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Bon Journo! We arrived in Milan Wednesday, May 14, 2008 after an uneventful flight about 1 PM and found Nicole and Jeff waiting for us. They had already decided the train would take too long and had rented a car to drive us to Rapallo. With Jeff driving it took about two hours. We were anxious to be with Ryan and Beth who had arrived 3 days earlier, but the hair-raising curves overlooking the Ligurian Sea made me want to slow down! Jeff said my nerves rivaled his mother, Jane’s! In Rapallo, we found Ryan and Beth coming back from the beach with Sandy (MOG) and brother Steven. They were red and freckled from the sun and looking great and happy! We had now been awake for over 24 hours except for a couple hours of sleep on the plane, but we were determined to keep ourselves awake until 9:00 PM so we could adjust to the 7-hour time difference by tomorrow. Our hotel, Vesuvio, is directly across the street from the Ligurian Sea and could not be more scenic. It’s bustling along the restaurant-lined street. Charming alleyways wind behind our hotel with numerous boutiques, cafes and cheese shops whose aromas are enticing. Alan and I took a walk along the boardwalk, just to keep going and then found a light bit to eat next to the hotel while sunning ourselves in the late afternoon sun. That filled the void left from the croissant and yogurt we had had on the plane at 6 AM! Back in our room, we got settled in and unpacked. I had hand-carried Bethany’s wedding gown from Chicago in its long while bag. Everyone along the way was very helpful and from Chicago to Brussels it was in a closet. One the trip between Brussels and Milan, it was not a full plane, so the dress had its own seat! It looks like it has arrived in fine shape and we can’t wait to see it on the bride! Both the bride and groom seem very calm. They have been in Italy since last Friday and enjoyed a day in Rome before coming to Santa Margherita Ligure. They had final paperwork to complete in Genoa on Monday and it is official, all is in order for them to be married on Friday in Santa Margherita. We joined our group of those who arrived early and were looking forward to enjoying some hearty pasta or pizza: Gwen (MOB), Alan (FOB), Beth (Bride), Ryan (Groom), Nicole (Matron of Honor), Jeff (husband of Nicole), Steven (Best Man), Sandra (MOG), Wayne (FOG), Mike, Uncle Jeff. We walked a few doors down the promenade and found a great restaurant where we enjoyed the whole gamut of pasta, pesto, steak, pizza di funghi, pizza di cuattro formagio, grilled zucchini and salads.First and foremost, the house wine was delicious, which we shared in pitchers. By now it is after nine and we gained a bit of a second wind and headed out on the promenade again to search for gelato. That was easy! Three doors down from the restaurant we found it and enjoyed various flavors. Now, for sure Nicole, Jeff, Alan and I were ready to drop, but Nicole and Jeff said they would go for “just one more drink” with the rest of the "clubbers" who by now are acclimated to the time change. Alan and I headed to the room and I fell asleep in the bathtub! Lucky for me, I didn’t drown! Once in bed, neither the clanging of the plates in the restaurant below nor the motor scooters on the street inhibited me from sleeping! Day 2-Thursday, May 15 Breakfast at our hotel is served from 8 AM until 10 and we barely made it on time, thanks to Bethany who phoned us. We enjoyed a great (3 cups) expresso with some croissants, yogurt, berry pie and fruit. Feeling refreshed now and ready for anything, we got ready to take the bus with Ryan, Beth Sandy and Steve to Santa Margherita to one last errand on their paperwork. The passports of the Matron of Honor and Best Man apparently didn’t scan so well, so we had to take them to the Municipal offices to copy again. Through this whole on-line wedding planning process, the paperwork bureaucracy has probably been the most nerve-racking. But, yeah, it is done and we are ready for the marriage ceremony tomorrow in Villa Durrazzo Park in a 16th century castle! Mike and Uncle Jeff are spending the day hiking in Cinque Terre and they took the train on the half-hour ride there. Bethany, Ryan, Steve and Sandy headed back to Rapallo and made arrangements wih Wayne for our “rehearsal” dinner tonight. There is really nothing to rehearse, but we are celebrating anyway with all our guests! Alan and I walked around picturesque Santa Margherita for over an hour and we stumbled onto Villa Durrazzo Park where the wedding ceremony with the town Mayor will be held tomorrow. We climbed the many steps up to the castle and went in to explore. We pretty much figured out which room the ceremony would be in from the photos we had seen on-line, but confirmed this with a lady in the office below. We also determined that Bethany could change into her gown there in one of the side rooms. Right now, the plan is for the ladies to travel fifteen minutes