Monday, April 29, 2013

A Day in the Life...

I'm in Richmond now, heading for Charleston, Savannah, The Blue Ridge Mountains, Colonial Williamsburg, and Washington DC.
All I've done so far is...left my house at 5:30AM, flew to Philadelphia, waited 3 hours, flew to Washington DC, waited 4 hours, collected 44 people from their flight from England, and traveled by bus with them for 3 hours to Richmond VA, checked them into the Doubletree Hotel, and finally got to my room at 8:30PM.
I don't know what today should be called, but tomorrow we start the tour.
(I welcome your suggestions).
Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Phell in Philadelphia

I phell in Philadelphia. Iph only I had been looking down instead of looking phorward I might not have phallen in Philadelphia. I wasn't even walking too phast, nevertheless I phell and now I have some pretty phancy bruises to show phor it. But I think I'll be pheeling better in a phew days! All I can say is...phalling is NOT phun!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Starstruck in Piazza Navona

Our Tuscany adventure began with a 2-day detour to Roma before we headed north to Tuscany for a two-week stay at La Montalla in Contignano.

Friday night four of us went to Rome's Piazza Navona, spent some time strolling and had pizza and wine until we realized that there was a movie crew setting up for a movie shoot.  As it happens the movie is Woody Allen's newest endeavor called "Decameron Bop."   We watched the shooting of a scene that, if it doesn't end up on the cutting room floor, will be about 45 seconds in the film.  It took about 3 hours to set up and about one hour to shoot.  we got a glimpse of Director, Woody Allen and one of the supporting actresses, Ellen Page, supporting actor Jesse Eisenburg. Alec Baldwin and Penelope Cruz are also in the movie but they weren't in the Piazza that night.

Monday, May 9, 2011

What else?

So the question is...Wouldn't you think that starting a trip having to meet three separate flights from 3 different airports on two different days using two different bus companies,THEN having the first bus be an hour and a half late to pick up the first group, THEN having a lady break her arm on the first morning of the trip, wouldn't you think that all THAT would be enough stress for a Tour Manager?  Wouldn't you?  I would.  I did.  But NOOOOOO...that evidently wasn't enough stress and aggravation for this Tour Manager.  Because on the last day the three factions of the group were to leave on two different coaches to the airport.  BUT the first coach didn't EVER show up.  And the second coach was an hour and a half EARLY.
After I called 5 taxicabs to get the first 19 people to the airport I then greeted the second bus driver with the news that he would have to kill an hour and a half because I had no intention of trying to round up the second 18 people from their various activities at Niagara Falls to get them to the airport 6 hours early for their flights.
I assume everyone is where they need to be, including me.  I'm at a hotel looking forward to my second of three tours which, I assume will be STRESS-FREE!  Please?

Thursday, May 5, 2011


I'm on a three-in-a-row week-long tour of Niagara, DC, Philadelphia, NY and back to Niagara.  I took Amtrack to Toronto to meet my group.  The group consists of 37 people who arrived on three separate flights, from 3 different airports in England, on two different days.  So after back and forth trips to the Toronto airport to pick up the three segments of my group I finally had everyone collected and we were to leave this morning from Niagara Falls, Canada at 8:15AM.  Feeling pretty comfortable that I had achieved the seemingly impossible task of gathering this disjointed group together and was ready to begin the tour I left my hotel room, took the elevator down to the lobby to meet my driver for the tour and as I stepped out of the elevator I was greeted by a gentleman in the group.  He uttered the dreaded words..."We have a problem..."
My mind instantly went thru many possible scenarios in a split second and then he finished his sentence..."my wife fell while getting out of the shower and I think she broke her wrist."
Really?, First morning of the first of three tours?  Really?
We were leaving Canada and heading thru NY to PA to our second hotel in Gettysburg.  I really didn't want to deal with Canadian Hospitals, and make these people have to find their own way to Gettysburg or make the whole group have to wait in Canada for whatever Canada might put us through so I got an ace bandage and some ice and we headed for Gettysburg.  She wasn't in much pain and some ibuprophen helped.  When we got to Gettysburg at 5:00PM we dropped off the group at the David Wills House (where Lincoln slept before he delivered his Gettysburg Address) for their tour, took Fay and Norman to a walk-in clinic where we were told that their x-ray tech had just left.  They said they would evaluate her but she would then have to go to the ER for an x-ray.  We declined their offer and went straightaway to the ER, where I left Fay and Norman to wait for treatment.  I went back with my driver to the David Wills House to get there just in time to pick up the group after their 45 minute tour and proceeded to the Gettysburg National Cemetery for the rest of their tour.    Then we took them all to the hotel and got them checked in by 7:00PM.  I heard from Norman at about 9:00 PM and he told me they did x-rays but had no results yet.   I waited until 11:00 to finally hear that they had results, her wrist was broken in a few places, they put a cast on it and sent them on their way.
Tomorrow we leave at 8:15Am for Washington DC.  The tour continues without skipping a beat, except that Norman and Fay have their own War Story to tell about their trip to Gettysburg!
Have I mentioned that I love this job??!!!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

I'm on a two day tour to Niagara Falls from New York City with an international group of travelers. We left Manhattan at 8:00AM and we were not on the road too long traveling thru New Jersey when I realized that our driver seemed to be a little (a lot) erratic in his driving. He would drift over the lines and then overcorrect and drift over the other line. I became very alert to his behavior and it seemed to me that he was probably distracted or tired. He was not familiar with the route we normally take on this tour which, in itself would not be too much of a problem since it is the tour director's responsibility to determine the route and direct the driver. But as I gave him directions his reaction times were also sluggish and he was often confused. He was fidgety at the wheel and continuously snacking on cakes and pretzels and drinking coffee and water. These were all red flags to me that he was too tired to be driving.
So we made a rest stop and I contacted my company and explained the situation including the fact that several of the passengers had also expressed concerns and in fact were not comfortable getting back on the bus with this driver. After contacting the bus company and "strongly" urging them to replace the driver, they agreed to do so.
So our 30 minute breakfast stop turned into 2 hours while we waited for the new driver to arrive from Staten Island.
When I spoke to the driver he admitted that he was a little tired, didn't get much sleep (2 hours)but he assured me that he would be ok and that he was a good driver, and that he just needed to sleep for half an hour. I said "Not!" I told him that maybe on another trip he might have been a good driver but not on this one, and we were waiting for a replacement to arrive.
My passengers were all in agreement with my decision and were very patient waiting for the new driver who arrived about an hour and a half later and got us on our way. Everyone is much more comfortable and relaxed and now enjoying the ride. Our new driver is very competent and well rested.
So goes the life of a tour director. One never knows what decisions one will have to make along the way but it is always best to decide on SAFETY...schedules be damned!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

New England in the Fall? Really?

