Friday, July 16, 2010

Memories of Dining in Tuscany

After Rome, we went to Tuscany to stay at my brother’s villa in Montefienali. This place was incredible in so many ways and is available for rent much of the year. Although I haven’t written about our time in Tuscany much, I did write about a luncheon we had. Here is that story.

Memories of dining in Tuscany

When my fiancé and I discussed our time in Tuscany with our family, I asked Donna what single moment or event stood out beyond all of the rest. She talked about some of the special moments that we experienced such as arriving in Montefienali and discovering the Villa for the first time. She also mentioned when we were visiting Florence and were in the piazza della Signoria, the heavens opened up and the most incredible deluge fell from the sky. We were driven into the Loggia dei Lanzi which must be at least thirty feet deep and yet the wind and rain was so powerful that we were getting wet against the back wall. And then it began to hail. Balls of ice the size of large marbles were bouncing all around us. But I digress…

The one single event that we easily agreed was the crowning moment of our time in Tuscany was the lunch that we had at country osteria called Villa di Sotto near Castelnuovo Beradenga that as we were arriving seemed to be out in a field in the middle of just about nowhere. We had to drive through someone’s front yard and along the side of their house to get to this field first; then down an old dirt road to a group of farm houses that were the restaurant and the residence of the owners. Turns out that it is also a bed and breakfast. Entering the restaurant was like a blast from the past. Stone walls, some plastered, some not. Walls two feet thick. Tile and marble floors lots of heavy woodwork and upstairs where we ate, half the room was floor to ceiling bookcases with different types of wine. Clearly not much had changed here in centuries. Looking out the window I saw olive trees and fields of grapes! I had arrived.

The menu was on a chalk board leaning in the window at the end of the table. The owner, who was also our waiter reminded us of an Italian version of the English comedian ‘Mr. Bean’. Actually, although he looked very much like Bean, his mannerisms were also very similar. It added a whole new dimension to the experience and he gave us excellent service. We were a pretty large group; there was our (extended) family of eight another couple and a family of three that lives up the hill in the Borgo making us a group of thirteen. The wine was on shelves behind us and we began the meal by selecting a few bottles of the house wine which is made from the grapes growing in the fields around complex. An excellent Chainti!

In Italy, many meals begin with plates of antipasto, olive oil and bread. This meal was no different except that the variety and selection of cured meats that were served was superb. The olive oil was also a product of the farm as, I was told, are all vegetables and salad greens that would be served today. Rumor had it that when you ordered it, they would go out and harvest your order. Naturally, the menu on the chalk board was in Italian. Those of us that understood it translated for those that didn’t. In the end, it boiled down to a few special plates that were ordered in quantity. More than a few ordered the local (fat) spaghetti covered with what was described a boar stew sauce. Others ordered risotto with zucchini flowers. Gwynne was in heaven when she tasted the risotto, a smile brightened her face and her eyes shrank to slits as she explained that this was the best risotto that she had ever tasted. Gwynne and Donna had also ordered the most incredible combination of grilled vegetables which I was happy to share with them. At our one end of the table we all decided to have bistecca alla Fiorentina. This is the flagship Tuscan steak made from the region’s Chianina breed of cattle which are prized for their tenderness and flavor. It had been years since I had eaten it and Leonardo assured us that no trip to Tuscany should occur without enjoying this meal. As good as all of the other plates looked and tasted, the steaks were incredible. They served a pile of enormous steaks cut into strips and piled on a large cutting board in the center of group and we all proceeded to dig in. Leonardo had ordered wild boar steaks in a berry sauce and potatoes ‘al forno’ which he shared with those around him (he really didn’t have a choice). This was a group that understood the concept of fine dining Italian style. What a meal, loud boisterous conversation, fine conversations, family all around, everyone eating off of everyone else’s plates, fresh from the field country salads…and then for desert, at Leonardo’s request (he called in advance) they had baked two ricotta and hazelnut pies for us that were out of this world! Naturally, espressos all around were in order with this delectable pastry. What a meal!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rome, June 2010 Day Five, Sunday

The big plan for today was for me to go to the airport and rent the car that we will use as we tool around Tuscany for the next week or so. As usual, I hopped a ride to the Piazza Mazzini apartment. Beatrice’s printer was capoot and I needed paperwork to rent the car. I sat down in her dad’s office and plugged the USB cable from her dad’s printer into Donnas’ laptop. The printer wasn’t even on and the Windows 7 operating system recognized the printer and went online to locate the necessary driver and installation software. With permission, it loaded everything and offered to print a test sheet as well. Windows 7 is a complete wonder of an operating system. For anyone still using XP or Windows Vista, I strongly recommend an update.

Shortly later I was off on my adventure. I had to buy a couple of bus passes since I had used the last ones getting home the previous evening. As usual, the 628 presented itself and I got on. I rode it to Flaminio (just outside of the gates at Piazza del Popolo) and walked uphill, underground to the subway. All I can figure is that the subway is under the Borgese Gardens which slope uphill from that piazza. From there, a quick run to Termini (the central train station). Up, up, up, more and more and more escalators got me to the ground level where I purchased a ticket to Fiumicino (Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport) and was told that it departed from rail # 28. Well I went out to the rails, I was at # 17, following off to the right I counted all the way up to 25 and then there was a solid building. Very suspicious. As I reached the end a sign pointing down the track indicated that 26-28 were down there. So I started walking, it must have been more than a half mile down but eventually I arrived at the mysteriously missing tracks nicely arranged next to track 25. It was a quiet and leisurely ride out, and I found the rental place without ado. The lady charged me an extra 12 Euro a day for the Tom-Tom GPS unit but I already know that it was worth it. Returning to Rome it worked flawlessly. It knew about every counterintuitive move that was necessary to get me to the center of town. I was tempted to ignore it when it seemed to be wrong but I decided to trust it until I saw the Mouth of Truth. At that point it wanted me to veer right toward Piazza Venetzia and I wanted to continue along Lungo Tevere toward Campo Di Fiori. So, since I ignored it, I was immediately forced to make a left onto a bridge and another left at the end of the bridge and I was heading back toward the airport all over again. Fortunately, Tom-Tom had some ideas for me. First he wanted me to go right down an alley, when I failed to make that right, he led me back across the next bridge and from there I defeated that loop and eventually got all the way to the side of San Andrea della Valle where I did as the Romans do and parked with two wheels on the sidewalk and two on the street with the driver mirror folded in so that no one would break it off.

I rang Shirley’s door bell and no one answered. I called her cell phoe and then mom’s with the same results.They weren’t home and they were out of communication. Mom had said that they were going out to lunch. Wondering where they might be, I wandered over to the Campo. Tried to call again and failed. I looked in at a few restaurants as I crossed the Campo and ended up eating at a ‘Tavola Calda’- a place that sells pizza by the slice and other things like Suppli or roast chicken. The contents can vary. I had a slice of white pizza sliced down the center and filled with prosciutto and mozzarella. They were still not home. I remembered that Mom had pointed out a restaurant the previous day that she said was Shirley’s favorite, I went dowen that way and found them inside finishing up their meal. They were mystified how I had found them, I told them that I was psychic. I visited with Mom and Shirley for a while, they finished lunch, had coffee and paid their bill. As they headed home, I headed off to meet Donna as her day of teaching was coming to an end. What fun, driving in Rome again. It is just like a mini demolition derby thing except even though everyone IS out to get you, they don’t actually want to damage their car in the process. There is a sort of poetic flow to driving in Rome when the traffic is moving and since it was Sunday, I had a blast. Arriving at the apartment in piazza Mazzini, I found a parking space immediately (another perk that is available on Sundays) and climbed up to the apartment. I only had minutes to work on the Rome blog before Beatrice roped me into helping her put the house back in order. The workshop was over and her parents were coming back the next day. We had a massive amount of stuff to carry down to the street and pack into the cars but it all fit and we said goodbye to Bea trusting the Tom Tom would get us home. It seemed like it led us around in circles but eventually I started recognizing the landmarks and I was totally amazed when we ended up on Bea's street and found a parking space right in front of her apartment building.

