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Sorrento to Pompei

Urban life old and new


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Before alarms rang, Sally was at our door to talk about solving our lack of agreement the night before about the next two days. Before our alarm rang, Sally was at our door, knocking quietly. Have I mentioned how much Sally worries about waking us? She often is up before us only to fret about flushing the toilet or running water. Reassurance is not enough. She tiptoes around a little anxious until our lights are on. This morning she desperately wanted to resolve our lack of agreement the night before. During the night, I weighed the options. After discussion, we agreed that we would go to the port after visiting Pompei and investigate the ferry for Positano and Naples. One step at a time.

We were off to Pompei, but again, there were some navigational problems, and I had us get off the train, thinking we needed to change trains. There were two choices, get off at our last stop or get off as we did and take another train just a short distance. On my phone, I saw two Pompei destinations.

I asked the locals standing on the platform, which led to a riot of miscommunication with little understanding. A man collecting trash along the tracks said we needed to be on platform 1, but the pack of school kids said no, platform 3, but then they began to disagree. On platform 3, a couple said platform 1. The students and the man picking up trash began to argue. At this point, it was getting funny. Finally, I figured out that what I thought was the Pompei ruins was the Pompei sanctuary. The ruins were one-stop back on the train we just departed. Another train arrived in a few minutes.

Pompei was as good as I hoped. What impressed me was that this small Roman outpost city of 20,000 people (in AD 79) had a complex urban organization. There were one-lane streets, two-lane streets, and pedestrian-only streets, all with the appropriate signs. A bakery was in every neighborhood. Like some countries today, most people don't cook at home but ate at street food stalls located in every neighborhood. There were water tanks and a system for supplying water. If they were short of water, there was an orderly process of who lost water first: the baths, private houses, and finally public water sources at street corners.
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After Pompei, we headed back to Sorrento and our planned check of the port and ferry connections. That walk from the train station to the port was a great adventure. However, there was considerable complaining along the way about being on the correct route and how many steps we had to take, etc. Along the way, we passed a photoshoot for a wedding. That had us standing around for at least fifteen minutes, hoping to see something dramatic. The only thing dramatic was that this street barely wide enough for a queen-size mattress was busy, cars, trucks, and motorbikes. It was an intersection, and vans loaded with tourists could not make the turn without going on the sidewalk. We were on the sidewalk. I keep saying, as we spread ourselves against the wall, "Count your toes."
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It ended up that our level of town is about a hundred feet above the port level, and they are connected by stairs and a narrow road carved into the stone cliff. Cars and trucks took turns in the hairpin turns and breeze by pedestrians close enough to make a bit of passing contact. I am sure only cowards would avoid this route, the scenic route.
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At the bottom, we bought our tickets for the ferry to Positano. We rode a small bus back, the driver talking on the phone, gesturing, yelling as the bus swayed back and forth in the turns. Finally, we were at the train station, then walked down to Pizzeria di Franco's pizza restaurant, recommended by our landlord. We had no lunch, so we ordered two pizzas, which ended up more than we could eat. Franco has its own wine label, and we bought a bottle of red.
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Full and happy, we walked the two blocks to our apartment.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 12:36 Archived in Italy Tagged italy sorrento pompei squid Comments (0)

Day trip to Assisi

Hill towns are our life


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With phone in hand for navigation, we headed off to Assisi for another day trip. Assisi, another walled hill town, is the home of Saint Francis of Assisi, who took a vow of humility and poverty. Francis believed that nature was an expression of God and all animals were our brothers and sisters. He even preached to the birds. The Franciscan Order arose from his followers. One of his followers, Clare of Assisi, became a leader in her own right and founded Order of Poor Ladies and wrote her Rules for Life, the first known for a woman.

As we approached Assisi, storm clouds were on the horizon, and we snaked our way up the side of the hill towards our goal, parking. After parking, we had a good climb up steps to the street and a walk through the brick gate into another hill town of narrow streets, shops, cafes, and churches.

The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi was across town, about a mile. We walked fast, trying to beat the rain. The Basilica was on the edge of the hill town. A large grassy area in front of the Basilica had shrubby spelling out PAX. In the corner of the grassy area stood a bronze statue of Francis in armor on a horse. Francis was slumped over, probably signifying how his experience as a soldier turned his life to peace.
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The Basilica was closed for mass since it was Sunday but would open back up at 1:00. We walked up the street for lunch.