With all of yesterday's challenges and surprises behind us, we began the day with great hope, well-rested cheerfulness, and optimism for a great day ahead.
We spent Friday night at the Stratton Mountain Inn and I was anxious to hear that the "stuck in the snow" tour bus had finally returned safely to the hotel. As it happened they were stuck at the very top of the mountain we were attempting to cross and waited there for 2 hours before the snowplows came to plow them out. So we were very happy that Randy had turned us around with is 25-point turn so we didn't have to spend two hours stuck in the snow, especially with no heat in the coach!
Well Emily's group returned safely about 7:00 PM and were enjoying dinner and I was keeping everyone informed about Randy's trip to Amsterdam and the possibility of having heated transportation for the next leg of the tour. He returned at about 9:00PM with the best news of the day. When asked if we had heat in the bus, he said "We could have a bar-b-que in there!"
Turns out the heat was fixed so good that we couldn't adjust it or even turn it off! It got so hot in the bus on our way to Williamstown, MA that women were taking off their sweaters, and some of the men were stripping down to their t-shirts! They took it in good humor though, because no one wanted to give Randy any grief since he had ridden 200 miles in the Nor-Easter to get the heat fixed. Finally, just before I fainted of heat stroke I asked Randy to stop at
a pumpkin farm to let the people off to take pictures, (really it was so they could cool off).
So everyone got off and the farmer told Randy to pull further ahead onto the grass where the ground was "hard".
I decided it would be nice to buy 50 McIntosh apples and when everyone was back on the bus I was passing them around as Randy began to pull onto the roadway. After spinning the wheels a few times back and forth in the grass and getting no traction, we determined that everyone should get back off the bus and surely it would drive right out of what was now a ditch under the front and back passenger-side tires. So now everyone is standing around on the hill, in the drizzle, eating apples, taking pictures, and discussing what Randy should do. The farmer brought his tractor around and hooked it up and as he began to pull the bus, the front bumper came off. So Randy, the farmer, and 5 passenger men figured out how to put the bumber back on and before we knew it there were 3 or 4 local guys pulling up in pick-up trucks who proceeded to pow-wow about what to do, then set about collecting tools, and gravel and boards and the passengers, as far as I could tell, thoroughly enjoyed the show. So between the four pick-up truck guys, and the gravel, the tools, the boards, the farmer, and the tractor, (this time at the back bumper) the bus finally came out of the mud.
We re-boarded the bus and congratulated Randy and applauded the pick-up guys and the farmer and continued on our way.
I am officially renaming this tour "New England in the Mud!"

Friday, October 15, 2010

New England in the Fall?????

I am on a tour called "New England In the Fall". The tour starts with a guided city tour of New York after which we head up the NY State Thruway until we get to Albany where we take a right turn and head into Vermont where our hotel is situated in the beautiful Green Mountains. On the NY State Thruway we got a taste of what was to come as far as beautiful and colorful fall foliage. So much for expectations. At about 3/4 of the way to Albany the heater on the bus malfunctioned which wouldn't have been so bad except that along with the heat, went the windshield defroster. The rain was pretty intense so I spent the last 2 hours of the trip to Stratton Mountain Inn standing in the front of the bus wiping the windshield with paper towels so our driver, Randy could see where he was going in the dark and the wind and the rain. We made it to the hotel and everyone was happy about that and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Bentley's restaurant at the hotel. We thought we had gone thru the worst of the storm.
This morning our plan was to leave right after breakfast to head to the Vermont Country Store, then continue on to Woodstock, Quechee Gorge, Hogback Mountain and return to the hotel tonight. So breakfast went well. And we got to the Vermont Country Store with little trouble, although the wind and the rain was gradually turning to wind and sleet and eventually wind and snow. At the Vermont Country Store we bought a squeegee on a telescoping handle so that I could keep the windshield clear from my seat by reaching over Randy's head and swiping the
condensation off the windshield. So as we continued in the snow/sleet/rain/wind toward
Woodstock a few cars traveling in the opposite direction were beeping and flashing their
lights at us. Finally, a car signaled Randy to stop and told us that there was at least six
inches of snow accumulated on the mountain ahead of us and in fact another tour bus was stuck
in the mess. We decided the smart thing to do was to turn around and head back for the hotel,
and everyone on the bus was in agreement with the decision. So Randy made a 25 point turn
around in a 45 foot bus to head back down the mountain. Him driving, me squeegeeing and 46
passengers assuring us that they were not nervous and not freezing.
When we got back to the hotel, I quickly discovered that the restaurant would not open until dinner time, so how to provide lunch for 46 people became my next issue. There is a small sandwich restaurant in the town about 15 minute's walk from the hotel but by now the wind/ rain/sleet/snow was at it's most intense so I diplomatically convinced the hotel desk person
that he needed to shuttle my group to town or have a complete mutiny if 46 hungry, cold people
in his lobby. So shuttle he did, 15 at a time to the sandwich shop and back. The whole
process took about 2-3 hours. So everyone got fed and warm and settled in to enjoy the
windy/rainy/sleety/snowy view through the huge wall of windows of the hotel's restaurant. Later in the afternoon, Randy left on a hundred mile ride to Amsterdam, NY to get the heat and the defroster fixed and we found out that the bus that was stuck in the snow was there for two hours until a snowplow came and released them from their windy/rainy/ sleety/snowy hell.
So I am officially renaming this tour "New England in the Winter"

Friday, October 8, 2010

Tales of Whale Tails

Today was the highlight of our "New England Fall Colors and Whale Watching Tour". The tour has provided some wonderful sights and experiences including a city tour of Boston, a cruise on Lake Champlain in Vermont, and some beautiful fall foliage scenery through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. We've had a mixed bag of weather to deal with including wind, rain, and fog, temperatures ranging from the 50's to the 70's.
But today all the best forces of nature converged on Cape Cod when the weather and the whales put on a spectacular show for us! We cruised from Barnstable Harbor on the "Hyannis Whale Watcher" in bright sunshine under perfect blue skies to about 35 miles out into the ocean to "Stellwagen Bank", a Marine Sanctuary which is evidently the ultimate "Food Court" for whales before they head to their winter in the Caribbean. What a life!!
We began the ride with some skepticism, doubting that we would actually see whales and expecting the day to be not much more than a pleasant day on the water. Boy, were we wrong! We saw whales, whales, and more whales. They surfaced and dove and waved their fins at us. They flapped their tails for us. The ship's crew was wonderful at helping us to spot the clues and where to look to see the always brief sightings, whales don't pose for you, you have to be looking in the right place at the right time, and to take a picture of them is even more of a challenge. But see them, we did. And we even got some pictures.
At some points during our whale-sitings it actually felt like the creatures were playing with us as they would dive on one side of the boat and come up on the other. It seemed like they must have enjoyed the silly sight of a hundred people running from one side of the boat to the other just to try to capture their antics! I truly wondered who was watching whom.
Well it really doesn't matter and I hope the whales had as memorable an experience as the people did!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

