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Archive for the ‘Italia 2010’ Category


Saturday, October 9th, 2010

Time is going by fast.  So fast, that it is kind of crazy.  Time is accelerating in general, but somehow I thought that when I got here, it would slow down.  It has not.  It goes faster.  Before I know it, it will be next year, next years trip.  Before I know it, my nephews will be teenagers.  It could be tomorrow.  I could be dead tomorrow, so I will keep traveling, but if anyone knows a way to slow time down, could you please let me know.

Anyway.  Right now I am in Sondrio, a town high in the north of Italy on the border of Switzerland. What is it, Saturday?  I think it is Saturday… last Saturday then, I was in Padova, the highlight of that particular Saturday being the two minutes I was completely alone in the Scrovegni Chapel.  Completely alone! Me, Giotto, and two minutes of complete silence.  It was, is, one of the most amazing two minutes not only of this trip but of any trip and possibly of my entire life.

I also had a very nice Sunday in Padova.  There was a bio-market in the main Piazza, and a really cool exposition of dozens of local mushrooms, and got to see an old friend in the afternoon.

Monday, headed west to the town of Acqui Termi.  Essentially I went there to have a little slowtravel get together, but it was a bit like flying from San Diego to Alexandria, Virginia to have a couple of drinks with friends.  Still, if there was any place to eat, drink and sleep for 36 hours, Acqui Termi is as good a place as any.  Even if it took 7 hours to get there and 6 to get out.  It poured rain the first night, and I mean poured, making rivers everywhere.  Rivers coming down the street, rivers making my lame umbrella a cruel joke. Rivers reminding me that sometimes, the travel gods have to have a hehe moment.  In these moments, what else is there to do, but to eat, drink, sleep.  Thank the gods for wine and chocolate. (Maybe the travel gods are in a lucrative marketing scheme with the wine and chocolate gods, and when the rent is due, they have a whole program worked out.)

Anyway.  Left that town and once again, was reminded of the simple fact that it does not pay to deviate from the plan; my plan being, take the 8:54 train to Genoa and then the 11:40 to Milan Lambrate to meet Kim.  My motus operandi was to have the least connections possible.  There were all manner of other 6 hour trips I could take to MIlan, but they involved multiple changes.  I got up early though, and though I could maybe make it on the earlier train to Genoa and then Milan, getting me in a couple of hours earlier.  Ha.  Got to the station and made it on the train only to hear the announcement that this particular train would not go all the way to Genoa.  Uh.  Could you not have relayed that information in the station?  Allora, not really.  Instead I got off the train with all the other passengers and boarded a really comfy Trenitalia chartered bus, and enjoyed some nice views of some rivers, and then the morning rush hour traffic.  Basically my deviating from plan A resulted in some extra time hanging out at the Genoa train station.  One cafe macchiato, a cappucino, a cornetti, and one prosecco later, I was on my way to Milano.  Finally.

It was a beautiful trip though.  The train wound through the mountains of Liguria and we went over many rivers.  Everytime we went over a river, I was like, is that the Po?  But it would take a better riverologist than me to answer my question.  Actually, I am somewhat of a river lameass.  I need to brush up on my rivers.

This entry is getting a little long so I will try to fast forward.  Crap, I am trying to SLOW THINGS DOWN.  Oh well.  Speaking of crap, in this town of Sondrio, there is a place that is called Il Crap.  I am serious!  I do not know if this is the local dialect or what, but it relates to the monastery, or a castle, that is on the top of the hill.  One thing that you may be asking, and that indeed I have been asking myself is, what the hell I am doing in Sondrio.  But the cool thing is, I like asking myself questions like “where the hell am I?”  (As long as it is not raining rivers. In this case, this question kind of sucks.)

Well what I am doing here is, looking for the family of my friend Chris Spene.  His grandfather came from here, in the 1800’s then migrated to America – the family name here is Spini.  So it is Chris here, and his wife Jen and Kim and me.  And we have nothing to go on, but somehow here we have found some Spinis and ended up in a bar tonight in a place that seriously, I never ever in a million years I thought I would be in and now Chris is with some Spinis and me and Kim and Jen are hanging out drinking wine. Where the hell are we? We are in travel land.  The land where maybe the rivers don’t involve water; where maybe the rivers involve the thread that binds us together.  Rivers of blood – the blood that binds us.  Rivers of desire – the desire to understand the parts of ourselves that we do not know.  Rivers, that never stop, coming down, down, the mountains and that carry memories, carry history; maybe we do not know the mountain, maybe we do not know the river.  But we will.  And the moments that we find a particular river – well those are the moments that we remember.  Right?


