Hairy coos but no kilts

26 Sep
26 September 2016. City versus country is an age-old traveller debate. Do we spend time in the great museums and wonderful restaurants of Paris, London, and New York, or do we head to small towns and rural settings where life is less rushed? What do we do if the great outdoors delivers pouring rain and we cannot enjoy the activities we planned? What if our expectations are not met and what do we expect anyway? 
The view from our B&B.

The view from our B&B.

We’ve had a touch of both city and country in the past three weeks. Ric and I are wrapping up a trip to Paris and the northern U.K. This is a challenging type of travel to pack for. City-chic in Paris, dressy enough for dinner in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but hiking boots and weather-resistant layers for the great outdoors. Luckily we managed to pack in our usual 21-inch-rollaboard-plus-daypack combo.
It is difficult to imagine having too much time in Paris. We had three full days this time and still we have not managed to do everything on our long list although we’ve been there four times in the past 18 months. The weather was perfect with warm-but-not-hot days and evenings pleasant enough for outdoor dining. We’ve found some amazing places to dine that do not break the bank and a new-to-us B&B experience that kept the budget further in check. Despite a complete lack of French language skills, Paris is beginning to feel quite comfortable.
We moved on to York, England, where we hooked up with my brother and sister-in-law for a two-week driving adventure. When on our own we use public transportation exclusively, but there are places in the rural U.K. that are difficult if not impossible to see without a car, so my brother became the chauffeur, Ric and the SatNav guided the way, while Jane and I enjoyed the scenery.
Here we are atop Edinburgh Castle. A windy day, but sunny and warm by Scottish standards.

Here we are atop Edinburgh Castle. A windy day, but sunny and warm by Scottish standards.

Our path was from York to Keswick in the Lakes District, then on to Edinburgh, Granton-on-Spey along the Whisky Trail, and finally the Isle of Skye. Wow! One place more beautiful than the next. Our three truly small-town experiences — Keswick, Grantown-on-Spey, and Portree on Skye — absolutely astounding.
Sheep-dotted meadows, moors, dales and fells, bubbling burns, torrential waterfalls, and always the sheep. It was everything and nothing we expected.
I did not expect it to be so thickly wooded and rugged in The Lakes District. I expected to hike through meadows of sheep and cows, not forests and rocky ridges. The hike we took at Castle Crag was labeled “easy” and four miles long. Much like in the Val Gardena, “easy” was subjective and how they measured a mile elusive. It might have been miles-as-the-crow-flies, but we estimated seven walking versus the published four.
I did not expect to have my husband fall in love with Scotch whisky. Ric has always been a whiskey man: bourbon, Jack Daniels, and the like. Prior to this, I could not get him to sip my whisky, as in the stuff from Scotland. Along for the ride on a distillery tour, he finally saw the light and has come over to the bright side. The difference? The tastings revealed the complexities and variations in whiskies from the different “noses” to flavors of honey, vanilla, caramel, fruit, smoke, and peat. Something for everyone, just like with wine. 
I expected fish-and-chips and pubs everywhere. The former were prominent on nearly every menu, but once outside of York and Edinburgh, a proper pub was elusive. Cafes and bars (not our beloved Italian bars, mind you) yes, but not the clubby dens we enjoyed in London. 
The Fairy Pools on Skye...look at the line of hikers! I wonder at the adverse impact on the moor.

The Fairy Pools on Skye…look at the line of hikers! I wonder at the adverse impact on the moor.

I don’t know quite what I expected of moors, but it was fascinating to experience these bleak yet beautiful landscapes. I thought they were always lowlands and did learn they can be at higher elevations. I also observed how fragile they are and worry that the ridiculous numbers of us visiting will have an adverse impact. 
I did not expect to be so amazed by the food. In the tiniest town of our trip, Portree, on the Isle of Skye, we had perhaps the best situation of all: three dinners to rave about, and spoiled for choice on the whisky selections before and after. The one downfall was an overall poor selection of wines. A stone’s throw from France, Italy, and Spain, with EU-friendly import possible, but prominently featured was Concha y Toro and a few Australian wines.
Highland Cattle are often called "Hairy Coos" or "Hielan Coos." Love the baby seeking reassurance from mama.

Highland Cattle are often called “Hairy Coos” or “Hielan Coos.” I love the baby seeking reassurance from mama.

I did expect to see the famous “hairy coos” of the highlands, aka, Highland Cattle and lots of kilt-wearing Scotsmen. We finally saw the cows our next-to-last day on Skye, but the only kilt-wearers were the occasional bagpipers. I’ve seen more kilts in Roma when the lads came to see a game against a local team.
Please click on any picture to see a slideshow of some of the stunning sites we enjoyed.
Now back to Paris and on to Rome, by train all the way, of course!

