Tuesday, August 08, 2017

A Morning Walk

For years we've walked in the morning.  When we lived in Louisville it was so convenient to walk to Tom Sawyer Park.  Although Louisville is hot and humid in the summer it usually cools down at night (below 70ºF), and even on the hottest days, as long as we left the house before 7 it was still cool enough - and we still had enough shade - to make the walk tolerable.  The walking path at the park is crushed limestone, so it was gentler on my joints than walking on pavement.

When we moved to Florida, everything changed.  The first big change was that all the walking paths are paved, or at least the ones near us.  Walking in the grass is impossible in Florida - the grass is so deep and so thick it's like walking on a sponge, and it's impossible to tell if there's a hole or even a dip in the ground.  The second big change was the temperature.  In the summer - probably six months out of the year - the temperature NEVER dips below 75º, and of course the humidity is always high.  This means that even walking before the sun comes up is hot, sticky and just plain miserable.  

Not being a morning person, it's always challenging to get up early enough to walk.  It's actually more difficult here in Italy because there seems to be a festa every night, and even going out for a pizza means that dinner never starts before 7:30.  And a three hour dinner is pretty common.  And I really, really want to get nine of hours of sleep.  Yes, nine. I really love my sleep, no apologies.  And of course it's even harder to sleep when it's so hot and there's no air conditioning.  So yes, I really think I deserve a medal for getting up at seven to walk.  

Walking Path_4310 Initially we were walking at San Martino in Campo, at a flat, oval walking track. The problem with this track is that it was probably 60% sun, 40% shade when we arrived, and the later it got, the hotter the sunny parts were.  Walking earlier would have helped, but when it's this hot, getting to sleep before midnight is nearly impossible, so  that wasn't going to happen. I'd noticed a long, shaded, elevated white road near Deruta, and one day we decided to check it out.  Both sides of the road/walkway are lined with large birch trees so it's about 80% shaded, and stays cooler longer.  We walk up and down this road eight times, and based on how long this takes us we estimate the distance to be about three miles.

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Tobacco and hay
There's a field - part tobacco, part bales of hay - on one side, and a parking lot - mostly deserted - on the other, with views of Deruta in the distance.  One end stops at the roadway, protected by a guardrail, and at the other end is a water treatment plant, or at least that's my guess.  There's no odor - no stinky or chemical smell at all, and when the water is being agitated it looks absolutely black.  It's not the most scenic part of the walk, but we don't have to look at it for very long.  
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Deruta





There seem to be quite a few other 'regulars', the shirtless man with the dachshund, the two women with their Jack Russell terrier, the man who drives up to the end of the road, parks his car by the water treatment plant, lets his dog out for a walk, then leaves.  We also see a young woman with a beautiful Dalmatian, and an elderly couple who walk single file.  She walks in front, wearing what my grandmother would call a housedress, and he, even shorter than his wife, trails behind. Oh, and the guy who rings his bell as he approaches on his bicycle.  Weekends are busier, of course, and most of the people we see walking don't go back and forth like we do, but rather walk one length of the road, coming from and going to parts unknown.

People here are friendly, and everyone nods, smiles and says 'Buon giorno' as we pass.  We stopped to chat with the two women who walk with the Jack Russell terrier, and they proudly told us one of their sons is now touring the United States with his girlfriend.  They told us he was an engineer who speaks excellent English.  They of course were curious about us, about where we were staying, and where we lived in the U.S.

Horse and buggy_4294 On Sundays we see people with their horses, but out on the main road, not on the trail.  Because my camera was in my purse, which is put safely away when I get into the car at the house, not at the walking path, I was only able to get a shot of one of the horses and this small, two-person carriage.  We also saw a larger wagon being pulled by two horses, and two individuals on horseback, all on the main road, all being passed slowly by passing cars so as not to startle the horses.  Just another Sunday in the country.




Water_4293 Often on our way home - if I'm not starving - we'll stop in Sant'Angelo to get water.  The water here is very, very hard, and it doesn't take long to see the mineral deposit build up on any glass or container.  These fairly new water dispensers, now found in almost every town, offer water, still or with gas, for 5¢ per 1 ½ liters.  Again, another opportunity to talk to people, which this summer consists mostly of talk about how hot it is!



