Arrivederci Monterosso, Buongiorno Lucca

During my stay in Monterosso, I never unpacked, so repacking was pretty easy.  Last evening, I decided to purchase an earlier treno to La Spezia.  My connection there was only 10 minutes and that makes me a bit nervous.  So instead of spending the morning on the terrazzo, I will make a quick exit and spend my time at the La Spezia stazione.  Not apples and apples I assure  you.

Checking out at Hotel Margherita, the desk girl was her rude self.  I usually try to consider that a person might be having a bad day, but the due desk girls this year are the same due desk girls as two years ago…so, I think it’s them.  She would rather twirl her hair and look at her computer monitor than clarify the treno schedule.

Although I like the location of Hotel Margherita and I LOVE the terrazzo, between the maddening internet connections (and reconnections and reconnections and reconnections and….you get the idea.  If I had a euro for every time I had to reconnect, I could buy this place and have all hire my congenial friends…who’s in?) and having to put out the desk girls,  I might research a different place for a return trip.  In the hotel’s defense, the manager/owner is very attentive and kind.  My assumption is that the majority of the staff here are family.

But another point in the + column is it is down the ramp and due steps to the sinistra to the focacceria.  I grab a couple plain pieces for the treno.imageimageJoining the roller bag group heading out, I dodge the roller bag group heading in.  When stopping to take this parting shot of la spiaggia, I hear a girl declare, “THIS is what heaven looks like.”imageFor those of you who followed in 2013, I know this very similar to my “National Geographic” shot then.  Sorry…it’s hard to take a bad photo here.  The water is especially clear today…certo.imageI board the treno to La Spezia, standing in the baggage area for the 15 minute journey.  I intend to say Arrivederci to the sea at the last Cinque Terre stop, Riomaggiore, but my carriage was stops in the tunnel, so this shot through the grimy glass will have to do.image

My “reserved” spot.image

Two couples board the train in Vernazza.  They stand in the baggage section as well.  They are German.  When the ticket guy comes around to check our validations, theirs are not validated.  Remember a tip I gave you from the last trip…ALWAYS validate your ticket.  Even if no one has checked your tickets in your last tre treno rides…ALWAYS validate.

This shot shows his weariness from listening to every excuse under the sun, in every language under the sun.  He is SO not interested.  Each of the quattro try their hand at an explanation.  He keeps the same look and the same posture.  He points to the sign that says there is a 50 euro fine, but tells them he is charging them 5 euro each.  They finally pay.  When he leaves, although I don’t understand German, I am sure they are talking about him.  And I’m thinking “ya,ya, ya” and chicken sounds can’t be a compliment.image I arrive in La Spezia and wait.imageOh, have I shown you my new charm from Storie in Italy?  I got mom one too.    It is the window at Chiese di San Giovanni Battista.  Bella no?  It adds a bit more jingle to my jangle.image

I arrive in my connecting stazione of Viareggio.  Boarding here to Lucca seems the most hectic yet.  People hesitate to board.  People hop off once they have hopped on.  Everyone is asking someone.  I realize all it takes is for one person to say, “Si Lucca” and we all end up somewhere else.

A woman in a Trenitalia jacket walks by.  She is on the phone and gives me the universal signal of “NOT NOW” when I lean out the carriage.  I blurt out “Lucca?” anyway and she give me an almost imperceptible nod.  That’s going to have to be good enough for me.imageArriving in Lucca, I walk out of the treno stazione and make a decision not to grab a taxi.  WIth no mappa, and no prior knowledge of the town…how hard can it be?  Oh silly Paj!

I cross a couple of streets and head towards the wall surrounding the old city.  I seem to remember my hotel is inside the wall.  imageAs I approach the wall, it curves and from a distance, looks like it deadends.  Then I see a girl stoop and go through a small opening.  I feel like Alice in Wonderland.  I follow.  That leads me to a tunnel…you might remember, I’m not a fan of tunnels…through a small courtyard, up a couple short staircases that zig-zag.image

And I arrive atop the wall.  Now, destra or sinistra?  A girl passes me dragging her roller bag along and asks if I need her to look up my hotel on her phone.  How kind.  She does, and it says to head straight.  After she heads left, I decide I’ll head that way too.  I’d rather have an overall view from the wall, than get in the mix of the buildings just yet….Anyway, straight over the edge of the wall is not an option I’m entertaining… at this point.image Around the wall I go, note a little trattoria I might want to come back to, and then approach a gelato vendor for guidance. imageThrough his very italian directions, I do get “canale” and his arm pointing forward and forward then “grande statua”.  So I head straight looking for the large statue.  image

Straight along the canale, by the family of anatra, past where the lady lives that likes pink, and sure enough, there is a grande statua.  Sinistra there. imageI wind around a bit, ask a few more locals, consult my italian phone (by the way, every time I try to use google maps, it closes down) and there…it’s that easy.  B&B Anfiteatro.imageI told you I had not researched Lucca at all.  Well I had found out there were Puccini music festivals here and have a ticket reserved for tonight…but that is ALL.

The owner of the B&B marked the ticket office for the concert for me on a mappa.  While I am waiting to be checked in, I also grab a leaflet for a night tour of Lucca.  They are offered Thursday and Saturday nights…today is Saturday right?  I think if it works into my plans, I will pay the 10 euro to get acclimated a bit.  The concert is scheduled for 7:15 and suppose to last about an hour.  The tour meets at 9:00 in front of one of the major chiesas.  That might just work out.

On my way to the Puccini ticket office, there is plenty to look at…although I don’t know what any of it is… image

I pay 18 euro for the Puccini biglietto and find a spot to wait.  I order a spritz and watch and listen for the next 45 minutes.image

I arrive at the concert one of the first 10 or so.  I choose a spot in the front.  Within minutes the church it is held in is full.  We are given a program which includes bits of operas from other composers along with Puccini.  Lucca is Puccini’s birthplace.  But from the information, it sounds like his success was not welcome here for years.image

First the pianist enters from behind the panels, then the first of the due tenors we will be hearing.  The acoustics in this small chiesa are amazing.  The strength of the performers’ voices doesn’t hurt.  The following video is poor visual quality.  I think photo were allowed, but most people were trying to be discreet.  This was the encore of the evening.

This was a special experience.  I suggest working a concert in if you are visiting Lucca.  They perform every evening of the year.

Now for some cibo.  I have not eaten since my torta this morning.  Earlier I passed this pizzeria and there was quite a crowd.  I have learned that crowds indicate good food…most of the time.  So with 30 or so minutes before the night tour begins, I pop in.  I tell the older woman behind the counter, “Due pr favore.”  Luckily she did not ask “due what?”, because I do not know the italian equivalent to “Whatever”.image

She hands over two piping hot pieces of margherita on a little silver tray, I add a piccolo Moretti to my bill and it comes to under 5 euro…my kind of place!  I sit on a stool in front and enjoy.image

I look at the time and it is 5 til 9:00.  I walk around to the front of the church to see if I see anyone congragating.  My plan is to ask if it is not too late for me to pay and join those who have reserved.  I’m still not 100% dedicated to the idea.  I do not know the area well enough to find my way back to the B&B in the dark, so that is a question I will need to ask as well.

When I arrive there are about 7 or so women standing near a woman with a little guide sign.  I walk up and ask if I might join.  The very friendly guide tells me, “certo”. I then ask the 2nd question of where the tour ends.  She tells me they end at the Anfiteatro…perfetto!

Then, the really lucky news comes.  I am the only english speaking member so the others will go with another guide and I get this one all to myself.  Another great decision Paige!image

My guide’s name is Ilaria (Hilary in English).  She is a middle school English teacher and part time guide.  Our first stop is to find a restroom.  She takes me into this way cool enoteca.  They are kind enough to allow me to use the facilities and take a couple of photos.  I will definitely return here during my stay.image

Love their shelving system!image

During our “tour” Ilaria and I basically just walk and talk.  To tell you the truth, I don’t remember much about Lucca.  I do know one of their symbols is the tower with the trees growing atop it.  Also, there is this symbol by one of the churches.  It was a reminder to the merchants and bankers that use to deal here to keep a straight, honest path. image

This, Ilaria says is a version of the Volto Santo or Holy Face of Lucca.  There were several of these decorating a medieval wooden door.image


Ilaria also pointed out a few places I might want to eat and recommended some of Lucca’s traditional foods.  Our entire walk, I kept telling her how lucky I was to have this private tour.  She said it was nice for her as well.  I did consider she might be missing out on tips from a larger group, so I made sure to share my appreciation in euros.  At the end of the tour, Ilaria deposited me at the door of by B&B and bid me a buonanotte.image

Venerdi in Monterosso

This morning was a tre cappuccino morning.  I started with my normal due, but the owner of the hotel, comes to the terrazzo asking if I want another, and I say, “Certo!”imageAs I sit and write, I enjoy the comings and goings of the locals.  Each morning I see the same mothers pushing the same strollers with the same older child hanging onto it in tow.  I hear Giovanni, the owner of Locanda Il Maestrale, where I stayed with Mom and the kids, whistle.  I think he is calling a dog, but I watch to see a worker of his bringing something he has requested.  She is much too slow for him.  He runs to her, grabs the burro, runs back to his door, muttering the whole way.  I am sure good help is hard to find and keep here.

