Tuesday, December 6, 2011

See You Soon!

The Cloister at Sea Island, Georgia             
To My Travel Friends:

Thank you for your infinite patience as I simultaneously juggle multiple projects and the holidays.  In the near future (if all goes as planned), I will be writing travel blog posts on the following topics:

1-Since the Italy girls are hoping to visit London and Paris, I am interviewing a few friends who have been fortunate enough to fly across the pond to vacation in those cities.  I'll coordinate all of the information gathered and plan to at least write a couple of Paris articles.

2-Tales of a visit to Sea Island, Georgia will be forthcoming, complete with wonderful photos.  This is truly a hidden gem for escaping anything that life has thrown your way!

3-I was recently in Asheville, North Carolina for just a brief stay, but took copious notes and a few photos.  My visit was far too short, as there was much more to see than time permitted.  I'd love to go back!

4-When the above posts are published, I plan to write about a few choice locations to visit in each state in the U. S. 

With that said, I am publishing four books in 2012 so I've been mighty busy.  If you'd like to be informed about the writing projects, please stop by at http://www.awriterspresence.com and also http://www.maryannebenedetto.blogspot.com.  I'd love to see you there!

I wish you special travel fans a very Merry Christmas and a new year that brings you to many fabulous locations!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Arrivederci Roma-It's Been Fabulous!

Ceiling in the Vatican museum

Tuesday, May 31, 2011:

Last night (over a final bottle of regional house wine), we relished in reliving our Italian adventure. Gathering our thoughts, we collaborated in consideration of a variety of questions:

1) What are we looking forward to when we return to our beloved U. S. A.?
  • Not being followed and harassed by street vendors (not that we ever felt unsafe, but it could become annoying at times)
  • Really hot water for hand washing in public restrooms
  • Normal size soap
  • Having toilet seats
  • Not using a converter for electricity
  • American money
  • American language
  • Being in familiar territory
  • Driving our cars
  • Familiar brands of coffee
  • American yogurt
  • Using our own cell phones without having to think about country codes
  • Catching up on our favorite television shows that have been DVR'd
  • Seeing television in English besides perpetually repeated segments from CNN and Fox News
  • Family-especially not being so far away from them that it would be difficult to get to them in an emergency
  • Being with our husbands in our normal routines, including watching a weekend movie together
  • Sleeping in our very own comfy beds
2) What will be miss about Italy?
  • Gigantic, colorful hydrangeas in Sorrento, Capri and Positano
  • Huge oranges and lemons in Sorrento and Capri
  • Spectacular scenery in Capri and Ana Capri
  • Heavy doses of culture and ancient history in Florence and Rome
  • Great shoe shopping
  • Amazing Italian food including, but not limited to: fresh vegetables, herbs, basil, fabulous Roma/plum tomatoes, homemade pasta, croissants that are fluffy and not greasy, ravioli with spinach and ricotta, fresh mozzarella, lighter sauce--no paste used in preparation, lighter pizza and sandwiches that don't make you feel overstuffed, and delicious local/regional house wines
  • Ciro, our hero
  • The many nice people we met from all over the world (but not the rude ones)
  • Sleek Italian clothing
  • Plethora of outdoor cafes
  • Long string of bright, sunny days and crisp, clear evenings
  • Each other, as we sincerely enjoyed our time together as a group. We were a solid travel team, and many times we needed all four of our brains to figure out what we were doing!
3) What would we have done differently if we knew then what we know now?
  • Be absolutely determined to find a way to pack less clothing. (Example--purchase something at our destination if needed, but don't feel as though we must pack for every possible weather condition from balmy heat to an Alp-like snowstorm. Bring travel-friendly clothing that can be washed and worn again if touring for an extensive period of time. Hotel laundry service works just fine also!) Never forget the difficulty of trying to navigate the trains with heavy luggage. Finding benevolent, hulky strangers to lift luggage is not always in the cards. Many actually seem to find humor in observing the struggle.
  • Bring more: Kleenex, wash cloths, normal size soap, hair conditioner, as these are scarce
  • Before leaving the U. S., purchase quality, detailed maps printed in fonts that don't require a magnifying glass to read. Locate our hotels on those maps so we are armed with accurate starting points. This will save considerable time and frustration in another foreign country!
Our departure from Italy:

Summy called a taxi for us, and we reminded him that we were four people with mucho luggage. As previously mentioned, there are no Lincoln Navigators, GMC Yukons, or Chevy Tahoes to be found because they simply wouldn't be able to manage the ultra-narrow streets. We had hoped that forewarning the driver might result in his bringing us the largest possible vehicle.

To transport our luggage from the second floor to the street level, we sent Sharon down in the small lift elevator with any luggage that would fit, which wasn't very much at one time. Next, I came down with as much as the lift would hold, then Laura did the same, and Marianne with the final balance of our belongings.

The taxi arrived and our first visual indicated that it would be far too small for all of us, but the driver was adept at maneuvering and was bound and determined to make this work. Most items were stored in the rear, with two carry-ons and one large suitcase placed in the front passenger seat next to the driver. That left all four women to squeeze (and I do mean squeeze) into the tiny back seat. We each turned somewhat sideways to fit all of our rear ends in, and we were thankful that it wasn't a lengthy ride. We were just a little too close for comfort.

Arriving at the airport, I said goodbye to the girls, as they were flying Delta and I was on US Air. I kept thinking about how beautifully we all got along during the trip. No one was difficult, whiny or a pain in the neck. Everyone was considerate, and all of these ladies were the most pleasant traveling companions one could hope to find.

This is where I discovered that I really do appreciate that Fred had persistently tried and succeeded in upgrading me to first class on this return flight. I marched over to US Air's check-in area, and there were only two people ahead of me in line, as opposed to the throngs of people gathered in the other line.

At this point, my passport was checked and I was given a declaration form. Then I was sent to the actual check-in area for US Air. Once again, the first class line was almost non-existent so I zipped right through, depositing my two excruciatingly heavy bags and obtaining my boarding pass. I moved along to security, and once again there was a special line for first class, which was super short. I then boarded the shuttle to Terminal G and had been given a special pass for the VIP lounge, so I went there to use the restroom and then nibble on a tasty croissant.

This lounge was quite populated, but I sat there catching up on my journal writing and then thought I'd venture out to the main waiting area and see if I could find the girls at their gate. I found their flight on the screen and determined which gate they would be leaving from, and just as I arrived at their gate, the sign changed to Hong Kong! I realized that I had gotten there just a few seconds too late to say goodbye to them one more time in the land of Italia, where we had created so many fond memories.

My flight was delayed by an hour, and by the time we finally boarded, it was probably even longer. I was hoping this would not jeopardize making my connection in Charlotte. Only time would tell.

I chatted during the flight with a nice young woman who works for the United Nations. She was from Barcelona, but lived in Rome. It was interesting to hear about her life in Europe. She said that flights are so inexpensive within the European countries, she can easily live in Rome and fly to Barcelona for the weekend as often as she chooses.

A nice meal was served during the flight, and then I promptly fell asleep. Once again, I hoped that in my state of exhaustion, I would refrain from snoring or drooling.

As we were on our descent into Charlotte, there was an announcement that we would need to complete our customs declaration forms and that we would be claiming our luggage in the Charlotte terminal even if we had a connecting flight. There would be no automatic transfer of checked luggage to our final destinations since Charlotte was the first entry point into the United States for us.

This development momentarily concerned me, as I would be dealing with two carry-ons, one HEAVY suitcase and one additional rolling bag. My hope was that they had found a way to make this process as painless as possible, and my wish came true. In the area for claiming baggage, they offered an ample supply of luggage carts to use at no charge. I marched over and grabbed one right away. When my luggage arrived, I took a deep breath and arranged my belongings onto the cart (which would barely move since it was so loaded down) and proceeded to the checkpoint. I was almost alarmed about whether or not I would reach that connecting flight on time.