Rome, June 2010 Day Four

As with the other days, this day began at Beatrice’s parent’s house where Donna was teaching the Advanced Feldenkrais Training. I departed from there and walked over to the bus stop to catch the 628 into town. I had decided to get off at Flaminio which is just outside Piazza del Popolo and walk through a good part of the old City on the way to join my Mom near the Campo dei Fiori. Arriving there I proceeded to photograph the arch before entering through the walls of the City. Just inside on the left is a church called Santa Maria del Popolo. Mom had castigated me on previous visits for failing to go see the Caravaggio paintings that hang there. I decided to earn brownie points and go see them. I have to admit that the guy is pretty good even if he isn’t Michelangelo (actually his name is also Michelangelo but he is not THE Michelangelo). One of the paintings was the Crucifixion of Peter and the other was a soldier being trampled by a horse. I really like the crucifixion one. From there I crossed the square, photographed the Obelisk and proceeded toward via del Babuino. Along the Babuino I glanced in the stores, all the big names here, went into the Anglican church but it was just too English. Further down (almost to the piazza di Spagna) was the place we had discovered full of statues. I went in and looked around and tried to sneak some photos. The Spanish Steps were as magical as ever. I took a photo of the steps but focused more on the fountain this time. I’m doing a job in Cardiff right now and we are discussing fountains. I want to be ready to address that subject when I return with lots of examples. Somewhere along the line over the past few days I became interested in the street names in Rome so I started photographing them whenever I saw a street of note. Mostly, I was not interested in the famous ones (some of those did get photographed) but rather in the ones that grabbed me for some other reason. There was a street named after the craftsmen who re-weave the wicker into an old worn out chair and another named after the guys who made nails. There was also one for Key makers but according to Beatrice Via delle Chiavetorri is also a crude slang expression for what guys do to women; who knew?

Anyway onward, through the piazza with a column that had a saint on it. Another with an old Roman on it. Behind the building (I think the Prime Minister was there) was another piazza with an obelisk with hieroglyphics all over it. A few more turns brought me almost to the Pantheon and so in the foreground was the Tazzo d’Oro with the moniker ’best in the world’ (in Italian). I went in, had a cappuccino and moved on. It actually is very good coffee. There was no way that I could cross the front of the Pantheon without going in so I did. I photographed the inside and the dome, all over again. For Donna and George I also got photos of the fountain. By now I was running late but still, I needed to go through Piazza Navona. The church was open and what a treat that was! Borromini was a genius. And so was Bernini. That fountain is a triumph and there was a zoo around it. The piazza was jammed with tourists, street painters, performers, everything, very cool.

Mom was raring to go when I got there so off we went on our grand walk-a-bout. We set off for the Ghetto. Checking out this and that along the way I showed mom the new Fornaio (bread store) and then we went over to via Catalana to see our old apartment. There was a to do at the Synagogue. People pouring out of the Synagogue. Mom started wandering over and immediately the military police moved towards us to block a possible terrorist threat. I turned mom the other way and said “let’s go see Lemantani” and so we did. At the other end of the block that we used to live in, in the basement of the building is possibly the world’s largest supplier of kitchen stuff. Not appliances, but plates, cups, glasses, silverware, knives, pots, pans and so on. This place wanders on and on under the building. It is Huge! I asked permission to take photographs; they allowed it, sooner or later I will post the photos of the inside of this place.

Finishing there, we wandered down into the grounds of the Teatro Marcello. Those of you who have read my other years of postings may remember that I used to catch the bus to school from here every day when I was a kid. We wondered through and came upon a newly erected pedestal, with a column on top of it. Impaled through the top of the column is a carriage (horse drawn without the horse), the type used to take tourists around Rome. The thing was painted gold and cantered slightly off at an angle. I guess this is also art. I made up an amusing story of the Cart driver trying to explain how his cart had ended up impaled in that column and how he couldn’t figure out how to get it down.

Mom was running out of steam but being the slave driver that I am, I pushed her along and we crossed the street to the side of the Capitoline hill and walked down hill away from the Ghetto. There was a foot path that veered off to the left and would bring us closer to the base of the hill so I steered her that direction and we found a place to sit under some trees. This made mom happy. Rome has been very hot. In the high 80s to 90s every day with high humidity too. In the sun, it can feel oppressive. Naturally, I had been loving it even if I was mostly a sticky, sweaty mess. There was a cool breeze under those trees and it refreshed us both. I wanted to push on. The old Roman mint was somewhere nearby and I wanted to go there. What we saw was another church and I convinced mom that we should head for it since it would have seating and be cool inside. As we approached the base of the stairs I told mom that I would go up and see if the church was open. Just then a priest got out of a car and started conversing with us. He assured us that the church was indeed open and walked with us as we climbed the stairs. He spoke English and I explained that Mom was Italian; I was only half but had grown up in Rome. He left us as we entered the church. Inside, this church was very poor and decrepit. The paintings were deteriorated to the extent that I doubted they could ever be restored. The whole place smelled musty and it was not all that cool inside either. We sat a while, then decided to get out of there, it was depressing. At the same level as the church, there were some outdoor restaurants. I thought it best to lead mom over to one and feed her before she collapsed. We selected one. Right next to our table was one of those vertical Roman drinking fountains made of bronze that are on many street corners. I immediately took our glasses over and filled them up. I just kept filling them over and over as the meal went on. Sort of felt water logged by the end of the meal. We both chose to order Rigatoni with Pesto sauce. It was delectable!

Relaxed ad recharged (at least I was) I led mom the opposite direction that she wanted to go (she wanted to go home). We were only two blocks from the Mouth of Truth and any of you who really know me know that the ‘Bocca’ is special to me. So kicking and complaining, I dragged her down there and she rebelled and declined to stand in line to see the Bocca. She found a seat while I waited in line as couples and families made idiots of themselves posing with body parts inserted in the mouth and the eye of the Face. When it was my turn I took a series of high def pictures. I’m now ready to do my third reproduction of the Bocca if anyone out there wants one. After the pictures I went inside to see the scull of Saint Valentine for a sec and I also extensively photographed the mosaic patterns of the floors of the church.

Mom wanted to take a taxi home but naturally, we could find no taxis. There was a bus stop nearby and I managed to get her down there. We caught an empty bus where she got a seat and this one bus even had air conditioning and took us to a block from where she is staying. I was off the hook. I plopped her down in a chair in the air conditioned house and took my leave to return to pick up Donna. We had agreed to return to have dinner with Mom and Shirley.

So, I walked through piazza Navona again; I don’t think that anyone can ever visit that piazza too many times. Got the 628 at the other end and shortly arrived at the apartment at Piazza Mazzini. Donna was elated to be finished with her work for the day and anxious to get in some exercise so we agreed to basically repeat the voyage I had taken earlier that day. We got off the bus at Flaminio. Immediately it was obvious that something was up. That morning as I passed through Piazza del Popolo I had noticed that they were setting up to do a rally. Well, this rally was in full swing now. The place was absolutely jammed with people wearing red hats and large bandanas proclaiming that the weight of the world was on their shoulders (whatever that was supposed to mean). Donna wanted to see the Caravaggio’s so we went back into that church again. Exiting we soon realized that we would never be able to directly cross the piazza, there were thousands and thousands of people here and Donna doesn’t really like being crushed into a mob situation. It probably hadn’t helped that I kept pointing out all of the paramilitary police aggregated around the perimeter all dressed out in riot gear. To my credit, I did tell her that things must be under control or the church would have been closed up like a vault. The solution was to take the perimeter road up the side of the piazza and back down the other side to the twin churches.

