Monday, November 2, 2015

Back in the USA

Well, several of my posts between Rome and Home got eaten by the goblins of the internet, sparing you all from sharing in our miserable experience.

It took us 33 hours door to door, and we had to go to work having just had a shower but no sleep.

Fog over London delayed our departure from Rome, causing us to miss our connection, and then the Heathrow logistical problems wound up with us arriving at JFK (New York City), renting a car, and driving home.

We had a fabulous time right up until it was time to leave, so we're not complaining much, but boy that last day sucked.

Now that we're home we've got to do laundry, and a million other things, so the blog will likely go on hiatus for a while.

We hope you enjoyed our reporting from Italy some small fraction as much as we enjoyed the trip!

Marty and Lyle

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Rome, Day 6 (Herculaneum and Vesuvius)

Hi followers,

Lyle here.  I rarely get the keyboard from Marty, but tonight she just shoved the thing at me and said "Here you write today's blog. I have no idea what to say."  So here I am with free reign over what you read today (until Marty edits this haha).

We have had an amazing time honeymooning in Italy. And being our last day it was no exception and we did it in our our typical "crazy" ways.  And in case you haven't gathered this from the blog, you should know we shouldn't be using the word vacation to describe our travels.  Here is why:

We had to WAKE UP at 5:30AM and get out of a nice cozy bed at our B and B to catch a crazy Italian taxi ride at 6:15AM to the train station.  Yeah a whole hour earlier than yesterday. Well we did get up and out.  The traffic was non-existant today since it was Satuday morning. I don't even think the donut people were awake yet. We stopped in the train station at Lavazza for morning drinks. I had a huge cappuccino in an American sized mug and Marty got Coke.  We did some window shopping for chocolates (everything is closed) before boarding the train at 7:15 for a 7:35 departure back to Napoli (Naples).   The train arrived at 8:45 and we went to the meeting point to find our guide, Gioconda.

Gioconda showed up pretty quickly, so we headed for the limo (mini-van).  We had the same driver as the day before. We jumped in the limo and headed for Vesuvius. We had a discussion about weather as the wind was blowing pretty hard and we weren't sure the Vesuvius park would be open for hiking. As it turned out, when we got to Vesuvius the winds were gusting close to 50-60 mph and the park people were still deciding whether or not to open but at least a half hour late. 

So we did some re-organizing of our day and decided to drive back down the volcano to the lost city of Erculano (Herculaneum).  This was a beach resort villa a few kilometers north of Pompeii. While Pompeii is more widely known and was much larger with about 10000 residents, Erculano had only about 4000.  Pompeii was buried in hot volcanic ash and pumice and deadly gases probably asphixiated most of the victims there.  Whereas in Erculano, the city was blasted by an intense volcanic surge (fireball) that cooked the people that where lining the shore waiting for rescue.  Then hot lava and mud about 25 meters (80 feet) deep buried everthing.  In addition, the earthquakes dropped the city shoreline about 10 feet below sea level.  If this wasn't bad enough they had tsunamis flood all of that.

Because of the way Erculano was buried so quickly in the hot mud and lava, an exceptional preservation of the paintings and other relics took place.  They are still digging there today.  We found everything to be quite fascinating and I would probably enjoy helping out on the dig.

It was probably around 11:30 when we wrapped up there.  The wind had died to practically nothing, so we headed back up to Vesuvius.  Gioconda called the park and they said they had opened, so we were on our way.    We stopped for lunch at a restaurant about half way up the volcano.  The place was still empty when we got there, so for a moment we had private service.  The food was not quite that good and the place filled up with tour bus folks, so we got out of there quick and headed up Vesuvius.

Well by the time we got to the elevation where hiking begins around 800 meters, the wind had picked back up to the 50-60mph gusts from earlier, but the park didn't close. So we bought tickets and started on up. Gioconda stayed with the van. Something about the Vesusius alpine guides don't allow the other guides on the volcano, but I think she didn't want to be out in high winds on the top of the volcano.  

We stopped about half way up at another 150 meters and talked with one of the guides. He was a really big guy and it was hard to understand his English, but he wasn't at all interested in going up the windy volcano with us, so we left him behind and went on ourselves.  We weren't the only crazies up there though. And there were some make shift railings around the top. It was pretty cool looking down in the volcano though.  It is mostly asleep, with a one percent chance of eruption, however, there were some hot gases escaping near the inner rim of the crater.  Oh I forgot to mention we saw the solidified river of lava from the last eruption in 1944. That was interesting.