Breezing through the customs checkpoint, the next area I encountered was for re-checking luggage to the next destination. Everything was handled quickly and efficiently. Before I knew it, I was at the gate for my Myrtle Beach flight and even had the opportunity to dash into the ladies' room before boarding. Whew! That was one huge relief.

The short flight to Myrtle Beach gave me a few minutes to reflect on how blessed I am to have had this amazing travel opportunity with these three awesome friends. It almost seems like a lovely dream with a backdrop of some of the most superb scenery imaginable. I also thought about Liz and once again prayed that she would soon be healthy and raring to go.

What countries will be next on our list for exploration? Stay tuned! We're thinking London and Paris, but it won't be right away since we'll need time to replenish our travel funds.

In the interim, please continue to view this site for some interesting tidbits about travel in our own treasured United States of America; however, we will forever remember great times in Florence, Sorrento and Rome!!!

Ah, lovely Florence!

We'll have a special place in our hearts for Sorrento!

And finally, a fond farewell to romantic Roma! Yes, we really did miss those husbands of ours. You guys are the best!!

See you in Paris!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Winding Down in Rome

Monday, May 30, 2011:

I slept fitfully last night due to some strange abdominal pain of unknown origin. Just before bedtime, I had eaten some of those shelled peanuts that I brought from Sant Agata, and perhaps they didn't agree with me.

The girls were looking for a boat tour today, and I just didn't think it was a good idea for me since I was experiencing these stomach pains. I suggested that they go ahead and I would try to just relax and feel better and perhaps take a walk later.

They set off on their adventure to locate the boat tour across the river, and I rested for a little while and ate the gigantic orange I had purchased in Sant Agata. That seemed to help. I worked on emails and confirmed my airline reservation for tomorrow. Fred had successfully upgraded me to first class, which I kept telling him was unnecessary, but he was so sweet to think of my comfort.

After my relaxation time, I decided to chat with the owner of Caesar House. Simone tole me that she and her sister, Julie, are the owners. She communicates very well in English, so I enjoyed our visiting time. Previously one large apartment, they purchased the Caesar House in 2002. She said that they performed a tremendous amount of renovating and redecoration, wanting to create a tasteful, yet simple ambience. They were highly successful in doing so.

Simone believes that at some time in the past, it may have been a small hotel, but was then converted to a private apartment. She and her sister shared the vision to once again turn it into a six bedroom hotel. It is quaint and offers very personal service. Rosanna and Summy were quite helpful, and Rosanna's enthusiasm for her job brightly shines through.

With the free Internet usage on their guest computer, the breakfast delivered each morning, and the proximity to major points of interest, we highly recommend this intimate hotel. We met a couple who were staying there, and they indicated that this was their home away from home every time they visit Rome. We could easily see why.

After visiting with Simone, I felt like taking a walk. I started out trekking toward the Coliseum (or Colloseo in Italian) and ate some bruschetta and drank iced tea at the Gran Caffee Rossi Martini, where we had enjoyed lunch a few days ago. This was located next to the gift shop where the gentleman had written his life story and wondered if I could translate it from Italian to English. Sorry!

Under the restaurant's canopy, there were misters in operation. It was a very hot day, and I wanted to linger there under the mist. When I was ready to move on, I walked to San Giovanni Laterano and straight to La Scala Sancta (the Holy Steps) again. This time I managed to ascend three steps before I thought my knees would crack, said a few more prayers, and just knelt in awe of having the opportunity to hover over the steps that Jesus had walked. Saying that it was an amazing experience is truly an understatement.

There was a vendor positioned a short distance from the building that housed the Holy Steps, and he had some cute tote bags for sale. This was my last day to shop, so I bought one for each of my Cape May girlfriends. This vendor was willing to negotiate, and I took full advantage of that.

I worked my way back to our hotel on Via Cavour and stretched out on the bed to catch up on my journal writing. Sharon, Laura and Marianne returned very shortly thereafter, having decided against the boat trip once they were at the river. During their adventurous walk, however, they found themselves crossing a street with almost no traffic. Just as they arrived at the center of the roadway, out of nowhere came multiple lanes of traffic straight at them. They only had a split second to decide whether to run back in the opposite direction, stay put, or try to dodge cars and dart across. They held their position until they could safely dash across the remaining section of road. They momentarily thought that they were going to be killed by tiny cars, taxis, scooters and little trucks on their last full day in Rome, but eventually they managed to make it to the other side. They were safe, but shaken.

Their walk was not unsuccessful, however, because they found more shoe stores! It's probably just as well that I wasn't with them or I would have likely ended up with more shoe purchases. We all ended up taking a little snooze, and Sharon and I decided to go back to the store, Il Tesoros, where we found great prices on some items yesterday (shoes).

We showered, dressed and set out to locate a place for our last dinner in Rome. We didn't want to go too far away because we have just about worn out the bottoms of our feet from walking all over Italy. Luckily, we found a little cafe just around the corner called Ristorante Cleto, which we all agreed was perfect.

I'm a somewhat picky eater--always have been--and before leaving the United States I had wondered what my dining experiences would be. I pretty much stuck with things that I recognized throughout the trip. I sampled lots of bruschetta, mixed salads, veal dishes, and a few margherita pizzas, lasagna once, and spaghetti a couple of times. I had no difficulty finding appealing meals to devour!

After our dinner, we weren't really ready to call it a night. We walked back by our hotel and continued to another cafe where we shared a bottle of wine, and I ordered a lemon sorbet, which once again seemed to make my tummy feel better. The pain had subsided, but it still felt uneasy and slightly uncomfortable. We toasted one last time to our friendship and to our wonderful Italian adventure. We thought about all of the scarves, shoes, handbags and tote bags we have purchased. Quite a collection to behold! I'm looking forward to accenting some of my outfits at home with these lovely scarves, and we now understand why Italy is renowned in the fashion world.

We ventured back to Caesar House to pack and prepare for tomorrow's early morning trip to the airport. We actually settled our bills with Summy tonight so we'd already have that detail behind us. The time has gone so quickly, but we are all ready to plant our new Italian shoes on American soil and throw our arms around those husbands of ours.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Holy Steps

Sunday, May 29, 2011:

We thoroughly enjoyed our usual breakfast supplied by Caesar House this morning, and then we set out on a long, long walk to locate the Holy Steps. I had downloaded a Rome guidebook to my Nook and had been astonished to read about this special place to visit that is nowhere near the Vatican area. Many people have never even heard of it.

The reported history about the Holy Steps is that they are supposed to be the actual steps that Jesus walked to stand before Pontius Pilate. The twenty-eight steps are referred to under a variety of different names such as: the Holy Steps, the Holy Staircase and La Scala Sancta. The story is told that Saint Helena, mother of Constantine, had the steps brought over from Jerusalem in 334, and they are obviously considered to be most sacred.

In order to find the Holy Steps, we walked to the Coliseum, turned onto S. Giovanni Laterano, and continued in that direction until we saw a huge church. This church is the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. Directly across the street from the church was a building that was quite understated on the outside, but contained the revered set of steps on the inside. This building is a part of the old Lateran Palace. There was also a smaller church on the second floor, accessible by an unremarkable second set of stairs. This is a photo of the building that houses the Holy Steps.

Walking on these steps is prohibited. There is only one way to ascend them--on your knees. A sign indicates that silence is requested, as people are praying. There is also another sign that explains the complete history of the steps. Covered with wood to protect the actual white marble surface of the original steps beneath, one can still easily see those steps below the wood. One problem is that the knees protest as soon as you kneel on the first step. Actually, my bony knees were screaming. I suppose you could wear knee pads, but I believe that would defeat the purpose. Considering the sacrifice and agony that Jesus suffered for us, a little bit of knee pain for a short time is certainly tolerable!