We enjoyed our walk. Donna needed to look into some of the stores. This was the first opportunity that she had had since arriving in Rome to shop and she had already been in Rome for four days. Eventually, she satisfied her immediate need by purchasing a new top. We stopped at the statuary store for an Ice Tea (they sell statues but are also a café). Pretty much, it was a déjà vu of that morning’s walk. At the Pantheon we went back in again, at Piazza Navona we walked around the Bernini fountain twice discussing the power of the sculptures and then went into the Borromini church as well.

Finally, we arrived at Shirley's apartment and I introduced Donna to her. We had cocktails and a nice dinner and eventually departed to return back to Beatrice and Renzo’s apartment. This was accomplished relatively quickly by taking a bus to the metro and then three stops down the line on the metro to the Cornelia exit which is a few blocks away from the apartment.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Rome, June 2010 Day Three

OK, there is a hiccup in the operation. Today is an impromptu transportation strike. Well, I can only get into the Center by taxi, walking from Donna’s training at Piazza Mazzini is definitely out. Don’t know where the day will lead me but I am going to start out there which is near to the Vatican and go see the ‘Pieta’ (Michelangelo) as a starting point.

Siily me, I thought that Saint Peter’s was close to piazza Mazzini. I set off in the right direction and walked and walked and walked. This is one boring neighborhood. The buildings are well under a hundred years old and in Rome that is essentially, brand new. Block after block I kept waiting for the Duomo (dome) to come into site and it just kept eluding me. I did finally end up at Castel San Angelo and from there I knew exactly where the Church was. I arrived through ‘La Porta dei Englesi’ (the English gate) and on the side of the colonnade that surrounds Saint Peter’s square. I always like to enter this way instead of through the grand concourse in front because it has so much more impact this way. Surprisingly, there was security and metal detectors in the crossing through the colonnade. I’d never seen this before. Turns out that my buddy Benedict (the Pope) was doing his Service thing right out in the open on the front steps of Saint Peter’s. Most of the square (its round not square) was filled with people dressed in white with yellow hats. I was unable to figure out what that was about but we could all see old Benedict doing his thing up front on these enormous monitors that were set up around the piazza. Everyone was having a good time and the crowd around me was singing right along with the eunuch priests that were leading the choir. Well, I was having fun but one can really only do that for so long out in the full sun on a day that is exceeding ninety degrees. It was obvious that I would not be allowed through that crowd of thousands, past Benedict and into the church so that I could see the Pieta’. I went off back the way I came and decided to follow the Papal battlements that connect the Vatican with Castel San Angelo. This was fun; I kept stopping to photograph details of the battlements, Also through the arches that framed the alleys leading away from the other side and some of the street names too. At one point an old man who was headed my direction and going about my speed had stopped to wait for me. He told me that I could get a photo of the street sign and the campanile in the background from this angle if I wished, I did and he got ahead of me while I was shooting photos of the combo. I caught up to the old guy and we were mostly neck to neck all the way to the front of the Castle. I turned right and crossed the bridge and lost sight of him there. Crossing the bridge I got a great picture of one of the sentinel angels of the bridge in the foreground with the dome of Saint Peter below and to the left. It should be a winner.

OK, having crossed the bridge, the Campo seemed to be just down the way so I decided to go see Mom after all. I stopped at the Chiesa Nuova (also San Fillippo) saw that there was supposed to be a Caravaggio but that it was missing, took some photos and proceeded to arrive at Shirley’s just after their return around noon. We chatted a while, Sherley made her lunch and was munching on it and Mom was hungry. Eventually we went out and trolled for some food finding an incredible fornaio/ pastry store a few blocks from the Campo and heading toward piazza Navona. I’m not sure that I have ever seen such a large variety of pastries in one place but what got us in was the freshly made pizzas that are sold by weight (by the slice). Mom selected pizza margarita but I got this White pizza that had fresh slices of Mozzarella, tomatoes and Basil and was not melted. This was truly heavenly. We wandered up the street to a bar and I ordered a beer, mom ordered a cold cappuccino. They bollixed that thoroughly and mom proceeded back into the place to try to teach them how to make it properly. She failed on her attempt, I didn’t ask her if she had been charged for their failures. From there I walked mom back to Shirley’s and set off toward Piazza Navona. Having examined the maps I had determined that no matter how I returned to piazza Mazzini on foot it was going to be a very long walk.

Piazza Navona is one of the gems of the world and unlike our previous two visits to Rome, this time all three fountains were operating. The previous two times the center fountain was being restored. They did a great job, it looked brand new. So, I remember a story from my child hood about the central fountain and the cathedral behind it. I seem to remember that it had to do with the rivalry between Borromini and Bernini. Have them mixed up so I don’t know which one did which. Anyway, one guy got the church contact over the other. Shortly later the other got the contact to do the fountain. Well he was so pissed off about missing out on the church job that when he did the four river god statues, they are all (but one) looking away from the church. One even has his head covered with a cloth to hide the hideousness of the church facade from his view. The fourth statue does face the church but he is holding up his hand to block the view of the church. Talk about holding a grudge!

I navigated through all the guys selling their original or perhaps not so original art. Out the back side of the piazza and I watched two buses go by. Some buses were running, a lot fewer and some lines were not running at all. I walked up to the bus stop and studied my options. There was the 30, the 7 and the good old 628 that would all take me to Piazza Mazzini. I liked my odds that a bus going my way would show up so I decided to wait. I probably waited a half hour in that 90+ degree sun and while I waited group after group of tourists led by a guide walked by. Finally, I was rewarded for my patience. Guess which bus showed up. Yep, the 628. Something seems to have me inextricably connected to this bus line as I return to Rome time after time.

Rome June 2010: Day Two

First, for those of you who speak Italian; give me a break on the spelling. I know that I misspelled a bunch of Italian words. Corrections are humbly accepted. I’m not sharing this with Nancy Jones (former elementary school teacher and the newest member of the Alta Vista Gardens Board) or she would feel obliged to correct my English, I am happy to express myself just so, without her help.

We slept ten hours last night and basically, converted ourselves over to Rome time. Beatrice awoke us at ten this morning and we were rushed to get out of here in time and to her mother’s place at Piazza Mazzini for the beginning of Donna’s advanced Feldenkrais class. Renzo drove us in his VW Bug because Beatrice left early to get the living room cleared out and make the other preparations. We got there, proceeded down to the corner café where the Roman movie set gets their coffee and ordered two Cappuccinos’ for 2 Euro ($2.40 for both), a lot cheaper than Starbucks. We downed those in a few seconds and ordered another two along with a ham and mozzarella ‘Medallione’ for 2.5 Euro ($2.70). We shared the sandwich and I rushed her back to her class room for the first day of her teaching.

Leaving, I wandered over to the next road where Renzo had said I could get a bus to the Center of Rome. I was on my way to see my mom who had flown up from the Greek island of Paros where she lives six months of the year to see her sons who (by happenstance) happen to be in Italy at the same time. I went into a Tabacchaio and purchased ten bus/metro passes for ten Euro. Out on the curb, I looked up at the bus schedules to figure out which bus I wanted. Wonders of wonders, the old 628! For those of you that have followed my previous Blogs, this is the exact same bus line that we used the previous years to come from Beatrice’s old apartment in the other side of Rome to get to the center. How weird is that?

