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We have time…

13 Oct
…so we went to Paestum. 
The good things:
Temple of Ceres.
Temple of Ceres.
  • Very old Greek temples, still standing. One is from 550 B.C! Amazing!
  • Inexpensive lodging at a rather delightful little place. Euro 73.00 per night including an Italian-style breakfast.
  • An excellent — who’d have guessed it?– restaurant right next door to our hotel. Truly a fine meal, nice people, very raffinato (refined, elegant). In fact, we will return this evening. And they give a discount for people staying at our hotel. 
  • There is a nice museum with well-preserved artifacts.
  • It was not crowded and the weather was darn-near perfect.
The drawbacks:
  • It takes a long time to get here. From Roma, door-to-door took us 7 hours including 2 buses, 1 Metro, a Frecciarossa,  Regionale and a 20-minute walk. There was a fair amount of waiting time, partly due to guasto (malfunction) on the rail line. We also got to had to stand up all the way on the Regionale. 
  • There’s the archeological site, the museum, and that’s about it in Paestum.
  • There’s the mare, but the seaside here made the town of Seaside, Oregon (not my favorite place) look like a high-class resort.
  • We stayed one night too long, it seems.
A few hearty souls at the beach. In summer no doubt it is crowded.
A few hearty souls at the beach. In summer no doubt it is crowded.
Sad little seaside Paestum. I am sure it is lively in the summer, but I suspect it still feels sad.
Sad little seaside Paestum. I am sure it is lively in the summer, but I suspect it still feels sad.
We seldom go anywhere for one night. In fact, the only place I can think of that we did that was in Tivoli for the summer lights one August. And Tivoli is a hell-of-a-lot easier to get to than Paestum.
We have also seen the impressive Greek temple and ruins in Segesta. Perhaps if one has not seen those, this would knock your socks off. My socks are still on. We did get to be the first people in the archeological site, which was pretty fun. The tour groups showed up about 10:00 as we were exiting looking for an espresso. 
A tour group passes through the archeological site.
A tour group passes through the archeological site.
Maybe I am also jaded by the dead kitten I saw along one road and the dead rat along another. I have not had the misfortune to see roadkill in all of our travels. This in contrast to meticulous care to remove trash in the ruins.
Temples are lighted at night.
Temples are lighted at night.
If one were to want to see Paestum (and I understand why it would still be a draw despite my commentary), I would recommend a day trip from the Amalfi Coast or a one-night stay. The nice thing about staying a night is getting to see the temples lighted, and also seeing the site in both morning and afternoon light. We are not people who read every display in a museum or poke into every corner of a site. (Three hours at Pompeii was plenty for us.) If one does like to explore a bit more, perhaps Paestum would warrant more attention. We are happy we came, but a little bored as I write this. I am very happy we did not divert a vacation day-or-two when we were working. But we have time now.  
Surveying work in progress. Only about 30% of the site has been excavated.
Surveying work in progress. Only about 30% of the site has been excavated.
Temple of Nettuno.
Temple of Nettuno.
Of course there were ferals around.
Of course, there were ferals around.
A bright spot in the Roman ruins. Only the temples are Greek. The surrounding ruins date "only" to Roman times.
A bright spot in the Roman ruins. Only the temples are Greek. The surrounding ruins date “only” to Roman times.
Ric at Temple of Ceres.
Ric at Temple of Ceres.
Old Roman road to the sea, which was once much closer.
Old Roman road to the sea, which was once much closer. It’s now about a 20-minute walk via modern road.
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Year in Review

1 Jan

The older we get the faster time seems to move. (It’s an actual phenomenon that has been scientifically proven: the older you are the faster time seems to pass.) Only yesterday it seems we were dying of the heat in Rome, taking refuge in the mighty Dolomites enjoying brisk mountain air and alpine meadows. But that was July. Looking back over our time in Rome – now 19 months and counting – we have experienced so much, and yet my list of to-dos in Rome (not to mention all of Italy)  has more things on it that we have not accomplished than ones we have managed to check off. There’s a wonder around every corner and we shall never get to all of them. Roma: Una vita non basta!

