Siena, Italy

Siena sits at the outskirts of Florence like her moody teenage brother. He’s nobility, but that doesn’t stop him from riding bareback, hell for leather, brawling up and down the streets fighting over which of his cousins gets to hang his logo on the flagpole.

Throughout antiquity, Siena and Florence (like all of Italy and all siblings) constantly squabbled over the glorious Chianti acres between them, each town trying to expand its borders. Eventually they decided that enough blood had been shed and they came to a gentleman’s agreement. They wanted to find a border that was fair to each side. Each town chose a knight and a horse and proposed that, simultaneously, each knight would ride from his hometown towards the rival town. Wherever the knights met – presumably the half-way mark – would delineate the final border.

But how to ensure that each knight began at the same time?

Each town chose a chicken.

This is because every morning like – clockwork – roosters crow. Siena chose a white rooster, and Florence a black. The day before the race, Siena fed its rooster well, provided his every need, and tucked him into his roost in preparation for a healthy morning crow.

Florence, on the other hand, put its rooster to bed early without his supper.

Needless to say, the black rooster woke first (assuming it slept at all) and began crowing for its breakfast. The knight from Florence was within seven miles of Siena when it met Siena’s knight.

Thus says the legend. Thus all Chianti wine belongs to Florence and carries a black rooster label. Thus the Duomo of Siena is striped in black and white like chickens checkers….

Probably.

You can see Siena in a comfortable half day visit, but we were given exactly one hour to do our worst. I’ll explain why in a minute, but if all you have is an hour…get to the Piazza del Campo and then see the Duomo.

The Piazza del Campo is the heart of Siena, a fanning medieval centerpiece that hosts the twice-yearly Palio. This festival brings representatives from all 17 Siena contrada (parishes/districts) together in a wild horse race that will determine whose symbols will represent Siena. This ancient rivalry runs deep and as you wander the narrow winding streets, you can find their different animal symbols on flags, carvings, and souvenirs.

I myself was sorted into Gryffindor. The unicorn came in second place.

What I’m trying to say is that Renaissance Fairs and Medieval Times are alive and well in Italy.

The Duomo of Siena is gorgeous little cupcake of a cathedral. The facade is fascinating, with colored marble, mosaics, sculptures, different on every side. As you enter, two things grab your immediate attention: the bold striping of the columns and the sapphire blue with gold stars ceiling that they support. Immediately after, you realize you are being watched.

By the busts of 172 Popes, 36 emperors, 42 patriarchs and prophets, and finally, eight golden statues at eye level.

I guess they could have been admiring the floors.

The marble floor mosaics are covered most of the year, with only a few of the 56 panels available for viewing. We saw the “Death of Absalom” (1447), “Slaughter of the Innocents” (1481), one of “Elijah” (1500s), and “The She-Wolf of Siena” (1373). All were rendered from the cartoons of Sienese painters.

You must peek into the Piccolomini Library, a tiny side door we almost missed. This will be revisited in a later blog devoted entirely to books. And probably floors. Unlike huge basilicas elsewhere, I enjoyed the lavish details of this Duomo in a comfortable, personable setting.

Just as I considered trying out the choir stalls, we noticed the time.

In a way, we also experienced the Palio. We dashed madly through the streets trying to meet up with our tour on time. It’s small but there are no straight lines in Siena. We did a few laps.

Our tour guide was waiting, grimly counting bodies as we congregated. She had already left late from Florence and now she was determined to get us back on the bus and to our final destination, a winery for dinner. From the beginning, the odds were stacked against her.

The problem was (and this is one of several) that she would not slow to the pace of three elderly sisters who had signed up for the tour, or the couple from Australia who had two bad knees and a hip between them.

The Aussies had taken a tour yesterday from Florence, and “did anyone know whether they would once again be asked to walk from here, down a back street, through an alley and down a ramp to the tour bus because they weren’t ever going to do that again but it sure looked suspicious”.

Hubby, ever the chatty, helpful fellow, engaged the tour guide and watched as the dialogue confirmed the Australians’ worst fears. They were having none of it. The tour guide was helpless to change it. Hubby backed away and blended into the crowd.

Another concerned couple wanted to know how late we were returning from the tour because they had other plans and could not possibly be back later than ten. The tour guide mentioned that she was dependent upon several things outside of her control, including traffic. The couple threw down their gauntlet and marched back into the crowd.

We were delayed, waiting for two people who never showed up. We hiked our way to the tour bus and waited some more for the two knees and a hip to get on board.

At this point, our guide mentioned the three elderly sisters. “Good news,” she said as we sat down, “They are already at the winery waiting for us to join them.”

Apparently, they had been put into a cab and whisked directly to the end of the tour. And they were not pleased. On the bus that night, as we drove back to Florence, these spicy ladies used colorful expletives to explain in great detail their displeasure with Italy in general and tour guides in particular. They were leaving for home in the morning and never coming back.

“Goodness,” said a tourist three seats behind us, “You’d think she (the tour guide) could extend just a bit of Christian charity…”

But really, it could have all been solved with a chicken.

Touring Siena should be at the pace of a fat, content hen, picking along, scratching up treasures. The “White Rooster” tour.

Everybody faster should go with the “Black Rooster” group.

Dragon flag… Piazza del Campo Duomo of Siena Bell tower. Notice a pattern? Checker columns, night sky. Etched, carved, inlaid, immense floor panel. So much to see. Massive Pipe organ. When you step outside the medieval times, there is the rest of modern Siena…like leaving Disneyland and finding LA sitting there.

Welcome to Florence, Italy

Our introduction was polite, cultured. Florence sat on an embroidered stool, hands folded into her skirts, chin high. Her inviting smile was genuine. She was quality and royalty and she did not need to prove it. “Look into all my closets and cupboards if you like,” she invited, “Make yourselves at home.” Once you have played hostess to Michelangelo, Masaccio, Brunelleschi, da Vinci, Boccaccio, Dante, Botticelli, and – did you know? – Florence Nightingale, let alone the Medici family, I guess we were small potatoes.

Florence was in the midst of tidying up when we arrived on the train. Exiting the station, we were greeted with welcoming sunshine and a brisk wind that was looking into every corner for a speck of dust that may have escaped her. It was the cleanest city we’ve ever seen.

The taxi line was significant and our hotel, per the map, was a bit of a walk away, but by now Hubby and I were seasoned travelers and with a shrug we toted our luggage down the steps and set off. We followed the slant of the sun, knowing that once we reached the Arno, we could follow it four bridges east, to our hotel.

The next thing we noticed was the cobblestones. Or lack thereof.

