Monthly Archives: August 2014


This is the name of the bike-share system in Ljubljana. The name is clever because it’s a blurring of the English word “bicycle” and the first two letters in Ljubljana.

I also like it because it kinda looks like the letters of my name squished together :).


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My mother and I went with her cousin Anka and her two sons, Miha and Grega (whose name my iPad just tried to autocorrect into Gregarious. Funny!) on an izlet, or day trip, to Piran, a beautiful town on Slovenia’s relatively tiny stretch of coastline on the Adriatic. The weather was a vast departure from the dreary rain that Ljubljana had gotten for the previous several weeks, and we were rewarded (or not) to a hot, sunny day.

We started with a visit to Piranske soline, or Piran salt flats. Do you use sea salt in your cooking? This is the type of place where it is harvested.




After catching a shuttle into town, we took a break to get some lunch at a restaurant along the water.



The water was so gorgeous that I was seriously tempted to run into a shop and buy a swimsuit so I could jump in. With the cold weather that we had been getting in the capital, I hadn’t even considered the possibility of going swimming that day!




We explored the streets of the town and climbed up the hill for a panoramic view. Mom and Grega climbed up the bell tower of the church there while I, um, took a nap in the shade below :).




We did some shopping and recovered from the steep walk down with a mandatory coffee break in the square.

IMG_3870.JPGGrega, lookin’ sporty in a salt harvesting hat



After an additional stop for dessert in Portorož, a nearby coastal town (did I mention that we tend to eat a lot when we go on an izlet?) we headed back to Ljubljana.

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Back to school (again)

I had signed up for a two-week Slovenian language course during my stay in Ljubljana. I had taken these same courses for one month each during the summers of 2000 and 2001 (ahem, when they cost much less!) but had gotten little to no practice speaking since then. There ain’t a lot of Slovenians in Boston ;). So I anticipated two weeks of trying to refresh my memory.

Shockingly, I remembered enough for my placement test and interview to be placed in a higher level class than I would have anticipated. Unfortunately, I spent the first week of classes stuck in Spanish mode, so I spoke in a sad Slov-anish for much of the time, with a few German and Italian terms thrown in for good measure. I found myself answering questions in the affirmative with “Si” or saying things in restaurants like, “Ja, ich moechte ein klobaso, pero no necesito kruha ali senf, thanks. (“Yes, I would like one (German) sausage (Slovenian) but I don’t need (Spanish) bread or (Slovenian) mustard (German), thanks (English)”). My poor brain was so confused.

My teacher, Anja, was very understanding, as were my fellow classmates: Melisa, Jennifer, and Maren from Germany; Julien from France; and Anđela from Serbia. Later in the week, we were joined by Daniela from Germany and Carlos from Italy. We made a good group. Every day, we had a half-hour break, so we would go to one of two nearby cafes for coffee. Although the group typically picked a place with an outdoor terrace, I preferred a smaller cafe, Of Moment, because it is owned by my cousin’s friend Aleksandra. (Talk about word traveling fast: some days I would come home from school and mention to Katja that I had gone for a coffee that morning. She would answer, “I know. I heard.” LOL).



IMG_3797.JPGAleksandra at Of Moment

Anja would include a lot of learning games in our lessons. My LEAST favorite (because my vocab is not the greatest) was a game called Vroče Stol, or Hot Seat, where she would write a term on the dry erase board behind you and your classmates would have to describe the word to you (obviously using only Slovenian). I much preferred the trivia game, similar to Jeopardy! I am generally pretty non-confrontational and not competitive about many things, least of all sports. But challenge me to a round of Jeopardy!, and I will destroy you.

IMG_3785.JPGJulien, ever the romantic, in the Hot Seat (The answer, an inside joke based on one of his responses during class, is “to sleep under the stars and get married”)

IMG_3802.JPG Anja reading a grammar question based on familial relationships on The Fresh Prince of Bel Aire. Guess who answered it?

There were also plenty of planned after-school activities. On the first night, the school took a group tour of the ruins of Emona, the Roman settlement which preceded Ljubljana and is celebrating its 2000- year anniversary this year. During the tour, we stopped at a pub for typical Roman honeyed wine and stuffed dates. And yes, we wore togas.

IMG_3735.JPG I made this guy hold my ice cream while I put on my toga. He was a good sport.



