Saturday, October 18, 2014

Casa di Giulietta in Citta' de Verona

Who doesn't love a little bit of Shakespeare now and then, with all that comedy and tragedy going on. Good versus evil, death and dying, loving and crying - oh my!  Reading Shakespeare is difficult, I profess. His poetic dramatic structure demands translation, don't you agree?  Anyway, I have to tell you about a place that tells the story of my most favorite Shakespearean tragedy, Romeo & Juliet.

During our vacation in Italy, my group left the hotel for a day tour to Bologna, but along the way, our tour director announced that we would skip Bologna, and instead drive to Verona for it was much cooler.  Apparently, Bologna was in the 90s with high humidity.  I looked to my husband with big eyes and said - what else - what?????  That was said quietly, of course, because I'm not a loud person. I was beyond excited, and to those seated around me on the bus who didn't know anything about Verona, they were excited, too, when I said, "I think we're going to the House of Juliet, you know, Romeo & Juliet!".  Applause erupted throughout the bus when the tour director did, indeed, say we were going to visit the famous balcony.  Be still, my beating heart.

Credit:  Jacobo Prisco
We walked from the parking area outside the city wall through modern shopping areas, and past medieval structures.  It is a bustling city with a large number of ancient Roman monuments, thus making Verona a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We followed the signs that directed us to the famous House of Juliet.  It was great until I saw this.

This short tunnel was dark, crowded, and the walls were covered with "love" graffiti, love notes and, for some reason, chewed-up gum.  Don't ask because I just don't know -- the gum, that is.  But wait, there is a light at the end of the tunnel!  Just beyond is the talked-about courtyard of the home of the the dell Capello family, not too far removed from Capulet, right?  The house dates from the 13th century and the family coat of arms can still be seen on the wall.  Before you enter the courtyard, there is a red mailbox in which you can mail a letter to Juliet.  The volunteer secretaries of Juliet's Club respond to thousands of letters from the lovelorn, in different languages.  Another red mailbox is inside the house/museum.  If you want to take a comprehensive tour of the home/museum, it is 350 euros for 3 hours.  That's about $192.  We didn't have time to do the tour, but this is something I'll absolutely do on my next visit to Verona.  I would be honored to sit with the secretaries and to read the letters, even if for just a little while.

This set of three photos credited to Google Images

Every year hundreds of thousands of people trek to Verona to see the balcony where Juliet once stood while Romeo declared his love.  What most people don't know is that this particular balcony did not come with the original structure, back in the 13th century.  The balcony was added in the 20th century, but we don't mind. We don't care that Romeo and Juliet were only figments of Shakespeare's imagination. though not its tragic ending.  The  power of storytelling should never be underestimated!

Getting back to the family dell Capello courtyard, there is a beautiful bronze sculpture of Juliet. People rub her right breast for luck.  I didn't do it because #1, I found my love and he was with me, and #2, it just didn't seem right.  There is also an enormous iron gate where you can attach your padlock, a tradition for lovers.

Google Images

I was a young teenager when I first saw the 1968 British-Italian romance film Romeo and Juliet directed by Franco Zeffirelli.  I loved the film because everything about it was so beautiful -- the theme song, the costumes, the lead actors  (so young, and I couldn't get enough of their accents), the cinematography, everything!

The timing couldn't have been more perfect, and I will swear that I didn't plan any of this.  As I'm researching and typing this post, I find this article that was just released today, Italian time.  It appears the Italian authorities and historians are cracking down on people who deface the walls of the house and the tunnel that leads to the house.  People are no longer allowed to post notes or write on the walls, and I think that's just wonderful.  And guess what the chewing gum was for???  To stick love notes on the wall!!!  I remember during our time at the house that one of the guys in my tour group was very sternly reprimanded by the polizia for trying to write something in ink on the wall not far below the balcony.  The policeman ran up to the guy, pointed his finger at him, and yelled in Italian.  Um yeah, we all knew what he was saying.  There was momentary silence, then the tourists went about their business.  I don't think anyone gave it a second thought to try defacing the wall after that incident.  I really had a lovely time in that courtyard, and my husband and I had our special moment at the iron gate where we attached our lover's padlock.  That was special to us!

It's best to come here in the off or shoulder season, November through May, to avoid the influx of tourists. The courtyard is small and you'll want your space to truly appreciate what the Casa di Giulietta has to offer in getting that romantic photo or finding solace for the broken heart.  Or maybe to say "thank you" to the spirit of Juliet and her caring secretaries.
House of Juliet photo
Good night, good night!  Parting is such sweet sorrow.  That I shall say good night till it be morrow.

If you haven't seen this film, you really should.  So romantic!

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Fall Day in Salem

(Photo credit:  Teresa Nevic Stavner)

While we wait for the signs of the fall season to arrive in San Diego,  over half of the United States will experience rain and flash flooding over the next five days.  My daughter, Lindsay and her husband, Scott, will be taking cover from the storm in Tennessee, while our lawns brown and die, our plants wilt, and did I say that it is hot, hot, hot!?  It's really hard for people to get into that fall and harvesting state-of-mind with no leaves dropping and apples are few for the pickin'.

If you're looking for a special town to really celebrate the fall season, head to Salem, in Essex County, Massachusetts.  Salem is a residential and tourist area which includes the neighborhoods of Salem Neck, The Point, South Salem and North Salem, Witchcraft Heights, Pickering Wharf and the McIntire Historic District.  Salem was one of the most significant seaports in Early America.  The photo above is the Friendship, a reconstruction of a 171-foot three-masted Salen East Indiaman built in 1797.  It is a part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.  It's worth your time to visit the museum.