“Cobblestone is a fun word,” I thought, “It makes me think of a cobbler who has to fix the shoe you broke on the cobblestones.”

I hoisted my suitcase over a curb.

“Also, a cobbler is a delicious dessert. So there’s that.”

There were larger flagstones along some sidewalks, but most of Florence was paved with asphalt. I couldn’t decide if this was good or bad.

Apparently, neither can Italians. Riotous cobblestones rule the roads in Rome, but Florence (because rattling the spinner-wheels on your luggage as you truck down the street is not very lady-like) smoothed it and encouraged us to look up instead of down.

Our hotel room had a little balcony that overlooked the trolley turn-about, the sound of which eventually became background noise and not a problem. The trolley turned out to be our compass and we followed those tracks between our hotel and downtown thereafter.

Our hotel also had a rooftop pool that was closed due to the high winds, but gave us our first overview of the city. There was Florence, waving to us. We had missed lunch (hence my thoughts on cobbles), so per routine, went out to discover what she had made us for supper.

The afternoon was slowing to a saunter, as we crossed bridges, wandering the riverfront. Florence was softer than Rome, quieter than Sorrento, and larger than both, her skirts rippled out in shades of green, gold, and pink.

She offered us many options for dinner. We paused at a little spot along the Arno, where the last two patrons were finishing up. The menu held variety, the seats had a view, food remnants left on the plates looked promising.

Bending over to retrieve a napkin was a waitress. Just as she touched the napkin, a distracted patron shifted her chair and the leg came down squarely onto the waitress.

We watched the waitress stifle a shriek and hold her hand tightly so that it wouldn’t accidentally fly at the patron, who was overflowing with apologies and rapidly paying the tab.

The waitress turned and saw us. I stared into hot eyes, topped with turquoise eye shadow, a red mouth pulled tightly in a straight line. I watched her make the conscious decision to continue her job instead of quitting. Her hair was equally hot and bothered and was also in the midst of either fleeing or quitting. It was a moment of suspended animation and all I could think was, “She is Italian but not Italian. Who is this?”

Deborah from Miami Beach, Florida…and her attitude screamed the truth of it.

She, in the same instant, had sized me up and either my face of sympathy or my look of co-conspiracy led her decision to seat us at a table.

“They are rude,” she waved at the retreating tourists, “But I give you my house specialty, yes?”

Deborah proceeded to schmooze and entertain us for the next three hours. We were her only company. She talked us into an antipasto platter of olives, cheeses, fig jam, onion jam, greens, and oh glory be, it was yummy.

We shared the biscetta platter with roast potato wedges and beautiful porcini and onions.

“Cinque bambini!” she keep exclaiming, once she found out why we were in Italy.

Just as we finished the last of our wine, Florence spoke up.

Calling out over the river to us was the most luxurious sunset I have ever watched.

Deborah and the chef came out for a smoke then made themselves some pasta and joined us on the patio. They were used to Florence showing off. They were ready to pack it in.

Later, Hubby and I walked to the local laundromat and ran some Italian laundry, just like locals, the other tourists and Florence offered to dry everything nicely for us, back at the hotel.

Which is why I felt so guilty the next morning. We snuck out of the hotel, trying not to wake her up. Sarah (a Tribe Member) wanted me to bring her back a hunk and I knew just the guy.

Florence would not approve my stealing her man. But for Sarah, I had to try.

We were going to crash a museum.

After missing the Borghese in Rome, I wasn’t about to muck this one up. We arrived an hour early for the Accedemia. There were two little doors facing the road and we found three people already standing at the “Walk Up” one. They looked as sleepy as we were, but at least they had thought to bring a banana. Stomach growling, we stood there as slowly over the hour, our line grew and grew. By the time we went in, it had reached the corner, and by the time we left, it went around the building, down the road, and out of sight. Some things are worth hustling for.

We went in promptly at opening time, and moved easily ahead of the groups of prepaid “skip the line” tours. We went straight to the apple of Florence’s eye: David in all of his seventeen foot tall glory. I took my time admiring him from every angle, photographing until I was sure that Sarah would be satisfied.

Helloooo Handsome!

We still had plenty of time to revel in the rest of the museum. It includes paintings, other works by Michelangelo, a plaster cast room full of statuary, and the Musical Instrument Museum, full of antique instruments. What a beautiful place.

The next stop was the Museo delle Cappelle Medicee nearby. Inside are more statues, works by Michelangelo, and the Chapel of Princes, containing the Treasure of San Lorenzo, many with intricate miniature metal work. Some of this stuff is pretty creepy, I’m not gonna lie. Floors, however, along with toes, are something I was constantly photographing all over Italy. The stonework here took on the appearance of carpeting on the floors and tapestry on the walls.

On our way back we wandered around the train station, trying to find out where our tour was supposed to meet. It was time to leave Florence for the evening, to meet her relatives in Siena and enjoy the Chianti of her cleverly won vineyards. We kept our manners.

Florence is a delightful hostess. Just don’t touch her man.

“Michelangiolo” by Daniele da Volterra

 

When a statue is trying to be born…

 

Plaster cast room full of concepts

 

Nice Stradivari, 1716

 

Getting down with their Bad Selves.

 

Does the Pope wear a funny hat? That depends who you ask, I suppose…

 

Wafer-thin, scrolling stonework.

 

The Coward of Capri

Let me begin by pointing out that spending a day on the Mediterranean, lounging on a little jet boat, a little swim time, a little sun time, before exploring the glittering isle of Capri where butterflies and movie stars flock, is pretty much everyone’s idea of a good time.

But I’m not everyone.

This day was planned by the merman I’m married to, and you have to understand that, after his gift of the opera, I was certainly bound to go along with his own anniversary fantasy.

I was terrified.

Standing in the mouth of a volcano, facing off with seafood dinners that had actual eyeballs staring back at you….not a problem. But this trip was not exactly as advertised.

“Includes pick up from your hotel and transfer to the Port of Massa Lubrense,” says the brochure.

Translation: “Our little bus will drive two nautical inches from the Cliffs of Insanity, missing oncoming busses by one. If you scream, we drive faster.”

“Depart to Capri following the Sorrento coastline, stopping at the waterfall of Marciano,” the brochure continues.

Translation: “We will, after sizing up your group, decide to go full throttle across the bay instead, racing for the Blue Grotto. If you flinch, you will fall overboard and we will not circle back for you.”

“At Capri, visit the Blue Grotto, White Grotto, Green Grotto, Wonderful Grotto, Natural Arc…with stops for swimming and snorkeling,” it says.

