We started about 20 hours ago in ABQ. No problems getting to Chicago. There we had my first travelers mistake, albeit a small one. We were in terminal 3 which is American Airlines' terminal. We went to terminal 5 which is the international terminal but it turns out the AA international departures leave from terminal 3. The sign said AA was 3 with an asterisk saying "international arrivals in 5". I didn't notice the "arrivals". Every other carrier leaves from 5. So we took two nice tram rides and ended up at gate K5 after arriving at gate K9, still with plenty of time since we had a 3:40 layover. We ate at Wolfgang Puck's and had a nice sandwich.
We saw Calendar Girls on the plane which I liked quite well although it was hard to hear. Next time I might lay out the money for those noise-canceling earphones. They say they really work even though it sounds incredible that they can generate sound to cancel the background sound. The other movie was Chocolat which we had both seen. They should have had Under the Tuscan Sun since we were going to Italy not France. We both got a few hours of sleep and feel pretty good still. Kendra slept quite a bit.
We got to the airport and went to the Hotel Reservation desk where the shuttle for the hotel leaves from. It is about as cheap as the train. We needed 24 euro and I made my second mistake and changed $32 at the place right next to it and got 18 euro! They had some huge service fees. So I asked about an ATM and got 250 euro.
The driver met us right at the desk where we paid and took us to the shuttle. The airport (Leonardo da Vinci but called Fiumicino for some reason) is 30 miles outside the city. We whizzed off and were doing fine until we hit Rome traffic after a few miles. I started to wonder if the shuttle was a good idea. This driver was a real Rome driver (read maniac). On the highway he would read the paper when the traffic slowed. Once we got into the city he came into his own. He zipped around cars and into the tiniest opening. he missed cars by 2-3 inches and pedestrians by not much more. And they never flinched a bit. it was kind of fun really since i was not responsible if he clipped a parked car. And the parking! it is amazing how close they park. I don't see how they get out. And the Smart cars are almost square and park in either direction, headed out is safest since then they can't get parked in.
We shared the shuttle with a couple from Phoenix who were on their first trip to Europe. They were going to Rome and then Albania. Their son is in the peace corps there. We dropped them off at their hotel and went on to ours. When we got there we unloaded and then noticed that Kendra didn't have the right bag. It was close but no cigar. It was only a few seconds but the shuttle was way down the street. We went in and talked to the desk clerk who called their hotel and they had our bag. They sent someone over and we got Kendra's bag in 15 minutes. Crisis over.
The Hotel Julia (english ju-lia, spanish hoo-lia, italian u-lia) is quite nice, on a little street and close to lots of things. It has those cute european windows with the shutters. It is fun to look out the window and see people go by.
We set out for the Trevi Fountain which Kendra wanted to see. On the way we had our first cafe latte which I had been raving about. It was great. Kendra liked it too. She had a gelato at the Trevi Fountain. Then we walked to the Spanish Steps and then to the Piazza Barbarini which is right by our hotel and to the easyInternet place where we are now. Not bad, 2 euro an hour but the machine has rebooted twice for both Kendra and me. Now i save the draft every 2-3 minutes.
we feel pretty good and will easily last until 8 or 9 tonight and should have the jet lag mostly licked.
Well, it is almost 7 pm. Kendra got tired this afternoon and finally decided she had to go to sleep around 5 pm. i am going to try to stay up longer.
i decided to forget the capitals. for some reason the right shift key works and the left doesn't.
i have been participating in the evening passegiatta, not sure that spelling is right. it is the evening walk that takes place around 6 in every italian town. all ages walk and you see many people eating ice cream (gelato) as the walk. it is great for people-watching. i missed my morning walk so it is a chance to get some in. a very nice custom.
i've been here over 10 hours now so i think i can engage in some social observations. maybe i can see things that others that have been here days, weeks or years have missed ;-)
on my walk i went by the trevi fountain and the spanish steps. we were at both earlier today so this is no mere first impression. lots of people in both places (lots and lots) but they are quite different. the trevi fountain is known for events. this is where you throw a coin in to make sure you return to rome, and this is where anita ekberg went wading in la dolce vita. the fountain is large and the square fairly small so the people are crammed in. most of them look a bit lost like they are wondering what to do next. they are here at the famous trevi fountain, now what? the place seems to call for some action, some event. lots of pictures are being taken.
the spanish steps are a large flight of steps facing south so they are in the sun most of the day. nothing happens here. there is a tiny little fountain. people just sit on the steps and look out. it seems to be a place to be seen. most of the people were speaking italian. there are no events associated with this place so no one feels they have to do anything. they just sit. not the best place to sit really since it is usually in the sun, but this is where the people are and so this is where they sit. no one looks lost, a little bored maybe. a goal-oriented american tourist like myself may wonder what they are doing just sitting in the hot sun. they seem to be there all day and all evening, though probably not the same people.
tomorrow we are going to st. peter's and the vatican museums. maybe we will get to piazza navonna and so i can report on what people do there.
the internet place is well-planned, even if the machines reboot spontaneously fairly often. actually there was a sign saying they were having server problems so maybe that was it. you get a ticket from a machine that you feed money into. you get an account number on a slip of paper which you then type in when you log. it counts down your money as you work. the cost per hour changes through the day. now it is 2.20 an hour but this afternoon it was 1.80 a hour. i think it is even cheaper early and late. it is kind of like the air fares that change all the time.