New Year's Eve Vespers with Papa F! We were right on the aisle. Ric snapped this pic with his phone.

New Year’s Eve Vespers with Papa F! We were right on the aisle. Ric snapped this pic with his phone.

We managed to see a bit more of Italy this year, visiting some old favorites as well as new territory.

  • March saw us in Sicily for our 28th anniversary, where we were constantly cold, but where we ate magnificent food and saw our first-ever Greek ruins. Stunning! Must go back in warmer weather.
  • In May we ventured to the heel of the boot, Puglia, with my brother and sister-in-law. More great food, a fantastically different Italy, and lots of kilometers covered. Can’t count the bottles of wine consumed. Rick & Jane, we had so much fun with you those 10 days in Rome and Puglia! And we “discovered” Abruzzo on our way back to Rome. Wow!
  • In fact we were so enchanted with Abruzzo we went back for a weekend in July. Not many North Americans (or non-Italians) go to Abruzzo as it is not chock-a-block with must-sees, but it is an amazing place to escape the city, practice one’s Italian, and relax.
  • Later in July was our week in the Val Gardena. If only we could figure out a way to live there all summer.
  • Like most Italians, we got away for Ferragosto but only as far as Orvieto for a couple of nights.  It’s always nice to get on a train, and only an hour away is this charming Etruscan hill town.
  • Our youngest son came to visit in September and we made our 4th trip to Venice in less than three years. Three days there flew by and in wonderment Derek observed we still had not seen everything we intended to. Venice has a lot to offer and so many people try to “do” it in 2 nights and one day. We’re going back for the 5th time in April with friends who have never been.
  • The Cinque Terre calls to us each autumn and we made our third trip there in October. Hoping we can squeeze in a weekend there again in 2014.
  • After the Marine Corps 238th Birthday Ball in early November, we made a trek to Ravello just as the town was closing for the season. This is a must-go-back location sometime during the concert season.
Kids, don't try this at home. Our neighbor across the street shot off Roman Candles from his oh-so-tiny balcony on NYE. Note the Santa figure climbing a ladder hanging from the balcony. And this goes on all over the city!

Kids, don’t try this at home. Our neighbor across the street shot off Roman Candles from his oh-so-tiny balcony on NYE. Note the Santa figure climbing a ladder hanging from the balcony. And this goes on all over the city!

Other highlights in 2013:

  • I turned sixty. Can’t believe it, but my mother is there in the mirror every morning, so I guess it’s true.
  • We had a blind date with Nigel and Carol, new friends from England that we met through the Rick Steves’ Helpline and this blog. Hoping to see them again in February!
  • Made Thanksgiving dinner for 11 Italians. We had so much fun doing this! I only hope they will let us do it again next year.
  • Seeing our youngest son (not very young anymore, but still il mio bambino al cuore) after 16 months away.
  • Getting fit(ter) in the gym. I’ve lost about 45 pounds since moving to Rome and had to buy a whole new wardrobe last summer and again this winter.
  • Becoming more comfortable speaking Italian. I am “advanced intermediate” (B2/C1 for those that understand the scale) according to my teacher. I should be fluent by the time I am 85.
  • Seeing Tom and Karen, our in-laws, when they visited Rome after their cruise.
  • Visits by Michael Horne for gastronomic exploration of Rome. (Thanks for the intro to Vino Roma!)
  • New Years’ Eve Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica with Papa Francesco. He was right there, not 2 meters from me during the processional and recessional. The energy in St. Peter’s was palpable, the love for this man overwhelming.

As I wrap up this post, we are aboard a train that departed at 07:20 New Year’s Day, leaving

St. Peter's, NYE 2013. I read today that shortly after we left Papa Francesco came out in his Popemobile to see the Nativity in the square. Purtroppo we had left the scene!

