Belgium, Italy, Liechtenstein, Norway, Utah

"Dirty art"…

Warning… this post includes photos of naked people depicted in murals and sculptures, all of which were photographed in public places in Europe.  If you are offended by artistic nudity, please move on to your next stop on the World Wide Web. 

Just a few minutes ago, I was staring at this blog, trying to decide if I wanted to post anything today.  I’ve pretty much milked our recent trip for all its worth, after all.  And then I visited one of my favorite online hangouts and quickly got inspired.

Someone had posted an article from about residents in Coalville, Utah whose city was beautified by a statue called “Leaf Dancer”.  Artist Milt Neely had made an abstract sculpture of a woman wearing leaves.  Apparently, some of the local residents felt the statue was “immodest”, so they began collecting old clothes, which they then used to dress the statue.

The artist apparently doesn’t mind that his artwork is being altered.  He says he wants people to talk about his art; otherwise why do it?  I have to admit he has a point… although to me it does seem very disrespectful to take it upon yourself to cover up someone’s else’s artwork.

It then occurred to me that if any of the folks who felt that statue was “immodest” ever went to Florence, Italy, they would be in for a real eyeful.  Bill and I toured a museum in Florence that featured works by Michaelangelo… nude statues that displayed the human body in all its naked glory…  I have to admit, I’ve been married for ten years and I was a little awestruck by the sight of some of that art.

Two murals we saw in a Florence cathedral…  The residents of Coalville would be scandalized!


On the other hand, I guess there is something to be said for having fun with art.  Case in point, Mannekin Pis in Brussels, Belgium regularly gets dressed in outfits that come from around the world.  Mannekin Pis wasn’t dressed when Bill and I visited him in 2008.

Mannekin Pis

Jeanneke Pis


God bless the Belgians!!

A storefront in Venice.  The mannequin is wearing a pair of sparkly undies that says “I love my president…”

I guess if the artist isn’t concerned about it and the community likes it, it’s okay to cover up the “dirty art” in Coalville, Utah.  At least they’re doing it with a sense of fun and not shaming the poor artist for being too “immodest” with his vision of his artwork.  But it also drives home to me that I would probably hate living in Utah or any other place where people are so squeamish about “modesty”.  I think it’s a stretch calling “Leaf Dancer” immodest… and feeling the need to cover up an abstract statue is weird and ridiculous.  The female form isn’t nasty and sculptures aren’t actual humans.  It’s the same kind of nonsense as the mom I blogged about who complained that her daughter’s Barbie dolls were akin to porn.

A naked statue in Norway.


This sculpture was in Liechtenstein…


We’re back! Time to dish… Venice!

Well, after a little over two weeks of traveling in Italy and Greece, we’re finally back and ready to tell the tale.  I’m going to start from the very beginning, so this series may run for quite a few posts.  I have lots of photos and even a couple of videos to share.  Overall, the trip was a great success and we even still have some money left!  Though Bill and I suffered injuries, illnesses, and indignities over our two weeks abroad, we’re feeling pretty good.  So, without further ado, here’s the story of our trip!

Getting underway via RDU…  

Bill and I left for RDU after dropping off our dogs, Zane and Arran, at the Sandhills Pet Resort.  Zane had been to the resort several times, but it was Arran’s first time.  I think they must have had a good time, since we got no emails about them while we were gone.  Last time we boarded our dogs was when our beloved MacGregor suddenly decompensated while we were in Scotland, so I’m glad to know that all apparently went well.

This truck we saw on the way to the airport had sticker that says “I love rednecks”…

We arrived at RDU on the afternoon of May 5, prepared to catch a late afternoon flight to Philadelphia. After a quick stop at Gordon Biersch for sandwiches and beer, we headed to the US Airways gate from which our flight was supposed to depart.  It was at that point, we realized something was amiss.  I had a missed call on my cellphone.  It turned out our flight was delayed.  This was a bad thing for us, because we had to pick up our flight to Venice and there wasn’t any time to waste.  Fortunately, another US Airways flight that was supposed to depart a couple of hours earlier was also delayed and was now scheduled to leave at about the time our original flight was supposed to go.  We scrambled to get on that now very full flight and were successful, but we ended up being separated.