by boat from Rapallo to Santa Margherita with Beth dressed in her gown! We shall see how that works out! Back in Rapallo, Alan and I explored the market along the board walk which has set up today. There are leather purses, shoes and all manner of clothing. After smelling those cheeses yesterday, we had decided to make a lunch today of Italian bread cheese and wine! In the nick of time, we discovered that the shops all close at 1 PM, so we quickly got what we needed and fit in time for a cappuccino before heading back to our room with lunch. Alan is trying to catch a cold so he settled in for a nap. At 7:00 PM our whole party assembled in the hotel lobby to walk the few blocks to the restaurant. By now we’ve been joined by some more guests: Aunt Susie (Mass) and cousin Jessica (Wrigleyville), Donna and Jeff (old friends of Sandy), Becky & T.J. from Lansing, MI; Becky and John from Waconda,IL; brothers Adam (Madison) and Will (Chicago), Bob Perkins from Peoria representing the Kinsler and Blakley families. The restaurant was small but we were all at a large table in the ample outside patio under umbrellas. It was a charming setting right across from the Sea and the water was a vibrant blue and the air a comfortable temperature. First, we were served a variety of appetizers including pizza with ham and artichokes on the thinnest and most delicious crust. Even though Wayne & Sandy had reserved a table for 22, the owner told them after the salad that he was overwhelmed with the number of people and couldn’t let us order individual meals. Instead he would serve us family style. There were plenty of pitchers of red wine and we adopted the attitude of “when in Italy…….” and all was fine. We were served seafood pasta and a spaghetti family style with lots of bread of different varieties. Coffee with dessert of apple cake and a type of brownie were satisfying to end a lovely evening. After dinner, we lingered on the patio as bottles of lemoncello and grappe had been purchased by some not to be named guests! I only sipped the grappe and found it to taste like “poison,” but the lemoncello was very smooth and delicious! When the owner told us we had to leave, we headed back toward the hotel with a stop off at the “Bar Sol” where we continued our merriment with beers and wine compliments of Wayne! By 11:30, Alan and I were more than ready to get some sleep so we meandered back to the hotel with our long-time friend, “Perky”.

Day 3-Friday, May 16 WEDDING DAY At breakfast in the lobby everyone was full of anticipation and excitement. Bethany and Ryan are so happy, yet a bit nervous. Our plan now is to get all dressed and carry our dresses on the boat to Santa Margherita with an 11:00 AM departure. Our whole “parade” walked across the street to the dock to find that the boat wasn’t running due to “maritime conditions.” There was a slight haze in the sky and it was threadtening with rain drips, but didn’t seem so bad. Okay, Plan B: we are walked to the bus stop and waited for the bus to Santa Margherita. After 20 minutes of waiting, I was starting to get nervous, but Bethany remained confident and sure enough, the bus came and we all fit on with the local crowd. On the bus we met a couple who had just gotten married in the States and were honeymooning in Italy. Everyone was smiling and trying to figure out which beauty was the bride! It’s only a ten-minute bus ride and then began our four block walk to the Durazzo Park where we climbed the 100 steps up to Castello Brown (Castle). (Yes, still carrying the wedding gown, Beth’s gorgeous bouquet Of “burnt orange” calla lilies and our long dresses!) The photographer and Laura, our assistant and translator was waiting for us and she showed us to the dressing room. Laura, herself, has gotten married the day before to her Italian husband and plans to live in Italy! Once in our quiet room, hidden from everone’s view, we could take a deep breath and cool off a bit. Nicole helped Bethany slip into her gown and she became a fairy-tale princess! She swept up her hair, and put a flower by her ear and was ready to march down the aisle with her father, Alan. Sandy and I looked pretty good ourselves and of course, Nicole was gorgeous in her bright pink bubble dress! We could hear the lovely violin music down below and our guests were all seated. Wayne, Sandy and I walked in to be seated and there was Ryan and Steve waiting on us, looking very handsome, along with the town mayor, a woman, draped in the banner of Italy. They were standing behind a table with four velvet chairs with the flag of Santa Margherita as a backdrop. Ryan was smiling ear to ear and looked calm. Next came Nicole to take her place at the table. Now, the violinist became animated and we heard the wedding march as Bethany strolled down the aisle with her father, fighting back the tears as she kept her eyes on Ryan. They joined hands and were asked to sit at the table. Here they remained, seated, throughout the short ceremony.
