Cuba! Ahhh! Before I tell you about my fantastic Bucket List - We Beat Mickey Dee's and Starbucks to Cuba trip, I’ll give you a few helpful hints. See below.
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Next Book - Little Pampu Goes to Rome
NEXT – Day 1 of the We Beat Mickey Dee's and Starbucks to Cuba Tour!
First, I must explain something. Lenny Kravitz is my fiancé. Yes. In my head, he is my fiancé, boyfriend, Love Snuggles, just as any fan imagines having a fantasy relationship with one of their favorite musicians. I have a running joke on social media about our relationship. We are getting married on my next birthday. If you know him, tell him to be ready. Now, that I have gotten that joke out of the way, I can proceed to the last portion of the Italy trip.
When we were planning the trip, I discovered that Mr. Kravitz was going to be in Italy at Rock in Roma performing. Renae and I decided that it would be an awesome sendoff for us on our last night in Italy to see Lenny. On the advice of the hotel clerk, we reserved a taxi. Our driver spoke little English but was very clever. He drove us right into the gates of the concert by telling the guards we were Lenny Kravitz’s sisters. Lenny is an only child! Ha!
We waited for the concert to start and before entering the concert area; we bought scarves with Lenny’s image on them from a street hustler and wrapped them around our heads. Lenny was kissing my head! We took a photo with the Pepsi ladies for their Instagram page. It was great fun!
Next, we got called up to a small stage to sing along one of Lenny’s songs for another promotion before the concert. The minute we opened our mouths, the guy knew we were American. His choice of songs for us was, you know already, American Woman. As much as I listen to Lenny Kravitz at work, you would think I would know the words without hesitation. I totally screwed them up but ad libbed by mentioning Little Pampu, my children’s book character. I wish I had film or a photo of our performance. Our energy was entertaining if our voices were not. I can sing a little but you would never know it based on our rendition.
I became thirsty and approached a booth selling beer and water. I asked clearly for, “Acqua,” the Italian word for water. First, the two idiots behind the booth pretended they did not hear me. Second, they pretended they didn’t understand me. Renae noticed and requested the water. One of them seemed perturbed, removed the cap and gave the water to Renae. I slid it over to my side and asked for the cap. The extremely rude woman, who previously pretended not to hear or understand me, spoke perfect English and told me I couldn’t have it. I asked her why and she told me that they remove all caps and they aren’t allowed in the concert area. I didn’t believe her but this wasn’t the first time I felt my skin color had something to do with the nastiness we encountered in Italy.
Renae and I were probably two of the ten dark-skinned people at the concert among the crowd. We stood out and that’s how I noticed the other possible eight. When we entered the crowded area, I noticed EVERYONE had the cap to their water bottles. Ridiculous! However, I wasn’t going to allow that observation to stop me from enjoying Lenny or the concert. I was going to see my man in concert for the first time and it happened to be in another country. Lenny and I were meant to be. Haaaa!
Lenny was the headliner but his opening act was a marvelous guitarist, Gary Clark, Jr. He was awesome! Gary Clark, Jr. has a sound similar to blues/rock. Loved it! Finally, my future husband was coming onto the stage. I’ve always remarked that I would love to get my fingers stuck in his afro. He is one gorgeous man. At one point, I know he looked right at me! Anyway, his backup singers are in fabulous shape. The men in the crowd kept yelling out “Bellisimo” when the ladies were focused on the big screen or Lenny introduced them. Lenny’s drummer, Cindy Blackman Santana, was FIERCE! That woman can play!
Renae and I truly enjoyed the show. It was a fantastic way to spend our last night in Rome.
Will I go back to Rome, Italy again? Nope! God would have to tell me in a dream to go before I take that trip again. I have faced enough racism in the U.S. that I do not need to pay and fly to it elsewhere. This was my experience. Your's may be different.
The next Little Pampu children’s book, Little Pampu Goes to Rome, features the Coliseum and Pantheon! Here's the link to the book. There are two versions. One for babies and younger readers and another for older readers!
NEXT – CUBA!! We Beat Mickey Dee's and Starbucks to Cuba Tour! Helpful Hints!
