Turn the Other Cheek

 

Captains Blog:  Mile 33,970.  March 19, 2015

Spirit of Suwannee Music Park and Campground, site SPA

Nights in camp:  4

 

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We took our campervan on a “dry” run preparatory to the Big Trip.  We drove to Live Oak, Florida, for the Suwannee Springfest music festival.

I’ll digress a moment.  The festival is surely the definitive collection of tie-dyed apparel.  The park is a giant campground, with loop after loop of spaces for both RVs and tents.  I use the term spaces in conjunction with tents quite loosely.  Groups of friends pitched tents and/or RVs in close proximity, then surrounded their enclave with tie-died blankets to create private compounds.

The other cheek

The other cheek

At the Porch stage (one of three main outdoor venues), on one occasion a demonstrator walked through the crowd waving a flag with an image of an assault weapon and the words “Try to take it from me.”  And nobody paid him any heed.  Well, almost nobody.  I was tempted to confront him, but Rebecca pointed out the skateboard he was toting was probably loaded.  Hooray for peace-loving hippies.

But enough politics.

I had an appointment for a few tweaks to the van for the morning of the trip.  I was to drop Rebecca at her office, take the van to the nearest RV service center for the tweaks, then pick her up and start driving south.

We got into the van, turned the key, and click click click.  Dead battery.  Fortunately, the configuration of our parking permitted Rebecca to run jumper cables from her car in the garage through the side door to the van battery, and we got it started.  Add a new battery to the tweak list.

The journey was otherwise inauspicious, other than being a lot of driving.  We spent the first night in a motel outside Savannah.  Why, you might ask, did we not stay in a campground?  We had a coupon that knocked the price of the motel room down to $5.  We made a rule for the Big Trip:  If a motel is cheaper than the campground, we stay in the motel.  Oh, there was some confusion at the motel, however:  The credit card number Travelocity/Expedia issued to the motel to pay our rent (we’d already paid) was denied.

I’m sorry I didn’t take any pictures of the campground with all thesuwanee-bunk tie-dye.  I called this a “dry run” above, but it really wasn’t dry.  We peed in the van bathroom.  That was our big accomplishment for the trip.  It beats trekking to the shower house three or four times in the middle of the night.  Or morning.  (Did I mention there were reasonably-priced beer vendors inside the festival?)  I know, you’re gonna say you’re camping, pee on the ground; and you’d be right, but the population density was not conducive.  For that matter, peeing in the van is even easier than peeing on the ground.

Campsite, before the tie-died blankets went up around our neighbors.

Campsite, before the tie-died blankets went up around our neighbors.

I should mention, in keeping with the theme, the low point of the adventure.  Cutting across the Meadow Stage grounds after the first night of music, we reached an impasse.  Rather than retrace our steps, we looked to negotiate our way to an alternate exit.  Not noticing a set of stairs, I chose to attempt to walk up a pile of concrete slabs.  The first step was about three feet high, and I miscalculated.  I found myself airborne, and landed square on my behind.  Sitting here at the computer is still somewhat, shall we say, uncomfortable.

The campground was bordered by the Suwannee (or Suwanee) River.  The Suwanee rises in the Okefenokee Swamp, then meanders to the Gulf of Mexico.

Stephen Foster chose the “Swanee” for his song by looking at a map, and smartly realizing Swanee rang better than Pee Dee (the original “way down upon the” river).

Even though Foster never actually saw the river (nor lived as a slave on a plantation there … there really weren’t plantations in that part of the South), the State of Florida adopted the song as it’s state song.  As sensibilities have changed over the years, so have the words to the song.  There may no longer be reference to the good life of the plantation, and there definitely have been bowdlerizations of some racially insensitive nomenclatures.

The Suwannee River

The Suwannee River

On the return trip we drove through Bunnlevel, North Carolina (see how I brought the theme of this article full-circle?), where I saw a sign of an aptly-named enterprise:

Wood’s Saw Mill.

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The Key to a Successful Trip

I changed my mind about closing up shoppe on this trip’s narrative.

What more could there be to report?  What could go wrong?  We merely had to find the car in Florence, find the way back to the flat, pack, negotiate our way out of Florence, cross six or eight hundred kilometers of Italy, Austria, and Germany, find the hotel “near the Munich airport” we booked on-line, turn in the rental car, board the plane, fly home.

And we pretty much did all that.  We got out of Florence without incident.  We drove through beautiful high Tuscan hills north of town.  We drove through startling high-walled gorges on the approach to Bolzano.  We saw numerous castles perched on dramatic ledges.  We traversed the Brenner Pass, and of course it started raining when we were in the mountains.

Outside Innsbruck we went through a construction zone where the lanes were squeezed.  The left lane was so narrow there couldn’t’ve been much more than a centimeter to spare combined between the barrier on the left and the lorries on the right.  It was so tight, in fact, that when I passed one lorry (at about 80 kph) everybody in the car had to close their eyes, myself included.

On the approach to Munich, I finally hit an open stretch of the Autobahn where I was able to push it to 165 kph (for about two kilometers, before traffic started piling up again).  We found the hotel with a minimum of wrong turns.

Then a funny thing happened when we got up the next morning to pack up.  “Where’s the car key?”  In the ensuing panic we unpacked suitcases and went through pants pockets, to no avail.  Searched every drawer and surface in the hotel room (which was actually a four-room apartment).  Nothing.

Finally, I went out to the car, where, lo and behold, the car key was still in the doorlock.

It is only funny because the car was still there.

This time I mean it.  Auf wiedersehen.

Under a Tuscan Cloud

Before the clouds rolled in last night we had dinner at I Cche Ce Ce, a little restaurant near our flat that came highly recommended.