We had a bowling night on Friday evening and went out afterwards.


IMG_3764.JPGMirko, Daniela, Gavril,and I

Our class took an afternoon bus trip to Bled but couldn’t enjoy the scenery much due to a torrential downpour that began just after we arrived. We took this as an opportunity to gorge ourselves on kremšnita and coffee instead.


IMG_3777.JPGCarlos, Mirko, Jennifer, Melisa, and I


IMG_3778.JPGTraditionalists might find berry-flavored kremšnita to be sacrilegious, but I loved it

Finally, we had our graduation ceremony. This was fun because my mother could actually come to see it! Every class put on a skit or presentation of some kind. Our group was down to 50% due to early classmate departures, but we made it work. We each received a diploma, and then it was time to celebrate.






IMG_3829.JPGMirko, Daniela, Eduardo, and I

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Family and friends in Ljubljana

On my way to Ljubljana from Spittal, I made one of those major train errors which have always seemed to happen to other people, but not to me. In my excitement to board the train that would take me to see my family, I failed to realize that not all cars on this train were headed to Ljubljana. Only after I had settled comfortably in my compartment, window seat overlooking the green Drava river to my right, did I notice the paper which read: SPITTAL-VILLACH-KLAGENFURT-WIEN. Uhh, wait a minute. I was traveling southeast to reach Ljubljana, but Klagenfurt is almost directly north of Ljubljana, and Vienna is way northeast of Klagenfurt. Shoot. I walked my way back down several cars (leaving my heavy backpack behind), climbing over luggage left in the aisles, until I reached a car with LJUBLJANA printed on its timetable. It was quite a ways back. Great. I would just need to return to the front car, grab my backpack, then find a new seat in this car.

Except everyone was now leaving their seats and compartments and clogging to aisles to disembark in Villach, which was quickly approaching. I clambered past, trying to make it back to my original car. I did not want to be stuck in a different part of the train when the cars separated and went in their respective directions from the train station! Luckily, I reached my car in time, grabbed my backpack, jumped off the train and ran to the Slovenia-bound car in time to get a seat before the detached trains started moving. Travel is a humbling experience.

I was excited to see my mother’s cousin Majda and her daughter Katja waiting for me at the train station in Ljubljana. (Katja joked to me that they just had to look for the tallest person getting off the train in order to find me!) It was amazing to see the sheer number of backpackers getting off the train. I have not been to Slovenia in six years, and the majority of the time that I have spent here was in 2000-2001, before Slovenia adopted the Euro and before it became a major tourist destination. I braced myself to see some huge changes when I went into the city.

Back at the house, my mother’s cousin Anka and Majda’s husband, Rudi, welcomed me back and got me settled into my usual sleeping quarters: Katja’s old bedroom just off the landing of the staircase. The tiny room has tall wooden cabinets, paintings covering the walls, and a huge bookshelf built into the wall over the twin bed. This is where I have stayed every time I have come to visit, and it feels like home. I was so happy to be back.

The night before school started, I went into the center (of Ljubljana) with my “cousins” Katja and Suzi. We parked in the underground parking lot beneath Zvezda Park where Katja works and saw the town on foot. The bus lines have COMPLETELY changed since I was a student at summer school here, and streets that were once full of traffic have now been pedestrianized. The banks of the Ljubljanica River have always been lined with cafes, but now those cafes stretch farther than ever before to an area where steps and footpaths have been built along the river. I wistfully thought, “Man, 21-year-old Becky would have loved this!”


IMG_3721.JPGSuzi and Katja along the Ljubljanica


Never thought I would see a hanging klobasa sign, but hey, it works.


For the next two weeks, I would be taking Slovenian language classes at the Faculty of Arts. (More on this in another post). My typical plan was to take the bus to and from school, arriving back home in time for lunch, the main meal of the day. Majda and Anka cook fantastic meals (mostly using vegetables from their huge garden out back), so I definitely never went hungry. I was, however, concerned about my waistline when most of my favorite dishes were potato-based! Mmmm, so delicious.

