Monday, June 24, 2013


Tomorrow I leave this beautiful country I have come to love.  It is a country that never ceases to offer breathtaking vistas, diverse landscapes, and warm hospitality.  Wherever I go, I see and feel the history of this culturally rich country seeping from the walls of ancient churches, old stone houses, worn steps (usually leading upward), uneven stone walkways, museums, Roman ruins, narrow country roads.  I feel a connection to the past that cannot be experienced in my own country, and I have been awed by it.

With all its beauty, Italy suffers greatly.  It is in an economic crisis with no apparent end in sight, along with several other southern European countries—Greece, Spain, Portugal—and now it is said here that France begins the same decline.  Some of the financial crisis has been created from within—corrupt government, overpaid politicians, Mafia in various forms, industrial malaise, resistance to change, corruption in the Vatican, all these have been mentioned to me by Italians as contributors to Italy’s demise.  But there is also blame put on the European Union and Germany’s dominant influence of its policies.  History repeats itself, at least in the eyes of many Italians. As one Italian put it, “Germany is winning this war”.  Italians are taxed to the gills, and I haven’t met one who thinks that the transition to a common currency was a good idea.  Since I talk mostly to people of my generation, I’m not sure if this opinion is shared across generational lines.

I worry that this country’s historical treasures will gradually deteriorate because there are insufficient funds for maintenance.  I worry that Italy will lose its talented young people, their hope for the future, to other countries, because they can’t find employment here.  The unemployment rate for young people is about 40%, according to one of my Italian friends.  Mostly, I worry that the Italian people will sink into permanent apathy, because they have little hope that anything will change.  Their hearts are heavy with sadness for their country which they deeply love.  That is something that has impressed me greatly, how proud Italians are of the richness of their heritage and the diversity of their culture.  I can only pray that there is some ray of hope for the future that will help this country find a road to recovery.

I spent six of my 10 months of travel here, and I leave with a treasure of warm memories.  Many of these memories are connected to the friends I made through the penpal website I found several months before I began this journey.  

Tina and Donato 

By inviting me into their homes, showing me the wonderful sites in their provinces, introducing me to unique regional cuisine, helping me with my struggling Italian, and opening their hearts to a continuing friendship, they proved to be shining examples of Italy’s reputation for warm hospitality.


Antonio and Antoinetta

I am deeply grateful to call them friends. 

Riccardo and Marina

In Sorrento, at the language school, I made two wonderful friends from New Zealand and another from Switzerland. 

Kathy and Michele from New Zealand and Isabelle from Switzerland

I know I will see Kathy and Michele again, hopefully on a visit to their country in the coming year, and maybe Isabelle, too, when I am in back in Europe.  

There are also two fabulous expatriate American women in Thailand who I now call friends that are attached to some equally warm memories of my four months of travel in Southeast Asia.

Dolly with her husband Donald

Connie and I in Halong Bay, Vietnam

And I had a wonderful reunion with my young American friend and met his lovely Thai girlfriend.

Scott and Gun with "Condon Man"

I’m certain that all these friendships will endure, and I’m a richer person for them.  I’ve been very fortunate to tour some wonderful places, many of them World Heritage sites, but it’s these people that will anchor my most treasured memories of this journey.

And I'll not forget the time in Sorrento when my very good friend Grace from the U.S. came to visit me and arranged a surprise birthday dinner with new friends from Verona.

Grace and I with Donna and Blanche

And then there are the countless other people I’ve met on this journey who have either helped me in some way or shared some experience with me.  Four couples I met along the way come immediately to mind.

Paul and Diana from Australia, who I met in Sorrento

Canadian couple Ray and Kelly who I met in Ko Samui, Thailand

Jack and Janice from Pennsylvania, who I met in Spello, Italy

Colin and Margie from South Africa, who I joined for a tour of Cortona, Italy

I’ve also had some very nice landlords/landladies who were especially gracious to me.  Most amazing were these two women in Hanoi who nursed me back to health when I was suffering from a bad case of influenza.