After lunch, we entered the Basilica and followed the path down into his tomb in a vaulted crypt. People were in the row of benches praying. Others went forward to light candles. We were able to circle the stone tomb then out to the upper level of the Basilica with its fantastic frescos, which were big, bold, and full of life. I was stuck with the ornamentation commemorating a very humble man.

It began to rain as we left the Basilica, so we took shelter at the Basilica of Saint Clare, built about 1200. It was a simple, early gothic building with plain walls and a few preserved frescos. Over the years, much of the preservation money went to Saint Francis and not Clare.
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The rain finally broke, and we walked back towards our car. Along the way, we passed a street performer standing on a box, motionless as if a statue of Saint Francis. I dropped some coins in the collection box. Saint Francis handed me a note in three languages, “I ‘ll always look for what unites rather than that which divides.”
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We drove home but decided to stop at a lake. Without knowing what we would find, we left the motorway. We threaded through an industrial area, followed the lake until we found a lakeside park with a carousel, benches, etc., and cafes across the street. We had a gelato and then were back on the road.
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In Montepulciano, we searched for supper and finally found a small place, Le Rime, on a sloping street with tables outside. Tables here are either blocked up on one end or have extendable legs to deal with the inclines. We started with a wine tasting, bought the best he offered, and after massive antipasti, ordered lasagna. That was a good supper. The lasagna was the best I have ever eaten, light and delicate.
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A good day.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 20:22 Archived in Italy Tagged italy assisi Comments (0)

Pisa and Lucca


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0c3a7a10-1897-11ec-8447-952ccb6b641e.jpegAfter cappuccino, we walked down to the bus stop, but the bus would not arrive for 25 minutes. We could walk to the train station as fast. This was our day to visit Pisa and Lucca. Stimulated by the walk, we arrived at the station and another struggle to get the correct tickets. In a few minutes, we were on the way to Pisa.

We passed mountains, fields of melons, sunflowers past their prime, and fruit trees. We arrived at the central station but had planned to get off at the next station, which would be closer to the Cathedral. Unfortunately, there was some Italian message which we did not understand. Half the people on the train began to leave. Not sure what to do, we left too.

We decided to walk, but we sat down for a quick break and map check after a few minutes. After a coke, we resumed walking. At the river, we found a small white marble church perched on the sidewalk overlooking the river. A plaque described it as a 14th-century church built to hold one of the thorns from the crown placed on Jesus. Cindy and I simultaneously calculated the number of thorns held at various churches.

Soon we saw the Pisa Cathedral (Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale di Santa Maria Assunta) down the street. Since we were hungry, we stopped just off the piazza to have a quick lunch at a cafe. Most of the people on the street and in the cafe were tourists. Several vendors of replica leaning towers, flags, shirts, hats, tea towels and mugs were just down from us. Lunch was surprisingly good. We try to avoid food close to any tourist sites.
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As we approached the Cathedral, the Baptistry came into view, then the leaning bell tower. The bell tower looks like a leaning wedding cake with all its white Romanesque arches. As we entered the piazza, our comment was that all three were crooked. The bell tower was obviously leaning, but we all agreed the Baptistry leaned a bit. At one end of the Cathedral, nearest the baptistery, the line of windows was no longer horizontal but bent down and the ledge above the windows. Yet, the roofline was straight, probably some panic correction as one end of the building sank.

We walked around to get a good view. People were all trying to get selfies or shots of someone holding up their hands as if they were supporting the leaning tower. There were probably thirty couples staging the same picture.

It was worth the journey, but it has really become a caricature of Italy. We were ready to move on to Lucca.