So, it took a half hour for the bus to arrive. The 628 has a very sporadic schedule. Sometimes it’s three buses in ten minutes and sometimes one bus in thirty, go figure. While waiting at the stop the distinguished gentleman standing next to me awaiting the same bus reminded me of a very important phrase that I have no doubt I shall continue to use regularly during the time I am here- “per piacere lasciami in pace” or “please leave me alone”. In this instance it was a young man trying to insist that I purchase a pair of sport socks from him. In all fairness I was wearing flops and no socks so he was aware that I had none, but did I need them? I thought not. Needless to say, he did not make the sale as I took advantage of this new phrase and mouthed it for the first time. The bus finally came and I was happy. I sat near the back taking in the sites. The bus took me down to and along the edge of the Tiber, I had never been familiar with this part of the river. It does not have built up embankments but has been left natural with trees and foliage. As we crossed over the bridge I looked down and saw a bunch of house boats moored along the edge of the river and a large parking lot with very few cars. So, for anyone who wants to live in Rome, here is a place that you can live with a wonderful ambiance and you will also never need to look for a parking space near home. I wondered if the rents are high to moor a house on the Tiber.

The Bus route was incredibly convoluted, switching back on itself in strange ways (or so it seemed). This driver had balls. He was hauling down very tight curving streets with little cars parked on both sides, very little clearance on either side like it was nothing. At one point he came upon someone who was double parked and restricting his passage even further, he slowed down to about 15 miles per hour and squeaked through with inches to spare but was unfazed. Just part of a days work driving a bus in Rome. The wonders of Rome; as we drove along I got a view down a narrow street and saw the obelisk in the center of the Piazza del Popolo framed by the road. We passed the tomb of Augustus and the Aria Paces (?) At another point another narrow side street afforded me a view of the Spanish steps with the boat fountain in the foreground at its other end. We passed a column with some old Roman at the top of it. I think that was Piazza Colonna (piazza of the column) I found myself there again at the end of the day and got a picture with the sun backlighting it. What a City!

I disembarked at piazza Venetia. They had finally finished that part of the new Metro route and filled in the eternal hole in the center of the piazza. Now there are two mounded grass areas with signs to stay off of the grass. Much better this way. I hesitated there. Did I want to go through the Ghetto or through Largo Argentina? The Ghetto won out. I just can’t resist getting that close to the turtle fountain and not actually going to see it. So I just picked the thinnest alley in site that went the correct direction and proceeded with my internal compass leading me first left then right (or was it right then left) in the direction of the little boys holding up those turtles. Around a corner into a little piazza and a huge church, another corner, another church. This is Rome…. I found the turtle fountain, good as ever. If (when) any of you ever go to Rome you defiantly need to see this little fountain. I almost forgot to mention, somewhere near the turtle fountain is a church. There is this guy who sits outside the church on the street and paints scenes of cactus (no cactus in site on this street). The steps of the church have one cactus painting after another lined up across the front of it. I’m not sure that anyone actually buys them as they are not very good and he probably never has even seen a cactus, but he has been there the three visits that I have returned through different seasons so he appears to be a fixture. Onward out of the Ghetto, across Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle toward the Campo di Fiori. A little way up on the right I saw that street that has a curve in it and knew that up that way was Largo del Palaro where I used to live. Shirley lives just behind there and this is where my mom is staying. Up to the apartment, I spent an hour or so re-connecting with Mom and Shirley. Shirley and I had actually not been in communication until about a year ago for almost forty years but she seems very lively and full of life.

I was dying to see the Campo so I urged mom out the door and down through the Chapel/tunnel that connects Largo del Palaro to the Campo dei Fiori (field of flowers). Most of the market was still open. Pretty cool, two stalls sold only Pasta; I got some photos, who knew there were so many types. A stall sold balsamic vinegar and different types of Pate’. Mom tried the artichoke pate’, she said it was incredible. Pricy too; 15 Euro for a small cold cream jar full. What a variety of vegetables. In this market you can find anything. Fruit and vegetables that I had never seen, most grown locally. I took pictures, because it was just so colorful and inviting. Mom had gone out that morning to buy an espresso machine at one of the stalls in the ‘Campo’ since she couldn’t find one in Shirley’s kitchen. She discovered that they also had one of those industrial size ‘sciatchia aglio’ (garlic press) that she had given each of us so many years ago. Knowing that, I made her take me there and I bought it so that we would have one at both houses. Too bad, I bought the last one and they had no idea how to get a hold of another.

From there we went to the Fornaio in the Campo and we each of selected a sandwich made from white pizza sliced down the center and stuffed with meat and cheese. Naturally, I chose Prosciutto. We wandered over to piazza Farnese and sat down at a café and ordered some drinks to go with our pizza sandwiches, yummy! From there we looped the Palazzo Farnese. I was particularly interested in seeing the building again with new eyes. I had read ‘the agony and the ecstasy’ about the life of Michelangelo and had learned that he had designed the top story of the building. Around back I showed mom the view into the rear gardens of the palazzo and she remembered that the Borromini Perspective was just around the corner (somewhere?). We wandered through a few wrong turns but did find the palazzo Spada and went in to look through a glass window that has a view of the ‘perspective’. You can’t walk it anymore but I did many times as a kid. It is a series of arches, the first full size, the others increasingly smaller. At the end is a statue. Viewed from a distance it looks like a long hallway of arches. If you walk it, it isn’t very long and it turns out that the statue is not much higher than three feet with its pedestal. Very effective. By then, mom was fagged, I took her back to the apartment and we sat around talking away the afternoon. I left near five to start the process of returning to piazza Mazzini where Donna was teaching.

My plan was to cut across to the Corso down which the bus had traveled on the way there. Silly me, I assumed the 628 route would be the same returning as it was going toward the Center. I went out, wandered right into Largo del Palaro and looked up to our old apartment. Last time I’d seen it, it was all closed up, this time it was open, I took a few photo for keepsake. Walking out along the side of San Andrea della Valle, I decided to see if the church was open. The last two trips it had always been closed when I was in that location. Seeing as how it was open, I went in. The interior is huge and very gilded with gold. I think someone famous did something in that church but I didn’t have a guide book with me so I just walked around and looked. I seem to remember that this is the oldest church dome in Rome. I need to look that up.

Out the front, across the street I veered right instead of left, I missed the piazza Navona but in short order realized that I was heading directly towards the Pantheon. OK, the Pantheon is always good but wow, what a crowd! There was literally an army of 13 year old kids all wearing Red hats. I later discerned that they were probably Germanic when I overtook them on the way to the Trevi fountain. The Pantheon was being worked on out front but they had completed the floor restoration they had been working on the last time I had been there. As usual, it was inspiring to stand inside. It was what I had sold to Keith when we had done the house of God in the Kabala Garden of his Valley Center home. Naturally, his was somewhat smaller but the impact was there all the same.

