Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

When In Rome

September 3, 2010

When in Rome?*  Ummm…that would be Friday July 30th through August 1st.  I can’t believe it’s been a month since our vacation!  But I have finally had some time and willpower to organize the pictures and pick out some favorites for the blog – fun! 

I really tried to cram all of our trip to Rome into one blog post, but after working on this draft for the last couple of days, I’ve decided to split it up into more manageable sections.  This should be more enjoyable for everyone involved 🙂 

Photograph Quality Disclaimer: I’m going to use mostly my own photos from the trip, but the temptation to use other photos from the web is great.  Rome is a very popular destination and there are tons of excellent pictures of all aspects of Rome only a mouse-click away.  I’m not promising that my pics are going to do justice to anything we saw, so if something grabs your eye, I would definitely encourage you to do an image search to see more photos shot from better angles on better cameras! 

Historical Knowledge Absorption Disclaimer: We saw a LOT of statues, fountains, historical sites, famous structures and square footage in our less-than-48-hours in Rome.  One could spend a lifetime in Rome learning about the history of the city and I had less than two days, so please forgive skimpy details where they should occur. 

Rome: Day 1 – Arriving in Rome and the Walking Tour 

We arrived in Rome on the Friday afternoon after leaving Terracina and seeing the Anzio War Cemetery.  As you may remember, I was driving a Fiat Punto and it was my first time driving a manual transmission in about six years.  Getting out the airport was nice and easy, but getting back in was a little…trickier. 

Driving around in airports is never any fun, even in your own car and at an airport with which you’re familiar.  This was worse.  Fiumicino was very busy, and there were multiple signs (in Italian) pointing the way to a myriad of different destinations.  After figuring out where we needed to be, and after fighting through arrivals traffic I actually missed the turn for rental car returns and had to go all the way around and do it again!  Ack! 

Driving up the steep, twisting parking garage ramps was going alright until I caught up to a car that was in front of me and had to STOP on a very steep INCLINE with another car BEHIND ME.  I was vaguely aware of the fact that I cussed a 17-syllable (or so) blue streak in front of my Mom and the Hubby as I went from braked to moving forward up that 90-degree vertical face that the airport has the audacity of calling a ramp. Ha!  I managed to not stall the car, start rolling backward OR shoot off of the ramp into a crowd of pedestrians, so I guess it went all right. 

So we returned the car, made our way through the maze of Fiumicino’s walkways, and caught a van into downtown Rome.  It was a fun drive – the driver was very charismatic, had a boisterous laugh, and drove like a complete psycho.  The fact that he swerved and sped and only narrowly avoided killing us all he every time he changed lanes or turned corners is probably the only reason why the Hubby and I managed to meet our walking tour group on time.  It was incredibly cool to see the Colosseum as we came into the city. 

 

Our first view of the Colosseum as we zipped by at a peppy 500 miles per hour. 

We were dropped of at our hotel at 1:40pm.  This was our first impression of the Hotel Quirinale: What-a-lovely-lobby-but-can-you-call-us-a-cab-we’re-going-to-be-late-for-our-expensive-prepaid-walking-tour-that-leaves-at-2pm-oh-and-here’s-our-luggage-can-you-take-care-of-it-for-us-oh-the-cab’s-here-kthxbai! 

The cab dropped us off at the Piazza Navona with about seven minutes to spare.  We were bordering on frantic as we bounced like balls in a pinball machine from group to group around the large, crowded square asking every tour group “Are you our group?  No English, okay, grazie!”.  None of the groups had signs, and our tickets didn’t specify a meeting spot in the piazza!  But finally, we found our group.  Victory is ours! 

 

Piazza Navona – And we’re supposed to find our group how?  The Four Rivers Fountain is in the right of this photo. 

The walking tour was awesome – I loved it.  Our guide spoke very good English and her accent wasn’t so thick that we had trouble understanding her.  The way our tour worked was everyone received a headset, and they were all connected to the guide (audibly, not physically…that would be weird).  This way we didn’t have to worry about vying for a place next to the guide so we could hear her, she could talk while we moved from location to location, and we could easily look around and make sure we were still with the group, because all of us were wearing these bright blue lanyards from which the receivers hung. 

The tour actually started in the Piazza Navona.  It was here that I found my favorite fountain in Rome (of the meager few dozen that I saw): Bernini’s Four Rivers.  This fountain is gigantic, and I like the history behind it.  The sculpture is chock full allegories and metaphors.  Each of the four fountains in the sculpture represents one of the four major rivers known at the time it was created: Rio de la Plata (S.America), the Danube (Europe), the Ganges (Asia) and the Nile (Africa). 

 

The Four Rivers Fountain (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) 

We heard a fun story about the animosity between the Four Rivers Fountain and the basilica across from it, Sant-Agnese in Agone.  The two structures were designed by two different artists, Bernini (Four Rivers) and Rainaldi (the basilica).  According to the tour guide, the two artists were bitter rivals and there is a fake folk story that goes something like this: The four gods in the fountain were sculpted to be grimacing at the basilica, or hiding their faces from the church’s hideousness, and the lady sculpted on the front of the basilica has her hand to her heart – gasping at the horror of having to look at the fountain for all time.  The guide also explained that the timelines of when each was built don’t match up to make this a valid story.  A fake story, but fun. 