We walked from the Cathedral in the direction of the second train station. Our phone indicated a direction that didn’t seem direct. We had some debate among ourselves then began to ask people. Some had no idea. Others pointed vaguely in the direction I thought was correct. We headed off down into an underpass below train tracks. I turned to go up a step, then we had a debate on the correct direction. There was no decision, just acquiescence to my thought that the steps were correct. We came up at a trans station, no parked cars, no people, weeds, etc. We walked towards the building then realized it was the back. As we walked around the side, there still were no cars and no people. A few people stood around in front, and a sign was lit, the minimal signs of a functioning train station. We bought tickets, and after some fretting and opinions about the location of track 1L, we found five or six people waiting for the train to Lucca.
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At Lucca, we got off at a small square in what looked like a medium-sized town of five-story buildings, trees, some traffic, and cafes. The brick wall around the old town was visible two blocks away. After we climbed up the ramp to the top of the wall, we found a grassy park maybe 100 feet wide surrounding the city. Every so often, stairs or a ramp went down into the city. On top of the wall, people were picnicking, riding bicycles, walking hand in hand, etc.
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Once we went down into the old city, we were again on small streets with cafes and people walking around. We walked towards a large cathedral. At a piazza, we found a carousel and a market of mostly leather goods. We sat down at a cafe, intending to have only drinks. Our intention was to order a small antipasto plate and skip supper. This could be a day of minimal food. Unfortunately, the massive board of ham, port, sausages, olives, cheese, jam, and bread ended our plans for moderation. I had a beer, Sally wine, and Cindy an Aperol spritz.
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We headed back to Florence on the train, a little overfed but happy.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 16:41 Archived in Italy Tagged italy pisa lucca Comments (0)

Travel ain't for Sissies

Arrival in Firenze (Florence)


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cbac7d40-177e-11ec-9004-87ea8b5abc5b.jpegAfter cafe and pastries, we pulled our luggage to the train station, not a bad walk, maybe a bit over half a mile. The train station was busy. There were people at the ticket office and going up to the automated ticket machines. Tickets can be bought from the machines, the office, or tobacconist, depending upon the type of train. Well, the smart ass that I am, I assumed a local train to Florence, walked to the tobacconist, and bought our tickets (28.2 euros). We couldn’t find the train on the board. I asked a woman who explained everything in Italian that I didn’t understand. I went back to the tobacconist, and she said we needed to go outside and take a bus to the train. Outside, we couldn’t find the bus. We searched. We went back to the train station. More Italian. Finally, an information office told us we had tickets for a two-hour bus ride then a short train ride. They suggested we get a refund and purchase a ticket for the 30-minute high-speed ride to Florence. I got in line for the refund. Wrong line. I got in the correct line, number 227, and they were serving 198. Forget it. We threw the tickets in the trash, bought the 77.7 euro tickets to Florence. Humility is one of the lessons of travel.

Once we arrived in Florence, I looked up the bus to our neighborhood. Well, that wasn’t simple. We pulled our baggage to the wrong stop, then to an information office that wasn’t helpful. Back at the bus station, I found the actual bus, and we were off to our apartment.

cbe20c30-177e-11ec-98a9-f10ff5b6d707.jpegAt the apartment, I didn’t remember the codes for the door. We went to a small cafe, think of 1950’s French movies, and sat down to cokes, a delicious sandwich, and a rest. The cafe had a long bar down one wall, shelves of bottles, an espresso machine, and at the end, a glass case of pastries and sandwiches. A row of small tables against a mirror on the opposite wall, making the room feels larger.

Finally, I found the What’s App messages with the codes for the front door. Four flights up a narrow staircase, we found a lockbox, extracted the keys, and cranked open our door the three turns it takes to move the deadbolts. Italians are worried about the door being broken down.

Our place is small, a living room with a staircase to a loft with a bed. Watch your head and watch your step. Sally will be happy with the sofa bed, and we will protect our heads in the loft. The price was right, the neighborhood not touristy, and a quick walk down narrow streets to Ponte Vecchio, maybe 3/4 mile.

