Italy Sept-Oct 2003 Archives

September 17, 2003

We are in Levanto and having a great time!!

A quick post because I have not posted since Sunday. We arrived Monday and I was too tired to post. Tuesday night Steve hogged the computer for the whole evening. Tonight I spent too much time fiddling with my photos and making updates to SlowTrav (in anticipation of our next NY Times mention).

We drove all day Monday - Gstaad to Levanto. The drive went well, but it was long (6 hours). Pizza for dinner - there is no pizza like the pizza in Italy.

Tuesday we took a day off and walked around Levanto, had lunch out, had dinner in. Levanto is a great town.

Today we hiked!! 2.5 hours Levanto to Monterosso, lunch, then 2 hours Monterosso to Vernazza.

I have more details and will post them tomorrow.

September 18, 2003

Thursday, September 18 - Day trip to Lucca

Sunny and hot

Today we drove to Lucca to have lunch with Mat (from and his wife Jane. I "know" Mat from the message board and via email, and I love his Knowital site, and have always wanted to meet him. We hopped on the autostrada and were exiting for Lucca after an hour. Another 30 minutes to find some parking and we were set. Argh. This is the first busy town we have been in on the trip. Heavy traffic around Lucca and bad signs for parking led to us driving around looking everywhere for the public parking. At one point we found a small lot just inside the walls, and someone was leaving their spot, so we waited, but then an old couple, in a little car, zipped down the parking lane the wrong direction and edged their way into the spot as the person was backing out. Eventually we found the big parking lots outside the city walls (note for the website - Lucca parking - drive around outside the city walls until you see the large parking lots).

We were to meet Mat and Jane at 12:45, so we only had 30 minutes to walk around and stop for a quick coffee. Then we met them and went in their car to a restaurant outside town in the country. We had a long lovely lunch - I think it was 4pm when they dropped us back in Lucca. We talked nonstop about web sites and web development and about Italy (but mostly web talk). We had a lovely meal and were sitting outside on a beautiful terrace. We did the full Tuscan lunch - shared mixed vegetarian antipasti, a pasta primi, and a secondo - Steve and Mat had fish (Baccala), I had polenta with mushroom and Jane wisely had just a small vegetable plate (contorni) . None of us could finish our secondo. I was starving after all the hiking the day before and thought I would easily make it through a whole meal, but didn't.

They dropped us back in Lucca and we walked around the town for an hour, then found the car and drove back home. We had eaten so much for lunch, that we skipped dinner.

September 19, 2003

Friday, September 19 - A little swimming, a little work

Sunny and hot

The weather is perfect!! Sunny and hot enough to swim, but not too hot. We wear shorts and short sleeved t-shirts all the time. This is a very casual town - everyone, even the Italians, are in shorts and flip-flops. We are almost over dressed with our running shoes. It really has the feel of a beach town.

Today we walked around town and attempted some shopping. I got a repeat of my only other attempt to purchase shoes in Italy: a ten minute rant about how big my feet are and how they probably have no shoes in such a large size (American 10). But then I was presented with a pair of red sandals. Very ugly red sandals, so no Italian shoe purchase for me and I don't think I will try this again (like, I know I have big feet - what should I do - bind them?). Reminds of that book To Much Tuscan Sun and how many times the author commented on the size of Americans and their feet.

We found the perfect mortar and pestle - mortar of marble from Carrara and pestle of olive wood. I have been looking for this for years. Yes, I could have just ordered it from Dean & Deluca, but I wanted to buy it in Italy. So we went in, picked the size we wanted, picked it up, realized it weighs about 20 pounds, put it down, and made a mental note to now order it from Dean & Deluca.

And, of course, we bought a few books. Steve got Beppe Severgnini's new book of essays (in Italian - Steve can actually read in Italian), I got the Slow Food guide to this region (in Italian - but restaurant and shop names are understandable).

We also bought beach towels - because we wanted to go swimming and did not feel right about taking our nice Villa Margherita towels to the seaside. Buying things in Italy is such fun (except for shoes). The linen store was small and the owner brings the towels out from the back, apologizing because she only has navy blue ones. Then she clips off all the tags and opens one up to show us. Once we have decided to take two, she clips off the tags on the other one and puts them in a bag for us, all the while talking to Steve who wanted to know if she swims this late in the year (she does). So not all Italians go with that no swimming after September 1 rule.