 

LibbyJean

20 Sep
20 September 2016.  Our little cat Libby passed away today. She had completed 14 years and 2 months. The last few months were tough as her health was in decline and the doctor could not identify exactly why. 
Libby (full name LibertyJean or LibbyJean) was much-loved not only by us but also by the many temporary moms-and-dads who stayed with her and her “sister” Jane while we traveled. It fell to one such wonderful couple to see her through her final days as we are in the Scottish Highlands. We are eternally grateful to them and to our veterinarian who tried so hard to treat her. In the final analysis, it was probably cancer that claimed her.
Cutie pie Libby at about 10 weeks. Always a little clown.

Cutie pie Libby at about 10 weeks. Always a little clown.

LJ (she had MANY nicknames) was a funny and personality-filled kitten from the start. Even at 8-weeks she was less afraid of our giant collie dogs than they were of her. She was independent and could be adventurous, but was terrified of strangers. We have friends who have visited our home but never saw her. One lovely cat-sitter couple was able to draw her out last year and she became much more comfortable with visitors from that point on. It was nice to see her grow and adapt even as an old lady.
In 2007, a photo of Libby sitting in the Christmas Village was included in the "365 Days of Cats" calendar. She was very proud!

In 2007, a photo of Libby sitting in the Christmas Village was included in the “365 Days of Cats” calendar. She was very proud!

Libby leaves behind an older sister, Jane (20 years) and Ric and I who will miss her goofy and sweet self. We have brilliant memories of our funny little calico.
Rest in peace, LibbyJean. We love you.
The girls made the transition to Rome swimmingly and traded carousing in our small Portland garden for  window seat on the city.

The girls made the transition to Rome swimmingly and traded carousing in our small Portland garden for a window seat with a view.

Libby never really gor used to our travels, but she coped well. Every trip she would hang out on-or-in Ric's siutcase while he packed. This last trip, she did not. I think she knew what was coming.

Libby never really got used to our travels, but she coped well. Every trip she would hang out on-or-in Ric’s suitcase while he packed. This last trip, she did not. I think she knew what was coming.

This is Libby with "sister" Janie in 2002. They did not always get along so well, like any sisters.

This is Libby with “sister” Janie in 2002. They did not always get along so well, like any sisters.

 

Il grande rientro

3 Sep
3 September 2016. The deserted streets of the past month are once again full of buses, cars, and motorini. The kids with their unmuffled  POS cars wake us periodically between 23:00-01:00 as they zoom down the hill behind our bedroom and careen around the corner giving us an extra blast of over-revved engine as they pass the front of the building. (The landlady said this was a quiet street! But then she’s Italian and sleeps with the windows closed against a possible chill when it’s still 79 degrees Fahrenheit at bedtime. If we are lucky it’s a chilly 68 when we wake up.)
There were almost no car horns to be heard for the last 4 or 5 weeks, and no double-parking. So many closed businesses. This all seems like a dream as the streets are once again clogged, the impatient drivers leaning on their horns, and an open parking spot is as rare as a Lutheran church in Rome. Stores re-opened with their “New Collections” displayed: the wools, browns, and grays of the autumn wardrobe. Newstands sprang back to life with fresh magazines in stock and the florists are once again oases of color on many street corners.
End of summer

Beaches will be empty soon. And delightful for those not into the usual cheek-by-jowl beach scene.

This, my friends, is Il Grande Rientro: The return to reality as thousands upon thousands of Romans give up their beach chairs and umbrellas and head back to work. School won’t start for another week-or-so, and that will add another layer of congestion back as each child is accompanied to the door of the nearby elementary school by a parent or nanny.
In every store and restaurant you are asked “Comè andata la Sua vacanza?” (How was your vacation?) Or perhaps “Dovè siete andati in ferie?” (Where did you go on holiday?)
So many people go away in August. SO MANY. Apartments are shuttered, entire apartment buildings have no windows lit at night, and renovation work continues day-and-night as contractors struggle to complete work while the owners are on holiday. I cannot do justice to describe what it is like to experience this thing. It is a phenomenon one has to live through to believe.
The great return even gets news coverage due to the crowded autostrada.

The great return even gets news coverage due to the crowded autostrada.

Then on Monday it was like a switch was thrown and the city was refilled from a firehose full of cars and people. And apparently this rientro is quite traumatic for the Italian who have been away for four weeks. There are articles about how to make it less stressful, what to eat (digestion being top-of-mind) to ensure a healthy return. Some sources offer practical and pragmatic tips. Others, like the Corriere della Sera, offer a lighthearted approach in 10 dishes to console yourself with at the end of vacation, including gelato, pizza, chocolate cake, and a Mumbai burger. It’s a funny piece.
Soon this will all seem normal. It’s the sudden onset that is so shocking. Just as things are heating up even more next week with schools coming online, we will escape to the U.K. for our next adventure. I’ll write to you from the road. Until then ben rientro!

