Conclusion – My travels through Greece, Italy and Israel

I’m back home in Newport, Rhode Island, now.

As I reflect on my recent winter sojourn through Greece, Italy and Israel, I recall some of the people I encountered along the way. Following are photos of a few of them.

Faces of Greece

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Faces of Italy

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Faces of Israel

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Travelogue written by Merrilee Zellner

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Images of Israel – Jerusalem

I visited Jerusalem during Jewish Passover or Pesach. Hence the reason for crowds of Jews within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem making their way through the narrow streets for the Western Wall.  Passover is the most important feast in the Jewish religious calendar. It commemorates the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt and the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea as told in Exodus of the Bible

Jerusalem is located on a plateau between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea and is considered the most holy to three major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

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Images of The West Bank – Ramallah

The thriving cosmopolitan city of Ramallah is the Capitol of the West Bank. It is located approximately six miles north of Jerusalem with a population of about 65,000 people, most of whom are Arabs.

A friend and I hired an Arab taxi driver, whom we met outside Damascas Gate of Old Jerusalem, to take us there one afternoon.  We felt comfortably safe during the entire trip.

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Images of Israel – Tel Aviv

During my visit to Israel on this trip I visited Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Ramallah on the West Bank. Tel Aviv, Israel, is located on the Mediterranean coast and has stunning beaches. The ancient port city of Old Jaffa is part of ithe city’s heritage.

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Naples, A Historic Charmer

IMG_5167 resiedOne of the main things that enticed me to stop for a few days in the ancient port city of Naples, Italy, was the fact that the Centro Storico (Historic Center) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Naples, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world spanning 27 centuries of history, is the third largest municipality in Italy after Rome and Milan.IMG_4449 resized

Naples boasts of several castles, one of which is perched high on a hill. The hilltop 13th century medieval fortress of Castel Sant’Elmo offers stunning 360 degree vistas of Naples city and harbor. Originally it was likely a fortified residence, surrounded by walls.IMG_4502 resized

For hours I wandered the narrow streets of the fascinating Centro Storico, the largest historic city center in Europe. The delightful smell of fresh Neapolitan pizza permeated the air. Naples is synonymous with pizza which originated in the city. In charming, hidden plazas people were socializing in outdoor cafes and on the steps of beautiful fountains. IMG_4513 resizedIn one part of Centro Storico the academic atmosphere of the local university was present in the form of numerous small bookstores, some filling the sidewalk in front with what appeared to be new and used books for sale.

IMG_4550 resizedI stayed on the edge of the port where cruise ships pull in and where US and NATO ships have docked over the years. The city hosts NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples. Just around the corner from my hostel was the delicious Italian Castel Nuevo Restaurant which had been owned by two brothers for years.

IMG_4549 resizedTwo walls of the restaurant were full of photographs of US and NATO Naval ships, each personally signed and dated. Many had notes written on them thanking the restaurant owners for their great food and hospitality in support of the men and women in uniform who frequented their place. One of the owners of the restaurant beamed while we discussed the importance of his restaurant to US and NATO military personnel. Each time I returned I felt like I had just come home.

IMG_5064 resizedThe street vendors were out in full force the day I pass through the two cylindrical towers of the medieval city gate of Porta Nolana. Along the main street of the historic Mercato di Porta Nolana colorful fresh fruit and vegetables were piled neatly on tables. IMG_5126 resizedIn the fish market fishermen, wearing rubber boots, were constantly attending their catch with buckets of ice and water. Penetrating voices of hawkers filled the air. On side streets under crumbling walls vendors sat alongside their trucks which were laden with crates of foodstuff for sale.IMG_5130 resized

Not everything in Naples is old and historic. A wide pedestrian street in the middle of town with upscale shops and restaurants attracts huge crowds of well-heeled locals every weekend, many stopping to admire each others pets on a leash.  IMG_5244 resized

There is something for everyone in Naples.


