One entire month in Italy
It was June 1983. I had just extended in Germany. Because of my specialty "MOS" I was given a bonus of an extra 30 days leave. I promptly took all 30 days.
Citron "Ente" Duck
My german longtime girlfriend and I pointed our Citron Ente towards Italy.
The plan was to sleep every other day in the vehicle and stay in cheap pensions other days.
We hit the west coast of Italy and stopped at every tourist destination and noteworthy ruins. Rome/Pisa/Naples/Pompeii/Florence were a couple more well known stops. Pisa was interesting. We walked to the top of the tower.
Rome was a scary rat race with lots of neat architecture. The roads designed to hold two cars had four cars and 2 mopeds and a motorcycle jockeying for position at break neck speed and all of them were honking their horns and making obscene hand gestures.
We attempted to go in the Vatican twice and were turned away due to our clothing not fitting dress code. We slept in our car not far from the Vatican and visited it at 3am on a Sunday morning. The pews were up for prayer service on the steps of the Vatican. No one was there to kick us out from between the pews/kneelers because of improper clothing or lack there of. We couldn't get out of Rome fast enough later that day.
We stopped at Lago di Garda and played on the lake for a day on air mattresses. The air mattress thing will always be a fond special memory. We met some Italian young folks and stayed up drinking wine all evening and crashed in the car at the campgrounds.
I woke up with the worst case of cotton mouth ever. I watched the Italian people drinking out of the spigot there and needed to get rid of the cotton mouth. What a giant mistake. The water there had many germs in it and the Italians had built up an immunity to them and I did not have such a tolerance. Two days of 103 degree fever and throwing up and runs later we were back on the road.
Naples was a huge city. It is a large sea port. The traffic was insane. The city wreaked. There were mounds of garbage three feet high on each side of the road. We stopped at the military base there to load up on cheap American beer and the Stars and Stripes newspaper. I wanted to check out what America was up to. Michele was highly insulted i wanted to read about baseball and read comics in the car and not look at the scenery of Naples. I remember her ripping the newspaper out of my hands and throwing it out the window.
On to Pompeii.
Pompeii seemed surreal. The ruts cut into the cobblestone by wagon wheels was mind blowing. We toured Pompeii thoroughly. So much death and destruction bummed us out. My most fond memory of Pompeii was when we were alone on the roof of the snack bar on a bench looking out over the ruins. We had a grand time.
We drove across the instep of Italy and visited Lasassi on our way to Brindisi .Lasassi was a cave community. There were kids on bikes at the parking lot that offered to guard our vehicle while we were gone on the tour due to thefts from vehicles. We passed on Lasassi due to the extortionists on the bikes in the parking lot. We had a bad feeling that our car might be vandalized like it was before once in Italy. The dash and front passenger seat was removed. On we went to Brindisi. I went to the military post there to stock up on cheap Budweiser.
We headed up the eastern coast. We had Bari as a destination. We got side tracked in the Trulli area of Italy.
The area was known for its field rock spires whitewashed inside and out.
The folks were friendly and we got side tracked touring the town and got a late start going back on the road. We picked a side road to park the car to sleep in it that evening.
Michele got really excited because she saw something that was photo worthy. She put on her fanciest lens and was trying to zoom in photo she wanted. All I could see was lots of activity. She told me that baby pigs, chickens, ducks and puppies were eating out of the same big bowl and she wanted a photo.
Then we saw 6-7 people walking down the dirt driveway at us. I got kinda nervous. Michele knew a little Italian and talked to the entire family that came down to see who was on the road near their house.
After a few broken Italian sentences the teenage daughter asked me if I was an American. She spoke English and was I astounded at how well she spoke. The next thing you knew we were invited up to the house to have a bite to eat and sample some wine from the Family's vineyard. The bottles of wine were huge and strong. I still had a dislike for wine because of the fever earlier and throwing up. I just held on to a glass the whole time. The bread and cheese was homemade by the women. The men boasted about making the wine.
They were a very poor family. There was no glass in their windows. They were covered with burlap bags. The front door was a tarp. Pigs and chickens and dogs walked in and out of the house at their leisure. We talked to almost dark. None of the family members had ever meet a real American they told me. We shared one large bottle of wine. I noticed that only the three adult males were the only ones drinking.