Translation: “We will arrive at the Blue Grotto and wait for an hour while everyone else who arrived ahead of us proceeds, one at a time, to attempt access to the cave.”

This was no joke. The Blue Grotto has a tiny opening, no larger than a single narrow boat. Said boat can hold four tourists and a pilot. The tourists sit bobsled style on the floor in each others’ laps and when the tide, currents, and boat wakes align to dip low enough and open the cave entrance, they all lie down flat. The pilot gives a mighty push on his oars, ships them, and then lies down flat on TOP of the tourists. As the boat shoots into the crevasse, the pilot grabs a rope that has been strung along the entry and pulls like mad to get into the grotto before the waves lift the boat back up and smashes it into the cave roof.

I sat there watching these little coffins shoot in, perhaps one every ten minutes or so. This is because those inside the grotto must sooner or later fight their way back out and how either side knows who gets the next turn, I have no idea.

There were several large boats full of tourists ahead of us, plus a long line of tourists snaking up the cliff, where the grotto can be found by land.

“It may be a while,” said our professional English speaking skipper, casually, “You have to be ‘in’ with the operators here to get your people into the queue.”

Translation: “My tour company does not have an ‘in’. We can wait all day or move on. Your call.”

We continued around Capri, seeing only three of the advertised five grottos, briefly and from the poopdeck. They were beautiful of course, like La Jolla but missing the seal pups. Finally, within sight of the Natural Arc, we got to stop and jump in the sea.

Translation: “Hubby jumped in the sea. I took the photos.”

I do not get along with any version of water, so you will have to take Hubby’s word for it that the Mediterranean is saltier, more buoyant, and not overly warmer than our Pacific in SoCal. It’s incredibly clear, vivid blue, and contains jellyfish. Which factoid Hubby realized a bit too late and came back on board with sting marks that were red and swollen and peeled twice before healing.

I rest my case.

“Stop on the island for 4-5 hours to explore Capri and Anacapri,” the brochure touts.

Translation: “You get three if you’re lucky. Meet back here on time or…you know the drill.”

Skipper tossed us each a foil-wrapped sandwich for the road.

The harbor of Capri is the most crowded place in Italy. Read that again. We needed to hop on a bus and head directly to the top of the island. We wasted precious time bumping shoulders with heaps of humans trying to do the same. How no one was run over by a little blue bus there, I will never know. Lynette, by the time we found a bus, everyone started looking like George Clooney…

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The bus drove straight up. We were not provided with parachutes. It dropped us off at the top of Anacapri and I was faced with my next fear. To get to the tip top, you must sit in a single chair hung by a cable along a lift, for the thirteen longest minutes of your life.

I put a peppermint in my mouth and got on.

I kept my eyes closed, my hands fisted around the thin bar. I shut down my brain. I slowed down my breathing. I held perfectly still and did not care that everyone passing me on the way down would see my cowardice.

Let’s do this.

The air is very thin and quickly there is nothing but dead silence and the soft squeaking of the pulley overhead. Each cable post is a gentle little boost upward and I tried to shrink in on myself. I heard a dog bark, millions of miles below me.

What if I really am a million miles up? What if don’t see the exit coming and it carries me back around again? What if I can’t get the bar to move and I’m stuck? What if the wind picks up?

I cracked my eyes just enough to determine that I was above a tree and about to soar over a ravine.

I slammed my eyes closed just as I heard nervous giggling ahead of me. The lady in the chair in front of me called out to her boyfriend in the chair in front of her: “Hey! Remember that movie we saw when that one guy got stuck on a ski lift and had to climb off?”

Eons later, I heard her call out, “Are we there yet?” The peppermint held back my nausea until the last minute, when I heard the operators at the top of the lift discussing something in animated Italian. I had enough time to peek, take a deep breath, and then launch from my hot seat.

The view from the top of Anacapri is spectacular. Brilliant. We sat on a patio, eating gelato. But deep in my heart, I knew I had to make that return trip.

From near the umbrella pines, I heard a lady quietly sobbing.

“Me, too, kid,” I mumbled, “Me, too.”

But she was crying because she had just been proposed to. And her fiancé was by turns comforting her and laughing with her. I glanced Hubbys way and blessed him for being sensible and proposing to me on a freeway onramp. Actively merging had not kept me from letting him pop the ring on my finger. So romantic.

And at sea level.

The Island of Capri was blooming with small yellow and white flowers. Butterflies danced in every corner and out over the cliffs. Joyful, exuberant in their efforts to extract the most delight from every moment. I took that picture into my mind and got back onto the lift.

When I dared to open my eyes, I was in a place quite close to the ground. A field of flowers were at my feet. It was covered in butterflies. Floating colors swirled around me and off into the sky.

“Look,” they said, “or don’t. We will hold the space for you. You are safe.”

I closed my eyes again, and stayed right there in that little bit of field, watching butterflies dance until I landed at the bottom.

Gamblers. But the view was nice. So beautiful! Buckle up. Going up….this is my stunt double. Hubby took photos. He’s crazy like that. The view from the top! It really is a little piece of paradise.

The Surprise in Sorrento

I want you to know that, regardless of my pre-trip jitters, it was never my intention to wear stilettos in Italy.  Let’s take a quick peek at the cobblestone calliope to refresh ourselves as to why:

Hubby was busy packing the kitchen sink into his carry-on, when he pulled out my pair of blush pink, open-toe, ankle-strap heels and added them to the melee.

“What are you doing?” I asked, rolling my eyes for the fifty-third time in one day.

“You need these,” he insisted, “and that dress, too. Hand it to me.”

“Stop messing around,” I said, making a swipe at the shoes and missing, “this is not what you wear to hike Vesuvius in.”

But Hubby had an anniversary Secret and the Secret required stilettos. Two days before the trip, he finally admitted that much. Intrigued, I let him pack my extras in his case and wondered, “What is so important that he is willing to carry more shoes around the planet for?”

It’s not like going to Actual Italy wasn’t already fabulous enough.

It was a long day, touring Pompeii, but we returned to Sorrento and changed into our fancies. Then Hubby took my hand and he led me – ever so carefully – along the street towards the city center. The sun settled gently on the cliffs, tinting the sky…blush pink.

The Correale Museum of Terranova overlooks the Gulf of Naples. This three-story eighteenth century villa has art collections, artifacts, and period furnishings inside, and opulent gardens surround it. But most importantly of all…it hosts the Opera e Lyrica concert season in Sorrento.

We walked through an impressive entryway and signed in. Then, we joined others in the gardens for a glass of champagne. Night descended and strategic lighting showcased flowers and arches, trees and balustrades.