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A Day Trip to Nettuno, Italy

IMG_5417 resizedWhile I was residing in Rome, I was invited by a *Servas Host who is a retired Italian Army officer, for a day visit to the nearby seaside resort town of Nettuno where he lives.IMG_5436 resized

The dynamic history of Nettuno and neighboring Anzio about 35 miles south of Rome spans over two thousand years and includes dramatic WWII history. Anzio was the birthplace of Roman Emperor Nero, and the location of his extensive summer palace during his reign as Emperor 54-68 AD. The walled town of Nettuno has a well-preserved old quarter with medieval streets and a castle which was built in 1503.  Allied forces did an amphibious landing on the beaches of Nettuno and Anzio on January 22, 1944. This was followed by the Anzio-Nettuno Battle which started the campaign to liberate Rome.IMG_5354 resized

Servas Host Carmine and Perlita picked me up at the Nettuno train station and whisked me off to the nearby Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial. We were given a brief history of the WWII battle by a knowledgeable retired US Army officer who worked there. Over 7,500 U.S. soldiers are buried there. The reflecting pond and memorial building were very moving.IMG_5379 resized

Later we explored the picturesque, narrow streets of Nettuno, stopping for gelato at an outdoor cafe.  The colorful, historic town, seen from its pristine beach, loomed high above its old walls. Its touristic harbor hosts fishing and pleasure craft, many of which were still wrapped in plastic for the winter.

IMG_5444 resizedIn Anzio the surf crashed on huge stones which were part of the ruins of Nero’s villa. Walls and caves that made up his villa line the cliffs that rise up along the beach. Conservators are working on the problem of preserving these ruins due to erosion caused by their close proximity to the sea.IMG_5443 resized

Lunch was at Carmine’s house, a relatively new three level townhouse on the outskirts of town, which he has owned for several years. He invited his friend Yorgo, a flamboyant, sun-bronzed Sicilian-born man, to prepare a meal for us.  Soon piping hot pasta with seafood sauce and salad was in front of us at the dining room table.  Lively conversation ensued.IMG_5376 resized

As I headed back to Rome on the train after saying goodbye to Carmine and Perlita, I thought about what a special day I had just spent in Nettuno. I am continually amazed at how Servas brings special people and international experiences into my life.


History continues to put its stamp on Nettuno. In the late 1980s, it figured prominently as a transit point for thousands of Jewish immigrants from The Soviet Union on their way to Israel or the United States.


* Servas is a non-profit peace organization of hosts and travelers

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Communal Dining Italian-style – Great for the Solo Traveler

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An Italian food adventure started one day with lunch at Trattoria Mario, a tiny, noisy, restaurant favored by locals and tourists alike. It was located just outside the Central Market which I explored afterwards.  This was the day I was introduced to communal dining, Italian-style.   As a solo traveler, this added a special element to my dining experience.

There were no frills at Mario’s – only large quantities of good Italian food at reasonable prices. They seated me at a communal table with three international travelers in the packed trattoria. IMG_6378 resizedOne person was John, a young man from Ohio who was teaching Chemistry in London. He was having the time of his life taking advantage of Europe’s cheap airlines by hopping around Europe on weekends. The other two, who were friends from a university in Spain where they were studying, were from Taiwan and China. A lively conversation ensued over a delicious lunch.IMG_6283 resized

I ran into John later that afternoon sitting at a communal table on the second floor of the huge Central Market taking in the eclectic, cosmopolitan atmosphere that surrounded him. We were in the middle of a thriving, upscale marketplace where Italian cuisine was cooked to order in a trendy, yet casual atmosphere. Tourists and well-dressed Florentines crowded the various self-serve food counters while waiting for their orders. Staff belted out numbers in Italian and English when the orders were ready.IMG_6476 resized

“New Age” came to my thought as I worked my way through the throngs of people while passing upscale wine bars, cheese and salami platters, a beer garden, fresh pasta dishes being served piping hot, pizza coming out of a brick oven, and brilliant colors of gelato being served up in huge scoops. IMG_6296 resizedA man with a pushcart selling mozzarella cheese balls caught my attention when he blew his horn, plus he caught the attention of just about everyone he passed. He obviously enjoyed the attention and the resulting business.IMG_6305 resized

I noticed a thought-provoking sign on a wall in the market which said “Italy is *Eataly.” I was familiar with the word “Eataly” from the operation of that name in New York City which I had visited. It is a high-end Italian food market chain which includes restaurants, beverage stations and Italian cooking classes. The point of the sign was that Italians don’t have to turn their eateries into a chain to make them special. Their eateries are special by the very nature of them being Italian. Brilliant sign to have in such a place as this, I thought.

