Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Thursday-Friday, June 29-30, 2017 - Delayed

How long can a day last? Twenty four hours? That is a good starting place, but it assumes you are stationary on the surface of the planet as it rotates on its axis.  Put yourself in an airplane and fly east and the days get remarkably shorter, depending on how fast you fly. Going to Europe, we left Vancouver, BC at 9:10 am Sunday morning, flew for 5 hours and arrived in Montreal at 4:52 pm.  Eight hours elapsed on the clock, yet it only took 5 hours to happen. We lost 3 hours. We then left Montreal at 6:55 pm and arrived in Rome at 8:50 am the next day. 13 hours and 55 minutes elapsed on the clock, yet the flight was only 7 hours and 55 minutes. Again, we lost time, 6 hours. Our day did not last 24 hours. We landed in Rome 23 hours after taking off from Vancouver BC, if you consider the clock on the wall, yet we only experienced about 14 hours of it. Nine hours disappeared. Coming home, traveling west, we gained back our lost time, but with the help of Air Canada’s flight delays, we turned a 14 hour journey into a whole lot more.

We rose from our comfy room near the Vatican before 6:00 am, showered, packed and slipped out before 7:00 am. We rode the Metro from Ottaviano stop to Termini train station, rode a half a dozen escalators up to ground level and walked to our waiting TAM shuttle bus, scheduled to leave for the airport at 8:00 am. We arrived about 20 minutes early, so I popped into a bakery and grabbed a couple of muffins while Sally kept an eye on our stuff on the bus. No eating is allowed on the bus, so we took turns eating on the sidewalk outside.

Surprisingly, there was almost no traffic between 8:00 am and 9:00 am as we rode out to the airport. Once deposited at terminal 3, we walked upstairs to find the Air Canada section of the departures area to check Sally’s bag.  What we found was a very busy airport with lines stretching back and forth from the various flight vendors. We found Air Canada. It’s lines were shorter, and by asking a few question we found ourselves in a line only 2 people deep to check her bag.

The agent was a fun woman about 30 years old, yet she had dour news.  Our flight, scheduled to leave at 11:30 am, had been delayed to 1:30pm. We laughed it off and tried to put her at ease. She gave us free meal coupons for the “Bistrot” restaurant upstairs and told us we could cash them in once our 11:30 flight time had passed.

We wandered upstairs, avoiding going through security just yet, and sat in some chairs to while away a few hours. The people seated behind us struck up a conversation. They were from Victoria, BC. They lead bike tours in central Italy and own a home in the Apennines. We talked bikes and travel for a bit, then decided to go through security and find a place to hang out while waiting for time to pass.  Our gate was not posted yet, so we didn’t have a destination. 

We had purchased a metal sign, a Vespa ad with a buxom girl seated on the scooter, for John Sanford. It did not fit in our suitcase or pack, so we couldn’t check it, but we wondered if security would allow us to carry it on. Being metal, would it be considered a weapon? Sally decided she would carry it through security. Maybe playing the woman card might help it get through.  I had my own contraband to get past the guards as well, a half full 8 oz jar of peanut butter.  I was hoping to eat it with apples on the flight, but if they took it, no big deal. I also had a bottle of water in my pack. Those are usually opened and dumped out. 

Sally went through first, her metal knee and back setting off the metal detector. As the lady patted her down and scanned her metal parts, I followed. We both looked over at the man monitoring the x-ray machine.  He was distracted by a fellow worker, discussing something in Italian and never looked at the monitor as Sally’s deadly metal sign and my water and peanut butter slid through the scanner. We collected our contraband and continued toward the gates. 

Was it our age, race and demeanor that relaxed the guard and caused him not to scrutinize our bags, or is he often easily distracted.  Granted, it is a tedious job to stare at bags of people’s personal possessions for hours at a time, but it made us wonder how tight the security at the airport was. If we got through with metal signs, peanut butter and water, what else was getting through this security net?

We sat down in some chairs in the concourse. Netflix in Italy has the Modern Family series, so I watched an episode while Sally got up to explore and shop a bit. She returned to say she found a couch in a restaurant upstairs, the same restaurant our vouchers were good at. We hustled up to find the couch still open and quickly claimed it. Fortunately, a screen showing flight times and gates was easily visible from our position. We could lounge and nap while keeping an eye on our flight, which now was listed as boarding at 3:05 pm, over four hours late. Still, no gate was listed, so we blogged, watched videos, ate our free pizza and sandwiches and slept.

About 2:30 pm, the board finally listed a gate. We ordered sandwiches to go, then headed for the gate, where we waited another 45 minutes before boarding. The airline flight attendants were particularly kind and somewhat apologetic about the delay. We had a particularly fun attendant who snuck Sally a small bottle of Irish Creme for her ice cream and shared jokes with us, his eyes full of laughter and mischief. We slept, read, wrote, watched movies and generally made the time pass.  It is a long way from Rome to Montreal, even in a plane going 600 mph.