At the proper time, we all moved into a wide staircase, climbed up a level, and were escorted to pre-arranged seating in one of the galleries containing a grand piano. I was proper and gracious and dainty right up until I sat down and nonchalantly scanned the program.

The Three Tenors! What? All of my favorite opera music! At that very moment, Hubby won all of the romance points. He got a medal for excellent taste. Extra credit for hauling my shoes around for one single night of bliss. Is it so wrong to have a little PDA in a museum?

The pianist appeared just as it occurred to me that Pavarotti himself could not possibly be performing. A cellist walked onto the stage and arranged herself to one side, as I considered the options. When a violinist came front and center and began a glorious rendition of Cavalleria Rusticana, I realized it would be an instrumental rendition of my music.

The violinist was amazing. He played with passionate emotion and the freedom of a gypsy.

But he was not a tenor.

I had only formed the tiniest breath of a frown when I heard it. The opening strains of Granada, in a deep, rich tenor. The owner of this voice sauntered on stage to a welcoming applause and the party got started. After that, it was just one heart-bursting song after another, as Stefano Sorrentino, Francesco Fortes, and Alessandro Fortunato gave a performance worthy of the original Three Tenors in this small venue.

It was over entirely too soon.

Descending into the gardens once more, we had the opportunity to thank the artists and I stole a photo or two. “You were brilliant,” I gushed, “You made me cry.”

Hubby had also arranged to stay for a tasting of the local drinks and a handful of candies after the performance. The barkeep was happy to show us his wares and we tried the familiar limoncello and the obscure liquore di mirth (myrtle liquor). We tasted creme di melone, nurchetto (apple), and finocchietto de san costanzo which is infused with fennel. It tastes like licorice (or anise if you call it that) with no particular reference to absinthe, which is French anyway, right?

Not that I know anything about it.

There is a place, if you leave the Correale Museum of Terranova and go towards the bay and along a narrow one-way street. Park benches perch on a cliff, overlooking dark water, distant twinkling city lights, and cruise ships set like floating chandeliers in the harbor. It’s a quiet place. The air is warm. It feels good to unstrap those stilettos.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” asked Hubby after a kiss or two.

“You know it,” I said.

Hand in hand, barefoot over the cobblestones and swinging my heels by the straps, we went in search of our gelato shop.

It was a perfect night.

Do you love opera as much as I do?  Music and goosebumps? Here is their program, but with a good variety of links (I even snuck a soprano in, whoopsie and one in bass, bahaha). Pour yourself a glass of anything bubbly, sit back, and enjoy.

VERDI: Rigoletto; La donna e mobile
PUCCINI: Tosca; E lucevan le stelle
MASSENET: Thais; Meditation  (violin…swoon)
DONIZETTI: L’Elisir d’amore; Una furtiva lagrima
LEONCAVALLO: Pagliacci; Recitar…vesti la giubba  (sob)
PUCINI: Turandot; Nessun Dorma
VERDI: La Traviata; Libiam nei lieti calici  (salute!)
CAROSONE: Medley canzoni napoletane
D’ANNIBALE: O paese d o sole
CAPUA: Maria mari
CANNIO: O surdato nnamurato
CAPUA: O sole mio
MODUGNO: Nel blu dipinto di blu   (Ed Sullivan Show no less)
BOCELLI: Con te partiro  (I will listen to this forever)
DALLA: Caruso  (His voice, his style…rock n roll?)
CURTIS: Torna a Surriento
DENZA: Funiculi Funicula   (This was performed in the COLOSSEUM! Clap along!)

Pompeii and Vesuvius

Vesuvius stretched its arms out to the sea and allowed our little tour bus to climb up to its shoulder before we had to park and hike the rest on foot.  You may want to rent a hiking stick at the entrance. The ground is pebbled, steep and treacherous, black and barren. What scrub grows on Vesuvius clings in hope. There is nothing there large enough to throw shade on a hot day.

Lava flow can be easily traced In wide ravines and slopes. Large shelves of strata sit broken beside the path, tapering sharply downhill on the other side. Once you reach the crater’s lip, it’s a fascinating sight. Smooth as glass sides descend to what must be a singular sharp point at the bottom. Perfect drifts of rubble sit here or there, where they settled with a sigh at the end of it all, the last dregs in the cup of desolation.

When you tour Vesuvius in the morning and Pompeii in the afternoon, you risk the already milky sky turning to cloud and marring your view of the Mediterranean. But you also enjoy some semblance of coolness on an active volcano top and we were thankful for it. The view was a little hazy but balanced with a bright sun. Bring a hat, a water bottle, a granola bar, and your euros…because at the end of the trail, they have a souvenir shop that quite one-ups the Vatican’s rooftop hangout. It may be a tiny open shack but they serve up the local wine (from Christs’ Tears no less) and shots of limoncello. Hubby hastened to get in line. Lemons are a fruit and fruit is part of a balanced breakfast. I secured five postcards and five volcano stamps, wondering whether the Italian salesman was as enthusiastic about delivering the mail as he was about his provincial wares.

Four weeks later, those postcards have yet to be delivered.

On the walk back to our bus, we noticed seismologists equipment set up in strategic locations. We passed the remains of the funicular. Built in 1880, 1909, 1911…after being repeatedly taken out by Vesuvius, the Italians gave up. The last eruption was in 1944. We walked a little faster to our bus.

Our tour guide, Amanda, introduced us to the city of Pompeii, a world destroyed in AD79, that at once is both ancient and modern, barbaric and civilized. If Pompeii told me anything, it’s that people are the same, regardless of whether you place a stone or a computer into their hands.

The excavations are extensive.You can spend a day here, wandering the streets. They are Roman streets, though, so you have straight lines, orderly apartments, tidy rows of engineered brickwork. The streets are grooved from the wheels of traffic and the sidewalks are raised above it to avoid the runoff of rain plus horse manure plus whatever other offal will flow down the slightly tilted roads, out and away to the edge of the city. To cross the street, there are large crossing stones.

“And now, my dear groupa,” says Amanda, “What do you need to know about the take-away food stalls? Here you see the bowls formed into the counter, some held meat or honey or olive oil. The stove you see here in the back. The shops you see, over here, can be immediately known by the deep grooves in the threshold, where they pulled heavy gates closed at the end of the day.”

We walked along, hopping from side to side seeking shade as we went.

“Notice the water troughs at intersections,” continued Amanda, “These streets were not named. If you gave your address to someone, you told them “Three houses east of the Lion Fountain” or perhaps the Priestess Fountain. Each is unique and provided the public water.”

