Sunday, September 25, 2022

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?


Hi!  Some of you may recognize this blog, I haven't changed its look since the last time I participated in this link-up, quite some time ago.  I'm one of those long-time book bloggers and I go through phases where I'm just not interested in writing and/or reading.  

One thing I've gotten bored with is writing book reviews.  I'd read books, and then, when I finished, I'd write a review.  Sometimes I'd try to relate the review to something in my life or an issue in the world today, or otherwise try to go beyond just saying how good or bad the book was, but the focus of my posts was on saying how good or bad the book was.  

I've decided to try a new format that I call "Blogging Through the Book" where I sit down and write several times while reading.  What is the set-up for the story and did it hook me?  What was my initial impression of the main character?  Were there any quotes that grabbed me?  Further into the book, is it holding my interest or am I skimming, hoping to reach the good part?  I'm kind of going for what I'd tell you about the book if you found me reading it on several different days and asked about it---what would I tell you.  I have three reviews in this format.  

Blogging Through the Book:  Twice in a Lifetime

I am also trying to use books as a take-off for general discussion posts.  Maybe I'll pick up on something about the writing, or even about an issue raised in the story and I'm going to focus my post on that, rather than on a more traditional book review.  I did that with 

If you've been blogging for years, has your reviewing style changed?  Do you think that other people have changed the way the write reviews (not to mention platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube or Tik Toc?) Has what you like to see in a review changed?  

Hope everyone has a great week and I'll be around to see what you are reading and reviewing. 

Blogging Through the Book: Twice in a Lifetime

I've gotten bored with my book review format so I'm trying something new.  Rather than reading a book and then commenting on it when done, I'm going to write a little at several points during my reading--questions in my mind, phrases that struck me, thoughts about the characters.  What do you think of my new format?

About the Book:

Isla has fled the city for small-town Missouri in the wake of a painful and exhausting year. With her chronic anxiety at a fever pitch, the last thing she expects is to meet a genuine romantic prospect. And she doesn’t. But she does get a text from a man who seems to think he’s her husband. Obviously, a wrong number—except when she points this out, the mystery texter sends back a picture. Of them—on their wedding day.
Isla cautiously starts up a texting relationship with her maybe-hoax, maybe-husband Ewan, who claims to be reaching out from a few years into the future. Ewan knows Isla incredibly well, and seems to love her exactly as she is, which she can hardly fathom. But he’s also grieving, because in the future, he and Isla are no longer together.
Ewan is texting back through time to save her from a fate he is unwilling to share—and all she can do to prevent that fate is to learn to be happy, now, in the body she has, with the mind she has. The only trouble is the steps she takes in that direction might be steps away from a future with Ewan.
Melissa Baron’s time-crossed romance features a quintessentially endearing and brave protagonist, and an engrossing plot that will keep you turning pages until its breathtaking finish.

My Comments:

In the Beginning...

In the first couple of chapters, readers learn that Isla, the main character, is an artist who suffers from anxiety.  She recently moved to a new city.  She is an introvert.  She gets a text message from a man who claims to be her husband and who knows enough details about her life that he can't just be dismissed as a crackpot.  Talk about a hook!

Who is this guy?  Isla recently lost her mom and it is mentioned that she suffered a nervous breakdown.  Is he a husband she has forgotten?  Is he a figment of her imagination?  Is someone playing games with her?  Is it a time travel novel?  Yup, I'm ready to read on.  

A Little Further In....

He gave Isla the answer to the "Who is this guy?" question I asked, but I'm not sure I believe him.  

Ila is an interesting character.  She clearly suffers from mental illness.  She was close to her now-dead mother but is not close to her Dad-she didn't even tell him she was moving to St. Louis but he heard about it through the grapevine.  People give her anxiety but she has best friend, Willow, who is always there for her, and at work she has made friends with two young single women.  However, for all her anxiety (or because of it?) she was eager to move away from all that was familiar and start over in life.  

I've never suffered from the debilitating anxiety that plagues Isla, but I chose to leave my hometown for the big city in part because I never felt like I belonged.  

Another Night's Reading

Now something has happened that makes me wonder even more if I was right not to trust what the husband, Ewan, said about how he fit in the story.  I'm also getting a real view of how strong Isla is, despite her mental illness.  And I LOVE her best friend. 

