Old photos and procrastination

 

I’ve lost track of how long ago I asked my sister whether she remembered a particular photo of me and a childhood friend.  I could figure it out if I wanted to increase the guilt I feel for procrastinating on my promise to do something with our rag tag collection of family photos, but I don’t feel like it.  She overnighted her portion of the collection to me at no small expense and I promised I’d do something with them.  

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You’re so over the Italy stuff, right?

Trenitalia Alta Velocita

The train ride to Florence was easy.  There were no delays, the air conditioning was refreshing, and it actually seemed as if we were really skimming along at 300 km/hr, leaving cars on the autostrade in the dust, which is saying quite a bit.  We were able to look out the windows the entire time, unlike our first trip, when a man sitting across from the boys yanked the shade down without the slightest acknowledgment that three others were sitting at the same table. Okay.

Small towns appeared along the way, their terra cotta roofs clustered on hill tops in the distance.  Fields of sunflowers stretched away from us one after the other, but their heads pointed down and away, revealing only a yellow fringe in the midday sun.  I wondered if I’d have the chance to drive through that countryside some day to explore those towns.

From the moment we arrived at Stazione Santa Maria Novella, it was different.  The area inside the walls of Florence is traffic controlled, allowing only those with a special permit the opportunity to enter.  Yes, there was traffic, but far less.  And absolutely, we had to be wary crossing streets, but not as if we were taking our lives in our hands each time we did.  The streets seemed more organized, neater.  Less frenetic.  And… not quite as intriguing as Rome, nor as quaint as Sorrento.

Continue reading “You’re so over the Italy stuff, right?”

Our Italian Saga Continues

Vicolo Equense ?The unpleasantness of being in Naples wore off as soon as we were settled on the boat that would take us to Sorrento. Maybe it was the deep blue of the sea, or the cool breeze that refreshed our sweaty bodies.  Or Vesuvius, looming in the distance, reminding us of all those history lessons delivered so long ago and so far from here.  Pompeii…Herculaneum… Pompeii

But it could also have been the tall, thin as a willow whip blonde that walked up the gangplank with the assistance of the crew right ahead of us who bore an uncanny resemblance to Diana.  The Diana.  Her hair was short, and she was dressed in a leather mini skirt and strapless bodice.  Her four-inch heels drew everyone’s attention, and we waited to see if she could balance herself on the boat as well as she could on cobblestones.  Most of the crew exchanged knowing looks, but one took it upon himself to sit next to her as we made our way across the Bay of Naples.
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At first, she had chosen to settle in on the first deck in the cushy seats, but after we’d all dragged our luggage up the tiny stairs and flopped into seats where we’d get a good view in the open air, she emerged upstairs.  And as much as there were only a few passengers, and therefore, many open seats everywhere, she decided to sit in the row directly in front of us.

We must have appeared to have been harmless, or uninterested in young women wearing black leather.

I soon figured out I was on the wrong side of the boat to snap my next 500 photos and moved, with the MoH following.  We kept an eye on the boys and the woman as she sort of avoided, but not with any true energy, making conversation with the forward crew member.  He eventually gave up on her and disappeared downstairs.

At some point in a strong British accent, she turned to the boys, and with a cigarette posed between two fingers, asked if either of them had a light.  You just don’t know how hilarious that is considering that not only does neither smoke, but that they wouldn’t expect anyone to think they did.  Well, that anyone like her would ask anyone like them anything.  Ever.  Their raised eyebrows and quick glance at one another after she turned around told it all.

Marina Piccola, SorrentoWhen we stepped onto the dock in Sorrento, she was already getting into what we thought was her mother’s car, because we realized at some point, that she wasn’t quite 20.  Goodness. Nothing like a bit of intrigue to take one’s mind off travel weary doldrums.

Marina Grande Officially, we were rested and ready to enjoy a small town where streets close to traffic in the evening so everyone can walk and shop, sit in cafes and watch passersby, or eat well into the evening.  We did all of that, and crowded into groups clustered around televisions in bars here and there to watch Roger Federer lose to Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon.  It was like a huge street party.