You can judge the timing of the trains with the sounds of roller bag wheels on the tiny street just below me.  A group is sad to leave, a group is bubbling with anticipation.

A white haired man has walked by several times, leaning forward with purpose.  I imagine that will be Giovanni in 20 years.

My quiet morning ritual is shattered as an Australian couple skypes (loudly) with their mates back home. Seriously, is this OK?

So I prepare for la spiaggia.  But first a stop down the ramp and 2 steps to the sinistra.  I was beckoned to my favorite focacceria earlier when the baker opened the back windows.  The wonderful smell of fresh bread with onions wafted up to the terrazzo and called my name.  I may have already mentioned, but this little place is such a find.  I just go in and say, “Vorrei che questo e questo”.  The baker’s wife puts her knife down on the one you want and then you can say, “di piu” or “di meno”.  She cuts it, puts it on the scale and then tells you how much.  For what I get, it is usually about 3 euro.  Such a deal!

I looked up the word “farinata” and it means “gruel”…some words just get lost in translation.image

Now for my last morning at la spiaggia.  I have decided not to spend the molto euro on the chairs and umbrella.  I just free beach it again.

It always takes me a while to decide where to land.  I’m a grass is always greener gal for sure.  This time I decide to forgo the cool kid section and go far right instead of far left.  Now, do I claim my spot in the “front row”, not knowing the tide or do I call “back row” with the barrier of the large, large rocks behind me.  Knowing I can’t have it all, but trying anyway, I split the difference.  I figure there is enough room in front for someone to claim, but I think the back is too small for anyone to want.  I am hoping for some shade later.image

For a few, sweet moments, it’s all mine…and then…Down in Front!imageThe fabulous aroma from my lunch could not be ignored, so I dig in.  My choice of focaccia with cipolla and focaccia with salsiccia e funghi was perfetto!  No doubt I could eat this every single day.  imageTwo young boys pass by me searching for the perfect dagger shaped rocks.  When they find a contender, they put it in their pockets then grab swiftly to judge if it is a keeper.  I’m reminded of Dalton playing on this very beach not much older than these two.  One of my most cherished possessions is a heart shaped rock he presented to me here.

And then, as I am minding my own business and focaccia, rocks start to fly.  A family of cinque…CINQUE!!!  is moving into the piccolo spot behind me.imageI know you can only count quattro, but that is because the dad is laying in front of the mom!  His feet are literally in her face…and hers in mine.  Shortly after this I start my scoot to the front row….making sure NOT to crowd anyone else.  The perils of Spiaggia Libera!

Leaving mid morning tomorrow, I pack away my beach attire when I return to the room and dress to enjoy my last evening in Monterosso.imageThe weather is glorious in the shade, but still quite warm in the evening sun.  Not wanting to spoil my appetite with gelato, I try some fresh limone granita.  Blaine would love this.

imageDuring my passeggiata, I stop by Bottega d’Arte to grab a couple more Storie in Italy charms.  image

Each charm features a photo taken by the owner.  I ask her to point out the ones that highlight Monterosso.  When she hears the jingle of my bracelet, she’s tickled to see I have been here before.  This is one of those “one of a kind” (although they do have another location in Vernazza) shops you just want to be a part of.

Talking to a young woman who has moved her life to Italy also gives you an insiders look at Cinque Terre.  We had a conversation regarding how the area has changed since my first visit and her move here.  It saddens her to see the masses passing through, being brought by boats from La Spezia.  I am sure it is a difficult balancing act.  You want business, you want followers, but you want the place you fell in love with as well.

I ask her, just between us, where is the “New Monterosso”?  Meaning, where is the new, beautiful location that has not been “Touristized” yet.  She looks around and then says, “I think it’s Puglia”.  Perfect, Puglia has been on my radar for my next Storie in Italy.image

I also say Ciao to Federica owner of lanapo where I got my fab sandals and cute Cinque Terre t-shirt.  If the Ferrari could handle it, I would get a little heeled pair as well.  More on my new and improved packing plan later.image

At 7:00, it is early to eat dinner by Italian standards, so I am the first seated at Il Casello.  This is another favorite restaurant of ours.  We have seen it change over the years.  When Mom and Jim and I were here (was that ’99?) it was a walk up panino and birra spot.  Loved it then!  Now it has grown.  The owner is Italian and married a girl from Austin.  He lives here in the summers and there during the school year.image

As I sit with a bird’s eye view of my spiaggia, I notice many are still there from earlier…talk about making a day of it.

When I look over the menu wanting to order the Fritto Misto, I notice it says Shrimp and Calamari.  I ask my waiter what happened to the fresh anchovies?  He says, “Americans-a don’t-a like-a anchovies”.  Here is another example of the way things are changing around here…this and the signs that advertise “American Breakfast Served”.

I tell him that Americans don’t know these anchovies.  He takes a step back, gives me a sideways look and begins to clap saying “Brava!  Brava!”  He says he understands that but, “Some-a times-a eeeta eeesa just-a more-a easy-a to say yes-a than to explain-a”.  I tell him I think that is sad-a and I want the Italian Fritto Misto…he ways “Certo!”

This may have been my favorite meal yet.imageAfter dinner I walk around taking in the setting sun and the local color.  Change, I guess, is inevitable.  All in all, Monterosso is still one of my favorite spots in Italy.  One I know I will return to.  And with views like this and seafood like that, I think I can even convince Blaine to give it a try. imageimageimage

What must it be like to have lived your entire life here, watching the world walk by?  These women’s heads would move in unison as someone worth evaluating would pass.  I love seeing these groups of locals chatting evening after evening.  Although full of change, there is a stability here.  I’m reminded of this as I decide to end the night with some dolce and there is the same person behind the gelato counter who was here in 2007…and she’s still smiling.image

Mangiare, Bere e Divertirsi

My morning began with laughter, which is good.  At breakfast (yes of torta e caffe), I asked if I might borrow a knife.  They agreed.  I used said knife to attack the melone I bought last night.  Mom would have croaked!  There was melone everywhere.  Later I found a lone seed and chuckled.  Daddy would have not been happy about the choice of my “cucina”…but the bathroom sink was all I had and I was craving some melone.  A dull knife and a bathroom sink was all I needed…luckily.image

Heading down to la spiaggia, my backpack runneth over with goodies, but my plan was to enjoy most of the day there.  Yesterday I had spied a nice rock at the far end of the spiaggia libera, today it was to be mine.image

Not wanting my treats to get warm, I did not wait long to enjoy my spread.  Napkins were not part of my planning and that melone was juicy.imageThrough observation, it was clear that the far end of the beach was where all cool kids hung out.  Which was entertaining…for a bit.

Groups had met up here, thrown down their black backpacks, and swum out to the distant rocks.  There they taunted and leapt, shouted and splashed, each trying to outdo the other.imageimage

As you have probably noticed, the beaches here are not sandy beaches, they are rocky.  Walking is a painful experience (funny to watch others but painful for you).  At first I thought it was just us foreign tenderfoots, but as one of the cool kids walked by complaining, his friend bent over and with a flourish, starting clearing a path, which of course, revealed MORE rocks, then told his friend, “vi, vi, vi”.

The cherries are as good as I remember!imageTo my left, the cool kids, to my right, far right, the boats full of daytrippers continue to come in one after another.  Monterosso is definitely busier during the day than I remember.  This year was the first I witness antena with scarf tied atop, as a guides scurried through with their chicks.  More on “Changing Monterrosso” later. imageAfter la spiaggia, I return to the room, throw on my now favorite Firenze dress and notice that it is “Spritz O’Clock”…well whatya know!

Hotel Margherita, as many places do, offers an aperitivo deal.  Here I can pay 5 euro for a spritz and a cute little tray of snacks accompanies it.  So I sit, read, snack and enjoy.imageWhen it was time to make a dinner decision, I turn to tripadvisor.  I do not do that much here, but had already heard where the hotel staff recommended, visited my usual haunts and wanted to see if I was missing anything.

The two top recommendations were here in the “old” section Monterosso.  So I went to scope them out.

The top choice is Da eraldo, but as the 20 seats (max) are currently taken and people are being turned away, I figure I am in for a bit of a wait.  I approach the waiter, greeter, chef’s helper and say, “Tavolo per uno?”.  He says in a very soft-a voice-a, “There-a eeesa only one-a of-a you-a”. Solo uno.

He tells-a me-a….sorry, I mean, he tells me that if I will go-a and sit-a in-a front-a of-a heeema, at Eliseo’s, he will come get me when there is a tavolo.  As luck would have it, Enoteca da Eliseo was number 2 on tripadvisor’s list.

I order a bicchiere di vino rosso and watch Da eraldo turn disapointed people away.  The couple seated at the same tavolo as myself, has a conversation using about three languages.  It is fun to be able to understand a bit more of italian.  I still do not know exactly what they are talking about, but I can get a gist at times.  And for added enjoyment and ambiance, Pavarotti sings from inside the enoteca.imageimageimageAs always, I hope to secure an outside tavolo, but am instead shown into the piccolo, piccolo area inside. It is kinda fun watching the world go by framed in the doorway.