We picked up some pizza and a potato and vegetable tart thing at the bakery and had a quick lunch back at the apartment, before heading out for a swim. It is only 3 blocks from Villa Margherita to the beach. We walked down to the public area, swam for about 20 minutes, dryed off and then back to the hotel. I worked with Federico on his web sites for the afternoon.

After that we wandered along the beachfront looking for a trail to Bonassola, the next town to the north. We did not find the trail, but did find an abandoned road along the coast. We walked along it, through several tunnels, until it was too wet to continue. We found out later that this was the original railway, but when they wanted to add a second track, then moved it higher up the hill. I think we could have followed it to Bonassola.

September 20, 2003

Saturday, September 20 - Stephanie and Cesare come for the weekend!!

Sunny and hot

Stephanie and Cesare from Rome arrive today! I have become e-friends with Stephanie in the last 10 months. We have talked on the phone and emailed, but never met in person. She did a project for SlowTrav (getting us better ranked on the search engines) and we email frequently about web things (she is a master web designer and I am "grasshopper" hoping to learn from her).

We cleaned the apartment in the morning. These lovely tile floors show every hair, and I am a shedder. Out to a caffe to sit and read the paper and have more coffee. Then back to the apartment to put on our bathing suits and grab our new towels. The swimming here is pretty good. We put our suits on under our shorts, put on our flip-flops, walk the four blocks to the sea, then swim. Walk home in our wet suits with our towels around us. We don't feel out of place at all dressed like this because it is a short walk back to the hotel and because lots of people are out walking like this. On the trails, some people hike in their bathing suits.

We were all ready to meet S and C at the train station, but they called to say that their train was late. I said we would pick them up in La Spezia, but then I went and asked Federico and he told me it was a 50 minute drive, so I called them back and told them to get the next train. It would have been much longer for us to go and get them. So when the 3:06 train pulled into Levanto, Steve and I were there with our big Slow Travelers banner so they would know who we were. It worked.

We all walked to Villa Margherita and Federico took them to an apartment he had arranged for them just up the street. The hotel and all his regular apartments were booked. The apartment they had was nice enough for a few days, but would not have been great for a week. It only had one small window in each room and the building is right next to the road (not that busy) and next to a gas station. The woman who owned the building showed us all around her lovely garden.

We walked into town and had a late lunch of foccacia. Then walked along the seafront, and ended up in a caffe. I was hoping that Cesare would be able to explain all the caffe things to me - all the types of aperitivos, etc. that I never seem to understand - but it turns out that he hardly drinks at all and doesn't even drink coffee!! There goes my Italian male stereotype!! We all went out to Taverna Garibaldi for pizza that night.

We all got along really well, as I knew we would. When you have an email relationship with someone before you meet in the flesh, you get to know them well. It was like this for me with David from NY, Amy from MA and Liz from Vancouver. We all knew each other via email and working on SlowTrav and starting the message board. When we first met in the flesh last winter, it was like we had all know each other for years.

September 21, 2003

Addendum to the Five Towns in One Day

I forgot to mention the big event on the hike. For the last half of this last part from Vernazza to Monterosso, I was walking behind Stephanie and we were talking. Cesare and Steve got quite a bit ahead of us, but when we came to open hillsides we could see them ahead and sometimes we would call back and forth across a valley to each other. As we were nearing the end of the trail, we had not seen them in quite some time and they would have stopped and waited for us. We kept walking, thinking we would find them waiting around each bend. Finally we came out into Monterosso and they were not there where the trail ended and there is no way they would not be waiting there.

Luckily both couples had cell phones; unluckily Steve had ours and Cesare had theirs. They also both had the money. I had 50 cents. We were about to stop people and ask for money, when we heard someone calling from way up high on a hillside above where we were. They were up there - they had taken a wrong turn on the trail, but not realized it, and were waiting for us. Steve happened to see us down below walking through town (which must not have been easy, because there were a lot of people around). They called out several times and Stephanie finally heard them. Crisis over - wives reunited with husbands (and cell phones and money).

Sunday, September 21 - Five Towns in One Day

Sunny and hot

I woke up tired having slept badly the night before. I think my pizza had been too cheesy for me. But after two espressos in the breakfast room, I was ready to go. I only mention this because I was the slowest on the day's hike and I will use this as my excuse. Today's project was to hike the five Cinque Terre towns in one day (only a 4 hour 30 minute walk - so not that difficult). Steve and I had hiked the whole trail in June 2000, but on two different days (because of a big rain storm in the middle of the first day). We had also hiked the last part of the trail (2 hours from Vernazza to Monterosso - the most difficult portion of the trail - last week), so legally we could wimp out at Vernazza today because we would be redoing trail we had just walked.