North, South, East, West

My current tour required me to travel north and west to Toronto, Canada to meet my group coming west from the UK. From the airport we board the coach and drive to our hotel in Niagara Falls on the Canadian side for a one-night stay after which we cross the border into NY, drive south through NY, PA, MD, Washington DC, then north through MD, PA, NJ, NY, then east to Long Island, then west to NYC and finally further north and west to Niagara Falls, Canada. I will deposit my group at the Toronto Airport for their flight east to the UK and I will take a flight south and east back to Long Island.
I arose at 4:00AM to travel west to the airport and caught my 6:30AM international flight.
When I got to the Airport in Toronto I had to walk east through gigantic terminal 1, turn North to find the luggage carousels, continue west to enormous terminal 3, go north to arrivals to meet my group at which time I found the flight information screens and found out that their flight was delayed 2 hours.
At about this time my energy level went SOUTH!
So I settled in for the 5 hour wait, made some friends in similar situations, i.e. Other tour managers waiting for their groups. My group arrived on time (two hours late) and we were ready to begin the journey....stay tuned for more.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Witnesses and Weddings

On Tuesday of week #2, I met my group for a night tour of Las Vegas. One of the couples, John and Ellen were very excited to report their adventure of that day. They were waiting for the Deuce, the bus that travels up and down the strip, on their way back to Freemont Street and our hotel to get ready for the evening tour. While they were waiting they were approached by a couple who asked them to be witnesses to their wedding at a Las Vegas chapel. It seems the witness they originally planned on had to catch a bus back to his hotel so couldn't stay for the wedding! So John and Ellen gladly volunteered to witness the nuptuals. They did the deed, shared a toast with the couple, exchanged adresses and caught the next bus back to the hotel! As they reported it to me they were so thrilled and excited that they had experienced such a unique event on their first trip to Vegas and America.
So that was a memorable event, and everyone enjoyed hearing the story and John and Ellen enjoyed telling it over and over.....until today when we were on our way to the Airport at the end of the tour.
It seems another couple in the group raised the ante on John and Ellen.
Teresa and Leslie actually got MARRIED! They didn't tell anyone but another passenger, whom they asked to be their witness. Before the tour they had a plan to do it but weren't sure it would happen because they didn't know if they could get a license or accomplish all the requirements. But they did bring their outfits and were able to get a license....this is Vegas after all!
So when I heard the news I made an announcement on the coach and dedicated Frank Sinatra's version of "Love and Marriage" to the happy couple, who look forward to getting back to England to tell their families!
Good luck with that, and have a happy life Teresa and Leslie!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Seeing Stars

It is the last day of the first tour, it's been a busy week including lots of travel time. We went to Hollywood and saw some stars, and we saw some star's stars. We even walked in the footprints of some stars.

After that we were off to a night in Laughlin Nevada to spend a night at the Aquarius Hotel on our way to the Grand Canyon.

Day 4 presented us with our best photo opportunities as we visited the spectacular Grand Canyon, which, no matter how many times I see it I am amazed again. Ironically it "never get old" for me. Definitely one of America's star attractions!

Las Vegas was the last destination on our tour. I haven't seen too much of my group since we got here...everyone has free time here so they are seeing shows, gambling, eating and shopping and shopping and shopping.
We are staying at the Four Queens Hotel and Casino on Freemont Street...very nice hotel and the "Freemont Street Experience" is an impressive light and music show that goes on for hours.
We're a short bus ride from the Las Vegas Strip so many of my group are venturing from Freemont Street by bus or cab to experience the spectacle that is "Disneyland for adults".
Tonight we finish up the tour with dinner and a show at the Plaza Hotel..."The Rat Pack is Back," ...Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. impersonators give us one more chance to see the "stars."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Westward Bound

I'm leaving tomorrow (Saturday, 5/15) for two tours beginning in Hollywood to check out the Walk of Fame, then we'll be traveling to the Aquarius Hotel and Casino in Laughlin NV for one night, then to the Grand Canyon AZ and finally 4 nights in Las Vegas NV. Its a busy tour packed with lots of great optional excursions.
I'll blog as often as possible to keep myself away from the slot machines!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Horsing Around

Before the tour I asked Steve, our driver, to find a ranch where we could take our guests horseback riding. He found the Rocking B Stables near Austin. So we offered horseback riding to them and we got 5 takers and about 15 passengers who wanted to go just to see a real working ranch.
So after we dropped off half of our group on Austin's busy 6th Street to shop, dine and explore the live music scene we took the "horse people" and the "horse lookers" as I called them to the Rocking B.
We met Bruce (the B in Rocking B) who showed us around the ranch...which raises goats, chickens and cows and boards horses. He then got our riders ready for their adventure. It took close to an hour to get everyone acquainted with their horses and saddle and bridle them up, (the horses, not the people) and then they went giddyup onto the trail for an hour while the rest of us relaxed under a big tree and waited for them to return. They returned with big smiles on their faces....and as far as I could tell the horses hardly noticed.
All in all it was a great adventure for everyone....when I asked Susan, the first-time rider how she liked the experience she said...."Brilliant!"

Monday, April 26, 2010

Stonehenge Texas Style

Today we visited San Antonio...everyone explored on their own. There were those who waited their whole life to see the Alamo, those who took a leisurely stroll along the Riverwalk, and those who took advantage of endless shopping opportunities at the Rivercenter Mall and mostly everyone enjoyed the myriad of shops, galleries, arts and crafts displays and the multitudes of wonderful restaurants that can be found in this unique city.
After their free time we all enjoyed dinner at Mi Tierra, a Mexican restaurant full of colorful decor and delicious food. We were even serenaded by a 3-piece Mariachi band while we dined.
On the long trip back to the YO Ranch Resort Hotel in Kerrville, everyone was tired but very satisfied with the full day they had and the delicious meal they enjoyed so they wondered why we passed right by our hotel until I told them that we had a surprise for them.
In the town of Hunt, Texas there is a 60% scale replica of Ancient Druid Monument, Stonehenge, which is in England, and in fact most if not all of my UK guests have seen the original. So I thought it would be fun for them to see one Texan's version of this Ancient wonder. An area local, Al Shepperd had been given a slab of limestone, 5' tall and 8" wide, that was left over from a patio construction job. He placed it in his field near the road. After a while he began mowing larger and larger circles around it and in time he asked his friend, who had given him the slab, to build the riplica of Stonehenge. The result is a 92' diameter hollow plaster-covered steel replica flanked by 2 Easter Island statues.
Al died in 1994 and his ashes were sprinkeled on the grounds of Stonehenge II.
The group was surprised to see it and enjoyed wandering among the pieces and commented that it is not possible to walk among the pieces of the original Stonehenge so it was fun to get up close and personal!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Back in Texas!!