End of the World? No, it’s just August in Roma

24 Aug
20 August 2016.   Imagine a street, deserted of humans, cars parked dusty and unused, dead leaves skittering along in the evening breeze. There is an eerie, end-of-the-world-movie, ghost town quality. Think of the film “On the Beach” where New York City is deserted. Like that, but with the occasional bus or car passing. The trams are empty, too.
Usually this street, our neighborhood's main street, is chock-a-block with cars. Lots of horns would be sounding because everyone is in a hurry, and the lanes are often blocked by narcissitic double-parkers. Tonight you could park on the center line and not bother anyone.

Usually this street, our neighborhood’s main street, is chock-a-block with cars. Lots of horns would be sounding because everyone is in a hurry, and the lanes are often blocked by narcissistic double-parkers. Tonight you could park on the center line and not bother anyone.

That describes our “high street” as the Brits would say, Viale dei Parioli on this August Saturday night. The sidewalk markets (le bancarelle) have even disappeared by early evening since there are no prospective clients. We are the only people on foot at 19:30. There is finally shade and relief from the heat. We seek to stretch our legs after self-imposed confinement since 11:00, and we are searching for dinner.
This street merchant closed up super early. No customers walking by. Usually this area is full of merchant tables.

This street merchant closed up super early. No customers walking by. Usually this area is full of merchant tables.

A couple of days prior I made a reservation, as is my practice, but this morning while we walked before the heat came on, the restaurant called. They had made a mistake. Actually, their on-line reservation system had made the mistake, but most likely because they did not bother to update the calendar. They are closed for ferie. Throughout the hours surrounding Italian lunchtime I called three more restaurants whose websites and GoogleMaps purported they were open. I called again between 17:00 and 18:00. No answer. Maybe they did not open for lunch. Perhaps they are too busy to answer the phone. It’s possible that no one answers before 18:00 when they are readying for the evening.
We decided to walk 40 minutes to an area with several good restaurants we have patronized. Surely on this hot August night one will have a table. We pass the place we ate at recently. It was fine, but has a small menu and we do not care to repeat so soon. Then as we approach each familiar restaurant, going farther and farther from home, they are all shuttered. Chiuso per Ferie. 
This is usually an attrative little aperitivo bar with umbrellas and vute tables, candles, etc. Not this month!

This is usually an attractive little aperitivo bar with umbrellas and cute tables, candles, etc. Not this month!

By now we are past the British Embassy and almost to the American Embassy in Via Veneto. Seeing a lively corner we stop to peruse the menu. Looks fine. Nonno (grandpa) is outside asking to seat us. Is there a table within? Air conditioning seems like a good idea after an hour’s walk in 80-degree Fahrenheit temps.
A memorable meal for the wrong reasons. Fish previously frozen, an over-priced wine list, and an 80-year-old-guitar-playing-singer who went from table to table. He skipped us. Might have been the look on Ric’s face.
I pity the tourists lured into such a place that might think this is great food.
We did enjoy the goings-on around us. A couple from South Carolina that could not shake the minstrel as he sang them song-after-song. Three (southern) American women who wanted iced tea (eyss-TAY). The waiter, who could not understand their request, confirming they want te caldo, which is NOT cold tea but hot. A priest seated nearby piping up to correct the waiter. Across the restaurant, a little girl is enchanted by the singing grandpa.
We headed for home in moderating temperatures, luckily finding a bus just when we needed it most. This week, Rome begins to re-awaken. More stores re-open the 29th, and by September 5th we will be in full rientro mode as even the wealthiest people with case al mare (homes by the sea) will need to get back to reality.
And the motorini will once again scream past on the street past our bedroom making sleep difficult.
Before you go, over at Our Weekly Pizza we are on a pizza-eating hiatus and reviewing some of the restaurants we’ve enjoyed lately. Not the unnamed tavern above.

 

Every year the same thing: One, two, three, even four weeks closed.

Every year the same thing: One, two, three, even four weeks closed.

Hot town: summer in the city

4 Aug
4 August 2016. There is a hush over Rome that arrived earlier this year than in the past. Since our return from the Dolomites we’ve noticed traffic is already lighter. We cross the street almost without looking. Motorini do not disturb our sleep even with windows ajar.There are many empty parking spots on our street, although double-parking still plagues the commercial streets. Some stores are closed for the entire month. Are the Romans already off to the beach for their summer holidays?
Sure sign of August: closures everywhere. This on a cellular service storein our neighborhood. They'll be back AUgust 29.

Sure sign of August: closures everywhere. This on a cellular service store in our neighborhood. They’ll be back August 29.

