Dickens' book, Pictures From Italy, did not include any pictures, but this post will. Dickens did not think highly of Bernini and the Italian Baroque, which may have been unique to him, or it may have been a more general attidude among the English Victorians. I'm not sure of the Victorian attitude towards the Baroque, but I know that I like much of it, and that in contrast to Dickens I like Bernini.
I want to carry the reader through the period of preparation, and give a day by day account of the trip, and finish up with some general remarks.
Language.— I had the idea that I should learn Italian as a spoken and written language. I'd taken Italian for Reading Comprehension as part of my graduate program at CUA, but that was 25 years ago. So I went out and bought Rosetta Stone for Cynthia and myself. There are other programs out there that are cheaper than Rosetta Stone, but RS is the one that you see advertised the most. It's in Barnes and Noble, and once you look at, or buy one of their products they'll spam you forever. Now the big problem with Rosetta Stone is that it's boring. You keep over saying the same phrases over and over again, such as il bambino beve (the boy drinks). Eventually you tend to give out, and give up.
Is there any actual need to learn Italian? Generally speaking the people you'll encounter fall into several categories:
- People in the tourist industry. These include hotel employees, typically front desk people, restaurant employees, people in higher class shops (Versace, Il Prato, etc.) There's little need for Italian with these people, and you should be able to get around conversationally okay.
- People in museums. Some museums, such as the Borghese in Rome, will have guides. The guides are frequently multi-lingual. The guards, on the other hand, may have limited or no English.
- Taxi drivers. Generally not very fluent. If you carry a map of the city around with you, you can generaly resolve the problem by pointing to the street on the map. You can carry the business card of your hotel around with you, and show it to the driver.
- Butchers, and other non-restaurant food service employees. Generally hostile. They know that USDA or Customs regulations prohibit taking meat back to the US, so they have no interest in being helpful. Just look at the meat in the case, and drool.
Clothing—Cynthia decided that since we were going to be gone for 17 days that she didn't want to do laundry. So to cut down on the laundry, she bought disposable undergarments for us. The women's garments were much thinner than the men's, but being able to throw them away did free up space in the luggage.
Italy, at the time we were there, the middle of September till the beginning of October, tended to be cool in the morning, and warm up as the day went on. Since we were standing and walking most of the day we would become warm pretty rapidly. It's probably best to do without jackets at all.
There was a time when many of the defunct airlines, Braniff, Pan Am, and others had glamourous stewies. Then feminism came along, and stewies went from being glamour girls to harridans.
We decided that because all of the flights to Italy from Dulles seemed to be overnight flights, or flights that required a transfer, that we would upgrade from Economy (Coach, aka steerage, aka the train heading toward the Gulag) to Business. First class is for people like Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, and other fabulously wealthy twits. Some flights, and all four of ours fell into this category, have only Business and Gulag classes.
Our flights were Austrian Airlines from Dulles to Vienna, and Vienna to Venice; and Lufthansa from Naples to Munich, and Munich to Dulles. One immediate difference that is noticeable among the various airlines is that while United, and other airlines have stewies that can best be described as hag-masses from the 18th century, Austrian has selected goddesses for its stewies, and Lufthansa has stocked its planes with Rhine maidens, and mid-level Valkyries. (Despite the Wagnerian and operatic references I'm not implying that they were zaftig, only that they referred to their literary predecessors in terms of beauty.)
Tuesday, September 19, 2017. Departure—The first leg of the outward journey was Dulles to Vienna. Layovers on both legs of the trip were short, an hour, or just under. Austrian is a subsidiary of Lufthansa, and flying business class entitles you to the use of their lounge. There's an upstairs lounge for the First Class passengers, and a downstairs lounge for the Business Class. In both you get a variety of free food and beverages. This includes beer. Oddly, despite being a subsidiary of Lufthansa, which has a principal hub in Munich, they do not serve Löwenbräu. (In my youth I was a fan of the dark beer, but it eventually became unavailable. I did have a glass, in Italy, not on a German plane.)
You can pretty much lounge around, eat and drink, look at newspapers, some in English, some in German, while in the lounge.
Seating in the outward bound transoceanic plane is in a 2x2 configuration, and the seats are arranged so that if the person in front changes the seat to full recline it doesn't run into the person behind. There is a 12-13 inch entertainment unit that can be used for movies, or flight information. I can't cope with the earbuds and stuff, so all I ever do is watch the flight info.
Vienna—One of the many things that I associate with Vienna, aside from Strauss waltzes, Mozart, WW I, and Freud, is the sewers of Vienna. When I mentioned this on Facebook I was greeted by the FB equivalent of puzzled stares. For the millennials out there I should explain that in The Third Man there is a scene towards the end in which Harry Lime (Orson Welles) tries to flee from the police by going into the sewers. The scene is so famous, at least among film buffs, that there are tours of the sewers. Unfortunately in our 50 minute layover we were so busy rushing through the airport, and doing a second security screening that we did not have time to do anything except head for the plane.
One of the oddities, to me, of European travel, is the Schengen zone. Once you have entered a Eurozone country your passport is stamped at your ports of entry (Vienna), and departure (Munich), but not at your ultimate destination (Venice). That seems pointless to me.
Venice, Day 1, Sept 20, 2017—During the flights we were well fed, and had very good breakfasts, two of them, one on each plane. In Gulag class the stewies typically throw the zeks a bag of peanuts. In Business Class, and presumably in First Class, you get a more service. There is no need to wipe down your tree with a disinfectant wipe. The stewies bring hot linen napkins for your hands, and a large linen napkin is placed on your tray. You have your choice of food, from a rather nice menu, and wine and drinks are included.
Hotel—When we disembarked in Venice we were met by a chauffeur who took us to a stop where we transferred to a water taxi. Italy is very security conscious, and there were a fair number of Italian soldiers on duty, as well as a highly visible police presence. Apparently there was some kind of police, or police/army exercise going on at the time because some of the police were from outside of Venice.
The water taxi pulled up to a wharf or dock near the hotel, and helped us unload the luggage, but the entrance to the hotel was about 50 feet inland, so he didn't let us off at the door. When we got out we didn't pay any attention but what we thought was a private dock was in fact a vaporetto stop, the Venetian equivalent of a bus stop.
Transportation in Venice is by car, in certain points, but not in the principal tourist areas; gondolas, which are expensive; water taxis, private boats for hire, also very expensive; and vaporetto, water buses, which are relatively cheap, or by foot or other organic forms of transport (bicycle, etc.)
The hotel, as I was saying before I interrupted myself, was not recognizable as a hotel at first. There was no glaring neon sign. The Locanda de la Spada (Inn of Swords) was noticeable only when we saw the open door, and the concierge's desk. The hotel, or Bed and Breakfast, was in a restored mansion that dated back to the 14th century.* Because the hotel is a historic building there are rules governing the updating of the building. The Venetian Fine Arts Commission, or bureaucratic equivalent thereof, apparently sets rules regarding the renovations that can be made to an historic building. One of the limitations was the size of the elevator. It was not big enough to carry a human being. It could carry our luggage, but not us. Our room, and indeed all the rooms, were on the 3rd floor. So we had to walk up 70-80 steps. I think someone said there were 78 steps, but I wasn't counting.
