The Italian Riviera with a Touch of France, 2006

I’m such a busy traveler. Pre-trip I’m picking the itinerary, researching the destination, studying the language, reading novels about the area, and like all other women shopping for and plotting the wardrobe. Once there, I’m still a busy bee. I’m totally focused on the recording process. Gotta get the photographs, jot down the visit’s highlights for journaling and my brain is simultaneously in gear designing it all in my head. I wonder…am I enhancing the moment or missing it?

Then, on the back end, like everyone, there’s all that unpacking, laundry, missed bills, mail etc. – just getting back in sync with your life. Plus now I’ve got to deal with that recording process. It can take me weeks to organize my photos in various categories. After this trip, I have digital albums entitled The Italian Riviera, Roma, Mangia! and Faces in Places — all awaiting their fate. Will I book them? Enlarge some? Upload to the internet? Create a website?

And there’s something else that keeps me busy on the back end…wanderlust! Once I’ve touched base with family, home, things familiar and convenient, I immediately start thinking about how the trip I just took could have been better…and, of course, where I’m going next!!

The Back Story of The Traveling Sisterhood

You may have heard me say this before but… I am never more desirous of traveling than immediately upon returning from a trip. I’ve traveled a fair amount and always have the same reaction, so it was a natural that in November 2005 shortly after returning from South America with Katie that the idea of The Traveling Sisterhood was born. I came back so anxious to share the experience that I reworked the itinerary to create a new one that I felt would be even more appealing to my friends and me…the thought being perhaps I would do Argentina again, this time with a tailor-made itinerary and a group of friends. I called it The Traveling Sisterhood.

A month later Carolyn visited me in FL and we talked about getting our own travel group together for an ’06 trip. We reviewed lots of itineraries and while we didn’t pick my reworked itinerary to Argentina, we decided on ABC’s Italian Riviera with a Touch of France. Ooh la la. It sounded so exciting. So we put the word out to our gal pals and within a month, 13 of us signed up. Ultimately, 2 cancelled and we picked up #12 in Newark Airport just before boarding the flight to Rome. And so, as a band of 12, The Traveling Sisterhood took its first official journey.

Lesson #1: Get your group together first before booking a trip and take advantage of group discounts.

The Journey

And what a journey it was!! Scheduled for an 11PM departure Sunday night, we were called 11PM the night before to learn the flight had been cancelled and we had to be at Newark airport at 1:30 the following afternoon. Connecting flights from FL were changed in a panic and everyone went into an accelerated mode. It was rush-rush and then several painful dead stops. We arrived at Newark at 1:30, waited 4 hours for a flight to Rome. Arrived in Rome and then waited 5 hours for a flight to Milan. We were split between 2 flights to Milan so the first flight had to wait till the second arrived…and if all that weren’t tiring enough, it was a 4 1/2 hour bus ride to San Remo — and not all our luggage accompanied us!

Lesson #2: Pack a pair of underpants in your carryon. This comes from Mary who didn’t see her luggage for 4 days.

Lesson #3: Be wary of flight changes. Always check connection times. Could we have avoided that 5-hour wait in Rome?

Lesson #4: Think about how you’ll feel with yet another leg to the journey once you arrive at your “supposed” destination.

With a 4 1/2 hour bus ride, we didn’t arrive at the hotel until after 8:00PM Monday night. After a day and half journey, we were given a ½ hour to unpack, freshen up, and be ready for dinner. A rush-rush scenario that is repeated on other days. More lessons later.

At the Milan airport we meet Guiseppe, our tour escort. Ah, Guiseppe. He’s the kind of person you had to be there to appreciate, but let’s say…at first glance he is a bubbling and charming Roberto Benini type. Fold in a little Groucho Marx humor and the bewilderment of The Pink Panther and you just begin to “get” Guiseppe. Suffice it to say, we laughed with him — and, more often, at him.

Day 3 (our first day – yes, we traveled 2 days before the vacation began!) was an on foot morning tour of San Remo, lunch at the hotel, and then a late afternoon drive to Monte Carlo. We visit an oceanographic museum that delights all and the cathedral where Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly are entombed. Afterwards, we dine in Monaco and gamble in Monte Carlo, a very cool “lifestyles of the rich n’ famous” experience. I give the money I won at the San Remo casino the night before to the Monte Carlo casino. Unhappy circumstance for the Italians and me!

