I decided to follow Rick Steves’ advice and save hotel costs by renting a couchette on the train to Italy. Chris and Dawn were more frugal minded, so they sat up all night. I went to the little room where my assigned couchette was, only to be joined by an Asian family– a man, his wife, and their two kids. The father didn’t seem to think I belonged in there and asked to see my ticket. I guess he was sad to see an American woman in there with them. That guy snored like a chainsaw all night, so it turned out I didn’t really get any sleep.
We got to Venice that morning, not knowing that Princess Diana had been in a car accident in Paris. Our digs in Venice were at a hostel run at a convent. We dropped off our bags and walked around, since the convent locked people out all day. As we walked around Venice, taking in the beautiful canals, gondolas, and teeming hordes of tourists, we had no idea that the most photographed woman in the world was dead. I remember a British guy at the hostel saying something to Chris about it, but somehow the message didn’t reach Dawn or me.
I shared a large room with a young French woman who seemed very quiet and shy. Chris and Dawn got their own room. Later, Dawn told me that they got bedbugs. Luckily, I didn’t get them in my communal room.
Chris and Dawn in Venice!
Anyway, the next morning we were off to Florence. I remember walking around the city and spotting a newspaper with a photo of Diana on it. I don’t speak Italian, but have taken enough Spanish to be able to understand a little Italian, which is kind of like French and Spanish with a twist. I saw the headline that said she had died and I figured it had to be a tabloid. I was absolutely SHOCKED.
We went to a newsstand where I bought a newspaper. In 1997, the Internet wasn’t everywhere and we didn’t have access to television. So in the days after Diana’s death, I read whatever I could find in magazines and periodicals.
We spent a night in a really nice hostel with stylish rooms. Chris, Dawn, and I stayed in the same room. Later, we went out to dinner and I had a steak… probably the first one I’d had since I went to Armenia in 1995. When the bill came, it turned out the waiter had forgotten to charge me. Dawn and I said we needed to call the waiter over and straighten out the error. Chris said we should just forget about it. Dawn said, “That’s not an honest thing to do.” And Chris retorted hilariously, “It’s an Irish thing to do!” The waiter came over when I waved the bill at him. He seemed fully prepared to defend himself until I pointed out that he hadn’t charged me for my dinner. Then he seemed grateful.
Courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Il_Duomo_di_Firenze.JPG
We enjoyed Florence… I can’t say I remember much about it, though, because it was 15 years ago and we didn’t get to see too much because we were poor. We got on the train and headed west and landed in Viareggio, which is a beach town not far from Pisa. We checked into a charming and cheap pensione, which included a meal plan and was run by folks who didn’t speak much English. I remember at lunch time, they asked us what wine we preferred. Chris and Dawn liked white, so they brought a big jug of it out to us, which we drank from at every meal. We went to the beach and swam in the gentle water, too. Although Viareggio isn’t necessarily a big Italian tourist destination, I remember it being one of my favorite stops on our trip. It was just a neat coastal town.
We got on another train and headed north, stopping in Savona, which is a port town where a lot of big cruise ships stop. I don’t remember thinking much of Savona, except that it was a really pretty place in the Italian Riviera. We called the local hostel and they came and picked us up from the train station. It was funny, because the hostel was not in the center of town. I remember the ride to the hostel involved a drive up a mountainside. The place was in a really pretty forested area with a gorgeous view.
I remember commenting to Chris and Dawn that the hostel reminded me of Paddy Run, which is the camp in unspoiled Star Tannery, VA where we met and worked together in 1994. The oddest thing about the hostel was that we were the only ones there. It was a huge facility, with a bar, video games, music, and a television. Yet because it was early September, the place was empty. We were given a room with several bunk beds in it, where we spent a single night before getting back on the train and heading for Nice.
Next post: The French Riviera and Diana’s funeral on the radio…