The mayor was all smiles and seemed very sweet and happy for them. At one point, she stopped and let Bethany catch her breath. When she got hold of Ryan’s hand, Bethany said she was much better! We really appreciate Bob taking charge of videoing the entire ceremony on our Flip camera. Beth and Ryan were all smiles as they were introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Johnston by the Mayor and they cheered as they exited down the aisle. We followed them out the the patio where the photographer spent at least an hour photographing them in the many gorgeous and scenic areas of the castle and the park. He included all the guests in many of these photos, as well. The sky was overcast and we were battling a slight mist off and on, but the clouds began to lift and there was some visible sunlight. When we thought we could handle no more photos, we made our various ways to the Hotel Imperiale where the “aperitif” would begin at 4:30. Taking another set of steps down the front entrance of the castle was an adventure in high hells and long dresses, but hey, it’s a medieval castle and they didn’t know from “handicapped” back then! Laura was kind enough to drive the wedding party up the hill in her car as she was heading that way to go back home. We were all kind of in need of de-stressing, but the wait for 4:30 at times seemed long. We had a lovely sun-filled room in the hotel bar to wait and once we figured out we could order some light sandwiches at premium prices and we sent out some of the younger guys for focaccia at better prices, the wait didn’t seem so long. At some point, Mike put his magic fingers to the keyboard of the grand piano in the room and that was just the entertainment that we needed! Beth arranged to bump the beginning of the appertif forward one-half hour, so that worked out well. One-hundred percent of this wedding that we planned through “Italian” was based on a leap of faith with a “wing and a prayer” thrown in! It turned out to be all that we expected and more, like a fairy tale I would say! All we knew about the “appertif” was that it lasted an hour before the dinner reception would begin. It was much more than I expected with champagne flowing as well as “bellinis,” which are peach nectar mixed with champagne and very delicious! There was also a mixed berry drink that added to champagne along with mini-focaccias, olives and delicious potato chips with all the grease that we enjoyed as kids. We watch our carbs and rarely buy potato chips, so it’s a fine little treat for Alan and I. As the mother of the bride, I honestly claim no objectivity in describing her, but several more objective guests said she was the most beautiful bride they have ever seen. I am sure Ryan felt the same as he had a smile on his face all evening! Just before everyone climbed the stairs to the Belvedere room, Alan and I went up there to place our gifts for the guests on the table. We had brought engraved heart-shaped jewelry boxes for the ladies and money clips for the men. They were a surprise and appreciated by all! It was actually a little tough to find a spot for the gifts on the table among the many accoutrements we found there at each place setting: menu, multiple pieces of silverware, 3 wine glasses and name cards. Our 6 course meal came at a leisurely pace, and it is a good thing because the food was rich and abundant. Each course came individually with time to recover in-between. As the courses changed, so did the color of the wine! After we had eaten octopus sald and with green beans and vegetable as trofie pasta with scampi, the melted risotto with mushrooms arrived. After each course the waiter came around offering seconds, but the 15” oval bowl of more risotto was way much more than we could take even though it was delicious served on a thin-as-paper round of parmesano. As we moved on, the carving of the leg of vela was a ceremony and delicious along with the rosemary potatoes and vegetable panache. The cutting of the cake was an event in itself, as well. Bethany had requested flowers to match her bouquet, but who would have imagined strawberries and celery leaves cascading down from the flowers? Here my objectivity is certain; it was the most beautiful and elaborate wedding cake I have ever seen! Ryan and Beth were feeling spunky now and they cut the cake and smashed some into each other’s faces! The multiple layers were filled with strawberries and it was delicious! The spumante was poured as we ate our cake and Steven and Nicole gave beautiful speeches for their brother and sister. After a bit, I stood up and said a few words for Alan and I. He was very sick with a cold and cough right before the ceremony and didn’t think he could talk at this point. I officially welcomed Ryan into our family and expressed our endless appreciation to all our guests who had come so far to celebrate with us. Back at the table, Sandy was in tears: and after a long day of emotions, we had our motherly cry!! Next came the coffee and homemade pastries! We couldn’t believe there would be more, but it was a just tiny tray with bite-sized cookies to sweeten the expresso! Music had been piped in all evening, but Ryan finally figured out how to attach his Ipod, so they could do the “first-dance” at the last. They did it and looked beautiful and fresh still as they danced to their chosen song. We lingered for a while marveling at how perfect an evening we had just had, as weenjoyed the delightful night air and the views off the terrace. Finally, we knew it was time for us to leave, but the buses were no longer running, so we all headed back to our hotel in 4 taxis. Not wanting our fairy tale to end, yet exhausted, we decided against going down to the street to a bar but congregated in Will and Adam’s room. Alan was too wiped out to join in and I stayed for half an hour, now realizing that I had was getting the cold Alan had!