We had a good night. kendra went to bed at 5 pm and i went to bed at 8 pm. i woke up around 3 am. i heard the church bells. they ring three times at 3 am and then at 3:15 they ring three times and then once in another tone, twice in the other tone at 3:30 etc. at least i think etc since i went to sleep again soon after that. kendra wake up around 4 i think but we both went to sleep again and woke up at 7. i think we should have this jet lag beat now.
breakfast was nice. kendra liked the yoghurt which was light and probably fresher than we get it in the US.
then off to the vatican museum. we get there and the line is over a block long so off to st. peters there the line is just as long. we agreed that seeing how the people live is more interesting than old art by michelangelo so we left. so charlie and kendra are following the tradition of charlie and wynette who went to florence and avoided all lines by avoiding the david and the big museum there whose name escapes me now although i could look it up on google in a minute but that is not as easy to do on these rental machines where you only get one window. if only IE had tabs things would be fine. curse MS!!
we went to castel s'angelo which is just two blocks away. it was almost deserted and entrance was free. a very cool old castle. it turns out this is where they kept the vatican treasure. it was very well fortified with the usual outer wall and then an inner wall. then a long spiral ramp and then a small gate with places above it to shoot at defenders. then a small wooden bridge over a big moat-like thing then more gates. it is not a place where you would ask friends to drop by if they were in the neighborhood. once you get past all that there were the living quarters and the treasure room. After all that they kept the treasure in big locked boxes lined with iron bands. the views from the top were great. you could see most of rome.
something i forgot from yesterday. getting on the plane to rome i met peter dorato. for those who don't know he is a professor of ee at unm and i have known him for close to 30 years since i met him right after i got to unm. he is italian (dorato means gold or golden) and runs a class at unm extension on italian culture. two years ago in spain we met a woman who had been in my dance class at unm in the madrid airport. she was at the end of a year abroad in spain. kendra thinks i know someone in every airport. (i'm a travelin' man, made a lot of stops, all over the world. and in every port there ...)
when i was walking in the evening i stopped in a bar and after i spoke this woman asked if i was an american. i said yes and then she told me her life story while i was standing there about to leave. some people like to talk a lot. this is what i know about her: she met her husband at 14 and they dated for two years. this was in boise ID. she got pregnant at 16, married at 17, than another child ar 19 and now at 21 she is sitting in a bar in Rome. her two years where she had her baby, 34 hours labor with no pain-killers and then a caesarian which a spinal so she was awake and could see it all. now she was on a short trip to italy to pick things up and then going back to boise until her husband goes back to the states. she got a high school equivalent and then college while married with kids (she was always a good student) and has most of the requirement for an EMT certificate. There's more but you get the idea.
We walked back across rome and peeked at piazza navona but not long enough to form any sociological theories, past the trevi fountain, and past a guy in a side street who had this setup where he hooked a sharpening stone to the pedals of his bike and was sharpening things in the street while pedaling. pretty clever.
now we are an easyInternet and then lunch. this afternoon we are going to split up and meet at 6 for the passeggiatta.
PS the left shift keys works on this terminal I just noticed.
It is 7 am. We haven't completely adjusted because we woke up around 4 am this morning. We finally went out around 5:45 and walked around. The web site for this place and a guidebook said they were open 24 hours but the sign on the door says 7 am to 3 am, so we had to wait to get in.
I checked out Piazza Navonna. It is very large. Lots of people around looking at guidebooks. Kind of in between Trevi and the Spanish steps. The Spanish Steps are still the big meeting place. I was there around 9:30 last night and things were buzzing. Just people hanging out though.
We saw a human statue at the Castel S'Angelo and I saw one before at the Spanish Steps. I guess there is nothing like the Ramblas in Barcelona, they had several human statues every day. I think they are so cool. The one at the Castel was really good. I almost thought it was a real statue, mainly because I hadn't seen many around Rome.
Now about the traffic. It is a little dicey being a pedestrian here. There are many, many motor scooters and they zip around pretty fast, as do the cars. But it seems they do look out for you and if you start walking they will stop, but you have to take the initiative.
Several years ago I was in New York and talking about the traffic with a New Yorker. He said that as a pedestrian you had to have the "look" and the "feel" or the "rhythm". There was a certain rhythm of the traffic and the native pedestrians and cars knew about it and they cooperated. The drivers noticed if you had the look of someone who knew the rhythm and then things worked out. If you didn't have the look they treated you with more caution. It was, of course, quite dangerous to have the look and not the rhythm. It seems like it is that way here. If you just go they will stop. I was crossing a street and a scooter was coming. I stepped back and the driver gave me a kind of funny look, like I should have just gone, but then she gunned it and went by, figuring I didn't have the rhythm.
I saw the Pantheon yesterday and it was quite nice. It is the best-preserved Roman building and has been in continuous use for over 2000 years. It has a very large dome that was not matched until about 1500. The Romans were amazing engineers.
There are lots of Egyptian obelisks in Rome, seventeen actually. Pope Sixtus V (or, as one guidebook said, maybe it was Fiftus VI) liked them. It turns out there are only five of them in all of Egypt!
Gelato (ice cream). Lots of people have their favorite place but, like the coffee, it seems to be good everywhere. The difference seems to be more the selection than the quality. I found a place yesterday, near the Pantheon, which had the biggest selection I had seem, maybe 100 flavors.
We had a nice lunch yesterday and a sit-down restaurant (our first since we got here). The waiter was very interesting. He made these little noises when he brought things, kind of a toot-toot, to let you know he needed space to set things down. He would put his hand on the table and walk his fingers over to pick up your plate, and, in general, did everything with a humorous flourish. We were cracking up about it. He did it with everyone. I hear that being a waiter is more of a respectable profession here than it is in the US. He was good.