In a walled garden setting lined with lemon trees and dotted with impatiens, we enjoyed pasta, seafood, lovely wine, and dessert at ‘o Parrucchiano “La Favorita,” a restaurant housed in an old building and credited with inventing cannoli.  Who knew?  The wait staff was ridiculously tolerant of our horrible attempts at Italian, and the setting a perfect place to relax after an extremely long day.  Even the cat that wandered through the tables and brushed against our legs added to the perfect evening. And yes, I fed the cat. Incorrigible. Marina Grande at Night

I now know that Sorrento was my favorite place on our vacation.  We never took the bus to Positano or Amalfi, nor did we take one of the ferries we constanly saw headed to the island of Capri.  But I have no regrets because we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy what was right in front of us:  balmy weather, delicious food, hospitable people, the Hotel del Mare, and a clear, warm sea to swim in. Private Beaches in Sorrento

Although everyone seems crazed to spend time in Venice or Tuscany when they travel to Italy, Sorrento is a place to be considered.  I know I’d go back so I could stroll through the quiet streets without an agenda of any kind and let time take its course, but maybe in the Fall, when others are back to work, and the idea of other places to go and things to see don’t exist. Sunset from Hotel del Mare

Yes, I’d go back to Sorrento.
Relaxing on the Rooftop

Vacation to Italy: Four days in Rome

I’ve been sitting here most of the day, clicking through the 750 photos I took while in Italy, and it’s been a pleasant way to replay our time there which now, seems a million miles away. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

I took an old-fashioned journal with me, thinking I’d write since I wouldn’t have access to a computer for any real time. And although I did write, I’m so out of practice doing so with a pen and paper, that my thoughts left me before I could finish sentences. We were so busy, packing much into each day, it was challenging to find time to sit and write anything, and when I did, I wanted to close my eyes for just a bit to catch my breath.  Stare at the ceiling in our room and wonder who had lived there (and it’s a very old ceiling…)

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When I travel, I long to know what it’s like to live where I’m staying. It matters.  I enjoy walking through streets that are off the regular path, and shops that aren’t on anyone’s recommended list. In fact, I enjoy this sort of time spent in a place more than seeing attractions most of the time. It gives me a better sense of who the people are, and what it might be like to be one of them even though I know that it will never be quite right. To some extent, this was possible for us in Rome, Sorrento, and Galluzzo, the small town we stayed in outside Florence.  And it must have worked, because I now know that people from each of these areas are distinctly different, and fiercely proud of it.

Via dei Cappellari apartment In Rome, we stayed in a very small apartment a short walk from the Campo di Fiori on Via dei Cappellari. The streets everywhere are paved with small square, black cobblestones planted in an arching pattern.  Buildings plastered in muted, warm colors rise three or four stories across passageways sometimes only wide enough for a tiny car to pass by.  Windows are shuttered against the heat, which at times, is oppressive, and others, interrupted by breeze from a cross street. Via dei Cappellari is such a street.

A variety of tiny shops that don’t quite make sense together line the way past our apartment: furniture makers sand and varnish chairs and tables, a spotless motorbike repair shop takes in customers, a dress boutique waits for shoppers, and an antiques dealer fans himself in the dim lighting of his shop. We wondered each day how any of them could keep afloat tucked away as they were, with so many others hid in their own tiny areas of such a huge city.

Rome apartment stairs Our apartment was three flights of stairs up through a tiny door that was nearly impossible to open with the skeleton key we were given.  Thankfully, we never did see the person whose apartment we tried to get in at first, thinking it was ours. And it wasn’t so bad after we did get into our apartment to find that an air conditioner was available as long as we were willing to pay 5 Euros a day. But there were no clean sheets or towels, and when the MoH tried to use the telephone to call the rental company, it didn’t work. No surprise since it looked like a relic from the ’50’s. At least there was a large plasma screen — until I blew a circuit breaker with my flat iron the next morning. So much for our converter, hmmm?

So much for anything remotely close to what I’d consider a “good” hair day for the next couple of weeks. Note to self: Tell Dan the Man haircut dood that I will not be having a cut this short again no matter how thrilled he is with the way it looks. The hat came in VERY handy.

IMG_1560.JPG The MoH and I left the RTR & his big brother in the apartment under the AC — literally — while we ventured out to find a phone and food. We found the phone, but figuring out how to use it was another story all together. Yes, it’s explained in tourist books. Embarrassing, but true. So the rental company was contacted about the linens and they were promptly delivered. Woo-Hoo!

Rome is a gritty place. There are scooters everywhere, and the traffic even in tiny streets, is something you have to keep an eye on. Once you realize that the key is to step into the street, make and keep eye contact with the driver, and move quickly across the street, you’re fine. Unfortunately, that only seems to work for the cars. The scooters are not as trustworthy.