 Sant-Agnese in Agone 

There were two other fountains in Piazza Navona, as well as beautiful hotels, hopping outdoor cafes and tons of very talented street artists peddling their paintings, sketches and photography of Rome and Roman landmarks. 

 

Center of the Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza Navona 

The next stop on our walking tour was the Pantheon.  The Pantheon was originally constructed as a tribute to all of the ancient Roman gods, but it was later converted into a Christian church.  It contains the tomb of King Emmaneul II and the remains of the artist Raphael.  As the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world, the Pantheon is still an architectural wonder.  The dome is open at its apex, and the opening is called the oculus.  There are drains on the floor that allow the floor to dry when it rains. 

 

 

Pantheon exterior, Inside the Pantheon, the Pantheon’s oculus, Outside the Pantheon with the Guide and a street actor.  Click on any picture to see larger view. 

For the life of me I’m not going to be able to remember what this particular building was called.  Our tour guide pointed out several interesting features about this early Roman structure.  First she explained what was up with all the holes: The columns that you see in the foreground are actually composed of several blocks of stone that were once held together with copper rods.  As time went by, people reclaimed the copper for re-use in other projects, and they would drill holes into the columns looking for the copper. 

 

It was here that we were first introduced to the reality that Rome is a city built on top of cities.  When we looked over the edge of the railing we could see the original street level!  This structure was built in a time when street level was probably 20 feet lower than the cobblestones upon which we were standing. 

 

Next, the Trevi Fountain.  It was nigh unto impossible to take a good photograph of the Trevi fountain for several reasons.  First, it’s just so HUGE!  The fountain takes up the entire block and it’s hard to get it all in one frame.  Second, the Trevi is probably one of the most popular tourist stops in Rome and there’s not much room to accommodate all of us foreigners, so it’s very, very crowded.  Just finding a place to try to take a photo of the fountain is difficult.  But I do want to show you the fountain – it was very majestic! – so I grabbed this photo from another site

 

See what I mean about the crowds? 

 

 

After the Trevi we took a nice walk through several neighborhoods to get to the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II.  The locals have a fondness for detesting the (in their opinion) over-large, overly white, pompous structure – and the disregard with which the architects carved it into Capitoline Hill – and thus they have several dismissive names for it, but “The Wedding Cake” is probably the most popular of them. 

 

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located in the front of the Monument. 

 

Roman Forum 

This is one of those places for which you should really find other photos!  People have taken lovely ariel photos and photos from higher points in the city than we were able to achieve.  This is one example that I found on wikipedia: 

 

The Forum Romanum, 2008. View facing North East from above the Portico Di Consentes.  The Colosseum is visible in the background. This photo was stitched together using 7 photos. 

The Roman Forum was probably the most enjoyable stop for me.  The area has been turned into a sort of “natural reserve”.  You buy a ticket and then are free to wander through the ruins!  You can almost walk underneath the large temple columns of Saturn and Castor and Pollux,  you can gaze up at the floating door of the temple of Antonius and Faustina, and you can almost imagine the ancient Romans gathering together to talk shop; for a time all of the economical, judicial and political talk in Rome took place in the the Forum.  Our tour guide had us sit on the on the “steps” outside of the Temple of Caesar while she went through some of the history of the Forum.  One of the (many) interesting things about the Roman Forum is that it is an active archeological site – we were able to watch some of the scientists at work as we walked through the ruins. 

 

Old and New – Gazing at the back of the “Wedding Cake” across the Forum. 

     

And last but not least, the Colosseum. 

From a tourist point of view, the best part of the Colosseum was NOT waiting in the everloving, winding, twisting, line that wrapped around at least a quarter of the way around the structure.  Because we were part of a tour group we were able to enter through a special tour line that brought us to the front of the class!  We walked under an arched opening in the Colosseum, and then voila! – we were there, on the main lowest spectator level of the sporting arena, looking across the exposed underbelly of the old (and now missing) stage.  Across from us we could see a reconstruction of the sandy stage, and all around us were worn-down stone steps leading from the main floor all the way up to the single women’s viewing level at the top of the arena.  

The tour guide did a brief spiel about the history, architecture and purpose of the Colosseum (blech – MMA to the death).  I did find it interesting that the gladiators didn’t die as often as is portrayed in movies (Gladiators were an expensive investement in terms of money, room and board and training time).  The exotic animals used in the “hunting games” and the prisoners of war, though, they died quite a bit.  I also learned that most of the gladiators fought one-on-one, and rarely, if ever, in large historical recreations like in the movie The Gladiator.  

After the tour ended, we spent some time walking around the Colosseum, seeing the exhibits on the second level, and of course taking photos. 

 

    

After that we went back to the hotel and hooked up with Mom.  Later in the evening we went on a truly hideous “night” tour, which I envisioned as being an open-air tour bus (like the one we had in Perugia), gliding from one magnificent, brightly-lit site to the next, sort of a nighttime review of everything we had seen during the day. 

But no. 