Being separated turned out to be a good thing for me, since I ended up sitting next to a very nice lady from Raleigh who was going to Delaware for the week.  She turned out to be a world traveler like me, though she had not been to Italy.  We chatted for the whole hour it took to get to Philly and she wished us a nice trip.  I was actually glad I got to hang out with her.  It got the trip off to a nice start.

Bill says “Cheers!”

The flight to Venice…

So we got on the plane to Venice with time to spare.  I was a little nervous about the flight, since I figured there must be a reason they call US Airways “US Scareways”.  But, aside from not being quite as generous with beverages and having no personal monitors on the back of the seats, the US Airways flight to Venice was relatively uneventful.  I did, however, start my period.  That made the flight and the first days of our trip kind of icky.

We landed in Venice at about 9:30 am and picked up a water taxi that Bill had pre-arranged.  We had to haul our big bags to the dock, which was a bit of an ordeal, and the water taxis are expensive.  However, it was quite a nice way to re-enter Venice after a 15 year absence.

Back of the water taxi…

The view from where I was sitting…

The last time I was in Venice, it was August 1997.  It was brutally hot and I was broke.  This time, we were headed for a night at the lovely Hilton Molino Stucky hotel on the island of Giudecca.  We got the room for free, owing to cashing in some Hilton Honors Points…

This was the view from our room, which wasn’t ready when we arrived.  They gave us a suite… the second best room in the entire hotel, which was fully booked.  Our room was seriously gorgeous.  It was a corner room in the “tower” at the front of the hotel and had views of the canal running past the front of the hotel.  We didn’t know we would be getting this suite when we booked or when we arrived.  Indeed, we were jet lagged and slightly grumpy upon arrival and the hotel was teeming with Americans and Brits.  We expected this, of course, since it was a Hilton.

Anyway, despite the crowds, we got excellent service and that room…  In a word, wow!!!  It’s a far cry from the cheap communal convent room I stayed in last time I was in Venice.

We passed the time waiting for the room at Harry’s Dolci, which is very close to the hotel.  I had my very first Bellini there…  along with a very nice lunch and some bubbly…

Afterwards, we walked around Venice, but my back was killing me from having to sit up all night…

We didn’t do a gondola ride because they are expensive and we still had two weeks ahead of us.  Still, they were kind of fun to watch.  We were fortunate that the weather wasn’t too sticky.  Lots of big cruise ships were in town and they were fun to watch for many other reasons.  Here’s a big Royal Caribbean cruise ship passing as we eat lunch…

Here are some random shots we took around Venice…

The next day, we went to Florence… but before we left, we had to get some cash.  Bill went to get some money from an ATM in a bank and somehow managed to mash the shit out of his thumb.  Two weeks later, this is what it looks like…

I can barely stand to look at it.  It was very painful at first, but he says it doesn’t hurt much now.  Still…. Yecccch!!!

ETA… Just made this video of photos from Venice.  Some of the ones I used are in the blog post, but they are set to gorgeous music by a Polish guitar player we stumbled across in Florence.


You know you’re close to vacation when…

you start dreaming about espadrilles…

I don’t even own a pair of espadrilles and would probably never think to buy them, yet they sure did show up in my dreams this morning.

I’m also within the window of reading weather forecasts in Italy with some accuracy.  Looks like the weather will be better in Venice a week from today than it is in North Carolina this morning.  I can’t believe it’s time for another trip.  I hope I can adapt to less frequent travels in the coming years.  Well, I guess I’ll have to adapt somehow… I just hope it’s not too difficult.  I really love traveling, especially in Europe.  I learn something new with every trip.

I’m also hoping that the cruise is lovely.  Most SeaDream cruises are excellent, of course, but you never know what kinds of people will be onboard.  Hopefully there won’t be a lot of obnoxious folks who take over or little kids who snorkel in the hot tub.  SeaDream is a very adult line, but some people feel it’s still appropriate to bring their kids, even though there’s nothing for their kids to do.  I would think most normal kids would be bored silly on a SeaDream cruise.

I’m glad we’re doing this trip in May.  It’s the shoulder season, so maybe the crowds won’t be too much, the weather won’t be too hot, and the kids will still be in school…

I also hope that the dogs do okay at the kennel and we don’t get any frantic emails about them.  And I hope the flights aren’t too annoying.  I dread the flights the most.