Day 4: An 8:00AM pick up and we don’t return to the hotel till 8:30PM. We are whizzed through the food market in Nice where we get an opportunity to try Socca (a baked mash of chick peas, olive oil, salt & water). Then it’s off to Cannes for lunch. After a brief stay, we take a boat to the Saint Marguerit Island jail site of the Iron Masked Man. It’s hot, the terrain is rough, and we’re given too much time at that stop. Next it’s a bus trek to a perfume factory in Gras. We’re all agreed that we could have done without Marguerit Island, even Gras, and would have preferred more time in Nice and Cannes. Interestingly, upon arrival in Cannes and without planning, Carolyn and I make a b-line for the restaurant we lunched in 5 years before to have their Salade Royale. You gotta have it every 5 years whether you need it or not…it’s so decadent. Kudos to Katie who chooses a very nice French Rose for the table.

Lesson #5: “Too much of a good thing is not always a good thing.”

What attracted me to the itinerary on paper was, in fact, what soured me on it in reality. It was too ambitious. Truth is we got a bad start by arriving more than half a day later than planned, but I don’t think it would changed the flow much. I felt rushed and without sufficient time to refresh or recover. We wasted time in bus rides and traffic jams. And always being on the move, we never really got to know any of our stops. Again, under the “too much” banner, while the food was good, it would have been fun to discover and choose some additional meals on our own. However, with such a busy itinerary, I imagine we would have never eaten if the meals weren’t included.

The lesson learned: It’s better to have a “hosted” trip that offers more free time and less meals than a fully escorted one.

Lesson #6: Consider traveling in a little cooler weather…April, May, October, November for future trips…unless we are going to reverse climates. It’s just too hard on the body and clothes with all that perspiring — and we all did, Ladies. Don’t deny it.

Day 5: Seems to be a highlight for most. A morning at leisure, YEA! We explore San Remo in little groups at our own speed. Lunch is at the hotel and then a late afternoon departure for Dolceacqua, a very quaint and picturesque medieval town set in the mountains. After walking around the village a bit, we are invited to see an enjoyable 3D multi-media film about the surrounding environs showing extreme sports in local caves and mountain scaling, seasonal landscape, and other images representative of the area. It was all set to classical music with special effects of breeze and smell, a very modern undertaking for such a remote town. Afterwards, we meet the artist who had been busy piecing Carolyn’s shoe together during the screening. Those cobblestones are killers! …And I’m guessing they weren’t Ferragamos.:)

From there we went to Albergo Ristorante Lagobin, a huge rustic styled restaurant (think lots of wood and mounted stuffed animals) that was located nearby in the mountains. We are overindulged with a multiple course dinner…5 or 6 appetizers, 2 pastas, entrée and dessert. I stop half way through. A nice surprise…there’s live music. Guiseppe serenades us and we all get up and shake our considerable booties on the dance floor. Joann is a bouncing bunny, but it’s Gloria who is crowned our disco queen.

Day 6: Arrivaderci, San Remo. En route to Rapallo we pass through Imperia, the home of Mussolini, and stop at an olive oil factory in Oneglia. We get a tour, a tasting, and then are let loose in the gift shop. I’m sure some of us were cursing our purchases on the way home. At checkout, we all get to guess how many macaroni are in a jar at the cashier. Dorothy wins #1 prize with an almost ‘on the nose’ guess. Second prizes go to Carolyn and Joan B. Back on the bus and continuing along, we stop and spend some time in Genova (formerly known as Genoa to us), a large and commercial port. In the end, it’s another long day and late hotel arrival. The hotel turns out to be deluxe…but we never have much time to enjoy the facilities.

Day 7: We’re off on a full day excursion by bus and boat to Cinque Terre. We stop at Portovenere, then on to Manarola, Vernazza, and Monterosso. Nice boat rides and beautiful ports, but they begin to blur.

Day 8: It’s another drive and a boat ride to Portofino. I feel like we did something before this but for the life of me, I can’t remember. Guiseppe surprises us with a visit to St. Marguerite Island afterwards (not to be confused with the Iron Mask’s island) that turns out to be a pleasant stop.

Observation: No fanny pinches that I’m aware of, but somewhere along the way Rita gets her finger pinched by an Italian bee.

Day 9: Nine of the group leaves for return trip to U.S. Katie, Maureen and I go to Rome via the long, arduous, wait-in-the-airport route we’ve become familiar with. Our hotel is almost as old as the Coliseum but on the plus side it is well-located. Well, at least it’s well-located to the Metro which we discover on our second day because the night we arrived, we took off immediately on foot. If you think you walked a lot on the Riviera, try Rome! More walking, more hills, more steps. (I wonder how my body holds up.) We rush off to the Spanish Steps…walking all the way, up, down, and all around and, of course, back! It’s less impressive than I remembered, particularly since we come at it from the backside and don’t get the full frontal effect. However, once we get to the front, the flowerpots that usually line the steps are gone and I don’t think it impresses the girls.

Observations: Nothing in Italy is on level ground. To get from A to B, you either climb steps or hills or go some other circuitous route…hard on the joints, but at least you get a chance to work off the pasta, pizza and gelati (plural for gelato).