Inside, my back is basically IN the kitchen…so the seats you see here and the ones outside are all!  If you plan to visit, lose all but 2 or 3 in your party and prepare for a wait.

In this small area, you cannot help but hear (and understand as they are all speaking english) other’s conversations.  The young students are all discussing their adventures on this trip so far.  Most are in Italy for a short time with other countries on either side of their trips.  I so wish my kids could take advantage of an experience like this.  Travel is the best educator I know.

imageThe chef and my guy (very tall for such a soft voice and demeanor) were more than happy to pose when I brought out my camera.  Here, the musica is more upbeat.  An italian version of “Gloria” blares from the rigged speakers.   They-a do-a love-a our-a 80’s musica.imageFor my dinner, I chose a sample piatti tre pastas.  Pappardelle ai frutti di mare, Testatoli in salsa noci and lasagne al pesto.  I had read not to miss the pane here, so I made sure to request it.

When my guy presents my dishes, he says, “May-a I-a suggest-a beginning-a  weeth-a the seafood-a paaasta primo.  Eeetsa flavors are-a the most-a delicate-a.  And-a then-a end-a weeeth-a the pesto, as eeetsa flavors are-a the most-a strong-a”.

I am so very thankful I chose the sampler portions.  It is all molto buono but I cannot finish any of it.  When He comes to clear my piatti, each dish has some left.image

I am sitting watching the world go by when I feel a tap on my shoulder with a “Signora” attached to it.  I turn to see the chef.  She is leaning down, still with her hand on my shoulder.  “Eeessaaa there-a errors in-a my-a dish-as?”  I feel awful.  I assure all was molto buono but I wanted to make sure I got a chance to try and enjoy them all.  At this she grabs her chest and makes this, “Oh I am so grateful to hear that” pantomime.  The girls in front of me turn, smile, and begin to take bigger bites.

I would recommend coming to Da eraldo and ordering the appetizer sampler plate.  Unfortunately it is suggested 2 or more share this fabulous looking spread.  My friend will tell you he’s a glad-a you-a chose-a theeesa plate-a.  Eeeata eees the plate-a which-a theeeesa trattoria began-a as well as how to go about enjoying it.

After dinner I walk enjoying the pink sunset over the sea.  I know you have seen similar photos last year, but…can ya ever get tired of this view?imageimage

The sea-a….sheee-a eeessa very calm-a tonight-a.image

A Meta Strada

I started my Wednesday with torta e caffe.  Ya gotta love a country that starts their morning with cake and coffee!  Afterwards I sat on the terrazzo and wrote for a bit.  As I may have mentioned, and will undoubtedly mention again, the wifi here is maddening!  Truly, I know I am in paradise and should just let it go, but being able to attempt to catch up with you was a goal. So when I had had basta, I took my frustrations to the sea.  The sea is always good for that.  I intend to pay the 40 or so euro one day for the chair and umbrella, but today, it’s the spiaggia libera.imageThe water was freddo, but I’d ease in the shallows every once in a while and look for sea glass.  A cinque minuti hunt proved profitable.  My cappello has seen better days.image After a few hours in the sole, I returned to the room, cleaned up and commenced to roaming.  I was not sure where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. I headed through the tunnel enjoying the guitar music the closed area amplified.  The guitarist was quite good.  He was playing Carly Simon then segued into James Taylor, certo!imagePast the tunnel and through new town I roamed.  As you can tell, yesterday’s questionable weather is a thing of the past.imageWalking along a park, I am sad to see what it has turned into.  Instead of kids running and playing on the equipment, it is now simply a place to find shade to play on their phones, che triste!imageOn the first pass by the stazione, it is very crowded.  On the second, not as much.  I enter and buy 1 ticket on the regionale treno.  My plan is to head to Riomaggiore.  There I have due goals.  Uno- fritto misto in a cone.  Due- find Bar e Vini a Pie de Ma and have un bicchiere di vino con una vista!  Andiamo!!image Goal uno- check…well kinda.  I could not find the piccolo, very local shop I stumbled across last time.  Instead there was a slicker place.  The kind with a company sign outside and instead of paper cones, a factory made cup kinda thing….gasp!!  On the up side, the calamari was pretty good.image Goal due- Although this was one of my favorite spots before, I could not remember how to get to it.  On my last visit, I was told about it by a guy that worked at my hotel.  He said you would not find it if you did not know where you were going.  Well, this time, I know where I want to go, but I still cannot find it.  I go through the long tunnel from the stazione that leads to the village.  The whole time I am thinking, “This doesn’t make sense.  It is ON the water.”  So after I bought and ate my fritto misto, I remembered the bar was on or near Via dell’Amore, and I asked the way. Sure enough, back through the tunnel and up a couple flights of stairs and I arrived.imageThis has got to be one of the best bar views around.  The place is super low-key.  They don’t come up to you, you go in the small building and ask for what you would like, then you choose your spot, sit back, relax and enjoy.  It is simply a MUST if you are in the area. I enjoyed il vino bianco, il sea, la vista and the uccelli che ballano nella brezza.imageBack at the stazione you can look up and see where the bar is.  This time I will not forget.image Being in a place like this for several days is very special.  It is wonderful when you can find a rhythm.  It is even more wonderful when your visit coincides  with an event in town.  Something I have learned in my travels, when you hear a band playing…find it. I followed the sound of a 3rd string band playing a slow march.  When I caught up with it, there were two groups of people; onlookers like myself and those in a procession.  Today is San Giovanni’s Feast Day and he is the patron saint of Monterosso….didn’t know that.  But there he was, being carried through the town (twice) by locals dressed in ancient garb and with the strongest of the group carrying a large, large crucifix.  Included in the procession were visiting priests and bishops.  One boy walked with a PA system rigged to a beam.  Through this, the faithful would follow along reciting prayers with their priest.  imageOnce they made their way down (slowly) to the port, I thought the festivities were over.  I went to a family favorite restaurant Al Pozzo.  The dish I love is on the menu as only being prepared for due, so before being seated, I went in the area before the kitchen and asked if I may be granted the favor, again this year, as to have the Gnocchi con Gamberi e Crema di Pomodor prepared for one.  The waitress inside agreed. However, when I was seated and ordered a mezzo portion of this, as Avery says “Heaven on a Plate”, my waiter told me “No.  Solo per due.”  “But in the cucina, they told me certo.”  He then cast me the funniest, “if you say so” look in pure italian. Bottom line, my wish was once again granted!  imageWhile enjoying every bite of my gnocchi, the procession strolled by again.  And then, a loud, loud boom was heard and felt.  Just as I know  what to do when I hear a band, I likewise know what to do when I hear a loud boom…look skyward.


I love firework displays.  I especially like them when I am right under them.  I will never forget being on a blanket at Lady Bird Park with mom and the kids.  It was Fredericksburg’s (some special year) anniversary, several years before we lived there.  The fireworks were directly above us.  Before that I remember a 4th of July in Aspen with Blaine.  This evening, I will remember as well. As the little girl continues to declare, “Che Bello!!”. The mezza luna is a sign that I am halfway through my trenta giorni in Italia.  When the luna is full, it will be time to return home.  Until then, there are more adventures to come.imageOn the way home, I followed the candle lined streets to a small market where I bought melone, ciliegie, prosciutto e pane in preparation for tomorrow’s morning at la spiaggia.image

Ciao di Nuovo Monterosso!

Although I had a wonderful evening the night before, my night was a bit restless.  Sometimes your heart is just heavy with “home”.


My train was to depart soon and Milena and I were STILL trying to figure out how to add each other to WHATSAP-a.  She was determined.  A short while back, Milena had a guest for 14 days.  An older woman named Maggie (I was called Maggie more often than Paige). After 14 days of enjoying each other’s company, they stay in touch for free.  With 30 minutes or so until my treno….Milena has success!

Milena’s oldest, Gaia, took a couple photos of us.  I liked the one on the steps, it is the same place we took our first photo 2 years ago, but Milena was not happy.  So…we took more.imageWe said our goodbyes outside the station, sure we would see each other again.  I reiterated that she, the girls, Roberto, his daughter, could come stay with us anytime.  Roberto had joked that I was going to have 6 guests at Christmas.  As mom said, “What a hoot that would be!”

To arrive at Monterosso today, I will be needing to change trains two times.  Connections make me a bit nervous, but I’m pretty comfortable this year that whatever happens, I can figure it out.

First, Firenze/Rifredi.image

Travel day…the train slows near stations, picks up speed through open areas.  The sounds created by the wind entering the tunnels is creepy.  I think this is where the sound people of Harry Potter movies got the idea for the ghosts and spirits.

I take note of several hillside towns I would like to visit.  Some I don’t know the names so I just write what they are close to- “Hills outside Empoli” for example. Another called “M something”…that one will be easy to figure out.  But one name I know is Cortona…que bella.image

Carrara was not one of the stops where I needed to exit, but I am always fascinated when I pass the mountains where Michelangelo chose his marble.image

Next stop, La Spezia.  And this time I do not make the mistake of exiting at the previous lesser La Spezia station.  I do smile as I watch a couple of newbies that do.  I remember two years ago being so nervous that I would board the train to Monterosso and be thrown off because I possessed the wrong ticket.  This time, not so much.imageExiting the treno at La Spezia, the clouds made it look like the air would be cooler…nix that.