I asked the man at the desk, and he said 14th century. It later occurred to me that for English speakers we say 14th century to cover the period 1301-1400, which in Italian is trecento, while the period 1401-1500, our 15th century, is the Italian quattrocento. Whether there is or was any linguistic confusion in the dating, I can't say. End of pedantic footnote.
We managed to negotiate the steps, and get unpacked. Then it was time (5:00pm) for us to go to dinner. We soon found out that Italians have a different idea about when dinner time is.
Harry's Bar—I've got a copy of Hemingway's Across the River, and Into the Trees hanging around here in my office waiting to be read. Unless I'm mistaken the hero spends a good time hanging out at Harry's Bar in Venice. In real life Hemingway, Lauren Bacall, and others hung out there in '50s and '60s, so it's on everyone's to do list. It's famous as the place where the Bellini was invented. Naturally we had to try one, so about 5:00 we walked from our hotel, which is on the Calle Gritti, over to Harry's. It should be easy enough to get to, they're both on the Grand Canal. Unfortunately going that way means walking on water. That's only been done one and a half times. (The second attempt ended with the guy falling flat on his face into the sea.) So you have to walk up the Calle Gritti to an open plaza, cross over, and then go back down to Harry's.
Harry's has a production line for turning out Bellinis. Cynthia judged hers to be okay, but preferred the ones she had back at the Macaroni Grill in Fairfax. Harry's Bellini comes in at €17, and is about 45-60cl, a jigger, or a bit more. So it's rather overpriced. We were going to order dinner there, but the Italian idea of dinner time is 7:00pm, or 1900. So we wandered around and wound up having dinner at a place called Piccolo Martini, where we had pizza with prosciutto and mushrooms. This was a thin crust pizza, and was very tasty.
Venice, Day 2, September 21, 2017—Breakfast in the hotel was very good. We ate in a little area away from our rooms which has a small balcony overlooking the Grand Canal. You could look out and see the gondolas, water taxis, vaporettos, and even the occasional cruise ship. A variety of juices were available. I stuck with orange juice. Eggs, olives, mushrooms, pastries, a variety of meats, and coffee (Americano, for those, like Cynthia, who drink weak stuff, and espresso or capuccino for those, like moi, who eschew girly drinks in the morning.
We went out after breakfast, and started to walk to St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco). There is an interesting shop, Il Prato, on the way on the Calle de le Ostreghe. They have a series of small wooden bookcases with Jewish themes, wine themes, and others. They're very elegant, and very expensive. (About €950–1,500.)
We were about to enter the main area of the Piazza, and I'd taken some photographs when a guy approached us about going out to Murano, where the glass blowing factories are. We'd had that on our to do list, so we went out to Murano. We were taken by water taxi, a journey of about 30-45 minutes, and docked in front of one of the factories. There was a short demonstration of the glass blowing technique, and then we were free to explore, but not photograph, the showrooms. Everything in the showroom is very pretty, very expensive. I would have gone for some wine glasses, but didn't want to pay an enormous amount in shipping. Cynthia bought some earrings.
On our return we went back to San Marco, and went through the Basilica. The line is very long, and I don't know if it was because of rain and wet pavement, or just standard practice, but we had to get up and down on steel platforms that were of uneven height. You'd walk 20 feet on one platform, and then either climb up, or step down about a foot. My knees are not in the best of shape. (I get quarterly cortisone shots, and am waiting to lose weight so I can get a nice titanium knee.) The Basilica is very nice, but I started to feel faint, and had to ask permission to sit down. This was the first of several episodes of lightheadedness, and near fainting.
I believe that it was this day that we stopped at the Caffe Lavena. We had a drink, and a sandwich, prosciutto and fontina cheese. The sandwich, which is basically a ham and cheese sandwich, though both are fancier than back in the States, was €18. It was a good sandwich, but overpriced. On the other hand, it was frequented by Liszt, Rostropovich, Alberto Moravia, and Richard Wagner, so there is a bit of ghostly ambience, if you're aware of it before you go.*
We ate in a restaurant in London, in Shepherd's Market, that served a variety of famous people, including Lenin, whom I mention solely because he's the one who pops into my mind. The London restaurant had pictures of the historic personages, including Lenin, who had eaten there. There was a bit more of historic ambience in the London restaurant.
We got lost when we tried to find our way back, but finally got back to the hotel, and had dinner at Ristorante de Raffaele on the Calle de la Ostreghe. The restaurant overlooks the canal, and I took movies of the gondolas. There was a rather pretty girl in the foreground, and it was difficult, if not impossible, to get the shot without also getting her.*
Of course, I have no objection to taking pictures of pretty girls.
The restaurant, the hotel Locanda de la Spada, and several other properties in the area are owned by the Salmaso family who came to Venice in the 1950s.
Venice. Day 3, September 22, 2017—This was the day that we decided to go to the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale). We got there early enough that we were able to spend several hours on the tour. We did not do a guided tour, but we did fall in several times with tour groups. The outside of the Palace is gorgeous, and you are allowed to take photographs. Once you get inside the photography should stop. We saw numerous tourists violate the ban, and Cynthia actually said something to them, but to no avail.
The Palace is immense. Each room is filled with paintings, or covered with frescoes. There are numerous rooms that are devoted to the administration of justice, and I kept trying to figure out which room would have held the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice. I finally settled on the room that held the Council of Ten. Whether that's accurate I have no idea. Among the places that you see as you make your way through the Palace are The Bridge of Sighs, which connects the Palace to the New Prisons; the New Prisons, an armory, one room, which is visible but roped off from the public, that contains what looks like a gold Gatling gun, but which a Facebook friend says is a volley gun, i.e., it fires all barrels simultaneously, and numerous other rooms. The tour is long, both in time, and in distance covered.* Afterwards we had a small lunch in the cafeteria of the Doge's Palace."We had lunch at the Doge's Palace." Doesn't that sound nice? We had to clear out by 1300 for some kind of international meeting.
The tour takes several hours, and I would not recommend it for anyone in wheelchairs. Nor would I recommend it for anyone with OEM knees that are awaiting replacement.
I had this fantasy that we would go to the Jewish Ghetto, which is maintained by American Jews, and that since there was no language problem I would have a little chat with the guy at the Museum, and ask him which house he imagined Shylock living in, and that I would make that my imaginary Shylock house. Alas, it was not to be.
From the Palazzo Ducale we caught a vaporetto to Mercuola. This is the site of the Venice Casino,* and the Jewish Ghetto, where Shylock would have lived. It's a bit of a hike from the vaporetto stop to the Ghetto. On the way up a waitress handed us a menu. We kept going past the restaurant, got to the area. No one seemed to be around, but I saw what I thought was a ticket booth for the museum. Cynthia went up to turn in our pass for the museum. The ticket booth held three soldiers, who told her the museum was closed. Of course it was. It was the High Holydays. I thought they would observe Shabat, which I knew about, Rosh Hoshanna, and Yom Kippur. I didn't think they would be off before Yom Kippur, and since this was Friday, I knew we'd avoided Shabat. So there went my fantasy. I did finally pick a house for Shylock though.
The Venice Casino, unlike the one I went to in the UK, requires formal dress. Apparently that means a coat and tie. The last time I wore a coat and tie was in 2014 for my high school reunion. We didn't pack appropriately, so even though we had free entry, we didn't go.