75% of the Way Through

The romance is progressing, and we've gotten a chance to meet Isla's dad (no mystery why she suffers from anxiety now).  I could just hug Ewan for how he handled Isla's dad, and on the other hand I can SO relate to her request to Ewan not to speak for her.  Loved a section on silence and conversation.  The last chapter of this reading session ends with what sounds like a throw-away detail--but if it isn't meaningful, why is it there?   I wonder if it relates to the set-up for the book/their relationship?  

Some Words That Struck Me

"They rarely spoke...preferring instead the silence of shared grief.  It weighed as much as wet summer air in New Orleans."  I live in New Orleans, how an I not love that sentence?  

"When there was too much noise, too much stimulation, her thoughts scattered to the four corners of the earth, and she found it hard to participate in conversations were too many people were talking.  It became harder to express her opinion because, if no one asked for it, they clearly didn't want it."  My in-laws (a boisterous loving Italian family) thought me stand-offish because I could never get a word in edgewise.  

What Worked...and What Didn't

What worked was the characters.  Isla had me in her corner from the start. She puts up a strong front and the collapses in private.  Life is hard, but she keeps on living.   Ewan is a sweetheart and his two gay friends were shown as people, not caricatures or simply walking sex lives.  Isla's dad manages to make quite an impression during his short time on stage.  

What didn't was the whole resolution to the time line thing.  It just felt forced and unsatisfying.   

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.  Grade:  B. 

Doctors and Friends: Blogging Through the Book

About the Book:

Hannah, Compton, and Kira have been close friends since medical school, reuniting once a year for a much-needed vacation. Just as they gather to travel in Spain, an outbreak of a fast-spreading virus throws the world into chaos.

When Compton Winfield returns to her job as an ER doctor in New York City, she finds a city changed beyond recognition - and a personal loss so gutting, it reshapes every aspect of her life.

Hannah Geier’s career as an ob-gyn in San Diego is fulfilling, but she’s always longed for a child of her own. After years of trying, Hannah discovers she's expecting a baby, just as the disease engulfs her city.

Kira Marchand, an infectious disease doctor at the CDC in Atlanta, finds herself at the center of the American response to the terrifying new illness. Her professional battle turns personal when she must decide whether her children will receive an experimental but potentially life-saving treatment.

Written prior to COVID-19 by a former emergency medicine physician, Doctors and Friends incorporates unexpected wit, razor-edged poignancy, and a deeply relatable cast of characters who provoke both laughter and tears. Martin provides a unique insider’s perspective into the world of medical professionals working to save lives during the most difficult situations of their careers.

 Opening Chapters

The book opens at a Christmas party held after the pandemic was under control.  No, not Covid, a pandemic of the author's imagination, at least according to the preface of the book. Doctors and Friends was copyrighted/published in 2021 but the preface says it was written before Covid and the world in the book is fictional.  Evidently Kira is that world's version of Dr. Fauchi--the person who would get on TV and talk about the pandemic in the name of the government.  At that party we learn that "everyone" is wearing pins that broadcast their disease status and that the virus has a hidden long-term effect on the brains of some people.  We also learn that the virus caused economic devastation.  Shaking hands is no longer popular.  I have to wonder what edits were done to the manuscript after Covid-19 hit.  

The timeline then shifts to just before the pandemic.  Kira and her medical school friends (all women) are gathering in Spain to see the sights and enjoy girl time, and Kira gets a call from work about this strange illness that starts with a cough and then kills people very quickly. 

I love the relationships I see between these women.  They truly know each other's faults and love each other anyway.  

The Story Develops

The problem with blogging as  I read, as opposed to reviewing after I read is trying to decide how much to say.  Its hard to give an "on the ground" view on the book without giving away plot points.  Since this book is neither new at this point nor famous, I guess its not that big a deal but in other stories it might be.  So, be forewarned, there may be spoilers.

I'd really like to know what, if anything, was added to the book after Covid.   I mean this is all bringing back memories--the hallway chatter about that stuff in China.  The jokes in February during Mardi Gras about how all that Chinese junk that was being thrown from floats was going to get us all sick, and then the party St. Patrick's Day weekend when we bumped elbows instead of kissing--just in case.  

