30 June 2011

Day 26: a chill farewell to Rome

Today was our final day in Rome. I got up a few hours before S, with full intention of running. Instead, my ankle suggested I stay in. Yesterday, I slammed it into a pew in a church, and it was still smarting. Discretion being the better part of valor, I stayed in. Sarah took the morning off while I went out to do some shopping and start the day. I started off by hitting a lovely market in the nearby piazza (Campo de Fiori), but soon started wandering the streets, looking for things to photograph.

S and I met met at The Pantheon, which is one of my favorite places in Rome. She was less than thrilled, frustrated at the gross appropriation of culture and stuff that the early Christians did. Still, the building is magnificent. There's a huge open hole in the center of the roof, and if you position yourself just right, it looks like you're an angel! See:?:!!?

The rest of the building is also awesome!

After we met up, we grabbed lunch and then spent most of the afternoon shopping. Occasionally, we'd stop for a drink or a bite. Then, our last dinner in Europe! S had gnocchi with pesto (why mess with a classic?), and I had a great pasta dish with seafood (which was terrific, except for the fish bones, which seemed to be scattered throughout). Afterwards, gelato! We went back to San Crispini, the place we hit a couple of nights ago. S had chocolate again, and this time, I had a scoop of banana and a scoop of cinnamon cream. The banana was seriously the best banana ice cream or gelato or yogurt I've ever had. Wow!

At dinner, S and I had a nice talk about our favorite parts of the trip and what we would do if we found ourselves with another four weeks to travel Europe. Food for thought...

Tomorrow, we leave bright and early for Philly, then St. Louis! This has been a great trip, but we're both really looking forward to being back on home soil!

29 June 2011

Day 25: Colosseum and churches

(short post today. S and I are both a little grumpy)

Today was our big crowds day, with a trip to the Colosseum! We managed to navigate the bus system and make our way to this huge place with huge lines. It was hot hot hot, but eventually we got inside and onto a tour:

(Smile! You're in an old place!)

After we toured the site itself, we went through a little museum on-site, which was more or less dedicated to the reign of Nero.

(the capital of a column)

After the Colosseum, we walked back into town, had some lunch (melon and prosciutto, gnocchi with swordfish, eggplant parm), and set to work on the busy task of seeing some beautiful churches!

After the churches, we went shopping and found some lovely leather bags.

For dinner, we were hoping to have Beth (one of my students) and her friend Steph over for food, but the markets were all closed. Instead, we went out for dinner and gelato.

Okay, one more full day here before we head back to the states!

28 June 2011

Day 24: Firenze!

S and I made it to the train station and on board the 10.45 to Firenze. On the train, we met a family from DC who was just starting out their vacation: Firenze, Sorrento, Rome, and many smaller cities, all in 12 days (with two young boys!). Yikes!

(The Florentine train station: retro on the inside. fascist on the outside)

Our day in Firenze with Liz was terrific! We met her in Piazza Republica, and she took us to a yummy spot for lunch. Appetizers were melon, prosciutto, salumi, and liver/toast. The meal was ravioli. Dessert was a torte. Then, biscotti and booze.

After lunch. Liz took us to the Duomo for a little bit of history talking. She's a full-time art historian, so she knows this stuff pretty well. We talked about the outside of the church, the inside, the wool merchants, bible stories, drawing in perspective, wars, battles, balls, and foot traffic.

(The Duomo lurks in the background, like a rust-colored Stay-Pufft Marshmallow Man)

(Inside the Duomo)

(More history)

So much talking that we deserved some coffee!

Post-coffee was a time for shopping. S bought a cute pair of shoes and a scarf (I bought a silk tie earlier). We bought a couple of gifts for some people back home, sniffed inside a chocolate shop, and headed across the river for an afternoon cocktail (the sun was brutally hot today,so many breaks were in order). I had a Campari & soda, Liz had a Campari & OJ, and S had a fruit smoothie (with a whole passionfruit as a garnish!).

