From Wander to Wonder

I have been traveling with my sisters for the last two weeks. We do this to bond, to laugh, to connect again away from husbands and children and everyday life. Our mother used to come with us and it has become a family tradition. It is wonderful, I highly recommend it.

We like to travel on our own, at our own pace and seeing and enjoying what we like. We go walking, visit everything worth seeing, dine in neighborhood restaurants, take public transportation, get some fabulous shopping done. We wander to find wonders. Not everything of interest is listed in tourist booklets. The discovery of new places, small pieces of history randomly spread in ancient towns, is part of the excitement.

This time we went to Northern Italy. Stay in Milan for a week and discovered that the piazza in front of the famous duomo is named Armando Diaz. That is our mother’s maiden name!! Even had time to visit Genoa where we met a friend. She showed us paintings by Rubens in a small church as well as Christopher Columbus crumbling home. Northern Italian food tastes much better in a small neighborhood restaurant and supermarkets are most visit. Who would have thought?

Then we travelled to Venice by train to visit La Serenissima for a couple of days. Since we have been there several times, we just wanted to meander through alleys and out of the way places. Everything else is overran with tourists, vendors, so many people it is not fun anymore. Now, seeing the ins and outs where Venetians live, that is worth your time and it is a wonder.

Finally, we took a cruise down the Adriatic to see some of southern Italy. Small coastal towns with wide streets bordered with palm trees…a true delight. Of course, we did some shopping!! Then the Ionian and Aegean Seas to the Peloponnese Peninsula, green and ran with brooks and rivers, it is so different from the arid islands. The famous kalamata olives come from this area and it is home to the second crown jewel in Greece: Olympia. Magnificent comes to mind when describing it.

Mykonos, famous for its sunsets, offers so much more. Luckily, a friend living on the island took us out of the tourist trails and into the real community. We went to a peaceful cemetery fragrant with oregano, basil, hot peppers and other plants; living things on such an unlikely place. Finally lunch at a restaurant patronized by locals and a shopping run through the winding alleys made our visit perfect.

Athens, too big to maneuver on your own, has to be seen with a guide. Ours kept us entertained with anecdotes and obscure pieces of history. Did you know that St. Damaris was the first woman converted to Christianity by St Paul? or that Athens is the oldest capital in Europe? or that Athena offered the people an olive tree and that is why she became the patroness of their city? Better an olive tree than the brackish water offered by Poseidon!!!

Sarande, Albania has breathtaking views of a dark indigo ocean. High cliffs and mountains come to the water edge and the sky is amazing. The Albanian Riviera has pristine and unspoiled beaches. The only place worth visiting in town, though, is the ruins of a 5th century synagogue. Little explanation is offered and nobody is around to give any information. The place has potential, but needs organization. Still, an interesting place to visit.

The Dalmatian Coast, Croatia, is breathtaking and full of history. Must visit Dubrovnik, the old town is amazing and easy to see. If you like candy, this is the place to be. Croatians love candy and make an extensive variety. In one of the alleys you can find Europe’s second oldest synagogue. Founded by Sephardic Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, their descendants still live in Dubrovnik. The impressive Tudman Bridge is a marvel of modern engineering. You can admire it on your way out from the port.

Staying away from the maddening crowd, helped us see these places in a different light. Not bad for a trio of women of a certain age traveling on their own. Here is to independence and attitude!!!