I grab the next treno to the Cinque Terres and position myself near an exit.  It is a nicer train, and many are putting their luggage in the upper areas and getting comfortable.  They must not know it is a 15 minute ride.

As always the first view of the sea, as we zoom in and out of tunnels, is exciting.  This is the first time I have seen the sea with dark clouds above it.

And then….I arrive.  The sea-a…she eeessa not-a calm-a today-a.

I make the walk through the tunnel connecting new Monterosso with old Monterosso.  I am staying at the same hotel I did last time, so no need for a mappa or asking for directions.

I check in, am given the same room as my last visit.  I do not unpack, but just open the suitcase to take out a few items.  With no biscotti to quell my hunger during my ride, ho fame.  So I head for Smorfia Pizza…great memories there.

imageAfter I eat my entire pizza and enjoy 2 piccolo (there really were piccolo…like tester size) birra, I go for a walk through this quaint, little village.

Ooohhh…there’s a new little shoe shop.  I’ll just go in for a look.  I have no room for anything new in my Ferrari.

Well, meet my new sandals.  I love them!  This was the last pair they had in my size (no really!) so I could not risk them going home with another.  Unlike my sandals I had made for me in Capri, I am going to wear these.  What use are they sitting in my closet?  It is special to have something specific to a town or area.  And it feels great to support local, young artisans.  The oh-so-cute owner, shared a website where the sandals can also be found.  I will post when I, one again, dig the card out of my treasures.  Find her on facebook in the meantime. But REMEMBER…you saw them HERE first!

imageAs I was doing the photo shoot for my nuovi sandali, the vecchiette on the bench did not understand what was going on!  I got a kick out of watching them watch me, discussing with confusion.image


During my first evening, I just roamed around, reacquainting myself, already wishing my famiglia were here to share.imageimage

Roma IV & Arrivederci Roma

I awoke around 8:30 but the heavy, dark clouds and the intermittent down pours gave me permission to stay in and write.  I am still trying to get caught up.  Bloggers that do this for a living really do work for their money.  The process is just that, a process.  Add to the mix working on an ipad, plus the array of difficulties with technology I have had and…well, this is where I am…behind.

I open the window once in awhile to allow the thunder its full effect.  Again, rainy days do not get me down (for the most part).

Later in the morning, I hear someone at the reception desk.  I walk out to be greeted by Gabby and her boyfriend (owner of the Guest House) Alesseo…I’m liking saying that name.

They offered a walk for today up to see Piazza Garibaldi.  I would take the 8 train, then the 115 bus up to the top of the hill, walk around to San Pietro in Montorio and see the Tempietto built by Bramante.  They assure me the rain has gone for the day.  They even took me up to the roof top (via crazy route) to show me the clouds have moved from the sea.  Side note on the rooftop: The view was amazing!  Gabby and Alesseo pointed out all the major sites in Rome from this vantage point.  Oh what I could do with this space.

Now Gabby and Alesseo are wonderful hosts.  They are organized, tidy and easy to communicate with…but weather people they are not.  As I walked to the train, the clouds open up again.  I decide to leave that walk for another visit. And as it is well after breakfast and lunch, I go to a favorite spot from my last visit, Grazia & Graziella.  I order a spritz (remember…I know I just left my bedroom and I am now drinking…but it is around 3:30 in the afternoon) and as they did last time, they brought these yummy snacks to accompany it, including my favorite oily bag of fresh pane.

I sit and can’t help but hear a conversation being had with the 2 next to me.  The tables are all but 4 inches apart.  Anywho, one I believe is English and one from New Zealand.  The guy from England is going on about how Americans are all the same…and his perception is not good.  He says there are some small “pockets” that are worth something and goes on to name San Francisco, Austin, Boulder.  The girl from New Zealand chimes in and says, “Oh, when did you visit America?” and he replies, “I’ve never been but…”.  The girl later adds she has been to Boulder but everyone is always high there.

Let us all remember, ya never know who is listening.image

This gentleman you see below works at Grazia & Graziella.  He was constantly moving around, flirting with tables of young girls, flirting with young girls as they walked by…being Italian….oh wait…that’s a stereotype…sorry.  At one point, he comes out with a large water gun and a “fight” with a girl from another trattoria ensues.  Soon another guy from another trattoria appears and his weapon of choice…a large red bucket.image

A little while later an older couple, I’m talking about my age, comes in, breezes past, let’s call him Fabio, breezes past Fabio and starts looking for an empty table.  He gives his “audience” a look of displeasure, unbeknownst to the newbies.  He says in a loud voice, “Ciao!”…they do not hear him. “Ciao!  ciao!  Buonasera!  Good Evening”  With each greeting he looks around as if he cannot believe the rudeness of these two.  He finally announces, “If you-a do not-a say-a buonasera, I no-a give-a you-a a table-a.”   They did get a table, but everyone else got another show.

A not young, not old Italian couple leaves their table, hand in hand.  They walk a few steps away from the trattoria, then begin an intense hugging, kissing session.  After minutes of this, they stop, look into each other’s eyes, light a cigarette and share it as they walk off.  Crack me up!

I look at the clock and see it is time for me to head to mass.  I attended mass on my last visit at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere.  It is one of my favorite churches.  As you may remember, it is said to be the first church in Rome dedicated to The Virgin Mary and one of the oldest churches as well. The original floor plan dates back to the 340s and much of the structure to 1140-43.  The large areas of important mosaics are from the late 13th century and are by Pietro Cavallini.  image

During mass, I understand a few more words than I did last year…here and there…piano, piano.  Although this is a tourist point, most of the people attending mass are locals, knowing and greeting each other, moving about in the smaller rooms and corridors as if this is an extension of their homes.  The feeling of home and comfort is so great in this chiesa, that the gentleman behind me has fallen asleep and is happily snoring away.

The sounds outside along with the flickering of lights tells me another storm is here, but like in Assisi during my last visit, in the church, I am safe and warm.

After mass, I roam my neighborhood.  Today, I decided to not exceed its boundaries.  Since this is my last night, I’ve decided to eat as the Italians do, late.  As I scope out a place for dinner, I run across this piccolo pastaccieria.  When I see a group of people inside with a guide, I think, ok…I’ll try.

I enter and the group is passing around a little, gold tray.  Each time they are trying a different dolce.  Each is met with approval.  I move up to the counter and point to the different ones I would like to try.  They are tiny, so I get 3 of each.  The woman behind the counter is patient and then ends telling me her favorite.  I think they are hazelnut meringue.  I add 3 of those as well.  She weighs my batch, I pay 3.20 euro and I store them in my borsa for domani’s train ride.image

I go back several trattorias the ones on the other side of Via Trastevere are more crowded than the ones on my side of the tracks (literally).  I end up choosing one that is not on Gabby’s list, Dar Sor Olimpio al Drago.  It is 10 meters (I’m just saying that…I don’t measure well in meters, but they tend to say that a lot) from my Guest House.  I am seated at a small table on the street/piazza. (In the photo below you see my empty table.)  Each time I lean in my chair, I fear I will topple over as it tips backwards.

As I am settled in my evening spot, I watch others looking for theirs.  There are the couples walking by, stopping to read the menu, giving looks.  Within this piccolo piazza, there are 3 trattorias.  The more popular looking, with the strung lights and bigger space, is the one Gabby advised me to avoid.  This is the one that most of the men vote for.  I watch as couples do the, “I want that IF you want that” dance.  Two italian preteens walk by arm in arm chatting.  Shortly behind them, 3 older italian women walk by arm in arm chatting.  Nice.

I look over the menu and choose Gnocchi Ricotta con Salvia.  This will definitely be a recipe I try to replicate in casa.  It was so good.  Comfort Food to the highest degree.  The rain has brought cooler temps so this is perfetto!  I wish for Avery as I know she would appreciate this dish as much as I do.  I order panna cotta for dessert and my waitress asks, “Do-a you-a like-a the caramel-a?”  Certo!

This was very nice ending to MY Roman Foodie Tour.image

Before going to bed, I make sure I am all set for my departure in the morning.  Gabby has told me where a taxi station is and says with my train leaving at 10:30, I could leave around 10:00.  Silly Gabby, I leave at 8:30.  What if there are no cabs, what if it is raining, what if Putin is headed to mass (ha) and causes yet another closure or rerouting?  Cosa se, Cosa se, Cosa se?

I arrive at the stazione in plenty of time.  I watch the crowds then realize this odd little headache I have is probably from not having my daily dose of espresso, yesterday or this morning. image

So I grab my first cappuccino of my vaca and feel relief.image

Armed with my biscotti from ieri, I am ready to go.  I won’t go into my brief panic when trying to find the binario for my treno.  Just a tip for you- 2 and     2 est are two-a different tracks.  I think my still watering left eye, made train attendants have pity on me and helped me find my way.

