Friday, November 25, 2011

Heading North - Rome, Reggio Emelia and Courmayeur

Our last morning together we drove Walt and Honoree
over to the Navy Supply Base to pick up their rental car.

Our great friends, Carlo on the left and Charlotte on the

The living room in their new apartment in Rome
We had a wonderful dinner with them at home

We had such an amazing time with our good buddies Walt and Honoree. It was hard to say good bye. But they were headed south to Sicily and we north to Paris. Our first stop was to visit old friends Carlo and Charlotte in Rome. Charlotte was my best friend growing up and lived almost next door to me. She did a semester abroad in Italy and fell in love, with the language and people. She and Carlo are Opera singers, soprano and tenor. She also teaches English, writes sub titles for movies, and tutors. He is now a Professor. When I received an early retirement from Verizon 16 years ago I took our two youngest sons to Italy for the summer. We rented an apartment in Rome and on the beach nearby. It was a magical time.
So we decided early we wouldn't spend much time in Rome but of course stopped to visit them. They took us out to lunch at Nino's near their old apartment in Via Merulana. It's a fantastic place and if you're going with them, Nino's a great friend, the food never stops coming. Carlo always thinks of one more dish you must try. I'll try to list as many as I can remember now, all on separate plates!; fresh mozzerella, parmigiana, cured swordfish, seafood salad, bruschetta, prosciutto, baby artichokes, roasted peppers, grilled prawns, fried calamari, whole baked fish, artichoke raviolis in brown sage butter, orecchiette and broccoli rabe, eggplant parmesano Neapolitan type pastries, coffee and liquors. There was more, but I can't recall everything. We pigged out, totally. The food was fabulous.
We did some walking that afternoon and in the evening Carlo cooked us a "light" meal at home. They have moved to a lovely new apartment since we last saw them with balconies overlooking a park. After coffee and pastries at a local cafe the next morning we had to continue north, sorry we had such a short visit.
Enticing doorways beckoned as we walked
down the shop lined main street, the Roman
Via Emilia

Piazza Cavour and the 19th Century Teatro Municipale
with a computer run fountain and outside living room.

This little dragonet guarded the edge of
a church

On the north side of Via Emilia are the broad tree lined
streets of the modern city

It was definitely fall in the city and we were glad for our

Colorful flags hung above the streets. This
is the city where the tricolor flag of Italy was
first flown.

Even though it was a bit chilly people were
still enjoying sitting outside for drinks or

As the natural light faded the city lights and the color
of the buildings created a warm glow everywhere.

The Duomo in Piazza Prampolini with it's unusual single
octagonal tower.

Down the arcaded street we could see a bustling market
scene ahead.

The Baroque church of San Giorgio AND a bustling market

Our hotel gave us a recommendation to this wonderful
shop where we bought Parmesano Reggiano and 5 year
aged Balsamic vinegar. They gave us lots of tastes too.

As the night darkened beautiful entries beckoned 

The next morning as we left we loved the two bridges
just out of town

They were symphonies of design and we're sorry that we
couldn't stop and take better pictures as we were on a
busy road