We landed in Montreal at about 6:15 pm. Our connecting flight to Vancouver was scheduled to leave at about 7:25 pm.  We thought if we hustled, we might make it through customs and be able to get on that flight. It would be tight, but we might make it. As we emerged from the jet way into the terminal, we found an Air Canada agent with our connecting flight tickets all ready for us on a table.  She gave us ours. The first thing I noticed was the flight was scheduled to leave at 11:00 pm.  What?!?!?  I asked the agent if we could just try for our 7:25 pm flight. She examined both tickets and pointed out we were talking about the same flight.  Our 7:25 pm flight had been delayed unti 11:00 pm. Wow!! A day of delays. She handed us two €10 food coupons. We passed through customs and entered the airport. Again, no gate was listed, so we found a row of unoccupied benches, pulled the sleeping bags from my pack, set an alarm on my phone for 10:00 pm and tried to sleep a bit.  We may have dozed off, but certainly we achieved no REM sleep.

At 10:00 pm we found a restaurant.  Sally got a pasta salad to go. I held out for a second restaurant and ordered a hamburger and fries.  We wandered to our gate. There sat a plane, but we were not boarding. We found another row of blank chairs and laid down again. Finally, about 1:30 am they told us they were ready to board. Only about 6-7 hours late. The airport was all but closed down at this time. We were the last plane to leave, about 2 hours after all other planes had departed. I think we were finally airborne about 2:15 am.

The 5 hour flight put us on the ground in Vancouver BC about 4:15 am. The flight attendant announced that the pilot had ordered up some food vouchers for us and would distribute them as we exited the plane.  We were handed a voucher, but as we glanced at it, we saw it was for a discount on the next flight, if applied within 12 months to a full priced fare. hmmmm . . ..  Where is our food voucher?  We asked, and they booted up a computer and printed us two $10 vouchers.  I guess we were the only two on the plane that asked for them.  

We collected Sally’s bag, then wandered back upstairs to a Tim Horton’s that must stay open all night in this totally shut down and vacant 4:30 am airport. We spent the entire $20, buying combinations of soup, muffins, bagels and pastries to come as close to $20 without exceeding it. Finished with our meal at 5:00 am, we found another row of seats and stretched out to sleep until about 6:00 pm when Steve would pick us up.

Kris Carpenter, formally Kris Lyon and a student of mine back in the 80’s lives in Ferndale, WA. Our van had been parked at her place for the duration of our trip, and she had kindly insisted that she would pick us up at the airport.  Of course, that was when we thought we would be landing in Vancouver at 7:30 pm Thursday night.  As the delays kept mounting and the pickup time turned into midnight, then 2 am and finally 4:15 am, we arranged for them to sleep the night through, then pick us up at 6:00 am. They had to rise early to help get their son off to his second day of a new job, so the early hour was not too much of a hardship.

We had a little confusion about where arrivals are picked up, being told there were two locations, domestic and international. But a glance at Google Maps showed only one road in and out, so Steve would drive by both and easily find us, which he did.

We enjoyed a long conversation with Steve, a wonderful and kind man, on our ride to Ferndale.  The border crossing was very slow. They only had two gates open, and today is the first day of Trump’s stupid Muslim ban. It took us an hour. We arrived at Steve and Kris’ home, had a wonderful conversation, then crawled beneath the covers at 11:30 am and slept to 2:30 pm, the beginning or our conversion back to this time zone.

We woke at 6:00 am Rome time, Thursday. We finally slept at 11:30 am PCT Friday morning, which is 8:30 pm Friday Rome time. We were in transit, awake, for 38 and a half hours, with a few cat naps on benches. Talk about a time warp. 38 hours to do a 12 hour flight.  Where does the time go?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 - Last Full Day in Italy

We had delayed breakfast on the deck this morning until 9:00 am with the plan to get up early and walk to “Nero’s Caves”, an archeological dig site just on the other side of old town Anzio. It is thought to be the beach side home of the emperor Nero (37-68 AD). The digging is still progressing. Hopefully, enough artifacts will be found to verify the identity of the site. We knew it would not be open early, but we knew enough was visible from outside the fences and down on the beach that we would get a look, enough to satisfy us.

We had set the alarm for 6:00 am, but we were both awake at 5:30 am and the alarm rang on my phone as we walked northward down the street toward downtown Anzio. Our walk took us through the piazza that is so alive in the evenings. This morning, it was deserted. We found the caves and the brick foundations left after 2000 years of weathering by the sea, then turned around and headed to the Villa Borghese, a large estate just south of our B&B. 

We walked up the road to the large acreage that makes up  the grounds and found a large gate blocking the road. Checking Google maps, we found this to be the only road that accesses the estate. We walked up the highway fronting the grounds, but found the undergrowth so extensive we could not see the building. We returned to our B&B, showered, packed and prepared for breakfast.

The other room of the house had been rented by a archeology student from Carnigie Mellon University named Parker. He was about 23 years old. He joined us for breakfast on the deck. We discussed his work in a small Italian town, digging ancient ruins.

Our train left for Rome at 10:10 am, so we bid Liana goodbye and walked to the station. Once at Termini station in Rome, we caught the Red Line to our familiar stop, Ottaviano, and walked to our hotel for the night.  At the address, we did not find a hotel, rather an apartment building. While standing in the open doorway trying to figure out where we had gone wrong, a kind, tall 60’s something German man inquired what we needed and helped us to sort out that the “hotel” was on the 4th floor, the same side of the building where he had his flat.