We sat down on a bench, and were joined by an elderly Italian gentleman who spoke decent English. He said he had been born there, which I took to mean Venice generally, but Cynthia apparently took to mean the Ghetto. He told us that during WW II about 200 jews lived in the Ghetto. They were rounded up by the Germans. Venice had been emptied of its jews.
We walked back, and decided to have lunch at the restaurant where the girl had approached us. The Trattoria ai do Fradei* has an outside area, so we had a seat outside, and I ordered a large beer. If you've ever been to Pizza Hut, and ordered a pitcher of beer to go with your family's dinner, that was about the size of what the waiter brought me. Actually, it was probably only a liter. I think the Pizza Hut pitcher is either 2 liters, or 64 oz. I was thirsty, and that beer just glugged, glugged down my throat. I don't recall what we had for lunch. (Not because I was drunk, but because the food wasn't that memorable, and I didn't take notes.)
This place has gotten bad reviews on travel sites. As indicated above we had a decent experience, but then we didn't order a lot.
The waiter was delighted by my capacity. When a group of tourists came by he encouraged the guys to try a pitcher. He pointed to me, and said I'd had one. I held up my big pitcher, and proudly displayed it. One of the women, who could tell my accent that I was from the States, asked if I was from Texas. "Virginia," I roared out. So the six of us, the four tourists, who were from South Africa, Cynthia, and myself got into a bit of a conversation over lunch. An entertaining time was had by all.
We had been smart enough to finally figure out that our hotel was actually on a vaporetto stop. Actually I think we had asked the guy at the desk where to catch a vaporetto, and he told us that we could catch it at the wharf down the street. What can I say? We were dumb not to have noticed it the first day. Our stop on Line 1 of the vaporetto was the Giglio stop.
Venice, Day 4, September 23, 2017—From the window of the breakfast area we could see across to the harbor where the cruise ships put in. This morning we looked out, and saw the Costa Luminosa, the next day we saw the MSC Musica putting out to sea.*
Obviously we had no way of knowing which ships were in port at the time. I checked around, and found the lists of ships that were in port in Venice and Naples at the time of our visits.
We had wanted to buy Venetian masks. I decided that I wanted to buy a mask for one of the characters from the commedia dell' arte. I thought either Il Dottore, literally the doctor, apparently in commedia the head of the household; Pantalone, the wealthy old man; or Arlecchino, Harlequin, the comic servant. I'd done some research before we left, and found two stores that sold masks, one was Tragicomica, and the other was Ca' Macana. We decided to give Ca' Macana a try.
Ca' Macana is across the Grand Canal, so it's on a different island than our hotel. The vaporetto stop is Ca' Rezzonico. We started walking in the direction indicated by the Apple map on my iPhone. I stopped at a tabacchi to ask directions, and the lady pointed us towards the shop. I should explain that while a tabacchi sells cigarettes it probably does not sell cigars or pipe tobacco. In fact tobacco is one of the least of the items it sells. Gum, toothpaste, lottery tickets, are just as likely to be sold.
The lady at Ca' Macana was very nice, and I finally settled on the Arlecchino mask. Cynthia bought a small, decorative mask. I rejected Pantalone because he looked two angry, though Cynthia thought it was me. The girl wrapped them up for us, and tried to make sure that they would be protected in our luggage. We had to schlep three suitcases and two backpacks around Italy. We would be taking 3 trains, and 2 planes, and 1 car trip with our luggage before getting home. So we worried about the masks, mostly my mask because it was larger, and more likely to get knocked around.
On our way back to the vaporetto stop I popped into the tabacchi, and thanked the lady for her directions, and told her we'd bought masks.
The Rialto Bridge is famous, and is mentioned in The Merchant of Venice (Act III, scene i). It used to have small stores on the bridge itself, and you can see where they were. The vaporetto stop is up from Ca' Rezzonico, and is back on the other side of the Grand Canal. Oddly enough the stop is called Rialto. The area around the bridge is mostly lower class shops, not shops for the lower classes, just not as good as the shops around San Marco. So we took some photos, and went back to the hotel.
There's a small church near our hotel. I believe it's dedicated to St. Lawrence. We went to Mass there on Saturday evening. Couldn't understand a word of it. Somehow it seemed strange to hear God addressed as Signore, instead of Lord.
Departure & Florence, Day 1, September 24, 2017—The train station for Venice is at the Ferrovia stop. Unless I'm mistaken that looks like a compound word made up of "ferro," iron; and "via," road. An appropriate name for the railroad terminal.
One of our medium size suitcases had been damaged at one of the airports so that the handle would not release. Cynthia made the mistake of telling the guy not to push the handle down. He promptly pushed the handle down. That meant I had to pick the silly thing up and carry it instead of rolling it along the pavement. Fortunately, there were porters at the train station. Now at Dulles you can get carts to pile the luggage on. Those weren't available at any of the train stations we saw. So we used the porters. Unfortunately, those porters want €20 to carry your luggage. They also carry it only as far as the gates; they don't help load it onto the train.
The train personnel in the UK are generally helpful, and the trains are very nice, with good service. Though the trains do run on time in Italy the crews are not very helpful. At almost every stop we were assisted by kind passengers who helped us get the heavy luggage into the overhead racks.
The train from Venice to Florence passes through Padua, where Petruchio came to wive it merrily, and Bologna, home of the first university in Europe. I grabbed a couple of shots as the train went through the cities.
Our hotel, Residenza d'Epoca was in the Piazza della Signoria. This is an historic area where much of the political action of the Renaissance took place. Our hotel was a short distance from the Casa di Dante, which is a restoration/reconstruction of Dante's house. It was also a short distance from the Uffizi and the Duomo.
The hotel has an elevator that is big enough for one person at a time. This is another ancient building that has undergone some renovation. The rooms are named. Ours was Giulio. We looked towards the Duomo and other buildings. Breakfast was served in a large dining room on the floor below. Eggs, coffee, pastries, were available.
We arrived Sunday afternoon, and the Uffizi was closed on Monday, so we thought we could get tickets for Tuesday pretty easily.
Florence, Day 2, September 25, 2017—A young friend had said he'd heard about the open air leather market in Florence, and wanted a belt from there. This is Il Mercato Centrale (The Central Market), and there are a number of leather vendors on the streets outside. We took a cab from our hotel to the market. Now unlike NYC, London, DC, or other cities, you cannot hail a cab in Italy. I don't know if the taxi market is highly regulated, as in NYC, or if cabs are a local/state monopoly, but you are supposed to go to a taxi stand, and accept whichever cab you are ushered into. So it can cause a bit of difficulty when you have to run around looking for a taxi stand.
We bought our friend a belt, and Cynthia bought a bag. Someone saw her, and told her that her €99 was a fake. He tried to sell her a more expensive bag at about €200.
The inside of the market is devoted to food, including wine, and some whisky, rum, and other strong booze. There are numerous meat and cheese stalls, including one where most of the pig, inside and outside, head (including ears, for those who want to make silk purses) to tail (well at least the rear feet), is displayed. Either USDA or Customs prohibits bringing certain food items into the country. So the guys in the stalls aren't terribly nice to tourists because they're not going to sell a lot to them.