Quick review of Highlights of Roma- Helpful Gabby, Nice clean, sleek room, Cacio e Pepe, Trumpet Player, Funny “If Art Could Talk” Post Cards, Colosseum Tour with Guido the Guide AND THESE BISCOTTI!!  If you are in Roma, you must seek this place out.  Truly OUTSTANDING!!image

On this treno, I have an assigned compartment and seat.  When I enter all but 2 of the seats are taken and a man from Australia is struggling to put his wife’s luggage in the overhead compartment.  He gives up and leaves it in the space between the seats.  I roll in the Ferrari and he asks if he can put mine up for me.  I tell him, it is quite heavy and I saw him struggle with his wife’s.  Just as trying to get a middle school boy to do something for you, this approach of “Oh…it is too heavy for you” worked again.  The four Australians will be heading to Firenze in a few days and I share my tips with them.

I arrive in Chiusi about 2 hours later.  Milena meets me.  It is great to see her again.  After knowing each other for less than 24 hours 2 years ago, Milena feels like an old friend.image

At the house, she asks a favor of me.  The room I had last time and the same room Mom and Dad had last year when they visited has been requested by a business man that comes through often.  She asks if I would mind terribly choosing a different room.  She shows me 2 different ones.  I choose this one.image

Although the view is not quite as good, I like this room even better.  Letting the wood and white speak for itself it the way to decorate.

Milena has another couple checking in soon which allows me time to unpack and get situated.  Only staying 2 nights, I basically work from my suitcase while here.

Milena and I then drive into Chiusi to grab a quick bite to eat.  We catch up over salads and vino.  She tells me she has a couple of things planed during my visit.  At 4:30, we will pick up her friend, Diana, and “make-a a drive-a” to Montepulciano and Pienza.  I am so thankful to Milean for taking this time to show me these beautiful villages.  Without a car, I would not have had the opportunity.

I cannot share much with you about these towns.  We literally “made-a a walk-a” through.  Milena and Diana being patient with me as I snapped a few photos.  What I do remember were the views from Montepulciano and the aroma of pecorino in the streets of Pienza.imageBeing with these 2 close friends was fun; listening to their conversations as they spoke over each other, yet understanding each other.  Diana looks exactly like Laura Dern but with strawberry blonde hair and Milena is a younger Diane von Furstenberg.  Even when I show pics of these famous people, other friends we hang out with agree.  imageThe views from the top of Montepulciano are unparalleled.  We were there when the sun was hot and high and the air hazy.  I cannot imagine what a sunset here would be like.imageimageimageAfter our quick tour, we rested and then met again for dinner.  Another friend of Milena’s was coming to pick us up and take us all to dinner.  Roberto arrived in a brand new Mercedes van (he owns and operates a car service in the area- Autonoleggio Rent a Car, Caroti di Caroti Roerto) and we all pile in- Roberto, Milena, Diana, Milena’s two beautiful girls, me and Roberto’s son.

When Roberto introduced himself, he shared with me that his english is “not-a too-a good-a”, but it was enough to communicate with me that he has driven for “a-Russel-a Crowe-a, Sarah-a Jessica-Parker-a, Morgan-a Freeman, Bill-a Gates-a Google-a” and I add, “And now, Paige Conn”.

We drive and drive then arrive at an Agriturismo of sorts.  Tonight the large restaurant has only a few families.  All who seem to frequent.  The kids run around like it is home.

Roberto and Milena suggest me trying pici con ragu.  This photo does not do the dish justice.  Again, comfort food.  Pici is a thick, hand-rolled pasta, like a fat spaghetti.  It originates in the province of Siena, which Chiusi is a part of.  I ate every bite!  When Roberto pours the vino rosso, I hold up a glass, I notice he hesitates, pours wine into it, then adds, “Wrong-a glass-a”.  oooppss.image

Just because the Limoncello (will always remind me of Franco) is serve, it does not mean the evening is over.imageThe kids continued to run and play.  All decided to get tattoos.  When Milena was handing out the money to buy, she gives me a silly look and says, “Paj-a…do-a you-a want-a a tattoo-a too-a”.  Nope, I’m good.image

Earlier, Milena told me that although she has 1 tattoo declaring she is a Scorpio, she wants to get 2 more.  I ask her what she wants and she says she does not know.  I, like a mother to a 40ish year old, tell her to remember how they will look when she is old.  She replies, “Yes-a, but-a we will all-a have-a them-a” and smiles.

As the night winds down, we would gather kids and be missing one, find that one, then miss another.  This went on for quite a while.  The crescent moon was low and large.  Che Bello!

Driving back through Chianciano, Roberto would say, “Paj-a…that-a eees-a my shop-a (Roby’s Women’s Fashion), Paj-a…that-a eees-a one of my-a petro stations.”  Roberto works hard and does well.

The next morning, I wake slowly, enjoy breakfast with cappuccino and prepare to “take-a the waters”.image

Milena had planned for us to “take-a the waters” and enjoy a day of relaxing at the piscine termali or thermal pool.  We gather the girls plus Nicolo and andiamo.

The day seems perfect for this, kinda sunny, kinda cloudy, not too hot for the warmth of the waters.  My only issue was the swim cap.  Earlier, Milena has asked, “Paj-a…do you have-a a cap-a for the swimming-a?”…never!  I tell her I really don’t think I need one and she tells me it is a “rule-a”…oh.  Milena pulls 4 or 5 from her swim bag.  One has 2 cigarette holes burned into it.  She laughs and adds, “Theeesa one-a eeesa for going to-a the banca”…funny.

As Milena advertised, the day was nice and relaxing.  My favorite part, aside from sporting an ill-fitting swim cap, were the cement lounge chairs, of sorts, that had millions of bubbles shooting up from them.  As you sat in the warm, mineral water enriched with healing elements (that’s them talking…not me), bubbles burst up from chair, giving you a light, warm message.  I kept laughing, but no one else was.  The thermal waters were known to the Etruscans and the Romans…this is serious business.imageReturning to the guest house, we retired for a bit more relaxation, and then prepared for a dinner in with famiglia.  Apart from the 4 rooms Milena has as the bed and breakfast, there is a wonderful space where Milena and the girls live.

Tonight, Roberto brings pizza and plenty of it.  We also have every bevanda known to Italia.image


The night is just like any other spent in the company of good friends, filled with great conversation (Kendra Scott, Alice, Roberto’s 12 year old daughter coming as an exchange student to Texas, and the difference between the english pronunciation of Tree and Three), laughter and broken glass…certo!image

Roma III

Buongiorno!  Major item on our schedule today, Colosseum and Hypogeum (underground) Night Tour…but until then…I’ve got an idea….let’s walk.  Andiamo!

As I mentioned yesterday, Campo de Fiori has a market in the mornings.  Like most Italian Markets, you can buy just about everything under the sun here.imageBut I like to look at the food!imageFinding nothing that really worked with camminare e mangiare, I continue my walk until I see a pastaccieria with these in the finestra.  They called it “ravioli” and I think they said it was stuffed with a hazelnut filling.  I’m in…a powdered sugar covered breakfast sounds just the thing to get this body started.imageAs I walked, I showed passer bys how good my choice was.  I didn’t worry about cleaning myself off until the end.  At that point, two smartly dressed woman gave me a knowing look and laugh.imageFrom Campo de Fiori, it’s a short jig and jog to the other famous piazza, Piazza Navona.  Both of these beautiful piazzas hold great memories for me.image

Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) is one of my favorite sculptures in Roma.  This fountain was designed in 1651 for Pope Innocent X.  The rivers represent four major rivers of the four continents through which papal authority had spread:  the Nile- Africa, the Danube- Europe, the Ganges- Asia and the Rio de la Plata representing the Americas.  Like many of the historic art pieces of Italy, Bernini’s design was selected in competition.  The great obelisk was brought to the site by Emperor Caracalla.  It had been buried for a long time along the Appian Way.image

My plan from here was to head to the Pantheon.  Although I have seen it during my 3 other visits, I cannot pass it up.

Remember how I bragged that I was comfortable navigating around the city?  Well that all changed as I attempted to locate the Pantheon.  It is not far from Piazza Navona, but for the life of me, I just kept getting turned around and turned around.  So, although exasperated, I made the most of my walk.

Two ideas to take home in this window.  I like the ceramic fish and the style of the painting below.image

This piece kinda reminds me of the Chihuly Inspired project my students did 2 years ago.  Love this.  But I have molto more tazze di caffe to drink to create something like this.image

As this guy walks by me with his milk delivery bumping along the cobblestones, I can’t help but think whipped cream will be what arrives instead.image

Molto pedi and directions from several locals later, I see this trattoria and know I must be close.image

And sure enough.  Pretty magnificent no?image

Studying Ancient Rome is one of the highlights for me of Art I’s Art History.  I  would love to be inside when it snows wouldn’t you?image

Cruddy photo I know, but this is Raphael Sanzio’s tomb.  There is a beautiful quote that accompanies.  “Here lies Raphael, by whom Nature feared to be outdone, and when he died, feared that she herself would die.”image

Next, The Column of Marcus Aurelius.  This spiral relief was completed around 193 AD.  The column is made of 28 blocks of Carrara marble and within is a stairway of 200 steps up to the platform at the top.imageimageThings I have learned during my visit so far-

1.  Do not play your long wooden horn thingy mid morning in a residential area.  Earlier today, I heard this guy, I guess it’s called “playing” his horn(?) and approached just in time for a guy 4 stories above to yell down at him.  Wanting to just live and let live, the guy got up, looked up, shrugged and went to find another venue…and here he is now.imageI am sure this is a hoax, but I CANNOT figure these guys out!  Ideas?

imageAnd as far as sidewalk “painters” go…I have seen the same paintings displayed by many.  The more cunning, have out water and paints, brush in hand, “working” as you walk by.