From there onward around the Tassa D’Oro (I was on a schedule, no time to stop for an espresso). All of a sudden I had hit the Corso where I expected to catch the 628 back to piazza Mazzini. I hesitated a second and decided that I had time to go on and see the Fontana di Tervi (never go to Rome without visiting it). The whole piazza was one giant can of sardines (I mean tourists) but the good news is that the fountains were running! I stayed a few minutes. Muscled through the crowds and got a few photos and then off back to the Corso to catch the 628 Bus. Getting there, I ambled up to the bus stop, no 628 on the first, second or third sign. Clearly I had missed something. I went back and checked the three signs again. No 628. I walked across the street to see the bus stop going the other way, OK, 628. Crossed the street again to confirm I wasn’t tripping; no 628. So I did the only logical thing left for me to do. I got on the 628 bus going the wrong direction and rode it back to the Teatro Marcello where I knew the bus was on both sides of the street. Getting off the bus, I crossed and a few minutes later caught the 628 going the way I wanted it to be going. When we got to piazza Venetia instead of going straight down the Coso, it took a left went thru Largo Argentina and right up to San Andrea della Valle (where I had started out) and took a right onto Corso dell Resorgimento and went around the piazza Navona. Go figure, I had just spent most of an hour to end up right back where I started from. Good lesson, that 628 really does go everywhere.

I arrived without further ado at Piazza Mazzini and then proceeded to get thoroughly lost. There were only eight roads leading into the piazza but I couldn’t figure out which one I needed to be on. Problem was that when I got off the bus I bypassed the first street and started examining them all in more detail starting with the second. After fifteen minutes I ended up calling Beatrice to ask directions and even then had a hard time figuring it all out. The rest is history. We met up, returned to Beas’ apartment and then Donna was ready to get her yayays out and go for a walk, I agreed-guess I hadn’t walked enough that day.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Back to Rome...June 2010 Day One

Well, things are definitely moving ahead in this world! I want to tell you all about it but first…

We flew Delta and had a nightmare time getting an assigned seat on the plane to Rome. Something about an equipment change in New York. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find anyone in the whole airline that could override their system and get us assigned seats. My almost last try was to call them at exactly 24 hours before departure. It also failed to get me a seat so I went online, checked in electronically and low and behold, the second leg of the trip from Kennedy to Rome had seat assignments. No luck on the cross country leg and I was still locked out. Somehow, miraculously, during the day, the seat assignments appeared. We were separated three rows apart in rotten seats. At check-in, same problem, they knew all about it, equipment change, we were screwed. One possible chance, the gate has around fourteen seats at their discretion to assign, with any luck the can give us new seat assignments.

When we got there we had to wait in line (not a good sign) and when I got to the front of the line, she explained that all the flight was sold out and all seats were taken. I explained my long and convoluted story of all of the attempts I had made to obtain assigned seats starting with when I had booked the flight months earlier. She was very nice and put our names on her list. She said that she was working on upgrading two people that have assigned isle seats across from each other in an emergency exit row to first class and she might be able to get us those. We had become convinced that fate was working to keep us apart on that flight but that kind lady came through and put us in that exit row (lots of leg room). Donna immediately traded one of the aisle seats with a center seat and viola’, we were sitting together. What a relief, traveling with Donna is fun and part of that is the airplane ride. I just wanted the complete package.

So, back to what I was going to tell you about. Delta is rolling in Wi-Fi on their airplanes. This plane had Wi-Fi. As a frequent flyer I had received an email on their rollout. It was supposed to cost around $12 on flights of 4 hours, a bit more for longer flights or something like $32 for a twenty-four hour package (or was that for a whole month of usage?). Good news, once the Gods decided that our luck had needed to change, they went even further than the seats we got. I logged into the ‘gogo inflight network’ and for whatever reason, it was free for us today!

Well, the entertainment of the internet on a flight is priceless. Much better that a movie (yes I also watched a movie). We are using Donnas’ awesome Acer laptop with Windows 7, over eight hours of battery life, HDMI monitor, Wireless ‘N’, a hi-def web cam and 500 GB hard all in less than four pounds of weight. We both checked and responded to email and then I attached an external 500GB hard drive that is the size of a pack of cards and had access to all my Documents, Pictures and Videos. We proceeded to produce the invitation for our Summer Party, edited it and refined it then sent it out to our ‘Party Groups’ from each of our profiles. OK, not so special tech wise except that we were in a plane over the Central States when we did it. The second flight was nowhere near as good, I didn’t sleep much and we didn’t get exit seats. To top off the disappointments, no Wi-Fi either.

Beatrice met us at the airport and drove us into Rome to the new apartment that she and Renzo had just moved into the previous week. The apartment was very nice and it is on the ground floor with a real yard on three sides. It was good to see Renzo again and I met their daughter Micolla for the first time.

After bathing and taking a nap, Donna had left for her first day of teaching. I got up and decided to go out for a stroll. I wanted to be familiar with the neighborhood; find the closest Metro station (Cornelia on the Red Line) and make sure I could find my way back to the apartment. Leaving the apartment I felt like I was really in the middle of nowhere. This area of Rome isn’t even on my map and it is really directly behind the Vatican and close to the Via Aurelia antica which was one of the main roads (started around 241 B.C.) out of ancient Rome that led up the coast to Pisa. Up the street through a few turns I came upon a huge piazza that doubles as a transit center. No isolation here. I can get to anywhere from here. I wandered around the neighborhood for a few hours checking out the stores and the women. Basically the sites. I had a Suppli at a corner fast food place and scored some Euros from an ATM so that I would have more of the local currency. Eventually, I found a market, bought some basic groceries and some wine. This place has me confused. At first I couldn’t find a bottle of red wine more expensive than 1.95 Euros. Eventually I did find a bottle of Chianti Classico for 5.00 Euro but that was absolutely the most expensive bottle in the market. Wow!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day Seven, the Capoteline

The Forum as viewed from the top of the Wedding Cake
There are some things that just must be experienced when you visit Rome. Last year we went to the Vatican Museum and were given a wonderful tour by a little lady who we dubbed ‘Yoda’s sister’ so we really had covered that well. This year, the most important museum on my agenda was the complex on the Capitoline hill. With this goal in mind we set out and caught the bus just on the other side of Piazza Zama that took us to the base of the Capitoline hill. Last year we had not climbed all of those steps up the left side to the church which sits in the temple to Jupiter Maximus but we were fresh and so I led Donna up what must number in the thousands of steps. Bummer, when we got all of the way up, the place was locked up solid and there was apparently no connection to Michelangelo’s square in the center of the Capitoline.

We did discover an open gate to the left that led around to the back side of the Monument to Vittorio Emmanuelle (we called it the wedding cake when we were kids). Since the last time that I had lived in Rome they have added a very cool feature to this monument. I had read about it in our guide book. They put an elevator on the back side of it and this elevator takes people to the roof of the darn thing, right up there with the two chariot winged victory statues. For 10€ each we went up there and I have to say, from there you get the most incredible perspective of Rome that there ever was. This is the true, new ‘E’ ticket ride in Rome! If you come, and you only have a day, I strongly recommend going to the top of the monument to Vittorio Emmanuelle which is also Rome’s tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Apart from the two statues which sit higher than the central roof, you basically get an unobstructed 360 degree view of all of Rome and you are standing above every other building for many miles around. I’m pretty sure we were higher up than the top of the Janicolo which used to be the prime viewing place in the City.

There are some high power binocular/ telescopes up there as well. With these you can count the nose hairs on a face miles away. These were very powerful. I took photos all the way around. At home I have a program that puts together photos into a panorama; we’ll see how that comes out. Eventually, we went back down and it turns out that if you continue around the back toward the Corso Imperiale, you can get over to the Capitoline from there. We loved the two museums on the Capitoline, they were truly inspiring. I guess that for the most part, I am into statues, and that is what these museums were dominantly about. Unfortunately, the Medusa head by Bernini was on loan to Capua, co we missed that but I went mostly to see the Dying Gaul because of the book Desmond did by the same name. A tunnel connects one museum to the other and crosses under the piazza so one ticket does both museums.