There are cafes everywhere. Cafes and bars and gelato shops line nearly every street, and deciding which one to go into doesn’t have to be a science. We never did figure out exactly what “tourist food” was because every meal we had in Rome was exceptional whether it was pizza near the Pantheon, or clams and mussels in wine and garlic in Trastavere across the Tiber. And the pasta? Mmmm…who knew that Carbonara could be made so many different ways. Campo di Fiori

We walked everywhere in Rome. We walked until our feet ached and our knees weren’t sure how to act when we finally were able to sit. We walked and sweat more than I thought it possible to sweat. No wonder the Romans wore togas. Or was that the Greeks? A nice breeze ruffling a skirt would have been quite nice as long as a puff of Gold’s powder was available. More than once I noticed Italian men and women on their way to work; the men in beautifully cut suits of rich fabric and the women in smart linen trousers and stylish tops. Not a drop of sweat on any of them. How do they do it? That could never be me, wrinkled damp human that I am. Thank goodness for the cool quiet, shaded streets we often found on our way to one place or another.

Often when we travel, we’ll mark a map just to see how much ground we’ve covered. It would have been too challenging in Rome because we often wandered. Sometimes on purpose, and sometimes because we were lost. The MoH and I rarely agreed that we were where we thought we were or supposed to be, so bitching and moaning ensued. Not him. Me. But that’s what happens when you put two strong-willed people together in a strange place with two large young men in tow.  I know I tested his patience this vacation more than I usually do, but there wasn’t a cork large enough in Rome for my mouth or my opinions.  I’ve never been very good at following.

So what did I truly enjoy?

  • Walking around the corner of a tiny street shrouded in the shade that early evening imposes on the city and seeing the Pantheon amongst the buildings that have grown around it over the past 2,000 years. It was beautiful, and early in the week, not as crowded as it would become by the weekend. I had my first taste of Italian gelato sitting on the wall next to the Pantheon, trying desperately to keep the deep, dark chocolate from dripping down my arm and onto my white bermudas. My camera wasn’t so lucky.
  • Pantheon

  • Seeing the cat hospice at the Largo Argentina Ruins.  It was twilight, which in Rome is about 9PM, and since the city has physically risen over the past few thousand years, the ancient area is at least a couple of stories lower than street level.  We never quite figured it out, but someone was setting up a show of sorts, displaying edgy contemporary art with music and a light show.  But as we looked more closely, we noticed cats.  Scores of cats in the shadows.  All colors and sizes.  On one corner of the square, you can venture down a flight of stairs to talk to them, give them a few pets, and marvel that in a city the size of Rome, someone would provide such a place for them.  Amazing.
  • Sitting in the Campo di Fiori with the MoH the first night in Rome.  We watched a talented street entertainer mimmicking passers by, the armed Carbonieri, and the young people they were keeping an eye on.  A guitarist’s quiet music was a perfect accompaniment to the show seen satisfyingly from our tiny cafe table.  The evening was warm, and a breeze across the square made everything just right.
  • The walk through the Borghese Gardens after we saw the gallery.  Sure we were hot, thirsty, and hungry.  Okay, so starving.  And sure, we had a detour caused by some construction going on.  But it was beautiful, and I thought that it would have been a perfect place to sit and nap or picnic, if figuring out how to get the whole picnic thing right could have been a possibility. But no one complained. The grounds are completely shaded and there’s a large wading pool of sorts.  People wearing bathing suits were sunning on towels.  It was quiet.  Fountains appeared here and there, and it was all I could do NOT to sit on the edge of one and dip my feet in since diving was not an option.  As we finished our trek through the grounds, my favorite view of Rome was there, right above the Piazza del Popolo all spread out in front of us.
  • Rome Skyline from Borghese Gardens

  • The wine and the espresso.  Neither was as expensive as the Coke the boys drank or the birra the MoH ordered. Of course, the ground espresso I purchased to make in the apartment each morning ended up opening in my suitcase during our travels, and for the remainder of our vacation, I sported dark smudges on my undies and smelled like coffee, but who’s complaining?
  • The spigots that can be found throughout Rome.  All you need is a bottle.  The water is ice cold and free.  I don’t know where we would have been without it because it wasn’t as plentiful in Sorrento or Florence and we missed it.
  • The ORANGE purse and wallet I purchased.  I guess I like orange after all.

The low points?