First, we were all in a gigantic long-distance style tour bus – the kind with the padded seats with the giant underarea for luggage, you know?  So we were high up off the ground in this silent bus with thick windows between us and Rome.  Second, it started to rain so forget pictures, hell forget seeing the momuments (although the alternative of an open-air bus wouldn’t have been so great in the downpour we experienced).  And THEN, the guide spoke four languages.  Literally four languages one after the other.  He’d rattle through the English explanation of the place we were zooming by, repeat that in three other languages, and then we’d be arriving at the next place and he’d start all over again.  There were other tragic parts of the tour, and I definitely would call a mulligan on that experience if I could.  

We were let off of the gigantic tour bus about a block from our hotel (yes, it was still raining), and Mom, the Hubby and I took shelter in a little restaurant on the way back.  We had a lovely Italian dinner  (pizza, salad and spaghetti) and then made our way back home to the hotel.  

I think I fell asleep the second I hit the bed.
________________________________________ 

*The Hubby likes to be goofy in order to make me laugh, but sometimes his goofiness makes me groan.  So I foresaw a potential groaner and limited him to TWO uses of the phrase “When in Rome…” during our actual visit to Rome.

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Terracina, Italy

August 15, 2010

Back to the travel-blogging!

Note: I don’t have my pictures from this leg of the journey yet, so any pictures below have been borrowed from other places on the web.  Clicking on the photos will take you to the photo source.

Ah, Terracina.  Finally, we get to the Mediterranean!

We left Perugia early on Thursday morning (6am-ish) and took the train into Rome.  Aaron and I packed up on Wednesday because this was the start of the second part of our journey; we were done with Perugia and would spend the rest of our time in Terracina, Rome and Amsterdam.  Once in Rome we switched trains to get out to Fiumicino Airport.  From there we rented a car for our trip to Terracina, a medium-sized town about an hour and a half south of Rome on the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Let me say that I had a blast driving in Italy, but there were some terrifying moments.  First of all, the only kind of car that the rental agencies offered were manual transmissions.  I was nominated to drive the Fiat Punto we rented because my last car (six years ago!) had been a stick shift; Mom hadn’t driven a stick since before I was born, and the Hubby had never driven stick.  But no problem – I figured I could get back in the swing of driving a manual.

Secondly, I was worried about reading and understanding Italian street signs, or rather not being able to do those things.  I briefly studied a guide called Back Roads Italy, which had many tips for foreigners who planned to drive in Italy, including a section of common road signs.  Still, I find it amazing that any government allows foreigners to drive in their country.  In Italy they do, thankfully, drive on the same side of the road as we do in America, but the driving attitude is very different – signs, lines and speed limits are more like suggestions than hard rules.

This was, oddly enough, my favorite part of driving in Italy; it’s more cerebral and requires the use of common sense.  One has to constantly evaluate the situation around them: Do I need to scoot right so this race car driver behind me can get by?  Will that car turn right and can I enter into the roundabout now or not?  Gee, this car in front of me is going 10km under the speed limit, so I can glide into the left lane and gun around him.

On the trip down the coast I felt like a race car driver myself – it was a lot of fun!  But that was on the highway; driving in the city was terrifying.  During our stay in Terracina we decided to drive up the mountain to the Temple of Jupiter, an ancient structure overlooking the sea and located high above the city.

The Temple of Jupiter on the cliffs of Terracina

Unfortunately, we had to drive through the city to get there.  For the most part, it seems that Italians do not recognize a “distance between cars” rule – everyone drives bumper to bumper, and scooters and motorcycles will speed between cars with inches to spare.  There was so much stop and go (slam on the breaks and then speed wildly forward), and there was increased signage in Italian that I couldn’t read, and then we missed our exit and ended up on a road leading out of the city.  Thank all that is for GPS getting us back to the hotel!  I decided that I was done with driving in Italian cities so we gave up on seeing the temple.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Terracina was actually my least favorite excursion of our entire vacation, but that was mostly due to our choice of hotel.  I’m sure that had we had more time we could have made it a lovely trip.  And if I would have had time to scuba dive, I might be saying that Terracina was the best part of the whole vacation!   It really wasn’t Terracina’s fault.

We stayed at a hotel called the Blue River, and it was just so…mediocre.  Mom and I called it the “almost” hotel; everything was “almost” – the pool was almost clean, the hot tub was almost warm, the bed was almost suitable, the turkey dinner looked almost edible, the free wifi almost worked, the chairs on the balcony were almost comfortable, the visit to the beach was almost perfect.    A little detail:

  • The lobby was almost very nice, but the motif probably hadn’t changed since the 1970s.  The check-in was almost professional; kids and teenagers kept running in and out from a room behind the desk.  They would congregate and chat behind the desk while the concierge was working.
  • The bathrooms were all beautiful (we guessed that the owner must know someone in the business) but everything else was just sort of old – and not in the good 1,000 year old renovated way that we had gotten used to seeing.  It was more like, “Ugh!  They laid that linoleum back in the 1950s and really need to replace it.”
  • The rooftop was ugly and barren – everything was concrete and plastic.  Someone had strung up a laundry line and there were two old lawn chairs to sit in while you looked at the mountains.
  • The pool floor was stained and there were no steps or a gradual incline by which one could enter the pool.  Mom actually couldn’t use the pool because of this; she has arthritis in her knees and the ladders were not sufficient for her to get in or out of the pool.  The water in the hot tub was cold, and it was above-ground.  The only way in and out was a rickety ladder that again, Mom couldn’t traverse.  All around the hot tub was that awful outdoor green plastic “grass carpet” that always makes me shudder because all I can imagine is the bacteria and fungus that must growing in it.
  • At one point during our stay we went to the bar.  The bartender didn’t have Bloody Mary mix, so I ordered a gin and tonic.  The bartender rummaged around and then announced that they didn’t have tonic.  I finally ordered a martini because it was actually on the menu so we figured she must be able to make that.  She made a half vermouth, half vodka martini….blech, but apparently that’s how they make martinis in Italy, so I won’t say that she sucks at making martinis, even though the martini sucked.

