Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Time is Flying!

Times flies when you are having fun!!!
Jessica was right that Sicily is beautiful. We arrived at Mazzara after a long night and full day of travel and sight seeing. The overnight train from Florence to Reggio Calabria was good. I had a couchette all to my self and it had a connecting door to Robbie and Mona’s couchette. We visited until time for bed and each closed our doors for a restful night of slumber. At about 4 am I heard some yelling in the hall and I thought that something had broken because the train slowed to a stop just a minute after that. In the morning, I was told that the yelling came from Robbie who caught a thief coming into their couchette! Robbie jumped down from the top berth and grabbed the guy by the arm. He tried to say that he was just in the wrong car but he had broken the lock on the door and was up to no good. The attendant came running and they made the guy get off the train. All that excitement but the motion of the train lulled me right back to sleep!

We took the cog train up to Taormino for supper and it is so beautiful. We went back up see the Greek Theater the next morning. Next was the Villa Casale in the middle of the island and then Agrigento. It rained and rained and rained in Agrigento but we still walked through the Valley of the Temples.

Palermo was also raining and raining. We went to the Cappucin Church there and I thought that I had walked into a scene from the Pirates of the Caribbean! In this crypt instead of decorating it with the cleaned bones of those dearly departed, they just hang them up on the wall with a rope around their chest!!! Clothes, dried skin and all! It was weird but strangely compelling!

Next was the overnight boat/ferry to Naples and the tour of the Archeological Museum there. The tour guide Giuseppina, also prepared our sack lunches for Pompeii and I have never seen so much food in a sack. We each got a huge sack (not a package, a sack!) of potato chips and a sandwich of about a half a loaf of bread with a fourth a pound of ham!

Overnight in Sorrento for two nights with Capri ( I love Capri!!), worship service with some of the Christians from Naples and Monday morning a bus ride over the most amazing road in the world to Positano, no wait, an even more amazing road came after Amalfi. We took a boat from Positano to Amalfi. Positano is beautiful and we walked from way above the town down 6, 345, 297 steps to the port. Really, I counted every step!!! A boat from Positano to Amalfi, lunch with the cutest, funniest old man serving as the head waiter (when Robbie asked if they had seats for five the little man said, “of course, we have been waiting for you!”). Then that other incredible bus ride over the twistiest, tiniest, windingest road in the world.

Those of you who know Robbie know that he makes friends everywhere he goes and then the new friends name their children after him and want to adopt him…well, there is a sweet family from Vernazza who own the restaurant the HUF group always eats at and he invited Anna (who is 78) and her son Robbie (in his fifties) to go with us to Siciliy. They are so nice and Anna is so sweet. When we said goodbye at the train station last night she had Robbie translate to me that “Beckie and I did not talk with words, but we talked with our eyes!” She is precious!

Many, many funny stories because Mona, Tracy and Beckie were traveling together but one funny, tragic, happy-ending story…. After our train arrived in Florence last night the students went to get on the bus but Robbie, Tracy and I were saying goodbye to Anna and her son and we needed to get out to the villa to be there when the students arrived so we took a taxi (JRS, I know that is a totally ungrammatical sentence but I don’t care!). One of our really sweet girls got on the bus and realized that she had left her purse on the train. She jumped off the bus leaving her suitcase with the others and didn’t even give them a chance to say one would go back with her or anything. So the bus took off and she ran back to the station and jumped on the train to look for her purse…just as the train was pulling out again and leaving for Bologna. She did not find her purse and she was on her way to Bologna with no ticket, no money, no ID, no passport at 10:45 at night. The students forgot to tell me any of this until midnight when she still was not at the villa. No one had heard from her and we had no clue where she was or what was happening. At 12:20 am the phone rang and she said that she was in Bologna in the police station at the train station with no purse but maybe the purse was at the police office in the Florence train station. No trains were headed back to Florence until 4 am and if Tracy drove to Bologna she might not get there until 3 am because the extra car had been loaned out and on and on and on as each bit of news got worse. So, the girl decided to wait in Bologna and take the train back at 4 am. When she got to Florence they told her that they did not have her purse but maybe the one man who was not in the office had her purse and on and on and on! So she rode the bus out to the villa and walked up the hill by herself to arrive at my door at 7:10 am without her purse. I sent her to bed!! When she woke up at about 2:30, she got herself organized and got the photocopy of her passport to either prove she owned the purse if it was found or to start the process of replacing her passport. I just heard the good news that the one man who was not in the office this morning did have her purse!! Jan and Steve, get ready because each HUF group has to have one experience like this!