We went inside the House of Menander and photographed beautifully preserved columns, elegant courtyards, deeply colored wall murals, bedrooms, bathrooms, cooking areas. The floors set with mosaics.

We went into the baths, very modern, with a locker room, changing areas, lounging areas, sauna, different pools at different temperatures. We went into the brothel, exactly as you would imagine it, no space wasted, with full color menus along the ceiling. The theaters are cozy and the raised stage is just right for plays or a night of music. And this is how I will imagine it.

Athletic training grounds, barracks, a basilica, a mill and bakery, a forum complete with temples to Zeus, Isis/Venus, Apollo, and Jupiter, vineyard areas, garden plots, aqueduct making an appearance, it was all familiar. The space in the forum area was once lined with white marble, tall columns, graceful statues. It made a stark contrast to black Vesuvius, framed perfectly down the peristyle.

“And now, my dear groupa,” continued Amanda, “I will allow you some moments to wander this space and we will meet back here in 15 minutes.”

This space was personal. This space took more than 15 minutes. It punched you in the gut. Behind gates, were row upon row of excavated materials. Pots and wagons, anchors, birdbaths, step-stools. A large treasure chest. And under glass were plasters – not statues – of victims. A woman lying on her side, gasping for breath. A person hugging his knees to his chest, hands over his nose and mouth. An infant. A dog curling with convulsions.

Shortly after noon, on August 24, AD79, Vesuvius took them all by surprise. No one knew that it was a volcano. It hadn’t erupted in 1800 years. It was odd to see black volcanic rock used in some of the construction; that’s usually a sign. So was the massive earthquake they had had, 17 years prior.

There was no word for “volcano” before Vesuvius.

Erupting for over 24 hours, with the force of two atomic bombs, spewing 1.5 million tons of lava per second, Vesuvius took out Pompeii with pyroclastic surges. People asphyxiated from volcanic ash and gas or were flash-killed by thermal heat, depending on which scientist is speaking. Then ash and pumice began to fall, burying everything as deep as 14 to 23 feet.

And what do you need to know? That graffiti can be read, in great detail, 2000 plus years after you have etched it on the wall. Quite the way I see Facebook postings 2000 years from today.

You’ve been warned.

My dear groupa, if you don’t believe me, you also can take a two-hour walking tour of today’s Pompeii by clicking hereOr you can watch a truly cheesy and entertaining BBC documentary, casting Italians with British accents, here.

Going Up Tremors Order Up!

 

Zoom in on this detailing. I really wanted this to be an aviary. But it’s for the house gods (lares). Boring. So many photos, so little blog space…

If Life Hands You Lemons, Make Limoncello

Sorrento” and “Limoncello” are interchangeable concepts. Outside of Sorrento, only groves in neighboring Capri are accepted to create this specialty liqueur. You should not buy it outside of Campania. Even Pompeii boasts a mural celebrating the Sorrento Lemon. Locals are fiercely proud of their limoncello, and you can purchase it on every street corner.

The terraced lemon groves in Sorrento have been organically cultivated for generations, surrounded by fencing and protected with overhead canopies and 60% of the harvest is reserved for making limoncello. Lemons are hand harvested when they turn from green to yellow: they never touch the ground. Once harvested, they are carefully cleaned, then kept away from human touch thereafter because limoncello is made from peel. The thick, intensely perfumed peel is distilled in vodka or Everclear, with a little sugar syrup added towards the end, completing up to a three month long process.

A shop owner gave us a brief education, showing us how to read the labels for quality limoncello. The bottle must have the Sorrento seal, and the ratio of lemon to alcohol should be high. 30% alcohol is acceptable, less is for the tourists, and 33% is ideal.

It is served chilled in a shot glass at the end of a meal as a digestive or as an aperitivo.

If you linger at all in a shop, you will be plied with samples. The limoncello speaks for itself.

The rest of the lemon is put to good use: you can buy lemon cookies, lemon candy, lemon balsamic glaze, lemon chocolate, marmalade…and don’t forget the complimentary kitchen baubles. After a few samples, it feels perfectly reasonable to pack it all up and bring the happiness home with you.

It smells and tastes like lemon candy with a tart kick beneath it. It makes you think of sunshine, bright blue ocean water, and good friendships. This is something you drink together, adding a sparkle to great conversation.

After we came home with our bottle, I went out to check our Meyers Lemon Tree. Sure enough, it’s cycling into bloom, with little green lemons being born on the branches. Winter in SoCal is citrus season. Now, my research informs me that the only other place – in the world –  you can cultivate a real honest-to-goodness Sorrento Lemon Tree is right here in San Diego. The lemons are here, if you look hard enough. I am not at all surprised. We may not be volcanic, but as I told you earlier, a lot of Italy sure feels like home.

I’ve never made limoncello but there are plenty of recipes online. I’ve gathered some of them together for us, below. If you have experience in the process, I’m interested in hearing about it.

For now, we will focus on our Italian treat and have you all over for sharing.

Salute!

 

From Sorrento Food Tours, Recipe #1

From Nonna’s kitchen, Recipe #2

From allrecipes (worth reading all the comments), Recipe #3

From Genius Kitchen, Recipe #4

And another from The Chew, Recipe #5

Welcome to Sorrento, Italy

We took a bullet train from Rome to Naples. From the Naples train station, we took a metro to the port after walking up three flights of stairs and around a glorious castle. Luggage in tow. From the port, we took a ferry across the bay to a bus to our hotel in Sorrento.

Getting there is half the fun.

Picture the bay like La Jolla. A massive crescent holds it, with Naples at one tip and Sorrento at the other. These two cities are like comparing Los Angeles to San Diego. You will arrive in LA, but you know you want to stay in San Diego. I may be a little opinionated, here, but what can I say? It’s the same with Naples and Sorrento.

As you cross on the ferry, taking in the beautiful overview, you are being watched by a Presence. Brooding in the center of this curve, crater gaping, is Mt Vesuvius. The sunshine takes nothing away from the dramatic black hillside that slopes to the bay. Because you know what’s under it.

Certainly, it was prime real estate and still there is a townscape at its base and along the shore. We are going to tour it. Absolutely it will be an exciting place to visit and absolutely you don’t want to live there.

Arriving in Sorrento is an experience. The ferry has parked at the foot of the Cliffs of Insanity. You can see the town up there, sparkling with promise. There are three ways to reach it. First, you can hop on a little bus that will climb the road for you. This is what we did. Because second, you can walk it yourself pulling your effects behind you and gaining buns and thighs of steel. Or blisters of lava. Whatever. Third, there is an elevator hidden so well, that unless you are an intrepid explorer with nothing better to do, you will never find. I have placed the treasure map below for you, in case you ever arrive in Sorrento yourself.