In the book, the first signs are there, and the people are reacting pretty much the way we did.  Its like I can see the avalanche coming.  If the author truly wrote this pre-covid she did her homework is all I can say. 

And Further Into the Story...

At the end, the author does admit she edited the book after Covid started and added some things--like Zoom calls, which I had wondered about because I hadn't heard of Zoom pre-Covid but now we all know that tic-tac-toe screen. 

The virus in this story is much more lethal than Covid-19 and kills the young and the old so it sounds like people took it as much more of a threat than most considered Covid to be.  The US president in the story is a woman and as non-Trump as it is possible to make a character and this is no comment on policy, but on personality.  Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Trump's persona was "This is that I think and if you disagree you are an idiot", which is probably not the personality to be in charge of a situation that requires consensus from a variety of competing interests.  

In the End  

The beginning of the end of the story is back at the Christmas party and we learn how Kira and her friends made it through the pandemic and the losses they suffered.  

As the pandemic kicked off we were Kira and her medical school friends on their yearly get-together and I thought something that was said was interesting.  Basically these were women who were together for four very important years in their lives and who have since gone their separate ways, to different towns, different specialities and different relationships.  Though they keep up by all the modern forms of communication, they are only together as a group on this yearly trip, and it was noted that they tended to revert to their 24 year old personalities when they got together.  I wonder if my college friends and I do that without realizing it? 

So, Was It Any Good?

Yes, it was a good read that was close enough to the reality we have lived for the past two and half years to make me uncomfortable and far enough away so that comfortable detachment was possible.  Grade:  B+

Thanks to NetGalley for making a review copy available.  If you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, this is part of the subscription.   

Blogging Through the Book: The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise

 About the Book:

Twenty-one-year-old Tanner Quimby needs a place to live. Preferably one where she can continue sitting around in sweatpants and playing video games nineteen hours a day. Since she has no credit or money to speak of, her options are limited, so when an opportunity to work as a live-in caregiver for an elderly woman falls into her lap, she takes it.
One slip on the rug. That’s all it took for Louise Wilt’s daughter to demand that Louise have a full-time nanny living with her. Never mind that she can still walk fine, finish her daily crossword puzzle, and pour the two fingers of vodka she drinks every afternoon.
Bottom line: Louise wants a caretaker even less than Tanner wants to be one.
The two start off their living arrangement happily ignoring each other until Tanner starts to notice things—weird things. Like, why does Louise keep her garden shed locked up tighter than a prison? And why is the local news fixated on the suspect of one of the biggest jewelry heists in American history who looks eerily like Louise? And why does Louise suddenly appear in her room, with a packed bag at 1 a.m.  insisting that they leave town immediately?
Thus begins the story of a not-to-be-underestimated elderly woman and an aimless young woman who—if they can outrun the mistakes of their past—might just have the greatest adventure of their lives.

First Two Chapters

So, in Chapter 1 a woman calls the police, stating that her eighty-four year old mother has vanished--none of her usual cronies have seen her, and she lives several hours away.   She wonders if her mother was abducted but the chapter ends with "Though she knew deep down that Louise Constance Wilt had never done anything against her will in her entire life."

In Chapter 2 we meet Louise, whose will is being thwarted by the one thing none of us can avoid (except by dying) namely, age.  We also meet the new housemate her children have forced on her.  Finally this chapter introduces a letter and while we don't know what it says, the chapter ends with Louise realizing "she was going to have to run".  Ok, I'm hooked, but its time to go back to work, more later.  

Zooming Through the Rest

This book was a fun read and I devoured it in one evening--so much for blogging through the book.  

There were so many things that made me smile/laugh:  The mother of a college student asking a police detective who thought a phone had been accidently left behind, if she knows any 20 year olds, pointing out that their phones are practically appendages.  The old lady telling the college student that life rarely goes as planned and we can either mourn the life we had or live the life we have.  Louise wanting to be called Mrs. Wilt because it reminded her of her late husband.  