If it is Mercoledi, it Must be Pompeii

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

If there is a Hell, it is probably being an Amalfi coast bus driver.  Just being a rider was getting a little irritating.  I never rode the bus with people who thought it was a personal cab service before.  Interesting.

Anyway.  The best part of our time on the Amalfi coast besides spending Sharon’s birthday with her was staying at the Holiday House Gilda outside Positano.  I loved opening the kitchen door every morning to the most stunning ocean view.  It rained a lot, so I sat in the window and watched storms come and go.  It would be clear, then the storm would pass, then it would be sunny again.  This is how it went for many days. 

Staying there was like living with an Italian family for a few days.  The people who run the place were so wonderful.  We just completely fell in love with them.  Every day Rosa, Daniela and Gilda would make breakfast and talk to everyone.  They made us pancakes!  With syrup!  And fresh eggs every day.  I would never ask for pancakes in any hotel much less an Italian one, but believe me when someone puts them down in front of you, you just eat them. 

One morning, there was an Australian woman there with her husband and daughter, and it was her birthday but she did not know that the B and B people knew – Rosa had seen it on her passport when she checked in.  So at breakfast they brought out a cake and everyone sang.  You should have seen the look on the womans face, she was absolutely stunned and both she and her husband had tears in their eyes.  Plus we all got rum soaked cake for breakfast.  Awesome!

We also loved Giuseppe, Gilda’s husband, who would always bring us treats, including a bag of fresh balls of bufalo mozzerella, the last of which we ate today, with lemon infused olive oil on some crackers, overlooking the ruins of Pompeii.  Grazie mille, Giuseppe.

I felt like they were family when we left and I did not really want to leave.  It was a really special few days staying there.

Now we are in Pompei and we have been twice to the Scavi.  It is truly incredible, seeing all the vineyards and trees and plants mixed in with the ancient houses.  I am glad we went two days instead of one because we could not even do it all in two. 

It is our last night in Campania, so I guess we need to go and have some pizza… it has been an incredible couple of weeks here – the insanity and the glory of Naples, the beauty of the Amalfi coast… the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompei.  And still there is so much to do here. 

Tomorrow we head back to Rome and Colleen leaves Saturday.  Then I head north.  My energy is lagging a little, what with all those buses and ruins.  Perhaps some long train rides will rejuvinate me.


Friday, September 24th, 2010

We are in Positano and the one internet cafe charges 8 euros per hour so I am going to make this brief… I KNEW I should have written before I left Naples where it was only 2 euros an hour!  Oh well.  We were so exhausted at the end of every day in Naples… there is so much to see and to do and we were trying to jam way too much.  We wore ourselves out there.

Naples is like two worlds.  One side of the wall is crazy, with noise and energy and a lot of traffic.  On the other side of the wall, there is some leafy garden that is so peaceful that if you did not know the crazy was on the other side, you would never believe it.

Also, I think I can safely say that Naples is the only place I have every deliberately walked in front of a bus.  It is the only way to make them stop.  I guess I thought when we came to Positano everything would be all mellow.  Not!

It is very beautiful here of course and 98% of the people are tourists, definitely a change there.  It is more expensive for sure… we got here yesterday so that we could celebrate my friend Sharon’s birthday with her.  So we took the ferry from Naples and got here and hung out a bit.  Then at a wine bar, a glass fell off the table and somehow a shard hit the ground and bounced up to cut Sharon’s leg very badly.  There was a lot of blood and after some not knowing what to do (though, for some odd reason, I had a huge bandage in my backpack) the woman behind the bar got hep to what was going on and she came out and butterfly bandaged the cut, then called the red cross.  Three guys came down the hill and stiched Sharon up, and it was quite intense.  On her birthday!  But she was super brave and then the red cross guys were done and had a coffee and a cigarette.

Colleen and I then went to check in to our B and B which is a bus ride down the road.  What they don’t really tell you is, the walk from the ferry to the bus OR a cab involves a lot of steps and a hill.  So, you pretty much have to use a porter, which we did, and then after all that excitement we said screw the bus, we need a taxi.  So we get our taxi and we are pulling up to the B and B when WHAM! Some lady rear ends us.  Cristo.  It was loud and we were a little shaken up, but the entire front bumper of the car behind us was completely ripped off.  I am a little sore in my neck and my shoulder but I am not sure if that is from the accident, or from pulling suitcases around.  Or both.  Anyway, we are OK and now we have a new friend, Rosaria from the wine bar who saved Sharon.  Sharon invited her to dinner and we all ate outside at the edge of the bay, overlooking the sea and it was tremendously beautiful. And now she has a scar but also this new friend who is so awesome that it is worth a scar, I think.