The other good news is that Barbara Duke has arrive safe and sound. We ate pizza a Gallo’s tonight, cappuccino at Mario’s this afternoon and tomorrow is the tour of Santa Croce, the Bargello and lunch at Del Pennello and an afternoon of strolling around Florence. Life is good!

[I know that I haven’t posted any photos lately but the internet is so slow and it takes so long to upload them…maybe after this next free travel I can catch up!]

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Down to Sicily

It was so wonderful to have Reagan here. We were both sad for her to have to get on the plane but when she comes back in Dec. she will be all finished with her coursework. Gene called last night to say that her flight was delayed getting from Pisa to London and that she had to spend last night in London. I hope that she got to get out and go visit a couple of her favorite spots.

The biggest news is that we drove to Pisa and I drove back to the villa alone. I didn't even get lost. That means that when you come to visit me you can just fly straight into Pisa and I can drive to pick you up!! Well, at least Tim, Steph and Ellie are going to do that!

We are leaving in about 45 minutes for southern Italy. We will sleep on trains and on boats and ride ferries and buses...this is one of those trips that I will end up counting all the different types of transportation that we use before we get back to the villa.

So, I won't be able to post until Tuesday, Oct 24...by then Barbara Duke will be here!


Friday, October 13, 2006

Solving the Coat Issue and Other Travels

I have returned from the first free travel. I traveled with Robbie, Mona, and Tracy to Germany. I feel so honored to be able to say I have done that because they are usually so busy that they don’t get to go anywhere during free travel times. [has anyone noticed that I began the first three sentences of this paragraph with the word “I”?]

My first free travel began with a quick trip to Venice on Saturday to buy some ties for Ellis. His clients wanted more so I was happy to run that errand for him. I traveled by myself to Venice, got on the vaporetta alone and found the tie shop in Piazza San Marco. There were about 3.6 million people in Venice on that day. Actually, there was some kind of parade, or demonstration just beginning as I walked out of the train station. I never found out if they were protesting or tying to find a cure or just raise money for a worthy cause but there were a lot of them and they all had t-shirts and signs and even balloons.

On Sunday afternoon the four of us got on a plane from Pisa to a town just out of Stuttgart, Germany. You have to love those Ryan Air prices…total cost for roundtrip tickets was 45 euro. We rented a car and Robbie raced up the Autobahn to Heidelberg. I had stopped in Heidelberg four years ago but then we just spend a couple of hours at the Christmas Market. We spent the night and Monday we had a great time shopping, eating snitzel, pretzels, and visiting the castle. I also solved my coat dilemma there. I bought a beautiful black rough leather coat at the German equivalen of Lane Bryant. It is perfect!

Monday afternoon we drove to Aachen (I am not sure how to spell it) to the town where Charlemagne had one of his palaces and a beautiful chapel/cathedral. We arrived just at dusk and we had no idea the layout of the town. Robbie pulled into what we thought was a parking place and was going to run into a book store to buy a book on the town and hopefully a map. We had only been there a minute or two when we discovered we were in a spot where the buses had difficulty making the turn and a taxi driver yelled as us to move the car. So, Tracy jumped in the driver’s seat and we were going to go around the corner…only there is no around the corner in this town. We drove for about ten or fifteen minutes and had no idea where we had left Robbie. Mona tried to call his cell phone and to our horror his phone rang in the car. It was one of those awful moments like when the girl in the horror story hears that the person calling her threatening to kill her is upstairs…we had his cell phone ringing in the car with us and he was lost on the street in Aachen. We began to get worried. We drove for another 20 to 30 minutes without seeing any thing that looked familiar. We knew that we left him across the street from the “Bak Factory” and just down from “Killer Hair” but we could not find our way back. We asked directions from some English people on bikes and they said they said “go down to the right” which we did and did not find the right street. Then we asked directions from the guy with the blue Mohawk haircut who was cleaning car windows for handouts and he told us to “go down to the right” but we never found the “right.” Finally, Robbie’s cell phone rang and it was him calling us from a pay phone. We ended up stopping at a hotel and he took a taxi to us. It was traumatic!

The next morning we found the old town section and all really enjoyed wandering around the old streets. The Palace is, of course, gone but some of the foundation stones are here and there and the chapel was beautiful.

We made a quick stop in Koln (also known as Cologne) at the beautiful cathedral there. It is right in the middle of a very unattractive shopping area but still a beautiful building.

We spent the night in Mainz and had supper with J.R. Duke and a couple of our HUF students. J.R. is teaching there until sometime in July. Mainz also has a beautiful cathedral and quiet, clean streets lined with cute stores. After leaving Mainz we headed back to the airport and when we touched down in Pisa Reagan was waiting for us!!! I was so happy to see her.