The food was good but not as great as I remember some of the food from my last trip. I have another place that is well-recommended to try today.
Kendra and I are each on our own this morning and will meet for lunch.
Now it is 7:30 so we are off to breakfast at the hotel.
You all probably got Wynette's message about the hand-made blog she is constructing of my email. If any of you want me to take you off this list so you can just look at the blog when you want to (that is, if you want to change from push to pull) just let me know.
Well, I reconsidered and went to the Vatican Museum and St. Peters today. I brought my iPod and was listening to a book while I waited. But I did not have to wait long actually, only 15 minutes. It costs 12 euro but is worth it. Once you get in you can wait in line and take a small escalator up about two flights or take this pretty cool flattened spiral ramp up. I was all alone on the ramp and after I went up some people decided that was easier and took it.
Lots of tour groups there, all with leaders holding up a flag of some sort. It got to be a problem when there were two or three groups stopping at one place. A few places I could hardly get through.
They have audio guides which are really glorified CD players but I decided I would just go on my own. I have gotten the guides before and generally liked them but they do seem to regiment you a little. Anyway I don't carry my passport and they require an ID for a deposit.
I'm not usually big on Egyptian stuff but their exhibit was really, really good. In fact, I guess I am not saying anything unexpected when I say the place is full of great stuff. The Vatican obviously has good access and resources because they seem to have the cream of everything. A lot of the Egyptian stuff was from Hadrian's villa. I guess he must have had pretty good connection too.
For you Buffy fans, there is a statue of Drucilla, who was Caligua's wife. He had it made in the style of a well-known Egyptian statue of an Egyptian queen. And for the cat fans there were many statues of Bastet the cat goddess.
All the dates were in terms of BC and AD. For some unknown reason, the Vatican has not changed to the more modern common era notation, BCE and CE. Go figure.
There was also a fine collection of Roman statues. It seems like I have mostly seen ones that are in poor shape but most of these were in quite good condition. Lots of buff bodies, some with fig leaves and some not. I don't know if they were added later or not. It didn't look like it.
Since I know little about art I was checking out the pecs, etc of the the guys. Mostly they were pretty buff, a typical guy in quite good condition. One or two though were not with pecs that looked like small breasts. And one guy was really cut. You could see every muscle. We are talking less than 6% body fat here easily.
The women were dressed more modestly but I have to say they were not as thin as modern Italian women seem to be. You may wonder how I know this. Well the bare midriff style is very popular in Italy and I decided that it would be rude of me to look away like being so thin is some kind of deformity. So because I like to support a healthy body image among young, thin Roman woman I can tell you that they are noticeably thinner than the models for women in Roman statues. Of course, there may be some sampling and self-selection biases in both populations that I am not in a position to discover. I'm just sayin'.
The Raphael rooms were very good, all frescos that he did over a number of years. You could get pretty close and it was very nice. Lots of big names. He drew the School of Athens and this included Socrates, Plato, Diogenes, Ptolomy, Pythogoras, Euclid, and Raphael himself in a cameo.
The Dispute of the Sacrament (not sure what that was all about) had too many religious heavy-weights to list here. Of course, you had Jesus Christ and God the Father, in a mortarboard hat no less, that was an interesting image. The Holy Ghost was mysteriously absent though, possible he was there but invisible, but then he often gets a distant third billing.
Near the end they had an extensive collection of modern religious art, some of it very good. They had, for example, a painting of a modern-looking guy in a business suit crucified. Very low key though -- no Mel Gibson stuff.
The Sistine Chapel (Chappela Sistina) is the top attraction, of course. It is at the very end of the tour, after you have gone over a half mile. At five or six places you get a choice to see something, say Etruscan art, or just head on to the Sistine Chapel. It is still a half mile though. I took all the other side-trips because everything was so good.
Needless to say, it was SRO at the Sistine Chapel, and that is not just because of its limited seating capacity (which was more than I would have thought, there were seats for maybe 150 around the edge, none in the center). It was pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder in the whole chapel. And it is a pretty big place, not a small chapel at all.
It was very good, naturally, but it took away from the experience somewhat that it was so crowded. Also it is high and the art is pretty far away. You get a better look in art books but it is nice to be there certainly.
When you exit you are right by St. Peters and you get to jump the line and go right in, a nice perk since the lines are fairly long.
St. Peter's is big, no doubt about it, but not quite as big as a Wal-Mart supercenter. I didn't find it all that interesting. I was starting to work up a sense of religious awe but then some tourist dropped a (plastic luckily) bottle of peanut butter out of his pack and it rolled across the marble and kind of broke the spell. It was that kind with ribbons of jelly in it. I passed a line for some kind of foot touching deal with a statue but I decided not to find out what that was all about.
It was getting late so I missed the Pieta but I did get to go up into the Dome. The Dome, or cupola as they called it was great. It is 500+ steps. You can pay an extra euro (5 instead of 4) and get an elevator the first 200 steps but I figured why bother. It was not much of a climb really since I still have my high-altitude conditioning. But some of these low-lander tourists were making a big show of it and panting and stopping every minute. It was kind of irritating. The guy in front of me went past a landing where he could have stepped aside, took one step up the narrow staircase, and then stopped for a minute to catch his breath. The stairs started out wide but got narrower and narrower as we went up. They soon became narrow spiral staircases and then a wide spiral in the high dome where you couldn't stand straight because of the curve of the dome. And then a really narrow spiral staircase with a rope in the center to hold on to.