Piazza del Popolo literally means “People’s Square” and  was the furthest point of my roaming.   See the rose in the foreground…another thing I’ve learned…NEVER give money to people trying to “give/gift” you something.   I did my best to avoid this guy, but as you can see there were, amazingly, no crowds to weave through.  He shoved 2 roses on me, one for me and the other for my husband, and wished me a happy, happy marriage. I caved and gave him a euro that I had in my pocket…although it was a “gift”, he was not happy with the amount and took one of the roses back.  I promptly dropped the other.  I knew better than that….maybe hunger was a  part of my weakness.  imageWith Osteria Gusto around the corner, I think, “perche no?”.imageimageimageimage

My choices for lunch were perfect.  Proscuitto and mozzarella were  perfection and of course I needed some melone anche.  I enjoyed a glass of Prosecco in my friend Sandy’s honor.

I had planned to order an espresso, as I have a late night tonight, but I at first declined dolce.  The waiter gave me such a disappointed look, that for the second time today, I caved.  This time, I was not upset with myself. image

From Gusto, I walked by the Spanish Steps.  I took this photo just to show the crowds out and about.  It really is crazy.  It makes you think you are at an amusement park, not walking along real streets.imageI had heard Trevi Fountain was being renovated, but it was on my way.  I feel bad for people that miss seeing this iconic fountain in all its grandeur, but I understand that renovation is necessary. imageBack to the room to clean up a bit and then I headed to Piazza Venezia where I am to meet my tour.  I am early (certo) so I sit on the steps of the Victor Emmanuel Monument, watch and wait.

Guess what?  There are 5 guys selling “selfie. selfie. selfie.” sticks.  An unmarked car drives by and honks.  All 5 guys put their inventory behind their backs.  The guys in the car, polizia of some sort I’m guessing, just stare at them as they crawl by.  When the car is out of sight, out come the sticks in unison.  One of the hawkers, goes up to a family, and shoves a stick in their faces.  At the same time he is enumerating the fine qualities of his wares.  The family goes through the many ways to say “no”.  No, No Grazie, No Gracias, No No, Really No.  I don’t know who to feel sorry for.

As time for the tour draws nearer, a small group is beginning to form and then 2 leaders appear, one of whom I have seen on the company’s advertising video. The tour company I chose for this one is Walks of Italy.  They get very good reviews and not all companies offer this particular tour.  We are divided into 2 smaller groups.  My group gets “Guido the Guide” for our leader.  He introduces himself and says the official name of this tour is “The Colosseum Under the Moon”.  He then tells us, “Before-a we-a get-a started.  I would-a like-a to show-a you a picture-a of-a my-a cat-a.”  Funny.

He tells us a little bit about the area where we are.  It is from Guido that I got the information about the guys sitting in Vic’s horse having dinner.  He points out Mussolini’s balcony.  He says, “We-a cannot-a judge-a history, but…” goes on to tell us what destruction Mussolini caused and what a “nut-a” he was.  Let’s not beat around the bush Guido.

We come to a spot I passed earlier.  He tells us this is a 4th century condo.  He further explains why condos are needed, because there are too many people living in a specific space.  He said about that time, Rome had around 1 million residents.  The frescoes on the wall were created later in the 13th century.


This statue is a symbol I am familiar with, but during my stay in Roma, I gathered a lot more information (some conflicting) about Romulus and Remus.image

Next we stood at the base of the Capitoline Hill. It is one of the 7 hills of Rome and was the citadel of the earliest Romans.  I am currently listening to a lecture series (38, 45 minute lectures by a professor at Penn State) covering the history of Ancient Rome and although it is confusing to me at times, it is always fascinating. imageThe Forum has always been one of my favorite spots in Rome.  It boggles my mind being able to walk in the footsteps of such history.image

Now onto the highlight of the tour, the Flavian Amphitheatre, or as most know it, The Colosseum.   image

When we entered, we were guided by Francesco, an Art Historian working at the Colosseum.  Hearing the historical highlights, I am happy to know we do a great job covering this in Art I.  Much of what he shared I was already familiar with, but my main reason for attending was not just to learn more about this iconic building, but to simply be there without all the crowds and be able to enter the hypogeum.

Being one of 40 or so in this massive structure was kinda surreal.  Although my photos do not do it justice, the sunsetting behind and through the arches was breathtaking.image

And now we go down.

imageFrancesco discusses the architectural and engineering feats of the early Romans.  The keystone, he points out, holds these massive stones in place using outward force only.  He says how structurally sound this method is…but then adds, “we hope”.imageUnderneath it is dark and quite.  The sound of the water dripping brings to mind the Cloaca Maxima, one of the world’s earliest sewage systems, that runs under the Colosseum.image

One of the most interesting things I learned was what they have found on site.  Just like we eat at the movies and productions, so did the Romans.  Dishes, cups, seeds, bones from meats eaten, even toothpicks have been excavated.  image

During our last few minutes, we were allowed to walk around a bit, soak in the moment and take a few more photos.imageimage

Evening views from the balcony of the Colosseum.image

After we exit, Guido gives us a little bit more information and then assists anyone needing a restaurant recommendation or a tip on how to get back to their hotel.image

I decide to walk around the exterior one last time, then grab a cab back to Trastevere.image

It is late but Trastevere is hopping!  I walk by several trattorias and the waits are long.  I instead decided to go back to the spot where we had pizza last night.  However, I walk and walk and walk and just about give up when I notice a girl hurrying by me with sacks and sacks of bread in her arms.  Our guide last night told us that most of the restaurants around here get their bread from that forno, so I head the direction she was coming from and there it was.

I told you more research was needed, so I try 3 different kinds.  Heading back to my GuestHouse proved to be just as difficult as finding the forno.  I am sure people got a kick out of seeing me pass several times carrying my little pizza box.  But as long as I can find the Tiber, I can find my way back home.

Buon Appetito!image

Roma II

My first full day in Roma began with grabbing a quick Italian breakfast.  The guesthouse provides tickets to get a bite to eat and a beverage of choice at a bar around the corner.  This was a ritual I loved during my last visit.  Unfortunately, this bar is not quite as tasty as the last.  On future mornings I will just grab espresso. imageWhen Gabby welcomed me to Roma, she highlighted three or so walks around the city.  Today I will follow her Red Line.  As I pass from Trastevere over Ponte Cestio, I see this sign.  To me this is a reminder of what Roma needs to do…clean up their mess!  I have accepted the graffiti, this was a surprise in 2007, but just mounds of trash scattered about, I can’t accept in the “ambience” column. image

Ponte Cestio is a stone bridge spanning the Tiber to the west of Tiber Island.  The original version of this bridge was built around the 1st century BC.

Walking in Rome, you are struck by the sheer number of ancient buildings in such a concentrated area…so bear with me as I share a couple of today’s highlights.

To my left you will see the Teatro di Marcello, Theatre of Marcellus.  This was the largest and most important theatre in Rome completed in the late 1st century during the reign of Augustus.  The facade would later influence iconic buildings such as the Colosseum.

The project was started by Julius Caesar but completed by his nephew who then dedicated it to his nephew Marcus Claudius Marcellus (did you follow that).  The theatre had a capacity between 15 to 20,000 spectators.  It originally had two tiers, each with 41 arches (the Colosseum’s have 80).  The theatre hosted cultural events such as plays, musical contests and poetry recitals.  When the popularity of circuses and gladiator games increased, the theatre fell into disuse.  The materials from it was used to building other projects, in particular, the bridge we just crossed, Ponte Cestio.imageNow we approach the enormous monument honoring Italy’s first king, Victor Emmanuel II.  It was built on the slope of the Capitoline Hill, which is the heart of this city.  The monument was dedicated in 1911.  At the center of the monument is the equestrian statue of Vic himself.  If you google “inside the horse of Victor Emmanuel” you will find an old photo of men dining inside.  This image gives you an idea of the scale of the horse and the entire monument.  There is also a tomb of an unknown soldier below the statue of the goddess Roma. The tomb holds the body chosen from 11 unknown remains by Maria Bergamas, a woman whose only child was killed during World War I. I arrived just in time to see the changing of the guards.


Next we head over to Trajan’s column.  This is basically an ancient comic strip sharing the victory of the Roman emperor Trajan over the Dacians.  The column stands 126 feet tall.

Trajan’s Market was a sort of shopping mall (also housed administrative offices for Emperor Trajan) for the common Roman, where Trajan’s Forum was reserved for the important and well-to-do.  As my Art I students study, Trajan’s Market was built in 100-110 AD by Apollodorus of Damascus.image


A Roman Guard headed to the gym.