After watching and waiting and wondering what the Iceland Volcano would do to my UK group's chances of flying over the pond for our Texas tour, the suspense was finally over on Wednesday morning when I got word that the skies were open again. I think they were one of the first planes to take off from Heathrow Airport when the ban was lifted.
So here we are, after a greuling day of travel for them and for me, in the Lone Star State to see Texas in the Spring. Only one lady has arrived without her luggage. I have no idea how this could have happened since they were on a non-stop flight, one plane from London to Fort Worth. Her luggage is either still at Heathrow or it ended up on a plane to some other destination. Hopefully it will catch up with us at our first hotel in Fort Worth which is where we arrived last night at about 9:30.
Today we're headed for the the Fort Worth Stockyards via the Grapevine Vintage Railroad Train
We'll spend some time at the Stockyards, then head into Fort Worth for dinner.
I've heard that three tornados touched down in Texas yesterday...I see no tornadoes but although it rained earlier this morning the sun is shining now and Texas is in full spring bloom. I'll post some pictures later.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Buses & Trains & Planes & Carts & Waiting

Our One-week tour of Tuscany ended with a lovely afternoon visit and dinner in Siena. We got back to our villas in Contignano at 8:00 PM, completed our packing by stuffing our final purchases in our luggage and went to sleep both dreading and looking forward to our return to the US. The trip home after a fun vacation is always a relief as well as a source of anxiety. This return trip turned out to be more anxiety than relief.
We got an early start, leaving La Montalla at 7:00 AM. The 2-hour bus ride to Florence was uneventful and so we were all feeling pretty comfortable and secure in the notion that all would go according to plan. Not so much.
We made it thru long security lines at Amerigo Vespucci Airport and finally arrived at gate 7 for our 50-minute flight to Rome with about 1.5 hours to spare. So we made ourselves comfortable and enjoyed some reminiscing about the highlights of our week. Before we knew it, it was 11:00 and we were beginning to wonder when they would announce the boarding time for our 11:30 flight to Rome. They didn"t. We waited some more. Finally at 11:40 an airline representative told us that due to high winds the plane that was to take us to Rome could not land in Florence and was deverted to Pisa.
So we wait for them to load our luggage onto 2 buses for a "quick" one hour and 15 minute bus ride to Pisa to catch our 11:30 flight to Rome.
We arrived in Pisa and had to wait in even longer security lines so we could be loaded onto a bus that would take us to the plane that would take us to Rome for our 2:30 flight to JFK. The bus got us to the plane at about 2:10, we waited on the plane till about 2:55 and began our 50 minute flight from Pisa to Rome for our 2:30 flight to JFK. We arrived in Rome at about 3:40 and were met by 2 attendants who were to walk us through endless terminals to catch our 2:30 flight which was waiting for us.
Most of the group followed one attendant but Peter and I brought up the rear with Peggy and her mom, Mary who with the help of her cane, was struggling to keep up. We walked through more endless terminals at Mary's pace until our escort got the four of us a golf cart for 3 which we piled into like so many college kids in a telephone booth challenge.
We rode the golf cart through still more endless terminals to the tram stop to board the tram at 4:00 to take us to our 2:30 flight from Rome to JFK. We thanked our escort and offered him a gratuity which he graciously refused stating that..."it's not over yet!"
We boarded the tram which wizzed us between endless terminals finally to arrive at gate 9 at 4:15 to board our 2:30 flight to JFK.
We took off promptly at 4:30.

Arrivederci Roma!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Wednesday-Thursday...Pizza Night/Cooking Demo...Relaxing and Not So Much!

These 2 days were designed to be relaxing in the morning with two fun and delicious activities planned for the afternoon and evening. The guests at each villa would do each activity on alternating days. Our group is occupying 2 villas and we had scheduled a "Pizza Night and Tour" of Contignano's ancient wine making/olive oil production facility located in the basement of Giuseppe's home which is the castle of this small village. The "pizza night" part of the event was back at LaMontalla where Giuseppe and his wife Paola had presented all the ingredients for the making of individual pie--all we needed to do was choose the items we wanted on our individual pie and they then cooked them in the wood-burning oven in the main dining area.
The Cooking Demo took place at Fattoria La Palezzina in Radicofani under the direction of Silvano and his wife Eliana, she being the Italian-speaking chef and teacher, he being the interpreter. After we learned to make various pastas and tiramisu we sat down to a scrumptous dinner consisting of the things Eliana demonstrated, as well as a main course of pork fillets and fresh spinach cooked in olive oil and garlic. YUM
So on Wednesday of this 2-day event we had he morning to take a group of guests to the supermarket to get supplies, (no alarms sounded when I entered the store but I did sense many security eyes on me as I shopped).
When we came back with that group we spent the rest of the morning shutteling people to and from the town and to and from the 2nd villa (San Antonio) until it was time to deposit each of the groups at their planned event. Not so much relaxing but both events were a great success for each of the groups on Wednesday.
Now surely Thursday promised to be a relaxing morning because no pick/ups or drop/offs or supermarket trips were scheduled . Everyone was happy to stay at their respective villas until it was time to go to "Pizza Night" or "Cooking Demo Night".
So Peter and I left in the van to take care of some things we needed to do and returned to La Montalla to finally relax until the afternoon shuttle pick/ups and drop/offs were to begin---to get each of the groups at 2 villas to either the pizza night and tour or the cooking demo and dinner that they were scheduled for.
Everything was going nicely and everyone was relaxing nicely and looking forward to the evening's activities when someone came in and said..."Do you know that ther is a flat tire on the van?"
So much for relaxing on Thursday---I had to recruit 3 men in the LaMontalla group to help us figure out how to get the spare tire out from under its compartment of the 9 passenger van we had and then change the tire before we could move on to the pick/ups and drop/offs to either the pizza night and tour or the cooking demo and dinner.
Well the tire got changed and we got everyone where they needed to be....but not everyone had a relaxing morning...whatever.
I guess we'll relax on the flight home!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Larceny in Tuscany

We arrived at DaVinci Airport at 7:05 AM after a reasonably comfortable flight across the Pond. We met our Rome City Guide, Franco who was entertaining and informative, showing us the drama and history of the Colesseum and the remarkable site that is St Peter's Square at the Vatican. Time constraints did not allow us to go inside St Peter's but just the experience of being in that square stirred emotions so deeply that at least one of our group members was brought to tears by the magnitude of the historical significance and a lifetime of hearing, reading and seeing pictures and movies about it. Someone else was so moved to "walk in the footsteps of Tom Hanks, (i.e. DaVinci Code)!! LOL

So after our quick tour of the Eternal city came to a conclusion and everyone was greatful to sit down finally in the coach for the 2.5 hour journey to Tuscany.

Here's where the day's journey took a "larcenous" turn...when we reached the exit for Contignano we stopped at a supermarket so everyone could get supplies, snacks, food staples, wine, cheese, fruit and anything else they could load in their carts in the 30 minutes time I allotted them for the task.

Peter and I did our shopping too and when we were checking out, the cashier needed a price check on a bottle of milk we were buying. While that was being done and while I was distracted by someone's question the cashier proceeded to bag our entire order (except for the milk) and when I turned back to the counter, Peter had all the bags in the cart. I assumed he paid the bill, he assumed I paid the bill---do you see where I'm going with this? That's right-we left the market with our cartful of un-purchased groceries! We loaded our bags into the coach and everyone waited on the coach for the last 2 people to come out.