Narelle and Dong from Hanoi, VietNam

During my second round of studying the Italian language in Florence, I made another friend.

Bernadette from Israel and I on a rainy day in Cinque Terre, Italy

I’ve learned a great deal about the cultures of the countries I’ve visited, and my command of the Italian language is “enough”, as my Ligurian friend describes it.  It’s been an enriching journey in many ways.  People often ask me, "What place have you enjoyed most?"  I've seen so many extraordinary and beautiful sights that it's a hard question to answer.  But if you ask me, "What are your fondest memories?", you see them here.  I return home with my heart full of gratitude for meeting these wonderful people who were so kind and generous to me and broadened my world perspective.  

Thanks, also, to Ruth Golden Gelman, the original Female Nomad, who inspired me to venture into the world alone.

I'm looking forward to returning to the U.S.A. to reunite with my family and friends.  It seems like forever since I’ve seen them.  I have plans to visit friends and family in Michigan, California, Virginia, and Canada over the summer and early fall.  I won’t be posting very often on this blog in the next few months; but, if fortune continues to shine upon me, as it so generously has, I will resume my travels abroad in mid-October.  I have a return ticket to Genoa and will spend a few more weeks in Italy, visiting my friends and touring some additional provinces, and then who knows?  I’m thinking of southern Spain and Portugal, a return visit to Thailand to see friends there, and a first trip to New Zealand.  Somewhere in South America would be nice, too (suggestions welcome), and then I have plans to meet my friend Dolly from Bangkok in Provence, France in May.  So, I will likely be a nomad for another year!

My blog has had over 5,600 page views since last September, from people in over a dozen countries.  What surprises me most is that I get more page views now from Italy than I do from the U.S.!  To all my family and friends who read it, I hope you have enjoyed vicariously sharing this journey with me.  To readers who are strangers to me, thank you for your interest in my travels. 

Arrivederci, bella Italia!  A presto, U.S.A.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


Since I left my friends, Riccardo and Marina, it's been a slow sightseeing week.  On Tuesday, when we toured the Hanbury Botanic Garden, my lower extremeties became quite swollen, and I was a little nervous about that.  I thought it might be the heat, and it was pretty warm for the next couple of days, so I decided not to do a lot of walking or any climbing!  Yesterday, I intended to take a trip to Alassio, recommended by Riccardo as a place to visit, and I was all ready to go when I suddenly felt very dizzy and nauseous and actually regurgitated my breakfast.  That seldom happens to me.  Even afterward, I still felt lightheaded so I decided it would be wise to stay close to the porcelain throne (for my non-American friends, that's a euphemism for the toilet). 

Finally, today, I hopped the train to visit this seaside resort town of around 11,000.  The British are given some credit for Alassio's popularity as such since the early 19th century.

I heard the sea calling me, and on the way to answer it, I passed through a pretty park where there was a lovely memorial to the war dead.

And this may be the tallest palm tree I've ever seen.  Unfortunately, it's diseased like all the palm trees in Italy.

The sea never disappoints.  No matter what the weather or its mood, it never fails to satisfy some part of your soul.

This setting reminds me so much of Lake Michigan.  The golden sandy beach is very similar, the rush of the waves toward the shore was a sound etched in my memory from my prior life when I had a cottage on the lake.  It made me feel very nostalgic.

But the shores of Lake Michigan never looked like this.  Almost every foot of beach was covered with beach chairs and cabanas.  

All along the beach are dozens of eating establishments.  Its a totally different, but nevertheless beautiful and exciting place.  Surprisingly, it wasn't really crowded.

There was a stone pier that ran about 400 meters out into the water, where there were benches for gazing and railings for propping up fishing poles.

This boy was trying to net something that was in the water between the stones, but I don't know what.