We rode the elevator up and found the “hotel” was really a B&B and would not be open to register us into our room until 2:00 pm. Bummer!  We had specifically chosen a “hotel” so we could drop our bags at the front desk and get into the city in the early afternoon.  It was now 12:15 pm. We had an hour and 45 minutes to kill. I called the number of the “hotel”, but only got voice mail. I emailed, but got no response.  We decided to find a restaurant and eat lunch while we waited.  We were familiar with this neighborhood, as we were only 3 blocks from the B&B we had stayed at way back at the beginning or our adventure in May. 

We had lunch, and lingered in the restaurant for well over an hour, as good Italians do, until a little before 2:00 pm when we journeyed back to the “hotel”. About 2:10 pm a young man of about 26 opened the outer door for us and began sorting out who we were and what room we had.  He spoke no English-no problem-but treated us as if we were boxes that had just been delivered by the post office and he had to trouble himself to find a storage spot to put them in. He did not make eye contact nor did he respond to any of our attempts at conversation. It took two phone calls to the owner to get us settled out. We were in camera #1. It was wonderful. Clean, roomy and full AC, something we had missed in our first 5 days in Rome.

We cleaned up, rested a bit, then headed out to get our shopping done. We started by walking the street leading to the Vatican.  We knew it was lined with tourist shops. We each had specific items we were looking for and it was a matter of finding which shop had the exact item we sought.  It took a little while, but we found most of what we were looking for.

I suggested Kebab sandwiches in a shop we had eaten at 5 days earlier. Sally consented, so we walked to the metro and took it one stop to the west, Cipro.  When we emerged, we realized I had been mistaken. The Kebab shop was at the Ottaviano. We rode the subway back, found the shop and shared a sandwich. I grabbed a gelato at the shop next door and we rode the subway to Barbarini stop, the closest stop to Trevi Fountain.  I had a specific gift in mind that could only be purchased from the immigrant street vendors wandering the piazzas hocking their wares.

We walked down the hill, past Trevi fountain, past the Pantheon and over to Piazza Navore. Along the way we searched for a shoe shop we had passed with Bill and Pat that had just the shoes that Sally had been searching for these past 46 days.  Alas, although I thought I could remember where it was, I could not find it. I should have taken a picture of it as Sally had suggested at the time.

In the piazza, we enjoyed the crowd and awaited the evening light to dim. This brings out the immigrants selling the item I sought, a rubber band launched missile that flys up when shot, yet spins to the earth like a helicopter. They have a small LED bulb on them, so they glow as the fly. They really are quite fun. I eyed the vendors, looking for one that I could dicker price with. When I spied my prey, I asked how much for one. He said €5.00.  What?!? I exclaimed. Too much.  I will give you €1.00. He came back with 3 for €5.00. Then it was 7 for €10.00.  I had talked them down to €1.00 each before, but I told him €6.00 for 5. He said no. Sally and I started to walk away. He suddenly agreed and I purchased my 5 helicopters/missiles.

We wandered back through the city to Barbarini, hopped on a train and were back in our room by about 10:00 pm.  We had super good internet here, about 40Mg/s, so I finished a movie about Hitler returning to modern Germany called, “Look Who’s Back” on Netflix while Sally slept. Our travels are over.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017 - Getting in the Swing of Anzio

It is hot and muggy.  It dropped all the way to 74º last night, a cool evening?  Forecast today is 92º. The humidity adds to the heat, hovering around 85-90%. The slightest activity brings cascades of sweat down the face and a soaked shirt. It is not that we are sweating more than when we did the PCT under similar temperatures, it’s that the humidity keeps the sweat from evaporating. The air is already saturated with water. The water on the skin has no where to go. On the PCT, the air was super dry. Any moisture that percolated to the surface of the skin was immediately whisked away into the atmosphere, providing cooling and dry skin. Not so here. The moisture clings to the skin. My hands feel wet.  My shirt is soaked. We shower 3 or 4 times a day, partly to cool down, and partly to get the salty sweat off our skin.  I washed my shirts in the sink last night and hung them on hangers to dry.  Eight hours later and they are still wet. It is humid.  

We got up, showered and were on the sun porch at 8:00 am. Liana had a typical Italian breakfast laid out for us, Zwieback type toast, jam, nectarines, tea, prepackaged pastries. All starch and sugar.  No protein.  Still, it tasted good and filled in the holes of hunger.

We walked to the train station, about 10 minutes away and boarded the train to the last town on the line, Nettuno. We had purchased our train tickets on line last night, €1.20 each for the 7 minute ride. The train comes once an hour from Rome, the same we rode into Anzio yesterday. Today, we are riding to the last stop. Anzio and Nettuno are no longer separate. They have grown into one big interlocked town, but they each have an identity and a train stop.

From the train station, it is about a kilometer to the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, where 7,861 service men and women are buried who fought to liberate southern Italy in 1943 and 1944. Along the way, you see a town similar to Anzio.  It looks and feels very rundown and dirty. Everything needs a coat of paint. Walls need repair. Litter lies everywhere. But, once you walk through the gates of the cemetery, everything becomes spotless. The grass is watered and glows green, in contrast to the dry and brown grass in the rest of the town.  The lawn is meticulously kept. We saw the workers out mowing grass, shaving off less than an inch to keep the place perfect.  And of course, the white marble crosses and stars in perfect arcing rows glistened in the sun. It was spectacular.