You’re welcome.

Our hotel room was much larger than that in Rome, with a little balcony that let me watch the traffic go by: busses and limos with tourists, horse-drawn buggies working the plaza, a few locals trying to get to work. The street is too narrow for two-way traffic plus pedestrians…you don’t get a sidewalk and you hop into a storefront when you need to duck sideways.

The wee hub of Sorrento is delicious. Everything is a shade of yellow, the buildings, the light. It feels small, cozy and relaxing. I suppose there’s a little feel of being on Catalina Island, with the harbor below, the mountains around the backside. You can stroll down the main street (Corso Italia), closed to cars, in about twenty casual minutes. It’s lined with designer storefronts and pizzerias, perfumeries, jumbled souvenir shops, gates to museum gardens, and pubs.

But if you really want to shop, move one alley over. Or two. The narrow mazes take you up and down between the main street and the cliff. You can’t get lost, so lose yourself in delight: the smell of fresh leather purses, the dazzle of bright yellow limoncello shops, soft breezy blue linen clothing, the sound of clinking glasses from al fresco restaurant tables.

Now it’s time to sit down and put something ridiculously fabulous in your mouth. We found two spots along the main street that were so good we became life fans on day one. The first is a spot that began as a gelateria and expanded into a restaurant of sorts. We ordered a margherita pizza and one with smoked mozzarella, ham, and funghi. It was mushroom season in Italy and everywhere we went, the porcini was fat and buttery and knock-your-socks off good. Italians do not mess around with cheese. Cheese is art. Fresh, smoked mozzarella puts to shame anything America has ever plopped onto a pizza.

Which reminds me: you are supposed to eat pizza with a fork and knife. The crust is very thin, salty, chewy, and crispy where the wood oven kissed it. It reminds me of when my sisters and I used to warm tortillas over the open flame of our stovetop gas burner and snatch it off just before the bubbles began to burn. So. Good. Cooks go very light on the tomato sauce and seem to prefer sun-dried tomatoes to fresh everywhere, which surprised me.

If you wander a little further out in Sorrento, you will find their prize lemon trees, guarded and shaded from the hot summer sun. Sorrento is all about lemons in general and limoncello in specific. Samples are handed out with reverence, little shot glasses of liquid gold. There are ancient olive groves cliffside and the twisted old trees have green and black netting snaked around the trunks in preparation for the upcoming harvest. The olive oil is primo but the limoncello is specialty of the house.

Which brings me back to our table.

We ordered gelato while staring at a display case that overflowed with pastries, tarts, chocolates, flavored meringues, baba au rum, croissants, enough to know that once again, you weren’t going to be able to eat it all.

It’s heartbreaking.

The gelato was superb. But I have to tell you about the other gelato place, too. Because there is a red velvet throne outside the door and the walls inside are completely covered in photos and the people in there are not interested in the tourist experience, they are interested in gelato that is so good, you should be thanking them that they are even open and selling you any.

Later, I am going to write you an entire post on nothing but gelato.

Meanwhile, here are some photos. The first was taken around 9am – in the morning – and sums up my entire Italian experience. Glorious.

From the dock, find a tiny obscure walkway up tight against the cliff and head west. Follow behind private beaches to the elevator, 2 euros each.

Rome, Colosseum and Forum

The Colosseum is the big time and I really can’t believe I’m sitting here telling you I touched it. (Who am I kidding, we stomped the yard.) It was heady stuff, after “seeing” ancient things, to be able to touch them. It was an interactive smorgasbord. Nick-named for a colossal bronze statue of Nero at the door – that no longer exists – the Colosseum is one of the “Seven Wonders of the World”. So naturally I showed up wondering several things.

    1. How do I get in there? Much like opening day in AD80, the hatbox was surrounded with spectators and lines and vendors. We swatted the vendors away and took our “skip-the-line” ticket (an online voucher, not a pottery shard) to the group entry area. Once inside, we followed the posted signs for a self tour, taking a staircase that led up to this breath-taking view:
    2. What am I looking at? True Roman organization at its finest. We hadn’t paid for the fancy marble seats, nor did we qualify for the Vestal Virgins box. Our area was at commoners level, which I suppose is better than the nose-bleed section. I couldn’t really see an American football game held in here, but definitely indoor soccer or ice hockey. It’s got a nice hometown stadium feel at ringside and there isn’t a bad seat in the house.
    3. How did they make this? Romans invented concrete. Then they added travertine, marble, bricks and about 100,000 slaves from the sacking of Jerusalem. Initially, the center was hollow and could be flooded for water entertainment. Overhead, sailors worked a canvas awning to provide shade and a breeze, which would have been very welcome, it was quite warm and muggy.
    4. Why did they make this? The idea was to hand out free tickets to the masses in order to curry political favor or demonstrate family prestige by providing violently gripping entertainment. Placing the finest stage on earth in the heart of Rome, serving peanuts, popcorn, and crackerjack, emperors enjoyed the absolute power of dispensing life and death. Citizens thrilled with that power when asked to contribute to the decision with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.
    5. Why would anyone show up to watch death all day? It appears to have been as addicting as video games. Would crowds have formed to see great art instead? Music? Shakespeare could have made a mint here without anyone dying. It made me think further thoughts on humanity in general. But most of what happened here ended in death. So that makes me sad…
    6. What’s the cross for? Although scholars say actual Christian martyrs were killed at the Circus Maximus, popes put a cross (several) up here anyway and I’d like to think it commemorates everyone who died. Even the elephants.
    7. What? Can you fit an elephant in there? Yes, the Romans had a zoo but preferred to watch their crocodiles eat people instead of bask in a cage. The underground had passages, elevators, ramps and trap doors that delivered gladiators, animals, and stage settings on cue. Tunnels led to off-site gladiator training quarters, stables and personal pathways for the emperor who, like us, had no use for the throngs of tourists and vendors blocking the gate.
    8. What’s out the window? I went to get some fresh air. Across the way, the Arch of Constantine and the Forum hills beckoned. Our ticket included all of it, so off we went.

    Here is what it looked like as we lined up for entry near the Arch of Titus:

    Not two minutes later, a cloud rolled over and started to drizzle. We shook off the drops and walked in. Drizzle turned to rain. We ducked under a tree and waited. It began to pour. Tourists were running for shelter…but there wasn’t any. Ruins don’t usually have roofs. Hubby and I held each other tight, with my purse between us, attempting to save our phones. The road began to flood. Our shoes filled. Our clothes were sticky.