We also stop at a local farm in Sant'Angelo for all our seasonal produce:  tomatoes, beans, eggplant, celery, lettuce, peaches, nectarines, onions, garlic, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, fresh eggs and even home-made wine for €2.25 per bottle.  If I need fresh basil - mine's just not growing very well due to the extreme heat - the girl who's usually there, the granddaughter of the owner, will simply walk around back and cut what I need.  I'm sure the offerings will change with the seasons, and I can't wait to see what else they sell.  Pumpkins maybe?  But not for carving, for cooking!  Probably apples in the fall, and who knows what else.

Thank goodness it's cool in the mornings, and that we found a shady place to walk because in this heatwave we've mostly stayed indoors, reading, napping, discovering new television shows, staying cool within the thick stone walls of our little house.


You can see these and all our photos by clicking on this link to our FLICKR PAGE.




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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Tassi Ceramics, Again!

The other morning we stopped by our favorite ceramic shop in Deruta, Tassi.  We wanted to pick up something for the Umbrian gift basket we're preparing for our hosts in Switzerland, and we also wanted to have a look at what's new in the shop.

Every time we visit we look at the designs, the shapes,  the colors.  We discuss where we could put each piece.  Maybe we could hang this one on the wall.  Or how about putting that one on a stand on the sofa table?  Or maybe that one would look great in the china cabinet.  We're not ready to make a final decision yet, but with wall space and display space being limited, we're hoping to make the right decision.  We both know we'll love whatever piece(s) we choose, and the process is so much fun!

Here are some of the pieces we saw today.  Right now we're leaning towards the "Grigliata" design, but I love love love the gray/gold/terracotta design as well.  The blue and white patterns are a custom order, and that's something we could have done too.  Decisions decisions!

I think clicking on the photos will allow you to see them larger - at least I hope so!

  Tassi_Grigliata_4280 Tassi_Grigliata_4284 Tassi_Grigliata_4283 Tassi_Grigliata_4281 Tassi_Gray_04 Tassi_Gray_01 Tassi_Gray_02 Tassi_Blue_02 Tassi_Blue_01 Tassi_Blue_03

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Monday, July 31, 2017

Celebrating Summer

Summer in Umbria, and probably in all of Italy, means being outdoors in the evening, taking your evening stroll (passeggiata) to see and be seen, having a gelato on the piazza, or visiting the local sagra or festa. A festa is just a big party, but a sagra will usually feature food as a theme. The food might be something the town is famous for, something that's being harvested now, or simply an excuse to eat a favorite local dish.

Most of the feste around here run Thursday to Sunday, but some of the larger ones run every night for ten days, encompassing two weekends. Advertising for these events is limited – apparently enough locals know when they are, so if you're in Italy be sure to keep your eyes open for posters both large and small, advertising these local treasures.

 When we arrived in Italy in 2003 we mistakenly thought the feste and sagre were similar to church picnics, but we quickly found out how wrong we were. Instead of being held during the day and running into the evening, an Italian festa rarely starts before 7:30. There are of course, exceptions to this rule, but for the smaller, local feste, 7:30 is pretty standard.

The first order of business is food. Well, maybe the second, because after all, it's all about socializing, so a quick turn around the site to see who's there, as well as where you want to sit is always a good idea. If you're ordering your food at a central location, you'll definitely need to know your table number so that the locals (usually teens) know where to bring it. On rare occasions, like the other night when we were in Fontignano, near Lake Tresimeno, people came around to the tables to take our order, and menus were conveniently supplied on each table. In San Venanzo you read the large posted menu, which might vary slightly from night to night, then pick up an order form and pencil. After noting how many of each item you want and what you want to drink, you add your name and your table number then proceed to the cassa (cashier) where you pay. Drinks are usually available at a different stand, and the choices are as you might expect: water, both still and fizzy, red or white wine, usually very local and very reasonably priced, and for the kids, the standard assortment of sugary drinks. Coffee for after dinner is also available. There may also be beer, but since that's something I never think about, I honestly don't remember. I would guess it is, because in addition to the more famous national brands like Peroni and Moretti, artisanal beer is also very, very popular now.

Music and dancing is also a traditional part of every sagra or festa. The music doesn't start until 9:30 or so, and is usually a local group playing traditional music. The music is well-suited for two types of dancing: line dancing, which is extremely popular, and waltzes that have everyone swirling around and around the dance floor. Normally everything is over by midnight, but we do have to think about driving home on curvy, unlit two-lane country roads, so we usually leave before the final song. It was so easy when we lived in San Venanzo and could just walk up the street!