After getting some photos and avoiding being blown up, burnt up, blown off the mountain, and getting a mild case of hypothermia we decided to hike back down. So since we weren't killed I guess we'll add another page to the coloring book.

Once we got back to the nice warm van, we decided to take a short driving tour of the city of Napoli before heading back to the train station for our return to Rome. We saw a few interesting things, but mostly I think we had enough touring and were just ready to call it a day.  Marty was actually dozing off in the van while Gioconda was describing some of the waterfront sites. And we ended up back at the train station with the train waiting at the platform.  Good timing.

So we are sitting here in our B and B, about to go out and get one last authentic Italian pizza.
Then we will be packing up and ready getting to head home tomorrow morning.

Guess what time we get to go to the airport? Ugh 5AM.

See you all soon back in the USA.

Lyle and Marty

Friday, October 30, 2015

Rome, Day 5 (Pompeii and Naples)

We got up, unhappily, at 6 something this morning, ate the lovely breakfast that Elisabetta had left for us in our room, and went downstairs to meet our waiting taxi.  Our driver was nuts, and I had a panic attack that he was taking us to the wrong station.  He was on the phone for most of the ride, and while he was driving on the tram tracks (yes, really), Lyle is convinced the person on the other end of the phone told him he was going to get arrested.  Despite our concerns, we did arrive at the train station with plenty of time to spare, so went up to the cafe for a cappuccino and a coke.

Now being old hands at this train thing, we went down, got on our train, and laughed at the people in the wrong seats.  About an hour of dozing later, we pulled into Naples, hopped off and walked over a few platforms to meet our guide.  If you can imagine my mother, twenty years younger, hyper-caffeinated, and not conflict averse, you have an idea of Fiorella.  We'd been there a minute or two when she came flying in, all but grabbed us by the elbows, and announced that it was imperative we get coffee (her third, she told us, mind you it was still before 10am).  We got a quick explanation of how the area in and around the train station is deteriorating before we hustled outside to meet our driver.  Once safely in the van, we went to Pompeii.

Arriving in Pompeii, we discussed whether we needed more coffee (we said no, I think Fiorella was disappointed) and then got our tickets and went in.  As expected, Pompeii is amazing.  Because everything was covered in ash within a few minutes, it's a snapshot in time, and because real excavation didn't begin until the 1800s, nothing was pillaged, salvaged, or recycled for other building materials.  The streets are still intact with the chariot tracks varying in depth based on how busy the area was and whether or not the chariots were heavily loaded.  Frescoes and mosaics are still intact (though some have been removed to museums now).

We saw several baths (Pompeii didn't have thermal springs, so water had to be heated on site, and they had ingenious methods of created double floors and walls to keep things warm.), numerous little road-side restaurants (think take-away, not sit down), houses, brothels, the basilica, a few temples, and the amphitheater.  All of which were, if not really intact, at least recognizable as what they once were.

We also saw the plaster casts created by filling the space in the ash left when biological matter (generally bodies, but also tree roots, etc.) decomposed.  There is a cast of a small child that was interesting, but a cast of a dog that really bothered me.  Fiorella was not impressed by my priorities.  Most of the dogs living in Pompeii at the time of the eruption (79AD) left the area in the weeks preceding, probably clued in by the earthquakes.  (Most people left too.  Pompeii was a town of 14-17,000 people, but only about 2,000 were killed.)  This dog, however, likely a pet, was chained and thus couldn't leave and was killed in the eruption.  I hope he at least died with his humans.  Don't chain your dogs, people.

There is a temporary exhibit at the amphitheater with more recent casts, many of which have skeletal remains showing through (bone doesn't decompose the way the soft tissue does).  I found this interesting from an archaeological perspective, but surprisingly affecting emotionally (even though there were only human casts, no dogs).  These people died trying to cover their faces, holding onto one another, or just struck down.  In many ways, it's as if the World Trade Center was sealed at the time of collapse and only unearthed centuries later.  These people got up that morning and went to work (we know this because at some of the restaurants they've recovered both food to be sold and coins from sales earlier in the day) and then their whole world ended.  