Once you get to the top the view is great. There is a fairly narrow disk (an annulus maybe?) about 60 feet in diameter than goes around the top. You can see in every direction. You can see inside the Vatican walls to the gardens. They have beautiful gardens. The whole country is basically a garden with a few buildings around the edges. And you could see a lot of Rome, not everything since the Vatican is on the edge of Rome (or central Rome at least).
I walked across central Rome back to the hotel and met Kendra for lunch. We tried another place that was quite good.
Time for another missive from Rome, probably the last since we leave for Capri (stress on the penultimate syllable although it always sounds funny that way to me) tomorrow.
Kendra liked my descriptions of the Vatican Museums so yesterday we decided to go back so she could see it. We'll call it "Vatican II".
Vatican II was a big success. The first time I missed some rooms at the beginning with the modest name "Painting Gallery". Much understated since it was all great stuff including an unfinished Da Vinci, Raphael, etc. My favorite was something called Apostles and Musician Angels. It consists of pieces of a fresco taken from a condemned church. The images were just amazing. I spent about 15 minutes just looking at these eight fresco pieces.
Kendra and I split up for an hour. She covered most of the place with her youthful enthusiasm but I spent the whole time in the picture gallery. We were going to meet in the Raphael rooms but she found me by chance in the Roman art section as I was hurrying to get there in time. The museum is something like a half a mile long so it is a hike from one end to the other, especially if you are late.
Anyway, I'm glad we went back.
I have been sending out the web site URL to old friends and I got a message back from an old friend from the Bay Area, Dan, and, in an amazing coincidence he is here is Rome right now. We are going to meet him at 10 this morning for the best coffee in the world. That's saying something when you are in Italy and enjoying great coffee at every street corner.
After meeting Peter Dorato in the airport I find that I am meeting more people I know in Rome than I normally do when I go to a performance at Popejoy.
I am starting to see why the people in Rome manage to not get fat. We have breakfast at the hotel and then lunch at a restaurant around 1 or 1:30. We get so filled up then we are not hungry until 7 or so and then we have something like, like pizza or a sandwich. We often have an ice cream in the evening but they sell them in small quantities. There is not much snack food around so we don't snack. And we walk all the time.
We have been seeing lots of Smart cars. They are so cute. They are nearly square so they can park either the normal way or facing in. This is handy in Rome where the parking is very tight. We saw one where each body piece was a different color but it looked new and well-designed, not like they had had to replace things from the junk-yard as you sometimes see with old cars. I noticed a designer's signature on the back so I figured they must have gotten a well-known designer to design a special edition of the Smart car. Then we saw a Smart car in a sporty-car style. The Smart cars have a bit of a boxy, bulgy look and so does the sports car version but it looks boxy and bulgy in a good way. I liked it. It looks like they are expanding. Plus there are knock-offs, including one by Mercedes.
Of course, the congressional Republicans rail about how the Democrats want to force families to drive in tiny, unsafe cars when people suggest things like this for the US.
A few things I have forgotten to mention before. Our room key includes a plastic rectangle that you put into a slot in the wall by the door. This activates the power in the room. So when you are out and your key is downstairs all power is off. I'm sure this saves them a lot of energy. They seem to have so many creative ways of saving energy here.
At the airport on the way I set off the metal detector in Chicago. They looked at my shoes and asked if I had Rockport Prowalkers. It turns out they have metal in the soles and are known to airport security people. I was going to try again without my belt but the woman said you only get one retry. I'm not sure what happens then. Maybe they ship you off to Guantanamo and you are never heard from again.
So one more day in Rome and then off to the beautiful island of Capri. If you haven't checked out our Capri hotel web site, take a look, the island is beautiful.
Well, you are all probably wondering why we haven't been writing. We were in Capri and Internet access was quite expensive so we decided to wait. Even here in Sorrento is is 5 euros a hour ($6) and at the hotel it is E1 for five minutes! But we are back. I have a lot to cover so I'll hit the high points and fill in later as I remember more things.
The train to Napoli was not until 10:45, instead of 8:45, because it was Sunday. I wish they would stop having weekends when I am traveling. It was an express Eurostar which used to be a big deal, but it was no big deal. Of course we were in second class. The woman at the train station didn't even ask if I wanted first class. I had asked the price though so maybe it is one of those cases like the yachts that if you have to ask the price you can't afford it. The train was half first-class though.
In any case it was quite cheap, 22 euro each one-way to Napoli. The taxi ride to the airport was 12 euros and that was less than two miles! That brings up a point about travel and expenses. I am 55 but I still kind of have a cheap, student-travel mentality. On the other hand we were staying at fairly nice middle-class hotels. So I am in two worlds at the same time, at least in my attitudes towards expenses. Normally I would have taken the subway for 1 euro each but that would have been a big hassle with the bags and long walks in the stations because of how the subway and the train station meet up. We got into the taxi and it already had 5 euros on the meter. At the train station, less than 8 euros then he added 4 euros for the bags! Anyway it kind of bothered me because I don't really know which travel world I am in. Of course, even if you can afford it, it feels bad to waste money, at least to me. More on this later.
The train was nice. We sat next to a young guy who looked vaguely Italian and was speaking Italian. We got to talking to him and he was American but over in Italy learning to be a chef. He had been there a year and was staying another year at a chef school. I missed where it was, maybe Rome. We talked about how great Italian food is and how simple it is. I think the difference between Italian and French food is that they both taste great but the Italian dish has four ingredients and the French one has 25. He, being a chef, expressed it as "the French recipe takes 50 steps". So he was trying to learn how to make food that tastes great with few ingredients or steps. He made an interesting parallel to Mexican food. He thought Mexican food was like Italian food in that it was simple with few ingredients but it still tasted great when it was made with fresh ingredients. I had never thought about that before.