On the other hand the whole resolution part of the plot was so....unbelievable.  By the end of the story we know Louise's secrets, and no I don't really think real life goes down that way.  But Tanner's ending was also hard to believe.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley. Grade:  B

Friday, September 16, 2022

How Important Are The Details?


About the Book:

Kyle Davies is doing fine. She has her routine, after all, ingrained in her from years of working as a baker: wake up, make breakfast, prep the dough, make lunch, work the dough, make dinner, bake dessert, go to bed. Wash, rinse, repeat. It's a good routine. Comforting. Almost enough to help her forget the scars on her wrist, still healing from when she slit it a few weeks ago; that she lost her job at the bakery when she checked herself in as an inpatient at Hope House; then signed away all decisions about her life, medical care, and wellbeing to Dr. Booth (who may or may not be a hack). So, yeah, Kyle's doing just fine.

Except that a new item's been added to her daily to-do list recently: stare out her window at the coffee shop (named, well...The Coffee Shop) across the street, and its hot owner, Jackson. It's healthy to have eye candy when you're locked in the psych ward, right? Something low risk to keep yourself distracted. So when Dr. Booth allows Kyle to leave the facility--two hours a day to go wherever she wants--she decides to up the stakes a little more. Why not visit? Why not see what Jackson's like in person?

Turns out that Jackson's a jerk with a heart of gold, a deadly combination that Kyle finds herself drawn to more than she should be. (Aren't we all?) At a time when Dr. Booth delivers near-constant warnings about the dangers of romantic entanglements, Kyle is pulled further and further into Jackson's orbit. At first, the feeling of being truly taken care of is bliss, like floating on a wave. But at a time when Kyle is barely managing her own problems, she finds herself suddenly thrown into the deep end of someone else's. Dr. Booth may have been right after all: falling in love may be the thing that sends Kyle into a backslide she might never be able to crawl out of. Is Jackson too much for her to handle? Does love come at the cost of sanity?

My Comments:

I'm officially tired of writing book reviews. Bet you couldn't guess that if you look on my sidebar and see how many I published back in the day vs recently.  Still I'm not ready to give up this space or my NetGalley account so...

I enjoyed this book.  Its strength was the two main characters, particularly Kyle.  The story is told through her eyes, but we also know she recently tried to commit suicide, so her observations were always a little suspect.  Still I enjoyed watching her interact, grow and change throughout the book.  Grade: B.

Let's Talk About Details:

Does it aggravate you when authors get details wrong?  I realize that no one can be an expert in everything and that authors are experts in, well....writing.  I get that given my age and my profession (paralegal) I have a lot of knowledge of particular fields that may not be common knowledge to average people.  But still, it seems to me that if you are going to include a detail in your work, you ought to get it right.

Kyle spends most of this book living at Hope House which seems to be a sort of step down from a mental hospital.  She cannot come and go at will.  Nurses check on her regularly around the clock. The other people living there are mental patients as well. There is a security guard at the door who can be summoned if there is a problem.  A psychiatrist, Dr. Booth, is in charge.  He does regular counselling with the patients but also prescribes medications. 

However, it is Kyle who cooks for the residents, not once in a while, but every meal.  She plans the meals, orders the ingredients and cooks. That's fine, she's a culinary school trained pastry chef, but what about when she leaves, or who did it before she got there?  True, the number of patients in the house is small, so it is like cooking for a family rather than an institution-sized crowd but that did not ring true. Still, I'm not an expert on treating mental illness, maybe that is a normal part of treatment.  

However, I do know enough about mental health treatment to know that psychiatrists don't do talk therapy these days.  Their job is medication managment.  Dr. Booth did that job and the job that would be done by a social worker or therapist of some sort. On the other hand, I'm sure it worked better for the plot to have one person as the authority/treatment figure, as opposed to the team that would be more realistic. 

At one point in the book Kyle is baking goods for sale to restaurants.  Great--except that she is doing it from her apartment kitchen which I'm sure would not pass any of the requirements for a commercial kitchen.  

I'm not trying to pick on Amy Watson in particular, I see a lot of things in books and on other media that are just plain wrong.  Have you every seen a movie or TV show set in New Orleans where everyone speaks with a Scarlett O'Hara drawl?  Well, fyi, that drawl would instantly label you as "not from here" in New Orleans.  We sound a lot like the people from Brooklyn or Savannah (yes, people from Savannah GA sound more like they are from New York or New Orleans they like they are from Atlanta--its a port city accent.  