Day 10: We feel like we’ve finally arrived in Italy. It’s another full day – the Coliseum, Fountain of Trevi, Santa Maria Maggiore (a remarkably interesting cathedral), St. Peter in Chains where we see the actual chains and a statue of Moses sculpted by Michelangelo. An accordionist serenades us while we lunch on pizza and salads in front of the Coliseum, an awesome sight!

This evening we have our Home Food dinner in Nella’s home on the outskirts of Rome. Three Americans from Denver and a friend of Nella’s who speaks better English than she join us. The apartment is a lovely large condo in a residential area. Her husband is an artist so it is filled with his art. The meal is good, Nella is delightful, and the evening progresses nicely.

Day 11: We take the metro to Vatican City to visit St. Peter’s Basilica where we luck into a free tour in English and avoid the long lines. This evening we have our private tour of the Vatican. Far from the maddening daytime crowds, a small group of about 10 gather outside. About 6:30PM, a side door opens and we are ushered into the Vatican. It is just the guards and us. A Vatican researcher/historian accompanies us and we are taken through the gardens, the tapestry room, the map room and the Sistine Chapel. We spend two very surreal hours.

A fun last night dinner brings us to Dino & Tony’s Trattoria near the Vatican where we take the waiter’s suggestion to order the mixed antipasto…it turns out to be 4 large plates of food with miscellaneous varieties of pizzas, meats, and other appetizers! Who knew? We would have never ordered entrees! Ah, Roma. Makeshift tables and chairs are placed on the sidewalk as each party arrives. By the time we leave, the dining room is inside and out — and about a block long.

Observations re the Group Experience: Some of us have done group travel in the past and some of us have traveled with each other before, either individually or in pairs/smaller groups. For example, Carolyn and I have been to France; Carolyn, Katie, Maureen, Joan B. and I have been to the spa in Mexico; Mary and I have been to Spain and Italy; Carolyn and Joann have been to Italy; and Katie & I went to South America last year. Early on Carolyn and I were convinced group travel was the way to go. Those new to the experience of “group travel or travel without husbands or women only travel” all said they really enjoyed it. The camaraderie was high; everyone got along great because besides being the intelligent and personable women that we are, we were all personal friends, or friends of friends, and either originally or currently from the same geographic area. Everyone was of a “certain” age and life experience…and it just jelled. One quickly learns that no matter whom you sit next to at dinner or stroll beside in the street, the conversation flows. And, from personal experience, I must tell you that on a less hectic trip, this experience would have even been enhanced many times over!!

Observation re Women Traveling Together: I wanted to share this passage with you, also from A Woman’s Passion for Travel, which sets the group experience in perspective for me.

“We [women] move more slowly through the world, perhaps because we are tuned to the footsteps behind us.”

Examples of being tuned to proverbial footsteps: …Mary didn’t see her suitcase for 4 days but everyone was quick to offer pajamas, underwear, toiletries, etc. and, most importantly, moral support. We cheered her on when she got 6 sexy undies for 1 Euro and a couple of other essentials at the San Remo flea market — and all rejoiced when she and her suitcase were finally reunited. …Ann, our #12, who was traveling alone, was readily welcomed into the group as a full-fledged member from the moment we met her in Newark. …Joann’s hair dryer blew out so she ran next door in a towel (don’t ask!) to borrow ours. …And what about having 11 new friends to celebrate your birthday with?! Isn’t that great?

General Observations: Touring the Italian Riviera was different. We did not visit the usual churches, museums, and palaces that often fade or blend in your memory. Instead, it was ports on ‘speed’. And while picturesque and very beautiful, we did not have the time to relax and discover their uniqueness, if any. And so, ultimately, there was sameness about them and they blurred quickly. What I missed on this trip was the cultural experience generally associated with foreign travel – the ability to open ourselves up to the experience of interacting with local people, to absorb the surroundings, to settle in for a while and get a real sense and flavor of the locale, and to create those indelible moments of travel that last a lifetime.

Last and Most Important Lesson: We live and we learn. The more you travel, the more you understand what you want from a trip. And that’s the beauty of travel. Getting right back in the saddle (or airline seat) and doing it again! Who’s ready?”

Joan Nova

4 responses to “The Italian Riviera with a Touch of France, 2006

  1. I am sure all of the “Sisterhood” enjoyed the new site, it is wonderful.

  2. It really did bring back memories. I only wish that I had gone with you to Greece and Spain. BTW, your recipes with photos are TOO MUCH. I want to make and EAT everyone of them.

  3. Joan, it looks great. Love the pictures.

    I have not had time to read it all since I’m at work. Looking forward to planning our 2010 trip.

  4. Pingback: A Trip Down Memory Lane | The Traveling Sisterhood

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