BUT, back to enjoying vacation.  We’re on vacation, yay!  At the beach!  Let’s go to the beach!

The concierge tells us that there are chairs and umbrellas for rent at the beach.  The beach is a short walk from the hotel, so we grab our…oops, we don’t have beach towels.  Eh, we’ll drip dry.  And we don’t have sunscreen, so we figure we’ll stop at the convenience store to buy some, but oops! – it’s 1:30pm and the store is closed for the Italian mid-day break.  Eh, we’ll stay under the shade of the umbrella.  So, we head down to the beach and find an umbrella and chair.  We don’t see where we’re supposed to pay for the umbrella and chair, but figure that someone will come over and let us know if they see us sitting there.  Then we’re off to play in the water.  The water is cool, but we get used to it and I stay in for a long time, playing with the waves and the sandy bottom.

Mom and Aaron go back to the umbrella and hang out.  They buy some water from the bar and every five minutes or so wave off one of the dozens of beach vendors peddling glasses, jewelry, hats, purses, kites and other wares.  I play in the sand for a while, digging canals to capture water so I can scoop wet sand and I start to build a sand castle – but really it it’s going to be more of a fort with a broad, strong square base and high walls to repel oceanic intruders.  Then the Hubby and Mom convince me that my un-sunscreened self needs to get under the umbrella.  While we’re hanging out there, the lifeguard comes over and asks us for our ticket.  It turns out that the chairs and umbrellas for rent at the beach needed to be rented from the Hotel Blue River concierge, not at the beach (thanks for letting us know, Concierge Lady).  He then yells at us for not only not having a ticket, but for sitting in a reserved seat (apparently somebody had rented the seats and umbrella we were in for a three-month block, whoopsie!).  He tells us that we need to leave, and that we need to have a ticket next time we come to the beach.

Humph.

After that we went for our driving “adventure” to find the Temple of Jupiter.  FAIL.  So we came back to the hotel with the idea of eating dinner, relaxing in the room and maybe having drinks on the beach while watching the sun set.  We stopped by the front desk to look at the restaurant’s menu.  We looked at the menu, and we looked at each other.  Then we looked at the menu again.  Mom asked if I wanted to drive somewhere for dinner, but I was burned out and traumatized from our last drive, so we reluctantly decided to eat at the hotel.  Unfortunately it was only about 5:30pm and the restaurant didn’t open until 7:30.  Shit.

So we decided to play Uno in our room on the balcony.  But we had Uno Fail – with only three people playing, the hands went on FOREVER – every hand we had to reshuffle the deck four or five times before someone would somehow win.  We all got cranky playing cards, and then mercifully it was time for dinner.  We went down to the restaurant and were the first group to arrive.  The staff were still rolling silverware and hanging out in the dining room while we ordered.  Our food came out in less than five minutes…everything was pre-cooked. Mom ordered meatballs and pasta, and she ended up sending her plate back because her noodles were bare.  They put four meatballs on the side of the plate and sent bare, cooked noodles on the rest of the plate.  My fish was alright, but the sauce was bitter and the fish was full of tiny bones.  It was all mediocre and all pricey; it was the most disappointing meal we had in Italy.

For Mom that was it – it was the final straw and she was done.  She didn’t even wait for the check – the Hubby and I had offered to pay for the monstrosity that was our meal, so she headed up to the room to lay down.

The Hubby and I decided that we needed to make some good memories in Terracina, so we decided to go walking on the beach and watch the sunset.  It was kind of amazing – the beach was deserted.  There were drivers rolling big machines across the beach, presumably filtering/cleaning the sand.

“*Terracina.. Beach By Night*” – This beautiful photo was taken by cL4uDj and was found on Flickr.

On our walk we wandered by this campsite – a semi-permanent setup of trailers, campers and buildings all parked together to make a little neighborhood of maze-like pathways located right on the beach.  It was reminiscent of a trailer park, but it seemed busier and more intimate than any trailer park I have ever seen.  Dining room tables were set up outside under makeshift roofs and it was hard to tell where one domicile started and the next began.  Kids were running around, people were washing the dishes in outdoor sinks, and others clustered in groups of chairs watching television.

We eventually arrived at a canal filled with very nice boats.  We sat on the dock and watched fisherman cast their lines and boats come back home for the evening as the sun was setting.  It was nice, there was a slight breeze and we were happy as we ambled back to the hotel.