What I found most challenging was maneuvering from one step to the next on my knees. These are not narrow steps, but I wisely positioned myself by the handrail so I could use it to awkwardly help pull myself to the next level. This will sound rather wimpy, but I was only able to travel two steps. I offered prayers, said a special one for Liz and spent a few minutes in reflection and in awe of being present on these sacred steps. I thought about the countless numbers of Christians who have made a pilgrimage to these very steps and asked Laura to take a photo with my camera. I wanted to always remember this moment. This was such a moving and spiritual event for me, I wanted to be able to recall every detail.

We ascended the second set of steps to the small sanctuary where Mass was being held in Italian. We sat in the back of the church for a few minutes, but we had no idea what was being said, and there wasn't a hint of air movement, so it became stifling. We decided to move along, but I was still in complete awe as we descended the regular stairs and saw people continuing to gather on their knees in prayer on the Holy Steps. This will be at the top of my list of most memorable experiences of my life!

Setting off to locate the nearest Metro station, we wanted to find our way back to some of the shops we had passed yesterday when we didn't have the time to explore them. We exited the Metro at Ottaviano and found that many of the stores are not open on Sunday--even in the afternoon. Craving pizza, we stopped for lunch at an outdoor cafe, Il Ciociaro Ristorante, and then discovered that they didn't serve pizza until dinner time. Really????? I ordered a salad and thought it would be a good idea to offset it with some roasted potatoes. Laura and Marianne had ordered risotto and seafood, but the "seafood" turned out to be octopus, which they managed to transfer to the sides of their plates and avoid.

To our delight, we did eventually find a few open stores. In one clothing store, Sharon and I were looking at a particularly attractive top. The male store clerk was standing nearby, closely watching us. Sharon asked him, "What size is this?" He replied, "One size fits all." She frowned and said, "Oh. Do they seem a little small?" He said, "Yes. They for YOUNG girls!" Sharon responded, "Alrighty." She then promptly walked out of the store. When I caught up with her outside, we were talking about the store clerk's lack of tact during the exchange. We laughed when Sharon said, "He should have left it at 'they run a little small.'"

Returning via the Metro to our hotel for a little rest, Marianne and Laura ended up going back out for a walk and returned with new shoes. Heaven forbid that Sharon and I should miss out on seeing a great shoe store! We needed to check out all of the available choices. So off we went to locate the store, in which we did manage to leave a few Euro. You have to love these shoes!

Back at the hotel once again, I checked email and then we chose Le Tavernelle Roma for dinner. The spaghetti was delicious and huge in circumference. We weren't worried about the good food causing us to gain weight, as we have been walking many miles every single day. It's the ONLY way to truly absorb the culture. As a matter of fact, we have done so much walking--including many, many stairs--we feel as though we have new and protruding calf muscles. We are certain that the walking has more than offset the intake of calories, as not one of us is feeling that our clothing is snug.

The prevalence of so many stairs to climb in Rome has made us wonder how on earth the elderly folks or those with compromised knees could have made this journey and been able to see and do everything that we have enjoyed. Sharon's favorite sandals were almost a casualty of the constant walking, as one evening just as we approached our hotel, the strap on one of her sandals completely broke. She retrieved her little emergency sewing kit and performed an impressive leather repair. So far, so good.

Tomorrow is our last full day in Rome, and we are all beginning to admit that we miss our husbands. This has been a long stretch of time to be separated from them. Fred and I are accustomed to our independent lives for a few days at a time due to his travel for work, but we've never been apart for this length of time. We all wish that our guys were here in this amazing city with us. I don't know how Marianne's husband would feel about all of this, but Sharon, Laura and I know that unless there was a golf course involved, our husbands would be suffering from very short attention spans on this trip. With all of the shopping and sightseeing in which we have participated, they would be distressed due to serious withdrawal from their drivers and putters. Perhaps it is just as well that we are simply 4 women who love 2 travel!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica

9/11 Remembrance: I am actually entering this post on 9/11/11 and must take a moment to honor those who were victims of 9/11/01, whether they were workers in office buildings or firefighters who were bravely attempting to save them. A special and heartfelt thank you to those who continue to work diligently and tirelessly to do everything possible to keep the people of our great country safe from evil. We owe you.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Summy brought our breakfast at 8:30 a.m., and we opted for languishing in relaxation mode this morning, which meant writing in my journal and answering some emails. As I catch up on the journal writing, I already have regrets about one aspect that I neglected to fully capture during this trip. I wish I had taken a photo of every meal we have eaten, preserved a description of exactly what our food selections were (including the wine details) and the name and address of each location where we dined. It is so easy to become caught up in the experience, that it makes it difficult to remember to stop and take a moment to jot down and/or photograph those important bits of information. I have included several restaurant names in my blog, but not so much about the food, wine, ambience and other particulars of the wonderful dining experiences.

Most of my food comments revolved around everything being "delicious," but that isn't very helpful to people who might be planning a trip to Italy! If I am ever fortunate enough to chronicle another fabulous European trip, I would be certain to include more information in this area. Marianne and Laura photographed their breakfast tray at Caesar House one morning, so at least I can share this.

Our adventures of the day began with a subway ride on the Roman Metro (Metropolitana) to an area across from the Vatican Museums, our designated location for meeting the Angel Tour guide. We weren't exactly certain what to expect from Rome's subway system, but we found it to be inexpensive (1 Euro), the stops easy to understand and recognize and very clean. There are two lines on this Metro system--the Red Line (A) from Battistini Terminal to Anagnina Terminal and the Blue Line (B) from Laurentina Terminal to Rebibbia Terminal. One vital piece of information you need to acquire in advance is which line your destination happens to be situated on and at which stop you need to exit. Armed with these clues, we managed remarkably well!

Killing time before our tour, we window shopped, ate lunch at another outdoor cafe and were approached by sneaky handbag vendors who were trying to avoid the police. They would hide behind or between vehicles and then approach the dining tourists when the coast was clear. They weren't very open to negotiation on the prices, however. Laura tried her best to bargain with one, and he wasn't having any of it. He just wanted to hurriedly conduct his business and move on so he could evade the police officers who were nearby. We saw one policeman literally chasing one of the vendors on an adjacent street. It reminded us of buying merchandise from the cage-front New York City Canal Street shops that suddenly close when the police are in the vicinity. Instead of working in actual stores, these merchants are carrying as many handbags as they can drape up and down their arms and alternate selling their wares with spontaneous games of hide and seek.

We met our guide Joanna, and in our group were couples from London and Long Island, New York. In the locations we are touring today, there is a specific dress code for women. Shoulders are to be covered and knees are not supposed to be visible. We knew this in advance due to Marianne's thorough research, so we were prepared. First on the agenda was the visitor-accessible parts of the Vatican.

We were told that the Vatican was established as a separate state and has its own post office and zip code. It also has its own police, diplomatic corps and army, which includes Swiss Guards. These Guards wear colorful uniforms, which are said to have been designed by Michelangelo and have remained the same for five centuries.

Joanna was a sweet, personable guide who really knew her subject backwards and forwards, inside and out. She was easy to understand and gave us so many tidbits of information that we wouldn't have otherwise discovered on our own, so we were thankful that Marianne had found Angel Tours during her advance investigation. This was a 3 1/2 hour tour beginning at 1:00 p.m., and I have to tell you that trying to take it all in was somewhat overwhelming. The Vatican Museums contained such amazingly detailed artwork and sculptures that I could visualize returning here someday just to absorb it all...slowly, deliberately. It's difficult to walk along, craning your neck to view the intricacies of these elevated, venerable works of ceiling art and not become dizzy--or perhaps that's just me. Some would say that I was already dizzy before I arrived in Italy.

In the Sala Rotonda, we saw, in the center of the room, what is reported to have been Emperor Nero's enormous, ornate bathtub.

