A text message from somebody in the Cincinnati Reds front office popped up in my cell phone while I was standing in front of the magnificent cathedral, the Duomo di Milano, and it said:
“Please stay in Italy. We’ll pay your expenses.”
That’s understandable. While Nadine and I were on a glorious 10-day trip through Italy, the Reds won seven straight games, including a four-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs.
It was a tempting offer, but we’re home and the Reds are going to have to continue winning with me observing.
So here are my Unsolicited Observations from The Vatican (and other places in Italia). We walked and walked and walked — we took more walks than Joey Votto. Nadine’s Fit Bit recorded more than 10,000 steps every day.
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There was one major glitch. I walked through the Sistine Chapel, the St. Peter’s Basilica, the catacombs beneath Rome, the narrow alleys of Venice, the Spanish Steps of Rome, the Roman Colosseum and the ruins of Ostia Antica.
No missteps due to my impaired vision. But after the rough walk at Ostia Antica, we had a three-course meal at the Soro Margherita at Borgetto.
After the meal, as we were leaving, I missed a step near the entrance and went down. I hit my head against a metal wine ice bucket. For the final eight days of the tour I wore a jet black shiner that covered my forehead and left check.
We stopped at a shop in Bologna for a gelato and a man approached me and said, “Are you a boxer?” Just to humor him, I said, “Yes.” He looked at my eye and said, “You lost, eh?”
As we gathered around the statue of David in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, the thought occurred to me that if David would just put on a pair of shorts people would stop staring at him.
And the Leaning Tower of Pisa? It looked straight to me, but perhaps that was because I had a little too much wine and I, too, was leaning to the left.
I discovered that there is no bad beer (bier) in Italy and there is no good coffee. I saw 4,322 statues and monuments, but not one Starbucks. After all the awful coffee in Italy, even the airline coffee tasted good — for the first time in my life. Just my luck, though. They told us a Starbucks was opening two days after we left Milan.
There also is no bad pasta in Italy, unless you count the so-called pasta they served on the flight home.
We wandered into a restaurant called Lorenzo in Montecatini and indulged in the best meal on the trip. I had pasta with crab. It was scrumptious and I don’t even like crab.
The Italians try to credit Leonardo Da Vinci with inventing the airplane. While he did a fairly nice job of painting The Sistine Chapel, he ain’t no Wilbur Wright.
And I never thought I’d say this, but the gelato you can buy on any Italian city street corner is better than anything Graeter’s puts in a cup or cone.
Is this true? Our tour organizer, Larry Hansgen of WHIO, told us this about the Roman Colosseum.
“This is the site of the first NFL franchise. They had only two teams, the Lions and the Christians. The Lions played all the home games and they are undefeated.”
I purchased a genuine leather jacket for 660 euros at a shop in the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence. The saleswoman promised me it would not shrink more than an inch or two if I wore it in the rain.
The shop was adjacent to the city square, which was closed because they were constructing stands for the annual no-rules bloodbath soccer match. The more broken bones the better. The game was invented in Florence in the 1500s and died in the 1700s. Called Calcio Florentino, it was revived in 1930 and three matches a year are played in the Santa Cruce square involving teams from different sections of Florence. And we think NFL games are violent?
In the next life, I want to own all the public toilettes in Italy. You pay to use the facilities, one or two euros each, and the lines are long and there is always an attendant collecting the coins. To have this job one must be gruff, impolite and able to scream epithets at the tourists.
It was 90 degrees in Venice and we stood in line under the sun for 45 minutes waiting for a boat to Murano and a glass-blowing demonstration. They took us into a room with open blast furnaces. While we sweltered, the glass-blower stood inches away from the furnaces and the guy didn’t even break a sweat. The adjoining shop contained about 10,000 pieces of glassware. I waited outside. One trip and I would have had to mortgage our house to get home.
There was something called a bidet in every hotel room and I’m still trying to figure out what it is and how you use it. For me it was just something to trip over at night.
Most of our nights were free and the group, 48 people from the Dayton area, spent some great time on verandas partaking of wine and conversation. By request, they asked me to give a talk and answer questions about my years covering the Reds, with Larry Hansgen as a moderator. Some of the women on the trip asked the best questions.
And after my pratfall nearly every member of the group made certain my every step was safe. They pointed out every step and every curb and every cobblestone. Of course, It wasn’t necessary. As always, my beautiful and wonderful wife, Nadine, held my hand and guided me through every step of the way. Except that one time, which was my fault. I wandered away from her and paid the price.
In all, it was a wonderful and glorious trip.
If you haven’t visited Italy, put it on your bucket list. And watch that second step in the restaurant.