As a paralegal I have great insight into how the court system works, and I can tell you it is a lot more exciting on TV than in real life--and I get that no TV audience is going to sit there while a judge reads jury charges (most judges in real life lock the doors when they are being read to keep the jury paying attention to them), but it still annoys me when an author has the characters attending a deposition in a criminal case (there have to be very extraordinary circumstances for one to be held in a criminal case but they are a normal part of civil cases) or when lawsuits are filed and then tried a couple of months later (chances are good that the defendant is just getting around to filing an answer at that point). 

How often do you read books where you find the author got details wrong, whether those details were geographic, dealt with your area of expertise or were things you thought were common knowledge?  Does it affect your enjoyment of the book?  

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Review: The Forever Farmhouse


About the Book:

When Ryan Hastings first came to Teaberry Island, he was a troubled teen on his last chance. He’s returning as a renowned scientist, checking in on his widowed foster mother. But one thing hasn’t changed—Ryan’s feelings for the girl next door who he loved…and left. Mellie Anderson has a son now, and a good life that Ryan believes he’s still too damaged to share. But he knows he can help young Alfie, who’s getting picked on at his new school.

Mellie is grateful her gifted son is getting extra support, and torn about where it’s coming from. Ryan has no idea he’s Alfie’s father. No matter how valid her reasons were, could Ryan ever understand why she didn’t tell him? But in this close-knit community, friendship and forgiveness are always near at hand, and forever love might be waiting just next door.

My Comments:

There are some books that people familiar with the author could attribute to the author almost without looking at the cover.  This is one of those.  Like most Lee Tobin McLain books, this one is set in a small Chesapeake Bay town and features a close-knit group of family and friends, along with a delightful canine companion.  

I loved the way Ryan was able to help is overly-intelligent son find his way in the world--takes one to know one and all that.  

The Forever Farmhouse is the first in a series and I'm ready to read the rest.  Grade:  B

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley. 

Monday, July 04, 2022

Review of Rick Steve's Heart of Italy Tour

 About Us:

At the time we started planning this trip, I had just turned 60 and my husband had just turned 65.  We are in good health.  

I LOVE to travel.  I like going new places and seeing new things.  I'm a history buff and a reader.  Europe has been on my bucket list for some time, but I've had minor kids in the house for the last 29 years and with the ages and personalities of my kids, not to mention the size of my bank account, taking them to Europe has never been in the cards.  However, in May, 2022, my baby turned 18 and shortly thereafter, graduated from high school.  We were DONE with parenting (at least as much as you are ever done with it).  


While I roll with the punches pretty well, my husband hates it when things don't go according to plan. Throw in a language barrier and he was not at all comfortable with do-it-yourself planning.  I decided that if something went wrong, I'd rather he was unhappy with a tour employee than with me.  

Our Tour Choice:

We decided on Rick Steves' Heart of Italy Tour. It starts in Rome and heads to Volterra and Cinque Terra before ending in Florence.  It is called a nine day tour but it is really a little over seven.  Day one started in the late afternoon and day nine ended after breakfast.  

Overall Impression:

We LOVED it.  There is no way we could have seen as much on our own. These people are pros at logistics and timing and have contacts in all these places.  Every penny we spent on this tour was absolutely worth it.  

We enjoyed spending time with our fellow tour members and there were few enough of them that we could remember names.  We also liked the fact that we covered the big "must see" attractions with the tour group but that we also had a nice block of free time in each place to do what we wanted to do, even if that was sleep.  

We had time on our own in Rome before the tour started and we went to Venice when it was over, but while we enjoyed both  we accomplished a lot more on the tour--and when we were with the guide we didn't get lost.


For the two of us, we paid Rick Steves $5500.  During the tour we had to buy all our lunches but one and found that $10 per person was about right.  We bought four dinners during the tour, and they were $50-60 for the two of us, but that's one of those things where you can decide how much you want to spend.  

We paid to ride the boat in Cinque Terra and to visit a museum in Florence but that's it as far as costs not paid by the tour, other than totally optional things like snacks and drinks. 