We stopped first at the bathrooms, then the visitors center.  There we inquired if we could check to see if anyone from Toledo was buried in the cemetery.  The young woman said the data base could not search by home town, but she could get us paper files that were. She disappeared, then returned with a notebook, the kind you see in movies from the 1950’s, plywood tops and bottoms between the metal rings.  Inside, we found hand typed parchments separated by tabs into states.  We flipped to Washington.  There the towns were alphabetized. No on from Toledo. But, we did find one of the fallen came from Winlock. We had his information printed. We toured the visitors center briefly, watching the 10 minute movie and walked through the displays.

From the visitor’s center we walked out into the graveyard, headed for Section G, grave 51 where our Winlock soldier was buried. The grass was wet underneath, indications of heavy watering. We found 51, took a picture, then headed for the monument at the far end. There we looked at the displays, then walked back down the rows of graves and exited the cemetery.

You might be asking, “What about sailing with the French speaking north Italian man, Maurice, that you met yesterday?”  Well, Sally’s forecast had been right.  The wind was really whipping, the Mediterranean was a froth of white caps and rollers. There was not a small craft out on the waves, except one wind surfer having a blast. Everyone else had the good sense to stay off the water. We did not want to wait until 10:00 am to meet with him to not go sailing. We knew he would not go in this weather, so we skipped the rendezvous and had gone straight to the cemetery.

We walked back into downtown Nettuno and straight to the seashore. The morning temperatures were in the high 80’s, but the wind was helping to remove the sweat.  Good thing, because the air was full of very fine sand blown up off the beach. We would have been sand coated had we been moist.

We stopped at a seaside outdoor restaurant. Sally ordered a fish salad and a Coke. We sat at a table shaded by large umbrella’s shivering in the gale and relaxed, enjoying the people at the tables around us. Sally found the fish salad, literally 90% chunks of fish meat with a little carrot thrown in, smothered in olive oil to be too fishy and oily.  I finished it for her as we watched three tables of card players try to control their cards in the wind. This was a diverse group. One was 6 boys, aged 16-19 playing cards, laughing and having a good time. One table was two women, ages late 40’s playing a two handed game while an aged gentleman watched. The third table was a family of four. Of the 6 tables occupied, including us, 3 were engaged in a nearly noon card game.

We continued our walk south, further into Nettuno, before turning around and heading back toward the train station. We walked north of the train station through the older parts of the town before circling back to the train.  We rode back to Anzio, walked to the B&B, showered, and settled down for a nap.

We rose about 5:00 pm and headed for Anzio, intent on a dinner of something green. We walked into this seaport fishing town and checked the restaurants. They served pizza or fish, but not much in the way of a salad. We settle on the seaside snack shack we had eaten lunch at yesterday. They had a great salad. The owner is a early forties man with a big smile and welcoming personality. Yesterday, he had charmed us with his tolerance for our poor Italian and his humor. Today, he welcomed us back as old friends, smiling, laughing and taking a real interest in us. All this, from what looks like a hot dog stand at the beach. But, he produces a great green salad loaded with tomatoes, cheese, corn, etc.  We had his “Maxi Fruit” plate for dessert, a dinner sized platter piled high with cut nectarines, cantaloupe, apples, pineapple and fresh coconut.  We lounged over dinner for an hour, seated in plastic deck chairs under his canopy, watching the kids play soccer in the sand on the beach and talking about the end of our trip.

We walked back into Anzio and found a repeat of last night. The piazza was alive with people, the stores all open. We wandered into the “Emporium” a hardware/kitchen/housewares/everything store crammed floor to ceiling with everything imaginable. Although we purchased nothing, we enjoyed the inventory as the owners drug outside displays in from the piazza into the aisle, closing up the store for the night.

We wandered back through town to our B&B, showered, again, and were soon asleep.  Tomorrow, we head for Rome via the train, do some last minute shopping for gifts for people, enjoy one more night in the town, then head for home.

Street in Nettuno

Our B&B is on this street. A little rough around the edges 

Monday, June 26, 2017 - Tourists Escaping the Tourists

In Italian class, most of the students were there because they had plans to travel to Italy within the year. We learned this, because at the beginning of each class we would each talk for a few minutes in Italian, telling the class something about ourselves or our lives. As each person described their upcoming trip or their past trip, we discovered we were all going to the same places, Rome, Cinque Terre, Lago de Como, Firenze, Tuscano, Almafi Coast and Venice, with some other tourist favorites thrown in.  Pina, our instructor from Naples, would lament about all the beautiful places in Italy that we were not visiting and ask why we were all going to these specific places. Invariably our answers were always the same, to see the art, to see the scenery, to see a specific resort, etc.  Pina would plead that everywhere in Italy was beautiful and we needn’t go only to these specific areas, but none of us listened.

When we planned our trip, we tried to mix it up, spending 4 or 5 days in one of the big cities where we would immerse ourselves in art and culture, followed by 4 or 5 in a more remote location where scenery or activity was the focus.  At first, this worked for us, but we were still visiting the major tourist sites. As the weeks passed, we found, except for the art, what we were visiting was “Italy made for tourists”, not Italy. All the Italians we met were in the service industry, serving us. Cooks, waiters, shop keepers, hotel, hostel and BandB owners and operators; in short, everyone. We weren’t visiting Italy, we were visiting the Disneyland equivalent of Italy. We soon came to realize that all the tourists clambering to see Italy had completely removed Italy from Italy.  In its place were trinket shops and restaurants posing as Italian restaurants, trying to be the Italy that the tourists wanted to see.