IMG_3770.JPGLunchtime with the fam (Rudi, Suzi’s son Črt, Suzi, Anka, and Majda)

IMG_3755.JPGCheese and potato dumplings, zucchini and potato fritters, and cucumber-potato-onion salad: the makings of a food baby

IMG_3882.JPGAnka in the kitchen

Katja informed me that shortly before my visit, the cat gave birth to five kittens in the garage. I would visit them almost every day (if mama cat would allow me).



IMG_3916.JPGNo, not a cat, but a visitor that Katja found in the yard

I was able to visit with my mother’s father’s side of the family, too. We went for a lunchtime visit one afternoon (with more delicious food!). My mom’s cousins Helena and Anka (yes, lots of Ankas here) also took us for dessert at the cafe at the top of the nebotičnik, or skyscraper, downtown.




There are so many people from my home town of Cleveland that are now living back in Slovenia. I got to visit my friend Monika and her husband and meet their little daughter Ema, who has inherited Dad’s musical talent.



A friend of my family, Mark, has opened a burrito restaurant in Ljubljana. My mom joined me and one of my classmates for lunch there after my last day of school. Check out Burrito Loco if you happen to be in Ljubljana. Good stuff, Mark!


Other friends of my family, Nande and Meta, now spend half the year living in Florida and the other half of the year in Slovenia. Majda, my mother, and I visited them at their house in the hills overlooking Ljubljana. I looooove their house (and the view doesn’t hurt either!) It was so good to see them again.

View from Nande and Meta’s house at sunset

In between all these fun visits, I *did* have to get some studying done. More on than in my next post.

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After Salzburg, I only had a few days before my Slovenian language course started in Ljubljana (Slovenia), but I decided to break up the relatively short trip there and stop for a night in Seeboden, which is on Lake Millstatt in southwestern Austria. This is not a typical town on most Austrian travel itineraries, but it has a special significance to me because it is the place where my mother was born.

My mother’s family, like many other Slovenian families, fled into Austria after the end of WWII. They lived in a displaced persons camp in nearby Spittal for several years before emigrating to the US. During this time, my mother was born in a local maternity ward -formerly a villa- in Seeboden that was later converted into a hotel. (She was three years old when they came to the US). I was luckily able to see this hotel on my first trip to Europe 20 years ago, but as those memories are fuzzy, I thought it would be nice to stop by again since I was in the neighborhood, so to speak. Sadly, the old hotel was razed and has been replaced by a modern hotel and recreation center (which wouldn’t be such a terrible thing if it wasn’t so garishly designed. Boo).

I stayed on the main street running through the town and was able to walk around the whole town in about two hours. I passed by many beautifully decorated homes and guest houses, all with the signature carved wooden balconies and flower boxes that I have come to associate with Slovenia itself. There was a Friday night festival going on right across the street from my hotel; live music played while vendors sold wooden handicrafts, baskets, and local meats, cheeses, and honey. I also spent some time in a small park that is right across the street from the site of the old hotel; I spoke to an older woman (who was walking both her dog and her cat!) who remembered the presence of the hospital there. I was actually in search of a bridge that is infamous from one of my mother’s stories: while living in the DP camp in Spittal, my grandfather had worked as a bicycle delivery man. He would work at outside farms that would pay him in produce, which he would then take by bike back to Spittal to sell. (It was illegal to go outside a 50km radius of the camp, but my mother states that my grandfather didn’t care and even convinced one of the policemen into loading his bike onto a train so he could travel to more distant farms for work!) Apparently he was taking a crate of 13 dozen eggs from a farm back to the camp when his bike crashed and fell on one of the bridges in Seeboden. My mother says that he always claimed that the eggs survived the fall unscathed, save two, which suffered only small cracks.

Here are some scenes from the picturesque town of Seeboden.

IMG_3661-0.JPG View from train between Salzburg and Spittal-Millstättersee









This is what the front portion of the new hotel looks like. Notice how it blends in so nicely with the rest of the town’s architecture. Ouch.




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These are a few of my favorite things

Word to the wise: buy a Bayern ticket -unlimited day travel- if you will be traveling from anywhere in Bavaria to Salzburg. The Austrian town is so close to the border that the German rail system considers it part of Bavaria, which will save you a lot of money if you depart after 9:30am. Since the ticket is good for the entire day, several people at the train station in Salzburg approached me and asked to borrow my Bayern ticket to return to Germany!