It deserved the accolades; it was the best meal I had on the trip.  Very nice, attentive, and accommodating wait staff, excellent food, reasonable prices.  They started us off with glasses of Proseco on the house, and finished with a grappa.  In between, I had Tuscan bean soup, followed by Osso Bucco.  For dessert we obtained cannoli from the little sweet shop in the alley next door to our apartment building.

Somewhere in the middle of the night we were awakened by thunder, which echoed through our alleyway.  After opening the shutters, I was able to time the lightning strikes and none were more than a kilometer away.

The storm rumbled on for an hour or more.  When we got up for our bike trip, it had stopped raining, but it started drizzling while we were walking to the Tuscan Bike Tours office.  We boarded vans and rode through driving rain to the castle where the tour starts.  Actually, the van ride was a nice tour in itself.

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It was uncertain whether we could take the bike tour because of the weather, so we toured the castle, which is just a front for wine-making (Chianti) and olive oil production.  One olive tree yields a half-litre of extra virgin olive oil.  (How are extra virgins counted in a martyr’s afterlife?)  They took us to the top of the tower (outdoors) when suddenly lightning started to close in.  The guides got very worried looks on their faces and tried to usher everybody back down the stairs.

Startled tour goer dodges bolts.

Startled tour goer dodges bolts.

Just as soon as we all got inside there was a flash/boom combo that might very well have hit the lightning rod on the roof.  So we went back downstairs where they poured us the local wine and served us olives, grapes, and olive oil on bread, and we resigned ourselves to the van ride back.

Then it stopped raining.  We road downhill for the first few minutes, and stopped for lunch:  salad, three kinds of pasta, dessert, and of course more wine.  Then we started the climb back to the castle.

Vera and Rebecca admire each other's attire.

Vera and Rebecca admire each other’s attire.

Rebecca’s bike, incidentally came with a flat tire, but they switched out her bike.

Becky Armstrong

Becky Armstrong

When we got to the steep part of the return route, most of us, myself included, took the van instead of  pedaling, except for four.  Only one woman pedaled up, but at least I wasn’t the only man to wuss out.

Tuscan grape country

Tuscan grape country

Tuscan grapes

Tuscan grapes

Just before we got back to the castle (all aboard bikes) the bottom fell out.  My shoes are soaked, so I’m not sure how I’m going to wear them home.

This concludes this portion of Filbert Hockey’s Travels.  Stay tuned for the exciting photo gallery coming soon.  It should include dozens, if not hundreds, of shots of the same subject from minutely different perspectives.

Arrivederci.

The Big Guy

That refers either to Michelangelo’s David or to the sandwich I had for lunch.  I’ll let you decide, but I should point out we got one apiece (sandwich) and we still have 1.5 sandwich remaining.

There is only one David, though there are myriad copies.

David

David

David vs. Sandwich

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The day was spent in the Galleria dell ‘Accademia (home of the David), the Basicala di Santa Maria del Fiore (the church with the big dome), and the Galleria degli Uffizi (home of Venus on the Halfshell).

Birth of Venus

Birth of Venus

We also went into a couple of other churches, one of which was a converted grainery and was square instead of cross shaped.  It was actually more interesting inside than the Duomo, which mostly has size going for it.

Alter in the grain church.

Alter in the grain church.

After a week of walking on stone streets, including three trips in one day up the hill across the Arno that overlooks the city, my back is sore.  Next we ride bikes through the Tuscan countryside.

I’ll conclude today’s entry with pictures (in most cases pictures of pictures).  Pithy comments extra.

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Stradivarius viola.

Stradivarius viola

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Playing it

Fat baby Jesus.

Fat baby Jesus

Imagine how some religions would react to such a depiction of their major prophet.

Rare panel by Michelangelo

Rare panel by Michelangelo

Helga among the Rembrandts.

Helga among the Rembrandts.

Self portraits.

Self portraits.

Pretty sure I did that same shot surreptitiously in Raleigh a few years back.

Neat arrangement in the sculpture training room.

Neat arrangement in the sculpture training room.

Translation is "Little Larry"

Translation is “Little Larry”

Finding Florence

Have you ever been walking through a narrow Italian alleyway and had to squeeze to the side to let a car pass?  An idiot driver who had no business being there?WP_20140908_002  Have some sympathy for that idiot.

That idiot was me.

We made it without incident from Ravenna to Florence, even getting into the right part of town after taking the wrong exit off the autostrade.  Finding our flat was a different story.  Rebecca had a map and a very close approximation of our destination,  but we had no clue where we were.

So I started zigzagging toward, and eventually across, the Arno River (oops, wrong side).

It was considerably more stressful than the ride through the mountains had been.

At one point we actually stopped about twenty feet from the flat, but I was too nervous about having a car in that spot and high-tailed it out of the center of the city (no pedestrians were harmed in the making of this blog).

We did finally get to the flat, and Rebecca really outdid herself in lining up this one.  Lots of space, two bedrooms, sitting room, and kitchen (can’t quite figure out the washing machine), but the piece de résistance (not Italian) is the rooftop deck.

View from the deck.

View from the deck.

If you’re not familiar with Florence, that’s the duomo out there, the singular landmark of the city.  You can see most of the other landmarks from up there, too.

We took a quick (three-hour, Gilligan) tour this morning, including walking past the highlights of the city and across the old bridge Hitler opted not to destroy, where they sell gold jewelry now.  In keeping with our chance encounters motif, we met one of Rebecca’s fellow lobbyists from the N.C. General Assembly at the tour headquarters.

The churches we tried to visit today were closed for siesta, or something, when we got there.  We did find multiple copies of Michelangelo’s David, including one at his namesake garden which overlooks the city.

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View of Firenze from Michelangelo Garden.