The market has an upstairs, and there is either an escalator or elevator (ascensore), but you have to look really hard to find it. There is no way down except by the stairs. The upstairs is a number of restaurants. Drinks, including wine and beer, are available, and a number of dishes, such as pizza, gelato, and others.
One thing that you will notice in much of Italy is that the food, including olive oil and cheese, tastes better over there.
We went from the market to the Duomo. We took photos of the golden doors of the Baptistery, and went into the Duomo, which is actually a Basilica. There is not much you can say about the building, not unless your eloquence equals that of a Dante or Shakespeare, so I will say nothing more.
We had dinner either our first or second night at a restaurant in the Piazza, and I had a steak with gorgonzola and walnuts. It was pretty good, and I was going to try a Florentine steak, but they were expensive. (Florentine steak is a T-Bone, coated with olive oil, salt, pepper, and grilled over a high heat for 6 to 8 minutes per side, depending on degree of doneness. It is then drizzled with lemon juice.) I may trying doing both when grilling season returns.
Florence, Day 3 & Departure, September 26, 2017—Our concierge had tried to get us tickets to the Uffizi, but had failed. So we decided to see if we could get in on cancellations, no-shows. No luck. We did go to the Palazzo Vecchio. Our train was leaving later in the afternoon, so we left our luggage at the hotel, and hung around. Cynthia wanted to get more Euros, and needed her passport. So she went back to get it. We met up at the money exchange place, and I wanted to get a European power plug for the iPhones. Our adapters weren't working out too well. Cynthia had a panic, because she'd lost her wallet with €20-30 in it. I'd asked where I could find a plug, and I was told the April store, or at least that's what it sounded like to both of us. Cynthia went back to check for her wallet. I went in search of the store. It turned out to be the Apple store. The girl I dealt with did not speak English, and could not understand what I was talking about. She gave me a box of adapters, which I paid for. I hurried back to the forex place where I was to meet Cynthia.
Cynthia could not find her wallet. We had to hurry to the train, so we decided to accept the loss.
The trains have club cars where you can buy booze and soft drinks. I decided to go back and buy a drink for each of us. I think I got soft drinks. I reached into my pants pocket, and I felt two identical wallets. Cynthia's and mine. She'd handed it to me, and forgotten about it. I'd taken it, and forgotten about it. Such are the pleasures of mutual senility.
Oh, about the adapters I'd paid for, I couldn't see where they plugged into the wall. They appear to be useless. If I can return them when we make our annual pilgrimage to Tyson's Corner, I probably will.
Rome, Day 1, September 26, 2017—We caught a taxi from the Rome station to our hotel, which was located either near or inside the Vatican. We'd prepared for the trip to Venice by purchasing the Venezia Unica package, which got us into Doge's Palace, and gave us three day passes on the vaporetto. We prepared for Rome by buying an Omnia Pass and a Roma Pass.* Both ran for three days, and came from the same vendor.
We found these useless, and hard to use. So no link.
Hotel Disaster—Unlike the hotel The Eagles sing about you can leave this one. It was so bad that I gave it a 1 star review on Booking.com. The other hotels had people to greet us, carry the luggage, and other things. The owner/manager had sent us messages about our arrival, and I'd responded. So we expected to be greeted by an English speaker. We were greeted by a man and a woman. Neither of them spoke English. The man took our luggage up. The woman rattled on in Italian. We found out that there was a place to eat, Balastera, nearby.
Entry and exit into the hotel and the room was contolled by a series of 3 keys for 4 doors.
- The street door, and the ground floor courtyard door.
- The key to the area where the manager works, and the general hallway. The hall lights were on a timer, and had to be turned on when you entered the hall. That meant groping around for one of the switches.
- The room door. This was tricky and hard to use.
Various amenities, such as toiletries were missing.
Breakfast was down the street at the Caffeteria Gracchi. This is what is called a tavola calda, or hot table. The Italian Wikipedia article, upon translation, calls it a snack bar. We had free croissants and coffee for breakfast here. We had dinner here once, our second night. (Grilled squid, which was a bit overwhelming. I think I'll stick with fried squid. That has small, more manageable pieces.) The staff were polite and helpful. We had no internet, so we used their free, working, WiFi to check out maps and things. They also helped us by calling taxis for us.
Our first night's dinner was at Al Balestrari. I made the mistake of ordering some beef dish that was served in a black sauce. I'm afraid that I didn't like it, and we didn't return to the restaurant. That doesn't mean that the dish was bad, simply that I didn't like it, and we wanted to try other places.
There were two stores to the right of our hotel when you came out, one was an enoteca, wine store, Vini, Vizi & Virtù, or Wine, Vice & Virtue. The other was a house furnishings store run by a Danish woman.
It may have been the first evening, but I asked the proprietor of the enoteca about a wine that I'd read about in some magazine. It was sorted of linked to one of the ancient wines that you read about in Petronius and other authors. The name kept slipping in and out of my mind. When I spoke to him, I found that it had slipped out. I knew I had the note on my iPhone, but I couldn't look it up then. The following day I looked it up, Falerno del Masaccio. Ah, yes, but they didn't have it. Though I did ultimately find a bottle.
Rome, Day 2, September 27, 2017—The Omnia Pass people advertise the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill/Museum as among their attractions. We'd picked the Palatine Hill and the Borghese as the top two places we wanted to visit. So we asked the taxi driver to take us to the Palatine hill. He didn't know where we wanted to go. After some effort we finally decided to go to the Borghese gallery.
The Borghese is a beautiful building. You enter through a gate from the Via Pinciana , and there are flower gardens on your right, and a great park on your left. The ticket office is on the lower level. It turned out that the Borghese requires reservations. Admission was free, but you must have reservations. So we made reservations for 1700. That meant we had about 6 hours to kill.
In the old days, before the Feds decided to break up the only monopoly that ever worked well, you simply asked the operator to make an international call, and then paid an exorbitant rate. At least that's how it was done in the movies. Now you have to add international calling and data as separate features to your phone. There's a plan for calling from the US to Europe, and another for calling from Europe to the US. Data, such as map data, is charged differenttly than a phone call, and it's part of the plan too. To avoid high data charges you usually turn the international data roaming off. It's pretty easy to turn it on and off on your iPhone. It is expensive.
Data was off on my phone, so the map app was useless. I wanted to get some idea of what was nearby that was on our Omnia Card. I only ended up embarrassing myself and wasting time.
So we tried to find the Museum of Contemporary Art that was in the Garden area. The signs were not terribly helpful, and we ended up doing a good deal of walking. I didn't keep track of our route, but you can get a pretty good idea of our path by looking at Google Maps. From the museum we walked down the Viale dell' Uccelliera towards and past the zoo. I'm not sure of our path from there, but we wound up on the Viale Pietro Canonica. There's a museum devoted to him, and a replica of the Globe Theater. We walked past the Globe and got drinks and a sandwich from one of the vendors. We waited around till 1300, when the Museo Pietro Canonica opened, and we went inside. Neither Cynthia nor I had ever heard of Pietro Canonica. He's a sculptor who worked in the realistic mode in the early 1900s. His work was surprisingly good. Unfortunately they also had an installation of contemporary work that paired poorly with Canonica's sculptures.
