restaurant at one end, but it appeared to be closed for the season.

Following my brief walk in the park, I continued up to Piazza della Repubblica and got a few pictures.  It was after 13:00 so I decided to stop for lunch, and found L’Antica Trattoria, which I had looked for the previous evening.  The service was slow, but the food was good.

It was about 15:00 when I finished lunch, so I wandered back to Piazza della Repubblica and found that a few members of the wedding party had arrived.  They were easy to spot as they were all dressed in very formal clothing.

I noticed a Photographer in a nearby alley with a Tripod set up, so went over to have a talk with him.  He was focusing on a very distinctive doorway, but had to wait for an “opening” when no people were walking by.  I also visited with a German woman, who was sitting in the edge of the Piazza with a DSLR.  She had her daughter with her and her husband showed up shortly after.

The wedding party eventually formed-up and moved to the side door of city hall, After about 15 minutes the bride arrived in an older Mercedes convertible, and they all proceeded inside for the 30-45 minute service.  After the wedding, the bride and groom appeared on the balcony of City Hall, and kissed for the many Cameras and the enthusiastic audience below (which consisted of not only the wedding party, but also many tourists and locals including two female Polizia Municipale officers).  They then made their way down the steps and waited at the bottom while the “official” Photographer took pictures.  Of course, everyone else was taking pictures too! 

At this point, my back and legs, as well as the hot sun were starting to cause me some problems, so I had to return to the Hotel for a rest.  On my way past the front desk to pick up my key, I visited with a group from “Temple University Alumni” who are on a tour of Italy to celebrate their class reunion.  I had a short rest for 45 minutes or so and then went for dinner, again at La Grotta.  The same waitress served me tonight, and she suggested changing to a nicer wine tonight, a Syrah in this case.  She asked about changing the wine in Italian, and I was surprised that I understood! While I was dining, a young couple sat down beside me and the girl proceeded to light up a cigarette.  Fortunately there was a light breeze coming into the alley, so it wasn’t too bad.  However she had at least three cigarettes during the time I was there, so eventually this did become a problem.  To make things worse, a younger girl and middle-aged woman sat down two tables away and both lit up.  The restaurant staff seemed to know them, as they appeared to be getting “preferential” treatment.

After dinner I got a few night photos (I'm tired and can’t be bothered with the Tripod tonight), and then started to make my way back to the Hotel.  On my way out of alley, I had a short visit with a woman from Washington who is staying in an apartment just upstairs from the restaurant.  She won the apartment stay when bidding in a charity auction.  On the way back to the Hotel, I again ran into the German woman, her daughter and husband seated at one of the restaurants in the narrow street.

Back at the hotel, I got another coffee in the restaurant and took it to my room.  After updating my notes, that will be it for tonight.

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