I was a little disappointed when I discovered that the Street Food Festival – definitely a break from tradition! - in Marsciano wouldn't have as many trucks as the one in Foligno a few weeks ago. There, the trucks had been not just from various regions of Italy, but also from Spain, Greece, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico and one, while perhaps not from the U.S., featured American-style barbeque. Marsciano featured trucks from several regions of Italy – Sicily, Abruzzo, Piemonte, Calabria, Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany. There might have been other regions I'm forgetting, but there was a good selection of food (except for the truck offering horse meat! Neigh!!!). The only international truck there was one from Spain, so we knew we wouldn't be eating BBQ and/or Mexican.

I had a huge American-style hamburger and Art had a burger made from the pork of the Cinta Senese pigs, a particularly flavorful pork. Both were delicious, cooked fresh while we waited, and Art enjoyed sampling a few Sicilian beers with our friends to go along with his burger.

 And then, off in the distance I heard a very surprising, but very distinct sound: bagpipes! I turned my camera on and walked towards the sound. It was dark by this time, but eventually I saw them coming down the stairs from the hill above, and once in the parking lot where the festa was being held began walking through the crowd. I would later learn that this was a Palestinian group called Bagpipes For Peace.

We knew there would be another musical act, presented in conjunction with the Musica Per i Borghi program, something that's been bringing diverse music to Umbria for many years now. The large stage was set near the road, with way more chairs than I expected to see. The first act, who I heard but did not see, was a woman who sang exclusively in English - “My Heart Will Go On”, and other similar songs. I think there must have a different woman, or women who sang after her, and we heard both “Imagine” and “Hey Jude” - another surprise! After that another act was introduced. I could hear the announcement but wasn't really paying attention, so when I heard a lot of drums I immediately jumped up. Bagpipes, Beatles AND percussion, all in one night?! The act was a drumline – eight boys, and a man playing a regular drum-kit.

We left shortly after that – we had ridden with a friend who needed to get up early the next morning, but I have to say the night turned out much better than I expected. I knew we'd have good food, and I knew we'd enjoy the company of our friends, but to have these musical surprises was really the cherry on top. You just never know what's going to happen in Italy!

Update: The following day, Saturday, we joined friends for a festa in tiny San Faustino, just outside of Mass Martana. Although the village is small, the festa, called the festa of good eating, no less, was amazing. On the menu was melon with prosciutto, goose (oca), pork shank (stinco), tagliatelle with tartufo, guanciale, torta al testo, and on and on and on. Everyone shared bites and we all groaned as we left the table. We walked down to the dance floor to watch and listen, and met more friends along the way. Another delicious evening!

BAGPIPES FOR PEACE



DRUMLINE IN MARSCIANO


DANCING IN SAN FAUSTINO


LINE DANCING IN SAN FAUSTINO

 COOKING IN SAN FAUSTINO

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Four Days In Rome Part 2

Rome_Italy_Vittorio Emanuele Monument_3754We slept late on Sunday morning and missed breakfast at The Beehive, but in Rome – or anywhere in Italy – a coffee and a croissant are as close as the nearest bar. We stopped at a bar near Termini for a quick breakfast then once again walked down the via Nazionale,
towards the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, nicknamed “the typewriter” or “the wedding cake”. The street in between the monument and the Coliseum is pedestrian-only on Sundays, which makes the area feel a little calmer, and certainly less dangerous when crossing the street!

 Although there were no cars there were lots and lots of people. Despite the heat, a beautiful summer day in Rome is not to be wasted, and the street, and the steps of the monument were crowded.


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We walked around the monument and up the broad stairs that lead to the Compodoglio, the piazza designed by Michelangelo at the top of the Capitoline hill. The two buildings that house the Capitoline Museums face each other across the piazza, and are connected by an underground passageway. Although the museum is quite large, and you might be tempted to see one building and skip the other – DON'T!

 I say this for several reasons, but first let me say that yes, I do understand that for most of you, your time in Rome is limited. You want to see the 'big' sites: The Forum, the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish steps, St Peter's and the Vatican Museum. Spending time in a museum, even a smaller one like the Borghese, might not be on your list, and I get it. However, if you've been to Rome more than once, try to expand your list, add something new. Additionally, sometimes it rains when you're on vacation. Sometimes it's miserably hot. For these times it's always nice to have an alternative, and a museum can save the day. Be sure to make note of the closing day (usually, but not always, Monday), and if you plan to visit a large museum like the Capitoline, pace yourself!