Now Gabby’s Red Line directed me to continue right, but I cannot wait until the Green Line walk tomorrow to see the next highlight.  So I turn left, walk 5 or 6 blocks and am now standing at the site where Julius Caesar was stabbed by members of the Senate.  Largo di Torre Argentina is a square in Rome that hosts four Roman temples and the remains of Pompey’s Theatre.  What we “know” about Caesar’s death is a mix of several versions, including Shakespeare’s “Et tu, Brute?”.  Nevertheless, the lesson here is clear, when you declare yourself “Dictator for Life”, you put a target on your back.

imageProving everyone is a student, while I am at this historic site, I hear a guide sharing information about Mark Anthony and Julius, “Mark-a Anthony-s…he-a, as we say-a in Eeetaly-a, he-a sitz-a in-a two chairs-a….He-a has-a one-a face-a to the Senate and-a one-a to-a Cleopatra”.  As I always like to eavesdrop on a free history lesson, I look over and recognize “Turtle” from Entourage.  Later, Avery tells me she also spies “E” in my stealth (ha) video of the group.image

OK, back to the Red Line and on to the Colosseo.  image

The area around here is CRAZY.  I do not think I have ever seen it this crowded.  This is when I am glad Blaine is not here.  It just takes away from the moment.  The crowds, the vendors, the incessant sound of “selfie…selfie….selfie” as the Indians hawk their goods, not to mention the “Beware of pickpockets” announcement, in every language known, blaring over a PA system.  As the wind whips up dirt older than dirt into my eyes, I maneuver to get a decent shot, knowing I will be back tomorrow night and move on.

I fold my map into yet another origami masterpiece and head back to Trastevere.  On the way I pass the Arch of Constantine and Circus Maximus.  Back at the Guest House, I clean up for my Foodie Tour.

As most of you know, I love to cook and I love to eat, so signing up for another Foodie Tour this year was a must.  The company I chose was The Roman Guy.  The tour, Trastevere “Locals” Food Tour.  We were to meet by the fountain outside Palazzo Farnese at 5:30.image

Since I tend to arrive early, I took a few minutes to walk around Campo di Fiori (tomorrow’s Green Line walk).  At this time of day, there was little left to see but garbage.  In the mornings, this piazza is filled with flower and food vendors…you can also find a “selfie…selfie…selfie” stick if ya need.

Avery and I love peonies!imageimage

When all in the group (2 from Colorado, 1 from Canada, family of 4 from Houston and me) arrive, our tour begins.

First stop, formaggio!  In this piccolo mom and pop, we are allowed into the back where we try an assortment of Pecorino and Parmigiano with Prosecco certo!imageNext something I would not have tried, Filetti di Baccala.  I wouldn’t  have thought this fried fish was traditional Roman…or even Italian.  But deep fried, salted cod with a glass of vino bianco locale was molto buono.  The photo of the guy below reminds me of the look I got from Paola’s son in Sorrento last year when I could not stop laughing as he tied my suitcase to a rope to hoist up to the B&B.  He looked at me like, “What…”.

Also, see the blurred guy carrying the pane?  Well, they are all in a hurry around this time of the evening, so most of my restaurant workers are blurred.image

What is a visit to Roma without some Roman style pizza? La Renella Forno is THE place for it in Trastevere.  Our guide chose for us or else the decision would have been molto difficile! (I do return later for further research…certo!)imageTrastevere is very proud of their foods.  Organic, Slow Food and Biological are important terms to look for as you eat your way through.imageThe Street Art scene is not as rich in Roma as in Firenze, but I have  noticed a few like this one.  Our guide tells us the artist’s inspiration is Michelangelo’s Pieta.imageOf course, if you layer graffiti…it starts to look pretty cool…(work with me here).image

On to TASTEVERE…clever no (finger to eye here)?  I think we tasted 4 or 5 different, oh so fresh, samplings here.  Lorenzo was kind enough to allow me to photo each before serving.  Like all the places we visited, TASTEVERE is very proud of what they are doing with fresh ingredients.  On the door you will see a sign that states “0 km”.  imageThe streets are starting to fill as we enjoy a bit of exercise between each stop.imageAn item you see on most menus this time of year is the Jewish Style Artichoke.  This is my first time to try.  They are beautiful.  At Trattoria de Teo along with the carciofo, we sample Cacio e Pepe and a pasta with guanciale (pig cheek) and pomodori. image  A stroll through the Jewish Ghetto is an Anthropology lesson- food, culture and history.imageimageThese brass threshold plates share the names and dates of Jews taken from their homes, transported to camps like Auschwitz and killed- a sobering reminder.imageimage

Our last stop is dolce, certo.  We end our tour at a gelateria across the strada from Pompey’s Theatre.  Although it is good, it does not compare to Edoardo’s in Firenze…I am spoiled. image

All in all the tour was buono.  The spots were well chosen, the food, very good and the time, well paced.  The main drawback for me, this is my opinion only I am sure, was that our tour leader is British.  When I am in Italy, I want to understand, sure…but I want to hear a thick Italian accent.  I want the words to roll off their tongues not sound labored and practiced.  AND I want tomatoes called pomodori, NOT toMAHtoes….again, I’m sure it’s just me.

Walking back across the Tiber for the 4th or 5th time today, I notice the abandon white tents of day have been magically transformed.  Although during the day, I have been nervous to venture down due to the homeless presence but now…the lights call me. imageimage

These crate pieces you see here are cozy spots to enjoy a spritz or glass of wine with friends.  All along the Tiber there were unique lounges and bars set up.  image

There were used book and record spots, even arcades.  This was, no doubt, the coolest nightlife scene I have ever witnessed.image

This tent made me curious.  I asked what the purpose was and a young woman told me they were Photography students and this was their project.  People were answer the question, “What makes you happy?” on a small chalkboard and then they photographed them.  For their final, they will be creating a book of the photographs….Again, an idea I will be taking home.imageimageUnfortunately, I didn’t feel this was the place for an older, solo traveler to sit and enjoy a beverage.  So after walking the span of a couple of bridges, I made my way to street level again and bid buonanotte to Roma who was obviously just getting started.image

Roma I

My train to Roma does not depart until around noon, but I wake up early enough with plenty of time to spare.  One never knows what challenges might be placed in front of you.

I start with my last tazza di caffe (I bought this cute little tazza at that Tiger shop.  I hope it makes it home in one piece), publish my 60th post to you, take my chiavi off my Florentine chiavi chain, and load up.  The Zara bag has my goodies from the pasticceria…and anyway…EVERYONE carries a Zara bag around here.image

When I say arrivederci to my appartamento (It has been great!  The best location ever!) Guess what…it is raining once again.  I feared this, but what’s a girl to do?  Adding one more object (umbrella) to my balancing act, I begin my walk to the stazione.

Being quite early for my treno, I find a place to stand to people watch.  The people coming into Firenze come in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, ages and capacities for fashion sense.  Ma, we are in luck.  It is Fashion Week.  If you like to people watch and major in fashionable people watching, may I suggest you schedule your travel around Santa Maria Novella Stazione during this annual event.

My photos DO NOT show what I saw justice.  I have not mastered the true art of the discreet photo.  I did learn to position yourself near the center of an exit.  NONE of the cool people are coming in leaving Florence, I assure you.imageHere are some fashion tips I gleaned for you:  Although girls/women wear every short of Converse with every sort of outfit…not when attending Fashion Week.  The Louboutins were out in full force, cobbled stone streets or not.  Come to think of it, most of these people probably had cars waiting for them outside the stazione….darn, I didn’t think to look.

Men ALWAYS wear or carry a blazer…a well fitting blazer, and I love this.  For men, socks are optional  and pants are slim and short.  Most men carried a small portfolio…kinda like a clutch.  Sunglasses madatory, and either walk with purpose or consult your phone to see where the heck your photographers and models are.

Speaking of photographers and models.  The photographers were easy to spot, sensible shoes, scruffy (but well chosen) look and a large bag.  The models…they came through with nothing but their tall selves.

I hated to put my camera away.  I just knew when I did someone fabulous would rush by.  But it was time for me to go to platform 5 and uscita this citta.imageimageI entered the train  careful of the Italians exiting, cigarette poised in mouth, ready to light when their second foot touches terra.imageArrivederci  Firenze, a dopo.  Ciao Roma!

Roma Termini  is 2 miles from Trestevere, so I get a taxi.  Passing through the city, it feels oddly familiar..  I know where I am and what is around me as we drive.  In front, is the monument to Victor Emmanuel II  and behind, the street where my room 2 years ago was.imageWe arrive in the neighborhood of Trastevere and to my strada..  Trastevere is where I took my cooking class with Chef Andrea 1.  Staying here is one of the main reasons I am revisiting Roma.  To see if can get a more local feel.image

I find the building in my small piazza, buzz, enter, walk up the  50+ steps and am greeted by Gabriella.imageWhen I enter Trastevere Luxury Guest House,  I am very happy.  The outside of most of the buildings are ugly, grimy and covered with graffiti.  Mine is no exception. But inside, clean, modern and refreshing.

Gabby shows me to my room  and shares a few quick things I need to know.  For example, you must put your key card in this little slot in order to get  power (electric, air, etc.) to your room.  It takes me a moment then I realize I cannot charge my electronics when out and about…this is going to take some planning.  But the room is fabulous….and they leave me treats in my piccolo fridge.image


After I get all situated, Gabby is kind enough to spend time with me acquainting me with the area. She would tell me something, like a trattoria and then bring it up on google maps so I could get a better idea.   Although she and Alesseo are not here much of the time, when they are they are very helpful and molto  gentile.