It was really wonderful to be a part of this celebration in this place.  And it is very weird to go from Naples to Positano!  Truly.  I kind of wish there was a bus or two to walk in front of.  (Actually, there are, but I have to share them with a lot of other people and somehow it is just not the same.)

Well, gotta go, I am going to the wine bar to hang out with Rosaria.  What else is there to do on a rainy day in Positano, especially when the wine is cheaper than the internet!

So You Think You’ve Been to Italy

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Well you haven’t.  Unless you have been to Naples.

This place is crazy.  Crazy AWESOME.  It is full of color and energy.  It SCREAMS.  Both Colleen and I are pretty blown away.

Our first day here, when we got into a cab and scooters were basically heading in our direction in OUR LANE, and we saw little kids on scooters with no helmets and people stepping into the street in front of cars without looking and into traffic, while, say, reading the newspaper… Cristo.   We are talking a major rush and then we got ripped off by the cab driver but I knew we would, so whateves… and then some good looking guy approached me on the street and it turned out to be Marco, our landlord who led us into our building where on our floor there is some kind of club for immigrants.  OK so that was maybe 5 minutes total that we had been here, because the cab only took about 45 seconds.

Went out for pizza and the Naples football team was playing and there were two large parties in a small room, suffice to say we could not really talk but the atmosphere and the pizza were awesome.  Friday, our first whole day, we had this grand plan to go to the Duomo and the Archaelogical museum but the streets here are a museum.  A living museum.  Courtyards have treasures, scooters carry entire families, there are bronze skulls and giant shrines, there is shit and there is garbage and there is humanity.  And there is pizza, so we stopped to have one for lunch, with a bottle of Falanghina.  Duomo and museum?  Niente.  Did go to a couple of other churches though including one that has a Donatello sculpted tomb.  When we went in to this small church there was a sort of scary, sullen looking caretaker, but then I walked by him and he asked where I was from and broke into the hugest smile, then gave me a flyer. 

Later that evening we were lucky to meet up with Bonnie who writes the Napoli Unplugged blog and her husband Steve, and then Robbin who leads wine tours around here. We all had dinner then walked down to the Borgo Marinaro which is an area full of bars and restaurants behind the Castel dell Ovo, a huge fortress like castle right on the sea.  Our waiter kept saying he loved us all (Steve said, you don’t love ME, laughing) and the whole scene was fun and vibrant and, well, what you think Naples would be like on a Friday night.  Or maybe any night. 

On the no degrees of separation front, Steve and Bonnie know Kevin and Kim Clarke who I know from the Slowtalk boards and have met a couple of times (Kevin and Steve worked together) and then, this woman shows up as she is a friend of Robbin’s-  she looks familiar, and then when she says her name is Vienna I ask her if she used to work at Gainey Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley.  Yep.  I have just run into someone at a cafe in Naples that I once met in Santa Barbara county.  Now that is crazy.

Yesterday we walked way too much, but still managed to make it out at night for a free MTV concert in Piazza Plebicito.  It was kind of lame (too much talking, not too much music) but it was fun to watch the youth of Naples eat a thousand take away pizzas and on occasion suck each others faces off.  There was a lot of screaming a la Beatlemania, too.  We went to a wine bar before we went home where I watched Maroon Five play two songs (lame) on MTV while sitting in an apartment five minutes away.  Everything they say about the garbage here is true.  Walking through a green area on the way home, for no apparent reason, a broken office chair is sitting there.  Furniture is randomly dumped, and an insane amount of broken baby carriages.  But then you pass a recycling area and there are cardboard boxes broken down neatly and set on the side.  There is no way to make any sense of this city, but I do not want to.  I love it here.

There is an Indian family at the computer next to me, talking to more family, on a webcam.  Wonder where they are.  I will emerge into a sunny Sunday, and I wonder if I should have a pastry or a glass of wine.  Maybe both.  I have so much more to say.  But I can’t say it now because there are, seriously, 20 Indian people looking at me on a webcam.  Should I wave?

