Subject: Trip to Italy
Hello Ziners:

We returned last week from our 11th trip to Italy. I had to do the usual catching up, and I then went to a conference. There is a lull in the conference, so I can scattershoot some comments. The bottom (and top) line was that Italy was its usual magnificent self. The negatives, even at the time, were, with exceptions, were more humorous than troublesome. I will, however, post them but separately from this.

My wife, grown daughter, and I split 16 days nearly equally between Sicily (Palermo and Taormina) and our beloved Florence. Readers of my previous posts might now that we have several people we collectively adore, including Marco de Angeli, but we did not see them this trip (but we did talk over the phone). We will make up for this next year, and we did see a couple we met through a previous ezine unexpectedly and delightfully in Florence. For the benefit of those who have not seen my previous posts, wife and daughter love all phases of things Italian, especially shopping, though museums and photography are also high on the list.

I was initially more enthusiastic about Sicily than wife or daughter. They were afraid that Palermo was actually a scene out of the "Godfather" (one of the better guides to Siciliy does show a rather thoroughly ventilated mafioso on the street next to his Ferrari and casket). They also felt it would be like Naples, which I like better than they do. Actually, Sicily was wonderful, and we never had the feeling of, shall we say, impending excitement, that we get in Naples. Of course it helped that one of the first sights was a Louis Vetton store (I think my daughter was heard to utter something like "civilization at last"). We highly recommend the Hotel President. We had a lovely view that included Mt. Pelligrino. In any event, they are now converts. Cefalu' (especially) and Monroyale as well worth the short trips.

We only stayed in Taormina for two days, which was ample for us given the constraints on the trip as a whole. The Hotel Svizzera also turned out to be an excellent choice. It is basically a resort area with a Funiculare to the beach below, a small "downtown" and a wonderful Greek theatre with Mt. Etna in the background. Its Greek origin complements the North African origins of Palermo. We wish we had more time so we could visit Syracusa and Agrigento. The bus that took us from Palermo to Taormina stopped at Catania which looked far less interesting, an opinion that some locals confirmed. Incidentally, if you are going from one part of Sicily to another, the guide books are quite correct in suggesting the bus over the train.

We then took an overnight train to Florence. It is put on a boat to make the crossing over the straits of Messina--fans of the Odyssey should be aware of the fact that a great many references in that book are to Northeastern Sicility. Specifically, there is the Bay of Sirens just north of Taormina, and the Straits of Messina are where the phrase "between Scylla and Charybdis" arose. Not to be missed is that expenses in Sicily were as little as half those in Florence.

This was also our 11th trip to Florence, and I can summarize things pretty much by saying that the things we went to reexperience were as amazing as usual. That included, of course, our delightful hotel (the Nizza), restaurant (the Giglio Rosso), jewelry store (Vaggi's on the Ponte Vecchio), and leather store (Tony Baloney/Old Town Leather). We took day trips to Bologna (in part to visit the Bruno Magli outlet) and Fiesole (in part to escape from excessive heat produced by what natives called "the Saharan Bubble", a weather condition affecting Europe that also caused the clock controlling Big Ben to stop). Another high point was the Marie Medici exhibition at the Pitti Palace.

Ira Dallas, Texas