One thing I wondered is how much all of this would have cost if we tried to do it ourselves and wanted a similar experience. I searched for the costs of things as if I was booking a trip later this summer as far as the hotel rooms and attractions.  If we had a local guide showing us around an attraction, I found a guided tour of that attraction and added it to the list.  I priced the group meals at about $10/course plus $10 for beverages, which is about what we found when we ate out on our own.  I looked up the cost of public transport (either train or bus) between cities.   

In short, it appears that we paid not quite twice what everything would have cost had we purchased it individually, but  by doing so we would have lost the services of our guide and frankly we never could have put together a trip that flowed that well.  We also gained efficiency--when we finished at the Coliseum, it only took the tour bus ten minutes to pick us up and to head to Volterra. If we were doing this on our own, we would have had to get back to the train station or to a rental car place--and deal with either schedules or driving/parking in a foreign land.  We could not have parked near any of the hotels, and if we had chosen places with parking we would have been outside the historical areas.  



In Rome we stayed at the Dharma Style Hotel which is in the Monti area not far from Termine train station.  It was a convenient location.  The people at the hotel were extremely nice and helpful.  The provided breakfast was good, with fruit, pastries, cheese and some meat, and good Italian coffee.     Our bed was comfortable and the room was attractive. Those are the pluses.

The minuses?  The main one was that the air conditioning did not cool to the extent most Americans expect.  For one thing, our room key operated the electricity in the room. Once you used the keycard to enter the room, you would stick it in a slot behind the door and it would turn on the electricity and air conditioning.  It was hot when we were in Rome and it always took a while for our room to cool down.  When we entered it for the first time, the windows were open (we were on the third floor, which Americans would call the fourth floor).  When the maids cleaned they left the windows open too.  


In Volterra we stayed at the Hotel LaLoconda which is where we had the nicest room of the trip--the guide said they tried to alternate who got the best rooms.  We had a jacuzzi tub and a large room that overlooked the main street.  Since Volterra cooled down at night, opening the windows was the solution for air conditioning that wasn't quite as cool as we would like. 


Our Levanto (outside Cinque Terra) hotel was Hotel Primavera.  Our room was spacious; our bathroom was not.  The shower was VERY small.  Again the people running the hotel were great.  The location was terrific--just a couple of blocks from the beach, two blocks from a park and near a bunch of restaurants and shops. The air conditioning worked well.  The train station was about a ten minute walk.  


In Florence we stayed at the Hotel Torre Guelfa.  Our room was very nice, but the bathroom was small. The air conditioning kept us nice and cool.  The location was awesome.  The hotel had a wonderful rooftop terrace that someone at the hotel said was the second highest viewpoint in the city, after the Duomo. 

In sort, the hotels were what Rick Steves advertises that his tours use:  Charming buildings located in the center of things which are not the cookie cutter chain hotels to which most Americans are accustomed.  All were clean, all were comfortable (well, I don't think I'd stay at the Dharma Style in the hot part of the summer) but many had steps up and down within the rooms.  All had elevators.  All had private (but often small) baths. 


The tour provided us with breakfast every morning and with one dinner in each location.  The breakfasts in all the hotels were similar, and good.  If you are looking for eggs, bacon and pancakes you might be disappointed as the meals did not feature them, but there was always a big variety and all the breakfasts were far superior to a cheap US chain "free" breakfast.  I'd even rate them above most mid-range us hotel breakfasts.

The group dinners were always multi-course productions and were were offered wine with each.  I don't remember exactly what we ate where, but it was all good.  We were not offered a choice, except that people who turned in dietary preferences prior to the trip were accommodated (we had a vegan couple on the tour). 

We also got one lunch at a farm that made wine and olive oil.  I liked it too. 

The main  criticism I have of the food is that it was all "safe"; there was no encouragement to go outside the comfort zone of the average American. For example, I've heard that tripe is a big thing in Florence and that truffles were big in Tuscany.  It would have been nice to have been offered an appetizer-sized bite of a few foods like that--not enough that I'd go hungry if I passed, or if I took a bite and didn't like it, but enough to get a taste, so I could decide to seek it out on my own time.  