Salzburg. How has it taken me this long to visit? It’s such a perfect and quaint little city. I fell in love with it the second I arrived. After a rest in my hotel, I spent the first night exploring the town.






These are a few of my favorite things:
1. Travel
2. Bike riding
3. Singing
4. The Sound of Music. OK, it’s not technically on my favorites list, but I do love this movie. I can recite whole sections of it by heart. When the movie was shown on TV every year on a Saturday night as I was growing up, I would stay up as late as I could to watch it and then sob when little Gretl had to go to sleep. I have been known to claim that Christopher Plummer’s Georg von Trapp is my ideal man. I once sang “The Lonely Goatherd” at a karaoke bar in South Korea. I’m a fan.

So when I heard of something called Fraulein Maria’s Sound of Music Bike Tour in Salzburg, my inner geek nearly lost bladder control in my excitement to book a spot. It made for one of the best days of my trip thus far.

We met near the Mirabellplatz gardens in the morning. There was a forecast for rain in the afternoon, but we were fortunate enough to have a beautiful sunny morning for our tour. I was also lucky that there were several other movie geeks on the tour. When I would take what might otherwise be an embarrassing tourist photo during the tour, it was always followed by some relieved person saying, “Oh thank God you wanted to do that, too!” and then taking the same shot :). It was a fantastic mix of Salzburg history, movie anecdotes, current city culture, and the nearby natural environment. And I swear that I was only singing “The Lonely Goatherd” in my head as I sped along. (OK, maybe just a little yodel here and there).




Tea with jam, jam and bread







I have confidence in me!


Our tour guide, Claudio, was fantastic and even suggested an idea for a video for anyone interested. So of course I accepted.
CAUTION: the video you are about to watch contains gratuitous dorkiness. It may not be suited for cool people or agoraphobics. Viewer discretion advised.

[My apologies for being anticlimactic and not being able to post this video at this time.  I have been having video issues again with this site but was delaying any further posts until the problem could be fixed.  But I’m tired of waiting!  Please try to visit this post again in the future, and I will do my best to provide the aforementioned cheese :),  ]

After the tour, I had arranged to meet Peter, my train buddy, for lunch and coffee at one of his favorite places near the river. I got to watch some of his video footage of a recent trip he had taken to Mongolia. We then took an elevator ride up the side of one of the cliffs and leisurely made our way back down to the city. Thank you, Peter: it’s always nice to get a local’s perspective!

IMG_3642.JPGMcDonald’s in Salzburg (not where we went for lunch!)

Love locks on the bridge



That evening, I went to see a show at the Salzburger Marionettentheater. Puppet shows are not typically a “must-see” for me, especially in a town that I would only be visiting for one full day, but this was highly recommended. The calendar showed that the evening’s performance would be Die Fledermaus, but I was happy to find when I arrived at the theater that the show had been changed to Die Zauberflöte, or The Magic Flute by Mr. Mozart himself. I have to admit, it was incredible. I was amazed at how fluidly the puppets moved. It was difficult to perceive how large they were due to the setup of the stage, so within minutes I began to feel as if I were watching life-size marionettes. (I was also getting major flashbacks to Being John Malkovich). What a shock came at the end when the proscenium lifted, showing the puppeteers above the stage and their puppets only about two feet tall!


Before returning to my hotel, I stopped for a drink at a floating bar that was docked along the river. It was one of those moments where every inch of me felt gratitude for being able to enjoy a day like this.


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Nach Deutschland

Julia came with me to Roma Termini to see me off. In the attempt to make the most of my travel time, I had booked an overnight train from Rome to Munich. There, I would make a quick connection to a train to Frankfurt, and then a second connection to Mainz, where I would be spending the next few days staying with my friend Karola from high school and her family.

I boarded the train and began to look for my wagen and platz. Already not 100% enthusiastic about the prospect of trying to sleep on a train (I have had some rough times on night trains past; see also SARAJEVO TO BUDAPEST 2006) I had treated myself to a 4-person sleeper car. I *had* slept well in such accommodations on a night train from Paris to Barcelona back in 2002: booked by and shared with my college roommate, our compartment had four wide, comfy beds, a little sink, and collapsible tables. I looked forward to a similar experience.