And it was a damp, dark morning.
Reggio Emilia, like Orvieto earlier, was a wonderful surprise. We just looked at the map and chose stops along the way to Paris that were equally distant, about 4+ hours apart; Reggio Emilia, Chamonix and Beaune. They were all perfect, even with the less than perfect weather. We arrived at our hotel around 3PM and after settling in walked all over the town. Despite it's being overcast and damp we loved it. This doesn't feel like a tourist town although it certainly is worthy of that. It is known for having numerous ballet schools demonstrated by the number of attractive young people around. There was a concert being set up for that evening in Piazza Cavour and we saw the singers around the town, all dressed in red. We discovered one lovely square, church or street after another as we wandered around. We stopped at a fantastic store to buy aged Parmigiano Reggiano and 5 year balsamic vinegar, both made here. And then, as it got darker and the city lights went on, the buildings took on a rosy glow and everything reflected in the wet streets. It was magical.
On the advice of our hostess at our small hotel, Albergo Morandi, we ate at Ristorante Canossa and had a great evening. This is the last of the local specialty places still right in town. The pastas are homemade and I had pumpkin ravioli with brown butter. Then you are served a variety of roasted and boiled meats from a trolley that comes to your table. You can choose your own selection and it comes with 3 types of sauces and wonderful mashed potatoes. Lambrusco is the local wine here and although it is sparkling and served cold, it isn't the sweet cloying variety made in the U.S. After dinner we walked back over to the Piazza Cavour and listened to the concert for awhile. It was "People Against the Mafia". Who isn't?
The fall colors in Courmayeur rivaled those in New England
Next morning we drove up past Turin towards Chamonix, stopping at Courmayeur for a walk. One thing that struck us forcefully was how industrialized and prosperous it looks in the north of Italy compared to the south. This renders the suburban areas outside the towns unattractive and very American, but there is growth and jobs here. It looks almost like another country from Naples. We spent some time in Courmayeur a number of years ago and loved it. It has grown since then but is still charming. This day it was almost totally deserted. It was Sunday and very off season, although the fall colors were beautiful. Unfortunately it was still overcast and we had only brief glimpses of the snow covered peaks around us. The Mt. Blanc tunnel is 7.2 miles long and expensive at 39 euros one way, but what an engineering feat! More in my next entry as we cross back into France.
The architecture has turned "Swiss Chalet"

The town was almost deserted. It was a Sunday and of
course, totally off season. Notice the reindeer hanging
from the early Christmas decorations

Tantalizing glimpses of distant snow covered peaks appeared

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Vesuvius from bottom to top, Pompeii and the Crater

The long walkway around the city and the one of the entrances with Vesuvius in the background.
Both Pompeii and Herculaneum are wonderful sites and it was hard to pick which one to see. I decided as I was at the later most recently. The others had never been to either. Pompeii is a time capsule of what life was like a couple of thousand years ago and the surprise is similar to our's in many ways. Temples, public buildings, markets, bakeries, baths, theaters and brothels - change a few of the names and it's a modern town. And the private homes from the very wealthy to the worker bees' really show the way people ate, entertained, slept and just lived their lives. As usual we rented the recorders and the narration was excellent. I particularly like being able to chose additional material on art, architecture, history and daily life.
This time of the year here is so perfect. It isn't crowded and it isn't hot. There very little shade in the town so my last visit 40+ years ago in August was scorching. Three hours of visiting was enough, although we only saw about one half of the city. That's enough for us on one day.
One of the main streets

All sculptures present today are copies but
it's nice to see them in their places.

There are amazingly a lot of frescoes left inside and even a
few outside. This is inside one of the baths.

If you click on this picture to see it bigger, you may pick
out the croissant some joker left - this was a bakery.

Vesuvius looming up behind the ruins is rather ominous.
It is still active.

Some of the few intact columns, probably reconstructed.

As usual I love these glimpses through

The private Roman villas are spacious and perfectly
designed for the climate around the lovely atriums. Only
caveat today would be small bedrooms and few bathrooms.

This was the "little" theater. Aren't these carved edges to
the rows amazing.


It's a long walk through the volcanic ash from the parking
lot to the crater rim, but we're all in good shape due to
endless amount of walking/climbing during our vacation.

Looking down into the crater is an awe inspiring experience.
We drove up to the top of Vesuvius twice, which was certainly not our plan. It's a long drive on a narrow winding road through the "Park". The mountain is only 1281 meters but it looms above Naples. Back in 79 AD they didn't even know it was a volcano until on August 24 it exploded and buried Herculaneum under mud and Pompeii and Stabiae under ash. Since then it has erupted many times, most recently in 1944, which left lava flows we could still see.
After our day in Pompeii we made the first trip. It was only 3:30PM when we arrived, but that was too late. They close the park for visitors after then. It does get dark at 5:30 so I guess they're worried about slow walkers. So we returned the next morning. It was a little brighter than the day before but still a bit misty at the top. The views of the crater were spectacular and well worth the climb. It takes about 40 minutes to climb it and then about the same amount of time to walk around and take pictures. It's faster going down.
One thing you can't help but think about is what would happen if this blows it's top again - and it probably will. There are millions of people living below and the traffic is impossible normally. What plan, if any, do they have to evacuate everyone? Modern bustling communities crowd around Herculeum and Pompeii and everywhere else. People live on the side of the mountain. It boggles the mind.
You can walk half way around the crater.