Il Propulsore

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

I am in Rome, on the second day of 42 in Italy.  Today the sky is blue and I am completely exhausted.  But I keep walking.

Rome can do that to you.  It is like there is some invisible propeller pushing me forward.  Some people might like to start a trip in a quieter place, but I like the energy.  I like the propeller.  I also like to sit in cafes when I am exhausted.  It is this balance that keeps me going much of the time.

Anyway.  Yesterday I got in so early that most Italians were not even awake yet.  There should be a law that prevents airplanes from landing after midnight and before 7 AM, I do not care what continent you are on.  But the travel gods were smiling on me, and my room at my inexpensive B and B was ready!  So basically I slept until the mid afternoon of my very first day.  Whateves, I have been to Rome before and also, I have six weeks.  So who cares. You know you are tired when you can sleep through the sound of jackhammers.  Go with it.

Once I got up and out, about 3 PM, I just started walking… and then all of a sudden the Colosseum was in front of me.  That always happens in Rome… that thing is everywhere.  So then I got a bee in my bonnet to go to this bar I went to with my friend Lisa on our first trip here, but I think it is a restaurant now.  Or I could not find it.  So I ended up in some little wine bar. White wine, proscuitto, melon… the sky was blue but when I saw a couple of guys walking down the street with sacks of umbrellas I knew rain was coming.  Sure enough, all of a sudden it starts to rain.  What to do?  Have another glass of wine, of course.  There was a gay couple at the table next to me from somewhere in America, and they had been gone maybe 45 minutes when the server found one of the guy’s wallets on the ground.  He had dropped his wallet… no doubt that one will get blamed on the horrible street crime in Rome, of which I have seen exactly niente (Not that I have never seen crime here, because I have, more than anywhere else. Just wondering how many things get dropped not stolen.  Right?)  I looked all afternoon for a pink shirt to tell the guy his wallet was safe at the wine bar, but all the pink shirts I saw had Italians in them.

Then I walked back… and changed my clothes and walked another 45 minutes west to meet with Italian craft beer aficionado Andrea Turco.  We met at Open Baladin, a bar with many Italian craft beers in the bottle and by the tap.  This place is cool – all kinds of trippy rooms to sit in decorated like your grandma’s grandma’s house.  (Yes, two grandmas, I am not that jetlagged.)  So we had a beer there and then went to a restaurant in Trastevere called Bir and Fud, which serves Italian craft beers and some really great food.  The place was packed and we ate a lot of starters and then a pizza and drank more beer.  I was not tired anymore.  Trastevere on a Tuesday night.  Packed beyond belief, people everywhere, drinking outside the bars, in the streets.  I love Italy.

Today I woke after enough sleep but I think I have some kind of weird postponed jetlag, so I get out and try to walk it out of my system.  Ended up at the Colosseum again (that freeking thing is EVERYWHERE) and was hanging out on the street looking out over the Forum when a gladiator tried to pick me up.  Well, not a gladiator but a guy dressed like one.  His name was Luca and it took him about 35 seconds to find out where I was from and how long I was in town for.  After a two second pause, he then asked if I wanted to go have a drink later (no grazie) or maybe then, a pizza? (No grazie.)  Come ONNNNN… (No grazie.) After another two second pause he ciaoed me and went off to greener pastures.  Ah Roma… I get older, she stays exactly… the same.  It was not even 11 AM.

I walked and walked… back up Via Cavour, and then I knew exactly what I needed.  First, a plate of pasta.  Then, a salad.  Then, a nap.  (I did not put wine in this sentence but lets face it you guys all know how I am.)  I went to a place called Trattoria Monti near my B and B that I had read about on slowtrav.  It was me in there with a whole bunch of Romans, mostly businessmen.  Some businessmen in there were drinking Italian craft beer!  Viva la Revolucion! Oh wait that is Spanish.  Sorry.  Someone please tell me there is a craft beer revolution going on in Rome, in Italian.  I cannot seem to get my languages straight these days, mostly because I do not speak any of them.  Even my English kind of sucks.

So then… it is 7:30 and very beautiful here, but I have been to Rome before and I have already seen the Colosseum and could have had sex with a gladiator, so tomorrow I will go somewhere I have never been: Naples.  I love, love, love going to places I have never been before.  (Now that I think about it, I have never had sex with a gladiator.)

The propeller is behind me again.  Gotta go.  When I write again, I hopefully will have already had the best pizza I have ever had.