Rome_Italy_Capitoline Museum_View of St Peter's_3946 One of the nice things about the Capitoline Museum is their restaurant, which includes a terrace with a view of the dome of St Peter's. We reserved a table at the restaurant's covered, protected, outside area, but either things have changed dramatically, or, more likely, I'd just forgotten how outrageously expensive it was. Next time we'll grab our food from the cafeteria-style counter (inside) and eat our meal inside, then walk out to the terrace to enjoy the view and snap a few pics. To add insult to injury, the waiter we had in the outdoor section was arrogant and condescending, so, lesson learned. The nice thing for a larger museum like this is that you can easily break up your visit with a meal, or just a snack, then continue your visit refreshed.

Rome_Italy_Capitoline Museum_View of Forum_3954Another tip: when walking through the underground passage connecting the two buildings, don't miss the corridor (accessed up a small staircase) that will give you an incredible view of the Roman forum. It's easy to miss, but well worth the diversion!

Although not every piece is marked in English, most, if not all of the exhibits and explanations are in English, so you can read as much detail as you want – sometimes it's too much detail, but it's always nice to know some of the history of the pieces you're seeing. 

The first building you visit, the Palazzo dei Conservatori, is filled with sculptures and artwork, while the second building, the Palazzo Nuovo, is a work of art unto itself.  The rooms!  The ceilings!  The chandeliers!  The frescoes! Much like the Borghese, the rooms in the Palazzo Nuovo were designed to impress, to dazzle and to amaze, and they do all that and more!
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Rome_Italy_Capitoline Museum_Chapel_Ceiling_3898Rome_Italy_Capitoline Museum_Ceiling_chandelier_3892

Walking around on hard surfaces all day is tiring. The heat is tiring. Trying to absorb all the art, history and beauty is tiring. Pace yourself! We stopped in the mini Eataly in the Piazza della Republica.  Yes, it's a great place to find food items from all over Italy, but I didn't see anything I couldn't live without.  In retrospect we could have bought some snacks for dinner, but at the time we weren't sure what our plans were.  Later we walked up to the bar near Termini and bought two panini, some fruit and a small bottle of wine for an alfresco dinner on our tiny balcony.


Mondays can be tricky because many (but not all!) museums are closed on Mondays.  It was way too hot to go wandering around the Forum, Coliseum and Palatine Hill, so we decided to take the advice of a fellow traveler from the Slow Europe Forum and visit CineCitta, founded in 1937 by Mussolini (!), and made famous by Federico Fellini.  CineCitta is home to such blockbusters as Ben Hur and Cleopatra, and the spaghetti westerns of the '60's.  Martin Scorsese filmed "Gangs of New York" here, and more recently HBO's "Rome" ☺was shot here.  It's an easy Metro ride to the studios, which are located right next to the Metro stop, about 15 minutes from Termini.

Cinecitta_Rome_Italy_movies_3985We had a little over an hour to wander through the exhibits, housed in two buildings.  We saw costumes, posters and read about the many, many films that were made here.  Our guided tour in English through the lot was scheduled for 11:30.  The meeting point was the gift shop/cafe, where I found the souvenirs, like this clever fan, to be out of my price range.  (The fan, designed to look like strips of film, cost €23)

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The lot tour took us to a large soundstage, then to various sets, all very realistic until you tapped them or took a look behind them to see the scaffolding that was holding them up. We saw sets for "Gangs of New York" and "Rome", as well as a production in progress.

At the end of the tour we took the Metro back to Termini, and walked down to the new Mercato Centrale, a huge, modern food court which has just recently opened.  There are many, many choices for food here.  We selected a table, chose a pasta restaurant, ordered our food and watched as it was being prepared.  The plates were handed over the counter to us to enjoy.  Servers came around, circulating from the large bar that's in the middle, taking drink orders.  We shared our table with a couple from Sicily who now live in Milan, so yes, all roads do lead to Rome!

After lunch we walked back to the Beehive to retrieve our bags, then walked back to Termini to catch our train back to Umbria.  Due to increased security, you must now show your ticket before being allowed to enter the boarding area for the trains.  Unfortunately our train was delayed 35 minutes, which affected our connection in Foligno.  We could have stayed longer in Rome and taken the direct train back to Ponte San Giovanni, but it's impossible to predict something like this.