We were taken to St. Peter's Square, the Pope's audience area, and although there were only a few tourists wandering about, it is easy to imagine the multitudes that would be present if the Pope was appearing today.

We moved on to the Sistine Chapel, where we learned a great deal about Michelangelo's works in general and then heard about his famous art in the Chapel. The collection began with a team of famous painters who were commissioned to create the twelve frescoed panels depicting the lives of Moses (left) and Christ (right) and were completed in 1482.

The ceiling was originally painted as a blue sky with golden stars before a reluctant Michelangelo was given the task of painting the Chapel ceiling, which he worked on from 1508 through 1512. He considered himself to be more of a sculptor than a painter and was resistant to undertake the Sistine Chapel job. He did comply, however, and this venue contains his famous work, The Creation of Adam, among many other Biblical scenes. He was in his sixties when he painted The Last Judgment (1535-1541) on the altar wall. The detail in these works in mind boggling and almost overpowering. It is difficult to imagine an individual tediously and meticulously painting all of these scenes.

Our last stop was St Peter's Basilica, which took more than one hundred fifty years to build. Its dome was created by Michelangelo and can be seen from most every location in Rome. Once inside, this site seriously felt like a genuinely holy, sacred place--likely because St. Peter was martyred and the Apostles buried here. We all shared a moment of silence and said a very special prayer for our friend, Liz. She would love being in this church with its historical Christian depth. The structure is enormous, and looking up at the ceiling makes one feel almost lightheaded. As I turned and saw the rays of sunlight illuminating the room, I knew that this would be a scene that would remain with me for many years to come.

We stayed in the same vicinity for dinner, choosing Il Papalino for our incredible dining adventure. Because patrons are encouraged to linger, we were there until 8:50 p.m., at which time we discovered that the subway system stops running at 9:00 p.m. No problem. We knew we could just call for a taxi. Our waiter was unable to reach a cab for us and suggested that we take the bus. We found out which bus we would need (#40) to weave our way back to Via Cavour and our comfortable hotel, and we had no trouble locating the bus stop. With virtually no waiting, there was bus #40--just as big as an elephant right before our eyes. This was pretty easy! There was just one minor problem though. They won't sell you a ticket after you get on the bus, so we had to find a ticket machine. There happened to be one very close by, so we dashed over to it so we could quickly buy our little tickets and be on our way.

Unfortunately, nothing is quite so easy. Our first issue was that all of the directions for purchasing a ticket were shown in Italian. The bus driver looked over at us and could easily see that having tickets in our possession was not going to happen any time soon, so off he drove. Great! How long would we have to wait for the next bus if we ever figured out how this machine works? Laura was able to decipher how to buy a ticket, discovering that they were 1 Euro each. We all had 1 Euro coins except Marianne, whose only coin was 20 cents. We began to scramble and dig in our handbags to come up with enough coins to reach 1 Euro and buy her ticket. We kept feeding in all of the coins we could locate, and just when we thought we were almost successful, the machine rejected every coin we had inserted. They poured out like the payoff from a winning spin on a Las Vegas slot machine. Sharon and I couldn't restrain our laughter. One by one, Laura calmly and carefully reinserted the coins into the sensitive machine and finally--out popped the ticket!

Carefully grasping our tickets in hand, we were ready and eager to board the next bus to Palazzo Venezia. It was very dark, getting rather late, we were in completely unfamiliar territory, and we had once again been walking all afternoon and were totally fatigued. When the next bus arrived, Laura politely asked the driver if this bus was going to Palazzo Venezia, and because her pronunciation wasn't perfect Italian, at first he said, "No." Then he repeated it HIS way, which honestly didn't sound much different from Laura's version, so we knew we were on the right bus.

Our next challenge would be: how would we know when we reached our stop? Obviously, the obnoxious bus driver wasn't going to give us a hint. Laura began studiously reviewing her trusty map to see if we could find a landmark that would tip us off that we were close to Palazzo Venezia. A kind gentleman with an American accent took pity on us after observing our consternation and asked us what we were looking for. Laura told him, and he said that it was the very next stop. He also said, "Go ahead and step on up to the door to be ready to exit. The driver won't wait for you to get organized." He was Angel #2, sent to us at precisely the right time to help us. Thank you once again to God and to our faithful friends and family who are thinking of us and praying for our well being. They must know that we are occasionally in need of these angels!

Our evaluation of public transportation in Rome was: you either have to have a good sense of your bearings for riding the bus, or you need to get to the subway before it stops running at night. People perpetually walk in Rome. And when I tell you that there are a ton of stairs to climb, I am not exaggerating. Here are just two examples:

At this point, we were beyond ready to crawl into our beds and sleep well. Tomorrow will be a day that I've been looking forward to since I discovered in a Rome guidebook on my Nook a not so widely known site that I can hardly wait to locate. Our tour guide today wasn't even aware of it, but when I told her the history and details, she said she would definitely be going there tomorrow to check it out for herself. I know it will be amazing!!!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

When in Rome.......

Friday, May 27, 2011:

Our hotel, Caesar House, is incredibly charming in a bed and breakfast sort of fashion. Attached to a chain that hangs on our door is a leather packet containing a sheet where we are to indicate our choices for the breakfast to be delivered to our room. Last night we were so tired that we neglected to mark the time for delivery, and the packet was returned with an inquiry regarding our desired time. We designated 8:00 a.m. and quickly returned the packet to the outside of our door.

Sharon and I are sharing the room named Livia, while Laura and Marianne are in the space called Claudia. Standard fare on the list of breakfast choices are croissants and breads with jams, as well as other items such as yogurt, cereal, fruit, etc., and this is included in our room price. The mini-bar is also complimentary and is stocked with waters and sodas.

We had just finished showering, dressing and pulling ourselves together when a smiling young man named Summy knocked on our door to deliver breakfast. It turned out to be perfect timing.

Today's 9:00 a.m. tour was entitled Ancient Rome, and our guide was Hilde. She spoke in a very soothing tone and had a small microphone, so she could easily be heard and understood. She provided great information as we toured the Coliseum and surrounding ruins of historical note. Of significance to us were the general architecture and engineering during ancient times, hearing the history of Nero and other notables, how extravagantly they lived, how they were able to build such massive structures, the enormity of the Coliseum and monuments, the fact that they had developed rudimentary elevators, and that they had actually built a retractable covering for the entire opening at the top of the Coliseum to offer protection from the burning sun--their own version of a canopy. We were told that most of the women sat in the far upper areas of the Coliseum, as the sights were considered too gruesome for them to view from a closer vantage point.

The stone streets in the area of the Coliseum are original and have been preserved because the stones are actually huge boulders with tremendous depth. They appear to be smaller stones because we can only see the exposed surfaces. We wondered about the individuals who had walked these same streets back in the olden days--even before Christ was born.

Roman history tells us that the city originated on the Palatine Hill. It was a village with shepherds and farmers around 753 BC. Today, it is a hectic city, buzzing with taxis, scooters and small vehicles maneuvering along the narrow streets and bursting with an enormous volume of tourists and locals sharing the same sidewalks. With much to see and only a few days to spend here, the local tours that Marianne has booked for us through Angel Tours are worth every penny. They provided an excellent overview of many "must see" sights.

It requires some imagination to visualize Rome in its heyday, but multiple gargantuan columns and/or portions of columns still stand and provide a basis for the picture in our minds. Hilde explained that not only are these sites in ruin due to earthquakes and wars, but that the Romans themselves took materials from these locations for the purpose of creating buildings in other parts of Rome. For instance, many of the stones from the facade of the Coliseum were used in the construction of St. Peter's Basilica.

Walking by the Arch of Constantine and hearing that it was inaugurated in 315 AD brings to mind the complexity of comprehending the ages of these buildings and sites. I found it difficult to wrap my pea brain around viewing these architectural wonders which have managed to remain in place, many of which depict particular life events of ancient inhabitants. To think that we are seeing exactly what these people saw and walking where they walked is almost a supernatural sensation. It makes us realize that preserved sites in the United States that we consider old are actually brand spanking new by comparison.