On a happier note, modern Pompeii is home to a number of dogs that just live there and are sort of taken care of by the workers and visitors.   They didn't look to be in fantastic shape, but they looked a whole lot better than the street dogs one sees pictures of.  I didn't socialize with them (I know you're surprised, but at this point I just miss my own dog), but our guide says other than the occasional squabble between dogs when a new dog arrives, there haven't been any problems.  I guess if people are feeding the dogs, they probably find human attention reinforcing, but I still kinda shudder to imagine dog-loving small children trying to hug a dog like that.  Our guide says the dogs have a kind of exalted status and are allowed to really do whatever they want, including wandering around the closed areas, peeing on two thousand year old mosaics, and sleeping in the middle of exhibits.  She said the rest of Italy kind of thinks the Neapolitans are stupid for this, but that there's no movement toward change.

After another question about whether we needed coffee (we didn't), we got back in the mini-van and drove back to Naples for lunch.  We went to this little restaurant in Fiorella's neighborhood, which she was careful to warn us is not a safe part of town, and she doesn't take people unless they're dressed to travel (meaning we look like bums already).  She ordered fresh mozzarella for me, and they brought a block of cheese about the size of my fist.  I had been expecting a few slices, but hey, when in Naples... Fiorella had a bite, which she pronounced good, but too salty to be perfetto, and I shared with Lyle, but I still ate WAY more than a day's serving of cheese.  Then we had pizza.  We'd made the mistake of telling Fiorella that we'd taken a pizza cooking class in Florence.  She was appalled.  "Florentine pizza!  They don't make pizza in Florence, they make crackers!"  Neapolitan pizza is a little thicker (not like US pizza though) and soggy in the middle.  It was good, but don't tell Fiorella I think I prefer the cracker style.  This is a place she comes all the time, and she was very unhappy with them because the younger son was cooking today (usually it is the father or the older son) and he burned the crust a little.  Lyle and I thought it was well within acceptable standards, but she told them she was disappointed in them and they were appropriately apologetic.  They brought Lyle limoncello, only this was alcoholic and in a shot glass.  Not intended to be shot, we were informed.  It's a digestive.  Okay then.  We also had these little fried pastry things that were yummy.

When we were finished all that, OBVIOUSLY we had to have coffee, so we walked across the street to a little caffe.  Now mind you, Lyle did not want coffee, but if he had to have coffee (and he did) he wanted either Americano or cappuccino, he decidedly did not want espresso, however, Fiorella told him cappuccino after a meal is not allowed, so he had to have espresso.  I stuck to my guns and got cioccolatta, and Fiorella told me I was just like a little kid.  (This not being the first time I'd heard that, I was like, yup, and if you don't want a tantrum, give me my chocolate.)

Next on the agenda was the Museum of Archaeology, the oldest archaeological museum in Europe.  In order to get there, we had to cross the street.  Now mind you, we have been warned since Milan that drivers in Naples ARE TRYING to kill you, so Lyle has been very concerned about this for quite a while.  Also, this street has two lanes, which means that six lanes of cars were driving on it.  However, Fiorella marched into the road, holding her green umbrella like a witch's wand and pointing it at cars (she didn't *actually* say "Haltio!", but maybe she can cast silently) as she moved us forward one lane at a time.  I was seriously impressed, but Lyle was scarred for life.

My favorite thing about the museum, and it's a cool museum so this is saying something, was when we got to the second floor and three custodians (all of whom were men who appeared to be in their seventies or eighties) were sitting in a corner talking rather loudly to each other about soccer.  Fiorella looked over at them and told them to be quiet as they were disrupting her tour.  They did not immediately settle down, so she went on a diatribe about how they are completely useless, doing absolutely nothing except taking her tax dollars and how many young people need those jobs (this is true, unemployment among young people in Italy is more than 40%) and would be better at them.  Then she pointed at one of them, looked at us, and said, "Look, it's a mythological creature, do you see?  Half man and half chair."  I literally had to walk away right then because I was laughing way harder than well-behaved Americans can laugh at poor little custodians.  After that I had to try to pay attention to the (truly amazing) mosaics recovered from Pompeii, but every time I almost caught Lyle's eye or just glanced the custodians, I started to crack up again, so we had to move along pretty quickly.  Having said that, the level of detail achieved in these mosaics, and particularly how incredibly well preserved they are is absolutely stunning.