(John the Baptist, in one of the few modern pieces of sculpture in town)

Post-cocktail, we headed across the river to check out some more beautiful statuary and learn us some history. Liz is exceptionally knowledgeable, and she was able to answer all of our weirdo questions with (what seemed to us to be) exceptional skill.

(S rubbing the Boar's nose, ensuring another trip to Italy - this is slightly grosser than throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain)

(S and Liz enjoying the long shadows of early evening)

(This is not the real David. It is a digital reproduction of a record of light hitting a sensor, having bounced off a copy of THE David)

(I don' t know what this is, but it freaked me out)

(The Virginia Beach Neptune Festival Parade would be much more exciting if all of the King Neptunes had to be naked)

On the way back to the train station, we picked up some pizza for the rails. Back at the train station, we tried unsuccessfully to change our train reservation back to Rome (we missed our earlier train, but knew we could just rebook). Liz helped us navigate the computer system, but it failed us. Then, she tried to talk to a clerk, but the clerk office closed. Finally, she talked to the conductor of our new train, explained that both the computer kiosk and the human beings failed us. The conductor took pity on us and let us board our new train without rebooking.

The pizza was great! S had a margherita pie, and I had a siciliano pie (eggplant, tomato, cheese, and goodness). The pizza place we got takeout from apparently had part of Jersey Shore filmed at it, so keep your eye out for Pizzeria O'Vesuvio, if you like watching crap TV.

I'm typing from the train home right now. iPads rock! Colosseum tomorrow!

27 June 2011

Day 23: Trastevere, old things, new things, and weird gelato

Today I ran Villa Borghese, a park to the north of the main historical center. There were lots of trees, a lake, some boats, and plenty of stairs. It was a nice run - much nicer than the run on Circus Maximus yesterday.

S and I got a late start out the door, but we made up for lost time with a long long walk. We started with breakfast right around the corner from our hotel. From there, we ran a couple of errands (finally got those Father's Day postcards in the mail!), found a lovely art shop, and hit a shoe store before crossing the Tiber into Trastevere, a neighborhood of Rome that feels more small-town-y. we wandered there for a while, through piazzas that look like this:

and like this:
... ducking into churches and shops along the way. I wanted to see Bramante's Tempietto, which is in Trastevere, so we sought it out. It's on top of one of the seven hills of Rome, and while we were up there, we found this big old fountain:

From the top of the hill, you can see most of Rome laid out in front of you.

The Tempietto was locked away, so we weren't able to get a good shot of it, but after we descended the hill, we continued through Trastevere, where we found a tailor who hand-stitched neckties. Some of his work was truly beautiful, and he was very generous in showing it to us. He didn't speak a lick of English (nor we Italian), but that didn't stop any of us from talking neckties and stitching.

We ducked into the church of St. Cecilia, which sits on top of some Roman ruins (don't look surprised - ALL OF ROME sits on top of Roman ruins). For a few bucks, you could descend beneath the church and have a look around (apparently, one of the ruins beneath the church is St. Cecilia's house!):

After St. Cecilia, we found a little modern bar to grab a drink and a snack. I had a compari and soda (mmmmm), and we were thankful for all of the modern art books that were laying around as a balance to the excessive history that we'd been seeing during the day.

From there, we headed back across the Tiber, past some funky statuary, past the Pantheon, past the Spanish Steps, and then to a small trattoria for dinner. We split a pasta course (cannelloni with ricotta and spinach) and each had a secondi. S's veal meatballs were incredible, but I didn't really enjoy my tripe. I've had it a number of times with different preparations, and I think I can confidently say that I just don't care for it. Still, dinner was good, and it set us up nicely for gelato at Il gelato di San Crispino, which came highly recommended on the internet. It lived up to expectations. S had chocolate (natch), and I had a half-and-half of whiskey and honey. All three flavors were delicious, and a new bar has been set for gelato!

Post-gelato, we stopped off at Trevi Fountain for a photograph before heading home. We passed by The Pantheon once again:

Tomorrow, we head north to Firenze to see the city for a day. We're meeting Liz, an old friend of mine from high school. I can't remember the last time I saw her, but it's been at least 10 years!