During our trip to Italy, we were anxious to find shoes like the ones worn by the women of Rome. They were wearing gorgeous and comfortable heeled sandals. I don’t think I saw one woman wearing gym shoes. Renae and I were wearing flats for all of the walking we were doing. We both are shoe lovers, (What woman isn’t?) and wanted to pick up at least one pair of Italian shoes. We had previously found a mall in Rome to shop. It was not a total bust but it reminded me of the near-to-closing malls in the States. It wasn’t crowded and did not have too many stores worth visiting. We ran across a dog (one of those tiny rat-looking dogs) in pearls and dressed for shopping. I did manage to find a pair of shoes (I attempted to wear them once and they hurt my feet.) and two unique purses. Renae found a nice jacket. The sales were great! The highlight of the mall was KFC. We were so sick of eating pasta every day (I do love pasta!) that we gorged on the chicken. It was the best tasting chicken that I had ever eaten!
We decided to catch the train to Valmontone Fashion Outlet. It’s an outside mall like most outlet malls in the U.S. I was hoping that it would be worth the trip because the heat in Italy was on Las Vegas hot in August. While waiting around for our train, I took a trip to the bathroom. On my way out, I met an older gentleman, aka Papa Smurf, with a beard. He asked where I was going. I told him the outlet. Usually, I don’t EVER tell strangers about my plans. Papa Smurf told me the mall was closed. I looked him up and down and decided that he was joking because I had researched the mall. Papa Smurf said that the mall isn’t like American malls but is closed on weekends. Since my face is very expressive, I’m sure I looked at him as if he was insane (closer to BS). He was carrying a rolling suitcase and my imagination started to run wild. His next words were asking me to have a drink with him at the bar. That was not going to happen. I excused myself and walked quickly back to Renae. Papa Smurf sat on a stool watching us. Of course, I told her of our exchange. She didn’t believe him either.
While eating our lunch, a guy approached me. He started speaking in a foreign language that I was unfamiliar with. The confused look on my face and speaking in English caused him to begin conversing in English. He asked where I was from. I told him Chicago. He said, “No. Where are you originally from?” I said, “South Side of Chicago.” He asked my family’s origins. I told him Arkansas and Mississippi. He told me I looked Eritrean or Ethiopian. He thought I was from his country because of my skin tone, hair and eyes. We chatted for a few. I told him of the incidents of racism we had faced while in Rome. He wasn’t surprised and stated he also dealt with it. A few days before, a Cuban gentleman discussed it with us too. Anyway, he was a pleasant young man and I wished him peace.
We headed to our train and Papa Smurf followed. Shortly after seating, Renae noticed everyone running. We didn’t ask questions and started running too. Run first, ask questions later. After we got off the train, we were told the train was not leaving the station and we had to hurry and catch the train that was just about to leave. The idiot conductor made the announcement on only one train and everyone ran when they saw a crowd running. This is where we lost Papa Smurf.
We had to catch a taxi to the mall and luckily we shared a ride with a black Italian woman and her mother. The driver didn’t understand us and we didn’t understand him. She was the perfect translator because he had attempted to cheat all of us and was unaware that she spoke Italian. The outlet was decent but the heat was ridiculous. This time, the heat-o-meter was on HELL. I walked around with an umbrella to block the sun. Renae was totally comfortable in the heat. She found a few items. We headed back to Rome.
Since we were not very happy with our shopping excursions so far, because we both really wanted leather jackets and shoes, we decided to go to the San Lorenzo Market in Florence. It’s the renowned flea market in Italy. This trip is where we had the incident of meeting the crook. We were having a hard time figuring out where to purchase our train ticket at the station. The train attendant we approached did not speak English, impatient and rude. A woman walked up to us wearing what appeared to be an employee badge. Something was off but the badge seemed legit. She asked if she could help us. We were grateful she spoke English. She graciously instructed us on the correct ticket purchase and train location. We were relieved until her sneaky behind demanded money. The attitude we had! At first, we balked because of the deception but decided to give her something for helping us. Plus, we didn’t know if she had a crew to back her up.