In addition to the mosaics, there are a bunch of other artifacts that were recovered from Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other cities covered by Vesuvius' eruption.  These include some amazing bronze statues that still have the eyes and pigments, marble statues, frescoes, and a whole bunch of everyday items like cookware, silver, and that sort of thing.

There's also, however, two whole rooms devoted to porn.  These are the so-called "secret" rooms, and they were kept closed to the public for decades, and then available for viewing only by men until 1960-something.  They include all the phalluses used as directional icons toward brothels; "good luck charms" designed to keep the evil eye away from homes; frescoes from outside a brothel/bathhouse that were some combination of catalog/suggestion/mood setter; and a very interesting sculpture of Pan having sex with a goat.  It was a bit of a departure from our other museum visits.

After that, we had to get out of Naples, so our driver took us back to the train station, and we caught the train back to Rome and then got a cab (who didn't drive on the tram tracks) back to the B&B.  We're in our room watching bad American tv, and I'm waiting to see if Lyle wants to go out for food tonight or just eat our way through the snacks Elisabetta has left us.

One more day in Italy.
Marty and Lyle

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Rome, Day 4

We got up to another of Elisabetta's yummy breakfasts, complete with fresh pineapple cake.  When we'd poked around for a while and after I'd sprinted to the ATM, we met our driver for today, Roberto, who was perfectly nice, but not Transporter-esque.  He had the dubious pleasure of driving us around on a day when we had no real agenda.

We started with more fun Roman traffic, and eventually arrived in San Felice Circeo, from where Lyle's Italian ancestors emigrated.  We had Roberto drive us up one hill and down another until I was halfway sick and we'd gotten some nice panoramic shots.

It was rainy, but not raining, and we had an amazing view of a squall out on the water.

After this, we drove over to the lighthouse and climbed around on the rocks there.  Neither of us got swept out to sea, which was a small concern of mine after our conversations with Pall in Cinque Terre, who told us stories about a woman who'd climbed out on some rocks to take pictures during her honeymoon and had exactly that happen.

We figured it was time for lunch, and went down to the beach with fond memories of other afternoons sitting next to the water drinking pitchers of beer and eating buckets of shrimp.  There are a number of restaurants together there, so we chose one more or less at random.  This was the first time that we've eaten at a place where we had to deal without any English.  Most of the waitstaff and so on have generously tried at least a little English with us, but we managed somehow, with no credit to my pathetic Italian.  We wound up with one of the best meals we've had here.  We ordered the mixed antipasta platter, which wound up being plate after plate after plate after plate of fresh seafood.  We had cuttlefish, shrimp, salmon, anchovies, sauteed squid, calamari (yes, I know it's squid, I'm differentiating preparation), tiny clams, mussels.  All this along with fresh bread and a bottle of white wine.  It was awesome.  After that they brought us some kind of lemon slushy thing, and then we had cheesecake - which is much lighter here almost whipped? - and some kind of ginger biscuit thing.  If I thought I could do this well at home, I'd stop trying to talk to my servers there too.  It's a good thing that we're coming home soon, because I'm pretty sure the basalmic isn't coming out of this shirt without some bleach.

We were just drunk enough to think jumping over some barricades to get down on the beach was a good idea, so we had a nice stroll along the sand before finishing our San Felice visit.

The next plan was Anzio, the beach, not the dog, so we had Roberto drive us over there.  The museum doesn't open until 4, so we had time for gelato first.  The museum itself is small, but packed with stuff from the war.  We watched the little video - which appears to be some kind of propaganda maybe made shortly after the war - and then wandered around a little (a very little, it's like two rooms).

They have a picture of the USS Anzio that may or may not show Lyle standing on deck for the commissioning.  Lyle tried to tell her this, something like, "I was on the Anzio."  The little old lady staffing the museum was pretty confused, because she had an American standing there telling her he was on Anzio, but he was either lying or hiding a picture of himself in a closet somewhere.  We eventually got the misunderstanding worked out, and she was SUPER excited to have him there and very disappointed that the museum's director guy wasn't there to meet him.

We had (an increasingly weary) Roberto take us to the cemetary.  The American one was closed, but we at least got to walk through the one that has the Brits and Australians.