26 June 2011

Day 22: Recharging the Batteries

After the last few days of much physical exertion on the coast, S and I both needed a battery recharge. I slept for 9 hours last night, which is unusual for me. S, not to be outdone, slept for approximately 13. So, she wins.

I got up this morning and went for a run. We're not too far from the Tiber, so I ran down the river and then looped around Circus Maximus before headed home. Then, I got cleaned up, picked up some breakfast (why yes, that big hunk of dough DOES have an entire apple inside!), and did some photo editing. Once S woke, it became clear that she was not interested in going outside during the daytime (her batteries take longer to recharge than mine), so I left for some exploration on my own. First stop, Piazza Navona:

This was one of the first places in Rome that I connected with, so I like returning there. I tried to find the place where I had an amazing pizza stregata a few years ago, but I think the place may have closed down. Le sigh.

Leaving the piazza (it's hot, and there's no shade), I wandered some narrow streets, enjoying the shade:

And then found myself at the Pantheon:

And the Spanish Steps. I didn't hear much Spanish at the steps - mostly English.

After the Spanish Steps, I wandered across the Tiber, had a campari & soda to recharge, meandered through a street fair, and found myself looking down the street at St. Peter's basilica. Since S had expressed uninterest in it, I thought I'd take the opportunity to check it out again (it's been 10 years since my last visit). The afternoon sun shone steep:

And I found these marble-painted Bose 101 loudspeakers that are part of the reinforcement system.

I made a couple of audio recordings, then zipped on back to home to check on S.

Back at home, S was up, moving around, and had started the laundry. We chilled for a while before heading out for dinner. We wandered towards the Jewish Ghetto and passed a few kosher places (how can you not put sausage AND cheese on a pizza?) before finding a little place called Il Portico. They had an extensive menu, full of pizzas, pastas, secondis, and salads. We sat at a table in the piazza next to another American couple, Aaron & Taiya. They were from Ellicot City in Maryland, and we ended up striking up a conversation over dinner. Sarah had a sausage pizza (delish), and I had Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe, which is pasta with pecorino cheese and black pepper. Both dishes were great! We also split a cheese & pear salad, which was less than thrilling. Also, I had some house wine.

After dinner, S, Aaron, Taiya, and I wandered over to Piazza Navona for gelato and people-watching. The piazza is lovely at night - and MUCH cooler than it was during the day!

Tomorrow, we're planning on rising early, doing some outdoor things, and then spending the afternoon inside the a/c - maybe a museum? It's funny - I don't really think of Rome as a museum kind of town - I think of the whole town as being one large museum...

25 June 2011

feeling crappy

I'm not sure why, but I'm feeling pretty crappy right now. I'm exhausted, my nose is runny, and my eyes are red. I think it's a combination of not sleeping much last night, the stress of driving in Italy (driving in Rome is a totally different kind of crazy from driving the Amalfi coast), and allergies. Regardless, it's 9:40pm, and I'm pooped. Headed for bed soon...

Day 21: Real Estate Listing

Have you always wanted a nice country house in southern Italy? A nice place with warm sun and cool breezes? Where your garden can grow in a lovely artistic community? Have I got the place for you:

This house is a fixer-upper, but it's got everything you're looking for in a home. Your dinner parties will be perfect in the lovely central garden with a nice promenade/cloister:

There are thoughtful decorative touches throughout the house and grounds:

It definitely needs some TLC - some of the plaster has come off of the walls:

But the architecture is beautiful and old-fashioned. You'll love the narrow streets of this gated community.

Everything is in walking distance, including theaters and concert halls:

The house is lovely, and it's a great place to make your home. You might want to hire a professional to clean the draperies, though: the last owner was a smoker.

