Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 11.14.12
Just Outside Washington



The Adventure Concludes | Our second night in the Lake area was dark and stormy night, and it rained the next morning for the boat ride to the ) palace on Isola Bella Charles III of Spain built in the 17th century. The palace was amazing and proves the nothing exceeds like excess.


Lake Maggiore

The Borromeo family, which has owned a large section of the lake since the 15th century, was in residence just the week before our visit. We shortcut the gardens because of the rain and had a cappuccino at the bar. We caught the boat back to Stresa to meet Antonio for our trip to Como and Lugano, Switzerland. Unfortunately, the scheduled boat ride on Lake Como was cancelled because of the rain. The boat trip was an event that Kathy had been looking forward to.

Lugano was an opportunity for walking, shopping, and lunch. Fortunately, the pedestrian shopping street had arcades so we stayed out of the rain. We are not big shoppers but it was fun to see the town.

Like many of the city centers and towns, Lugano has a very human scale, pleasant even in the rain. The sky cleared some for evening, and the rain stopped. The Alps now had snow, which I didn’t remember from the previous day. Dinner at the Grand Hotel Bristol was good, and very nice. However, the service was a little slow because they were winding down -- the hotel was to close for the season after we left.


In Assisi

The morning bus ride from Stresa to Pisa, with the faithful Antonio at the wheel, was uneventful -- down out of the hills and across the plain of Lombardy. Again, I was surprised at the large size of the farms.

Pisa, of course, is known for the leaning tower but it really consists of a complex with walls -- the tower, a Baptistery, Duomo; and burial ground, Composanto. We had free time but did not buy tickets to enter any of the buildings. The lines were long even though we were at the end of the tourist season.


Watery San Marco

We left the complex and found a place for lunch and a glass of wine on a street with souvenir stands mostly run by Africans. Back on the bus and on to Florence where the weather returned to perfect.

Arriving in Florence, we went up to the Piazza Michelangelo, across the river and up the hill above the city near the Palazzo Pitti – a great view. It has a bronze copy of the David but the Florentines aren't supposed to like it. Then back down and into the city to our hotel, which was an old restored building.

Kathy and I had a high-ceilinged room with a loft where the bed and bath were. The lower level was a sitting area.

That evening we toured the Monaci Cistercensi della Certosa di Firenze, a monastery founded in the 14th century, which still has two monks. We did not see them.

According to the guide, this order of monks spoke only a couple of times a year; for the most part, they were completely isolated from each other and everyone else. The guide also said there was talk of the monastery and grounds might be sold after the oldest monk dies -- Marriott was mentioned as a possible buyer.

After, we went to the next hill to a restaurant for a monastery celebratory dinner, which supposedly was served only twice a year. Cheese with honey and pears, stuffed boned duck, roast chicken, salad, gelato, and wine. Music was provided a male singer who sang popular songs, no opera, accompanied by a violinist and accordion player.

In the morning we met our local guide, Rose, and had a walking tour of Florence including the Duomo, the Uffizi Gallery, the Battistero, and more. Then we were on our own, and we visited the Galleria Galileo that has telescopes, astrolabes, early globes, and many early scientific instruments. Then we met Antonio and the bus for our trip to San Gimignano, the hill town with all the towers.

San Gimignano is a great walking town with lots to see and great views over the Tuscan countryside. We did not ascend any of the towers but climbed up the wall of Santa Maria Assunta, which provided views of the town and the countryside. A bite to eat and a glass of wine at a café table in plaza where the people-watching was superb completed the visit. After returning to our hotel, we went up to the roof patio and watched the sun set over the city.


Gondolas, on the Grand Canal

The final day of the tour featured the three-hour (plus stops) drive to our hotel south of Rome near the Fiumicino Airport. After a rest, Antonio took us into Rome for a farewell dinner. On our extra day in Rome, the four of us took the hotel shuttle into the city for some footloose walking and a fine lunch at a sidewalk café. It was a fine finale and preceded the somewhat arduous trip back through London to Washington the next day.

The good thing I can say about the Sheraton Golf, where we stayed those last two nights, is that the bath was nice and had a full-sized walk-in shower.


Kathy and Frank, high above Florence

I know we missed a lot because there is so much to see and do. Now we can return and target specific things like the Lake Como boat trip and Hadrian's palace in Tivoli. For us, this was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime Grand Tour.