Today we spent the day at the Scandicci Fair. It is a cross between a county fair and the Tuesday Market in Florence with a little of Canton, Texas First Monday thrown in. Great food, good shopping and a gazillion people. We met some of the other Americans who attend the Florence church, a couple of Avanti members, and Kate Tucker there. It was a fun morning of shopping and then a great picnic type lunch with us all buying different stuff from the food vendors and everyone sharing. After lunch, Reagan and I headed into Florence for her to show me where she lived while she was a nanny for Zoe and Renee. We even went back to the fair after supper tonight. All I have to say about that is Nutella Crepes! Oh my!!!

It has been a lovely, fun, busy and exciting week. Tomorrow is the first class day of the semester that I do not have to teach a class!!!! I think we will have breakfast at Mario’s. Tomorrow night is the opera, “The Barber of Seville.” Can’t wait.

Friday, October 06, 2006


It’s a little weird here at the villa right now. It’s 7:30 pm and there are only 15 students left here. They will join all the others on free travel within the next couple of hours. I am going to bed at 10:00 pm and no one can stop me! The only drawback to living in the loft room is that they never want to go to bed and when they do (curfew is midnight) they laugh all the way up the stairs. On one hand I am happy that they love each other and on the other I am a little miffed at them because I am old and I love my rest.

We have students going to Norway, Luxembourg, Spain, Austria, Czech Republic and Switzerland. If you are reading this and your child is going to Switzerland I think they have decided to paraglide rather than skydive. They are so young and they think they are unbreakable. I am praying that they are!!!

Before I leave for Stuttgart with Robbie, Mona and Tracy, I am going to run up to Venice for the day and buy ties for Ellis. He needs more and I am happy to run that errand!

Reagan and Gene are ticketed and set for December 6 to leave from Memphis. Bill S. came through again. Mother and her sister are working on theirs, Tim and Steph are all set and now we just need Julie and Tina (cousins) to finalize their plans.

A final note…I think it might be time to do the Fall Happy Dance in Florence!

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Without getting too emotional, let me say that I found the hardest part of the memorial experience was the realization that the majority of those who rest in this place were the exact same age as the male students walking around. I think they sensed it, too.

See that hillside with the horizontal rows in the far distance...that's where we climbed and picked 140 tubs [no, no I was wrong and I am editing this comment...it is only 70 tubs) of grapes and they will make twenty bottles from each tub.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


How can I describe the Italian countryside with all its hills and castles on the hills and more hills and the grapes hanging on the vines with the sun occasionally hitting them and making them glisten? I don't have enough words to do this justice.

The journey to the back woods of Tuscany started with a stop at the World War II Memorial just outside Florence. I have never been there and it was so moving. It is a beautiful place with just the right mix of Italy and US all around. We sang "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" and had a prayer together. It was a lovely thing. Many of the students (and teachers) were moved to tears. Then one of the sweet girls reminded us that one of our guys is in the Army Reserve and is here on a special three month pass from his Reserve activities. Then we had a special prayer for him and everyone cried! We took time to each stroll through the crosses and look at the names. I was amazed at how touched the students were and how they strolled individually and not in groups. It was a wonderful time of reflection.

Then back on the bus and off to pick grapes. The hill we ended up on the side of is directly opposite a medieval village that still has a castle. Each one of us was given a knife or scissors and each two students took a large plastic tub and set off down the rows of grape vines. The bunches of grapes were really thick and they sometimes grow all twisted around the leaves and vines. Most of them were just bursting with juice. We cut and hauled for about two hours with a snack break in between. The vineyard owners were impressed with the work ethic of the students and I am sorry to report, Jessica, but they both said that this group worked harder than last year's group. It seems that last year a couple of malcontents did not want to work but to sit over on the side and discuss their love angst. I also need to report that there were no serious injuries and I only cut my hand in two places!

After the work came the picnic the owners fixed for us. We had beef short ribs cooked over a bed of smoky embers and Italian sausages, fatunta bread (toasted over the heat and sprinkled with olive oil and salt), Gouda cheese and Nonna's cake for dessert. It was great. Now the hike up a third hill to get to the picnic spot was not so great. I got Nature all over me and had to climb over/under two fences!

When we got back to the Villa, Kate, Blaine and Hudson had arrived. It was so good to see them. They will be here through next week so I will visit more with them later.

Today was the Uffizi day. It has so many beautiful paintings and my very favorite is the Holy Family by Michelangelo. The colors are so pretty and the expressions on their faces look like they love each other. Then there is that round frame,so unusual.

