We left the Villa Fabrioni and the attentive hosts Sergio and Stefano, and after a night in Florence in a surprisingly good hotel near the train station (booked purely for convenience), we took a day-long train trip, first to Bologna where we spent a few hours marveling at the architecture, then on to Bari where we were to catch the ferry to Dubrovnik.
We had a momentary scare when the board first announced that our train was 50 minutes late, amid a number of “cancelletos.” But our train did in fact appear, and only 20 minutes late. While we were waiting, we struck up a conversation with a lovely young student from Argentina who–during our talk–asked me whether most young Americans were like those she met traveling. She tried to be diplomatic, but basically was appalled at how ignorant our college-age students were–not just about other countries and cultures, but about their own. She did not find this among her peers from other countries. It was difficult to argue with her perceptions, although I could assure her that there ARE bright and educated young people in the US. I must agree, however, that they are a minority, and that doesn’t bode well for our future.
And speaking for the impression left by our citizens, as we waited for the ferry, we met a truly embarrassing man from Florida. He took great pains to impress us–I assume he tries to impress everyone he meets, he seemed the sort–and he was everything we used to mean by the term “Ugly American.” He said he’d been coming to Italy for 20 years, and it was awful and getting worse. The decline, we found, was due to immigration, “just like at home.” I heard him talking to an English-speaking Italian woman about how dangerous the “dark people” were, and in lowered tones about Obama and his “socialism.” He told me he was an ex-Marine, so he knew how dangerous the Italians were (if he’d been describing their driving, fair enough, but he wasn’t), and proceeded to show me the knife he always brought to protect himself and his wife. All in all, a perfectly appalling specimen.
We got to Dubrovnik early the next morning, after a trip on a pretty gross ferry, and everything you have read about Dubrovnik is true. It is magnificent. The old city is a world heritage site, restored by Unesco, and it defies description. unfortunately, every tourist in the world has also read about it. The crush of tourism is unbelievable, and while a boon to the local economy, subtracts from the overall experience a bit.
At 2 in the afternoon, we boarded our small boat. We had worried because it only carries 12 passengers, and there are a lot of young, boisterous party people who choose to travel this way. We lucked out. We have 11 on board; five French, four Australians and us. Most are in their late forties or fifties, so we don’t feel QUITE so old. The trip has been fantastic so far, and I will write about the trip, the passengers–educated, thoughtful, and really nice–the next time I have internet.