60 Years Ago Today

Sunday, 6 July 1952:

We were off at 6:30 a.m. in the morning. We really were starting to get on the ball. We said we were going to leave early and we did! Florence, it was goodbye! It was definitely a fun place to experience. We started to take the road to Bologna across the Apennine Mountains, climbing gradually. There was beautiful scenery and green vegetation covering the mountains. Patchwork fields dotted all through the valleys. This area reminded me of Mexico.

Oh, oh! I guess the bus couldn’t quite handle the big load. We stopped. Andre let the engine cool and tinkered around a little bit. Then our four men got out and pushed. That was what the bus needed, because the bus started up and the men had to run and jump to get on the bus.

We were on to more picturesque mountains, valley farms, men shocking grain by the road on Sunday, and men putting up hay in another field. Oh, oh! As we were nearing the summit, another contest between the bus and grade. And the grade won. Andre backed down to a more level spot in the shade and got himself all dirty under the bus giving it a once over. Finally the bus was ready to go again.

Where was Herr Watkins? About five minutes later he appeared with an interesting story to tell. Luckily we had trouble at the right spot for him in order to pick him up from visiting his friends. He was back visiting Italy after spending about eight months here during the war.

Herr had sent a note ahead of time saying that he would stop to see his friends if it were at all possible. They had been waiting for him since yesterday with wine and food. During the meal his Italian friends asked if he had a bad stomach because he hadn’t drunk any wine, only water. He gave us a detailed account over the public address system in the bus, so we could all hear about it.

He also told us about how the American soldiers impressed the Italian people as compared with the English and German soldiers. He shared their weekly system of getting clean uniforms, equipment, and personal baths.

I saw Bologna with a big swimming pool and green milky water right by the road. There were wide streets with beautiful new buildings done with a brocaded look on the outside. Later I saw a big gold courtyard and palace looking building. Then I spotted a municipal building with huge pillars, public square, and a huge round villa or monastery on the hill. We learned that Bologna was the home of oldest university in Europe.

We continued down into Po Valley that was the most fertile section of Italy. The landscape was dotted with rows of trees, tree fences and fields. We surely left Po valley in a hurry though. I guess we had hit the edge of it. Once again we were back to the drier country mountains. However, after awhile Andre stopped to talk to some men. Whatta ya know we were going the wrong way! We started to head back to Bologna again!

As we turned around in the yard of a farmhouse two little girls stood watching us. Mrs. Hansen reached out the window and gave them some gum. We have really been lucky. This was only the second time on this trip that we have missed our road. Seems like everything happens to us on Sunday though. I couldn’t decide whether it’s just coincidental or chastisement. I noticed skull and cross bones for railroad crossing again.

Back in Bologna again. There were not very many cities we got to see twice on this trip. We stopped this time for a rest stop. It wasn’t such a hot spot with long waiting lines. It was a bad day for Alicia. She was not feeling well. We found lemonade at a corner stand. I guess it wasn’t such a bad spot after all. Vamos!

Back on the road again we passed fields looking suspiciously like sugar beets. Then I noticed some tall stuff. I recognized this plant from before but couldn’t remember what they used it for. Then I saw an irrigation system. Next was a strange looking rectangular and pale green pond affair with several piles of rocks. A canal that ran along the road had a milky appearance like irrigation water. The canal was really low and kinda slimy green looking.

I missed the tree lined roads on the drive that I was used to. However, there were double rows of trees on one side and a newly planted double row of trees on the other side. We crossed an almost dried up river. It looked like a drought this season in Po Valley. I kept seeing casa cantoniera which means rest area, at regular intervals so the Italians hadn’t forgotten the poor travelers in need.

Then we ventured onward to Ferrara, Padua and Venice. On our way we crossed the Po River with weeping willow trees on the banks. I noticed road construction as we passed kids playing in a big swimming hole and then back to tree lined roads again with pyramid shaped hills. One hill had tall dark slender trees along the road winding around to the top. Again there were kids swimming in a big canal along side the road. Like Padua there were sidewalks along the canal. There were many big churches there.

We took the Autostrada, the main highway system in Italy, into Venice. My glasses were giving me a bad time and kept crawling down on my nose. Finally the bus went over the causeway connecting us to the Island of Venice.

In Venice there were little boats and people bathing in the water that stretched out on both sides of us. We arrived and then had a conference to decide what to do about our big suitcases. It resulted in suitcases opened all over the sidewalks and a major traffic jam in the bus. Eventually we got out what we needed and left the large suitcases in the bus.

And soon we were off to the gondola. We ran into some kind of bottleneck on the money angle and had to wait for American Express to clear us. There was a man with a motorboat! All of us took a slight jaunt down to the docks to the motorboat. No! The coupon says gondola, so we go back again. Someone made a phone call and finally we get in a gondola. One more first for me, a gondola. That’s me. Tis the life!

Hey what was this? A traffic light on the canal and a bridge with white iron work. This canal crossed another canal into an intersection. What! A garage held two boats. Most of the front sides of buildings had little balconies on the water. There weren’t any porches unless they were inside the door or gate. I believed this must be the grand canal we were going down, because it was pretty wide. In Venice the gondolas were the slow taxis, small motor boats were the fast taxis, and big motor boats were the buses.

The big bridge came up. Lord Byron called it the Bridge of Sighs. It came from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice out the window before being taken down to their cells.Wrong bridge, that was another one! This was the Rialto Bridge.

Our gondola didn’t go under the bridge and went down an alley and came out on what looked like a lake, too big for a canal. I saw a navy boat with American sailors. We waved and asked if “Anybody was from Utah?” No one was from Utah it appeared.

There were beautiful facades on these waterfront buildings. It seemed to be the center part of the city. Someone spied our hotel, Conte Pensione. Meals were included with the hotel and were we ever ready for dinner. There was a monastery room overlooking the alley. Dinner was at 8 p.m. Everybody was on time and eager to chow down.

After dinner we took a stroll and found three American servicemen stationed in Trieste. Everyone crowded around them. As more of the mob came by, it was a U.S. reunion. Then we went on to St. Mark Square.

Venice at night was so enchanting and too beautiful to describe. On the island there were sidewalks between the buildings, but between the islands were canals. There were no wasted spaces with every inch in use.

I took another gondola ride with a song from the gondolier. What a delicious spot for a honeymoon! Need I say more? As we glided past the blue grotto there was divine music and atmosphere. But where wasn’t there atmosphere here? People were wandering back home down our alley into the night singing and chatting.

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