Tonight Robbie rented a soccer field for some of the kids to play each other. I went to watch and it was a great evening to sit and watch. Tomorrow we have classes and on Friday our first free travel starts!!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Tears of Bliss and Tears of Laughter

This morning Robbie announced that we could not go to the Vasari Corridor today as planned and instead we would eat supper together at......Gallo's!!! I was so excited that I almost cried then and there. This is my all time, bar none, favorite pizza. It is the thinnest possible crust cooked in a wood heated brick oven, with only a smattering of tomato sauce and the most wonderful topping every. Robbie orders about a zillion pizzas (no, really only about 60!) and we ate until we couldn't eat anymore. Then comes the Nutella calzone. It was great.

While we were waiting on the calzone, several of us started playing the funniest game that Tracy taught us. You pick a vegetable name and then with your mouth open (can't close it or you lose) and your teeth totally covered (once, again if the teeth show you lose) a person starts by saying your vegetable name, (like Okra) is calling another of the vegetable names (like corn) while you use a silly voice. Then the person who is that vegetable has to do it to someone else. I know it sounds so silly, but people get the strangest looks on their faces and then you can't close your mouth...I guess that you have to be there to experience it...but I laugh so hard I cry everytime we do it.

Even though everyone in the group was not playing this game, I can report to concerned parents that everyone in the group was having a good time visiting, eating, and laughing. It was the best event we have had so far for group bonding. The staff at Gallo's had seated a table of Italian men back on the back terrace with all of us and I was afraid that we were distrubing them. When we left one of the men said in English that all the life had left the room and now all he had to entertain himself with was the TV. He was so sweet.

What a good day.

You Didn't Leave Your Name

So, an anonymous commenter on this blog either doesn’t know me very well or has not taken the time to read all the other blogs and comments. I don't know your name but I have some comments for you.

I LOVE the students here. There are some of the sweetest, kindest, Christian young adults here with me. They are funny, clever, energetic, caring, and just entertaining. Sometimes they act like 12 year olds. Don’t we all. We have to be told that we are being stupid or moronic or just plain petty and sometimes even mean, or disrespectful. I told them after one thoughtless incident, “I will love you again this afternoon, but for now I am not happy with you!” I think they know that I love them. Once a week we have hug day. Every single student gets a hug from me as they go through the lunch line. Are a couple of the students a handful? Oh, yes. Do I love them? Oh, yes. Do I want them to be a little better people after they leave this semester? Oh, definitely. Do I want to entertain my friends who can’t be here so I tell them the funny stuff. Most certainly!!!

Having said all that….anonymous must not know me at all. I think that my friends do.I really try to find the humor and good things in every situation....Do you Anonymous?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Racing and Rocks

Today was the Corri La Vita in Florence. It is the equivalent of the Race for the Cure and the Relay for Life. Thousands of people gathered in Santa Croce piazza and walked through the streets of Firenze. This year the t-shirt was donated by Salvatore Ferragamo. Tracy and I are disappointed in the quality but the design is good and his name is everywhere on the shirt. Of course, they also had some free goodies for the race participants. My bag contained: two key chains, a ruler, a cute cell phone holder and lanyard, and a CD. The CD is one that they gave to those who went to see a special Botticelli exhibit last year. It is called Music for Botticelli. Some classical mixed with modern but overall very relaxing.

As we started the race/walk from the front steps of the Sante Croce, Robbie was taking group photos everywhere and Mona was trying to get the students to do “stretching exercises.” It was great fun. We stayed pretty much in a group for the first several blocks and then the students who wanted to run took off. A couple completed the 6K run. Mona and I walked for an hour with the students. The route took us right in front of the Pitti Palace and the house where Elizabeth Barrett Browning lived when in Florence. On Thursday we had walked by a different side of the house and our tour guide for the day, Cindy pointed it out to us. So today when Mona says, “Look there is Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s house,” one student who shall not be named said, “No, that’s not it,” and proceeded to argue with Mona. I looked at the plaque stating that it was indeed EBB’s former abode and just laughed out loud! Then the topic shifted to what type of rock was used to make the wall at the Pitti Palace. She asked if they were “igneous” to which I replied that they were big rocks who knew or really cared if they were igneous or not.

About an hour into the walk, Mona and I found a lovely little sidewalk coffee bar and sat to enjoy a cappuccino. Then we wandered the back way to the finish line after stopping at a cute jewelry place in the Piazza de Signoria. We did officially walk throught the red arch of the finish line to complete our version of the Corri La Vita!

Sweet Brenda the comm. department queen says that this is a character building semester…I guess that I am building it one igneous rock at a time. Now can someone tell me what the smack is an igneous rock?