They were taking much too long so I went back in to find them (mother and daughter) and they were at the same check-out that we had just left. I walked them out with their cartful of purchases and got them onto the coach.

By now the driver, Marco was outside the bus in a heated discussion with the store manager and about 3 members of the security team--Marco called me out and after much sign language and attempts at translation between me, him, them, and us, I finally understood that we left the store without paying for our groceries. The mother and daughter were held up because the cashier was busy alerting security that Peter and I "escaped" without paying!!

After all the confusion was over I went back in with the manager and paid for my groceries, the cashier actually apologized to me for making the mistake of not having us pay for our purchases!! Talk about "the customer is always right"!

So our first day in Tuscany has given us some unique memories and has caused my passengers to keep a closer eye on me when I shop. They also enjoy lots of "jail" jokes and police references at my "expense".

P.S. We never did get our bottle of milk!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Tomorrow, March 19th I am leaving for a one-week tour of Tuscany. I'm taking a group for Get Up and Go Tours, we're landing in Roma and taking a guided tour of the Eternal City. Then we will travel north to Tuscany, where we will stay at two villas.
We'll visit Florence, San Gimignano, Siena, Pisa, Montepulciano, Lucca, and Montalcino. I will post here as often as I can providing there is a good internet connection at La Montalla.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Philadelphia Flower Show, March 2010

A large group of amateur gardeners, flower lovers, and happy travelers decided to Get Up and Go with us to the Philadelphia Flower Show at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
The show was packed into 10 acres of indoor display space showcasing beautiful plants and the art of gardening.
We strolled through lush garden displays and explored creative garden designs and flower crafts.
The theme of the show this year was "Passport to the World", international exhibits of flowers, plants, and garden designs from around the world including Brazil's Amazon Jungle, Blooming Dutch Bulbs, Orchids of Singapore, Flowers of South Africa and many more.
There were opportunities to attend demonstrations of state-of-the-art techniques, cooking, organic growing methods and indoor and outdoor design tips. And of course there were plenty of shopping opportunities!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tonto National Forest

Yesterday we took a road trip along the Apache Trail thru Apache Junction, past Superstition Mountain and thousands of Saguaro Cacti to Canyon Lake, known originally as Mormon Flat Lake,
which is one of the man-made lakes in Arizona formed by the construction of the Mormon Flat Dam (completed in 1925) and Roosevelt dam on the Salt River in 1911, which at the time it was built was the largest dam in America. It is the smallest of the four lakes in the Salt River chain. The other lakes are Apache Lake, Roosevelt Lake and Saguaro Lake.
We had lunch in the old town of Tortilla Flat ( where every wall of the restaurant is covered floor to ceiling with dollar bills left by customers from all over the world.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Side Trip To California

I've been in Mesa, AZ since last Thursday, decompressing after Symposium. Spent some time visiting and relaxing and then got on the move again to Riverside California. The 4-hour drive through the desert seemed endless but Palm Springs showed off her Windmill Farm ( and a beautiful view of snow on the distant mountains.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some Visions of Arizona

Tucson: I spent the last 6 days at ElConquistador Hotel in Tucson, the ITMI Symposium has kept me busy networking and job interviewing but I did find some time to shoot some local scenes.

Desert Sunsets

San Xavier Mission

Friday, January 15, 2010

Into the sunshine....

It's 10:30 New York time, 8:30 Arizona time. I left Islip at noon on the 6 hour flight to Las Vegas, where I only lost $10.00 at a slot machine in the airport. Not bad.

Here's my first view of the Rocky Mountains and hopefully my last view of snow for the next two weeks.

It certainly looks beautiful from this distance, doesn't it?

I caught another flight from Vegas to Tucson and I finally got to my room at the El Conquistador Hotel in Tucson at 8:00 PM.

I'm pretty tired from the trip and all I have to say is..."Hello...Room Service..."


Today I'm getting out of the cold of Long Island and into the warmth of Arizona. I'll be attending the 23rd Annual ITMI Symposium in Tucson at the Hotel El Conquistador for about a week and then spending some leisure time in Mesa. Check back here for details and pictures.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Basket of Pears

When I first met with my driver, Steve, we talked about the route and plans for the tour. I asked him if he knew a city guide for Dallas as the tour company hadn't included it in the tour. Since I had scheduled 4 hours free I thought that a two hour tour would work nicely, still allowing 2 hours of free time. So Steve, being a local, happened to know a couple of city tour guides and was able to contact one and make the arrangements. I presented the plan to the passengers and all were willing to pay the small fee to pay the guide.
And so it was.
After the visit to Dealy Plaza and the Sixth Floor Museum the guide met us and showed us the city. One of the stops on the tour was the Dallas Farmers Market.

This is a wonderful open-air market with lots of vendors selling beautiful and delicious-looking fruits and vegetables. So everyone scrambled around purchasing goodies to snack on while on the coach.
I bought a bag of green grapes and a basket (about 6) beautiful, delicious-looking pears which happen to be my two favorite fruits. We re-boarded the coach and I placed my purchases on my seat. I then had to return to the jump seat of the bus so Danielle, the guide could assume my seat behind the driver to finish the tour. She also placed her purchases on my seat.
And so it was.
When the tour was done everyone said thank you to Danielle for a terrific and informative tour and she picked up her purchases and said good bye and left the coach. As she was waving goodbye from the sidewalk I moved back into my seat behind the driver. I quickly realized that one of my bags was missing. I searched all around my seat, on the floor, under other things that were there and only found my grapes. I knew it was unintentional but Danielle had taken one of my bags when she picked up hers. I immediately took the microphone and announced, "She took my pears!" Naturally I got a lot of comic mileage out of this. Sometimes when things are quiet on the bus I will say, "I wish I had a pear," or " I can't believe she stole my damn pears," or "I hope you enjoyed the Dallas City Tour, all it cost was a couple of hundred dollars and a basket of MY pears!"
It has become a great theme of the tour....She stole my pears! Everyone has found some way to make reference to the event and we have had a lot of laughs over it.
And all it cost me was a basket of pears!

Monday, November 9, 2009


Everyone enjoyed an evening of Country Music, Dancing, a Bull Riding show, and of course The Rodeo at Billy Bob's Texas Saloon, alledgedly the world's largest Honky Tonk, located at the Fort Worth Stockyards. This could be true because inside Billy Bob's is a stage with a live band, a dance floor, a restaurant, a gift shop, a museum, at least 3 bars, live bull riding shows, a "Photo Bull," a casino, an arcade, about a dozen pool tables, and they offer live concerts, this night featuring Travis Tritt. The club can accomodate 6,000 people...that ain't just big, that's TEXAS Big!