I was dying of thirst by this time, so we decided to hit the cafe at the Borghese Gallery. That was closed. The bathrooms, while clean, had the seats removed. That was too reminescent of jail/prison to be comfortable. So we sat around for a couple of hours. At one point I went up to one of the museum guides, a pretty blonde, naturally, and said "Parla Inglese?" She replied, "Oui," and burst out laughing. Apparently a multi-lingual lass. I'm not sure what I asked her about, it may have been elevator usage.
The Borghese has elevators, but they are small, difficult to find, and the guards are not very helpful in their use.
I was surfing one day, and came across an entry about an art theft in Boston. The curator laid out specific conditions for how the stolen, and yet to be recovered paintings, should be stored. If you visit the National Gallery in DC, or the one in London, or the Tate, the rooms are temperature and humidity controlled. That's not done at the Borghese. The windows are open during good weather.
We saw a number of sculptures. The first room is devoted primarily to sculptures of Pauline Bonaparte, including the infamous nude. The Museum allows two hours for each visit, so ours was rather rushed. We did see numerous Bernini sculptures. I think what Dickens didn't like about Bernini, and the Baroque generally, was the overt sensuality and sexuality of the pieces.
Rome, Day 3, September 28, 2017—Someone made the suggestion that we see Ostia Antica. We had to get up early to get to the meeting point for the tour group. The group was to meet at a tavern in front of the train station, which was across the street from the Pyramid of Cestius. The building and the stop are called Pyramide. Now you might say, as we do in English, Peer-a-mid, that would be wrong, and your taxi driver won't know what your talking about. That's why I suggest showing him the map. He'll comprehend that better than your miserable accent. The proper way to say it is more along the lines of Puh-ram-a-dee. Every vowel is sounded.
The train to Ostia Antica is a local commuter train, and you'll see regular Italians going about their daily business, as well as tourists.
Ostia is a large site, and our group was fairly numerous. The guide, Amanda, moved rather fast, and I had a lot of trouble keeping up. Typically when I walk, and I go up or down stairs I hold on to the handrail so I can keep my balance. This proved difficult for me, but several of the other people, guys, most emphatically not women, would help me. This included one guy whom otherwise I would have regarded as a tree-hugger. He was actually very nice. There may be hope for even the tree-huggers.*
I should point out that for once I had the sense to keep my mouth shut. Need I point out that Jesus had more negative things to say about what comes out of the mouth, than what goes in, and that there is a common proverb about better to be thought a fool than to open one's mouth, and remove all doubt. Good advice.
Ostia still has the original roads, which are made out of basalt, a volcanic material. (Basalt is a sort of gray, tending towards black. It's dull, and not very good looking. Obsidian, which is dragon glass in Game of Thrones, is also volcanic, but is glassy, and a more pure black.) The rock is not laid down in nice, even tiles. I don't know if it was ever even and tiled, but today it is broken up, and uneven. This makes it hard to walk on, and we had to be continually checking our feet.
I had several episode of lightheadness, during which I almost fainted, but I was able to steady myself, and "keep buggering on."*
Supposedly said by Churchill during the war years.
The site is extensive, and the tour lasted about 4 hours. Things of note are the ruins of several houses, the bakers shop, the offices where business was conducted, with tile that indicates the type of business, or the place of origin, or other things. Some of the things, such as the baths of Neptune, involve climbing up stairs. You may not want to do that if you're very tired, have trouble climbing stairs, or some other reason.
Our tour was broken into two parts. After about 2 hours we stopped, and had lunch at one of the modern buildings that houses tourist/scientific areas. We then resumed the tour. Our guide had lunch with us, and advised us that people who put off travel until they retire are making a mistake. Well, duh, yeah, but unless you're a pathetic failure, or you've postponed things, you're busy getting married, having children, taking care of children, and living, to have either the money or the time to travel. She also advised us that Pompeii would be tough for us to do. We were starting to feel tired, and were inclined to agree with her.
After the tour ended we made our way back to the lunch place. From there we were to follow the asphalt, not yellow brick, road to the train station, and from there back to the Pyramide station. It took a long while, and it was a long walk, but we finally got to the station, and on the train. There were a number of teenage girls, all of them trying to act like sophisticated adults. There was a blonde who was doing the kissy face thing, a brunette doing the Bob Fosse hip-cock thing, and they were blaring loud, bad music.
One thing that was on my to do list was to visit the graves of Keats, Shelley, and Gregory Corso. They are all buried in close proximity in the Protestant Cemetery (Cimiterio acattolica di Roma). The cemetery is behind the Pyramid of Cestius. Aha, you can do it after you come back from Ostia. Not so fast young man. It takes a long time to find that bloody asphalt road, and there were no tin men, or cowardly lions to make that road entertaining. Then there's the problem of the entrance to the cemetery. It's behind the Pyramide, but go left, or go right? I went right. That path takes you down the Via Raffaele Persichetti, and you will in fact pass by the tomb of Keats, but you will not be able to see it, or enter, because you took the wrong path, and there is no entrance. You should have gone left, down the Viale del Campo Boario. The entrance is on that side. It is then a short walk to Keats' grave. But it is not a short walk around the cemetery. When I finally got back to where Cynthia was sitting I was exhausted. The health app on my iPhone was showing I'd walked 8 miles.
I think it was the evening of this day that we encountered the proprietor of the store next door to us. She was a good looking, blonde, Danish woman in her mid to late 30s, or early 40s. We wound up talking to her about the problems we'd had in the hotel. She knew the manager, and made a number of remarks about her inadequacies. She called the manager, and left a message for her.
Rome, Day 4, September 29, 2017—You can't go to Rome, and not see the Sistine Chapel. We'd tried to sign up for a a tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel with the Omnia Card people. It let us order one ticket, but we couldn't get a second. So I decided to get International Calling put on my phone. That didn't work out too well. So I went to Vatican website, and got 2 tickets for the Museums and the Sistine Chapel
Admission was at 9:00, and went relatively smoothly. At least for some values of smooth. Now the thing about the Sistine Chapel is that it's the ultimate prize in the tour. The big kahuna. First though you have to visit all the lesser fry. So you start out at the entrance, and then proceed through to all of the museums till you reach the Sistine Chapel. Each room is magnificent, but you're not going through a modern museum, so some famous statues and art work are not emphasized in their arrangement. You might pass by some famous work that you admired in art history class, and not even notice it. Because the place is so vast, and you want to reach the Chapel, you might not pause to give each room, or each art work the attention it deserves. One of the most impressive rooms is the one devoted to cartography. The ceiling is vaulted, I believe,* and the joints of the vault are covered in gold, and frescoes are painted on the ceiling. The effect is gorgeous. Raphael's School of Athens is in the museums as well. We took a brief look, but didn't really study it in the detail it deserved.
It's not vaulted, i.e., ribbed. It's one continuous long arch. I checked my photographs, and there's no sign of ribs.
When you finally achieve the ultimate goal of your journey, and reach the Sistine Chapel, the effect is almost anti-climactic. It's too big to take in at once. It's hard to grasp the narrative unfolding on the ceiling, and your head and neck are uncomfortably positioned. Then after wandering around, and trying to get a good view, you exit the chapel.