Roberto all but told us after this that he was taking us home.  That was okay by us because it was already dark and we were tired.  A couple hours back in the room to recharge, and Lyle demanded food, so we went to a little pizzeria where they flat out told us they didn't speak English.  It was crowded and noisy and good, and we managed just fine.

We're trying to get to bed early so we can get up early and go to... stay tuned.
Marty and Lyle


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Rome, Day 3

This was primarily a recovery day for us, though one with an early start.  We were too early for breakfast at our B&B, but Elisabetta had left all kinds of goodies in our room including yogurt and bananas and more of her homemade cakes, so we got a good start.  No pictures from the tour today, as they were all "no photo" places.

Our guide for the day, Francesca, and our driver were waiting for us out front when we walked downstairs.  We felt a little bit like we were characters in The Transporter.  Black BMW with tinted windows, water and snacks in the back, and our driver a German with a shaved head and lots of muscles in a dark suit.  That was fun.  They took us through miserable Rome traffic that is bad in totally different ways than Washington traffic to the Catacombs of Domitilla.  We joined a group of pilgrims for a tour down to the underground church, and then from there down into the catacombs.  There were four levels of catacombs, but the first level collapsed.  We went on the second and third levels, and saw lots of empty tombs.  The remains, such as they are centuries later, have all been relocated now, and because the tombs are empty, they're also not structurally stable anymore, so in some places the marble or terra cotta that was used to close the tombs originally has been replaced.  We learned that catacombs exist because Roman law allowed for ownership from the sky to the center of the earth, and therefore, the most cost effective way was to build straight down.  

Pagan rituals allowed for cremation, but the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body meant they had to be buried, and as they ran out of room they expanded the catacombs.  They've found more than 40 different catacombs, but the Domitilla ones alone cover more than 17km of tunnels and a new catacomb was just discovered in September.  If catacombs are shown to be Christian, then by law they belong to the Vatican.  Otherwise, they belong to the Roman (or maybe Italian, I'm not sure) government.  

We passed several small chapels along our tour and at one the pilgrims we were with stopped and their priest celebrated a mass.  Super creepy, but super cool.  We didn't stay for that, but our guide took us around some more tunnels and then back up to the top.  I was glad I managed to hang onto one of the wedding flashlights, as it came in handy today.

After our catacomb tour, our driver took us over to the Church of the Santi Quattro Coronati which is interesting architecturally, because after being burned to the ground during the Norman sack of Rome, the church was rebuilt, half as big as before, giving it a double courtyard.  It's now the home of an order of cloistered nuns.

From there we walked over to San Clemente Basicila, which is four layers of archaelogy.  This was Lyle's favorite part of the tour.  The top level of the church is built on the remains of a previous church that was destroyed in an earthquake, and the pillars are still visible in places.  The church is home to Irish Dominican friars, one of whom decided to begin excavation of the foundation on the rumor that the lower church was actually built over the home of St. Clement.  This was found not to be the case, but a sanctuary for the cult of Mithras, including a room where bull's blood would be poured over initiates was found.  Below that, they found a set of rooms that might have been a warehouse for gladiator weapons, or possibly a mint.  On the bottom level is an exposed pipe that's routed along a small aqueduct in the wall, we didn't drink out of it, but you can.

We were pretty well done by the end of this, even though it was a shorter day than many we've had, and both of us were feeling a little rundown, so even though we'd have liked to go see the so-called "bone crypt" at the Capuchin Crypt, we went back to our B&B and took a nap.  Eventually, we made it out to dinner, and after another of our epic walks around town, found a place Elisabetta had recommended and had dinner.  Lyle had fish, it looked like this:

I had risotto (yet another meal that was neither pasta nor pizza), but they brought me an American portion instead of an Italian portion, so Lyle helped me finish.

We stopped on the way back for gelato, and have called it a night.

Tomrrrow we go to Anzio, the beach, not the dog.
Marty and Lyle

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Rome, Day 2

Today was archaelogy day.  We had an early breakfast here with homemade cakes by Elisabetta, and then walked to the tram station.  After a very crowded tram ride, we got off and started walking toward the Colloseum.  Somewhere in here, Lyle asked where we were supposed to meet our guide, and I realized I didn't know.  So we stopped and checked, and luckily, it was on the way to the Colloseum, so we were fine.