We also had a city tour of Dallas and one of the highlights of that was "The Herd", which is the world's biggest bronze monument. Forty nine Texas Longhorn Steer and three cowboys by sculptor Robert Summers sprawl down a realistic cattle trail, thru a running stream and a limestone cliff. It's quite an impressive work and you can walk right among them without getting stampeded, kind of like the real Cattle Drive at the Stockyards!

We visited the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza, a National Historic Landmark. It is a collection of photographs, articles, and news programs telling the whole sequence of events surrounding the assassination of JFK, housed in the School Book Depository from where Lee Harvey Oswald fired on the President's motorcade on November 22, 1963. There are two x's in the street denoting the spots where the presidents car was when each shot struck him. We also drove past the garage door where Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby on national TV.
It was a very moving experience to relive that terrible day right in the spot where it took place.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


We traveled to the little town of Grapevine, so named for the wild mustang grapes prevalent in the area, where we boarded the Tarantula Vintage Steam Train for our journey to the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District,
which is a 10 block neighborhood that consists of cobblestone streets, raised wooden sidewalks and streetlights designed to resemble gas lamps. The whole area offers a glimpse of life in Texas a century ago when the Texas Longhorn Steer drove the economy.

There is a Cowboy Hall of Fame, weekend rodeos and a twice-daily "Cattle Drive" down the main street. We were expecting a stampede of Longhorn steer. What we got was a stroll down the street by about 15 of the most docile, bored, non-stampeding animals one could imagine. The "wranglers" made sure no one stepped into the path of these huge animals but I really think if anyone said "boo" to them, they would have turned tail and stampeded in the opposite direction.

Anyway the stockyards was the place where over a million head of cattle passed thru between 1887 and 1904 on their way to the rail lines further north, or the marketing and auction blocks for sale to the meat processing companies.
The town is full of western shops, restaurants, souvenir stores, and honky tonks. It was a fun day and at least 5 of my group came away with their official cowboy hats. I exect all 28 of them will have one by the end of the tour.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Waking Up in Fort Worth

After a full day of traveling, waiting for flights, finding my driver, meeting my new group, and getting to the Hilton Hotel after dark, this morning I found myself in Fort Worth, Texas and went for an early morning stroll to see where I am.

What a beautiful, clean and friendly city it is:

The Bass Performance Hall, home of the city's symphony orchestra, ballet, and opera companies. An awesome 2,000 seat theatre.

Detail of the side of the building: Gigantic granite angels blowing 6' trumpets. The building also features a cloud-filled 80 ft wide Great Dome which soars above the auditorium.
Today we take an antique steam train to the Fort Worth Stockyards to see among other things a Cattle drive down the center of town.
This tour will take us to Dealey Plaza in Dallas, the 6th Floor Museum at the Texas School Book Depository, Dinner and Line Dancing Lessons at Billy Bob's Texas Saloon, The San Antonio Riverwalk, The Alamo, The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum and more.
This is Texas! This is a BIG tour!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream

Today one of our stops in Vermont was at the Queechee Gorge a 13,000 year old canyon cut during the Ice Age. One of the favorite things at this stop for my previous groups has been the ice cream shop at the gift shop complex after the gorge. There are picnic tables and it is a nice break to order an ice cream cone and sit at the tables when the weather is nice.
Today everything was perfect for such a break. So I told the group about the wonderful little shop with the delicious flavors and the picnic tables in the beautiful setting by the 13,000 year- old gorge. When we got there everyone on the bus immediately lined up to order their ice cream.
As I watched the line NOT move for several minutes I went over to see what the hold-up was. When I got there I realized that there was only one clerk taking orders, receiving money and scooping ice cream into cones. The process was clearly overwhelming, she was clearly unable to work any faster than she was, the group was clearly getting impatient and I could clearly see my day's schedule melting into chaos.
What to do?
I worked my way to the front of the line and said to the girl, “Can I help you? Can I come inside and help scoop the ice cream?” I really expected her to say, “No” but to my surprise and everyone else’s she said…”Yes, please.” So I went inside and quickly began taking orders, and scooping ice cream, and receiving money….Tammy even showed me how to use the cash register!
It was very funny, everyone got their cones, and when I finished with the last order, Tammy thanked me enthusiastically and told me I could have any size ice cream cone I wanted! I came out with my cone and everyone was sitting at the picnic tables in the beautiful setting by the 13,000 year-old gorge eating ice cream just like they were supposed to!
And we left the Queechee Gorge right on schedule.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where have all the Autumn Leaves gone?...

they've gone to raindrops, everyone....
I just finished "New England in the Fall" with group 1. The Autumn colors in Vermont were almost completely yellows and pale oranges, and many had already fallen. My Group 2 (beginning today) may be surprised to see little color in the northern portion of the tour. Massachusetts holds more promise for color, but that will be later in the week so who knows.
The week went well and the main issue we had to contend with was the weather. We had some unseasonable coldness in Boston, and some horrendous rain on the last day. So much so that we had to scrap our plans to spend the day at the wharf in Rhode Island. I took the group to an outlet mall in Connecticut instead and they enjoyed the last minute opportunity to spend whatever money they had left so they wouldn't have to bother with changing those pesky American Dollars back into British Pounds.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Countess Lives!

Today at the Vermont Country Store I spotted a display of masks and found a perfect one to wear on the bus when next I counted the passengers.

Friday, October 9, 2009

How Sweet It Is... return to America after two rainy days in Canada. Especially when we made an unscheduled stop at the New England Maple Museum in Pittsford, VT ( We had a tour of the history and process of maple syrup production, saw a film about the process, sampled maple syrup products and jams and other spreads and naturally ended our tour in the gift shop. It was an unexpected and unplanned education and a delicious surprise.

We also had our first covered bridge Shellburne, Vermont. Even the drizzle couldn't keep the group from getting off the bus to get the pictures.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cohasset MA to Montreal

We left the hotel in Cohasset at 8:00 AM and between the pouring rain and rush hour traffic going to Boston we were running about an hour behind the planned lunch stop in Montpelier VT. The foliage was spectacular even in the rain. Once we got past Boston the rain was intermittent but I knew we needed a rest stop before lunch. There were no services on I-93 so we exited at a town called Hooksett, New Hampshire just to find a restroom an perhaps a snack to hold us till lunch. We came to an intersection where McDonalds was the main attraction in this small town. As we sat at the light our driver, Jose put his left turn signal on and as we made the turn we could see the manager and the drive-in attendant looking at the coach with their eyes and mouths wide open in an "Oh, my God, they're coming here!" expression of panic. Everyone on the coach laughed hysterically and as we entered the restaurant there was a noticable McFlurry of McActivity. As they all McManned their stations, the manager was shouting McDirections to all of the McEmployees.