One of my favorite acquisitions is a photo book entitled Rome and the Vatican, which tells us that the Pantheon was originally built by Marcus Agrippa in honor of Augustus a few years before the birth of Christ. Many famous artists are buried there, as well as notable Roman family members. Walking through the Pantheon and visually grasping everything would require far more time than we are allotted on the tour, and I can easily see why people would plan to spend a month or more in Rome to take it in slowly, carefully studying the history and soaking it all in.

The portico of the Pantheon is supported by huge columns of stone weighing 60 tons! Each column is thirty-nine feet tall and five feet in diameter. The stone was quarried in Egypt, brought to the Nile River on wooden sledges, barged to Alexandria, sent by ships across the Mediterranean to Ostia and finally brought to Rome via the Tiber River by barge. We felt like ants standing beside them.

The Forum is in the center of ancient Rome, where activities included religion, politics and commerce. One has to imagine the great orators of those times, standing there in their full length robes to announce their official communications to the public. The Curia, which was able to seat three hundred senators, those massive columns and remaining stone work actually deserve far more time and consideration than we are afforded on this trip.

Following the tour, we enjoyed lunch at a cafe directly across the street from the Coliseum. It was fabulous to sit for a while, as benches and other seating are rare unless you are willing to park your bottom on a dusty, dirty step. Even that isn't always a good idea because you would probably be sitting where people are trying to walk, something they might not appreciate. While we were waiting for our lunch orders to arrive, I took the opportunity to dash into an adjacent gift shop and purchase post cards for my adorable grandchildren, Gabriella, Alexandria and Nicholas. They used to love visiting a store named Ten Thousand Villages, where the merchandise was made in remote foreign lands, so I knew they would enjoy receiving cards from Italy and seeing the unfamiliar postage. Sharon had done the same for her grandchildren, Ella and Logan, when we were in Florence, so I already knew the ropes for obtaining the postage.

In the gift shop, I had an interesting conversation with the owner, who was selling copies of a book that he had published. It was his autobiography, and we chatted about the importance of preserving our stories. He asked me if I could translate his book into English, but unfortunately, speaking, writing and reading Italian are not skills that I possess or I would have loved to work with him.

After lunch, we spent the afternoon exploring the shops and also getting our bearings. Marianne found a beautiful dress and matching shawl, and Laura bought a gorgeous skirt. Prices were surprisingly reasonable. We were then trying to locate a restroom and resorted to an Italian Burger King. Laura and I sat for a few minutes, enjoyed beverages and passed the time while Marianne and Sharon stood in a very long line of both men and women who were waiting to use the one single unisex restroom. Just the thought prevented me from feeling the urge to go.

We had essentially walked all day long, and there are an excessive number of steps to navigate in Rome, so we retreated to Caesar House to relax for a little while. We are quite fond of this hotel, as it offers only six guest rooms, and the service is very personal. Rosanna is delightfully personable and eager to help us in any way. We met a nice couple from Ohio, who are staying in the room across from Sharon and me, and there is a lovely sitting room directly off the front desk area where people can use the guest computer, sit around and read or chat with other guests. Caesar House provides many local guide and travel books for the guests to borrow, as well as their personal recommendations relative to sightseeing and restaurants.

Choosing Iari Bar for dinner because it was directly around the corner from our hotel, we encountered yet another couple from Ohio. Is there anyone still remaining in Ohio? We have also noticed that, as in Florence and Sorrento, people leave their windows wide open with no screens--just breathing in the fresh air. There don't seem to be any insects present to dissuade this practice. We were surprised to also see this being done at office buildings where officials and politicians were at work. It is just so foreign to us because of the number of mosquitoes and other flying insects we encounter living in the eastern region of the United States. If we sat outdoors during the evening without the protection of a screened in area where we live, the insects would carry us away. Not so in the regions of Italy that we have visited.

Tomorrow we are scheduled for an afternoon tour of the Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, so we retired to our hotel after dinner, indicated our breakfast choices and time of delivery for tomorrow, placed the chained selection packet on the outside door knob and proceeded to sleep like bricks.

Monday, August 29, 2011

And so we came to Rome....again.....

Thursday, May 26, 2011:

Devouring the final breakfast at our favorite table in the corner of the dining room where we sat spellbound by the glorious view of Sorrento below and Naples in the distance, we prepared to say goodbye to the blue waters of the bay.

I used the guest computer to check email, packed my last minute items and we thought we would wait outside in the fresh air for our faithful driver, Ciro. He was already there ten minutes ahead of schedule. We found him seated at one of the outdoor tables in front of the hotel, and he jumped right up to transport our large suitcases to his taxi. We had thought that perhaps he would bring a larger vehicle, but that didn't happen. For a moment, it looked as though he wasn't going to be able to secure the back of the taxi, but with some squeezing, squishing and rearranging, he accomplished the daunting task. With collective sighs of relief, we were off to Pompeii.

The agreement had been that he would take us to Pompeii and wait for us while we toured the ruins. He would then deliver us to the Naples train station, where we would catch our train to Rome. He inquired as to whether we had already purchased our tickets to Rome, which we hadn't. He proposed to us that with the shipbuilding strikes creating uncertainty with the trains, did we want him to drive us all the way to Rome, which would mean that we wouldn't have to wait for a possibly delayed or canceled train and also this would eliminate our having to deal with our luggage collection numerous times? We discussed it and decided that it was worth the price when you consider the fare for the train ticket and then trying to catch a taxi or two from Termini station in Rome to our hotel. Actually, it was a bargain.

Ciro deposited us at the entrance to Pompeii, where we purchased our tour tickets and then also agreed to a guided tour for a small additional fee. For one brief moment, a peculiar feeling suddenly gripped me as I came to the realization that Ciro's vehicle contained all of our belongings. I almost felt a sense of panic. Could we trust him with everything we possessed in Italy? What was to prevent him from simply driving away in his little taxi with all of our personal effects? After discussing this as a group, the girls reminded me that: #1-we had his business card with all of his official information on it, including his cell phone number; #2-he would surely want to be paid and would likely prefer cash rather than our underwear, shoes, jammies, etc.; 3-after all, he did meet us promptly as prearranged and even dressed up in a nice jacket and special gray, shiny, stretchy looking pants. I would have to relax and cease worrying unnecessarily.

Pompeii is situated on a plateau of Vesuvian lava and overlooks the Sarno river valley. The oldest reports of its origin date back to the 6th century BC. Once again, this tour was just a fraction of the time one could take to explore these archaeological areas. The walking tour seemed like a whirlwind, but it was H...O...T outdoors while we were covering a substantially sizable territory.

One unforgettable display was called the Garden of the Fugitives. It is a large space which houses plaster casts of some of the victims from the 79 AD volcanic eruption. Giuseppe Fiorelli, director of the Pompeii digs from 1860 to 1875, used liquid plaster to pour into the cavity left in the bed of ashes by the decomposition of the victim's bodies. The plaster would solidify, reproducing the body's shape--an eerie sight to behold, and it was easy to ascertain that their arms were positioned in a manner which demonstrated futile attempts at protecting their heads from the spewing, hot lava.

It was interesting to see that so long ago, this culture actually had sliding doors, as was evidenced by the grooves in the rock. They also had running water with lead pipes. We walked through the ruins of brothels, viewed original mosaic tile floors and many ruins and remains from a zillion years ago.

I know--it's really rather creepy, isn't it?

Upon our initial exit from the ruins site, there were several police vehicles blocking the road. We were told that their presence was related to the protests regarding the strike of the shipbuilders.