St. Peter’s, NYE 2013. I read today that shortly after we left Papa Francesco came out in his Popemobile to see the Nativity in the square. Purtroppo we had left the scene!

Italy for the first time in 19+ months. The sun is just coming up, outlining the Apennine Mountains in gold. We are headed to Switzerland where, magari, we will do Winterwandern (alpine snow hiking) to wear off the cheese fondue we plan to eat. We have many trips planned this year including a return to Venice, the Dolomites, Florence, Lake Como, and Abruzzo. We have guests coming, too: Kim, John and Aubrey in April; John, Susan, William and Elizabeth (aka JSWE) in July; the Omaha Bartons in August; a return by Derek in September; Rick and Jane in November; and hopefully Helen, Eddie and Debbie will make it over too. Anyone else? Would love to see you!

Buon Anno 2014! 

Ravishing Ravello

10 Nov

We headed south for the Veterans’ Day weekend. Last time we were south of Rome on the mainland was in December 2011 when we spent a lovely week in Sorrento visiting sites from Naples to Pompeii, Ercolano and Amalfitown. Ravello has been on my list for some time, and it seemed a good idea to hit the hiking paths of the Sorrentine Peninsula during the cooler weather of the off-season.

The view from B&B Auditorium Rooms.

The view from B&B Auditorium Rooms.

As the week prior to travel progressed, it looked like we might be rained out. But the train tickets had been purchased and a B&B secured, so off we went on a gloriously sunny Friday. Ravello did not disappoint and the weather has been kind. Our B&B overlooked the Bay of Salerno from a delightful east-facing balcony where we were able to eat freshly baked cornetti and ham-and-cheese toast kindly prepared by our hosts Marco & Pasquale. We’d have to walk a lot to amortize breakfast.

Italy's show

Italy’s show

Friday evening was a fireworks contest between Japan and Italy, held in the gorge below Ravello, with the fireworks rocketing to a height easily visible from the Piazza del Duomo. There, ensconced with glasses of good red wine, we joined the locals and enjoyed the spectacle of two 3-minute shows before heading off to dinner at a cliffside restaurant overlooking the bay. What luck to arrive the evening if such an event!

Gathering for fireworks contest, Italy vs Japan.

Gathering for fireworks contest, Italy vs Japan.

There is an amazing variety of surfaces in this network of trails around Ravello. this one of stones set in concrete with retaining walls. Far more sophisticated than the Cinque Terre.

There is an amazing variety of surfaces in this network of trails around Ravello. this one of stones set in concrete with retaining walls. Far more sophisticated than the Cinque Terre.

I had hoped to hike the Sentiero degli Dei, but it would have required a couple of buses to achieve the start of the trail, four hours of walking, and an additional two buses to return.  As I am nursing a bum knee (possible torn meniscus and under care of a physical therapist) we opted for a shorter hike with no buses, thinking it would be a shorter journey. Ha!  It turned out to be an arduous hike between five small towns: Ravello, Santa Caterina, Campidoglio, Minuta and Pontone. We were the ONLY PEOPLE hiking this path on a Saturday, testament to the fact that the tourist season had passed.

Photographer on the edge. Beautiful vista over the Mediterranean.

Photographer on the edge. Beautiful vista over the Mediterranean.

These sheep along our trail eyed us suspiciously.

These sheep along our trail eyed us suspiciously.

Our hiking book (under)estimated the hike at 7km. It was closer to 10km by our reckoning, and took  4.5 hours of walking due to the crazy number of stairs we had to ascend and descend…and my bad knee. My physical therapist would not be amused as she told me to avoid stairs for “awhile.” Oh well! It was trek, through amazing terrain and a variety of surfaces and stellar views. We encountered hard-working farm folk, horses, sheep and a talkative kitty that escorted us through Minuta. We took a wrong trail for about 20 minutes, where we almost gave up and turned around,

Decision point - we chose incorrectly and went left for 20 HARD minutes down through the forest.