All over Italy, we were warned about pickpockets. When I was researching for the trip, I read about pickpockets and scams (nothing mentioned the train scam). While on a bus, two women with a baby boarded with a stroller. Since I love babies, I watched them. I thought it was very odd that they took the baby out of the stroller, squeezed through the back of the bus carrying the infant, and then to the front. I tried to get Renae’s attention and tell her to watch her purse. However, the bus was too crowded. It was packed. They had to be up to no good and using the baby as a distraction. Most people would leave the baby in the stroller to keep it comfortable and out of the way of strangers. However, their actions were suspect. Sure enough, when we got off the bus, Renae realized that her purse had been tampered with. Luckily, nothing was taking.
We enjoyed the view on the speed train. The countryside looked beautiful! The trip was worth it! We found the softest leather that we had ever felt. Most stores had two shops, an inside store and stall outside. Most of the outside stalls carried the same items, belts, wallets, scarves, jackets, etc. as other stalls. I was able to pick up several souvenirs from the outside stalls. However, I found the best-looking deals inside the shops.
Many of the owners/sales people were pushy, too pushy! One ignorant fellow became upset because I didn’t purchase from him. I loved one of his jackets but it wasn’t my size. It was a little too tight. He tried his best to get me to buy it. He said that it was the Italian way to wear it tight. I told him that it wasn’t the American way. He continued to pull out jackets and insist that I try them on. I did not like them and finally headed out of his store. He said something that I could tell from his tone and mannerism was an insult. With that attitude, I left his store.
Renae and I both enjoyed our experience at the flea market. I was able to purchase two jackets and a purse to go with my other souvenirs. We were happy!
Next: Last Night - Lenny Kravitz Concert
After a well rested night, not really, because I spent a few hours downloading photos to social media. The internet was sketchy in our boutique hotel but it was free Wi-Fi. Giggle! Giggle! The next morning we waited for our tour guide to pick us up and take us to the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. Another couple rode with us. Our driver, aka Dude, drove as if he was at the Indy 500. The narrow roads along the mountain created enough drama for me to pray silently and grip the dashboard while we sat in front of the vehicle.
The views were spectacular! Dude told us that Sophia Loren and Denzel Washington both had homes on the mountainside. I really don’t think he was telling the truth, though. He was a good guide and friendly. We saw plenty of lemon trees. I couldn’t get a clear shot with Dude driving like a maniac. We stopped quickly to take a few photos.
We finally arrived at the small town of Amalfi on the outskirts of the Tyrrhenian Sea. It’s absolutely beautiful. It reminds me of the tiny toy homes used for decorations around Christmas to create a small village. Your perception of the water’s color depends on your closeness to shore when you view it. In most of the photos I took from a distance, the water looked blue. However, the photos I took up close of a small private beach, the reefs or plants gave it a greenish glow. I love to look at water from a distance and find it very relaxing. The views were fantastic. We walked around a bit, picked up souvenirs and sat on the beach just “chillin.” After a while, our grumbling stomachs wanted food. We found a restaurant off the beach to eat. Although the seafood was extremely fresh, I don’t enjoy my food watching me. The heads were still attached to the seafood.
After our meal and additional free time to roam, it was time to head back to our driver. Dude dropped us off with a tour guide for Pompeii. Our second tour guide, aka Insanity, informed us that his father was a guide and he became a guide, following in his dad’s footsteps. He walked extremely fast as if he was trying to beat the heat. It was another over 100 ⁰F day. We were walking on cobblestone and Insanity could care less. He was on a mission to complete the tour without anyone falling out on his watch and if they did, they were the responsibility of whoever found them.
With Insanity leading the pack, we climbed the steep stairs into the frozen city of Pompeii with its ruins. The famous ash covered people, animals and pottery are behind a solid gate. We saw the forms of a man and dog. I watched a documentary before leaving the United States (I don’t recall the name.) that mentioned the bones and organs of the people and animals were not inside the ash shapes. Their remains disintegrated years ago. The ash solidified on their bodies after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. You better believe I was a little nervous about being so close to the volcano.
We walked along the streets and according to Insanity; the city was an exciting and lively place for many travelers and inhabitants before the volcanic eruption froze it in ashes and time. Insanity talked of politicians using bribery, throwing lavish parties and writing ads on buildings to get the votes. I do not think anything has changed. I started thinking of my hometown, Chicago.