We first got this feeling in Florence, where the town is small compared to Rome, and the crowds of tourists vastly outnumber the locals, but we were so intent on seeing the art and historic churches and sites we hardly took notice. It was in Cinque Terre where everyone was American or German that we began to feel the reality of the situation. The support required to take care of the tourists had made the indigenous people abandon the very aspect that made Cinque Terre special-the 1000’s of miles of rock walls on steep hills that created the terraces of level ground to grow crops, especially grapes for wine. Today, many of the walls are collapsing and much of the grape crop is overgrown with underbrush and weeds as the farmers sit in gift shops making more money than they could on the rugged hillsides, and at a fraction of the labor. Rome was a big enough city that some elements of indigenous life continued in spite of the hoards of tourists and we were on Isola d’Elba before the crowds of summer tourists arrived, so the locals were out and about, comprising the majority of the population. It was Cinque Terre that we first began to understand what was happening.

Siena was an eye opener. When our BandB owner told us he had to move to the country and out of the building he was born in due to the crush of tourists and the laws enacted to support them we began to have our suspicions confirmed. We were sleeping in the room he was born in, right in the center of Siena, yet he could not live there anymore.

The reality got hidden a bit in Lago d’Como because it has always been a tourist area. The entire infrastructure has been tourism for 1000 years due to the lake, its recreational opportunities and the surrounding mountains.  It was and still is a natural playground. The Dolomites were overrun by tourists, but like Lago d’Como, it has been that way for a long time, although the farmers still farm in the high country, and the tourists walk through their fields with packs on and trekking poles in hands as farmers drive tractors to cut and bale hay.

Venice is where it hit home. The city is dying. There are very few “residents” anymore, and they are leaving at the rate of a couple thousand a year, down from 90,000 to 30,000 and still shrinking. All that is left of the “city” is thousands of unoccupied buildings. Only the ground floors of these buildings have life, and they are all filled with shops selling items that appeal to tourists. A cruise down the “Grand Canal” after dark reveals that every building is empty in every floor but the bottom floor. It is a ghost city, only catering to us tourists that come to marvel at its magnificent canals. It is an aqua Disneyland. With no tax base, the city may soon have to charge an admission fee to pay for infrastructure and maintenance on all the empty buildings.

When we returned to Florence with Jeff, the crowds were bigger and the feeling of a huge amusement park became over powering.  In the Tuscany hill towns surrounding the wedding site it was devastating. Every quaint town was precisely the same. Cobblestone streets and rock buildings all filled with tourist shops. Sure one town might specialize in cheese, or copper, or a specific type of wine, but each was just a ribbon of tourist shops selling the same stuff, town after town.

By the time Sally and I finished up in the Dolomites, we knew we were done with areas frequented by tourists. Our guide book, Rick Steves Italy 2017 was still useful, but now in an opposite way.  If it was in his book, we knew we did not want to go there. In fact, he may be the most powerful person in the world in changing the cultures of towns around the world. Thousands upon thousands of people use his books to see the “sites” of Europe, and in the process, transform the towns from thriving, diverse cultures to mono economies based on cheap trinkets and uniform restaurants.

When at home planning the end of the trip, we agonized over whether to go south to the Almafi Coast, south of Naples. Everyone said it was amazing, so we booked two nights in Sorrento and made plans to ride the bus up and down the coast. But, after the Dolomites, we cancelled our BandB there and searched the map and Rick Steves for a place we could go that was not inundated with tourists.  We settled on Anzio, 30 miles south of Rome on the coast, site of an allied invasion force in January 1944. Rick Steves does not even have the word “Anzio” in his book. Good.

Monday morning we lazily got up and packed, arriving at Termini station in Rome in time to catch our 10:40 am train to Anzio. As we stepped off the platform in Anzio and began our walk to our B&B we knew we had left “tourist Italy” and stepped closer to “Italy Italy”. The town was dirty, rundown and very poor looking.  Most of the buildings were tagged with graffiti. It felt nothing like the towns we had visited or passed through. Our B&B was on a run down street-walls missing stucco and badly in need of repair and paint. Asphalt pavement that was more patches than pavement, tagging, litter, and  untrimmed gardens. Is all of non-tourist Italy like this?

We found number 73 and rang the buzzer outside the gate. It immediately unlocked and we walked up the stairs to the house. A woman leaned her head out the 2nd floor window above us and beckoned us in through a door that was at that moment electronically unlocked. Up a floor we found a beautiful apartment with amazing home grown art on the walls and a spotless bedroom and bath with exquisite fixtures, the best we had seen on our trip. The land lady spoke no English, but once again my Italian class got us through the necessaries and we were soon putting on our swim suits and heading to the beach, just two streets away down a few sets of stairs.