We dropped our things, pulled out the map on my phone, and headed to the Ponte Vecchio. Cars and motorbikes competed with pedestrians as we threaded the narrow street. Buildings with green shutters and occasional balconies were four or five stories high. Every so often, as the road curved, we would find ourselves in a small piazza with a collection of cafes. We passed small churches then finally came upon the Duomo, the Florence Cathedral, green, rose, and white marble but sooty and dirty on the backside where we entered the piazza. The Cathedral was almost squeezed into the piazza. People bustled around, tourists, locals, vendors, children playing. In front, the Cathedral was clean and looked over a piazza with cafes and souvenir vendors. 2550a3d0-177f-11ec-98a9-f10ff5b6d707.jpeg
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From the Cathedral, we made our way to the Arno River and Ponte Vecchio. We didn’t cross but just looked down the line of shops. Beyond that was the Ufizzi Gallery. We kept walking, winding our way through the neighborhood until we were back at our own place. The trattoria in the block down from our apartment was open. I looked found it had excellent ratings.
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Our waiter seemed to be the owner since he suggested his grandmother’s recipe for tiramisu. We again selected several dishes and shared them. This may be our best food, just 50 feet from our apartment.

Speaking of our apartment, we seem to be on a trend of smaller and smaller. Rome was almost roomy, Bologna nice with efficient cabinets, clothes drying rack that came down from the bathroom ceiling, and other things that made up for the shower. If you dropped the soap, forget it, there wasn’t room to bend over to get it. Our current apartment could fit in our kitchen at home, and the shower didn’t allow for raising your arms because if you did, you would hit the cabinet over the sink. The washing machine, which I need, is up the next flight of steps on a landing, no room for it in the apartment.

Another full day of walking, sightseeing, and food washed down with wine.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 06:15 Archived in Italy Tagged travel italy florence firenze Comments (0)

Rome Day 1

Jet Lag

sunny

Our flight to Rome was boarding as we raced across the Newark airport. Sally stopped at a gate. I said, “Keep going, quick, C128.” Sally shot back, “No, C138, 138, now, here, they are almost finished boarding.” We made it just under the wire, but we made it. Close enough counts.

It is now 6:40 PM (Rome Time), but it’s 40 minutes past midnight back home, and we have not been to bed for thirty-two hours (someone, check that math, I am drinking wine). Someone check my spelling.

We arrived at Leonardo de Vinci Airport of Rome just after 7, forty-five minutes out of Rome. The signs were clear, train this way. We found our train, but the high-speed train does not go to Trastevere, our neighborhood. 0d60f2e0-0f3a-11ec-8ebe-dbb48aed5da0.jpegThe local train took a few minutes longer. We emerged on a bustling street with various bus stops, tram stops, parking lots, honking, motor scooters, and an honest-to-God neighborhood. Not a fanny pack in sight. We were the only ones with suitcases. 0e8ca1a0-0f3a-11ec-8ebe-dbb48aed5da0.jpeg0de14670-0f3a-11ec-8ebe-dbb48aed5da0.jpeg

I found the tram stop with my phone, and with gestures and pointing to my phone, we caught Tram #3 closer to our apartment. Off the tram, we risked life and limb to cross a treelined boulevard and vanished into a narrow street full of stalls and people haggling over clothes.

We followed our phone to the address. It was near a small piazza with a playground in the middle. Massive double doors in a nondescript building opened to a cobblestone courtyard stacked with balconies. Texting with booking.com gave us the codes, and we were in. 0b3f4b60-0f3a-11ec-8ebe-dbb48aed5da0.jpegff9881a0-0f39-11ec-a7bc-e77fade4790e.jpeg

After washing our faces, we were off. After stopping at a small restaurant on a narrow street for lunch, we walked to the Tiber River then to our Hop-on and Hop-off bus. 0c25b3c0-0f3a-11ec-8ebe-dbb48aed5da0.jpeg10aa0360-0f3a-11ec-9d46-63283520a82e.jpeg Unfortunately, it seems our tickets were a scam. The company didn’t exist, but another bus was glad to sell us tickets. We spent the day riding around the center of Rome, listening to the audio tour, and getting off a few times. We finally wore out, walked from Circus Maximus to our neighborhood and our apartment. It was hot, but along the way, we stopped at the ubiquitous water fountains, spouting water. The water is good to drink, and they are everywhere. We picked up a bottle of wine, pizza, and a fried rice/cheese/bacon ball.
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We have been communicating with the people who manage this apartment but have yet to pay. They seem a bit nonchalant about the money.

We are winding down, but it has been a good day. Tomorrow we begin with the Vatican.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 17:41 Archived in Italy Tagged italy rome trastevere Comments (0)

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