    We laughed a little in disbelief. Lightning flashed. Thunder reverberated from a deep purple sky.

    Why did we leave the Colosseum? Glancing back, we watched attendants slam the entry gate closed. There was no turning back.

    It was raining so hard that you had to blink fast to see. My hair was streaming.

    We ran.

    But where? We had no map, no idea where the exit or even a restroom might be. We huddled miserably with a few others under a stand of trees that was useless as the wind took the rain sideways.

    Suddenly, calling out frantically to us over the din of the storm, pressed up against the railing around ancient Rome – wearing halos – were the street vendors. They knew their people were in trouble and they’d found us, prepared to forgive our brushoffs from earlier and supply us with umbrellas and plastic ponchos.

    With a very soggy bill, Hubby bought our second umbrella in one day, a red one this time. He was surprised the price had not risen exponentially, considering the situation, and I was surprised they were trying to help at all. Heads bowed, we shared that wretched umbrella and waited for the tragedy to end.

    We could not have gotten any wetter if we had jumped into the Tiber. My pants were a misery. My pink blouse was completely sheer and clinging. It was something out of a bad dream. And although I’d like to think that is why people kept staring at me for the rest of the afternoon, you know it was my hair. It contorted into several shapes as it dried out.

    Because the rain eventually moved on to torment someone else and we slogged through the mud and the puddles to see what we had come to see.

    There are no selfies from the Forum.

    “Friends, Romans, and Countrymen…lend me your umbrellas”

Rome, The Vatican

We signed up to see the Vatican and the Colosseum on the same day. Which is ludicrous. But necessary. This is why espresso is the Italian drink of choice.

I warned you, you won’t see it all and you have to keep moving. Buying a tour is a great way to utilize time and stay disciplined. I would still be standing in the Vatican foyer staring at an urn if it weren’t for our tour guide, Leti. She got it done.

We dashed from our hotel that morning and caught the metro to the Ottaviano exit. At that point we were lost in a maze of wet streets with hundreds of other tourists, all searching for their particular group. If I hadn’t gone onto google maps at home and visually street walked the place, we never would have found it. You can’t do too much homework before a trip like this, because tour guides do not wait.

Leti led our earbud-fitted group of 25 through the mobs to the Vatican’s back door. It’s protected by a massive orange brick wall that goes to infinity in both directions, so you must wait in line with the other tour groups as each entrant is scanned for obelisks and other hazards to the Church.

The Vatican museums don’t open until 9am but groups can come in at 8:30. We shuffled along in line and unlike Disneyland, our entertainment began immediately. Leti told us history and interesting things about the Vatican while street vendors walked by shoving umbrellas at us. Yesterday, it was silk roses. 

Street vendors are pickpockets in disguise. If you let them, they will shove a thing in your hand and then demand your money, even if you try to return the item. Hubby and I prevented this by holding hands. Also, yelling “Stop it!” seems to work. They are sworn enemies.

Then it started to sprinkle. We knew it might, but it doesn’t rain on the Metro and it doesn’t rain in the Vatican and the afternoon was supposed to be sunny. We huddled together for another twenty minutes before we were the begrudging owners of a black five-euro umbrella.

My hair was mostly saved.

We are now going to move briskly into and back out of the Museum wing, leaving photos below for you to stop and stare at and block the way for everybody else because how many people can you cram down the corridor without knocking over a priceless work of art? Answer: an awfully lot.

At the end of this corridor, and bypassing so many other corridors that your heart breaks from the missing of them, you arrive at the Sistine Chapel. Leti told us everything we needed to know before going inside, because you aren’t allowed to speak, take photos, or otherwise rumble in the Pope’s personal space. He has really loud guards in there, telling you so.

Stare up at the ceiling until your neck cricks. It is outrageously fabulous. You can identify most of what you see, just keep in mind that Michelangelo didn’t want this job in the first place and he mostly did the first few Genesis squares and let an army of other painters work out the rest. Michelangelo was a sculptor, not a painter. But when the Pope demands you do a job, when he makes you leave your home in Florence and move to Rome for years to do it, well, as an artist, you get a bit moody. You think thoughts.

When he painted the Last Judgement on the wall, he went ahead and put the Pope’s face onto St Peter. After all, the Pope was paying for it. But he also painted his enemy’s face into the corner of hell and his own face into the flayed skin of St Bart. Talk about a statement. But most of all, he painted all of the patriarchs as nudes. Very healthy nudes. When a religious eyebrow raised, he explained that…he was a sculptor. And this is how he rolled.

Much later, after Michelangelo died, painters were sent up there to add strategic little loincloth swags and later during restoration, most came back off again. Today, the mural is a bit of everyone’s opinions.

You also very much need to know that Botticelli, one of the painters on the team, had a pet chihuahua that was inserted three different places in the chapel wall murals. Because he could. I’m sure there were purse dogs in the time of Noah, I just can’t show you chapter and verse. And now the Pope has them.

St Peter’s Basilica is a kaleidoscope of color and gold and movement. It’s like walking into a huge, hollow layer cake that has too many frosting roses on it. At first, it’s sweet, then it’s hard to swallow.

The Pieta is there, a very early Michelangelo sculpture of Madonna and Christ, so early that he felt compelled to sign the thing, to prove he’d made it. It continuously floors me that flowing, rippling motion and emotion can be evoked from naked rock like this. Leti had to prod us forward, past the areas of other popes, the latest of whom was lying, mummified, in his glass coffin, still handing out benedictions. His waxy face peeking out from sumptuous robes had no life in it whatsoever. In the Vatacombs below, where countless other popes lie, you can get an idea of their visage from the likenesses carved on the tops or sides of their sarcophagi.

I’m not convinced a live performance after you’re dead is a better plan.

Finishing the tour brought us out to the edge of St Peter’s Square, but Hubby and I had one more item to cross off the List. We bought ten-euro tickets to climb the Duomo. You take a lift to rooftop level where you find yourself on a small piece of the ledge that runs back around the inside of the domed Basilica ceiling…so we could look down…so far down it made you dizzy…on the places we had just toured with Leti. Swirling tourists, chanting priests, flickering candles, arches full of color and golden light are all around you. An immense space overflowing with opulence. My home feels quite bleak in comparison, but what a thing to see.

We walked away and entered the Dome. Don’t do this big climb if you have issues with claustrophobia, because although the beginning was an open curved pathway painted gold, eventually you are in a narrow, tilting passage, and then you are in staircases twirling straight up and you are hoping the guys in front of you don’t stop because the air is getting tight and there is no going backwards and now it’s stuffy and where is the top of this thing? The return trip is in the opposite side of the Dome and both are one-way traffic only. It’s a commitment.