We were a little bit early, so Lyle got a bottle of water, and we played one of our favorite new games, "Guess The Guide!"  We finally found him right on time at noon (the bells were literally ringing) wearing a tweed jacket and khakis and looking like a stereotypical guide.  His name was Thomas, and he's an American who's lived here for 20 years or so.  He was fantastic, and a great match for us.  We've been so fortunate with the guides we've gotten on this trip so far.

Thomas took us across the street to the Forum, and we walked through the ruins for about an hour, trying to visualize how things were, and getting some context for when and how things have been excavated.

From the Forum, we walked up Palatine Hill and got a feel for what Nero was doing, and some great views back down.

After a couple hours at the Forum and Palatine hill, it was time to meet a bigger group at the Colloseum.  I think, standing on the floor and looking up into the stands, that it's smaller than RFK, but I think it's a safe bet that RFK won't be standing in 1000 years.

We had the special tour that lets you go down to the bottom level and look at the cells where animals were kept, the passages the gladiators walked, and the elevators that transported people and animals up to the floor.

Then we went up to the top level for a view like the slaves might have had.

Having a bunch of cool pics, we got Thomas to ourselves again and headed out of the Colloseum.

The next item on our agenda was the Capitoline Museum, which houses a lot of sculptures recovered from ancient Rome.  My favorite was probably the She-Wolf famous for nursing Romulus and Remus.  (Did you know the sculptures of the twins were added later, in the Renaissance?  Neither did I.)

Other cool things were this bust of Michelangelo, done while he was still alive.

This bust of Medusa, showing her as an actual person, and giving some depth to her story (which is really one about teenage sisters squabbling, just with worse results than usual).

This sculpture of Marcus Aurelius that was never buried, and his been known and displayed since its creation.

And the so-called Dying Gaul, which was not, as is widely thought, commissioned by Julius Caesar.

By the time we were done, it was 7:30 (yeah, that's a long day), so we reluctanty said goodbye to Thomas, caught the tram back to the B&B, noted that Elisabetta had made us dinner reservations for 8, so hustled over to dinner.

They took fantastic care of us and the food was awesome.  (I had pasta, with fresh mozzarella this time, not bolognese.)  We are now back in our room watching bad American tv in English.

Tomorrow we get picked up at 8:30.  Who scheduled this madness?  Oh, wait.

Marty and Lyle

Monday, October 26, 2015

Rome, Day 1

Meeting our guide was no problem at all, as she was standing in front of the cafe, holding a sign with my name on it.  She introduced herself at Guia, and she was fabulous.  We immediately went into the Vatican Museum, and once we'd made it through security, we had a celebrity sighting.  Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museums walked down the stairs right behind us.  Guia was a bit starstruck, so we were duly impressed.  She reminded us to be extremely aware of our personal belongings, which was consistent with everything we'd already heard, and told us how much it bothered her that she had to give that warning.

We saw so much again today that I can't do it justice, but particular highlights were seeing the third (for us, first chronologically) of Michelangelo's pietas, and finding out why it's behind glass.  Because in 1972 a man claiming to be the second coming of Christ broke pieces off the statue with a hammer.  My favorite of the three is the still the one in Milan.  Lyle refuses to commit, saying only, "Today's was pretty cool."

The tapestry created from Leonardo's Last Supper at a time when it was still fresh and undamaged.  Notably, you can see Christ's feet, which were destroyed when a door was cut through the frescoe.

An unfinished Leonardo that allows some insight into his process.

The original Lacoon and His Sons - a copy of which we'd already seen in Florence.

This famous torso, a Roman sculpture that was a major source of inspiration for Michelangelo.  It's called the Belvedere Torso, for the gallery, not the butler.

This statue of Hercules in the original bronze.  This was the point where I was getting shoved and brushed and used my reserves of good behavior in not retaliating.

We walked through the Raphael rooms, and if our guide in Milan was all about Leonardo, and Charles was all about Michelangelo, Guia was all about Raphael.  Unfortunately, some of the rooms were being restored, but we saw enough to be amazed anyway.

Then we took a quick break for coffee and to get an explanation of the Sistine Chapel before we went in.  And then we went in, but no pictures in there, of course.  It's amazing, but really, not quite as awe-inspiring for me as either the Last Supper or David.  It was really cool to see it, especially after Guia had told us all about it.