Finishing there we lazed under some Stone Pines and took in the view of the Forum. Looking down, on the side of the wedding cake we noticed that it was there that the ‘Tribute to Luciano Pavarotti’ was being exhibited, plus there was an Exhibit of Picasso’s work in the same building. We walked down, the Pavarotti exhibit was very interesting and incredibly moving and powerful. They had set up projectors that used a whole huge wall as a screen. On both sides were cycling black and white photos of Luciano, 16 at a time. In the center was floor to ceiling video of his more famous performances including one done in Sarajevo with a symphony orchestra, U2 and Bono. The side walls had grids of dozens of plasma monitors with video of other events with the great man. They said that they had 6 million meters of taped video of Pavarotti. That seems like a lot to me. The stereo system was excellent and the music was unfathomably powerful. Naturally they had other paraphernalia as well. A whole wall of all of the records and CDs of his music, many of the costumes that he had used in the operas he had performed in, etc., ect. I really enjoyed this exhibit; I only wish that I had actually seen him perform in real life. Next we went upstairs to see Picasso, he wasn’t there but there was a sizable amount of his work. I’m ashamed to say, I don’t really like most of what he did. The pencil drawings and the sculptures talked to me more than the paintings but I guess that my true love is rooted in antiquity.

Exiting the exhibitions we wandered around to the front and climbed the stairs in the front of Vittorio Emmanuelle enough to see the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They had a special cop on the steps whose job it was to blow his whistle and prevent anyone from sitting on any one of all of those steps. He explained that this is a military monument and you must not sit down out of respect for the dead soldiers. Five in the evening, tired and in need of a recharge, we headed off to the Ghetto. Most of it is closed to traffic so it is much more pleasant than it used to be. It hasn’t come into its own yet as a tourist destination but I can see that very soon it will be full of restaurants with tourist eating on the streets. We sat down at a bar to have a beer. After a while we noticed that a group of well dressed elderly women were starting to accumulate on the bench across the street from us. Four of them were sitting side by side on one bench. Then three men come over to our side and sit down at the outdoor table next to ours and start talking but don’t purchase anything. As time goes by, more women arrive; they bring their own folding chairs and set up around the bench with the original four women. For a while it becomes multi generational as a young girl comes to hang out with her grandmother. Meanwhile at the table next to us, there were more and more men joining this group. We must have sat down at the tables that they habitually occupy, they didn’t ask us to move or to leave but we started feeling surrounded. Now there were over ten men. Some were sitting next to and behind Donna and some next to and behind me. We thought that it was getting to pretty comical. All of the men grouped next to us and not one of them has purchased a thing from this bar. All the while, those ladies were over there on the other side, serious and watching the men on our side. Finishing our beer, we decided that it was time to move on. We abandoned our spot and the men spread out into our chairs.

Day Six- Tivoli

At the entrance to the Villa D'Este
Boy were we wiped out after all of that gallivanting around Rome the previous day. I don’t know how far that was that we walked but it did follow the walking of the previous day in Pompeii. These old bodies aren’t as resilient as they used to be. Thank God for Tylenol and IB. Well, today was to be a big adventure. Last year I couldn’t figure out how to get to Tivoli but did know that the trains went there. So, we set off, walked down to ‘Re di Roma’ to get the Metro and took it to Termi. We climbed up out to the track level, purchased our tickets and then learned that the train to Tivoli doesn’t leave from Termi, it leaves from Tiburtina, the guy also told us to go down to track one to the information booth. Silly us, we thought that there was something that we needed to know, so we walked all the way down to the information booth on track one, waited in line and then told the lady that we wanted the train for Tivoli. She says that we have to go to Tiburtina to get the train for Tivoli. So I say, “OK, how often do the trains run?” She answers that we have to go to Tiburtina to get that information too. So I guess that was all the information that they had for us at Termi. Back down to the Metro and a short ride got us to the correct station. The Metro really is quite wonderful in Rome, who would have thought. By the way, I just saw today that they are building a new Metro line ‘C’, supposedly it is going to go to all of the ancient ruins. I’m not sure how they are going to pull that off since there are ruins everywhere but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

View of Rome
Neither of us has a watch, so I have no idea how long it took us to get to Tivoli but it seemed like around an hour and Tivoli was beautiful. From up there, you have a fantastic view of the valley that houses Rome. We would recommend Tivoli as a good place for an overnighter as well. The town is very inviting and there are lots of things to explore. Arriving, I asked in the train station how to get to the Villa D’Este. The lady said, just down the road, about a ten minute walk. Well, it wasn’t exactly that, there were some turns and stuff but it wasn’t all that far and along the way we discovered that Tivoli had another attraction. I did not absorb its name and it was closed by the time we got out of the Villa D’Este but what it is essentially is a very, very deep compact valley with what are advertised as the most spectacular waterfalls in Europe. Since it was closed, we cast around for someplace to eat and did go into a place named after mom called, ‘Flo’s Bar’. We didn’t actually go into Flo’s which was at street level but instead followed the signs for the restaurant which led us down a few flights of stairs to a large terrace cantilevering over the above mentioned canyon. So, I did get a few photos of the waterfalls from above even if we missed out on the chance to walk in it.

Villa D’Este! What can I say, if you haven’t ever been there, you really must go and experience it for yourself. Some Pope must have really liked water, they re-routed two rivers to power the fountains of the garden and some of these fountains really have power! Dad, I took photos of all of the different runnels that went down the sides of staircases and in one case down the top of a railing. I remember that you wanted to somehow replicate these ideas at the Kensington property. Perhaps someday I’ll eventually have the opportunity to do one somewhere. Todd & Gail perhaps a PowerPoint presentation for the membership would be in order. I have literally hundreds of photos of the fountains and of the town.

As with all walking adventures, we eventually got pretty tired of waking and Renzo had told us that in Tivoli right next to the temple of the Sibili there is an excellent restaurant that is THE place to go have lunch in Tivoli. So we set off over the hill and off to the left of the center there was a Roman temple which an old lady confirmed was the temple that we were looking for. Next to it was a restaurant that proclaimed its name was Sibili. We figured OK and set off for it. Arriving, apparently after 3:00 p.m. the place looked extremely expensive but we went in anyway and asked for lunch. The guy inside was on the phone but he looked at his watch and said that the restaurant was closed. We took off a little concerned, the restaurant below ‘Flo’s’ was the next one that we tried but they told us their kitchen was also closed as they delivered a plate of pasta to this French guy who insisted on trying to talk to us about how he forced them to allow him to eat outside instead of in and read me an excerpt from his photocopied one hundred year old travel guide of Rome and its surroundings (in French) that explained how great the waterfalls in the canyon really were. This deck had its own private entrance into the canyon garden and Donna tried to tempt me but we went on to look for a place that was willing to serve us lunch. We crossed the street to the next restaurant and that one was closed (locked up) and went next door to the next one. This one looked very promising as there were still a number of different tables of guests eating lunch. We asked the owner to seat us; he looked a little worried and stuck his head into the kitchen returning to tell us that the kitchen was closed. Well, we had exhausted every restaurant in the neighborhood and the eating district was uphill, we asked the guy at the sidewalk gas station what time it was and found that it was less than ten minutes before the next train left for Rome. Off we went in a hurry and jumped on the train minutes before its departure.