They did a great job serving everyone and we were out of there and on our way in about 40 minutes.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Countess

One of the most stressful chores of this job is counting the people. I have to count them everytime we board the coach before we can begin the journey...that is everytime...every morning, every rest area stop, every time we board the coach again. This probably doesn't seem like a very difficult thing to do but for some reason (old age) no matter what method I use I always come up with a different answer. So this process quickly becomes a comical event on the coach.
Now my passengers have begun to call me "The Countess". I rather enjoy the title...especially when they bow!
On Monday we spent the day in Boston and on Tuesday we went to Rhode Island, visited the Marble House, a Vanderbilt mansion on the Cliff Walk, then enjoyed free time at the restaurants and shops at the wharf in Newport.
Hopefully I will have a connection at our next hotel and will be able to post some pictures.

Getting There

The internet connection was troublesome in Cohasset so this is my first opportunity to post here using the Hotel's computer.
I picked up the group at Boston Airport, all except for 2 ladies, I'll call them Susan and Christine, because those are their names. Once all of my group had arrived and boarded the coach except for Susan and Christine I waited until the flight arrival announcement was removed from the board, found out they were never on the flight and proceeded with the group to the Cohasset Harbor Resort ( which is a beautifully quaint Inn situated on a small harbor in Cohasset, MA.
The first thing I usually do when arriving at a hotel is set up my computer and try to get online.
Steve, the hotel manager was terriffic and very eager to help me get online but the signal was weak in Room 112. He took me to the 2nd floor to a room that he said they use for meetings so the connection might be better. It turned out to be the hotel"s "Presidential Suite"---livingroom/dining area/kitchenette combination and a very large separate bedroom on the harbor side with a beautiful view facing the sunrise and sliding glass doors onto the the balcony. The connection didn't work here either but I didn't mind so much.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Following Fall Foliage Farther Forthwith

I'm off on Sunday, October 4th to New England and Quebec, Canada.
I'm doing 3 consecutive 1-week tours and I'm not coming back until I see every last leaf from New York to Quebec change color and fall down.
I'm really looking forward to it...what better place to experience the spectacle of Mother Nature changing her clothes than New England and Eastern Canada?
And who knows what adventures lie ahead?
Not me.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

More London

When the Queen enters Westminster for the State Opening of Parliament she enters the Queen's Robing Room to put on the Imperial State Crown and the parliamentary Robes.
This is the clock in the Robing Room. And below, the fireplace.

Buckingham Palace, The Queen was not evidenced by the fact that the Royal Standard was not flying.

These guys were keeping an eye on things at Buckingham Palace and in the park across the street from the Palace. (The black swan was in the park)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Spy With My Little Eye...

...some spectacular scenes in London.
Some of these images were shot from the London Eye, the giant rotating wheel that is 200 times the size of the average racing bike wheel, and the largest observation wheel ever built as well as the only cantilevered structure of its kind in the world. The panoramic views of London are amazing from there. The ride takes about 30 minutes.

The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
from the South Bank of the River Thames

The Tower Bridge from the North Bank.

Big Ben through the structure of the London Eye

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

9/14/09 We Did It!

We left the villa in Contignano and drove for 2 hours through every little town and village between there and Cascina (it was only 78 miles). This was the shortcut that we didn't take the other day when it took us two hours too.

The rain started about half way there and never stopped but just kept getting more and more intense. Between the switchbacks and the roundabouts and the torrential downpours we were beginning to think that Massimina didn't want to be found.
But we persevered and finally made it to Cascina and found the Stato Civile where birth records are stored.

It is necessary to take a number from a ticket machine (I think they got the idea from the US Department of Motor Vehicles.)
We were feeling pretty proud of ourselves for finding the right office with 40 minutes to spare but were again frustrated when the ticket machine didn't work and the attendant who was trying to fix it left to find another one who could! Finally the machine got fixed, we got our ticket and we were only one number away from the one that was currently being helped at the counter we needed to be at. When that person left we thought surely our turn had come but the agent needed to do something at his computer that caused him to laugh and giggle for the next 10 minutes. Peter was sure he was receiving chain letter email jokes.
When we were finally called he spoke no English and although I had written the names and dates and the info that we were looking for, this guy had no interest in helping us and so he passed us off to another agent. She didn't speak any English either but was at least willing to listen to my clumsy attempt at Italian. She retrieved a large old leather-bound volume of an index of birth records from Cascina for 1876 which was the date we thought Massimina was born. There was no Massimina Barontini listed. She then called another agent over who spoke about as much English as I spoke Italian. They decided to check the years around 1876 and found a "Massimo Barontini" born to Caterina Picchi and Angiolo Barontini in 1875. I knew that was the right record even though I thought her parents were Angelo Barontini and Caterina Picchini. The agent noticed a notation in the margin indicating that the name was originally written wrongly as Massimo, wrong because the child was a girl. This is why they couldn't find her in the index. So the note corrected the name to read "Massimina." So we definitely had the right record! She further translated the address as #84 San Frediano as to where she was born. We asked how to find that address and they told us it no longer exists. Understandable, I guess.

Anyway we purchased 5 copies, thanked both women for their help and were on our way in the rain to catch our train from Florence to Paris. By the time we got to Florence we were drenched and hungry but happy to finally take Nona with us, if only on paper.
I never knew Massimina--she died before I was born so this is the closest I have been to her... we're off to see the Eiffel Tower now but I don't expect to be moved by it as much as I was this morning when I saw the original hand-written record of Nona's birth in 1875 (134 years ago). WOW!!

By the way, Massimina was born 14 years before the Eiffel tower was built.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mazzetti Revisited

I think it was in 2005 when we made our family trip to Tuscany. It was after dark in Montepulciano and we were walking down a street when we came upon a coppersmith shop where Signore Mazzetti was working. The scene was striking because a single hanging bulb overhead shone a perfect cone of light on him in the dark as he worked at his craft.
We crossed the street to get a better look and as we stood and watched him work, he greeted us and invited us in. Moma was with us (in her wheelchair) and since she was the only one of the 4 of us who could understand and speak Italian, he began to ask her the usual questions, and as he learned who she was and about her family he began to make her a copper disk upon which he stamped with his various tools the initials of each of her 9 children with a flower to represent each in a ring around the disk with her name in the middle. He said her children were like the flowers in her garden. He then polished it to a gleaming finish and presented it to her as a gift...although we offered to pay for it, he would take no money. We then took his picture with her and went on our way. It was an amazing and memorable event.
I later sent him a copy of the picture.

Fast forward to today, Peter and I were in Montepulciano and went into Mazzetti's shop to say hello, and not only did he remember us but he showed us the picture that I sent him, hanging right there on his wall!
Another amazing and memorable event!
Grazie Signore Mazzetti!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Somewhere Over the Rainbow...

..we found some grapes to eat right off the vine, endless acres of vineyards, a honey of a town, and a family from Massapequa, Long Island.
The grapes were delicious, the vineyards were breathtaking, the town was Montalcino and it was having a "Honey Festival", and we met the Mauro Family at lunch at the Banfi Vineyard.

