Tuesday, May 25, 2004

A Nice Visit With Family

My sister Gina, her husband John and two adorable children Lily, 10, and Jack 7, flew into Munich on Friday, May 15. I cannot remember the last time I was so joyous to see someone! Actually, I can. It was April 1st when I flew in to Munich and found Chris waiting at the gate. But anyway, it was wonderful to see them. I started weeping like a baby the minute I caught sight of them. They stayed with us for three days. We drove them around Bavaria and into the Alps, but I think the highlight of the kids time here was a trip to Lego Land Deutschland. Chris had read about it and having been obsessed with legos as a kid, was keen to go. When he found out that Jack had a similar obsession it was a done deal. We really had a fun day, completely unscripted.

On Monday, the 17th, Gina, John, Lily, Jack and I caught an early morning train to Venice. It is a seven and a half hour long ride but it flies by quickly as you stare out the window at the majestic scenery. Some of the Alps still are snow covered and it makes for a beautiful view. Without knowing one can tell when one has entered into Italy. The landscape becomes less pristine and Alpine and more chaotic and Italian with terraced vineyards and warmer architecture. We arrived in Venice and took the vaporetto up the Grand Canal, which I have done a few times, but was best experienced with my sister and her kids. The wide-eyed expressions on their faces as we slowly inched up the Grand Canal were priceless. Venice is many things - crowded, overwhelming at times and with a slight air of decay about her, but completely beautiful and unique. Standing in San Marco it’s hard not to feel to feel the collective weight of history on the place. All the doges who must’ve walked through that beautiful piazza, Napoleon, every movie star worth his salt, Lord Byron, Robert Barrett Browning, the American eccentric and art collector Peggy Guggenheim, John Ruskin, J.M.W. Turner, Canaletto, Titian, Tintoretto – the list of those dazzled by Venice is dizzying. Still, there is sadness about the place. Real Venetians are few and far between these days. The place exists solely for tourism. Yet despite the melancholy air of Venice, I love it. The light is different there and life is at a slower pace somehow. There are hundreds of secret corners, tiny alleys leading into beautiful sun drenched piazzas, people standing around at dusk drinking small, chilled glasses of wine, both red and white, the hustle and bustle of the canal workers (a particularly funny sight: A UPS man driving a boat laden with packages), children chasing soccer balls, old ladies walking their tiny dogs, the sound of motorboats, the taste of the espresso, the smell of salt water in the lagoon – it’s all a feast for the senses.

We left Venice after a few days of church crawls and sightseeing and headed to Florence on the Eurostar which should have been a quick hop, but ended up as a five and a half hour journey because, tragically, our train hit and killed someone which was most unsettling. Upon arrival, we almost immediately headed to our hotel, high in the Florentine hills in Fiesole, with views of the Duomo on one side and the Tuscan hills on the other.

Our hotel was at the top of a hill which we reached after a ten minute walk punctuated by huffing and puffing and a bit of cursing, at least on my part. But it was a dream, with beautiful screenless windows opening up onto the whole Tuscan vista below us. Chris joined us that evening, as did Jen and Paul, which was a welcome surprise! I have traveled a bit in Italy with them both and we have always had a good time, eating, drinking and soaking up the atmosphere. Like me they are sybarites when it comes to travel, really good companions with whom to share a meal or bottle of wine.

Florence was mobbed with throngs of tourists. I’d been there several times before, but never had I felt the city throbbing as it was on this trip. One wonders how all the art and history can withstand it. As usual, I stood in a long line to see Michelangelo’s David, which had been newly cleaned. Its genius and beauty never fails to bring tears to my eyes. It is simply the most stunning work of art I have ever seen. One feels the divine inspiration it must have taken to produce a work so powerful. The Sistine Chapel is a wonder too, but doesn’t produce the same visceral reaction in me that David does. I will always wait in a line to see him and I don’t care how long it is.

I also took a peek at the Medici Chapels, which I had seen years ago with Joanna. There are more beautiful sculptures by Michelangelo which decorate the tombs of the Medici, who, judging by the looks of this opulent place, must have thought an awful lot of themselves.

Speaking of Joanna, she loomed large over this visit. The past three or four trips I took to Italy were with her and I missed her presence more than I can convey. Our friendship was made and sealed in Italy. One night we toasted to absent friends. It made me cry. But we will be together again in Italy, when we all are renting a place on the Amalfi Coast for my friend Tom’s fortieth birthday!

We split into groups during the day and shared dinners in Fiesole at night. On our last night we all went to a small pizzeria with a wood burning oven. We drank a load of vino della casa and had a lot of laughs. We walked back to our hotel and sat on the terrace quaffing more wine and chatting as Lily and Jack played. It was a perfect ending to a lovely sojourn. In the morning, Chris, Jen, Paul and I headed back to Munich and Gina and John and the kids went to Rome. I felt sad saying goodbye to them, but really thankful for the wonderful experience we’d just had.


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