A huge reason I'm in love with Salem is  because of all the colorfully decorated doors of the stately homes and cottages.  They are so charming, no matter what season!

Salem was also the place of the Salem witch trials of 1692.  Much of the city's identity is reflective of its role in this horrific event, featured notably in Arthur Miller's The Crucible, which I must admit was difficult for me to read.  I simply could not grasp the language.  Click here to read about this crazy part of our early American history -- so totally insane!  To completely understand the events that led to the witch trials, it is imperative you visit the Salem Witch Museum and the Witch Dungeon Museum.  Then continue to the Salem Witch Trials Memorial.

 This cemetary is next to the Salem Witch Trials Memorial

This candy store is a short walk from the Maritime Museum.  We couldn't pass it up!

Situated on the shores of Salem is the most popular tourist attraction in Salem, the House of the Seven Gables which features a secret staircase where you least expect it.  The mansion is the oldest surviving 17th century wooden structure in New England.  The house inspired author Nathaniel Hawthorne to write his legendary novel House of the Seven Gables.

(Photo credit:  David Charney)

(Photo credit:  Turner-Ingersoll Mansion)

Tourists know Salem as a mix of important historical sites, New Age and Wiccan boutiques, Halloween-themed atrractions and a vibrant downtown that has lots of restaurants, cafes and coffee shops.  I inquired about Salem's official witch, Laurie Cabot, who was featured on the Travel Channel.  I was directed to the Enchanted, her shop located a few paces from the House of the Seven Gables.  I also found Laurie, and though I don't believe in witchcraft, I found her fascinating from an interview travel goddess Samantha Brown did on the Travel Channel.  When I found Laurie, she was sitting at her desk/sitting room, and although a posted sign said that we're not to disturb her, I couldn't help but stare at her.  She literally is a colorful figure, inside and out.  When Laurie looked up and saw me staring, like an idiot, I quietly (nearly whispered) told her that I'd been wanting to meet her since the Travel Channel episode.  She was impressed, and agreed to a photo with me.  As luck would have it, I cannot find that photo, but as soon as I find it, I will post it on this page.

Police cars are adorned with witch logos, a local public school is known as the Witchcraft Heights Elementary School, the Salem High School athletic teams are named the Witches, and Gallows Hill, a site of numerous public hangings, is currently used as a playing field for various sports.

Several years ago, my daughter, Summer and her husband, Mike, did a fall tour of Boston.  I suggested they do a day trip to Salem on Halloween because the town becomes one BIG party!  Salem is just a 30 minute commuter train ride from Boston.  It departs on the hour, every hour.  Here are a few of their photos.

I've escorted many groups to Boston over the years.  If you'd like travel advice, suggestions or if you'd like to share your favorite Salem locale, please leave a comment.  It's always good to share!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Cost of Cruising

Have you noticed all the television advertisements by the big ocean and river cruise companies lately?  There's Carnival, Disney, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, the list goes on and on.   Personally, I'm not a big fan of cruising.  Well, let me rephrase that.  What I mean to say is that I've not developed a love for cruising yet, especially on those grand luxury big boats.  I have this thing about being stuck on a boat for days and days.  Summer, my eldest daughter, just raves about cruising but, eh, I have to think about it.

But there's river cruising, and something about cruising down a river in a foreign country, sounds appealing to me. Instead of looking at a lot of ocean, on a river cruise, you can see lovely villages and towns that dot the landscapes along the rivers.  How romantic and dreamy is that!  I've been intrigued with the idea of river cruising for so long that my husband and I booked a "buy 2 for the price of 1" cruise to China with Viking River Cruises!  It's one of two of our big trips for 2015.

When we booked our cruise, I couldn't believe how time-consuming it was to select the type of suite we wanted, what level did we want to stay on, did we want to book a 2-for-1 airfare or not, travel insurance or not (well, that was a no-brainer because you should always purchase for travel insurance), but then there was the contract to peruse, then we had more questions.  It totally gave me a headache, but once we were done with the transaction and received the booking contract, we couldn't believe that we actually signed up to go on a river cruise to China.  Wow!

So after all that, I felt that whether you book an ocean cruise or river cruise, there are things that you, as a traveler, need to know.

While ocean and  river cruises are often billed as "inclusive," you will need to shell out extra bucks for some expenses.  Here are the big ones:

Getting Aboard

You don't want to miss the ship, so always book your flight and hotel the day before your cruise departure. Always give yourself an extra day.   Click here and read why this is so important.

Extra Drinks

Before you imbibe, read the fine print.  Rates often include beer and wine with lunch and dinner, but you'll usually pay extra for premium liquors or any drinks outside of mealtimes.

All Tips

Gratuities for staff and guides aren't usually included, though there are exceptions. Not sure how much to give?  Budget about $100 per person per week.

2-for-1 Airfare

We chose to purchase the Viking River Cruise 2-for-1 airfare because, hey, you're buying two tickets for the price of one!  Who doesn't like to save money??  After paying beaucoup bucks for the river cruise, we didn't feel like dishing out money for two airfares on our preferred airlines, where we always book economy, then upgrade to "economy plus," which means more legroom, free drinks, etc.   If you opt for the awesome 2-for-1 deal, make sure you understand that you will not be able to upgrade at all.  You will be stuck in those narrow, hard-as-a-rock, no legroom seats at the back of the airplane.  After spending thousands of dollars, Gerry and I decided that for this one trip, we will endure the uncomfortable seats to and from China.

So how long is our flight from San Diego to Beijing???