Once in the neighborhood of where we were staying, we went into a place that I had found that morning that was full of whole prosciuttos, cheese and bread. We proceeded to buy two ettos of prosciutto, two balls of mozzarella di buffola and three soft, fresh rosetti along with some freshly made tortellini stuffed with ricotta and spinach. We also stopped at a roadside stand to buy some tomatoes and a head of finochio (fennel). For me, I was in heaven; I had one and a half sandwiches of prosciutto and mozzarella in roman paninos along with a finochio salad and some tortellini and a bottle of cheap red wine which in Italy is actually, pretty good. That was possibly the best meal I had in Italy because I missed it so much. I know that those of you that live in San Francisco can actually purchase rosettis from Il Fornaio but I never have found them in San Diego and both the prosciutto and the mozzarella seemed to be better than what I am able to buy at home. Renzo says that if I like it so much I should buy a leg of prosciutto and bring it back on the plane. He insists that it needs to be brought back as carry on and not be checked. Perhaps because if it is checked, someone will make off with it before it gets to San Diego. When he came home Renzo asked if I had eaten at the restaurant next to the temple of the Sibili, I explained that it was closed and that in fact all of the restaurants were closed. He looked at me and said, Bryan you grew up in Italy, you should have known. Restaurants close after the lunch hour. The other side of that is just try to get a meal in Italy before 7:30p.m., it just isn’t possible. The Italians have a lot of rules about when you can eat or at least, when they are willing to serve you.

Day Five (Monday)

French Church
F.Y.I. This is Italy, on Mondays; everything of historical importance is closed.

Piazza Navona is going to the Pigeons
We returned the car to the airport, by now I am getting over getting lost all of the time. We actually navigated to the airport with little to do. I only made two wrong turns along the way but immediately realized that I had tried to apply logic to the situation and was able to rectify my naiveté and apply counter logic to get me back on the correct course. Dropping off the car was painless and we proceeded to the train station at the airport to catch the train to Termi which is the main station in Rome. We arrived at the station, followed the throngs out the front and began our great walking loop of what I consider the must see at least once while in Rome spots.

Campo Dei Fiori
First to Piazza della Republica to see the fountain (Rome for me is and always has been all about its fountains). On the piazza is the church converted from part of the baths of Diocletian called Santa Maria degli Angeli e’ gli Martiri (Santa Maria of the Angles and the Martyrs) which was worked on by Michelangelo and many others. It was pretty spectacular and definitely worth a look. From there we went on to Piazza Barberini (for the fountain) but the flow was reduced from where it should be. On to the Spanish Steps. We approached from above and bummer the church was closed but what a view of the City. Down the steps and past the boat fountain, across to Via Condoti which occasioned an obligatory visit into one of its exclusive stores by Donna who eventually emerged with a package in her hand and a smile on her face. Down a side street called Via Mario Dei Fiori kept us off the larger congested roads and soon we emerged onto the piazza that houses the Fontana di Trevi (another fountain). The fountain was being repaired, no water flowed and a crane was parked to the side. Naturally, no one was working on the fountain. From there down the alleys of Via delle Murate toward the Pantheon. I didn’t go look at the fountain in front of the Panteon, the building is so overwhelming that all else is lost. We did however go to the Tasso D’Oro for a coffee while in the neighborhood. Next, on to Piazza Navona. Mom, the church of the French something was closed, I will try to get back there sometime. Wasn’t there a statue of the Madonna with the dying Christ (like the pieta) on that same street behind Piazza Navona somewhere? I seem to remember old ladies touching the feet when I was a kid. Anyone know where that was?

Arch connects the Pallazzo Farnese across Via Giulia to another Palazzo
In Piazza Navona they are still working on the main fountain a year and a half later if you can believe that. The place was happening as usual. Artists selling their paintings and the cafes and restaurants full of people. We stopped and rested and paid 14€ for two coffees ($21.00) but it was worth it. From there we went past San Andrea della Valle into Largo del Pallaro to see the old house. Donna values the historical importance of this site as well since it is built on top of the theatre of Pompeii (yes, that same Pompeii guy that I mentioned before) where Julius Caesar was assassinated. We went through the metal gates and stopped at that restaurant (whose name escapes me) and asked to be allowed into their basement. There we stood in part of the ruins of the theatre. It was heavy with history and very powerful for both of us. Into the Campo dei Fiori, the market was being disassembled. And on to the Villa Farnese, we sat and rested on one of the fountains. I dragged Donna down the alley to Via Gulia so that I could look at that wall fountain of the face again. We got to see into the back garden of palazzo Farnese from the Via Gulia side and then we went down Via Gulia toward the Ghetto, the Theatro Marcellus and the bus stop to get us back home for the evening. Almost every one of these places had been visited last time we came but I feel the need to reconnect each time I return. By the way, we are already planning when to come next year. Perhaps in June on the way to Greece?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Day Four, Pompeii and the Pope

Next morning was a lazy start, our goal for the day was to visit Pompeii. The distance was not far so we were not in a hurry. We had a relaxed breakfast out on the porch and Donna brought her pastels and did a drawing of the scenery while we ate. We packed, brought our suitcases down to the lobby and checked out. This time there was a strong guy standing around in the lobby to carry the bags down to the car. I was happy to see that and I know why he must hide when it comes time to carry luggage up those stairs. So he just tied all of our bags together with a rope, hoisted the lot over his shoulder and off he went down those stairs. We followed and when we arrived at the car, the guys there extracted the Micra and then gave us a bill for 42.50€ (around $60.00) for two nights parking. This really got Donna going, she was not a happy camper, she was even moved to climb all of those stairs to go talk to that lady at the hotel. The lady at the hotel said that the small print on their web site said that parking was not included so tuff shit. We intend to crucify this place on the web for being so deceptive that there was no mention at all of a parking fee until the second we were ready to leave (after we had paid our hotel bill). Anyway, now you know why it was that all of those well to do Italians were parking their cars kilometers down the main highway from the entrance to the town to save what amounts to a lot more than a few bucks to park their cars for free.

Down we went into the town and back up again. Turn left and shortly we were stopped by a police traffic lady on duty at this corner of the highway that was so tight that she needed to stop the northbound traffic to allow each southbound bus to get around the corner without killing anyone. We had seen four or five other traffic policemen standing around at various corners along the road the previous day in obscure locations. Watching this operation gave me new appreciation of just how narrow, sinuous and dangerous this road really is. Amazingly, we returned to the freeway without incident and without getting lost. Shortly later we arrived at the exit to Pompeii. The exit brought us off to the left of the freeway or to the west of the freeway, being a seasoned traveler by now and having cast off the last vestiges of my macho ego over the past few days, I immediately stopped to ask the Carabinieri who were standing on the center divider of the freeway exit for directions to old Pompeii. He said that the Pope was on his way into town and that he wasn’t sure that I would be allowed to go to the digs (Scavi) but I was welcome to try. Just go right, follow a while, go right again, up over some sort of rise, down the other side and go right again, no problem. So we take off, the place is crawling with Carabinieri. They are following us on motor cycles and going the other way too. There are lots of signs to the Scavi Pompeii and I only need to stop and ask directions one more time. I do however accidently take this right at a Y in the road that leads me into the parking lot of some mega market. Once in, just try to get out. We did eventually leave but it was a quite convoluted route designed to accommodate a couple of hundred people stuck in a traffic jam. Arriving outside of the Scavi, there was a restaurant that only wanted to charge us 5€ to park. It had only cost us 2.5€ to park at Ostia Antica but after what we had just paid in Positano that morning, this seemed pretty cheap. The Carabinieri were arriving, more and more every minute. We had trepidation that the Pope would arrive and they would close down Pompeii. Pretty soon there were two SWAT vans (the Italian version) and Carabinieri cars with machine guns all over the place. Anyway, we went on in, we figured once we were in, no problem, we would just hang out with the Pope inside the Scavi di Pompeii.