Ciro had told us to meet him across the street when our tour was complete. There were numerous cafes in the vicinity, and as soon as we exited, we made a beeline to the first cafe directly across the street. Ciro was not there, but we were hot, thirsty and ready to sit down. Taking a walk to locate Ciro so he would know where we were, I spotted him at a different cafe just down the street. I told him where we were seated, and he strolled over to meet us. We asked him if he'd like to join us for lunch, and he briefly sat at our table. We quickly sensed that he felt uncomfortable for some reason. As hot as it was outdoors, he insisted on wearing his jacket while sitting with us. We protested and said, "No! Don't put your jacket on--it's too hot!"

In his broken English, he explained that he wanted to wear his jacket to cover up the tattoos on his arms. Laura said, "It's okay--I have one, too!" We believe that he had wanted us to eat at a different location where he had familiar connections, but he really hadn't initially made that clear to us. We had just headed for the first available cafe that offered shade and refreshments.

Ciro sat with us for a very short time and then returned to the cafe where his friends were located. We waved at him as we walked past on our way to his taxi. The vehicle was parked exactly where we had left it, along the side of the narrow road, and our belongings were undisturbed. Ciro quickly joined us, waving goodbye to his friends. As he turned the ignition key, we heard an unsettling grinding noise. After several unsuccessful attempts to start the vehicle, he said that he must have left the flashers on too long and that had drained the battery. At least that was what we think he said. We were beginning to feel uneasy about the possibility of missing our 6:00 tour in Rome. Did Pompeii have AAA?

Our angel driver jumped out of the taxi and ran back across the street to the cafe where his friends were seated. Within single digit minutes, they juggled a vehicle next to our taxi and used jumper cables to start the car. It was actually an older grandma-type lady who had accomplished the jump. We all loudly clapped and cheered for our efficient rescuers!

As we began our ride to Rome, we were completely exhausted and each one of us slept at one point or another. It began to rain, but Ciro was doing an excellent job of navigating through the heavy traffic and along the wet roads. I seriously believe that I completely passed out as soon as we were on our way. I would wake up periodically and see the traffic and rainy conditions and then promptly nod right back into dreamland.

Parking across the street from our Roman hotel, Caesar House, there was momentary confusion because the sign on the building actually said La Belle Hotel. Caesar House is located on one floor of the building on Via Cavour, and is actually a boutique-type hotel--almost like a bed and breakfast--within walking distance of many important historic sites. Ciro had gone the extra mile and had run over to the hotel first to confirm that this was the correct location.

He then dodged relentless traffic several times to transport our luggage over to the hotel for us, and it was quite an ordeal. He made sure that we had removed all of our belongings, thanked us for our payment, and was on his way. As previously mentioned, Ciro was truly our angel, as his initial appearance at the train station in Naples paved the way for saving us a tremendous hassle throughout this entire leg of the trip. He was polite, honest and dependable, and if anyone is ever traveling to that region and wants a driver, I'll be overjoyed to share his contact information with you.

Our building's elevator was one of those small, antique-like lifts that you see in the movies. It would require several trips with only one or two people able to fit in the elevator to bring everything we owned up to the second floor. On a severely tight schedule since we had already prepaid for the 6:00 p.m. Heart of Rome tour, we rushed to freshen up and regroup. We were to meet our guide from Angel Tours, as signified by a tan umbrella with angels all over it, at the foot of the Spanish Steps.

After our peaceful days in Serene Sorrento, Rome seemed like sensory overload with the tons of vehicles and people everywhere. We located our guide, swift-footed Ben, and followed him for two hours along the trail of the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, etc. etc. Also on our tour were a mother and daughter from Ohio. The daughter had just graduated from college, and this trip was a gift from her mom. How fabulous that this mother and daughter could share these memories! The problem with us, however, was that we were extremely hungry and tired. Although Ben was knowledgeable and a very nice young man from Wales, we were not in the greatest of shape to fully appreciate the walking tour. Toward the end of the two hours, Sharon said, "I can't hear what Ben is saying, and I don't care!"

Ben suggested that we might want to walk across the bridge to locate one of the several good restaurants for dinner. We crossed the bridge over the Tiber River when it was nearly dusk and came upon Antica Osteria Rugantino. At first, we were seated outdoors next to tourists from South Dakota, but it was incredibly hot, noisy and crowded. We asked to be seated indoors where it was cool and quiet. The hostess/manager was from Missouri and told us that she loved living her life in Rome. Dinner was reasonably priced and delicious, though we were so hungry at that point, we could have eaten anything presented to us--including the table cloth.

Before the evening was over, Sharon and I both bought small, stylish, rolling semi-duffle style bags in order to rearrange our suitcases, lighten the loads and transport our Italian treasures. The cost was 20 Euro each, and we were proud to have negotiated that price. As in Florence, if one displayed an interest and then walked away, the price magically descended. Laura had already purchased an extra bag for her acquisitions in Florence, and although another piece of luggage is the last thing I need to be storing in our garage with all of the others we have collected, it would absolutely lighten the weight of my large suitcase and be easy to pull both pieces.

After dinner, it was getting late and dark so we took a cab back to our hotel instead of walking around late at night in unfamiliar Roman territory. We still had unpacking to do and needed to get settled in our rooms. We were all ready for a great night's sleep, as we had covered substantial ground today. Tomorrow will begin with breakfast to be delivered to our rooms and then we'll be off for a 9:00 a.m. tour.
Crossing the Tiber River at dusk

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Basking in Serene Sorrento!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011:

The buffet breakfast at the hotel is wonderful because it takes all of the guesswork out of "what's for breakfast and where are we going to go to find food?" The cuisine does not make us feel lethargic and overstuffed. We eat just enough to provide fuel until lunchtime.

During our travels across Italy, we frequently noticed laundry hanging outdoors on clotheslines that could be accessed from the residents' windows. Sharon, who was the smart one in packing far more lightly than the rest of us, needed to do some laundry also. Since she had no clothesline, she improvised in a brilliantly resourceful manner!

In the late morning, we hopped onto the city bus to hang out in Sorrento for the day. The narrow side streets of the town are lined with shops and cafes, and the pace is unhurried but filled with anticipation as we attempt to explore each and every store. We didn't want to leave Sorrento thinking that we may have missed something exceptional. There are also stores specializing in gigantic produce, particularly lemons. This photo demonstrates the actual size of a lemon held in Marianne's hand. The store owner was not pleased that we were handling the produce merely for the sake of a photo shoot and didn't hesitate to let us know.

Sorrento offered shops with quality leather goods, and any leather item that Laura hadn't purchased in Florence, she made up for in Sorrento. Regarding the number of leather items she had already collected during the trip, she remarked, "I think I have bought the equivalent of an entire cow!" Before returning to the United States, we intend to count every scarf, handbag and pair of shoes that this group has acquired.

On occasion when we might be undecided about buying a particular item, Laura's answer was, "Are you going to be back here again?" As a matter of fact, I made a list of what I call "Laura's Logic" with regard to shopping in Europe:
  • Do not convert into American dollars. It might be discouraging.
  • Put a portion of the cost of the item on your credit card, and pay a portion in cash. That way it won't seem so staggering when the credit card bill arrives upon your return to the real world.
  • You only go this way once.
  • No regrets! Never experience buyer's remorse.
  • If it's an item you'd never find in the United States, go for it!
Don't you just love her rationale? I know I do!

We considered going to visit Pompeii today, but we would need to take a local train and there is a shipbuilding strike that is creating a negative impact on the local train system. We'll wait until tomorrow for that tour.

Lunch was delicious at L'Abate. We walked around Sorrento for the better part of the afternoon and encountered a store named "Gabriella." I definitely needed to stop and take a photo of this store to show my oldest granddaughter, Gabriella, that this store must have been named after her. Becoming slightly weary from the hours of walking, we decided to take a tour on the "City Train." It wasn't that we felt that we necessarily needed a tour, but we had walked all day and it felt wonderful to be sitting and seeing the sights at the same time.