Insanity showed us the water pipes along the sides of the roads that provided fresh water to the city. We walked as Insanity zoomed in and out of other tour groups. As we walked along the street, Insanity pointed out the male organ inlaid in the street that pointed in the direction of the brothel. I took a photo of it but won’t post on this blog. Insanity joked around a lot. So much so that a few men from another tour group didn’t understand he was joking around. Insanity teased that they were taking too long and stopping too much for their tour. Between the heat and him “running his mouth,” there may have been an international incident between tour guide and tourists.
We waited outside of the brothel and Insanity continued to crack jokes. We finally entered and Insanity described several murals on the walls. He stated that the paintings depicted “special” services available in the brothel. Clients pointed at the painting and that service was provided for a fee. It was a horrible living.
We walked around the city in and out of buildings. We saw bathhouses, middle class dwellings and the famous mosaic dog in front of an entranceway. However, besides the ash covered people and objects, my favorite was the mosaics of dark skinned people. I kept repeating, “I see black people.” Soon, the tour was over and it was a relief because it was hot and we were hungry. We met up with our driver, Dude, and headed back to Rome.
Next Florence, Valmontone Fashion Outlet and Lenny Kravitz concert!
Next on our itinerary was the Pantheon! I’m a big fan of ancient architecture. I like the enormity and solidness of the structures. They appear to be indestructible and considering that most have lasted through earthquakes, wars, etc., they are. We attempted to catch a bus to the Pantheon. I attempted to ask the female driver if her bus was the correct bus to catch as I was about to put my foot on the steps. Before I could get the question out of my mouth, she started yelling, “No! No! No! No! No!” and slammed the door in my face and pulled off. Did I mention the racism or colorism was alive and well in Rome? Anyway, we made our way to it. The Pantheon is also free to enter. Outside lingering around are men dressed as gladiators to take photos with the tourists.
The Fontana del Pantheon (Fountain of the Pantheon) sits imperialistically in front of the Pantheon. The sea gods and serpents are carved from marble. It’s pretty scary-looking up close. Several people left roses on the fountain. I saw a small child dip his hand in the water and put it on his face. Since it was 200⁰F (really a little over 100⁰F), I needed any excuse to cool off. I followed the kid’s lead without thinking. The water was cold and cooled my face immediately. I didn’t regret doing it until Nurse Renae (she really is a nurse) reminded me of the horrible microbes that could have been in the water from everyone dipping their hands in it. Actually, she took a lot of pleasure tormenting me about it. Ewwww!
I walked toward the huge columns of the Pantheon while Renae took photos and the crowd was in awe too. The massive doors were open and welcomed us. It was glorious inside. The dome opening allowed light to expose the grand religious paintings and statues adjacent to the walls. The altar is facing the door opening. Several people were listening to a lecture while seated near the altar as others prayed. Many were probably taking a break and enjoying the splendor of the place while escaping the hot sun.
I stood in the middle of the Pantheon and videotaped the inside while turning in a circle. I snapped photos of each painting and the Tomb of Victor Emanuel II (first king of Italy). Several tourists were taking turns standing under the dome’s opening with their arms stretched out. The sunbeams sprinkled light dust around them as it appeared as if they were worshipping the sun. It was a great photo opportunity.
After taking several photos, we watched a street vendor escape capture from a policeman. The tiny man wiggled free from the policeman’s grasp by shimmying between his legs and leaving his merchandise. I must apologize for laughing but the way the man calmly walked away caused me to giggle. I imagined him saying, “I might get in trouble with the boss for leaving that stuff, but I’m out!” The policeman thought the vendor was harassing tourists.
After taking more photos, we decided to leave. The unbearable heat made us hungry, feel dirty and tired. We headed back to the hotel. The next day was going to be our tour of the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii!
However, we got sidetracked. You guessed it – Thrift Stores! Ha! You should scroll right on past this section of the blog if you hate thrift stores. Don’t do it! You are missing a treat!
As you have seen in the other photos of thrift stores, most of them in Italy appear to have only 70’s clothing. Yet, there are many gems in the mix. Thrift store shopping is exactly like treasure hunting – you never know what you might find and how valuable it is. We did not purchase anything. We were saving our dough for serious shopping of leather goods. It’s no way you should go to Italy and not purchase leather – especially on your first trip!
Next up Amalfi Coast and Pompeii!