Lost & Found or "Getting Lost and Finding Stuff"

We wanted to go back to Cascina to find Nona's records and we decided to take a shortcut. Well, the shortcut didn't work so well and we got lost. None of the roads in Tuscany are a shortcut to anywhere. So even though we got an early start we at about 11:15 that we were not going to make it to Cascina before the agency which has the birth records would close at 12:30. So we decided to take a shortcut to find San Gimignano. When that didn't go so well either and we got lost again we both decided to not try to find anywhere but instead to just drive.

When we passed a beautiful vista (duhhh!) we needed to turn around and go take pictures of it. So we did. As we were getting back in the car to find a shortcut to Siena I found something unusual in the dry soil on the side of the road. It was a shell! What the #*^% is a seashell doing in the hills of Tuscany???? I decided that we must have found proof that this area was at one time, millennia ago, under water. I continued to search and found many more shells. Then as I raised my eyes from the ground to the vegetation I noticed that some of the shells were stuck to the tall plants.
Sea shells? I think not!! What I found were snail shells! Some of them even still had snails in them!!

What I learned today: Don't be afraid to get lost because sometimes when you get lost you find stuff, it's just not always what you think you found.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/10/09 Birthplaces

Today on our way to Lucca we decided to visit the birthplace of our Maternal Grandmother--Massimina Barrontini. She was born in Cascina, in 1876 to Caterina Piccini and Angelo Barrontini. Cascina is just a bit east of Pisa. We went into the Municiple Building and were lucky enough to approach an English-speaking agent who told us where we could find records of past residents of Cascina. Unfortunately that office only has hours between 9:30 AM and 12:30 PM. It was 12:50 by the time she gave us all the information and directions we needed including where to have lunch. So we will go back there soon and see what we can find.
We did find the church that Massimina surely attended as a girl.

In searching for our lunch we found ourselves in a village called Vicopisano, built on a little hill, which was interesting for it's towers, the largest and most impressive was the medieval "Torre del Bunelleschi." We saw it but could not reach it because of the maze of steps and hills and ancient buildings (dating back pre-1407). We could see the top of it from many vantage points but couldn't get to it.

We did find the "Torre dell Orologio" or clock tower.

After Vicopisano we headed for Lucca to secure dinner arrangements for our March 2010 tour group. Lucca is best known for its beautifully preserved walls that completely surround the town-walls that took 150 years to build in the 16th and 17th Centuries. It has some beautiful Romanesque churches, cobblestone streets, lots of restaurants, and pasticherrias (bakeries) and the main mode of transportation is the bicycle. People of all ages ride bicycles everywhere.

Our two main objectives in Lucca were to find a nice restaurant for our group and I particularly wanted to find the birthplace of Lucca"s most accomplished native--Giaccomo Puccini of LaBoehm, Madam Butterfly, Tosca, and Turandot fame. Another town of mazes kept us searching for the better part of the afternoon. We weren't having any better luck finding a suitable restaurant for the group either. So I was ready to give up on that plan and resort to the internet to achieve that goal.

But I was determined not to leave Lucca without finding Puccini's birthplace. The map told us it was adjacent to Piazza San Michelle which is the site of the beautiful church constructed largely in the 11th and 12th centuries but the work continued until the 14th century. The facade is richly decorated with 4 tiers of a variety of columns-some carved, some inlaid, others in colored marble. So we found the church and took pictures of it and then continued our now obsessive search for the Maestro's house. After about 3 wrong turns we finally found the piazza where his statue is the centerpiece, there is a hotel named for him and we finally found the small street which contained the 2nd story apartment of the family of Giaccomo Puccini.
Mission Accomplished!!

I felt the same way as I did when we walked the streets of Cascina-to know that Nona walked those streets, attended that church and perhaps sat on those stone steps over a hundred twenty years ago was a moving experience for me like no other. I am as happy as I can be without actually finding her house.

So now I can imagine Giaccomo walking down this street, or sitting in the piazza, perhaps whistling the theme from Madam Butterfly. As I hum the theme from Madam Butterfly I am again a satisfied and happy traveler.

So here comes Karma again...satisfied that we had accomplished one half of our mission in Lucca we were turning to leave the street of Puccini's birth when I noticed a restaurant called "Ristorante Puccini" directly across the street. I said to Peter "lets check this out for the group in March."
It's a beautiful restaurant with an English-speaking waitress who immmediately helped us with ideas, plans, prices, menus, and showed us the room so we basically made the deal with a handshake, details to follow and confirm thru email.
This restaurant has the right ambiance and the right setting and the right name to set the scene while we play some favorite arias from Madam Butterfly and LaBoehm and have a wonderful dinner across the street from the Puccini residence.
It was an amazing stroke of luck (or Lucca) and I certainly have Maestro Puccini to thank for it.

Oh, and Giaccomo, thanks for the music too!!
And Massimina, thanks for being my Nona!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Traveling in Style...

...thanks to Hiroko for getting us upgraded to Business Class on the flight to Rome, the flight was not as tortuous as it can be when you are scrunched between two people in tiny seats and the person in front of you has to recline his/her seat all the way back. We were served champagne, an excellent meal (better than the average plane food) and best of all we had full reclining seats with a blanket AND a pillow. Nice.
We arrived at 7AM local time, got the rental car and began the drive north to the villa in Contignano. On the way we decided to stop and visit the town of Orvieto and maybe find some pasta to hold us over until we got to our destination to have pasta. That worked just fine.
We spent the day planning some of the details of the March tour. Got set up for a Pizza night at the villa, a tour of Giuseppe's basement including history of the town, villa, farm and an olive oil processing lession and tasting. We then went to the restaurant where we will have a cooking demonstration and a dinner with the group in March, had a wonderful dinner there and then came back to the villa to get rest up for our busy day tomorrow.
Tomorrow I will post some pictures, I'm too tired now to do it...

Monday, September 7, 2009


Peter and I are leaving for Tuscany tomorrow (9-8-09). We'll spend about a week there planning the tour that I'll be doing in March of 2010. We need to make dinner arrangements with several restaurants for the group so we will have to sample pasta at many different places in order to secure the most delicious arrangements for our future guests. It's a hardship on us but we feel it's the least we can do for those who put their trust in us.
After our time in Tuscany we will take the overnight sleeper train to Paris where we will spend one day exploring and then take the "chunnel"(tunnel under the English Channel) train to London. We'll be in London for about a week. I will post pictures and report on our adventures here.
Stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Had some...

... connection issues when we left Canada and returned to the US via the Champlain Islands ( in Northwestern Vermont. We were at the Apple Island Campground in South Hero for two nights. It was a very nice campground in a beautiful setting, the only problem was that I had no WiFi, although we are back on Long Island, this post will serve as the last post before the next post which will be posted when I go to Tuscany and London in September.
The weather was beautiful but very hot, so we relaxed at the campsite except for a two-hour walk we took looking for an orchard that someone told us was "just a little way down the rural road." I guess Vermonters idea of "just a little way" is different from my idea of it because we walked to exhaustion and heat stroke and never found an orchard. We did find some pretty things along the way though...

And this "mother and child reunion"...