November 11, 2021 Page 7
Travel from front page
Storm of the century—piling on the snow New Year ‘s morning in San Gimignano. Storm of the century—travelers last sighted near the farmlands of Castelfiorentino.
Venezia: Peaches and Prosecco—the original Bellini waiting on
the original Harry’s Bar.
Venezia: Le Maschere più belle, all gussied up for Carnevale.
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three months in advance? Can we get ketchup
instead of mayonnaise with our French fries?
How much will dinner cost in Paris at Amelie’s
Favorite Foreign Diner for a party of five with
tax and tip, and do they allow children?
When we returned from Kerala in southern
India, friends were horrified that we’d reserved
a hotel in Fort Kochi, a house boat two hours
south in the backwaters of Alappuzha, and a
colonial retreat five hours upland in the tea
plantations of Munnar—without a thought for
how we’d get from one to the next. Weren’t
there any English-speaking bus tours available?
Why didn’t we just take a cruise?
Things are a little more complicated today,
but for a half-century, our policy has been to
reserve flights, first- and last-night hotels, and
punt on the rest. All of it. This is how we could
leave Bruxelles for a casual drive to anywhere
and end up two nights and 965km later on
an ultra-romantic ferry from Copenhagen to
Oslo. It’s also how another all-time favorite
trip came together out of Milan’s Malpensa
Airport back in the late 1990s.
In those days, we rivaled the proverbial church
mice for poverty, but cobbled together every
available penny and drove out of the airport east
with no plans or destinations—into the worst
Italian snowstorm in a century. There were so
many highlights to that lunatic adventure. A
few of the more memorable:
Venice: Splurging on Elizabeth Taylor’s
favorite suite at the Gritti Palace took 80%
of our hotel non-budget on the first night. The
next morning, a bitterly cold Piazza San Marco
boasted a population of just two humans (that
was us) amid the horde of pigeons. Never
before or since.
Venice: Christmas lunch and our first Bellinis
at Ernest Hemingway’s favorite, Harry’s Bar.
In the cloakroom afterward, the honeymooning
Elton John and I mixed up our overcoats, then
eventually traded back. A seriously nice man,
as long as we’re name-dropping.
San Gimignano: Arrived late at the height
of the storm to find all but two hotels closed
and exactly one room left in the entire town.
The room turned out to be a gorgeous, ultrabaroque
suite overlooking the main square,
rented for a pittance because it was supposed
to be closed for renovation. The definition of
serendipity—and all we had to do was beg.
San Gimignano: The next morning, I played
catch with an insistent dog and her favorite chunk
of concrete while her owner fixed our second
flat tire in 24 hours. The first had occurred on a
much-too-remote mountainside outside an olive
oil pressing station. The paisani were racing
out to a New Year’s Eve party, but insisted on
changing it for us first. The second occurred
on New Year’s Day and brought out an entire
football café to commiserate and wake up the
only sober repairman (and concrete-chewing
dog) within 100km.
Mantua: On another late night, the sign in
the main square flickered “Pizzeria/Hotel”,
but the door was locked, and five grizzled old
pensioners were playing cards inside. When
we finally got their attention, one of them
cheerfully pulled a sheet of plywood away
from a staircase and took us up to an unheated
room that had never been slept in. The next
morning, his daughter berated him for renting
when they didn’t even have their license. But
she still made us cappuccinos and sent him
around to the bakery for cornetti.
The Meal Of The Century: In a snowbound
mountain village (to this day, we have no idea
where), the owner of a small, supposedly closed
Trattoria started a roaring fire in the hearth and
cooked lunch for us and another lost couple.
Our introduction to pappardelle with wild boar
and bucatini with pigeon sauce. Not a lot of
options available—none, actually—but some
of the most delicious food we’ve ever tasted.
Firenze: The storm abruptly vanished. Glinda
got herself hooked on the unique, local version
of Lasagna Fiorentina. On the lawn of the
venerable Forte Belvedere, a massive Henry
Moore sculpture positively glowed in the tranquil
bosom of the snow-free, ultra-blue heavens.
The best part of the trip was that we never
had to wonder again if either of us could roll
with the punches. It didn’t hurt that we were
crazy about each other—that never hurts, of
course—but every looming catastrophe somehow
dissolved into an exercise in serendipity. So
much adventure. So much fun.
Next up: The Thing About Boston.
Ben & Glinda Shipley, published writers
and photographers, share their expertise and
experience of their many world travels. If you
have any questions or interest in a particular
subject, please email them at web@heraldpublications.
Mantua: A bed is a bed is a bed. Or is it a pizza? Firenze: Henry Moore meets Michelangelo in the legendary view from the Belvedere.