We had a great time in Rome, and despite the heat I'm glad we went.  There is always something new to see in Rome, whether it's a newly discovered/opened site, or something we just haven't gotten around to seeing before, and of course there are old favorites like The Borghese, The Vatican, The Forum and Coliseum that can be visited again and again and again.  Rome is indeed the Eternal City.


Click on the link for all the photos from the Capitoline Museums: Capitoline Museum, Rome Italy 2017

Click on the link for all the photos from CineCitta: Cinecitta Rome Italy 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017

Four Days In Rome Part 1

I do NOT recommend visiting Rome in the middle of July, but a concert forced us to join the throngs of parched, sweaty tourists during not just a month that's traditionally hot, but also during a heatwave and a drought. Here's what we did, with some suggestions, and a few lessons learned.

We arrived in Rome at midday. We had taken the train from Umbria, but many people arrive directly from the airport after a long overnight flight. If Rome is your first point of entry, try to allow some time to adjust to the time difference, and don't over-book yourself. One of my top recommendations is to book a walking tour of some sort. These vary from inexpensive, basic sights of Rome to more expensive, comprehensive, and even customized, tours. Do some research and pick what suits your budget and your interests, but trust me when I say a guide will help not only save you time, but educate and entertain you in the process. You will come away with a greater appreciation for the sites you saw, and your time will have been spent efficiently.

We dropped our bags off at THE BEEHIVE, our go-to place in Rome. Like most places, they'll let you drop your luggage even if your room isn't ready, so we were able to grab some lunch and begin enjoying the city. We'd brought insulated water bottles to carry with us, because in the 90º heat and the intense sun, staying hydrated was a priority. We had lunch at the small mom-and-pop restaurant just around the corner from the Beehive. The Regina, just two blocks from Termini, the main train station, serves good food at reasonable prices and we were welcomed like family.

After lunch we headed back towards Termini, hung a right towards Piazza della Republica, then headed down via Nazionale. We walked in the shade – another simple tip – to avoid the blazing mid-day sun. Our plan was to visit the Domus Romane, a fairly new exhibit, housed in the Palazzo Valentini, directly in front of Trajan's column. The Palazzo was built during the Renaissance, directly over ancient Roman houses, and now thanks to plexiglass floors and projected lighting, we were able to see the ancient Roman houses (Domus Romane), and to get a better idea of how the rooms would have been decorated for the Imperial Romans who inhabited them. The tour lasted about an hour, and was well worth our time. If we'd arrived earlier we could have eaten at the restaurant next door, Terre e Domus, which boasts of traditional Roman dishes and wines. This restaurant is worth noting for its location – not much else nearby!

Our walk back up the via Nazionale wasn't difficult – the hill is very gradual – but the heat of the day was tiring. We stayed in the shade as much as possible, and once back at The Beehive (in The Sweets, just around the corner), we were happy to indulge in some air-conditioned air. We stretched out for a brief rest, but be warned – unless you're staying in a high-priced hotel, you probably won't have television. For most of us, as long as there's WiFi, we can stay connected via our phones, so this wasn't a problem. That evening we met a friend who lives in Rome for dinner at MEID IN NEPOLS, just a few blocks from our room, and all enjoyed a traditional Neapolitan pizza for dinner.

Day two began with breakfast at the Beehive's cafe. Yogurt, croissants and coffee got us going, and thanks to the shared kitchen at The Sweets, we had cold water (and even some ice!) for our scheduled visit to the Borghese Gallery. When planning your visit to any city, decide which museums you'd like to see, then check for opening days and times. Do some research to find out which ones require reservations, and which ones recommend reservations. I realize sometimes it's not easy to predict how your day will go, and when you'll be at a certain location, but sometimes a little extra planning will go a long way.
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For the Borghese, reservations are required, and it's easy to book tickets online. The only other museum where I strongly recommend reservations is the Vatican. This is also one museum where I would strongly recommend a guided tour. Not only will you save time in line, you'll understand what you're seeing, and hear interesting stories about what your seeing, rather than just the dry, boring details.

 Okay, back to the Borghese. Entries are timed, so you know exactly when you need to be there. We'd taken the #910 bus from Termini, which dropped us off right at the entrance. I took my printed receipt downstairs to exchange for our tickets, checked my purse, and waited our 11 o'clock entry time. Technically you're only allowed 2 hours in the museum, but it's small, covering 2 floors, and two hours will be more than enough time. I recommend renting the audio guide – you can move at your own pace, and listen to as much or as little detail as you want. Knowing what you're looking at, knowing who created it and what makes it special enough to be in a museum is definitely a worthwhile investment.

