The Great “Sip, Ship and Schlep” (aka: My Aching Back) Tour Wrap Up
by Debra Chappell
View of the haul atop my dining room table:
Mood Reading: ZZZ’s (jet lag’s departure is late – I’m getting 8 hours in…only they’re between 8p.m. and 4a.m.)
So thought I should do a “Sip, Ship, and Schlep Tour” roundup as I just arrived back home from 3 weeks in France and Italy. As you can see from the opening picture, “schlepping” outdid the sipping and shipping by a good 3-1 margin! And somehow hauling all the goods (in an extra suitcase) over cobblestones, on and off trains, up flights of stairs, and through little alleyways still didn’t offset the kilos of pasta and liters of vino consumed each day. I am still wandering around somewhat dazed from the jet lag and sorely missing the frothy cappuccinos and morning croissants we’d become accustomed to, but have to admit, it’s a good thing we came home when we did. My jeans are woefully tight and my wallet is empty and we couldn’t have packed in one more flea market, brocante, wine tasting or Basilica if we’d tried!
We started in Paris and hit the larger brocantes there, hoping for bargains but finding few. Not to worry, we shelled out Euros like Monopoly money for some unique treasures and the schlepping began in earnest within days. Regardless, my favorite thing about Paris remains the strolling, sipping and café sitting — and we managed to do justice to all three. I love the Parisian lifestyle and it only seemed fitting we begin and end our journey in the city of lights. Next it was onto sunny, boisterous and oh-so-lively Italy. With your permission, I’ll indulge in some sweeping generalizations here. If the French are quiet, reserved and on the side of refinement, the Italians are the exact opposite. The decibels are louder, their language (at least the delivery of it) more zealous, they are freer with opinions, emotions, and those sweeping classic hand gestures, and seem to me at least, entirely more passionate about everything in life….food, wine, politics, driving, the opposite sex (especially the opposite sex) and are not afraid to show it wherever they happen to be…the piazza, restaurants, the tube…. They coddle and embrace each other, their children, their friends and family with unbridled affection. It is a very warm culture that has rightfully earned its fiery reputation. We managed to find markets of every sort everywhere we went there– flea markets, produce markets, fish markets, ceramics, linens etc you name it…. that is between our pilgrimages to every church, cathedral, Basilica, and chapel listed in Rick Steves, Frommer’s, Fodor’s, or countless websites on the internet. Round about the middle of our trip, after a long day of schlepping and/or genuflecting, the sipping eventually won out and we fell into a comfy routine about 4 o’clock of finding an outdoor café and having a Spritz, Kir, Prosecco or local wine along with whatever little nibble the establishment was offering. Since I have not been (ahem) regularly attending the Catholic church of late, (okay, so that’s a gross understatement), I figured their ancient walls and thresholds could use a rest from the structural trauma caused by my passing through them, what with all that lightning and all. I’m sure God is up there somewhere scratching her head wondering what the heck got into me that I’d be pestering her everyday for the last 3 weeks! Like the airlines – I’m sure St Peter’s got me on his ‘watch list’ now.)
The last market we hit was in Arrezzo, still on the edges of Tuscany but closer to Rome, our departure city. It hosts a huge antiques market the first weekend of every month so we hit it just right (thanks to our scientifically researched advanced itinerary planning that involved weeks of wine nights and coffee mornings in the lead up to – half the fun of the whole adventure in my book.) Thinking there was nothing else that could possibly catch our eye we spent the Saturday roaming the stalls and tents for something we just couldn’t live without. We found it naturally of course – I bought a unique silver coffee server and another in a rustic brass with a wooden handle – just because one cannot possibly survive with a mere dozen coffee/tea servers now can one? (I jest, this only makes 4… or is it 5?) Elaine found some great linens and fabric and by the time 4:00 rolled around it was the first time we realized we hadn’t been in a church/cathedral/Basilica or chapel all day. What’s a person to do? We opted for a quick Hail Mary under our breath before ordering a nice glass of the local Brunello and charcuterie platter . The saints were all happy for the breather as well I’m sure.
Our last day in Italy was in Rome at the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. All snarky joking aside, it is truly amazing and I was awestruck. There are no words to describe the sense of rich history, artistry, and spirituality you instantly feel upon entering the Sistine Chapel, in spite of the throngs of tourists elbowing their way past you. Everything you’ve seen, read or heard just doesn’t do it justice. All I can say is if you have the opportunity – go. Fight the crowds, bite the bullet, get the tour and be amazed. I can’t say anymore than that — mortal words just don’t do it justice.
Then it was back to Paris for one last night before heading home. We treated ourselves to a Sancerre (me) and champagne (Elaine) at the famed Café de Flore and then strolled leisurely for a while before dinner. We ate at a lively little restaurant near St. Sulpice (the saints were eye-rolling again to see me approaching but greatly relieved when I passed without entering) and ordered the traditional Boeuf Bourguignon. It was fabulous to say the least and Julia Childs (her wonderful self) couldn’t have done any better!
Elaine had casually commented during our traipse through Italy that she didn’t think she would go back to Paris again on a subsequent trip as she felt satisfied she’d “done” it. But as soon as we landed and set foot on Boulevard St. Germaine, we both realized this one truth:
You are never ‘done’ with Paris. It is like an old friend beckoning you back time and time again. And each time it reveals a new face, and new laugh, a sly smile, and an enticing inside glimpse that makes ordinary life seem extraordinary.
I will go back to Paris, again and again. It is my gateway to the rest of the world…and the next great adventure.