Our hotel shuttle arrived at 7:00 p.m., and we were ready to bring the shopping day to an end. At the hotel, we prepared to go to dinner at a nearby restaurant that was within brief walking distance. This was our strangest almost-dining experience. When we arrived, the host seemed rather reluctant to seat us, but finally ushered us to an inside table. The dining room was filled with elderly folks from who knows where. It appeared that they might be having some type of family style dinner. The room was extremely noisy with chatter, so we asked if we could be seated outdoors where there was a balcony area with tables. Acquiescing to set us up outside with a table cloth, place settings, wine glasses and napkins, we sighed with relief as we took our respective seats.

We were immediately skeptical when Sharon's wine glass was grimy dirty, and as we reviewed the menu, it contained many weird items with unappetizing descriptions. Mutually agreeing not to stay here, we quietly stood up. I said, "I guess we should bring the menus inside with us." Marianne said, "Should we bring our dishes in, too?" Laura said, "No!"

I gathered and carried the menus, and we tried to discreetly slither through the crowded dining room. No one even looked at us or asked us where we were going. Sharon was walking behind me and said, "Just keep walking....drop the menus..." I deposited them on the last table we encountered as we made our speedy exit.

We walked back to our hotel and opted to have dinner there, where the dining area was filled with German tourists. Once we were back in our rooms and enjoying the fresh evening air from the spectacular vantage point of our balconies, we could hear the sounds of the German band with the "oom pah pah" music drifting up to us from the lounge below.

Sharon and I marched over to Laura and Marianne's balcony in order to participate in a scarf tying demonstration with Laura as the scarf stylist and Marianne as the model. I actually wrote the detailed steps so I would be able to recreate Laura's methods. I hope I can follow these directions once I am home and the atmosphere of breathtaking Italy is merely a faint memory. Following the scarf tying lessons, we all once again began the packing process. We needed to rearrange our personal effects, which was a challenge due to our new acquisitions.

We reviewed our thoughts about Sorrento, Sant' Agata, Capri and Positano:
  • It was interesting that open burning is permitted. Because we kept our balcony doors open when we were in our rooms, we could periodically smell the odor of burning. It wasn't disgusting or unbearable, but just odd.
  • "Cockadoodle do!" Roosters woke us up bright and early every morning.
  • Dogs and cats roamed everywhere completely unrestrained. No leash laws here! We often heard dogs barking in the distance at night, but it didn't keep us awake.
  • We loved the amazing view of Naples and Sorrento from the Grand Hotel Due Golfi, and particularly from our balconies.
  • This location was a welcome combination of tranquil, scenic, and peaceful after a busy and heavily populated Florence.
  • Piazza Tasso, Sorrento's main square, was a lovely location for dining, shopping and people watching.
  • This leg of our trip has been especially relaxing and pleasant.
  • We did find that some sales people in stores were not inclined to be overly helpful. For example, in one store I saw a pair of shoes on display, but couldn't locate them in the supply on hand that was available to sort though. As I sifted through the boxes to attempt to find them, a rather rude female clerk barged her way in and said, "I'm working here." A few minutes later after exhausting all possibilities from my own search, I asked her nicely, "Where would I find these shoes?" Her curt response was, "In the box." I looked all over that store and was unable to find those shoes in any boxes. This girl was not big on customer service.
  • It reminded me of the Internet store in Florence. I overheard someone complaining to the clerk about lack of information. He said, "Why didn't you tell me that when I was here before?" She replied, "You didn't ask." Several clerks were similarly chilly. They would not volunteer information, and if you didn't know the exact question to ask, you were out of luck and would not be the recipient of their words of wisdom. We found this to be a surprise because we assume that they welcome tourism and enjoy the benefits of our hard earned money. I suppose you run into grouchy people in any setting!
  • There were many exceptions to this, and one was Giuseppe, our tour guide in Capri. He was very explicit in his directions to us and also very organized. He knew he was dealing with disoriented tourists and made every effort to be as helpful as possible.
  • The desk clerks at our Grand Hotel Due Golfi were as informative as they could be in dealing with four American women who initially looked like lost puppies until we gained some working knowledge of the area and a vague concept of the lay of the land.
  • We were amazed at the beauty of the walled town of Sorrento with its gazillion steps that one has to walk in order to reach the harbor. This photo clearly shows the steps we traversed.
  • As we wandered the narrow streets and alleyways of Sorrento, we couldn't help being impressed with the tastefully landscaped terraces that hovered overhead. These residents perform magic with their flowers and foliage arrangements in spite of being restricted by limited space.
  • Our overall evaluation of this location is that it is truly an artist's or photographer's dream to visit here. Marianne and Laura suggested that this would be an ideal place to rent a villa and spend a month touring the spectacular nooks and crannies that this region offers.
Tomorrow will be the big day for our trip to Rome via Pompeii. Ciro, our driver, has been contacted and will be picking us up bright and early at 9:00 a.m. If we weren't so looking forward to exploring Rome, it would be difficult to say goodbye to Serene Sorrento!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Having the Time of our Lives in Sorrento

Tuesday, May 24, 2011:

Since we have had a string of days stuffed full of activity, we chose to relax by the pool this morning and simply chill. The pool area was lovely with comfortable lounges, and we spent our "down time" reading books, magazines, Kindles, Nooks, and listening to our iPods. We were the only guests at the pool, so we felt as though we had our own private recreation area. I found it to be so peaceful to lie back and allow the music from my iPod to flow through my ears and seep into my brain. I had downloaded some Italian selections by Josh Groban, so I enjoyed soaking in the melodies with Italian lyrics that resonated so perfectly with the surroundings.

With the arrival of a few clouds and a brief sprinkling of rain, Marianne and I walked to the little grocery store in Sant' Agata. A short time later, we all took another walk, turning right at the end of the road in Sant' Agata and exploring an area that we had missed during our initial venture into town. We located an adorable restaurant where we enjoyed another outdoor dining experience for lunch. The bruschetta was delicious with toasted bread that tasted as though it had been generously buttered. Yum. We walked all along the residential streets of hilly Sant' Agata, became momentarily disoriented, but spotted our hotel way off in the distance and managed to wind our way back into familiar territory so we could find the main road that would lead us back to the hotel.

After a quick stop at the Grand Hotel Due Golfi, we took the shuttle into Sorrento, where we shopped all afternoon until dinner. It was so difficult to make purchasing decisions because of the great unknown. How many potential treasures are awaiting us during our upcoming shopping days in Rome? We did, however, buy more scarves and ate dinner at Syrenuse in the square. This restaurant is next door to the steps leading down to Daniele's, the karaoke location for tonight. Just as we finished dinner, our new Australian friends, Scott, Julie, Peter and Sandy, arrived and sat at the table next to ours. We all chatted for a while and then walked down to Daniele's. At first, we were practically the only people in the establishment, and we wondered if we would be singing to entertain only ourselves for the evening. Shortly thereafter, the people began to wander in and the room began to fill. Since we had arrived so early, we had captured prime seating right in the vicinity of the stage and microphone.

We girls performed "Dancing Queen," "I Feel Like a Woman," and during "New York-New York" we were joined by Scott. He was right there with us every step of the way for the kick line. Marianne, Sharon and Laura also sang "Mustang Sally." The unfortunate aspect of karaoke is that the participants cannot choose the key in which the song is played. Consequently, unless the song is recorded in a key that is within your comfort zone, reaching some of the notes can be a mighty painful stretch. (Painful for the audience, that is.)

There was a gigantic pole in the center of the room, and we girls had been eyeing it all evening. We knew we couldn't leave until we posed for a photo with us surrounding that silly pole. It was just one of those photo ops that is difficult to pass up.