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Borghese_Rome_Italy_Ceiling_3784

 
Borghese_Rome_Italy_Ceiling_3824  We'd plan to grab a panino or a salad at the museum cafe, but unfortunately it's closed, so we walked to Viale San Paolo del Brasile, a main street with many buses. We asked the driver “Termini?” and when he nodded yes, we boarded. Bus and Metro tickets are easily purchased at various locations around town, and we'd bought four tickets that morning. Bus tickets, Metro tickets and trains tickets MUST be validated! For the Metro (Rome's subway) it's unavoidable, since you need to insert your ticket in order to go through the turnstile, for trains the machines are on the walls near the trains – not on the trains! - and for busses the machine are on the busses themselves. After the short ride back to Termini, we walked the two blocks to The Beehive, had lunch at The Regina once again, then returned to our room for a nap – the main purpose of our visit to Rome was the U2 concert, and we knew it would be a late night! Once again, the air conditioning was heavenly!


We'd originally planned to take the Metro, then transfer to a bus to get to the Olympic stadium, about 4 ½ miles away, but when friend offered to drive us, we gladly accepted. We arrived around six so that we could exchange our vouchers for proper tickets. Being Italy, there were no signs, but with a little luck and a few helpful directions we found the office, got our tickets and walked back to the stadium. We knew our tickets were in the next-to-the-top row, in the middle of the stadium, but really had no idea how good or bad our view of the stage would be. Knowing that most concerts now use large Jumbotrons, we weren't too concerned. Additionally we knew that the Olympic Stadium features a covering over the roof, much like the ancient Coliseum used, so we knew we'd be protected from the sun.

The stadium filled up quickly, as well as the open space in front of the stage. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds took the stage at 7:30 and played for an hour. Although I'm not familiar with him or his new group, I was in the minority and his set was received with enthusiasm. The guy two rows in front of us was on his feet from the first note and knew every word to every song – he had a blast!

After Noel Gallagher left the stage it was a full hour before U2 took the stage – it seemed excessively long since all of U2's instruments were already set up – but I have no idea if this is normal for this tour. In any event, once U2 took the stage the crowd went wild! THIS was who we had all come to see! The complete set list AND all the videos are HERE.  

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I hadn't looked at the set list prior to the concert, so it was a wonderful surprise to hear my favorite U2 song, “One”, during their encore. 'Encore' might not be the right word – I think it was really part 2, since it lasted nearly an hour!

I have a side note for anyone from Louisville who might be reading this: not ONE person left before the last note was played. NOT. ONE.

We had heard from friends that getting home from the concert might be challenging, and indeed it was. Although extra busses had been added, every one that passed us was jam-packed. We walked one stop closer, with no luck. We walked to the next stop, but still the busses were full. For us to get home we'd need to take a bus to a Metro stop, then take the Metro back to Termini. We'd heard the Metro was staying open one hour later than usual, until 1:30, but with all the busses full, and with no more busses arriving, we didn't know if we'd make it. It would take us a good hour and a half to walk home, through unfamiliar streets, and that just wasn't in our plans.

 As many of you know, in the states, after any large event, taxis would be lined up, waiting to whisk people away, but not in Rome. In Rome you need to make sure you're taking a legal taxi, because rogue taxis are a problem. Rogue taxis can be exhorbitantly expensive at best, and dangerous at worst, so you must get a cab at a hotel, at a taxi stand, or call for a cab. We tried to call the number but of course the line was constantly busy. I was getting more than a little concerned while I stood watching the horizon, hoping another bus would appear.

Art walked over to a local policeman and asked if it was always like this. “Yes” was the reply. Honestly, how do most people, who rely on public transportation in a city like Rome, get home after a concert or soccer match? Art explained our dilemma to the officer, and eventually he said, “Wait, I'll try to call a taxi for you. I'll call the dispatcher.” We weren't sure if he had a special, direct number for the dispatcher, but we thanked him and waited expectantly. After just a few minutes a taxi appeared out of nowhere – it didn't come from the street but seemed to come from the parking lot! Needless to say we didn't ask questions. We thanked the officer profusely and jumped into the cab. Whew! By this time traffic was pretty much cleared out, and the €17.50 for the cab ride – right to our door – was worth every penny and we tipped the driver generously. What a night! We turned on the AC, turned off the alarm clock and fell into bed with U2 songs still playing in our heads.