As I am hungry, I take Gabby’s advice and not go to the busy trattoria across the street, but instead to the small one to the left.  I have my choice of tables  so I try out a few to get the best view before I order.   I begin with bicchiere di vino bianco locale.  The bring it in this piccolo ppitcher.  Is that so cute….II think I will ask to buy one before I leave on Sunday.imageI then order, what I later find out  is a local specialty,  Cacio e Pepe.  I can see why it is a favorite.  I will definitely be making this at home.  It is simply pasta fatta in casa, pecorino cheese with a bit of pasta water and black pepper.

The sky chooses to open up again and I am seated inside for my fiori di zucca fritti.imageAfter a lunch like that, it is time for molto pedi.  I head through Trastevere to  Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere.   imageimageBefore I enter the piazza, the unmistakable sound of a trumpet greets me.  I stand for a  while, enjoying the moment and his talent.  He plays the theme from Rocky.  Daddy would LOVE this

I decide to buy the cd to relive and share this moment later.  When he gives me change, it burns my hand it is so hot from sitting in the sun.  Later I pass the guitarist and he asks me how my day has been.imageI head towards the Vatican  passing by familiar monuments as I roam.  imageI turn a corner and there it is!imageimageimageThis year I have no intentions of a visit inside.  Which seems to be a good thing.  After the rain, the air is hot and humid and the lines are very long.  I just reflect of the memories made here with Mom and Jim, Mom and the kids,  Papa Francesco and myself, and that is enough.

As I turn to leave, the sky is once again threatening.  I am struck by the formation of the clouds.  They are perfect for this moment and this place.  In The Agony and the Ecstasy (the movie depicting Michelangelo’s  experiences while painting the Sistine Chapel)  there is a scene where Michelangelo is up in the mountains and receives Divine inspiration for the Creation of Adam  among the clouds.  The clouds in front of me now, so close to the Sistine Chapel and it’s focal point, resemble Irving Stone’s  portrayal. imageimageThis calendar always makes me laugh.  To think, a handsome priest of the month…BTW, this is the same coverguy from 2013.imageOn the walk home, there is no rain (probably because I have carried along a loan umbrella from the Guest House), but there is plenty of wind! The leaves and dirt swirl.

As I walk along the Tiber, I get the feeling I am very near where we (mom, Avery, Dalton and me) stayed in 2007.  I cross and find Via Giulia.  It is a posh address, but like most of Rome, gritty and dirty.imageI take a quick right, and my instincts were correct.  I find the appartamento were we stayed, complete with Avery’s favorite- graffiti and trash.imageThere are prettier things on Via Giulia, like this bridge designed by Michaelangelo,imageimageAnd one of my favorite fontanas built in 1626.

Heading back to the Guest House, I am not hungry enough for an Italian dinner, so I grab a birra, watch a puppet show in the piazza (the puppet is actually painting!)

and enjoy what’s left from this morning’s snacks.image

Moda Martedi

This being my last morning in Firenze ( for a bit) I wanted to get myself organized for tomorrow’s departure.  As you can see, my appartamento is beginning to look like home with things placed and stacked here and there.  imageAs I am writing a bit, ironing a bit, recharging a bit…the power goes off.  Thank goodness Tomaso had warned…no that’s a strong word…Tomaso  had mentioned this in passing and showed me what to do in case.

I was to  tak-a the smallest-a key-a, go-a outside-a in the hall-a, unlock-a thees leetle brown-a door-a and-a fleep-a the sweetch-a.  So still in my pj’s and “morning about the apartamento” self…I attempt to do just-a that-a.

Leetle brown-a door-a…check.imageFlip-a the sweetch-a….Hhhmmmmm….Am I a “”Bianchi” or a “Bici”?  I know he told-a me-a…..So, I stick my head back out the door-, look around and switch both of them….imageI go back to my appartamento to check and nothing  has happened.  I try this again, scurrying back and forth each time, starting to geeeet-a beet-a worried now-a.

The room is getting warmer (or is it just me), so I leave the door open and wait for passer bys.  I am thinking at least the Biachi or Bici that I am not will come check to see what the heck is going on with their lights.  There is a girl that goes by a couple of times, but understands no english.  Same with the 2nd guy.  At the point of the 3rd woman, I am sure I am looking pitiful.  I will say this, I continued to tell myself this could be so much worse.  It could be night, it could be tomorrow morning when I am trying to catch my train.  Oh, and in the meantime, I tried to email, text and call Alessandro and Tomaso (but the wifi here is not strong enough to accept or send any emails).  Anyway, this 3rd tenant, listens to my issue and walks off telling me she will call Alessandro.  About 15 minutes later, she returns, walks in the appartamento, opens another leeetle closet and says, “Ah yes (as she is fleeping a different switch).  Theees-a appens all the time-a.  Een-a Italy, we-a are-a us-a to theeesa”.  And with that, my day is back on track.

After packing and cleaning up, I choose to wear my new vestito.  I think during Florence Fashion Week, I should wear something from here.  Feeling confident, I once again enter the Ferragamo store to sample their perfume.  It is another way I think I can support my neighbor, buying the perfume before I leave.  After smelling several, I choose my favorite, the woman sprays me down, and I am off again.

Well, I thought I was off.  When I stepped out the main door of my building, the shopkeeper across the street was enjoying a melone.  With the juices running down his face, I was assured the melone was perfect for eating.  So, I buy one for tonight, run back up, set it on my tavola and NOW I’m off again.

More progress for tonight’s party. image  A shot of me in today’s fashion- Gucci window.

image In Mercato Centrale, there is a little shop highlighting some of the products from Eataly.  I think mom and dad had mentioned this and I know Jim and Tricia love the one in New York.  I am pretty sure I overheard someone mentioned there is a larger Eataly near the Mercato, so I start poking around.  Sure enough, right off one of the side streets to the left of the Duomo…I find Eataly.  Eataly is, they say, the largest Italian marketplace in the world, comprising a variety of restaurants, food, beverage counters, bakeries, retail items and a cooking school.  What’s not to like right?  So I enter.

I walk around a bit and find the casual dining area, I am seated at the bar looking over the chef’s prep area.  I choose the bruschetta sample plate, a glass of white local and aqua frizzante.  imageMy review would be that the food was good…it did not blow me away.  I felt like I was eating at the cafe at Nordstrom.  It is a good place to know about, no doubt.  Especially if you have an appartamento here where you can cook.  But I would rather roll the dice and eat from the streets.

Speaking of le strade, they are full of areas being set up for those in the fashion know.image

Time for dolce e cafe, no?

Time for dolce e cafe, no?


Still looking good, even full of cibo.

With all the preparation for parties, I think the Pitti, where I understand much of the festivities are being held, should be pretty spectacular.  So I cross the Arno to find it looking like its stodgy self.  What a Pitti.imageAlthough it is a lovely, breezy day out, ducking into a dark, cool chiesa is always special.  This is the Chiesa di San Felice.  The church with a single nave was built during the 11th Century.  The Renaissance facade was added in 1457.  Parts of 13th Century frescoes are still visible on the walls.  The large, painted crucifix is attributed to Giotto or his school.image

Strolling through this area of Oltrarno, I jot down ideas to take home and places to return to in July during my last days in Italia.

I loved this studio, where no space was safe from embellishment.imageKnowing I will be hoping a train tomorrow and making the mistake once of grabbing a bite across from the stazione, I enter this pasticceria and buy some things for the rails.  I chose some plain cake (the woman indicated it was plain by slapping her hands together like “all gone”, some thin, thin, oily, crispy bread with rosemary on top and a small bag of roasted mandorle salate.  These were amazing!imageDuring my conversation with Australians Kate and Mark, Osteria Santo Spirito was one of the places that had been recommended to them.  Peering into bowls as people ate and a peek into the kitchen sold me.  I will return.image

imageReady to head back and enjoy my melone and left over wine, I look for a place to buy some prosciutto.  Since Tamero Pasta Bar, where I ate last night, is across the piazza, I try there.  I am told (after minutes of Italian conversation by the waiter, another waiter and the chef) that selling the prosciutto to me by the slice would be very expensice.  The chef instead advises me to go to a very nice market right by Ponte Vecchio instead.  So I head that way.

Near Ponte Vecchio, I see several bars and enotecas.  They are bustling as it is aperitivo time.  I go into a piccolo one where I see meats hanging.  They sell me 8 slices of prosciutto for less than 2 eruo.  When I walk 2 more steps I know see the market the chef was talking about.  I enter to see what I missed.  Yes, this must be the place.  Again, very good to know about.  BUT you must not enter too hungry.  The lines to check our are crazy.  So, my uninformed choice was a good one.   imageHappily I enter my appartamento to the smell of my melone, Mom would die, but it makes me smile.  I cut up the entire melone, toast the leftover pana from last night (baggies in your purse come in handy), open my prosciutto from its paper wrapping, take a few of tomorrow’s mandorle salate, pour some olive oil and wine and there…A fabulous dinner!imagePassing the street set up on my way into the appartamento, the party was just getting started. I decide to throw on a scarf and some sunglasses and walk through the crowd.

I leave you with your special invite.