24 June 2011

food at the Agriturismo

I've mentioned the word 'Agriturismo' a couple of times in recent posts, and it occurs to me that not everyone knows what it means. It's basically a B&B with an amazing homecooked dinner. Agriturismos are fairly new in Italy, as I understand it, and with your room rental, you get a room, bath, breakfast, and, for a nominal extra fee, an unfancy-but-delicious dinner. We booked our Agriturismo a few weeks ago, and Filomena is our hostess. Her mother Elena is always around, and there are a couple of other family members who pop their heads in from time to time. Breakfast is fairly consistent: plain yogurt, rustic honey, apricot jam, bread, coffee/tea, and either biscotti or a cake. Dinner varies much more widely, but always consists of: pasta (we've had risotto with zucchini, tagliatelli with pesto & cream, penne with tomato sauce, and spaghetti with sardines, olives, and capers), a secondi (we've had pork cutlet/potatoes/green beans, sausage/potatoes/peas/carrots, meatball/green beans, and chicken/green beans/potatoes), house wine, bread, dessert (we've had tiramisu, biscotti, apple cake), and limoncello. Every meal has been terrific, and served on a terrace with the other guests. Actually, we're the only ones in the agriturismo tonight, so dinner was a little boring, but the other nights have been very exciting!

Filomena reminds me of Marianne Penna, down to the glasses. She's around most of the time, and her English is passable (but her German is much better!). Her mother Elena is also around most of the time, and we've been trading vocabulary words with her. Last night (when Paul and Grace's daughter broke a wine glass), I taught her 'dustpan' and 'broom.' Tonight, she taught me the words for 'garlic' and 'parsely,' but I had too much wine and forgot them (I do know 'basil' - 'basilico' - and I wonder what the common root is for 'basilica' and 'basilico' - maybe basil was a holy herb that was only grown by the clergy? or maybe the leaf of the basil plant sort of looks like the tower of a basilica?)

Anyhow, tonight, as we're packing up for an early departure tomorrow, I wanted to recommend to anyone that they check out Agriturismo Monte Brusara if they find themselves on the Amalfi Coast. It's a great place with a great family running it, and the small hike it takes to get home at the end of the day is more than compensated for by the delicious dinner that awaits you from Filomena and Mama Elena!

Day 20: Greek ruins, Italian driving

We were up and out the door this morning by 9:30 am. Today was our day to hop in the car and drive down to Parco Nazionale Del Cilento, which is a big National Park south of Salerno. S had read a lot about it in the guide books and online, and we were looking forward to seeing some of the beautiful southern Italian countryside.

First, we had to drive the crazy roads here on the Amalfi coast. The roads are tight, with lots of switchbacks, and the drivers are crazy. Seriously crazy. On a road that was perhaps 2.25 cars wide, we'd have two cars passing each other and a motorcycle in the middle. Cars barrel into hairpin turns without thinking. It was white-knuckle driving the whole way. Thank goodness we had Sheila the GPS to guide us and S to interpret Sheila.

Once we were past Salerno (which is a big port city - not very pretty at all), we hopped on the A3 highway and headed down to Paestum. Thousands of years ago, Paestum was a backwater Greek outpost. It then became a backwater Roman outpost, and now it's a backwater Italian outpost. Seriously podunk. BUT, there are ancient Greek ruins there, and that's what we wanted to see:

After Paestum, we grabbed lunch and headed into the park proper. Our goal was to see the Gole de Calore, a gorge deep within the mountains. We wanted to compare it to the gorge we hiked in Germany last week. Alas, it was not to be. Though the park has some signage for hiking, it's still not very clear. The trails weren't labeled, there were no maps to be found, and the trails themselves were often hard to identify. Plus, the hike down to the gorge started at the top of a mountain. Not very accessible, and super-tough for a hurty-legged S. So, we bailed. Still, there were some great photos:

This weird dude marked the trailhead down to the gorge (we think):

At that point, we were deep in the park, near Magliano Vetere. From there, we decided to head home a different way from the way we came, mostly because we thought it'd be quicker. Wrong. The drive took us about 90 minutes down this morning, but the drive home took us over 3 hours. However, we did get to see some beautiful countryside and drive some terrifically twisty roads through Felitto, Castel S. Lorenzo, Roccadespide, Controne, and Serra before getting on the A3 and heading back to Ravello.