  • Begrudgingly, the throngs of people at Trevi fountain.  I suppose in thinking about it now that we could have stayed up later and then ventured to see it, but everyone is up until the wee hours of the night anyway, and transitioning to Rome time, we were lagging.  On second thought, getting up very early would work best.  Everyone is asleep after a night full of revelry, right?  It could be magical.
  • Trevi Fountain

  • My older son admitting that he was not impressed by the Colosseum.  He told us he was really looking forward to seeing it, too.  I’m sad for him because a life spent building up expectations and nothing being able to meet them is a tough life indeed.  He does tend to have a half empty cup about life at times.  It breaks my heart.
  • Tour groups.  They were like a virus.  They took up vast quantities of space everywhere forcing everyone off the sidewalks and up against the walls of any space they oozed in to.  They arrived, they armed their point-n-shoots, they shot, they left.  One after the other.  Hoards.  It was beyond annoying.
  • The Sistine Chapel.  Michelangelo’s  jaw droppingly beautiful ceiling was actually reduced to a room full of people standing shoulder to shoulder with a grouchy guard incessantly hissing, “Silence!” to the noisy masses who seemed to be there only to try and sneak a photo of something they wanted to be able to say they saw, instead of think about how it was painted and by whom, or why.  Very sad.

And something unexpectedly lovely to end on a positive note…

  • St. Paul’s Basilica in the very late afternoon.  No lines, unearthly light streaming through the windows, voices from the mass taking place echoing through the building…Breath-takingly beautiful.  And Michelangelo’s Pieta?  Oh.  My.  It brought tears.  Maybe I was just tired, but still.
  • Mass at St. Peter's

Cost so far minus airfare?

Private Shuttle to Apartment:  $120 (Okay, so this was convenience just because we had to stop by the rental office, then get to the apartment.  The airport is not close to the city and the office not close to the apartment.  I was at the “whatever” stage of booking.)

Accommodations:  $650  (Not bad for 4 people for 4 days…)

Food:  $475  (No junk food.  Yes, they have Mickey D’s.  Some cooking in the apartment, fruit, wine, gelato, salami & cheese, and some very nice dinners.  Did I say wine?)

Attractions: $300  (The Colosseum, The Forum, Palatine HillThe Borghese, The Vatican…I forget what else…)

Train to Sorrento:    $120 (Inter-City train)

Orange Purse & Wallet:  Priceless  (Okay, so it wasn’t, but it was in my suitcase when we left, so I didn’t get to collect on the tax that I was charged.  What.  Ever.)

Un-jetlagging

We arrived back in Paradise last night at about 7:00 after an 11-hour flight from Rome to Cincinnati, then yet another delightful 5-hour flight just about as far as one can go in a Southwesterly direction in these United States.  Long.

Did I say long?

Way long.

I peeked out of my left eyeball in the taxi on the way home from the airport, not quite able to see normally after failing yet again at trying to sleep sitting up, and squeezed in the backseat between my boys, weighed down with carry-on bags the driver couldn’t possibly crush in his already packed trunk.

In my next life, I will live on the Right Coast so that I can enjoy shorter flights to Europe.

It’s 4:20 am, Italy time right now — tomorrow.  And considering I’m on that time about now, and that I’ve been up 16 hours today so far, I should sleep quite a long time tonight.  I’m running on fumes.  Or espresso.

But it was worth it, because I’ve learned so much about Italy…and me.

For example:
Dawn over the Atlantic

It is totally possible to ride on nearly every type of transportation possible on a vacation.  Didn’t they make a movie about Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?

The cars are very small.
Parking in Rome

There are young people everywhere, and I wonder who their parents are.  Okay, so I really don’t, but still.  What you can’t see is the open market surrounding this guy.
Is this your son?
When you think something is old, stop, think again, then understand there’s a whole different level of old.  Julius Caesar was stabbed on the steps of a temple that used to be here.  Like that old.
Rome
It would be nice to have a produce market to go to each morning.

Fresh squeezed orange juice is 6 Euros a glass, and isn’t it nice that there wasn’t a menu.  Can we have two glasses, please?

Espresso can actually come in a cup that holds one tablespoon.  Really.  For 3 Euros.

Bad hair days can be experienced by everyone.
Me on Vacation

It is still possible to get all worked up over religious iconography.  Like, you know.  Moved to tears.
Inside St. Peter's

But, yes, we’re back. And since I’m falling off my chair, I’ll wait to put this all in some kind of order.

‘night.

Sorrento, we love you!

I’m sitting on a sea blue tiled sundeck on the top floor of the Hotel del Mare in Marina Grande which is a tiny village near Sorrento, Italy.  It can be reached by car, or by walking down the winding steps from Sorrento that are wedged between tall buildings and lead through the ancient gate.  Laundry hangs from windows, shutters are thrown open, and curtains are ruffling in the ocean breeze.

It’s late, but the sky is still a lovely blue, and I know that up the hill, “the stroll” hasn’t quite begun on the streets that will close to the incessant motor scooters, and vendors are spreading out their offerings of limoncello, and pottery, scarves, and hats.  Restauranteurs are handing out flyers of their menus, hoping that passersby will consider coming back for an evening meal.