We found a beach in front of what looked like an apartment building and quickly slithered into the water, counting on this being a public rather than private beach. While soaking, we met a man and his wife, in their late 60’s, from extreme northern, French speaking Italy who come every year to this beach and his vacation apartment in the building we were swimming in front of. He said his wife had bought him an 18’ Hobie Cat last season and wanted to know if I would help him sail it tomorrow. Yes! We set 10:00 am as the time to meet him here at this beach and we would go from there.  Sally expressed concern over the forecast for strong winds between 10 and 3 tomorrow, but we made plans anyway and parted company.

We walked down the beach toward Anzio. We stopped at a seaside cafe for lunch. Soon we continued our walk and were in town.  It was deserted. Seemed like a ghost town. All the shops were closed. Only a few people on the street. We watched the commercial fishing boats come in and sell their meager catch of fish and octopus dockside to a few customers, then wandered back through town and up to our B&B.  It was very hot (93º) and muggy.  We showered, then took a nap.

About 6:30 pm we wandered back out to town to look for dinner.  We walked down the street to town, arriving about 7:15 pm.  The transformation was startling. The streets were packed with people.  All the stores were open. The central piazza in front of the church was packed with kids playing around the fountain. The benches were full of women and men talking. The restaurants packed. It appears the locals don’t like the midday heat any more than we do.

We had pizza at a busy outdoor pizzeria, then sat near the fountain for an hour watching people and enjoying the evening. We headed back to our room as darkness came. It was nice to be in Anzio. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Sunday, June 25, 2017 - Great Neighbors and Great Friends

Our room has a unique quality. When all else is quiet, you can hear the low throated, deep rumble of the subway as it passes in the tunnels a few blocks away. It is not loud, or disturbing, but it is there. 

We are off to the Vatican today to attend mass with Pat and Bill. Mass is scheduled for 9:00 am at St. Peter's in the Vatican. We are meeting Bill and Pat at the last column on the right farthest from the church. We caught the metro to Octavian station, then walked to the side of the Vatican. It all appeared to be barricaded, so we hustled around to the front and passed through the first security check. Once inside the perimeter, we seated ourselves in the shade near the first pillar and waited for the Caldwells. 8:10 am turned into 8:37 am and no Bill and Pat. Sally had gone to the reateoom10 minutes ago and had not returned. I began to wander around a little bit, wondering if I had missed them while looking down at the iPad. Suddenly Pat called out from inside the secondary security perimeter. They had come in through the side entrance we thought was closed, found Sally and were waiting for me. I quickly went through the X-ray check and joined them. 

We headed up toward the largest church in all of Christendom, St. Peter's Basilica. Once inside, we once again marveled at the sheer size and opulence. I had assumed that Pat and Bill had been here before, but I was wrong. They had been to Europe long ago, when Beth and Ross were babies, but Switzerland was as far south as they had traveled. 

We spent a few minutes gazing around, then Sally began the quest to find where mass was being held in this massive space. A few inquiries and we discovered that mass had been postponed until 10:30 am. hmmmm . . . Now we had about an hour a half, but were a long way from the rest of Rome. We decided to skip mass with plans to attend an evening session and walk across the city with the goal of returning to the Vatican by 11:30 am to attend the Pope’s noon audience. To make it back on time, we were contemplating a taxi. 

Our first goal was Piazza Navore, with Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain. We walked the narrow streets, winding our way there. Once in the Piazza, pat listened to the Rock Steves audio tour of the Piazza while Bill and Sally chased down a Coke and a bottle of water. From there we walked over to the Pantheon. We went inside, walked around the circumference, then popped back out on the street, headed for the Emanuel monument and Michelangelo's steps up the back side. Once on top of the steps, we could look down into the Forum area and see the ruins.  Since it was Sunday, the main road by the Forum (Via Dei Fori Imperiali) was closed.  We walked down to this broad 4 lane road and hung to the right side, looking down into the uncovered ruins of the Forum. We walked the length of the road to the Colosseum.  Pat and Bill had not been to any of these areas in the days before, so we enjoyed they Arch of Constantine, the Colosseum and walked up toward Palatine Hill. The crowds and lines were enormous. We did not even consider trying to go inside.  The view from the outside was enough.

From the colosseum, we headed for the church “Peter in Chains”.  Here two objects were to be found, the actual chains that King Herod used to imprison Saint Peter, and the marble sculpture of Moses done by Michelangelo.  Sally and I had seen both 6 weeks ago when in Rome for the first time. We thought Pat and Bill would enjoy seeing them.  We worked our way up the hill and into the church.  The first thing we noticed was that mass was in progress.  Sally asked Pat if she would like to participate.  She immediately replied yes. Mass was being held in the area to the right of the main alter by a elderly and kindly priest. Sally and Pat headed that way, Bill and I headed to the right side of the alter where Michelangelo’s Moses sat, then to some chairs next to the pews to wait for Sally and Pat.

After mass, we left the church and headed toward the subway station. I thought we would ride the subway back to our respective places to rest and wait out the hot weather (92º+). Back on the Main Street, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant posting €8 euro lunches. We sat down. The forward and boisterous waiter described a couple of items.  Sally repeatedly stated she was sure these offerings were from the €8 menu.  He deftly ignored her statements, as if his English was failing him at those moments. All four of us had the same meal (kind of boring!), roast chicken, fried potatoes and a salad.  Bill and Pat had been saying all morning they wanted to buy our lunch for touring them around Rome, which we kept refuting. As we finished, Bill and Pat made it to the register first. I arrived with my card to split the bill, but Bill was insistent that he pay.  I don’t know what the cost was, but I hope the waiter stuck to the €8 menu.  I have a feeling, from his actions, that he did not.