There are five albums with our pictures from this visit to Rome on our FLICKR PAGE

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Speaking Of Slow Travel....

I wrote about my fascination with transatlantic travel several years ago, in THIS POST.  Transatlantic cruises allow us to arrive at our destination without jetlag, and, if you plan wisely, don't cost much more than a plane ticket.  Additionally you also get up to 2 weeks of long, lazy days and several interesting ports of call.  Until recently we'd only been able to cruise from Europe back to the U.S., but my real dream was to cruise to Europe - I can never sleep on a plane, even with lay-flat seats (which we can afford anyway!) - so the drive to our final destination was always torture after a long flight.

Once Art retired from Churchill Downs we were free to cruise both to and from Europe.  We cruised to Barcelona last spring for our vacation in France, and we took the same cruise this year, arriving in Barcelona then driving to Italy.

The first stop on the cruise to Barcelona was Key West.  I'd never been to Key West before, so last year we toured the island and visited the Hemingway house, which was very interesting.  Other than that, Key West seems to be bar after bar, interspersed with food shops (key lime pie anyone?) and the usual T-shirt/souvenir shops.  This year we wandered around, not really looking for anything, but at one jewelry stand I spied a whale tale charm.  Hmmmm....I had a gold fluke, a souvenir from a trip to Hawaii many years ago, but since my hair's gone silver I've switched my jewelry to silver, so perhaps this would be the place to find a silver whale tale.  The search was on!

Whale fluke_Capricorn Jewelers_Key West_3377After several unsuccessful stops we found Capricorn Jewelers, owned by Loukas Kongos.  Mr Kongas, was born in Greece, studied jewelry making in Milan, and now calls Key West home.  He's designed some interesting bracelets, and to my great relief had exactly the size and style of whale tale I wanted,  I had my first souvenir of our vacation!

Our next stop was a new one, Philipsburg, the capital of Dutch St Maarten.  The season was definitely over, and ours was the only ship in port. The streets nearest the beach were filled with shops, but the further away from the beach we walked, the more run-down the area appeared.  We only spent a few hours here, and I don't know much about St Maarten, or the French side of the island, but I'm guessing tourism is the biggest industry. I'm sure there are incredible views and some great snorkeling and scuba diving.

After we left St Maarten we then had seven days at sea, which meant seven days with absolutely no agenda, no sites to see, no worries about making it back to the ship on time!  That's real slow travel!

Here are some shots from St Maarten, and a few from the ship itself.  Our all pictures are available on our FLICKR PAGE.


St Maarten_2639 St Maarten_beach_2642 St Maarten_beach_2665 RCCL_Rhapsody of the Seas_St Maarten_02

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Traveling SLOW

Many of you know me today because we 'met' years ago on the Slow Travel website/forum.  While many of you remain virtual friends, I can't begin to count the number of real, solid, up-close-and personal friendships we've made because of ST.  Although Pauline sold ST many years ago, the site remained active, but experienced a gradual decline as many of us joined Pauline's new site, SLOW EUROPE.  Many of us also continued our friendships via social media, most specifically Facebook.  Eventually Slow Travel shut down, but the friendships remain.

Right now we're staying with our best friend in Italy.  We originally met her through a recommendation from someone on the ST message board, back in 2002.  We just had dinner with friends we met through ST, and later became friends with via the Expats In Italy site, which is also now gone.  In addition to the friendships, I can't begin to tell you how much valuable advice and insider information we've gained over the years.

Any time I have a question about travel to Europe, SLOW EUROPE is my first stop.  Whether I'm looking for restaurant suggestions for Rome, day trip ideas from London, or suggestions about where to base in France, the people on the SE forum always come through for me, often suggesting things I would never have found in a guide book.  Right now I'm researching for 2018, throwing around ideas about possible itineraries.  I feel like I'm thinking out loud, narrowing down my choices based on the experiences of others.  While every suggestion might not make it into my final plans, every suggestion made is what helps make my final plan my own, because I've had so many different ideas to choose from.

Here are just a few photos of places we've discovered, thanks to our slow travelin' friends:

St Cirq la Popie, France

St Cirq la Popie_0666

Trulli in Alberobello, Italy

Puglia - Trulli 032

Vineyards in Barolo, Italy

Barolo 094

Interior of La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Spain

La Sagrada Familia

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