I was talking to Dan earlier about why Italian coffee is so much better than American coffee and he said no one really knew why but it was true.
I always like to make a few resolutions when I travel and I decided that I would learn to make my own pasta when I got home, and maybe try to make some simple Italian dishes. We'll see if I follow though. Now I have announced it publicly I will have to. ;-)
In Napoli we had to figure out how to get to the docks. We couldn't find the tram they suggested but found a bus that took us to molo Belvedere, the dock for the island boats. It is always so hard to get into a new town and be lugging your bags around and having to figure out where to get tickets, where the bus stops, which bus to take, when to get off, etc. And all this in a bus that is so full you can hardly move. I have all sorts of xeroxed pages from travel books but it is hard to find the right one at the right time. I spend a lot of time in the evening looking them over and writing notes.
Actually getting tickets is easy in Italy the tabacchi shops have bus and metro tickets as well as phone cards and stamps. It seems like such a sensible system. Instead of the government running special places for each thing you allow small entrepreneurs to have a little business and sell all these things. The result is that you can get them on every street corner and they have great hours too. Much better than the post office for example.
Also: public transportation. The metros and subways are always full in Italy. This has been true in Rome, Sorrento and Capri. They are almost always SRO.
Anyway, we found the boat and had to wait less than two hours, not bad for a Sunday. We took a jet boat over, faster than the ferry.
Capri was exactly as I expected it to be. It was amazing and beautiful and busy and touristy and expensive, and then empty and quiet in other parts.
Capri is 1-2 miles wide and 3-4 miles long and very roughly a rectangle, so it is a small place. It is basically a rock out in the sea. It is only 15 miles from the mainland (the tip of the Amalfi peninsula) so it is not far out at all. 80% of the coast is not coast at all but high cliffs. And I mean high, like hundreds of feet or more of sheer vertical cliff. There is not a lot of flat area on the island so everything is built on a slope or hanging over a cliff. It has two little towns, Capri and Anacapri on it. The whole island is, of course, pretty developed and mostly owned but it does have more wild areas than you would suspect and the hiking is very good.
We got off the boat and were at the Marina Grande, one of the two places where there is flat area by the water. The other is Marina Piccolo. They are on opposite sides of the rectangle, on the two longer sides. It is a busy place and it was Sunday so the crowds were thick. You see a main street lined with shops. We somehow missed the funicular, despite the big sign which we found later and both of us looking. So we took a bus up the cliff to Capri, the town. The bus ride was amazing. I'm glad we took it. We were literally going up a cliff. They have carved out this road with switchbacks up the cliff. Of course, it is narrow, a narrow road for even one car, yet amazingly, it is a two way road. We even passed other busses with so little clearance it took my breath away. People were very casual about it. Many motorscooters where zipping in and out all the while. The bus was packed so we could hardly move. Luckily there is only one place to go. This is the only regular road on the island. The rest of the island has "via's" but they are narrow paths, maybe five feet wide. The rest of the island is serviced with little electric vehicles something like little trucks with open beds.
If you are traveling first-class you hire a porter with a little truck to take your bags to your hotel but Kendra and I just dragged ours.
We get to the top and were not sure where we were since our directions assumed you had come up the funicular and we had already missed that. The map was from the Internet and a little fuzzy but we found the hotel anyway with some lucky guesses. It took about 10 minutes walking. The streets in Capri were totally packed also and it was not easy getting through with our bags.
The hotel was very nice though. It was built on a cliff, of course. The reception area was at the top and the elevator went down rather than up. Our room was not large but very pretty with tile everywhere and generally very nice. It had a balcony with a table and chairs that looked out to the sea. It was probably the best view I have ever had out of a hotel room.
The last few hundred yards to the hotel, over twisty little vias, were a radical difference from the main street. There were almost no people all of a sudden and the hotel was very quiet and we didn't see anyone but the desk clerk.
I decided to take a walk and got a map from the desk clerk. It showed a trail around part of the island not far from the hotel. I followed the trail for a mile or more, hard to tell. Mostly it was the kind of trail you find on Italy coasts, that is, it was a concrete trail and very developed. This was not to say it was not beautiful, and isolated. At the beginning it went by people's houses but gradually they stopped and it was just going along the cliff with fantastic views and lovely green and thick vegetation. And no one there. I saw almost no one the whole way. It was like hiking in New Mexico. And this just after that crowded bus and street scene. It was a large contrast. it was a Sunday evening and many people come to the island for the day. I guess the point is that the touristy areas are, well, very touristy and crowded but a lot of the island, small as it is, is calm and quiet and lovely.
The beginning area was mostly fancy villas that overlooked the sea but later in the walk I was on inland paths that went through homesteads where people were growing vegetables, grapes, flowers, etc. A few people were out tending their gardens. I got this very domestic sense from it all. Here was this fantasy island, Capri, that you read about, but the people on it were living just ordinary lives, growing things and enjoying a quiet life. There were satellite dishes on most houses which showed you can't look at even beautiful ocean views all the time.
One point of traveling is to take time to think about your life and all this did it for me. I thought about how Wynette and I tend our garden in the evening and then watch some TV (I wonder if many people on Capri have TiVo?) and we live in this very beautiful land of New Mexico and we are not any less lucky than the people who live on Capri. Of course, we all long to see different things so it is great to go see a completely different kind of beauty. But then it is nice to go back and live your own daily life. It made me want to get home but in a good way, not because I was not having a great time but because I have a great time at home too.
Well, on that note, I'll end this because we need to go eat. More later or probably tomorrow.