The Scavi di Pompeii are huge! This was a major city; the ruins go on for kilometers in all directions. It was very interesting to check it out but they should run bus tours through it. Donna discovered that the ancient city had fast food stands on all the main streets, turns out that fast food was not invented in the States. No point in going into any details except to note that Pompeiius Magnus came from Pompeii (for those of you that saw the Rome series on HBO) and that the city was conquered and brought into the Roman sphere of influence by Sulla who is everyone’s hero that read the Colline McCollough Series that started with the ‘First Man in Rome’ book. The guide book said that you could still see the dents made in the arches at the city gates caused by Sulla’s men who threw rocks at the walls as they stormed the city. Donna, being a newly anointed scholar of the late Roman Republic was thrilled by these observations and in being able to stand where these great men had also stood. Actually, sharing history with the ‘Greats’ and standing where they stood is a pretty powerful experience. I recommend to anyone that they will get so much more out of Italy if they study its history first. I included a photo of the pedestrian bumps that cross all of the streets. These were so that the pedestrians wouldn’t have to step into the open sewers that the streets represented. As time went on, we ended up at the opposite end of the City from the entrance. Now there was a helicopter hovering in the air near the other end of the city. It remained hovering for around an hour, in a way unfortunate because it went a long way toward breaking the harmony of the experience of catharting with Pompeii .
We were bushed; we stumbled out of Pompeii and down to the car. Ate at the restaurant and were soon on our way to Rome. Never did get to see the Pope, turns out he went to the new town of Pompeii and they just had extra Carabinieri hanging around for the fun of it. Boy did we get lost trying to get back to Rome, lucky we didn’t end up in Florence. Every highway in Italy seems to be called A1. Well one part of A1 bypasses Rome completely and goes on for 30 km without any exits. We missed the first exit to the ring road around Rome because it was a great deal less than clear. We finally got off of A1 way north of the ring road around Rome and returned south along a highway that paralleled via Salaria back to the ring road. By then we had analyzed the map and proceeded to go the wrong way on the ring road. We were headed counter clockwise toward Fumicino and would need to go three quarters of the circumference to get to where we wanted to exit. We exited, went right and ended up again going the wrong way. I decided to apply Roman logic to the situation. Whatever seems logical, ignore it and go with the counter intuitive solution to the problem. That worked fantastically and I got us out of this ridiculous clover leaf build under the freeway that had led us on a merry goose chase trying to follow logic since there really were no signs anywhere to tell us which way to go. We got back to Beatrice and Renzo’s house exhausted and greatly relieved. All I could think about was that tomorrow morning I was going to return that car in one piece to the rental place at the airport and I would not be getting lost again on this trip.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Day Three, we drive down the Amalphi Coast

Day Three:

By the way, Women hear this, in Italy the new ‘in’ color or is it the old ‘in’ color is now ‘in’ again- Royal Purple is it! Other purples and plums will work as well.

Donna had left her sun glasses in Rome when we left. This turned out to be somewhat of an emergency and she was determined to buy a new pair. Problem was, in Positano, you cannot get a pair of sun glasses for less than $150. We even went into a very small pharmacist that also had a rack of sun glasses in the window; I guess that the average Italian tourist wouldn’t be seen dead in a cheap pair of sunglasses. We departed after our continental breakfast, picked up the car and drove down into the village. At the bottom the road we met another two roads. We took the one heading south since that is the way we were heading. The other is the main road into and out of town. They widened is so that it is actually a two way road. However, I noticed that in order to widen the road, one lane was hanging out (cantilevering) in the air completely.

What can I say? The drive down the Amalfi coast was breathtaking. I became even more adept at pulling over to let faster traffic go by. This included buses and trucks. Everyone was in a hurry. I did however draw the line on the way home when these two guys on bicycles tried to pass me on a downhill grade. One can only take so much humiliation so I speeded up and lost them on an uphill grade. The drive was full of wonders. One incredible vista after the next. We wanted to stop in Amalfi but it was a zoo with buses everywhere and no place to park. We just pushed on and stopped in some other small town further down the coast. We walked on the beach, I got a Gelato, and we wandered into the town (uphill of course). I eventually found another Farmacia and went in to look for sun glasses. They had a rack with four sets of very dusty sunglasses on it. Donna liked one of the pairs and we went to buy them. How much we asked, the pharmacist said “yes” and called the lady from the back room who went over to the rack, ignored it and proceeded to rifle through a bunch of drawers full of sun glasses in packaging. She pulled out one pair after the next, how much we asked, “30€, no 20€ for you” she answered. Good price, but Donna wanted that particular pair that she had first selected and this lady would not sell the display model for anything. The lady pulled out one pair after another and Donna kept saying no, she wanted the pair she had originally selected. This was quite baffling to us. Why couldn’t we buy that pair? We weren’t getting anywhere fast so, pretty soon Donna and I are back there with this lady pulling out drawer after drawer of sun glasses in packages, opening them to check them out and putting them back. Again, Donna tried to get the lady to sell the dusty pair that had been in the rack and again the lady refused. This lady had rules and she was basically, inflexible. We did eventually get lucky and actually found a new, packaged pair of glasses identical to the pair that Donna had originally selected. Good thing too or we might still be there sorting out the contents of those drawers, there must have been over a hundred pairs stuffed into the drawers behind that counter. Up the street and around the corner we wandered into a tourist shop. Finally I had found what I was looking for. A tourist shop located in a small town with almost no tourists on a street unlikely to see many tourists because it was pretty much, way off the beaten path. The prices were much more reasonable than in Amalfi and that place that we had stopped along the ‘highway’ where all of those tourist buses had stopped as well. Donna selected the parts to make a tray with four (or was it six) espresso cups sitting around a small sugar bowl. All hand painted ceramic with some cobalt so it goes with all of the other cobalt stuff that we have in the Vista Casa. We also got a very nice signed reproduction of a typical hillside on the Amalfi coast with houses tumbling down toward the sea. I had a nice chat with the owner who seemed to think that I spoke Italian remarkably well for someone from San Diego, California.

One of the things that really amazed me was how these people had carved out this cliff for agriculture. In some places there were 20’ high retaining walls to create 8’ wide planted areas and this type of thing was all over the side of the cliffs. We decided we didn’t want to continue any further down the coast but that we had to visit Ravello which is a mountain town located essentially straight up in the air above the town of Amalfi. Well, what can you say about Ravello? Words just can’t even begin to do this mountain town justice. If you want to know what we experienced, you are just going to have to go there. You very definitely won’t be disappointed. We traipsed around the town for a number of hours, visited a castle type thing with a show on shoes and had lunch in a tratoria. I took hundreds of photos of architectural details. I think I want to start a business building new five hundred year old (mixed with two thousand year old buildings). The roads in and out of Ravello leading up that mountain may have been the narrowest that I have ever seen. On the way out we had to inch our way past a giant tourist bus with only inches to spare on either side of the car. A few minutes later as we slowly maneuvered past an Alfa Romeo in another tight spot, our mirrors kissed as we passed.

Thankfully, we made it safely back to Positano and that evening we chose to have dinner at a restaurant only somewhat down the street from the hotel instead of down by the beach so that the return uphill trip wouldn’t be so challenging. The collateral benefit of that is we sat next to a railing with the most incredible view of the town spread out before us. Donna thought the whole thing was very romantic. We ordered Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Donna Approved, it was very good.

For a lot more photos of this trip and especially Ravello, please visit my construction web site page on Antiquity Replication

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stairs and more stairs to the Hotel

First the ramp, then turn right
Then up a steep section to a landing with a good view
Another steep section, then a more gentle long stair/ramp
gets steeper along the way and we arrive at the hotel entrance with two stories worth of stairs to the lobby level
Another flight of stairs inside finally gets us to the level of our room
It was a long way up to that room in that hotel!