The road in the evening was even tougher than the road this morning, because in addition to all the crazies, we were driving during sunset so every other switchback put the light in our eyes.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Ravello and head to Rome via Pompeii. While I've enjoyed our time here on the Amalfi coast, I can't say that I think I'll be back. The whole area is a little too crazy and unrelaxing for us. If I want unrelaxing, I'll go to a city. The seaside is for calm.

23 June 2011

a big belly laugh from a teeny toddler

Today, on the bus back to Ravello, a young family boarded just after us. Mama and three kids came on board. The two older children were boys, and they sat their toddler sister in between the them on the bus. She was a loud delight the whole ride up the mountain. She chattered nonstop, she said 'o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o' whenever the bus rounded another corner to reveal another cliff, and she had a tremendous belly laugh that made S and I giggle every time! I made a recording of her (well, the whole bus trip), and I'll share it with you when I get the audio posted...

Day 19: beauty (and $13 milkshakes) on the Isle of Capri

We got up at 6am in order to catch the ferry to Capri. This is the view out of our terrace at 6am. Does. Not. Suck.
We left the Agriturismo at 6:45 and got to the bus stop in Ravello in time to catch the 7.25 bus. Which never came. Fortunately, we had allowed enough time to catch the 7.45 bus. The 7.45 bus came at 7.40, after which the bus driver backtracked up the mountain, did a three-point turn on the side of a mountain, yelled at every other bus driver in the piazza, and STILL got us down to Amalfi BEFORE the scheduled arrival time.

We caught the ferry to Capri, and arrived to greet the bustling island as it started its day:

'Free Willy' or 'Fry Willy?' Also, who is this dude who's photobombing my shot?

S was in much pain after yesterday's hike, so today featured a LOT of sitting and resting. In Capri, that means a LOT of buying outrageously expensive drinks. $13 milkshakes. $8 iced teas. Yikes. We took a walk across the island to the Arco Naturale, which is Italian for Natural Arch. Apparently, the ocean made this through constant irritation (sort of like a pearl, but bigger and not so shiny):

On the walk back, S found her Villa:

We found Villa Jovis, which is on the eastern cliffs of the island and was a place that Emperor Tiberious built for himself. This is yet another former seat of world power that we've visited (there are a lot of them here in Yurp):
France, Germany, and Italy all have dramatically different approaches when it comes to letting the public view famous dead people things. France's approach (seen at Chenonceau) is to give you a bit of a guide, but let you wander the property at your will. Germany's approach (seen at Ludwig's castles) is to take you on a very restricted guided tour, where they show you just what they want to show you, in the order they want to show it, for as long as they want to show it. Italy's approach (seen at Villa Jovis) is to provide very little guidance, but to just post signs saying 'don't throw yourself off a cliff and kill yourself. Ciao!'

After Villa Jovis, we sat down to a lovely lunch. The food was good, but the drinks were the best part. Sarah had iced tea with fresh peaches sliced into it. These peaches were soft and squishy and juicy - so good! Seriously - in any other part of the world, slicing peaches like this into tea instead of smearing them all over your body would be sacrilege... I had a limoncello and campari drink that was truly amazing! Also, I had a hat:
We took a ferry back from Capri at about 5:30:

...and headed back to Ravello, where we checked out Villa Rufolo. Villa Rufolo used to be a sort of resort spa, but now it's just beautiful gardens and old buildings.
self portrait, with shadow and hat:

From Villa Rufolo, we were close enough to the Agriturismo that we just walked home. On the way, we passed one of many fruit stands, where I snapped a photo of the HUGE lemons that are used in everything out here (including limoncell0!). Yes, those are regulation-sized wine bottles in the photo. No, I did not doctor the photo at all:
And here's a statue of a crazy dead nun:
When we got back to the Agriturismo, we were greeted with another exceptional meal (pasta with tomato sauce, meatballs, green beans, potatoes), and a young American family here for the night. Paul and Grace are traveling with their three kids, and we had a nice time chatting with them!

Tomorrow, more hiking (and more photos)!