I almost didn't get this off today. It turns out June 2 is a big national holiday in Italy, Republic Day or something. Our usual internet place is closed but this one was open so I popped in.
We're in sorrento but I still have things to say about Capri.
All the walks around Capri are paved, even the ones that seem fairly remote and are not near any houses. All this land has been populated for so long that everything is developed. It seems funny to hike along concrete paths. The area around Capri and around Sorrento is quite similar to the area around Camogli, where we were last time, and Portofino. They are all on the Italian west coast so I guess that is not surprising. Almost all the land is privately owned but there are public trails through most of. In Capri these trails are the streets.
We took a nice chair lift ride up to the top of the highest point in Capri. The chair lift went over houses and gardens and it was fun to see it all. Some of the area was heavily terraced, where the vertical rise of each terrace was as much as the flat area. They have made use of every bit of land. Some of the plots are a few feet wide and maybe 10 feet long. The views from the top very very fine. You could see the whole island, the Amalfi peninsula, and the Bay of Naples. You looked down sheers cliffs of many hundreds of feet and could see seagulls way below you.
It is a beautiful time to be in Italy too. The weather has been fairly cool, low to middle 70s, a lot of overcast, which is fine. Lots of things are blooming. At the top of the chair lift there was many blooming wild flowers. As you walk around Capri, and Sorrento, you suddenly smell some great flower smell and you see blooms everywhere.
There was a cat that lived on the walk back to our hotel who was very friendly. We would play with it a few minutes each time we walked by. There are lots of dogs in Sorrento. They must be treated well since they lay around on the streets and don't seem concerned about the people at all.
We didn't make it to the Blue Grotto. Kendra didn't seem that interested and it takes a while and is quite expensive. I thought I would save it to do with Wynette some time.
The food on Capri was very good. The restaurants were no more than the ones in Rome and seemed a little more accessible because the place was small. I had a little ordering misunderstanding. I ordered fish at 4.50 euros. It seemed too cheap but why not. When I got the bill it remembered it had said 100 gr. on the line, it was 4,50 per 100 grams and the total was 21 euros, more what you would expect for fish so it was fine, and the fish was excellent.
I had a limoncello, which is a drink made with lemon, sugar and alcohol. If you saw "Under the Tuscan Sun" she had it in that movie. It is pretty good actually. They have lots of lemon trees all around. When we got to Sorrento we found that limoncello is kind of a cottage industry here. They have stores with dozens of variations of it, mostly in decorative bottles, sometimes combined with something else in a double bottle, one, for example, with banana cream. We see it all the time. The guidebook says it makes a nice gift to take home but I would worry about the bottle breaking. Maybe I'll try a couple.
The guy who runs our hotel Capri is interesting. I was chatting with him off and on. He grew up in Capri but left to go to the University in Milan. Then he lived a few places, including a year in New York City. Then he lived in Milan for a while and traveled all over Asia representing something or other for a Milan company. Now he is back on Capri managing the hotel that his father owns. He said a lot of people who live there complain about Capri, that it is too small and boring but he likes it. He lives in the hotel and works in the morning and then has a nice lunch and takes a siesta and then comes back to work. He is married and has a 10 month old son. He says soon his son will be able to play in front of the hotel while he works and he won't have to worry about him because there are no cars. He likes the life. I guess it is a good life for someone who is settled down but not for someone who is still single. He said he has already seen the world.
The first day in Capri I happened upon the Arco Naturale. I had not noticed it in the guidebooks. It is a pretty cool natural arch, quite big and right by the water. It goes down to a grotto that is very nice too. Lots and lots of steps, maybe 200 or 250. Then you have to regain a lot of that back to the hotel. I went back the second day and took a side path down to the water. It was an official path, that is it was marked, but it was very, very steep. It started getting close to dangerous and I almost turned back but I decided to go on. Going back up, was, as always, much easier and didn't feel dangerous at all. It felt good to have done the little side hike when I got back, even though I was pretty sweaty, though not really tired, I still have some of the high-altitude fitness. I went down maybe 500 feet and then back up.
I also walked to Villa Jovis which was one of 12 villas that the Roman Emperor Tiberius had on Capri. He ran the whole empire from Capri. The story goes that he wanted to get away so he could indulge his bizarre sexual tastes. I won't bore you with the details and it turns out that there is a lot of doubt about the stories anyway. It is probably true that he wasn't a real nice guy and I don't doubt that he might have had one or two people who displeased him thrown off the cliff, as they say.
One part of the ruins of the villa looked a lot like Chaco Canyon in NM. I guess there are only a few ways you can put rocks together for foundations. But then some of the other ruins showed how different they really were. This place was quite big with lots of stories. They had the arch which the Anasazi did not. They also had excellent mortar which the Anasazi did not. I read once that the Roman recipe for mortar was lost and wasn't rediscovered for 1000 years. I had always thought of knowledge as cumulative and it seems like something that important would not be lost.
The villa was at the high point on one side of the island and the chair lift went to the other so I covered the high points.
The shopping in Capri was amazing, that is, the prices were amazingly high. Although not any higher than the fancy shops (Gucci, Fendi, etc) near the Spanish steps. It amazes me that people pay $1500 for a dress but I guess if I went shopping on Rodeo Drive in LA I would find the same high prices.
More on Capri later as I remember things.
We went to Sorrento on June 1. We have another hotel that has a great view although it is a 10 minute walk from town. I don't mind because I like to walk but I know that opinion is not shared by everyone in our travel party.