We walked from the restaurant up to our B&B. Bill and Pat stopped in for a half an hour to cool off and chat, then they walked the block and a half to the Barbarini Metro Station and rode back to their place to rest, take care of airline tickets and make arrangements for Pat to stay in Europe with Joel while Bill flew home to work. Sally took a nap, I caught up on the blog.

About 6:00 pm the Caldwells returned and we headed out to dinner.  Sally had found another Rick Steves inexpensive suggestion for eating. We had walked past it on our way back from Peter in Chains church and checked it out, now we were returning for dinner. Ross and Crystal were joining us.

Dinner was €10 or €12 each, either pizza, hamburger or lasagna.  Between the six of us, we ordered all combinations. Each was happy with their meal. After dinner, we walked back to Via Dei Fori Imperiali and walked back in the direction of St. Peter’s, taking a slightly different course than earlier in the day, heading for Campo di Fiori, a piazza near Trastevere.  Just past the Pantheon we decided we had walked enough (it was 10:30 pm). Ross and Crystal headed to their place, us 4 headed back toward our place, passing Trevi Fountain on the way. We parted outside our door. Bill and Pat rode the metro back to their place, we retired to ours.

Living next door to the best people in the world is one thing.  Getting to tour Rome and Venice with them is even better.  What an amazing and special day!!

She has worked in the same gift shop for 56 years. Amazing.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Saturday, June 24, 2017 - Good Riddance the Car!

Finally!  Today, I get rid of this cursed car!  Yes, it carried me to places public transportation does not go. Yes, it allowed me to travel Tuscany back roads I would not have seen. Yes, it ran great and gave me no mechanical problems (other than scraping it against a low rock wall and scratching the paint).  But, driving a car is not traveling in another country.  It is traveling shielded behind steel and glass, insulated from everyone and everything.  The windshield is like a big TV screen, the driver’s seat like a recliner from a living room. I could experience the same thing in my house in Toledo by watching a video taken by someone driving down the roads.  Get me out of this car! Put me on foot or a bike where I can feel the temperature of the air, smell the subtle odors on the wind, feel it on my skin.  Let me stop and look in any direction at anytime. In the car, my eyes are glued to the road, my hands to the steering wheel, my feet to the pedals.  I might as well be chained to this infernal thing.  Granted, it whisked me to the “sites”, but the sites are not the experience. The journey is the experience, and chained to this car by hands, eyes and feet I miss the journey. I am ready to be set free.

We were up at 5:30 am this morning, and out the door by 6:50 am, headed for Rome via the coast. The quickest way to the airport and the drop off for our Europcar Rental is inland and down highway A3, but driving the freeway in a foreign country is not a new experience. I might as well be on I-5.  We chose to drive the back roads to the west coast, then travel along the Mediterranean, skipping the major highways as much as possible.  This route added about half an hour to our trip.  Although I could only glance at the territory we traversed, chained to the wheel, Sally got a good view through her TV Screen/Car window of the terrain, vegetation, architecture and cities as we zoomed by.

We rolled into the Leonardo di Vinci airport about 9:45 am, missed the correct turnoff to our rental agency and looped around again, grabbing the correct turnoff on the second pass.  Up on the 4th floor we found Europcar and pulled into a parking stall. We emptied the car, then stood to the side while the inspector looked over the car and found my scratches on the passenger door. We signed the correct paper work admitting to the deed. I had called our VISA card company the day before and found what documentation they needed to cover the damage. I went through the list with the rental car agent, a nice young Italian man in his early 30’s, and gathered all the proper documents. With that, I was rid of the beast and back to traveling the way I like best, on my feet.

Instead of taking the train (€13 each) from the airport to Termini station in Rome, we decided to try the bus (€4.50 each). We found the ticket agents, found the bus and were soon seated in comfy seats with nice air conditioning.  We had to wait about 15 minutes for the bus to depart. The ride was about 35-40 minutes, much longer than the train as we wove through Rome traffic to Termini station, but I was free to look out the windows or down at my phone for as long as I wanted with my eyes, place my feet anywhere I wanted and hold Sally’s hand-freedom not granted to the driver of a car.

It was about a 20 minute walk through the streets of Rome, dragging Sally’s suitcase, my pack on my back in the 85º noon heat, but it felt good. We arrived on the street of our AirB&B. A woman was talking on the phone. I started to search my phone to find the exact address of our place when the woman ended her call and asked if I was Jeff. I said Jeff was not coming, but I was his dad and we were here to stay in the place. Although her English was a little rough, I think she understood when we explained Jeff was in Mannheim visiting the groom-to-be (Joel) in the hospital recovering from a terrible motorcycle accident.

She showed us our apartment. Wonderful. A large room and 4 tiny rooms connected by a single hall. It had everything we needed. Kitchen, full bath, fridge, a comfy bed and air conditioning. We made ourselves comfortable, too comfortable. We took showers to clean off the sweat, crawled into bed and took a two hour nap. 