The other is that for all I read and heard about Italians eating lots of fruits and vegetables, our meals were light in that department.  



Our tour started on Sunday afternoon with a meeting at our hotel where we had to present our covid vaccine card and a negative covid test.  We introduced ourselves and some questions were answered.  Then we headed out for a walk past several fountains on our way to the restaurant.  We also stopped at the Pantheon.  After dinner we saw St. Ignatius church, which the guide said was "never" open, and which was on our list of things we wanted to see.  We also saw more fountains and piazzas.  


On Monday we headed to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel.  We had a local guide who led us through it.  We got their via the Metro.  The place was packed and our plan to get there early to beat the crowd failed because someone who got there before us got sick, so they closed down to clean up.  

Honestly what I remember most is the crowds and feeling like I was being herded through.  Our guide was good and showed us photos of the Sistine Chapel before we entered because she was not allowed to give tours in the Chapel but when we got in there it was crowded and the ceiling was so high that I really couldn't see all the stuff that had been pointed out.  While the building was air conditioned, given the crowds, it was still warmer than was comfortable, and since N-95 masks were required, the heat seemed worse than what it was. 

Before we left in the morning the guide gave everyone three metro tickets--one to get to the Vatican, one to use to explore and one to get back to the hotel.  

After the tour of the Sistine Chapel we were turned loose for lunch and whatever we wanted to do thereafter.  We visited St. Peter's Basilica, which was awesome!  

Then we got some lunch and then headed back to the hotel to rest.  After a nap we went to the Monument of Italian Unification were some guy sold me a bottle of water with ICE in it.  Made my day.  We also walked by some ruins. 


One Tuesday morning we boarded our tour bus to head for the Coliseum area, where we met our local guide who taught us about the Coliseum and the nearby Forum and temple ruins.   Our Coliseum tickets got us on the floor, which evidently most do not.  It was neat being down there and looking up at the seats.  We also climbed up to the top.  Every day of the trip I logged close to eight miles.  

I have to honestly say that having the guide there to explain what everything was added a LOT to the experience.  If we had just bought tickets we would have walked in there, said this is cool, spent a few minutes looking around, and then left without really realizing what we were seeing.  Our guide was terrific and I know now that paying for one is not a waste of money.  

Our bus then picked us up and we headed to Volterra in the Tuscan hills.  Most of the drive was on the auto strada which is like the Interstate.  One difference I noted between Italy and the US is that in the US if you see a hill from the interstate, it is covered in trees; the town is in the valley.  In Tuscany, the towns were at the top of the hills. 


We got to Volterra about five and headed our hotel, which was on a street that reminded us of Diagon Alley.  We had dinner with the group and after dinner headed for a scenic overlook to take sunset photos.  We walked through town looking in shop windows and then headed for our hotel.   


Wednesday was our day to tour Volterra. We met a guide in the morning and she gave us the history of the town as she showed us the sights.  At the end of the morning we went to an alabaster shop and watched the craftsman make a bowl.  Our final pre-lunch stop was the Etruscan museum.  Our guide then passed out Volterra passes that gave us entrance into some other attractions and turned us loose for the day.  We saw the Etruscan museum, the Alabaser Museum, the local art museum and a few other things.  

In the late afternoon we gathered at a wine shop for a wine tasting.  I'll admit I'm no connoisseur of fine wine, and I prefer white wine to red.  We tasted three reds and a white and I liked the white and the cheap red. 

After the wine tasting we were turned loose for dinner on our own.  We ended up on one of the main piazzas and had a really nice meal.  About halfway through another American couple sat down next to us.  We chatted with them, which was fun.  They have a second home in the area.  Nice to know we picked a place that people who know what they are doing pick.  

We did a little more walking after dinner and then called it a night. 


Thursday we got in the bus and headed for a farm where they grew olives and grapes and made wine and olive oil in an old castle.  After a tour we had an olive oil tasting (despite being married to an Italian I prefer my oil to have less taste, and I don't like olives) and lunch, which was yummy. 

As we were heading toward Levanto, we passed some white-topped mountains.  This was another occasion where the guide added value.  She pointed out that it was not snow on the mountains but Carrara marble.  