You may have left the chapel, but you're still caught in the web of the museums. You keep going, and you come to a small food court. We went to one that had pizza. Cynthia went, and got me a slice of one that had sausage on it. The sausage was an American hotdog. Woe for you Italia that you have sunk so low! I picked the hotdog off, and ate the rest of the pizza.
There is still a long ways to go before the exit (uscite). There are a couple of museum shops along the way. Then you finally get to the exit. The way to the exit is down a vast spiral staircase. According to Wikipedia this is a Bramante staircase, even though it was built in 1932, and designed by Giuseppe Momo. It is a double helix that is supposed to allow ascent and descent without the groups meeting. It is located in the Pio-Clementine Museum. All visitors, according to Wikipedia, leave by this staircase. That's not quite true. I was very tired, and the design of the staircase reminded me of nothing so much as the sketches of Dante's hell that are printed in almost every copy of La Commedia. There is, however, off to the side, an elevator. The elevator is available to the public. When I got on the elevator I cried out to the operator in my tiredness, "You are a gift from God."
When we got back the manager was there, and Cynthia spoke to her about the WiFi, which worked, as I've said, in her area, but not in ours. It never worked right during our entire stay. She promised to have a cab there to take us to the train station, and said that the driver would help us with the luggage.
In our hotels in Venice and Florence we had been assisted in the luggage handling by hotel staff. There had also been someone there for check-in and check-out. That's what the staff is for. Apparently this place had either no staff, or minimal staff, that being someone who came in to sweep the hallways, and make-up the rooms. There had been no one there, who worked at the hotel, to assist with check-in, and there would be no one there to assist with check-out. We checked-in and checked-out at the times specified in their literature, and yet there was no one there to assist us.
We spent the remainder of the day recovering.
Rome, Day 5, September 30, 2017—We wanted to go to the Colosseum. Apparently the streets nearest the Colosseum were blocked, so we were let out near Altar of the Fatherland (Altare della Patria) on the Via del Fori Imperiali. There are a number of excavations along the way, including one that has intact blue and white tile from Imperial times. Some of the areas allow you to go very close to the excavation site, and it is well worth taking an up close look.
Rome is full of tourists, as you'd expect, and they come in two flavors: crazy American tourists, and crazy Catholic tourists. There is some overlap between the two groups of course, which makes things really interesting. (Of course it's particularly interesting when you belong to both groups yourself.) On any given day roughly 50-75% of the crazy tourists will be at the Forum. The remainder will be at Vatican city. So the forum will get pretty crowded. One thing that tourists do is take selfies. There are vendors every few feet, or meters, selling selfie sticks. I've taken a few selfies, mostly when I've been doing something that I wanted to post to Facebook. I don't take a lot, but every tourist had to get his or her picture taken in front of some monument or other.
Once you have battled your way past the the tourists you will get close to the Piazza del Colosseo. If the Forum is crowded that might be all you do. If you are very tired it is almost certain that you will not want to fight the crowds to get closer to the Colosseum. We saw enormous crowds, evocative of the vision in The Wasteland, which derives from Dante, and decided to go no further. We saw the Colosseum, and that was enough.
It's fashionable to call certain photos, movies, people, "iconic." One image from about 1960 that is rightly called iconic is that from La Dolce Vita of Anita Ekberg bathing in the Fountain of Trevi. So after the Forum we set off for the Fountain and the Via Veneto.
The fountain is surrounded by the crazy tourists who have escaped from the Forum and the Vatican. At midday you can't really get close enough to see it. We managed to get some brief film of the fountain. The area around the fountain has a number of restaurants and food shops. As always when food is displayed in Italy it looks better than in the States.
Post-lunch we tried to walk to the Via Veneto. It should be doable, but for us it wasn't, so we went back to the hotel.
Departure & Naples, Day 1, October 1, 2017—We didn't trust the manager to carry through with her promises, so we made a number of contingency plans. These included getting the luggage down ourselves. We managed to get the first part of the luggage down with Cynthia. Unfortunately the elevator does not stop level with the ground. It stops at some steps that are a couple of feet up from the ground, so that you, and your luggage, have to negotiate a couple of steps. Cynthia got a bit ambitious in her negotiating efforts, and the steps refused to yield their position. She fell, and injured her coccyx. It bothered her some for the rest of the trip.
The train ride was uneventful, and we got into the station without any hassle. The taxi took us through what looked like a run down slum area with graffiti all along the buildings. My heart sank. Detroit. NYC during the Dinkins era. What had we gotten into. The hotel was behind a gate. We rolled/carried our luggage into the hotel. It wasn't a slum! It was actually pretty nice. The room was on two levels, a small twin on the first level, with a desk, tv, a patio that overlooked a garden with a small pool. (The pool was not suitable for laps, but would be okay for a quick dip.) The upstairs had a double or queen size bed, bathroom, with a large shower. This was far better tha the disaster in Rome.
It was early, and the Archeological Museum (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli) was open. I'd had it marked down as worth seeing for the Farnese Bull and the Farnese Hercules. It was actually a 5-10 minute walk from the hotel. So we got there without any difficulty.
The museum is on three floors, and there is an elevator, several in fact, available for the handicapped, and the walking wounded. We wandered around, and saw the Farnese sculptures, including the Bull and Hercules. The best part of the sculptures and frescoes from Pompeii are in the Museum, and not in Pompeil. This includes the erotic art, including a rather amusing sculpture of Pan and a she-goat, numerous phalluses, and other naughty art. The well known images, the ones that make it into the regular art history books, such as the baker and his wife, and Sappho are in the Museum, and not in Pompeii.
I'm not sure where we ate that night, but outside of the hotel breakfasts, which were good, I don't think we had many, if any, good meals in Naples. I didn't like one or two meals in Rome, but that was me as much as, if not more than, the restaurant.
One lunch time meal, probably the one we had before going to the museum, was at a funky little place where you paid for your food by weight. There was a bit of a mixup with the whole thing, and Cynthia paid for one meal, rather than two. One of the waitresses came after us, to our great embarrassment, but we got it straightened out, and never ate there again.
I think it was when we were walking back from the museum that we ran into our tour guide from Ostia, Amanda. We chatted for a bit outside a church. the Chiesa di Santa Maria di Constantinopoli, that was covered with graffiti. To our surprise the door was opened by a nun, so it was a working, living church, not a church that was closed. Amanda recommended a restaurant that was across the street. We couldn't see it, but spent a couple of days looking for it, and then decided that we didn't like the looks of it, and ate elsewhere.
Naples, Day 2, October 2, 2017—There were a couple of movies that we saw before our trip in which an Italian city served as the backdrop for the movie. One was Light In the Piazza (1964; Yvette Mimieux, Olivia de Havilland, George Hamilton, Rossano Brazzi) which took place in Florence. The other was It Started in Naples (1959, Clark Gable, Sophia Loren). Much of the action took place on the isle of Capri, where Tiberius frolicked with his "little fishes."*
Nowadays those fish would be blabbing all over about Tiberius and his pedophilic inclinations. He liked to play games with little boys and girls. In today's society he would be facing serious jail time, and be a registered sex offender, assuming he had been tried and convicted.