Amazing.

The sun has finally dipped behind the cliff that rises sharply above our little hotel, giving us relief from the sun which has been so relentless.  Across the bay, Vesuvius is still shrouded in the haze that has kept it hidden since we’ve arrived, but that hasn’t stopped me from wondering what it must have been like more than 2,000 years ago to have one’s life so rudely interrupted.

For us, Sorrento has been the ice pack one might apply to sore muscles.  Rome was so hot, and so enormous, so amazing, we had to have walked at least to Africa and back while we were there.  Exhaustion was impending.  Okay, so maybe a few more things caused that which I’ll tell later.  But now, it’s all about sitting on this deck, detecting the hint of something — anything with garlic —  waft up from the restaurants below, listening to the little church of the something having to do with virgins bell ring every fifteen minutes, and gazing at people on the road high above on the cliff staring down over the rail, most likely wondering how they might get down to this lovely place instead of where they are.

We swam today.  Nothing could have been more perfect than dipping into the warm water to wash off the persistent sweat that will not have any effect on the numbers my scale reports to me at the end of this vacation.  But no matter.  The water was a calm, deep teal, and so buoyant.  Or maybe that was my Reubenesqueness keeping me afloat.  Who knows?  But the last time I was in the Mediterranean was when I was 12 and my family was living in Spain.  I don’t remember it being this lovely, ever.  I also don’t remember anyone having to pay to swim.  I’ll spare you the pain of what our wanting to rid ourselves from heat and humidity cost us.  You’d only consider us idiots.  And that’s okay, because we know it was completely worth it.  Ahhhhh…..

My head is full.  There are so many sights and sounds, tastes, and aromas, I’m not sure where I can keep them all.  I love this place.

We’re off to Florence tomorrow.  I’ll miss this little place by the ocean that seems so different than the ocean I live very near to.  But vacations are like that, aren’t they?

Ciao, bella.

Italy: Checking our list…

You thought you were rid of me didn’t you? At least it appears that you may have been considering I’ve not written since…I can’t even remember. I’ve been in food land. Go figure that after being involved in my cyber baking group for more than a year now, I had hosting responsibilities this past month. That means surfing through eight million Danish Braids, which is what myself and my co-host, Ben, chose for all those Daring type Baker people to experiment with. Hosting also involves visiting every single blog. Um, so that would be 20 pages of blogs split between the two of us to the tune of five hundred blogs each. Whoa.

I’ve read a page and a half so far.

But I’d rather do that than yet again try to purchase a Roma Pass or train tickets to save us some time. It isn’t that I haven’t tried four times already. For some reason, I can easily move things along until it’s time to pay. At that point, on each website, it states the page is no longer available. Frustrating.  They must not want my suffering U.S. dollars.

So I’m hovering here, with one eye on foodland, and the other on making sure we’ve got all that we need before we’re off to Italy tomorrow.
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It doesn’t taste too horribly, although the RTR would disagree.

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I have Chick to thank for the lead on Jen Lancaster’s writing. She’s completely hilarious. And Ann Patchett? Well, if you’ve read Bel Canto, you’d understand. When I saw the little pencils and their freshly sharpened points just screaming to be used I breathed life back into my dormant office supply fetish, I picked them up and chose a small notebook to write in as well.  You know — the old fashioned way. With a writing instrument?  Since I’ll be sans iMac for what seems to be forever, perhaps I’ll actually remember what it feels like to write in a notebook again. Maybe have a story or two to tell when we return.

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Do you have any idea how decadent my feet feel in these shoes? Sure they look like some kind of warped cross between something an eco-friendly ballerina and a tree-hugging terrorist would wear, but still.  I’ve got some strappy black sandals to got out to a few dinners in, but after suffering from blisters within a day of landing in the UK on our vacation two years ago, I take shoes very seriously.  Oops!  I almost forgot — the “Keens” are actually Merrells…I’m such a rotten consumer…

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I think this just about covers everything. Except now I’m worried about the pillows. And sheets. What if there aren’t any in the two rentals?  Um…I probably should have thought of this earlier? Maybe we do need the kitchen sink.

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And I’ve got pistachio gelato whirling in the ice cream maker right now…

Since there are about 4 or 5 people who still read this blog, I’m trying to post something to add to your day while we’re gone. You know, in case you miss me.  Or not.

In the meantime, I hope your weather is perfect, that you treat yourself to excellent food, and that you dream lovely dreams.

Ciao, bella!