I passed by several cramped 6-bed compartments (whew, glad I didn’t reserve one of those!) until I reached the end of the car and found my seat number. Inside were three fellow passengers… sitting in a cramped 6-bed compartment. Uhhhh…? It took me a minute to see that yes, this was the correct seating arrangement, and that technically we were still a 4-person compartment even though there were two empty beds squished between us. (Amy, if you’re reading this, I don’t know what kind of magic you worked when you reserved that awesome Barcelona train, but thank you). In the cabin with me was an African man who was currently residing in Naples, a pregnant woman from Eritrea who couldn’t have been much more than 18, and Peter, a filmmaker from Salzburg. When I mentioned that I would likely be passing through Austria on my way south to Slovenia, Peter and I exchanged information and agreed that we would try to meet up if our schedules allowed.

Also on the train were a slew of rowdy German-speaking teenagers who appeared to be on their way to either a camping trip or a festival. They screamed and shrieked in the hallways of the train car and occasionally lifted the outdoor curtain to see inside our compartment. Thankfully the compartment door blocks a lot of the sound once it’s closed! I busted out my dinner, took some photos of the sunset through the train window, and actually had a decent night’s sleep.



I love the intercity/express trains in Germany. So clean! So quiet! Bathrooms that don’t make you want to vomit! Train travel is one of the best parts of travel itself. I arrived in Mainz without a problem around noon. As my friend and her husband wouldn’t be home from work until 5:30 or so, I had some time to kill. I chucked my backpack into a locker at the train station and headed into town. I had been here two years earlier and had already seen many of the “must-sees” (the famous Cathedral; the Gutenberg museum, so named as Mainz was the site where Gutenberg first used the printing press; Chagall’s modern stained glass windows in St. Stephan’s church), so this year I planned to just relax. And relax I did, sitting on a park bench for several hours and finishing The Casual Vacancy just before my iPad ran out of juice.


It’s always a pleasure to see Karola (one of my best friends from high school) and her family. She and her husband Harvey graciously welcomed me to their home again. Their daughter Solveig is not quite three and already exhibits the brains and imagination of both mom and dad. Shyness aside, she immediately crawled near me on the couch and announced, “Ich bin eine maus!” (“I am a mouse!”) I always find it so funny to hear little children, especially children of English-speaking friends, speak another language. It’s one of their primary languages, of course, but my first reaction is always to think, “Wow: this kid is so smart!.” And then I sheepishly have to ask mom to translate what they’re saying for me :). In addition to other mice, Solveig likes: gymnastics, going down the slide, swimming, and bratwurst.



Jasmin and Chris were also able to take the train from Dortmund to visit me on Friday evening. We met for drinks, dinner, and ice cream, then wandered the square a bit watching the Germans pack the outdoor cafes to watch the World Cup matches. It was strange to see each other in street clothes (aka non-Camino gear!).


My next stop in Germany was to visit my friend Doug who is working in Bayreuth for the year. Bayreuth is famous for its yearly Wagner music festival, although I’ve heard that these tickets are nearly impossible to come by. On my first full day there, we took a long bike ride through the neighboring towns, stopping at a local restaurant for some schnitzel and beer for dinner




Bayreuth is a quaint little city. I spent a lot of time just wandering around the streets. There was a street festival going on while I was there, which only added to the World Cup madness.






On my last night in Bayreuth, I went out to dinner with Doug and two of his friends. Because the weather had taken a turn for the worse and I was not properly dressed, I passed on going with them afterwards to try to find someplace to watch the Germany-Brazil match in favor of going home, warming up, and packing for my early departure the next morning. As I sat in Doug’s apartment later on, I heard a roaring from outside. It sounded like something from a battle scene in Braveheart. Here, Germany had defeated Brazil 7-1, and the entire town was going nuts. I missed one of the biggest German World Cup match victories of all time while I was in Germany. Doh!

I wish that I could lie and say that all this wasn’t my food. (OK, the pretzels were shared amongst the table, and I *did* take half of my spaetzle home to eat on the train the next day. But that is still a lot of food!)

Doug dropped me off at the train station the next morning. Austria was next on my itinerary.

