Buon giorno. Back in September (ouch!), when I said I was taking a break for a while, I had no idea how long that break would be.
First there was a Mother-Daughter trip to Italy. It was as wonderful as the first trip I’d taken with my adult daughter to France in 2015. (‘Happy Mother’s Day and the Pleasures of Travelling with a Companion’, May 10, 2015). If you’re thinking about taking one of these trips, my unsolicited, but heartfelt advice is to start meandering around the internet for places you’d both enjoy and start booking pronto. I am sure it will be an experience you won’t regret.
When I returned home, before I could get back to blogging, I first had to work on a new talk – ‘La Sicilia’ – which I had somehow not finished before leaving. It took me a lot longer than I thought it would. Goethe best captured the challenge I was facing – ‘To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is to not have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.’ While you – and no doubt Italians from other regions – may have a few things to say about the German author’s take on the issue, he does have a point. For such a small area – Sicily may be the largest island in the Mediterranean, but it is still only 1/40 the size of Ontario – a lot happened in the island’s long and often tumultuous history and it’s jam-packed with an astounding number of must-see sites.
In addition to the UNESCO sites there are charming fishing villages from a bygone era, wine tours with (the most important part!) degustazione at vineyards across the island, and olive groves and lush gardens in once-desolate areas. And the food. And filming locations for the Godfather movies. And on and on. My talk was dissolving into un gran casino (cah-zee-no), a rather earthy way of saying ‘a big mess’. Eventually, to my great relief, it was decided that I would split the talk into two parts. All of this took me until the end of October when the talk was due.
But I wasn’t yet fuori dai guai. Fwoh-ree die gwhy. Out of the woods. I had to deal with a few glitches I had run into as I worked on the talk, one of which was that when I went back to see if there was anything in the posts on Sicily that I could use in the talk, an errant finger somehow, one day, pressed ‘Trash’ instead of ‘View’, which is why one of the posts on Agrigento is now missing. (Note to the wizards at ‘WordPress’ – how about moving the ‘Trash’ button far, far away from ‘View’?) And then the ‘geniuses’ at Apple decided to mess around with their photo apps. Whatever happened to leaving well enough alone?
In any event, to ease back into things, I thought I would spend a bit of time reliving the recent trip and then continue from where I had left off in Sicily. My daughter, who now works full-time in an office, wanted to spend as much time as possible outdoors and close to the sea. So we decided to go to the Amalfi Coast, Ischia and Capri.
We started in Florence. An odd place to begin a trip to southern Italy, but my daughter works for Four Seasons and an irresistible perk of her job made it possible for us to stay at the very palatial Palazzo Scala Della Gherardesca, the Four Seasons Hotel in Florence.
I agreed to make the detour to Florence only after my daughter reassured me that she understood we would be returning to ‘reality’ once we left the hotel. (I might have overdone this – there was a lot of rolling of the eyebrows and groaning and ‘Yes, Mom’ before I was satisfied.)
In the evening Il Palagio is the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant. If you don’t feel your palate is up to a gourmet extravaganza you can still enjoy the room, which, in the morning, is where la prima colazione (the first meal) is served.
We were the first to arrive and I felt totally under-dressed for the surroundings, but the staff were super friendly. Although I had a moment when they insisted – OK, they didn’t insist – they ‘invited’ me to put my old travel bag (which I had put out of sight on the back of my chair) on a stool obviously intended for bags in an altogether different league.
Apart from the interior, which really does give a sense of what the palace-residences of the Renaissance would have been like, the other extraordinary feature of the property – the first ‘city-resort’ in Italy – is the garden. During the years I lived in Florence I walked by the walls that surround the property countless times. It’s close to Piazza San Marco and the university, and only a a 15-minute walk from the Duomo. But I never imagined that hidden behind those walls lay an enchantingly beautiful garden.
The evening of our arrival the lobby was the site of a lavish cocktail reception. Regrettably no photos – there were burly security guards everywhere. I whispered to my daughter that I had never seen so many tall, thin, Italian women. And I hadn’t. As we walked by on our way to the garden I overheard a couple talking. They were Russian.
Of course as we wandered around, me covetously eyeing all the flowers destined for the garbage bin, it was my daughter’s turn to get all antsy. ‘You can’t pick them up, Mom!’ she warned. ‘I know’, I said, with just enough hesitation to make her keep a close eye on me.
‘We can’t keep these!’ she said as I eyed the orchids in her arms. After I’d taken a few shots, she walked over to the young man to return the lovely ‘prop’. ‘No, no! he protested, they’re for you!’ During the trip I got (somewhat) used to these innocent, little gestures of gallantry, which given the fact that in each case, I was standing right there, keeping a steely eye on things, is all they were. Still, even though she’s all grown up and quite capable of looking after herself, the old ‘Mamma bear’ instinct was hard to suppress.
She didn’t keep the flowers – probably didn’t want the staff thinking her Mom had taken them. Besides, we had no place to put them. They definitely wouldn’t have survived the train ride to Sorrento. But it did seem a shame.
We strolled around the garden a while longer and then headed over to the pool.
The pool was beautiful, enormous – and for someone who hates the cold – most wonderful of all – heated! Unfortunately those dark clouds were the real thing. We’d been in the pool only a few minutes when it started to rain. Soon it was pouring. My daughter lingered, but I got out and grabbed my camera. As I dashed for the closest bit of shelter it occurred to me that the pool attendant’s hut was not a place Four Seasons guests were normally expected to be found. In any event, my daughter soon joined me and we huddled there while the attendant dashed around rescuing guests’ possessions, including – over our protestations – our Aperols. I would have loved to get a photo of the raindrops bouncing off the pool surface and the mist rising from the warm water below. But there was no way I was going to risk getting my camera wet. It will have to remain one of those uncaptured moments.
Luckily the rain didn’t last too long and we were able to eat in the casual – relatively speaking – outdoor restaurant in the garden.
Next – A short visit to some of my favourite sites in Florence