After that, we went into St. Peter's Basilica, which was more impressive than I was expecting.  Even with all the other chuches we've been in on this trip, this was stunning.  The Pieta is there, St. Peter's throne is there, and Holy John Paul II's tomb, which has been moved up to its own place in the basilica from the grottoes.  There's also a statue of him that's quite impressive.

We went through the grottoes on our way out, walking through the tombs of popes going back to the 12th century.  You can see the tomb of St. Peter from here, and our guide told us that archaelogical findings are consistent with the teachings, which I found awesome.

When we left St. Peter's we walked around the square for a few minutes and talked about how cool Pope Francis is.

Then we caught a cab over to the Pantheon, which is one of the most intact ancient temples (largely because it had been converted to a Christian church, and thus using it for materials would have been seen as sacreligious).  It was also a particular inspiration for the Renaissance artists, and is where Raphael is buried (and two kings of Italy too).

After the Pantheon, we saw the Trevi Fountain, where one is supposed to toss a coin and make a wish (traditionally one wishes to return to Rome), but it's under restoration, and you can't throw coins right now.

From there to the Spanish Steps, which were built to celebrate peace between France and Spain (the steps were built into the hill that separated the French and Spanish embassies).  Interestingly, the French paid for the Steps, but they've always been called The Spanish Steps.  They're also closed at the moment for restoration.

By that point we were done in, and starving (note the lack of any food in today's description), so we said goodbye to Guia and caught a cab back to the B&B.  Elisabetta met us here for the longer orientation, where we got suggestions on how to use the tram, and where to eat and all that.  Then she walked us to her favorite pizza place, told them to take good care of us and left us.

We had great pizza (Lyle says the best yet) and then walked back here again.  Long day, kinda in overload, but looking forward to getting into the swing of Rome.

Marty and Lyle

La Spezia to Rome

This was a non event.  We got up, put our last things in our bags, checked out, walked across the street to the train station, and got on the train.  This was our longest train ride, and both of us slept.  We were a little disappointed not to have coffee on the train, but it was okay.

It was immediately apparent on arrival that Rome is an order of magnitude different from any of the previous cities.  I feel exactly like I felt stepping off the train in Penn Station the first time I visited NYC.  Kind of an, "OMG, what have I gotten myself into" feeling.

We got in the cab line, which had some person who may or may not have been legit asking us if we were going to some place we didn't know, and a slightly more assertive than normal beggar shaking a can at us.  Luckily, the line moved shockingly fast (and wasn't that long to begin with) and I'd had the forethought to write the address of our B&B on a piece of paper to show the driver.

This driver spoke pretty good English, thank goodness, as I was not up to my usual Italian games groggy and overwhelmed.  He pointed out a few things as we  drove by, mostly which tram we'd be taking and then dropped us at an address that was what I wrote down, but that didn't look too promising.  But sure enough, we walked up to the gate of the little business park, and there was Casa Eli Roma, and when we buzzed Elisabetta told us she would be right down.

She was, and she hustled us right upstairs, where, though our room wasn't ready, she gave us a very quick orientation (and promised us her regular 45 minute one when we get back tonight) and then called us a cab to the meeting place for our guide this morning.

So it's 11:30, we're sitting here having coffee and hot chocolate, and still overwhelmed by the people, noise, and chaos.  How we're going to pick out our guide from the million out there is another problem.

Wish us luck.
Marty and Lyle

Sunday, October 25, 2015

La Spezia, Long Enough To Eat and Pack

This hotel doesn't really have room service, or it is a safe bet that would have been our plan for dinner. However, Pall had recommended a place here that does something called panigacci, which is basically flat bread with a selection of meats and cheeses.  So be impressed people, another meal that was neither pizza nor pasta.  

We had our front desk guy make us a reservation (first available, 9:15) and then caught a very short nap before walking over.  We got there to find the staff had no English, but we managed through a combination of my meager Italian and pointing and gesturing.

Really good food, though I spent a lot of time watching the table behind us and reporting on what they were doing.  "Okay, he's taken a piece of meat and put it on his tray.  Now he's tearing off a piece of bread.  She's folded a piece of bread around her meat."  I think I may have a future in play-by-play.  This is how awesome my hair looks after I let it dry wild.