The hotel, like all the others, is built on a cliff. We go in the door and there is a lobby-like area but no one is there. The sign says to take the elevator to reception. So we get in and there are six buttons 0-5. We are on 0 so we press 1. The light goes on and then off and the elevator does not move. We try a couple more time and then try the other elevator. The other floors do nothing too until we press 5 and then it goes up. Reception is on 5 it turns out and the other floors are blocked. From the fifth floor we then take another elevator two floors up to our room. The view is incredible though, the whole Bay of Naples.
The breakfasts are really good too, a buffet with tons of choices, 4 kinds of bread, 4 kinds of sweet bread/cakes, 4 kinds of juice, 3 kinds of cereal, and, of course, cappuccino.
Well, this is getting long. I'm going to stop now and continue tomorrow.
The main problem with being out of communication for a few days is that I get behind on the journal and forget what I have talked about. Excuse any repetitions. Maybe I'll start with today.
This is our third day in Sorrento. We plan to go to Pompeii this afternoon. It is a 35 minute train ride. This morning I walked up to a point a mile or so up the road the hotel is on, and then down a path to the water. It is a Roman ruin of what looked like a fortification and a small harbor. Those Romans were amazing in how much they built and how well it lasted. The site was beautiful and a little mini-bay that was so pretty. Lots of spring flowers of course.
They built even out into the sea. They had concrete/mortar that would harden underwater. I was chatting with a British guy there and he had seen a demonstration on TV where they mixed it up in a bucket and dropped it in the water. When they pulled it up later it had hardened. The secret was to include pumice in the formula, with the limestone and other usual stuff of concrete. I took a lot of pictures. I walked up but the roads are not pedestrian-friendly at all and it was kind of scary walking along. So I took the bus back even though it was only a mile.
I got back and walked down to the marina and back up. This replaces the stair-stepper I usually do at the gym, but with much nicer scenery. The same dogs were asleep at the port plaza. I got a picture for you dog-lovers out there. It should be very cute. It might not be too bright because it is overcast and a little rainy today. Just a bit of rain, the kind where it is a close decision whether it is worth getting your umbrella out.
There are more dogs in Sorrento that any other place we have been. I see them all the time. I did not see many in Rome, probably not a good place to have a dog. We also hear more English here than any place else we have been. Mostly British but lots of Americans too.
We figured out how to call the USA. It is dead easy. You get an international phone card from a tabacchi for 5 euros and that gets you 35-60 minutes, depending on the time you call. You go to a public phone or call from you hotel, type in the number, 011 (for US) and then the phone number. So we have been calling some people. It was much easier and cheaper than I expected, as cheap as internet access actually.
One guide said that you can get a cell phone for $70 and a prepaid plan where calls are 15 cents a minute or 30 to the US. If you stay two weeks or more it would be worth it. You could use the phone again when you come back.
Speaking of easy things, ATMs have made getting money so easy, much nicer than traveler's checks. You get cash just like you were at home, and at good exchange rates. I am paying for everything but hotels with cash.
You might be wondering about the price of gas, about $6 a gallon.
Sorrento takes their siestas seriously. Most everything but restaurants are closed from 1 to 4 or later. The bookstore with English books (Kendra ran out) closes from 1 to 5:30. But people are on the streets all evening and shops do not close until 10 pm or later.
This keyboard has a sticky "i". Maybe Wynette will fill in any missing i's that get dropped.
If I may make another fashion observation. Women dress up a lot in Italy, and everyone who is at all dressed up has these pointy shoes. I think they are popular in the US too. They come almost to a point at the end. I suppose I might get used to them but they sure seem ugly now. I guess they always have to have something new.
Yesterday my walk was up to Sant' Agata which is a little town above Sorrento. It was about 2 miles with an elevation gain of 440 meters (what? about 1400 feet). It was steep with lots of steps. The first part was a long series of steps up to a church. At each switchback they had a tile of one of the stations of the cross. Again, these were pretty sanitized by Mel Gibson standards but the whole nailing thing is hard to tone down too much.
We also did laundry yesterday at a self-service place. It had no attendant and no change machines, also no hot water, but we had a lot of dirty clothes so it was nice to get them clean. I must look knowledgeable because three different people asked me how to use the machines. One Italian couple who were having problems because all the instructions were in English! And a couple of girls from Australia. I was listening to "Wicked" on my iPod so I had to turn it off to answer. The Australian girl asked how I liked my iPod. She had her 20 GB one with her. I also talked to a couple from San Francisco.
I must put in a plug for "Wicked", the Wizard of Oz story from the Witch's point of view where the Wizard is a tyrant and she is a revolutionary. Lots of interesting backstory and lots of fun. It is a big musical on Broadway now.
Something Wynette and I noticed on our last trip, the bathrooms have two flush buttons, big flush and little flush, a nice way to save water. The Rome hotel didn't have a bidet but it did have a spray device next to the toilet that you could use. Saves a little space I guess.
I just got back from a long walk all the way to the other side of the peninsula, maybe 6-7 miles altogether. I walked up to S. Agatha (Saint Agatha) again and then down the other side, partly through the town and then through some fairly wild area along a stream to Crapolla (translation elided) which is an inlet of sorts with a guard tower (Torre Crapolla), probably Roman but I did not get close. It was all pretty steep, everything is up and down here.
Wynette asked about the differences between Capri and Sorrento. Capri was purely a tourist town and quite small. Sorrento is pretty big, 20,000 people plus tourists. We found more English people there than any place we have been. I think some places get popular with certain nationalities. We went to Capri but there is another, similar island in the Bay of naples called Ischia. The guidebooks say that it is so popular with German tourists that the street signs are in Italian and German. Anyway, the English seem to go to Sorrento. I expect they have cheap flights to Rome or maybe Naples. Of course, everyone in the town town speaks pretty good English. I gave up trying to use italian.