These boys were being taunted to jump by some friends in the water below.  The water was too shallow  there for a safe jump, and I kept shaking my head "No", but they pretty much ignored me.  Finally, a man went over and gave them the same advice and they, fortunately, heeded it.

They safely joined their friends to "horse around" and body surf.  I was very surprised that none of them could swim very well.  They all looked like beginning swimmers.

Another surprise was seeing little girls, ranging up to age 10 or so, wearing only bathing suit bottoms.  I guess topless bathing starts early here!

This town, with all its colorful buildings, reminded a bit of Cinque Terre on flat land. 

It must have a seafaring past, because this seemed to be a memorial to fishermen.

I walked almost the entire length of the beach and was delighted to see this old stone tower anchoring one end.

It was really difficult to tear myself away from the sea to explore some other parts of the town.  

There were lots of shops on the streets near the beach.  I think the oddest thing I saw were these skull earrings, and they weren't the only pair in the window!

Now, what's missing from this account?  Ah yes, il cibo.  I did have lunch here--crepes, which I think I've had only once before in the 10 months I've been on the road.  They were okay, but not photo-worthy.

I did NO climbing today.  I kept being drawn back to the beach.  Finally, it was time to go back to the train station, which I think is a pretty photogenic one.

This was the lovely view I had while waiting for the train.

Now, what else is missing from this story?  

CHURCHES!  In two hours of walking, I passed only one small one, and then above the train platform, I saw these two, one practically on top of the other--see that faint cross on top of the building in the upper left?  It looks slightly fancier than the white one.  On the way out of town, I saw a much larger church that looked pretty interesting.  So that's at least four!

I'm glad I finally visited Alassio.  It's a lovely, lovely town by the seaside, by the beautiful sea.  

This will be my last resort ;-)

Friday, June 21, 2013


Imagine maintaining a 22-acre garden.  

It keeps 12 Ligurian gardeners busy, but having a job that affords this view every day wouldn't seem like work, rather a privilege.

Hanbury Botanical Gardens is located in Ventimiglia and its 45 acres occupy all of Cape Mortola.  The land was purchased in 1867 by Sir Thomas Hanbury, a wealthy British businessman who earned his fortune trading in silk, cotton, tea, and property.  Over the next several decades, noted botanists planned and cultivated this amazing garden.

This is the entrance portal to the garden, which was built at the end of the 19th century.  At the bottom of these steps, you begin your journey downward to the sea, obtaining quite an education in horticulture along the way.

This garden is at its peak in May, but there is still much beauty to enjoy.  There was signage indicating the plant/flower genus, but I won't attempt to pass those names along.  Rather, just walk with me and enjoy nature with minimal comment on my part.

Tall, elegant cypress everywhere.

Pincushion cacti.

The tall spindly flower of agave--when it dies, so does the plant.

Riccardo and Marina framing a Chinese bell in the garden behind the palazzo.

A fresco of Marco Polo near the entrance door of the palazzo.

In May, the roses would have been blooming overhead.

Sunbathing turtles.

The Hanbury family tomb.

We paused for lunch at this snack bar after two hours of wending our way downward through the gardens.

You can see the stone wall behind the snack bar above that acts as a barrier to accessing the rocky coast. I took this picture through a barred window.

And this one was courtesy of a missing stone.

The climb back up was arduous, and it was a very warm day.  There were many rest stops, but fewer photos.

Fountain of the Faun.

A cupola served as a lovely rest stop with a great view of the sea.

And a view of the palace 
as well.

You can see part of the city of Ventimiglia as you ascend back upward.

And I eventually made it back to the top, but as Marina says, I wouldn't make a very good Ligurian with my distaste, and lack of stamina, for uphill climbs.  Walking on "flat as a pancake" southeastern Michigan terrain does not prepare you for this!

If you are ever in Liguria in the spring, I recommend a few hours in this incredibly beautiful garden by the sea.