We  arrived in Levanto about  4 pm.  We headed out to a laundromat and while our clothes washed, we watched some kids play in the park.  We had a group dinner that night at the hotel--a seafood buffet and it included calamari and octopus in small amounts.  I'm not a calamari fan and the octopus was in a yummy soup.  After dinner we walked down the beach to watch the sunset and take pictures.  At dinner the guide handed out Cinque Terra passes which gave us a full day of access to the trains and hiking trails between the towns and Levanto.  


On Friday we were on our own.  We visited Monterroso and from there, took a boat (which we paid for) to Vernazza where we took a trail that headed up into the hills a little ways and then took some photos before heading back down.  After wandering around a little, we took the train to Riomaggiore and wandered a bit and got gelato before heading back to Levanto. It was hot and we wanted to go to the beach.  

The beach water was cold and the sand was rocky so we only stayed an hour or so.  After cleaning up we walked around town and then joined the group for a happy hour at the hotel. 

Later we headed to dinner by ourselves.  We were outside at a restaurant on the main drag.  I ordered a spritz because I hadn't had one and heard that you should.  They brought it out in a large glass that was full of ice, American style.  One thing about Italy is that ice in a drink is not normal.  I was thrilled and said something to my husband about it.  Some guys at the next table were not speaking English but when they got their drinks, one guy said in English "too much ice".  Well, I was happy.  


On Saturday morning we headed for Florence.  On the way we stopped at the American WWII Cemetery and a staff person gave us a brief tour.  I suspect one reason for this was to give our hotel time to get our rooms ready, but it was a great stop, and one that was not on the itenerary.  

We got to Florence about lunch time and after dropping off our bags, our tour guide said she'd lead us to the Central Market if that's where we wanted to have lunch, but we were on our own.  We followed her and ended up with pizza.  As would be expected on a Saturday, the place was packed.  

We had free time until about 3 when our local guide gave us a walking tour of town ending at the Uffizi Gallery where we got to see David.  One thing that was really neat is there was a parade in town that day and she interrupted the tour to let us watch, and she explained why the were having the parade (historical football game) and told us about the game.  After seeing the Uffizi we were on our own for the rest of the evening.  

We were tired so we just headed out to find someplace close to the hotel.  We found a cute little place but they told us to come back in thirty minutes.  We wandered down the street and found a beautiful church and outside it, a statue of Cosmo Medici.  

After dinner we headed up to the roof where we visited with other tour members.  The view was awesome. 


On Sunday we met out guide again and headed for the Academia Gallery and as we toured the gallery they told us about development of Renaissance art.   After the tour we were free until dinner.  

We had planned to go to Mass at the Duomo (Cathedral) but when we got there they said the noon Mass was cancelled. We asked if they knew of a nearby Mass.  They pointed us in a direction but we couldn't find it in time and decided to get lunch instead.  

Shortly thereafter we found the church and paid to see it and the museum attached.  There was an old convent attached that had frescos on the walls of the cloisters so it was neat being able to see them up close.  I also liked the church because it had stained glass, which I noted most churches in the area did not.  

Sunday afternoon we walked over the bridge to the Alto Arno and walked to the Piti Palace but decided not to go in.  We headed back to the hotel and then had our final group dinner, and not surprisingly most people ended up on the roof that night.  

The tour ended after breakfast on Monday and we went to Venice on our own.


If you are on a tight budget then you can probably do an independent trip for a lot less than this tour.  However, you will trade time for money.  Instead of a tour bus being there when you are ready to move, you'll have to get to the train/bus station and go on their schedule.  You will have to purchase attraction tickets, and in today's world that means either pre-purchasing a timed ticket or waiting in long lines for the major things. 

If listening to a tour guide talking about Italian history, Renaissance Art or the ancient Romans/Etruscans sounds like torture, this is probably not the trip for you.  If your ideal Italian vacation involves sleeping late, enjoying a leisurely breakfast and lots of shopping, this tour is not for you.  You aren't in control of most of your schedule, so if that's important to you, group travel may not be for you.  

On the other hand, if you want to see a variety of places in Italy and to engage in a variety of activities from hiking to museums and from beaches to churches, and want someone there who can put things in historical perspective, I think you'd enjoy this trip as much as I did.  

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