The next morning we woke up – we had all actually slept very well, yay for small favors – and checked out of the hotel – Arrividerci and good riddance!  The Hubby wanted to stop on the way back to Rome to see the Anzio war cemetery.  1,056 Commonwealth troops who died in WWII are buried in Anzio Beach Head War Cemetery, and the city was a pivotal landing point for Allied troops during the war.  We used the GPS to get us to Anzio and drove through some beautiful rural backroads in Nettuno along the way.  The cemetery was immaculate, beautiful and a humbling reminder of the consequences of war.

This picture comes from a private blog dedicated to the memorial of Private Leonard Smith. The blog contains many beautiful pictures of the Beach Head Commonwealth War Cemetery and is worth a look.

And that was it.  We made it back into Rome and arrived at the meeting place for our walking tour with about five minutes to spare!

So, our Terracina experience wasn’t the jewel of the vacation, but I’m glad that we were able to spend some time at the beach.  The evening walk with Hubby was wonderful, and I really did enjoy driving throughout most of trip.  Terracina is a beautiful city, and I could even see visiting again with more planning.

Or maybe not.

Stay tuned for the next travel blog (I promise it will be cheerier!):

ROMA!

Florence

August 5, 2010

Okay, back at the travel-blogging!

Last Tuesday was another outing day – we decided to go to Florence (Firenze).  We left Perugia and took an hour-or-so train ride into the huge Florence rail station.  The first thing I noticed as we left the station was the speed of the city.  We had spent the past week in a (relatively) small Italian hill town, and now we had landed in a hustling, bustling metropolis of street vendors, tour groups, business people, students, restaurants with menus in two to four languages, souvenier shops and tabachhis.  One of the upsides of being in a touristy area like this was that more people had a familiarity with English, so among the chaos we were able to communicate a little more easily for directions and navigating menus.

A street vendor selling…small camera stands?

The Duomo, or more properly, the Basilica of Santa Maria di Fiore (since duomo is a generic Italian term for a cathedral) is probably one of the most notable attractions in Florence.  There are three buildings located in the Piazza del Duomo, including the Baptistery (octagonal and ginormous), the bell tower (tall and ginormous), and the main cathedral (ginormous with a big dome). 

Baptistery in the foreground, the bell tower, the facade of the main cathedral, the doors of the baptistery, a representation of God near the top of the cathedral facade, the dome of the cathedral (Mom in the foreground), another view of the bell tower and the length of the cathedral.

I wanted to go to the top of the Duomo to look over the city, but…

So, this entire trip I was craving fried calamari.  Don’t ask me why foods fried in wheat product don’t upset my stomach like other gluten-containing products, but they don’t.  I never eat too much fried food because the fear of being decimated by gastric upset is great, but not so great that I completely eschew fried calamari.  So it was with great delight that I discovered that the World’s Best Fast Food Calamari is located in Florence, Italy.  I give you: Re Calamaro!.  Even the fast food in Italy kicks American food’s butt!  Yum, yum, yum.

Another famous area of Florence is the Palazzo degli Uffizi, a palace that houses the Uffizi Gallery.  The gallery contains words by da Vinci, Boticelli, Michelangelo, Rafael, Caravaggio and many other famous artists.  The Uffizi requires reservations (or a five-hour wait in line in July), so we chose not to go inside, but outside of the Uffizi in the Piazza della Signoria are many incredible statues. 

Under the Loggia dei Lanzi (the set of three arches alongside one edge of the Piazza della Signoria) is one of my favorite statues, Perseus with the head of Medusa.  The detail is mind-boggling; one expects Perseus will step down from his pedestal to show you the final death throes of Medusa’s serpentine locks.

I call this piece Big scary dog, indifferent pigeon.

We all have our tourist moments.  This was (one of) mine.

 

Over the  River Arno (Fiume Arno)

  

  

Mom and the Hubby on a bridge overlooking the Arno toward the Ponte Vecchio, close up of the Ponte Vecchio, buildings along the Arno, a view of the Uffizi and Galileo Science History Museum from the opposite bank.

We saw locks all over Florence; we figured it was a habit to leave your bike lock hooked to your “parking space”.  But outside of the Uffizi we overheard a tour guide explaining that the tradition is you leave a lock in Florence and your true love will find you.  Another blog site, Students in Europe, has a different story:

It turns out the locks are a tradition in Florence. Couples bring a lock and lock it to the chains, then throw the key into the river as a declaration of the strength and eternity of their love. As I looked closer, I saw that many of the locks had the lovers’ names or initials written or inscribed on them.

Here is one of the chains near the Ponte Vecchio covered with wishes for, or declarations of, true love. 

 

There was a ton of motor traffic in Florence.  Like Perugia and Rome, scooters and small motorcycles appeared to dominate the vehicular traffic in Florence.  This is a street along the Arno River chock-full of parked bikes.

I love this video I took of Italian drivers and their odd relationship with stop signs.  Or, lack thereof:

Florence was a day trip – we were in town a mere six hours or so, and look at all we saw!  It was a beautiful, exciting city, and I would definitely spend more time there if the opportunity presented itself.

Perugia: Tuesday and Wednesday

July 22, 2010

Tuesday we went exploring.  It was our first full day in Perugia, so we started at the apartment and radiated out.  We went grocery shopping and browsed a street vendor selling ceramics at Piazza Danti.