Decision point – we chose incorrectly and went left for 20 HARD minutes down through the forest.

thinking the trail the book depicted had fallen into disuse.  (The book said “Where the pavement ends take the dirt path on the left.” It said nothing about the staircase to the right, which was the correct way.) Luckily we decided to ascend said staircase to see where we were and picked up the rightful trail, one with mush easier going. We’ve encountered many un-groomed trails in Italy. This one had parts that were almost too good to be true! Contrary to the ruggedness of the Cinque Terre, parts of this trail were stone embedded in concrete with retaining walls.  But oh-my-God there were stairs!

Farmers use horses and mules to carry products and supplies on the network of paths.

Farmers use horses and mules to carry products and supplies on the network of paths.

Italians usually do not eat pizza for lunch. We have no such reluctance. This one with tomatoes, spicy salami, anchovies, mozzarella and pecorino.

Italians usually do not eat pizza for lunch. We have no such reluctance. This one with tomatoes, spicy salami, anchovies, mozzarella and pecorino.

We wore off those cornetti. At Pontone we had to refuel. The only restaurant along the way served up mid-day pizza, much to our satisfaction, fueling us for the uphill slog back to Ravello. Three minutes after returning to our room, the skies opened. We barely avoided being soaked, and reveled in afternoon naps and reading until it was time to eat again. (As I’ve said before, our trips are great meals strung together by long walks.)

Sunday we awoke to mostly clear skies and another fine breakfast. Time to walk

We were the first visitors this day. No one else arrived until we were leaving.

We were the first visitors this day. No one else arrived until we were leaving.

again! Ravello is blessed with two beautiful villas and lots of charming alleyways (and stairs!). We set off for Villa Cimbrone where we meandered completely alone for an hour-and-a half. This is a remarkable property. An estate dating to the 11th century, fallen into disuse and decay, restored in the early 20th century by an English nobleman who had more money than God. It is truly lovely. In addition to being open to the public, it is an ultra-exclusive hotel, booked up for months in advance despite the high prices.

This was called the crypt....not sure why. Magnificent vaulted arches. Villa Cimbrone.

This was called the crypt….not sure why. Magnificent vaulted arches. Villa Cimbrone.

Infinity Terrace at Villa Cimbrone.

Infinity Terrace at Villa Cimbrone. A little overcast but no rain.

Avenue of Immensity, Villa Cimbrone

Avenue of Immensity, Villa Cimbrone

Much of Villa Rufolo is lost to the ages. This tower dominates the remains.

Much of Villa Rufolo is lost to the ages. This tower dominates the remains.

After a restorative double espresso in the Piazza, we tackled the smaller but lovely Villa Rufolo. This one dating to the 13th century, where it was once of such an impressive size, it was said to have “more rooms than days in the year.”  Here we found magnificent sea views, ancient ruins, gardens, and a weird purple man floating in a pond. After, we ate a nice lunch of seafood and fresh vegetables in the company of two very vocal cats.

Note the purple man, floating in the pool in a garden of pansies.

Note the purple man, floating in the pool in a garden of pansies.

Ravello is peaceful. There is no traffic to intrude on a good night’s sleep, nice locals who seem happy it is now off-season, breathtaking vistas in every direction, and (we think) good food, leaning toward fish, with one of our favorites prominently featured in most establishments, marinated anchovies. But then as Ric says, “We’ve never had a bad meal in Italy. Some are just better than others.”

Iconic Ravello view from Villa Rufolo.

Iconic Ravello view from Villa Rufolo.

In a place where land is scarce, gardens are strung along hillsides in tiny plots. Ingenuity! Pumpkin vines and other squash are hung from lattices and caught in netting to prevent falling.
In a place where land is scarce, gardens are strung along hillsides in tiny plots. Ingenuity! Pumpkin vines and other squash are hung from lattices and caught in netting to prevent falling.

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