Yesterday, I told Bill that I was going to change my nightgown (I never did get dressed yesterday) and take a shower.  I then lamented about how lazy I am.  Sweet Bill looked at me and said, “Don’t worry.  It’s dark outside.  Besides, you need to rest because we’re about to go on vacation.”  One of my friends said she knew why I love him so much…  The fact that he spoils me rotten is just one of many excellent reasons.

anecdotes, Italy

Harry’s Bar…

So today, while watching 7th Heaven, I was inspired to look up the recipe for a champagne cocktail called “Bellini”.  Bellinis are basically champagne or prosecco and pureed peaches.  They were invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice.

  Bellini cocktail

As it turns out, there are also Harry’s Bars in Florence and Rome.  Neither of these other Harry’s Bars are related to the one in Venice, but maybe it would be fun to drop by for a drink…  Maybe we could have a Bellini pub crawl or something…  Or maybe not.  Italians are snappy dressers and I might be disappointing…  And these bars might be too touristy.

On the other hand, I read that Harry’s Bar in Florence makes a very dry martini.  Bill is a fan of dry martinis…

We’ll see…


We’re within two months!

Two months from today, Bill and I will be wandering around Venice.  I hope the cultural high will be enough to sustain my energy that day because we’ll be getting there in the morning, several hours before check in time.  I should be alright if I have a nice espresso or something.

I’m really looking forward to this trip.  I’ve been wanting to go to Venice with Bill for a long time now, even though it’s a touristy city.  There’s no denying that it’s beautiful and unique and I suspect Bill and I will have a blast, even though we’ll only be there for a night.  Of course, I just found out that you can buy public restroom passes.  That ought to be interesting.  Like just about everywhere else in Europe, you have to pay to use the toilets.  It looks like Venice has quite a markup, too.  The public potty appears to be twice as expensive as other places in Europe.

All we really need to do now is figure out the transportation between Venice and Florence, Florence, and Rome, and Rome and Civitivecchia.  And then, from Pireaus and Athens.  Unlike the last time I went to Venice and Florence, all of this stuff can now be taken care of online before we get there.

I can think of other places in Europe I want to visit just as much as Venice and Athens and all the places we’re planning to see in between, but there are only so many days we can be gone.  And I have no idea when we’ll have the chance to do this again, so I intend to enjoy every minute.  I’m still fondly remembering Scotland, too… and wishing we could go back there, too!

Hopefully this time, our dogs will be okay and there won’t be any frantic emails from the pet resort.  And there won’t be any obnoxious people holding court throughout the cruise…  and I won’t get seasick.

Greece, Italy

Booked our hotels…

Over the weekend, I decided it was time to nail down our hotel stays for our upcoming trip to Italy and Greece.  We plan one night in Venice, two nights in Florence, two nights in Rome, a week on SeaDream I, and three nights in Athens.  Though I had been looking at a lot of properties, I finally made my decision by going on and finding several hotels.

Our first night will be spent at the Hilton in Venice, which is a five star hotel.  Ordinarily, I’d prefer a family owned hotel, but hotels in Venice are expensive and we had enough Hilton points to book a free night.  So that’s what we’re going to do…  It should suit our purposes fine.

The next hotel is Marignolle Relais & Charme, which is a small hotel about six miles outside of Florence.  I looked for a hotel closer to town, but this one won me over because it’s in a quiet area and has beautiful countryside views.  We will be using taxis a lot, no doubt.  Hotels in Florence are expensive too, though…

In Rome, we will stay in Relais Orso, which was on sale on  We got a junior suite at a reasonable price and it’s close to The Vatican.  Supposedly, the place is in a great location.  Rome is a huge city, though… I almost wish we could stay on the outskirts and come in for the day.

May 11th, we will take either the train or a cab to Civitavechhia and get on SeaDream I, which will take us to Sicily, Capri, Positano, Amalfi, Delphi, Kefalonia, Corinth Canal, and Santorini.  We end in Athens on the 18th, where we’ll unwind at the Hera Hotel until the 21st.

I managed to book all these hotels for just under $1800– about $220 a night.  Not bad, considering we’ll be in tourist hot spots. It helps to get a free night.

I’m really looking forward to this trip.  Hopefully, I’ll make some headway in chipping away at the debt!

friends, Italy, trains

A month on a train in Europe… Italy

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:

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…