Food from the Alimentari

Ceramics for sale on the steps of Cathedrale San Lorenzo

We discovered that Perugia is a narrow oval of a town; you can walk for a very long time in one direction, then take one side street and be not too far from where you started.  It’s hard to tell where’ll you’ll end up because the streets twist and turn in haphazard, multilevel, maze-like routes – some roads lead you uphill, some roads lead down.  Some of the streets go underneath buildings and are hidden in the corners of other streets that look like dead-ends.  Also, you can meander down a very gradual hill with lots of twists and turns for thirty minutes, and then get back home in five minutes by taking one steep stairway.  The entire town is hills, hills, hills and many people walk everywhere (according to the Tourist Information office).  You could eat pizza and drink beer for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never gain weight in this town!

There are frescoes located all throughout the town, tucked in back alleyways and displayed prominantly along busy streets.

A small fresco displayed above a modern clothing store in Perugia’s Centro Storico.

A close-up of the same fresco

A fresco seen on Via Ercolano

Wednesday we decided to follow one of the local walking tours that took us to the far edge of town.  We followed a gradual hill up to the Keep of Sant’Angelo – a giant castle-looking structure – and found a beautiful temple (Temple of Sant’Angelo) hidden at the top of a hill behind stone walls and a lush green garden.

The Keep from Corso Garibaldi –  the largest of Perugia’s medieval city gates (14th century)

The Keep as seen from the Temple Garden 

 

Me in front of the Temple of Sant’Angelo, the oldest church in Perugia (5th-6th century)

 

  Inside the Temple – the main center

In order to save a little space, I am condensing the following pictures  into thumbnails.  You should be able to click on each picture to enlarge them if you’re interested. 

          

L to R, top to bottom: temple ceiling, around an inside wall of the temple, wall fresco, fresco and cross, burial tombs(?), church bells, baptismal chamber (located off of the main gallery), side room, side room (sorry, I don’t know what these side rooms were used for), prayer candles.

On the way home we were treated to an excellent view of the Etruscan Arch (Arco Etrusco).

The Etruscan Arch – shot on the way home from the Temple of Sant’Angelo

The Etruscan Arch – shot earlier that morning

The Etruscan Arch – inside wall

And here’s a few shots from later in the evening and Wednesday night:

Roof tiling from the edge

Perugia: Gluten Free Dining

July 21, 2010

Yesterday we meandered through the San Pietro area.  One of the highlights of the trip was finding this random crepe kitchen, Le Cre.  It was tucked near the end of a tunnel-like alley next to the Pozzo Etrusco, an ancient Etruscan well.

I noticed the word “glutine” in a few places around the shop and then I saw a newspaper clipping with the words “gluten free” in the title along with a picture of the place.  The bar tender saw me pointing and saying “gluten free” and she nodded.  She pointed up and at the ceiling and in that moment I learned one of the loveliest phrases of my trip thus far: Senza Glutine.  Directly translated it means “without gluten”.

She spoke a fair amount of English, and was able to explain that the senza glutine side of this particular kitchen has been dedicated to gluten-free food preparation.  She told us that there were a few GF restaurants in the area, and that they were very prevalent in Southern Italy.  So it was that I enjoyed a crepe in Italy.

We nom nom nom on a nutella e crema senza glutine crepe

On Wednesday we ran across another luncheon place that had a senza glutine section on the menu, so I was able to enjoy PASTA in Italy 🙂

Thatsa lotta pasta carbonara – and it’s gluten-free!

Tonight (Wednesday evening) we stopped back at Le Cre for one final crepe dinner.  The owners close up Le Cre for the summer on Friday, so even though we’re surrounded by bars, paninitecas, pizzarias, tavole caldas and ristorantes, we decided to vist them one more time. 

One of the cafe staff makes my senza glutine crepe

Salami, cheese, whole marinated “spicy” button mushrooms, lettuce, mayo on a GF crepe

Mom said she needs a short break from “Italian food”.  Tomorrow night – sushi!

Ciao!

July 18, 2010

The Hobby and I have just boarded the 747 (our first!) that will deliver us to Rome in approximately 10 hrs. 

We’ll arrive at Fiumicino airport at 10:25am (ish) local time.  Once there we will take the train to Stazione Termini in Rome, and then we will purchase train tickets to Perugia.

Depending on the availability of WiFi or other internet access, I’ll post updates – and photos! – as possible.

Arrivederci!

Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group

July 17, 2010

Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group Brunch Experience

The Uptown Cafeteria and Support group, or “The Cafeteria” is located in Calhoun Square, right across from Stella’s Fish Cafe.  The Hubby and I decided to make our first visit to The Cafeteria on a lazy Sunday morning when we could have the place to ourselves.  The Star Tribune recently did a piece on this trendy new Minneapolis hotspot and everytime we’ve driven by the place has been packed!  The rooftop – SkyBar – is supposed to be excellent in the evenings, but we didn’t get a chance to explore upstairs at brunch.

The cafeteria has garage-door windows that are raised up in nice weather; diners are inside but exposed to the sidewalk and the Uptown crowds walking by.