Wisps of steam rise from the many vents in the crater
reminding you it is still active.

Having taken a number of families photos for them, one
obliged for us.

This is a good shot of the walk around the crater.

Unfortunately the view of Naples and the sea wasn't that great. We could see more than the camera shows.  The
dirt colored "river" below is one of the lava flows.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Capri, a dream of an island

This was my third time on Capri, the second for Scott and the first for Walt and Honoree. I'm a very visual person and find this scenery irresistible. It was much too short a visit but we had perfect weather and it was a wonderful day. We took the ferry out of Naples. It was a holiday weekend so there was little traffic and there is a large parking lot right next to the terminal. On the way out we were forced to sit inside unfortunately and on the way back, when we could have sat outside, it was too cold.
Once there we mistakenly walked up to the town center rather than taking the funicular. We had hours of walking up and down ahead of us with better views. Still it was interesting to explore the narrow lanes through the town. They should be pedestrian only but we had to share them with the ubiquitous scooters.
Leaving Naples on the ferry we left behind a number of
cruise ships

Narrow "streets" or really paths lead up and
down the Capri hills between the beautiful
villas. Their gardens spill over the walls.

Glimpses of the distant cliffs and sea tantalize you as you walk

We had perfect weather during our visit,
in the high 70's

Here is the view from the restaurant we ate lunch at, that's
the Sorrento peninsula in the distance left.

This sailboat passed us and conjured up
memories of our cruises past many islands.

The spectacular Natural Arch 

Scott and I pose in front of the Natural Arch.

Honoree demonstrates the size of this wonderful cave
which once had buildings within.

These winding stone stairs continue with hairpin turns
down to the water.  Click to see some more disappearing
into the trees center left.

There is just one drop dead view after another.
Nations have been fighting and occupying Capri for thousands of years; the Greeks, Romans, Turks, various Italian city states, French and British. The last tried to turn this into a Gibraltar and caused serious damage to the archaeological sites. The Emperor Tiberius ruled the Roman empire from here until his death. I don't blame him for not wanting to leave.
Miles and miles of trails, mostly paved, and stairs wind their way around the island. We didn't have time unfortunately to make it to Tiberius' Villa Jovis but went directly to the Natural Arch and Matrimonial cave. There we had our long delayed lunch at "Le Grottelle", a spectacular spot overlooking the water, although the food wasn't all as good as the view. We then continued along the coast to the Faraglioni and back up into town. As always we had some gelato and wandered around the shop lined streets. I'm not a shopper and didn't go into anyplace but prefer to look at the people and the buildings. We did buy some limoncello to bring to our friends in London. Lemon trees are all over the island and this is a specialty here.
 That's the Faraglioni ahead around the next bend

The Faraglioni are limestone peaks rising
up above the water.

Another view of the same

The trees in the foreground and the cliffs
fading into the mist - I could sit here and
look at this view for hours.

Like Amalfi or Positano, stairs connect most
of the villas with the town. There are few roads
and cars.

One of the few places in the world I'm tempted to spend the
money to stay in a first class hotel.

Although the rich and famous from Roman times have had
villas here on Capri (Mariah Carey now), generations of Capri
residents still live everywhere on the island.

This famous square hangs on the side of the cliffs and at
this time of the year is not packed with tourists.

The Clock tower in Capri

We took the front car down on the Funicular

The small harbor of Marina Grande is filled with boats.

As we waited for our ferry the sun came down and the
lights of the city came on.

The town of Capri spills down the slope from the center high
on the hill

The moon appeared over the island as we headed back
to Naples on our ferry.