We all spent the entire evening singing our little hearts out with everyone in the place. The owner or manager of Daniele's sang a few numbers and really had a very nice voice. When he sang "I Had the Time of My Life" from Dirty Dancing as a duet with one of the customers, it was extremely entertaining. We couldn't stop laughing when the girl dashed to the other side of the room and then ran full blast toward the male singer, jumping into his arms just as Baby (Jennifer Grey) had done with Johnny (Patrick Swayze) in the beloved movie. We were especially tickled by the fact that the guy was so tiny and she was a fairly stocky gal. We really thought she was going to knock him over!

A group of approximately ten or so young women from....well, I'm not sure where.....came in and sang some songs in a foreign language, so that was our cue to leave. If we couldn't join in the singing, it was time to go. We said our goodbyes to our Australian friends, who were absolutely delightful. We had exchanged email addresses and I promised to send the photos I had taken of them.

This was our latest night out in Italy up to this point. We ordinarily cram so much activity into the days, we are in bed reasonably early at night. We left Daniele's at 1:00 a.m., having called a driver who was recommended by our hotel. He was extremely prompt in retrieving us and bringing us up the winding road to our current home away from home. We were all exhausted from our performances of the evening, but it really was a hilarious and memorable time.

When I stop and think about the fabulous experiences we have enjoyed so far and the wonderful people from all corners of the world that we have met along the way, it seems more like a dream than reality. I am so blessed to have these friendships with my traveling companions and to have been able to accompany them to Italy. I know we will sleep like hibernating bears tonight, anticipating tomorrow's new adventures!

I'm closing this post with one final photo to commemorate the evening. Let it not be said that we failed to have an amazing time!!!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fascinating Day in Picturesque Positano

Monday, May 23, 2011:

We slept like corpses last night after the busy day in Capri and then capping off the evening with our dance fest with the French tourists. The breakfast buffet at the hotel greeted us this morning and consisted of scrambled eggs, some type of sausages that looked like miniature hot dogs (the girls said, "Think Charlie's Hot Dogs"), cereals, peaches, pineapple, freshly squeezed orange juice, a variety of coffee cakes, and croissants that were stored in a device which keeps them warm, tomatoes, salami, cheese, rolls and yogurt--something for everyone.

As we were told that the SITA bus stops directly across the street from our hotel, we waited and waited for it so we could go to Positano and perhaps on to Amalfi and/or Ravello. We chatted with a couple from Ontario, Canada, who were also awaiting the bus. We discussed packing tips, and these were the suggestions that they, as frequent world travelers, offered:

1) Buy the largest Ziploc bags you can find, fold and pack items in the bags, remove the air, and seal
2) Pack shoes around the perimeter of your suitcase, alternate waistbands and legs/shirts on either side, toiletries in center, and fold the clothing like an envelope over the toiletries
3) Buy used clothing for the trip and dispose of the items along the way. Your luggage load lightens each day and you make room for all of the treasures you will buy.

We thought these ideas were certainly interesting, with #3 being an unusual perspective.

One bus passed right by us, and every seat was full. People were also standing in the aisles, so we waited for the next bus--not that we had a choice since this bus didn't even stop. The Canadian couple chose to resort to Plan B and engage in an alternate activity for the day. We waited for quite some time, hoping that the next bus would contain fewer passengers. When it arrived, it stopped, but it was very crowded. A nice man motioned for us to enter a side door in the center of the bus. There were no seats available and very little standing room in the aisles, but if we hoped to see Positano some time today, we knew we should give this bus a shot. Sharon and Marianne ended up standing in the area on the steps where we entered the side of the bus. They were hanging on, but because they were at a lower level than everyone else, they had no air to breathe. I stood in the aisle, trying not to fall over as I braced myself by holding onto the seats next to me. There were two couples traveling together who seemed very nice. They said they were also going to Positano.

The curves in the road ranged from treacherous to actually frightening. The cliffs were a straight drop down, and the path was so narrow that when two buses met, it was a tight squeeze. It was difficult to keep our balance, but we didn't want to put our armpits in the faces of the people who were seated. At the very first stop in Positano, we quickly exited. We couldn't wait to get off of the bus, as we were all feeling rather queasy.

Positano is a vertical village with an approximate population of 4,000 residing on the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast. In 1343, the small fishing village was destroyed by a tsunami and the town has a history of being attacked by pirates during the 15th century. At first glance, it looks as though the pastel colored residences have been airbrushed onto the face of this enormous precipice.

We looked through a few shops on the upper level of the cliffs and then wound our way down, down, down to the village. We stumbled upon a charming restaurant, Max, and enjoyed a substantial lunch. We were seated in a small courtyard area, and there were two young American girls from NYC seated next to us. We witnessed and overheard the entitlement theory at its finest. Our delicious lunch was served on white plates, which were accompanied by brightly colored charger plates.

In many stores, we saw an interesting collection of stretchy rings placed on scarves and also some of the ring-decorated scarves attached to handbags. We bought some unusual striped wrap garments for 10 Euro that you can style different ways on your body. It should be interesting to see what we can do with those! I saw several people who have paired navy blue with green, and it looks very fresh and classy. It is giving me ideas for a nicely tailored navy blue sheath dress with a green scarf.

I also saw cute, delicate ribbons or tiny flowers attached to stacked bracelets. The Italians really know how to accessorize. Laura was wearing a similar bracelet one day that belonged to Marianne. It had an adorable ribbon tied to several bracelets, and it beautifully accented her outfit.

We saw one beach where people can actually stretch out on lounges for sunbathing, but it is very different from the beaches to which we are accustomed. The sand appears to be a dark gray mixture, but I guess it would be preferable to sitting on a jagged rock.

When we were exhausted from all of the walking and the hot sun, we waited on the appropriate corner in Positano for the return bus. It finally arrived, but to our disappointment, it wasn't the one we needed. There was a taxi driver with a van who was more than willing to take us back down the hills for a very hefty price, and as tempting as that was, we resisted the urge because he refused to negotiate. When our bus finally appeared, we were so relieved! The only problem was that it didn't take us to our hotel. It went directly to Sorrento. During the bus ride, there were two young girls and two young boys from California who were seated in close proximity to us. They were beyond obnoxious--very loud, just seeking attention. Laura finally asked them to lower the volume because they were disturbing everyone, and amazingly, they listened and complied.

We exited the bus in Sorrento and walked to the town square, where we enjoyed dinner at Fauno Bar. As we sat there eating and discussing the events of the day, we noticed the two couples who were on the bus to Positano with us. Seated at the table next to us, they asked how our day had been, as they remembered us as well. We visited with Peter, Sandy, Julie, and Scott from Australia for a while and discussed going to a place for karaoke tomorrow night.

Laura and Sharon wanted a photo of an attractive Italian young man for their daughters to drool over, so we were all trying to capture a photo of this striking guy on a bicycle. I got up and walked over, pretending to take a photo of a large pot of flowers, but managed to feature him in the shot. They used their zoom lenses to capture their photos, something I hadn't even thought about doing!

We caught the 9:30 p.m. shuttle back to the hotel and called it a day. I ran downstairs to the guest computer to catch up on some emails before bed.

One thing we all agreed upon was that we couldn't have spent another minute in that bus to Positano, and there was no way we were going to go even further on that road to Amalfi and then possibly Ravello. Perhaps if we had started earlier in the morning before the buses were so crowded, it might have been easier to deal with the curvy road from a seated position. I kept remembering that my friend, Gail, actually drove these roads when she toured Italy! I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that this is one scary path--I shouldn't even call it a road. A boat to Amalfi might have been a more viable option!

Something that surprised us was seeing cactus growing on Positano. We expect this in New Mexico or Arizona, but were definitely amazed to see it in Italy.

At the end of this day, we were all dragging. There would be no dancing tonight, as we left all of our energy on the cliffs of Positano! The photo below is the doorway of a private home that we passed on our walk from the upper level of Positano to the village below. I can't imagine living on the side of a cliff and waking each day to the spectacular view that these property owners enjoy!