The picture above is from our table by the windows- it really was empty when we stopped by!  The food was simply alright.  Our eggs, bacon and toast were typical fare, and the potatos were too oily and heavy to be enjoyable.  On the plus side, the servers were very pleasant and attentive.  But there’s no doubt that The Cafeteria’s main attraction is its unique style.

This close-up photo of the bar really doesn’t do it justice – the bar is very long and has room for a lot of patrons.  I like the combination of liquor bottles and beer taps, top-shelf liquor cabinets and fancy flatscreen TVs set against a greasy spoon-style countertop and chairs.

The hallway to the bathrooms and kitchen is “wall-papered” with actual cafeteria trays.

The bathroom decorations are fun.  The Hubby took the picture on the left and the pic on the right is from the women’s room.  I think the women got cheated – we should have pictures of cafteria men or women glaring at us on the backs of bathroom doors while we pee!

I did not get a picture of the booths or the awesome walls covered in shag carpeting.  As I said earlier, our food was just meh.  But I love the ambiance and I’ll be back to try their evening fare, and definitely to check out the rooftop bar!  The Cafeteria seems like a great place to bring some friends for before or after dinner drinks!

What: Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group
Where: 3001 Hennepin Avenue Minneapolis, MN
When: Quiet brunch on the weekends, trendy crowds and yummy drinks in the evening.
Website: http://www.uptowncafeteria.com/

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Uno giorno fino a Italia!

One of the gorgeous cities of Cinque Terre

I’m going here, to Perugia

Freaked about Fashion

July 15, 2010

…and pickpockets and scam artists and people cutting the bottom out of my backback and crowded trains and…woah, woah, woah.

Ah, the internet!  The leader in unsubstantiated claims, dramatic horror stories, and one-sided viewpoints!

The Hubby and I spent waaaaay too much time last night browsing the interwebs and getting worked up about being American tourists in Italy.  We learned that we wear grubby, unattractive clothing in our day-to-day dress, that we’re going to be pickpocketed by children, mothers with babies and sleazy men, that the Hubby  is going to get drugged and dragged off to a den of prostituzione where he’ll be forced to buy high-priced drinks for women and get conned into sleeping with them, and that I’m going to get groped by every man on the street (Damn, I’m good!). 

So we’ll be on guard for pickpockets and scam artists.  We’ve got our tiny over-the-shoulder bags for the camera and other small semi-valuables, under-the-clothes hidey spots for our passports, credit cards and the bulk of our cash and we’re only packing one backpack each for our clothing.  In Rome we’ll try to avoid highly-packed trains and obvious distractions by potential theives.

All good.

But I really do need to go shopping!

I had planned to bring a couple pairs of jean shorts, several t-shirts and Teva sandals for daily wear, and one simple black dress with cheap but cute strappy black sandals for a nice evening dinner.  The Hubby had planned two pairs of cargo shorts, several t-shirts, Teva sandals and his favorite baseball cap for daily wear, as well as a pair of black slacks, a short sleeve dress shirt and leather dress shoes for dinner. 

No, no, no – what were we thinking!?  All the websites are saying that if we dress like this we’ll be pickpocketed, scammed, and beggars will trail us like rats after the pied piper.  Oh, and the nice, non-scamming Italians will scorn us, sell us crap products at higher prices, or just ignore us.  Le sigh.

I have business casual clothing that could pass, but they’re a little on the business side and are all made of heavier materials appropriate for Minnesota’s four seasons of fall, winter, spring and air-conditioning.  I only own one cute sundress that might qualify as Italian “casual wear”.

I hate spending money on clothing.  Some of my favorite dress pants are from garage sales and second-hand shops.  I just don’t see the point in spending $50 (and higher) on a pair of jeans that I could get at the Salvation Army for $6!  Target’s 30-75% clearance racks rock, and even boutiques and higher-end department stores have kick-ass sales now and then.  I don’t buy used-looking clothing, I just don’t buy this season’s $100 shirts because I can always find something similar for $20. 

It’s not that the Hubby and I dress like slobs – far from it!  Some of our clothing are just American phenomena, I guess.  Like day-to-day donning of baseball caps, tennis shoes, t-shirts with logos/designs and jean shorts.  I also learned that tight pony tails are looked down upon as sloppy and the last resort of someone who slept through her alarm clock.  Makeup isn’t just for special occasions in Italy (but colored fingernail polish is), and almost every website we visited said that I need to have a large scarf that can serve as a shawl – not only for cooler evenings, but because many churches in Italy require covered shoulders for men and women. 

So, our “fancy” outfits still alright for dinners, but we need to rethink our daytime attire.  Aside from my one summer dress, I have a pair of light black pants and a pair of dressy, flowing capri pants which should be fine for most days, but I need one or two lightweight, summery blouses, and a pair of black and/or brown comfy walking shoes that will match all of my outfits.  The Hubby needs a pair of stylish light-weight pants and/or tailored khaki shorts and a pair of loafers.  I guess we’re going with what I would consider preppy/yuppie style for most days. 

But I’m still packing a pair of jean shorts and a t-shirt, just in case everyone is wrong 🙂  We’re Americans, people are going to be able to guess that we’re Americans and we won’t be ashamed to be known as Americans.  But as one site suggested, to lessen our chances of being ripped off, and to avoid unwanted, unflattering attention, maybe we don’t be those Americans – loud, rude, sloppy, expecting the world to conform to our needs and desires.  I bet that a smile and kind voice can go a long way in the fashion capitol of the world.  