We enjoyed getting back onto the rooftop, because the Pope had kindly provided us with a souvenir shop and a snack shack right there, with a view to die for. Do you know what all of those saints parading around the edge look like from behind?

Hubby got a bevmo and I went next door and wrote five postcards (with Papal stamps) for the kids and left them for the flying nun to deliver. Below us, St Peter’s Square undulated with multitudes waiting to begin their visit. We strolled past them on our way out, pausing to take a photo of the guards. Honestly, who else gets to wear a uniform this awesome outside of Hotdog-On-A-Stick?

Back in our hotel, Hubby was grateful to put on shorts and let his kneecaps out for some fresh air. We headed to the metro, our new best friend, and sped towards the Colosseum and the Forum.

We left the umbrella behind.

Let’s begin with the fine art: ginormous toes. Pedi time! When even ceilings make you gasp. The map room is this boring…! The Pieta is behind bullet-proof glass. The High Altar Bernini made. That’s the guy… Domes inside of domes. You could go on and on… From the Duomo top. St Peter’s Square is round.

Rome, A Walkabout

Like fish and company, touring new cities begins to stink after three days. We filled our days to the brim and left while we were still having fun.

Another travel maxim is: you cannot possibly see it all. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know. It has layers. Three days forced us to prioritize The List into something manageable. As this was not our first rodeo, we also took into account a little regular down time and things out of our control like jet lag, weather, or mood swings. If gelato sounded better than climbing the campanile, then we had permission to rebel.

But usually, we did both. Simultaneously.

Today, I wanted to begin at the Galleria Borghese, but I had not booked this museum ahead. I read that you could go early and try for walk-up tickets, so although the website said “Sold Out”, I was hopeful.

Now, a hotel concierge is a fabulous resource and I recommend asking them all of your foolish tourist questions, even if you aren’t technically staying in their hotel. In Rome, ours was “George from Venice”, who was very helpful when our electricity converter wasn’t working. George opened a drawer and pulled out a dozen different types that didn’t match and finally sent Hubby across the street to buy a new one. Meanwhile, I told him my plan for sneaking up on the Borghese. George frowned. He didn’t recommend it. He called the Gallery, speaking in rapid Italian. “They are sold out completely until two weeks from now,” he said. “Yes,” I explained, “but perhaps if we show up in person, they will have room.”

George talked us out of it. It wasn’t until Florence, when we snuck up on the Accedemia and won, that I realized George just didn’t want a screaming disappointed tourist in his face later, so I guess I don’t blame him. My asterisk is that if you want to gamble, don’t involve the concierge.

Instead, we opted to follow Rick Steve’s Heart of Rome Walk, beginning at Campo di Fiori. I had already downloaded his maps and tours into my phone and although Hubby is not a fan, he went along with it, choosing to let me listen and guide him through town. Campo di Fiori is a beautiful little morning market selling flowers, veggies, and the daily bread.

Brooding Bruno.

Rick was telling Bruno’s story when Hubby decided there were two more men in my head than he was okay with. Rick and Bruno had to skip to the end and direct us forward, and it wasn’t until the train ride from Rome that I sat back and enjoyed the full tour, using the photos I had taken and hearing with delight about what I had already seen.

You can do it too, from home: ricksteves.com. I preferred to form my own opinions before hearing everyone else’s but perhaps you want do it before you go, to get some context.

Piazza Navona is wonderful. Here is a selfie per Jenni’s request:

Piazza Navona selfie.

I didn’t say I was any good at it.

We studied the fountains and practiced selfies and enjoyed the group of lederhosen that joined us. There were kilts and wimples and ball caps. We followed them to the Pantheon. Not the Parthenon. Not the Panthenon. It was funny listening to people try to figure it out.

And it is something quite special. I don’t have a lot of intuition or “gut feelings” about places. There are tombs here and layers of religion and history and architectural genius and undeniable art in every stone. But the oculus – the space where there is nothing – spoke to me. Our day was a bit drizzly and the wet came in and made the marble floors slick. The area was cordoned off. I read that during the right time on a sunny day, a palpable column of light forms in the center of the room.

Empty space that isn’t empty.

It made me think this:

Here are mans efforts over the ages, marching in circles, trying to reflect/create/become/reach something and that Something is this space at the Center. The Light fills the gap and floods down into the arena of souls instead of the other way around.

It made me ignore the beauty around me and admire the Light.

The oculus is the only light source in the building.

Oculus.

From there we accidentally detoured into Piazza di Pietra and worked our way back to the Piazza Colonna, each with columns worth seeing. We found a shopping mall, cleverly disguised as a piece of Rome and this detour brought us back to the Trevi fountain. Why not?

This day had been pretty fulfilling, but now there was a practicality to figure out: the Metro. We wanted to practice before our Vatican tour in the morning, so we bought tickets in a tiny shop on the corner and headed down into the belly, looking for thugs. Once we decided which direction we needed, it was easy enough to hop on and back off at Piazza Popolo. Efficient, light, clean, and easy to navigate. No thugs in sight other than a grandmother returning from her marketing. I wish SoCal had a metro.

The Piazza Popolo is a spacious place to unwind and it comes with it’s own obelisk, fountains, statues and tourists. There are thirteen obelisks standing in Rome today, many more were lost in transport or invasions. They are legit stolen from Egypt and covered in hieroglyphics.  At some point in history the church decided that they were just a bit too pagan and engaged in a struggle with the townspeople to remove them. Romans were having none of it. Obelisks are cool. In compromise, the church topped each one with a cross to make them more palatable. It’s an odd combination.

Obelisk. Updated.

We went up to the little park area and crossed a bridge to a residential side of town. A statue of Pietro Cossa met us there and invited us to walk along the sleepy Tiber. We looked down on riverboats identical to those that Audrey Hepburn danced on. Hmm. A couple of hours later and we might have joined her.

The metro brought us back to home base, and we finished the day in a half-underground little restaurant with a curving brick ceiling, sipping wine, eating risotto with prawn sauce, and capping it off with a creamy dreamy tiramisu.

 

Surprise! It’s been soaked in espresso.

Favorite bit from Piazza Navona.

“Trying to get up on a Monday morning.”

Marcus Aurelius’ story goes literally in circles.

Hanging out in Piazza Popolo.

Fancy architecture around the Piazza Popolo, but I love bells!

Walking along the Tiber.

Below are the flatboats for dining and dancing.