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Pompeii yes, Pompeii no

One of my major regrets from my trip to Italy 15 years ago is that I never made it to Pompeii. As somewhat of an archaeology enthusiast, I think I made a terrible mistake. So this time, I decided to take a day trip from Rome to visit the city and nearby Vesuvius, the volcano which erupted and buried the town so many years ago. I took an early high-speed train (yay!) from Rome to Naples and listened to an impromptu Italian music playlist on my iPod. I soon remembered that I have next to no opera on my iPod as the playlist proceeded directly to my awesome Italo Disco Party mix. Say what you will about Eiffel 65 (yes, I am aware that they they wrote songs about blue aliens and PlayStation and that you think they’re “dated” or “cheesy” or “having no musical talent whatsoever”), but I like them, and I still listen to them on a somewhat regular basis. Embrace the cheese! I also will never get tired of Gigi D’Agostino.

I had a little bit of spare time in Naples before catching the Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii, so I did a quick walk around the block of the train station in search of a grocery store to buy some inexpensive snacks and lunch to bring with me. However, this was easier said than done, as most of the area around the station was filled with rinky-dink souvenir shops, tobacco shops, and black market salesman. The streets appeared especially grimy and filled with garbage. I’m sure that there are other parts of Naples that are much nicer, but this area was pretty dingy and borderline creepy. Color me unimpressed.

I caught the Circumvesuviana, which was jam-packed with locals and tourists alike. Upon arriving in Pompeii, I realized that I had no plan. Again, I had failed to do much additional research on the site, and I had no guidebook with me, leaving myself at the mercy of the swarm of tour guides at the train station. I met a Scottish couple about my age, and they told me that they were taking a bus tour to climb Vesuvius. The staff at their hotel had recommended doing the climb first before entering the Pompeii ruins. “Eh, why not?” I said, and shilled out the €22 to join them on the bus. Now, a smart person would have turned her head slightly to the left before paying any admission fee, noticed that the peak of Vesuvius was shrouded in a thick veil of fog, and declined the offer.  But as I am not a smart person, I went ahead, taking a comically turbulent bus ride up the side of the volcano to an unpaved parking lot, where we were released into the fog.

It took another 15-minute walk up a slippery gravel path to reach the summit of Vesuvius.  Not that I could tell much of a difference between the view into and from the volcano.  Fog to the left.  Fog to the right.  The views of the Amalfi coast are supposed to be spectacular on a clear day, but this was a no-go.  The small summit cafe was selling overpriced drinks and weird knick-knacks made of volcanic rock.  (Anyone want a glittery blue lava dragon?  How about a turtle?  I didn’t think so).  I killed some time taking Monty Python-themed photos  We were supposed to spend an hour up here? The wind whipped us around, and I was thankful that I had brought a long-sleeved shirt.  I loitered near the top for as long as I could, but after about 20 minutes, I headed down to catch an earlier bus back into town.image

Fabulous view into the volcano

Fabulous view into the volcano

What is your name?  What is your quest?  What is the capital of Assyria?

What is your name? What is your quest? What is the capital of Assyria?

image The rest of the afternoon, I explored the Pompeii ruins, kicking myself for wasting so much time at Vesuvius when I could have been avoiding the bigger crowds at the ruins.  I underestimated how much time it takes to see the ancient site, but I still was able to view a lot of it.  My audioguide was a bit tricky to follow:  the numbers at each point of interest did not always correspond with the directions given by the audioguide, so I found myself making a lot of wrong turns.  Even so, the ruins were amazing.

Roman baths

Roman baths


City block

City block

Sitting in the amphitheater

Sitting in the amphitheater


Exiting the city gate

Exiting the city gate

I needed to catch the Circumvesuviana back to Naples in order to make it back to Rome that night, so by late afternoon, I started to head back to the train station.  As I walked along the street to the station, my jaw dropped in disbelief when I saw a familiar face.  “Spencer?”  I asked.  It was a classmate of mine from dental school!  We had not seen each other in over eight years.  He was currently on vacation with his entire family in Italy.  What a small world to run into a schoolmate near some Roman ruins!


It would have to wait until I got back to the hotel....

It would have to wait until I got back to the hotel….


Back on the the train, I was dumbstruck by the beauty of the Amalfi coast.  Tell me again why I decided to stay in a big city instead of on the beach?  I enjoyed a slice of traditional Neopolitan pizza at the train station before returning to Rome, anxious to wash my dirty feet and sandals after a long, long day.

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