Of all the events that happened during the three years we were in Germany, our 10-day trip to Italy in March of 1967 was undoubtedly the best. In fact, we fell in love with it so much that we were going to request Italy as one of our future overseas tours.
We saved our money for months and made arrangements to leave Dee and Heidi with sitters. Heidi stayed with the guys in the barracks and Dee stayed with our housekeeper/nanny, Huddy White, who kept her during the day while I was at work and often took her home with her. Huddy had three boys and loved Dee like she was her own. We felt blessed to have found her.
We also had added a vehicle to our possessions — a new Volkswagen “squareback” sedan. It actually was a miniature station wagon and would take us through the narrow streets of the little towns and villages without scraping its sides, a hazard we discovered when trying to travel in the Ford Fairlane. Although the Fairlane was almost unbeatable on the Autobahn, it was no contender for the small cars one needed to properly sightsee in European villages.
Neither of us was a fan of hostels or camping so we decided to splurge and stay in motels and hotels, a luxury that put a dent in our budget. To compensate, we loaded up with Spam, canned beans and franks, various cheeses, bread, crackers and several bottles of wine — things we could eat in the room or on the go. However, most motels included one meal in the daily fare so we didn’t really eat that badly. We also had to load up with gasoline coupons that had to be purchased on the Army base. With the coupons, we paid about 25 cents per gallon. On the economy and without coupons, you paid about $1 per gallon.
We left Ludwigsburg and headed south through Munich, Garmisch, and Innsbruck, and on up through the Brenner Pass, the only route to Italy that was open in March (because of snow), and headed for Florence, our first stop in Italy. We intended to do some serious sightseeing in Florence but not until later when we could take our time. So, the next day we headed west to Pisa (taking proper tourist shots of the leaning tower along the way) and the American Army base, located on the Mediterranean. From our first arrival in Italy we were gawkers at the beautiful antiquated scenery and the base was no exception. They had their own beach and I took a photo of Butch standing there in his suit and tie, barefoot, up to his ankles in Mediterranean sea water. Yes it was cold but who could pass that opportunity up?
We decided to go all the way to the bottom of Italy’s “boot” and work our way back up, so, after picking up a few souvenirs at Jim’s Alabaster Shop (including a true, miniature, immodest statue of David which was proving hard to find) we headed back to Florence and the Autostrada (Italian super highway) to head south to Naples and Sorrento.
I think I could have stayed in Sorrento forever. Our hotel, the Bristol (which is still there) was perched high on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean sea and the Isle of Capri. Directly below was a strip of black sandy beach with tiny fishing boats lining the edge. West of the hotel, Mount Vesuvius rose majestically in the distance, with steam floating from its peak each night as the temperature cooled around it. It was like something out of a romance novel. We stayed four days, using the location as a hub for tours to Vesuvius, Pompeii, Amalfi, Naples and anywhere and everywhere we considered interesting. Butch, being a history nut, was in seventh heaven. We were fortunate to have a waiter who spoke English assigned to our table each night and, amazingly, he was from Ludwigsburg. Talk about a small world!
Reluctantly, we left and headed back north for one of the two stops we considered “musts,” Rome and the Vatican, and Florence, home of the original Michelangelo’s David. Rome was a two-day stay and we were not disappointed. We happened upon St. Peter’s Square all of a sudden and its grandeur literally took my breath away. You just can’t say enough about this wonderful city — the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, St. Peter’s, the Sistine Chapel, the all-surrounding, amazing art — it was almost too much to take in and we wished we had more time. But on we went, north again to Florence in search of our beautiful David.
Alas, our hopes were dashed. The Academy Gallery where David was housed had been flooded and was closed for repairs. We had to be happy with finding one in an obscure piazza somewhere in Florence. Although this put a damper on our trip, we headed back to Ludwigsburg with our treasures and photos, back over the mountains trying to avoid the land trains (Italy’s answer to our double 18-wheelers) and back home where it was difficult to put our feet back on the ground. It was good to get the family back together, however. Heidi recognized our car the minute we were on post and trotted alongside all the way to the barracks. Our almost-three-year-old was also glad to see us, although I sometimes think she was just as happy at Huddy’s as she was with us.
I still have the album of photos we saved. My memories described above seem like yesterday. Remember, this was March of 1967 — nearly 50 years ago. I am grateful to still have these memories of my terrific hubby and the times we shared. Little did I know that we would only have five more years together.
Next time, back to the states and the yearning for a Krystal.
Judy Kilgore is the religion editor for The Citizen.