Even if I’m dressed like an American. 

~~~~~

Italian language practice:

Tre giorni fino a Italia!

Buon giorno!  Come sta?  Me?  Molto bene, grazie.  E lei?  Buono.  Arrivederci! 

And of course, the most important questions:

Mi scuzi, parli inglese? 

Dov’e il bagno?

Sono allergico al frumento.

This picture from space of Italy at night is way, way too cool.  I found it at an awesome-looking blog called  Dad2059’s Webzine of Science Fiction, Science Fact and Esoterica

Summer Camp

July 14, 2010

Four days left until Italy!

Trevi Fountain, Rome Photo Source

Last night the Hubby and I sat down at the kitchen table and made The Lists: Things to pack, things to do before we leave, things to do as soon as we touch down in Rome Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport, things to purchase before leaving, things to purchase in Italy.

~~~~~

This morning I listened to an interesting This American Life called “Notes on Camp“.  It was split into six parts; we heard about life in a boys summer camp, the traditional scary stories and their role in camp life,  call-in recorded listener stories about their times in camp, an summer camp run by the Israeli Army, and life in a girls summer camp.  Go listen (click the embedded hyperlink above).  If you attended summer camp I bet you’ll connect with some of the stories, and if you didn’t go to summer camp you might learn a thing or two about why we campers blathered incessantly about summer camp when we came back to school every fall.

When we were younger, my parents took my sister and I to a co-ed summer camp for a few years at  Camp Wakeshma (oh my, there’s a website with pictures – memories!) in Three Rivers, Michigan.  I remember the long drive from Tinley Park every summer, and the excitment that I’d being living on my own.  Well, really my sister was in the next cabin and my cabin was shared by ~15 other girls and a counselor, but without my Mom and Dad, my bed, my stuff, I felt like I was all on my own.  It was scary and exhilerating!  The following pictures are all from Camp Wakeshma’s website.

My favorite memories:

Corey Lake!  There was 10-foot platform over the lake that the brave kids could jump off.  We had the opportunity to take the swimming test every summer – a swim across the entire lake while a couple of counselers boated alongside us -that would enable us to take out sailboats on our own.  There were also rowboats and kayaks to be had! 

Archery, making copper pressings and lanyards, scrimping and counting out change to buy things from the camp store (which was really just a junk food shop).  Going to the camp dance at the end of the week.  Sharing meals with a whole bunch of kids and singing songs and chants with our cabins. 

Gossip with cabin mates, talking about boys, especially the cute counselors! 

“Roughing it” – trekking to the bathrooms and showers, brushing our teeth outside the cabin using bottled water and spitting into the woods so we didn’t have to trek to the bathrooms, shaving our legs in the lake (probably not so healthy for the fish).

Getting mail and care packages from home!  Kids who received five letters or one care package in a day “had to” jump from the high dive after lunch in their clothes! (unless they didn’t want to).  In the weeks leading up to camp we would beg our parents and friends to send us letters while we were away. 

Hiking in the woods and sitting in the outdoor amphitheater (Fecteau Glen), the half-log benches set up in rows in front of the wooden stage. 

Camp was awesome, but I also remember it being very stressful: In one week you had to make friends quickly and not make enemies, find a date for the dance, and take a bunch of classes and learn the rules – all away from Mom and Dad! 

Did any of you go to camp and do you have any favorite memories?  Seestor, what do you remember from Camp Wakeshma?

Sunday Snippets

July 11, 2010

Seven Days to Italy!

A stairway in Perugia, Umbria, Italy

Well I’m off to do a little weekend work, today.  I have a three-day work project that will move along quite nicely if I start it on a Sunday, and this will free up my evenings next week to prepare for the upcoming trip.  The Hubby and I need to

  • Clean the house.
  • Book a hostel room for our one night in Amsterdam.
  • Pick out seats on the plane.
  • Pack, unpack, strategically re-pack.
  • Shop for anything else that didn’t make it into the first two-packings.
  • Bemoan the amount of space available in the luggage.
  • Drop the cat and dog off with the in-laws so they can, you know, eat for the two weeks we’ll be out of town.
  • Do some last-minute reading in the tour guides.
  • Try not to go insane from giddy excitement.

~~~~~

Tonight I hang out with Ashley.  We’re going hiking (much to her disappoint…hiking is just so…free…I mean, how can we have fun if we’re not spending any money???) and having a picnic dinner in the woods.  Fun! I think I may take her to Caponi Art Park in Eagan, MN.  Caponi is a huge, forested area of land filled with sculptures and walking trails, and tonight they’re having a special event: “Dakota Valley Summer Pops Orchestra presents A Patriotic Festival”.

Could be fun!

~~~~~

Sunday Comic Videos!

If you have somehow not seen this short video of Will Ferrell and his landlord, Pearl, do do do treat yourself!

The Landlord <—click here!

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Also, if you have seen that gooey, cheesy, horrible meaning-of-life Nicholas Cage/Tea Leoni movie, The Family Man, you may appreciate this mash-up.  I thought it was hilarious, but I haven’t had coffee yet this morning, so who knows?