We goofed up on breakfast. Someone asked us if we wanted coffee. Cynthia specified Americano, while I had my usual cappuccino. (Cappuccino is a morning drink in Italy, or so I've heard.) We thought a waiter would bring us breakfast, so we waited fruitlessly, and egglessly, and sausagelessly. We were picked up in a large minibus that then went on to pick up a number of other guests. Some were okay, one I wrote off, perhaps wrongly, as an Ugly American.*
Our tour guide was named Fabrizio, and the guy I'm referring to made some comment about calling him Fred because he couldn't say Fabrizio. I immediately put him in the bozo class. That was perhaps unkind. Cynthia told me later that he was actually very nice.
We had expected to be in a small group, perhaps 8 or 10 people, and I rather think that we'd expected to be transported in a small speed boat. The group was rather large, and the boat was closer to a barge, several hundred to a thousand or more tons.* Here is a page about one company's hydrofoil ferries.
I've been unable to find any information regarding the ferries. I can find information regarding ferry schedules, but none about the boats themselves.
Capri is a large island, made up of limestone, with two principal towns, Capri, and Anacapri, which is a up a steep road called the Mamma Mia Road. Fans of Abba and the musical, either the play or the movie, might wonder if there is a connection. NO!!! A THOUSAND TIMES NO!!! It's because you scream "Mamma Mia," as you go up and down the road. You look down towards the sea from a height of almost 1,000 (300+ meters for adherents of that system). The hairpin turns on the Mamma Mia give hairpins a bad name. On the way up we sat in the second row of seats, and I held onto the headrest of the girl in front of me. On the way down we sat in the first seat, which our guide, Fabrizio, had been nice enough to save for us. Unfortunately there was nothing to hold onto. On the first turn I was thrown across the aisle, and tried to control myself by grabbing on to the seat of a nasty Italian girl sitting across from me. She screamed and gave me nasty looks because my hand, which I had no control over, had brushed her hip. So I wound up reaching across Cynthia, and trying to hold onto the bar in window by her seat.
Anacapri is pretty, and Graham Greene lived there with with his mistress. There are ruins on the island, two villas that belonged to Tiberius, or the Imperial family at least, but they're not included in the tour we took. Given the amount of walking involved it's probably just as well. What you get is a number of shops, some selling perfume (Carthusia), others selling t-shirts and knick-knacks. There's at least one high end clothes shop.
The guide takes you up to a large square with the clothing shop, and over across the way a number of shops. From there you can see a number of restaurants. You eat at one of the restaurants as a group. Because the tour group has cut a deal with the restaurant your selection is limited to fish, pizza, and a couple of other things. Drinks are not included. The group meal is run very much on an assembly line basis with a limited amount of time allotted for each course. The waiter then appears, whisks away the antipasto, or primi patti, and brings the next course. The food is okay, but not memorable, and the service is efficient, but impersonal.
After your meal you go to the bus, and descend to the town of Capri. There you also have a chance to look around. After about an hour or so you reassemble. You can then go back to Naples, or take a boat ride around the island and see the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra). We took the boat ride around the island.
The island is made up of limestone, which gives a blue color to the water as the sunlight is reflected back. You'll see this not just in the Blue Grotto, but in shallow areas where the water runs up against the island. The island gets its mountainous aspect not from volcanism, but from tectonic processes that have lifted it up. There are a number of grottoes, little caves in the rock, and the guide on the boat, who was not Fabrizio, kept up a constant and voluble stream of Italian, and never lapsed into English. Once you reach the Blue Grotto, if you're on a small boat, you may decide to swim in the grotto. There were several people from other boats doing just that. I was too knocked around from the bus ride down, and my knee was hurting too badly for me to want to move around much, so I'm afraid I missed taking any photos deep inside the grotto. Cynthia got a few shots of the inside of the grotto.
Once the tour was finished we went back to the main wharf, and caught the ferry back to Naples.
Naples, Day 3, October 3, 2017—Pompeii was out because we didn't think we could cope with the walking. Cynthia needed to get more euros, and the closest place was the train station. So we went there, and did the exchange. Most train stations have some sort of shopping area. The one in Venice is fairly nice. It's open, and airy. The pigeons come to visit. DC's Union Station is quite big with chain book sellers, as well as the ubiquitous Hudson News, a couple of decent restaurants, and other amenities. The station in Naples adjoins a mall that is across the street, and down stairs from the main train area. We walked around a bit, and while there were some nice stores, including a Carpisa, which has nice, practical luggage that looks and feels sturdy, there wasn't much there. We did have a granita, flavored ice. We lounged around for a bit before attempting to head to our next stop.
There is an enormous castle not too far from the wharves, the Castel Nuovo, which is not actually very new. It dates from 1279. One of the couples we went to Capri with had mentioned the castle, and since Pompeii and the surrounding ruins were out we decided to go there.
There was a bit of an argument at the taxi stand, and a woman grabbed the cab before us. Our driver took us down a road, and rather than proceeding to the Piazza Municipio, or past that to the Via Vittorio Emannuele III, either of which would have been an easy walk, or even proceeding directly to the entrance, all of which should have been possible, he left us off on the Via Cristoforo Colombo, and said he could go no further. He also charged us €20, which was the highest taxi fare we paid in Naples, and which made Cynthia suspicious of our remaining drivers.
We walked a ways, but the streets were all under construction, and the Castel looked like it would be difficult to get to. This may be sour grapes, but based on the Wikipedia it doesn't look like there's really a lot of interesting material in the castle.
I talked Cynthia into going to the Tabaccheria Sisimbro on the Via S. Pasquale. Over much protest, because she knew I wanted to buy some evil weed, i.e., cigars, she agreed. It's a small shop with a humidor downstairs, and I was able to get some Cuban cigars. I got 4. 2 for myself; one for Hector, who runs the Hogshead Cigar Lounge in Spotsylvania, and one for another friend. I got 4 Romeo y Julietta Churchills. (R&J was Churchill's brand.)
The rest of the day was pretty much spent resting up.
Naples, Day 4, October 4, 2017—We had nothing planned for the day, so we asked the concierge where the good shopping area was. She pointed us to an area on the map.
The shops were moderately upscale, and I took some interesting photos, but on the whole it was disappointing. One shop that I stopped in to buy some water had the TV on, and a few people were watch for the results of the national lottery.
We were leaving for home the next day, so towards the end of the afternoon we sat out on the patio, and had Aperol spritzers.
Naples, Day 5, October 5, 2017 & Departure—The plane left at 13:00, or 1:00pm for you adamantly civilian types out there, so we planned to arrive at the airport three hours prior to departure. Every time I've gone to Dulles all of the airline counters have been fully staffed, and busy. The Lufthansa area was unstaffed, though the adjoining Turkish Airlines counters were fully staffed, and operational. When the girl did come in, she fussed around setting up the counters. We stood in line for half an hour or more while waiting. Then we had to go through security.
Security is always such a joy. Cynthia did not have to remove her shoes. I did. Cynthia's knees have been replaced by steel or titanium, and set off the alarm. She has a card that she's supposed to hand to the security people. THIS PERSON HAS METAL KNEES. Doesn't do a bit of good. I wear braces instead of a belt. I'd worn the one with plastic parts on the trip to Venice, but Cynthia didn't find it when we left for home. So I set off the alarm. The guard asked if I was wearing suspenders. I said yes. "Can you remove them?" "My pants will fall down." That was true. I lost 8-10 pounds in Italy. So I got a respectful pat down. No touching of dangly bits, or anything funny.