Pat Caldwell texted us about quarter to five, asking if we wanted to joint them, the Freeman's and Jerry Boileau for dinner.  We said sure, when and where. About 5:30 pm Pat texted us again to let us know Kathy Freeman had made reservations at a rather expensive restaurant and would expand the number on the reservation if we wanted to join. Thank you Pat. She provided a elegant path for us to back out of a meal that was beyond our budget.  We declined, but agreed to meet them after dinner for a walk.

Jeff had texted us from Germany, giving us an update on Joel. He was doing well, considering. He was approaching two weeks in the hospital. They had removed an intravenous pain killer delivery system the day before, and the pain in his leg and especially his foot was ramping up again. But, his double vision was lessening and he was in good spirits, enjoying having Jeff there. The circulation in the injured foot seemed good, except for his big toe, which was showing signs of restricted blood flow, turning colors and withering. It is expected they will amputate it in the coming days.

We headed to the wine bar we had enjoyed 6 weeks ago when originally in Rome. They offer about 10 different cold salads in a buffet, €3 a plate, plus a glass of wine for €3. We had a wonderfully tasty and filling meal.

Afterwards, we walked down toward the Forum, listened to a accordion playing street musician that was exceptional, then strolled up Via del Corso, looking in the shops before turning off toward Trevi fountain. We were surprised to see that all the merchandise is the windows had changed.  All the summer clothing was gone, and the fall fashions were on display with slogans like, “Fall is Blooming”. Seemed a little premature as the first day of summer was 3 days ago.

Near Trevi fountain we found shops that had some of the items we were seeking to bring home to friends. We didn’t buy any.  We still have two days at the beach in Anzio, Monday and Tuesday nights. We didn’t want to buy a bunch of stuff, then haul it there and back.  Our last night in Italy is Wednesday, and we spend it in Rome. We will buy the stuff Wednesday afternoon. That way we only have to drag it to the airport, throw it on a plane, and pick it up in Vancouver BC on our return trip home.

We got a text from Ross that their meal was done and would we like to meet. We agreed on Trevi fountain, under the Farmacia sign. And appropriate sign for Bill. We continued to look in the shops a bit more, then wandered to the piazza in front of the Trevi Fountain and found Bill, Pat, Ross and Crystal hanging out under the sign.

We strolled to the Spanish steps through the crowd packed streets, at 10:30 pm.  At the steps, Ross and Crystal parted company for the river front music scene and then home.  We visited with the Caldwells a bit more, then escorted them to the Spanish Steps Metro Station and bid them goodnight.  We strolled back to Trevi Fountain, then up to our room a few blocks away where we rested a few minutes before calling it a day and climbing into bed.

Friday, June 23, 2017 - Hill Towns of Tuscany

This morning was more like a vacation than traveling. We lounged around the place, reading, writing and relaxing. Last night’s late night and the joy of solitude had us feeling lazy.  Assisi was two hours away, Orvieto was one hour ten minutes away and both on our to see list. But, we just couldn’t summon the energy to make the 5 hour or 3 hour round trip.  Instead, about 1:00 pm, we headed out the door, determined to drive to a couple of hill towns and see the countryside.

Jeff was on his way to see Joel in the hospital in Mannheim, Germany.  He was scheduled to arrive about 12:30 pm, but we had not heard from him yet.  We got one short message early in the morning, an answer to my question as to the quality of the wifi that was supposed to be available on the bus . . . broken. This accounts for why we have not heard from him. 

We began driving up the valley, the same route we have been taking for the wedding, then turned of and head down the valley of the Orcia river. After about 25 minutes, we decided we had gone too far and should have made a turn. We were trying to follow a Rick Steves driving tour backwards, and missed the turn. At our turn around I did not have cell reception, so we retraced our route until we reached a likely intersection. Here I stopped, discovered I had cell service and used Google Maps to discover our route. Now we were on the right path. We stopped at a chic Tuscan Restaurant, then followed a gravel road to carry us to the town of Monticchiello. We were a bit low on gas, the light was coming on. From here, we made the short 10 Km drive to Pienza and found a gas station.  We walked through the town, buying a gift or two for friends, then headed back to our place in Bagni San Filippo. It was now about 4:30 pm.

Sally cooked a delicious dinner of green salad with spinach ravioli, then we put on our swim suits and head down over the hill to the hot springs.  A few nights ago with Andy, Jeff, Brian, Tabitha and Emily we had found a pool that was warm, but not hot. Since then, we had explored the pools and found some hotter ones.  These are the ones we headed for.  We found one that was about the same temperature as the hot tub back home, maybe a degree or two hotter. We alternated between it and the pool in the warm river flowing by.  Super hot, then cooling.  A couple of cycles and we were ready to stagger back up the hill to our home.

We had to be out early in the morning for our drive to Rome, so we spent a few minutes tidying up the place, sorting out our remaining food and packing.  We had to drive the two and one half hours to Rome, and be there by 10:30 am to turn in the rental car, but since I had scraped the passengers door against a rock and scratched the paint, we hoped to get there a little early to work out the details with the rental company “Europcar”.

We have heard no news on Joel today, other than he is still in the hospital. His surgery was cancelled yesterday due to lack of circulation in his big toe, which is not good. Jeff says he is doing good, but tired of not seeing well and being in that room.  Amen to that.

Our place in Bagni San Filippo

Our deck.