After dinner we got back to the hotel and had to pack, for what is hopefully the second-to-last time before we come home.  Tomorrow's train leaves at 0650.  Ugh.

Goodnight from La Spezia.
Marty and Lyle

Cinque Terre

We arrived at Riomaggiore without issue, stepped out of our train station and met Pall, who, to my surprise, was not a youngish Italian guy, but an older American guy.  Cool, no communication issues.  He walked us around Riomaggiore, where he has lived for fifteen years (and know EVERYONE, though he says there are only 500 permanent residents, so that's not impossible) and gave us an orientation to the so-called five villages.

We got coffee and hot chocolate (American style, bleh) and then set off.  

Along the way we got to know a lot about the politics between the national park that is responsible for the trails, and the villages that actually have to live on them.  We were also disappointed to hear that the issues around conservation and good trail behavior are at least as problematic here as they are at home.  One of the biggest problems is that the trails run right through the small privately owned vineyards, and hikers think that it's okay to just pick and eat fruit, or wander off the trail to picnic (and leave their trash), or dig catholes, or whatever.  Reprehensible, and certainly clear why residents are not happy to see increasing numbers of hikers, despite the tourism dollars they bring in.

The "easy" trail out of Riomaggiore is closed, because some years ago there was a rock fall that injured four hikers and which has yet to be repaired.  This is why we had Pall, who knew the alternative trails and took us up and out on trails that were originally used to bring grapes down.  Men carried 90 pounds on their backs, women carried 60 pounds on their heads, and they made these trips up and down all day during the six week or so harvest season.  At home, we'd call this a "billy goat trail" and it is not particularly well maintained, but we had no difficulty, and oh the view back from the top.

Here's us as we begin the hike down into the second village, Manarola.

Manarola has two "beaches".  They're both concrete, and had I not been told otherwise, I would describe them as boat ramps.  However, they don't use boat ramps, they have a winch for that.  Once out of the water, all the boats are on wheels so they can be moved around.  Okay, check out this amazing view.

From Manatola we climbed back up and walked on, taking a quick look at their cemetary before continuing.  Italians only stay in tombs for twenty five years or so, and then, there being nothing left, the space is cleaned out and freed up for another occupant.

We climbed along, enjoying great views of terraced vineyards until we reached Volastra.  Volastra is not one of the five villages, because it's not quite on the coast, but because the "blue" trail that runs right along the coast is closed, our route took us that way.

In Volastra is a church that was built in 1310 and still has services.

From Volastra we climbed back up.  Here's us looking back toward Manarola (the penisula there on the right in the background).

The next of the official villages was Corniglia.  If you don't want to sound like a tourist, it's pronounced "Cornelia".  And here's us looking ahead to Corniglia.

This was also the part of the trail where we picked our second home.  It's a bit of a fixer upper, but with great views and a lot of potential.  Who wants to come help with restoration?

In Corniglia, we topped off water bottles and had lunch, amazing pizza that was extremely welcome.  It was nice to have a break, but after lunch we were hiking again, climbing back out and up.  Here's a look back.

Here's Corniglia again from farther on.

Then we headed into Vernazza, famous for its tower, but relevant to us for gelato that was good enough Jimmy would have approved.

We really only stopped long enough for gelato.  It was crowded with people that had gotten bused in, and we had little sympathy for them considering they hadn't done the work.  So on we went.  Here's a look back.

At this point there was only one village left, and the hiking was comparitively easy.  Check out these steps up to a vineyard.

And yes, we visited a cathouse on our honeymoon.

But really, we just cruised along toward Monterosso.

We passed a guy selling homemade limoncello, and walked into town.  We'd hoped to make the boat that goes around, but the 4:30 bus left at 4:25 (and that's the last one) so we had to take the train.  Pall says total distance today was 24 miles (and I asked, he meant miles, not km), but based on time and how we feel, we're saying more like 14-18.  However, he does this for a living, so who are we to secondguess him??

We said goodbye to Pall in Riomaggiore and went one more stop to return to our hotel in La Spezia.  The order of the day was a long soak in the tub, and now, sufficiently recovered, we may go look for food.

Lyle says it was his second favorite day (after kayaking in Venice), despite the fact that I'd promised him it wouldn't be more than 15 miles.  I have a harder time ranking such disparate days, but this was a pretty darn good one.  We'd come back here.

Marty and Lyle