The group photo was taken now.
The teenage daughter explained to me that her Dad was very old school and he didn't allow women to drink. I remember I had just stocked up with Budweiser and I offered Dad some Budweiser to drink. The daughter translated. I walked to the Ente and got a case of Bud.
The daughter read the ingredients to her father and the son in law. They both cracked open a Bud.
The dad called the beer Water Beer. This is how the daughter translated it. The men had already drank a huge bottle of wine and were slamming Bud and laughing and asking if there was any alcohol in the beer. I offered the mother a beer and dad spoke up and said he preferred if only the men drank.
30 minutes later and 10 budweiser each the son in law and dad excused themselves. They both staggered away to sleep. There were 4 buds left and the women sipped the beer after their drunken father and husband left. They giggled with glee and made fun of their men for slamming 10 buds each in 30 minutes.
We were offered a hay pile indoors at their house to spend the evening. We passed on the invite. We made up an excuse we had to get on the road. We drove 20 minutes closer to Bari and parked slept in the vehicle.
Bari is on the spur of the back of the boot. It is a very mountainous area. The roads had no guard rails and sheer drops. The roads zig zagged down the mountain. There was a testy bull that stood in our way for 15 minutes. We let it wander off due to it being bigger than our car. The only way to the beach of our hotel was a old rickety two person lift from the cliffs to the unappealing rock beach. Bari was pretty but only a short pit stop.
We went up to Rimini and Venice. My love for Italian food was born on this month trip. I got out of my comfort zone in Venice and tried eel. Tasted like river mud with no consistency. "YUCK"
Had Frutti di Mare Spaghetti with freshly grated Parmesan in Florence for the first time in my life. It was at a corner cafe outside with Duomo di Firenze about 20 yards away. I can still taste the first bite and remember the setting. I can still see Michele in her white long flouncy skirt and white tank top seated at the table with me. Our month long adventure resulted in both us having dark tans. I remember her tan contrasting against the white outfit.
One more stop before back to reality. We pulled into the parking area of the train station in Venice about 6pm. We were on low funds due to spending nearly a month in Italy. We searched for a hotel for a long time. Finally a lady with an extra room rented a room in her upstairs apartment not 50 yards from Saint Marcos Plaza to us. I remember the bed was a canopy bed and huge. The only problem with the bed was it sagged in the center. The first night we were there it wasn't a problem. We went to sleep right away.
Bright and early we went sight seeing. We walked every square inch of Venice. Some was beautiful and others not. I was surprised at the smells there. They were quite pungent. The worse smell was from the Academy Bridge going over the Grand Canal. That was where all the cats lived. There was clearly an alpha tom cat. He was huge and was missing one eye and one of his ears was nearly chewed off. I am a cat lover so I tried to pet him. The next thing you know there were 30 cats all begging to be petted. The big alpha didn't let others come get petted until he had his fill.
Later we sat there and watched the cats interact. Then it happened. A guy was walking a large Doberman Pincer and the dog started barking like crazy at the cats. It is a law in Venice that the dogs all had to be muzzled. The cats knew the law. All the cats from under the Academy Bridge came out like their tails were on fire and attacked the dog. There must have been 20 cats on this dog. The dog got its ass kicked.
We went back to the parking garage to make sure no one had messed with our vehicle. It was fine and I retrieved the last case of Budweiser from the trunk and carried it back to the room. I was quite a popular person on the way back. People were questioning me what I was carrying and trying to buy them from me. One restaurant owner offered two complete meals with drinks for a six pack. We ate like kings. We ordered every seafood related dish and 2 bottles of wine.
In the morning we were pointing the duck northward so we went to bed early. Michele told me she thought the old lady was peeking into the room the night before and it made her uncomfortable. I decided we would give her something to see and hear. The bed had a bigger sag to it in the morning and I had a huge smile. We were out of money for food and traded a couple cans of beer for lots of mortadella lunch meat and a loaf of bread at a shop. We went back to the bridge bench and ate until we were full and shared the rest of our meat with the scads of cats there.
A short stop in Verona and back to reality and the military.
I received orders for Drill Sergeant school and could not get out of it. She wanted me to get out of the Army and become a German. I left the military and Michele one year later.
To be 26 years old again........