Physically Capri and Sorrento are quite similar. They are both built on these cliffs with hotels hanging off them for the views. Sorrento is quite a bit cheaper, at least the shopping is. I found that I liked them both.
Oh, one other difference is the traffic. It is pretty nice to be free of traffic in Capri. Sorrento is full of those motorscooters that are all over Italy. They have very poor mufflers and zip around the traffic and are, in general, quite irritating. I am surprised there are not more accidents since they pass on both sides and seem to spend half their time on the wrong side of the road.
On Friday we decided to go see the new Harry Potter. We weren't sure how it would be presented but it turned out to be dubbed, which was interesting. Since we read the book we knew the story so we could follow pretty well. They did, however, make some significant changes in the story from the book. But the movie was so visual that it was easy to follow. I did not see the second one but this one was definitely better than the first one. It was about 2/3 full.
We took the train to Naples and then to Rome today for the last leg of our journey. We're back at the same hotel. It is so nice to get back to a place and know where everything is and how everything works. We still had subway tickets and knew exactly where to go. We have room 101 instead of 102.
We had a excellent lunch, the best meal I have had so far this trip. some wonderful cheese and grilled vegetables and then a salmon and sea bass tartare (raw, that is) with several olive sauces. I plan to go back there.
Not so much happening now that we are at the end of the trip and not so many new things to notice, so I'll close here.
I seem to remember that on my last trip I started getting sloppy about the subjects at the end too. And there is less to say as the trip winds down.
We went to the catacombs today. It is not easy to get to. The guide books sort of tell you but you have to go to a metro stop and then walk a couple of blocks to a bus stop and then take the bus for about 15 minutes. All the while you are not sure which bus stop to wait at or which direction to go or which stop to get off at. It was on the very edge of our maps so we didn't have good map data either. But we pieced together information from three different books and got there without a mishap. I almost got off a stop early but I was too late and missed it but it turned out the next one was right anyway. I told Kendra this is why people pay 30 euro for a bus tour to the catacombs rather than take public transportation. But she will need to do this when she is a poor student traveling.
We met a guy from Hawaii getting off the bus and walked with him and went back with him. It turned out that he was staying at the same metro stop as we are. He also had trouble and said he had to ask three people to find the bus stop. I like to figure it out myself if I can.
The catacombs were pretty nice. You go down in them and it is quite cool. It would be a good place to go in the hot summer. Our guide took a jacket. He said half a million people were buried there. They have over 20 kilometers of passages and some number of hectares but I forget how many. That metric system is so confusing. How many hectares in a square kilometer?
The guy was clearly a believer and was going on and on about the martyrs who would rather die than renounce their faith. This one woman was making the one finger/three finger sign (one god in three parts or something like that) as they were cutting her head off. At least that's how the statue of it came out. There might have been some embellishment of the story. Curiously there was one mummy down there among the half million people, and the casket had no Christian markings. It was a family tomb. Maybe there was one black sheep son who believed in the Egyptian gods and they decided, well, he's family so he gets to have his mummy on the family crypt.
It has been raining off and on the last few days. We started out for lunch and I told Kendra that I hoped it would start raining when we got to the restaurant, rain while we were there and then stop. We were going to a place that had mexican food with an italian twist, said the guidebook. We had some trouble finding the street, it was a little alleyway not on any maps but we found it and the restaurant had disappeared. Even the number was missing. It was kind of like in Harry Potter. Anyway we went to Plan B and on the way it started raining, as I had hoped but my wish-giver hadn't noticed that we had missed the restaurant. But the rain was kind of nice and not bad until we got to the second place. Then it really started coming down. We had a nice meal and since the check took forever, as usual, it had stopped raining when we got out.
It was fun walking around Rome after the rain. We know our way around now and go by places we know and that is always fun. One more day and then back to the US. I am ready to go back but I think Kendra wants to move to Italy, as long as her friends can come too.
This will be my last message. We leave tomorrow morning on the long, long trip home.
Saints preserve us! I just saw a Hummer parked on the street in Rome. People were gawking at it and one guy was taking a picture with his cell phone. A sad day.
We had an interesting dining experience today. It was a place a bit fancier than we usually go to but just by a little, prices maybe 10% more. The waiter was a young Italian guy. We sat down and he brought us water, in a jug rather than in a bottle. We poured the water and he came up and criticized us because we had used the wrong glasses. This was the first place that had large goblets for wine and in all the other places the wine glasses were smaller than the water glasses so without thinking we had used them. And he was kind enough to point this out to us. At least he gave us menus to look at. The next group was a Spanish couple. He decided they might be looking for a pizzeria and made them look over the menu hanging on the wall before he would let them sit down. He told them he didn't have pizza, only what is on the menu. They said something in Spanish and he informed them that he spoke Italian. Nice guy.
When you sit outside, street performers often come by and play an accordion or something for tips. Some guy came up and started but they hussled him away pronto. Actually I was glad they did.
The place had interesting food but things were a bit off. I had gnocchi and it was good but way too salty. Now that I think about it I should have sent it back but Kendra and I were too busy making jokes about the waiter and laughing at each new thing he did. I had a tomato with ricotta that was good but not excellent. Kendra had a salad with white fennel instead of lettuce and cheese. Also good and interesting. We had chocolate and strawberry mousse, respectively, which were quite good.
So the place was worth trying but didn't measure up to the great place we ate at on Saturday. The wait-staff could be improved upon although Kendra and I thought he was quite amusing.