Day 4-Saturday, May 17 We all met in the hotel breakfast room for one last gathering before everyone headed to their various destinations and to wish Bethany and Ryan "BON VOYAGE!" They were off to Lake Como on the train at 1:00 PM. Perky has a car and he decided to drive Nicole, Jeff and us to Cinque Terre.
Day 8, Wednesday, May 21 We had checked out our route to the train station on Monday and had returned there on Tuesday to buy our train tickets to Milan, but we were dreading the five-block walk dragging our luggage. The day dawned beautifully, the sun was shining and the temperature so pleasant, much like we had expected the whole week to be. The Italians have been talking about how unusual this continuous rain is for them. They have told us there is rain this time of year, but it only lasts a short time, usually! The walk to the station was really not bad at all; we were considerate and so were others on the narrow sidewalk and we got there with plenty of time to spare. We chose second-class tickets not knowing what to expect of these, but were real glad we did as we boarded the train and found the car absolutely wonderful, comfortable and clean. The 3-hour ride to Milan was a joy; we saw beautiful scenery and passed through long tunnels through mountains, scooted across vineyards, citrus and cornfields. The time went by quickly and Alan didn’t even sleep; I enjoyed crocheting in-between my views of the scenery. Promptly at 12:00, as expected, we pulled into the train station in Milan. Now, solving the mysteries of navigating Milan began! Little-by-little we figured out everything we needed to know to store our bags, visit Milan and then get to our airport hotel an hour away. At the tourist information booth, the man was quite helpful and provided us with a map. It was a relief to be without our bags; and we sat in the sun and enjoyed a ham and cheese sandwich we brought along from the hotel breakfast nook this morning. The snack was just the energy boost we needed to go two flights below the street to catch the subway directly to the Piazza Duomo where its Cathedral is breathtaking. I particularly loved our stroll through the Galleria Vitorio Emmanuele II, known as the “living room of Milan.” It is immediately clear that the juxtaposition of the ancient architecture with modern fashion icons like Prada, Louis Vitton, Versace, Yves Saint Laurent and the ubiquitous McDonalds all on this sun-filled walkway is what makes Milan the unique city that it is! We continued our walk, following the map, past La Scala Threatre and then on to Montenapoleone, “The Fifth Avenue of Milan.” This walk was definitely JUST window shopping! Once at the end, we circled around until we found a small shop where we had our last cappuccino of this trip. Afternoon “capu” is definitely a way of life I could get used to! Retracing our steps along the avenue, we were one stop closer to the train station, so we hopped on the subway to return there. By now we felt like experts in navigating the train station; retrieved our luggage and headed for the bus stop for our ride to the airport. We were supposed to call the hotel when we were at the airport for them to send a shuttle, but as we stepped off the bus we saw the shuttle zip by and stop up ahead, so we ran to catch it: -erfect timing! Recommended by Sandy, the First Hotel is wonderful; there is even internet in the room! We dined in the hotel and enjoy our last variety of tasty breads and pasta before arranging a 3:45 wake-up call for the morning shuttle to the airport ARREVEDERCI, ITALY!


ReviewGal said…
Mi amiga - que una boda fantastica!!! y su viaje tambien! Quiero encontrar con tu y Linda cuando regresas. Me mandas una email cuando tu disponible. Tenga un buen viaje y divertirse sus memorias de este tiempo!! Debbie
What a wonderful travelogue ... pictures and all ... and I cannot wait to talk with you! Beth & Ryan's wedding was so beautiful, charming, and 'fairy tale' ... anxious to see the pictures! Your dialogue, Gwen, is entertaining and picturesque. Have a wonderful trip throughout Italy & "Happy, Happy Birthday, Gwen" ... see you May 31! Love, Deb & Mike

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