It’s dreadfully hot: 35C/95F today. We pity the workers pouring concrete in the courtyard of our apartment building after replacing a gas line, as well as the guys doing construction on ritzy apartments whose dwellers have gone off to the beach during the renovation. But there are heat lovers: the sadistic bus drivers who do not turn on the A/C until afternoon. The 1940s-era trams that have no A/C are to be avoided after 10:00. 
How to survive in a city of bricks and pavement that retains more heat day-after-day, full of Italians who think air conditioning is the devil’s work? It’s all about taking advantage of the (relatively) cool morning and evening hours. We do not have A/C in the apartment or we’d turn it on full blast and wear sweaters to compensate. We had such great exercise in the Dolomites last month we do not want to backslide. But walking in 90-plus degree (Fahrenheit) heat is not an option. (The highs in Ortisei were lower than the lows in Rome right now.)
So here is how we structure our days.
October in Portland? No, it is August in Rome. The big trees on Viale Parioli have not had significant rain for awhile. Still they offer a welcome canopy as we shop.

October in Portland? No, it is August in Rome. The big trees on Viale Parioli have not had significant rain for awhile. Still, they offer a welcome canopy as we shop.

Up at 5:00AM, we open the house and allow the cooler air in, lighting citronella candles to keep the mosquitoes out while we have coffee and feed the cats. Only our bedroom has screens and we had to pay to have those installed. It’s about 22 Celsius in the morning. That’s 72 F. When we hit the sack at 10:30 or so, it’s still 29C/84F. We do our errands and appointments — always walking an hour at least — as early as possible so we can be out and back before 11:00. Or, as we did this morning with no big errands to run, we might take a purposeful walk of 90 minutes, leaving at 6:15-or-so, when the city is quiet and walking is tolerable. Home by 8:00 (stopping for cappuccino, of course!) we shower and then run to the store for any fresh food we might need. By 8:45, as the sun creeps up over the building next door, we have to close the windows and the heavy Italian serrande that hold the heat out. We become cave dwellers, leaving only a small cat-height opening onto the terrace as the girls still like to bake themselves. It is so dark with the serrande down, we have to use lights all day.
New on the street this year: motorino sharing from ZigZag. Three-wheelers.

New on the street this year: motorino-sharing from ZigZag. Three-wheelers.

Fans are on high, and we sit around the dining room table with laptops, both fans aimed for maximum air-blast. If we had Italian mothers they would be shocked. Air blowing on you can cause an illness called colpa d’aria. Or we may move a fan with us to a different part of the apartment to facilitate a chore: chopping up ingredients for dinner in the kitchen, for example. Use the oven? Certainly not, at least not after 7:00AM. We use the crockpot, but even that generates some heat. Salads are our friends these hot days and nights. We watch some TV, we read, write, manage finances, shop online, plan trips.
About dinner time (20:00) we can think about opening a couple of windows as we do not face west. Is there a breeze to catch so we can cool off the house a bit before bedtime? We light the citronella candles again against the dreaded mosquitoes. (Why don’t Italians do screens? Instead, they close the shutters tight and sleep in the hot rooms, fearful of killer night breezes and mosquitoes.) After dinner, we might take a stroll just to get some air and stretch our legs.
This store decided to only be open from 16:00-20:00 for 3 weeks.

This store decided to only be open from 16:00-20:00 for 3 weeks.

One evening we bravely took a bus at 17:00 (the street was shady at least, in the 31C/88F temp) to a movie theatre, where we basked in air-conditioned comfort for two hours. Then we walked an hour home in the relative comfort after 20:00. Another night we ventured to the opera at the Baths of Caracalla; starting time, 21:00. There is a lot that goes on after dark in summer and people come alive embracing the night time for socializing and getting out. Dinners run past midnight in many restaurants.
At bedtime,  we have to close up everything except the bedroom (so happy to have screens on the terrace doors!) and aim the best fan right at the bed. We sleep like the dead as with a diminished number of people in the city the motorini passing on our street are also miraculously few.
The beauty of Rome in summer is that it is eerily quiet and it’s kind of fun to wander around in the crepuscular hours.  We will live this way until September 7 when we head off on another trip. Somehow, magically, when we turn the page to September the heat is not so intolerable. The Roman sun follows the order of the universe and nights will mercifully drop below 20C/68F. We might even turn off the fans.
Not to be outdone, Enjoy, a cooperative effort with the national train service and ENI a fuel supplier, adds motorini to their car-sharing fleet.

Not to be outdone, Enjoy, a cooperative effort with the national train service and ENI a fuel supplier, added motorini to their car-sharing fleet.

If you’d like to read about past impressions of life-in-Rome in August, here are links to 2012, 2013, and 2014. (2015 we were in the U.S. lapping up the air conditioning.)
August 2014
August 2013
August 2012
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