I wanted to do a bit of shopping so I talked Cynthia into letting me go to the duty free shop. I'd intended to pick up some Cuban rum, either Bacardi or Havana Club, and twice, once in Florence, and once in Rome, had my hands on a bottle, and Cynthia said we didn't have room in our luggage. At this point it would have gone into a bag, or my backpack, so I thought about buying a bottle. Then I saw a bottle of the Falerno del Massico I'd asked the proprietor of the enoteca in Rome about. I spent a lot of time reading the Greek and Roman classics when I was growing up, and in college, and I know a couple who are classically oriented. Falernum, in its ancient form is non-existent, and this was the closest we could ever get, barring time travel, and Delorean's are no longer made, so I picked up a bottle at €20. The Cuban rums were about €13 or 14, so I thought that was a bit much, and knew I'd get a lot of flack, so it was the Falerno.
The flight to Munich took us over the Alps. I handed my iPhone to Cynthia, and she took a few pictures for me, and a lot more, using her phone, for herself. One of the peculiarities of the modern electronic camera is that even when it is in airplane mode it is still able to record GPS data. So the location data is still stored in the picture's metadata.*
There is a lot of metadata, or data about data, stored in a picture. The size, model of camera, and geographic location are among the things stored.
When we got to Munich we had to rush to get to the next plane. It was located at the far end of the terminal. After much rushing we finally got to the proper terminal. They were having a security/passport thing again. Several German airline people were checking passports. One person got impatient, and the old German doing the checking, Ludwig, and yes that was really his name, got impatient, and reassured us that we would all make our plane.
The food on the plane back was good, and the crew treated us very well.
When we finally arrived home we were able to unpack. The mask which I had carried from Venice to Florence to Rome to Naples to Munich to Dulles to Spotsylvania through 3 train trips, 2 plane trips, and 1 car trip had survived. Of course, since I don't do Halloween, and I don't go to masked parties, I've got nowhere to wear it. It sits on a shelf devoted to literature of the Italian Renaissance written in Latin.
Cynthia's mask also survived, and has been put away.
We lost some weight in Italy due to the walking. When we got back though I collapsed with a cold, and was snivelling and draining for about a week and a half.
Cities—Our international travel period is probably at an end. In that time we've seen a number of cities, some we've liked, and some we haven't. Here's a slightly modified version of something I posted on Facebook.
- London. What's not to like? The Royal Parks that we saw (Green and St. James's) are fabulous. Even though it's a large city we felt at home in it almost immediately. The tube is relatively easy to use, and taxi drivers are polite and knowledgeable. (A taxi license requires 4 years of study to acquire "the knowledge" of the city of London.) The museums are a source of delight and wonder, and the food is decent.
- Bath. We did two day trips to Bath. It's very pretty in the tourist area, perhaps less so in the more recent areas, areas that we didn't see. The abbey is pretty, and not stuffed with statues and monuments like Westminster Abbey, and is perhaps more spiritual, and less worldly, less about power, than Westminster. We had a fantastic cup of chocolate at a cafe in 2012. When we went back in 2014 the lady that owned the shop had fallen sick, and the cafe was closed. Overall a nice place.
- Paris. We did a day trip from London in 2012. The experience was overwhelmingly negative.
- Dublin. Hard, gritty, not very lovable, not very pretty, except for Phoenix Park. Good beer and whisky though.
- Edinburgh. Spent two days there. Loved it .
- Oxford. We were already familiar with it from Morse, Lewis, and other shows. We saw the academic part. Very pretty. Fabulous bookstore (Blackwell's).
- Venice. Pretty, charming. Perhaps the most beautiful of the manmade areas that we saw in Italy. Good food. Hard to get around on foot. The vaporettos are slow and noisy, but serviceable. One notable difference between Italy and England is that people in England will give up seats for the elderly (Cynthia and myself), and people in Italy will not.
- Florence. Didn't really stay long enough to get a good feel for the city, but pleasant. The church bells could be heard at night.
- Rome. I'm not sure if London is bigger than Rome or vice versa*, but whereas London is welcoming and homey, Rome is big and intimidating. There are a lot of impressive buildings, all filled with wonderful things, but it doesn't feel like home. There's a lot of walking. Taxi drivers don't seem as knowledgeable as those of London. (We asked a driver to take us to the Palatine hill, or museum, and he had no idea what we were talking about. It may have been my accent, or mispronunciation, but I'd think every Roman schoolkid would have the 7 hills drilled into him.) The food is good. In fact it's hard to find a bad meal in the first three Italian cities we visited. *Rome is about 1,300 square kilometers. London is 1,572 for Greater London, and 8,382 for Metropolitan London, according to Wikipedia.
- Naples. Dirty, gritty, the university area is filled with graffiti. Food is mediocre at best. The shopping area we went to one day was poor, and doesn't compare with the area around St. Mark's Square in Venice.
- Capri. The most naturally beautiful place we went to. The Mamma Mia road has hairpin curves that give hairpins their bad name. The G-forces going down were so bad that I put pressure on my knee trying to avoid being thrown into the lap of the rather hostile Italian girl across the bus aisle from me. Not for the faint of heart.
The Wine Dark Sea—Homer in both the Iliad and Odyssey refers to the "wine dark sea." Now I don't want to pose as a world traveller who is an expert on the color of seas, or as an expert on wines, and their color, but I've never seen a body of water that is the color of either red or white wine. My memories of the Atlantic, particularly the areas around Atlantic City and Ocean City, and these go back to about 60 years ago, are that the Atlantic, on the East coast, is a dirty brown. I'm sorry to say that it has more in common with sewage, in my mental imagery, than wine. We went to the Cayman Islands in 1991, and the sea surrounding it is a lovely blue. Still not a wine color though. The Pacific around San Diego, which we saw in 2013, is blue. The Adriatic and Tyrrhenian seas, which are part of the Mediterranean, are also blue, or sometimes a steely gray blue. Around Capri and its caves and grottoes it's turquoise. As to wine I've seen pale yellows, and darker shades in the whites, and transparent roses and much darker, almost purple, reds, but never any the color of the ocean. So why does Homer call the sea "wine dark?."
The adventures of Odysseus have been mapped out by some. I'm not sure of the validity of the maps because the descriptive geography has always seemed pretty vague to me. Be that as it may, Odysseus fought near the Asiatic coast of Turkey, and then apparently journeyed to Sicily, which is either in or near the Tyrrhenian sea. So the closest I've come to the locations mentioned in the Odyssey is Naples. There is a NY Times article about the issue. Suggestions have ranged from color-blindness, to a red tide (a microbial infestation). Another suggestion comes in an article on Winslow Homer's watercolors that notes that the Greek Homer uses it in connection with sea as seen at sunset. I think it's rather like some discussions I've had with people over the description in Revelation of Jesus having hair like wool. Some have focused on the kinkiness of wool, and concluded that Jesus was black. Most have focused on the whiteness of wool, and concluded that Jesus has white hair. I think Homer was concentrating not on the color, but on the intensity of the color. The sea and wine have the same intensity of darkness in their respective hues. Richard Lattimore, in the NY Times article I mentioned above, says something similar, and who am I to argue with him?