IMG_6311 resizedI returned to the Central Market two more times before I left Florence. The first time I enjoyed a freshly cooked pasta meal in amazing surroundings. The next time I found a relatively quiet corner with a nearby electrical outlet and went to work on my blog using free WIFI and snacking on various food that was being offered at nearby counters. The continual change of people, languages, and food that revolved around me while I worked kept me entertained for hours.


IMG_6833 resizedI shall never forget Pompi, the shop in Rome near the Spanish Steps which specializes in six kinds of tiramisu, a delectable, Italian coffee-flavored desert.IMG_6811 resized I stopped there at every opportunity and bought a piece to go.  Then I sat on the nearby Spanish Steps eating it while talking to people from various parts of the world who were seated around me.  This was communal dining at its best!


A special element can be added to one’s experience with communal dining, especially if traveling solo.



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Florence, a Renaissance Treat

IMG_6397 resizedFlorence, birthplace of Michelangelo, is full of stunning architecture, most of which is from the Renaissance era of the 15th & 16th Centuries. IMG_6038 resizedThere are no glittering new high rises to interrupt the skyline of this exquisite Renaissance city as seen from the top of the campanile (bell tower) of The Duomo. The historic Arno River winds its way through the old city dotted with bridges.

The Duomo, the main church of Florence and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a showpiece of Florentine Gothic architecture. It took almost 150 years to build, starting in 1296. Its beauty can be seen from the pedestrian streets that radiate out from it.

IMG_6490 resizedIt’s almost Pasqua (Easter) and the city is bursting with international tourists. Many school groups from America on spring break cross my path daily. Winter temperatures are over; my jacket stays permanently off during the numerous sunny days that are upon us. My favorite hang-out place is a pizza shop where I can sit outside in the long shadow of the cathedral and watch the world go by.


IMG_6438 resizedI start each day with a brisk walk along the riverfront, along with various joggers and bikers. I make a quick stop at one of my favorite patisserie shops for a couple of fresh croissants, then pass through an arched gateway of the old city walls. IMG_6444 resizedAs I walk over one of the bridges that spans the swift Arno River, I revel in the beauty of the Renaissance buildings that line both sides, one of which is the US Embassy (see photo).

No bridges on the Arno River are more colorful than the old stone Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge that the retreating Germans left standing in 1944. Ponte Vecchio dates from 1345 and has housed jewelry shops since the 16th century.IMG_6650 resized

My morning walk invariably turns into an afternoon walk when I get sidetracked by leather goods for sale everywhere. A special favorite is an outdoor leather market which spans a square under a beautiful arched stone canopy. Leather factories abound in the surrounding hills of Tuscany, making the price of leather goods in Florence reasonable – with hard bargaining.IMG_5979 resized

I love being surprised with a stunning, historic fountain or statue in one of Florence’s numerous hidden squares. A favorite is the Fountain of Neptune in front of Palazzio Vecchio, the impressive fortress-palace Town Hall of Florence.  The fountain was commissioned in 1556 and is the work of the sculptor Bartolomeo Ammannati.IMG_6512 resized

Maneuvering through crowded pedestrian streets is a delightful challenge while trying to get the best composition and lighting for creative photos. I dodge bikers, baby carriages, tour groups, outdoor cafes, street performers, artist’s beautiful pavement drawings (which change daily), and roaming peddlers.IMG_5994 resized

I occasionally finish an evening listening to famous arias from popular operas sung by professional opera singers in a historic church, or enjoying the company of new *Servas friends over pizza.IMG_6684 resized


* Servas – A non-profit international peace organization of hosts and travelers –

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Images of Rome – Part II

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Images of Rome – Part I

The saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” has new meaning to me after spending a couple of weeks exploring ancient Rome along with the vibrant, modern city that greets one at every turn in the road.

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