We all met in the breakfast room for breakfast, then headed out for the 10 am train to Riomaggiore, the southernmost Cinque Terre town. It was Sunday and we were a bit worried that the trials might be more crowded than usual, but decided that it is all tourists on the trail, not Italians having a weekend outing. We may have been wrong - we saw many Italians on the trail. And the trails were crowded.

A huge crowd left the train in Riomaggiore and went to the start of the trail. The first part of the Cinque Terre trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola is called "Via dell'Amore" - Lover's Lane. This first part of the trial takes only 20 minutes and is all paved, except for the last part which is stairs down to the Manarola train station (there is an elevator for the handicapped). It was packed with people. We walked slowly because a faster walk was impossible and stopped several times to admire the views of the sea and the coastline. We didn't get to see Riomaggiore because you don't go through it to get from the train station to the trail and we were pretty intent on starting. In hindsight, we should have explored Riomaggiore and let the crowd head off on the trail. But then there would have been another train in 30 minutes. While walking the trail, Stephanie overheard someone who was walking towards us say in Italian that it was like a tour bus had been let out on the trail.

I figured we would lose the crowd at Manarola, but we didn't. The trail was nose to tail for that section too, even though it was a rougher path. This part of the hike was still pretty flat and easy, but it ends with 378 steps from the Corniglia train station up to the town. Stephanie, Cesare and Steve skipped up the steps - I plodded slowly up behind, sweating like a pig and counting the steps. Okay, maybe I should have used the NordicTrack Eliptical that we have as often as Steve did to prepare for the trip. Next time!

It took us 1 hour 15 minutes to do the first two sections. The APT guide lists this part as taking 1 hour 20 minutes.

We walked into Corneglia looking for a bar and restrooms. Corniglia is a very small town perched on a cliff above the sea. The one main street is narrow (no cars) and was crowded with walkers. We found a bar and restrooms, Cesare found a very old man and talked to him for about 20 minutes learning as much as he could about the town and the area. The old man said people had started visiting Corniglia about 30 years ago and "foreigners" come there to work for the summer. Some even marry local people and stay. There have been three new babies in recent years. By "foreigners" he meant Italians not from the Cinque Terre.

We headed off to find the church. I stopped and got a lemon granita. I was walking along eating/drinking it and Cesare said that now I look like an American - eating while I walk. I explained to him how lovely it is to eat while walking and how we used to consume a whole pizza while driving home on the Seattle freeways (we lived in Seattle for a few years in the mid 90s).

We could not go in the church, but could see its outstanding Rose Window from the outside. We hit the trail again for section three - from Corniglia to Vernazza. This part was not as crowded, but there were still lots of people. At one point, I was behind a middle aged Italian woman hiking in shoes with heels and she was complaining loudly the whole way. We were at a steep part climbing up endless steps. I was able to pass her - but I could not do my usual nonstop complaining while climbing because there were too many people around. This part of the hike is harder than the first two section - the path is narrow and goes along beautiful terraces of vines or olive trees, there are many steps up and then many steps down.

It took us 1 hour 20 minutes to do this third section. The APT guide lists this part as taking 1 hour 30 minutes.

We got into Vernazza just at 2pm - the end of the lunch time. Vernazza was crowded with people. There are several restaurants on the square at the bottom of town, by the sea. We chose Il Capitano because Federico said this is the one locals go to. He said the other two on that square are also good. This is where we found out that Stephanie and Cesare eat very lightly (no wonder they are both so slim).

(Steve is watching a quiz show on TV as I write this, where they stop the show so the very skimpily dressed dancing girl can dance for 20 seconds. It is like watching a strip show - all legs and tits. Steve, who watches no junky network shows at home (except NYPD Blue), watches this show whenever he is in Italy to "learn Italian". He is going to write up the very strange rules of this show for this blog.)

Back to our wonderful Cinque Terre day. S and C always order just one dish each!! On this trip it was always a primo - pasta - and then they sometimes follow it with a salad. I saw Caprese on the menu and lept at the chance to have both an antipasti and a primi, instead of only a pasta dish like I always have here because everything else is fish (which I don't eat) - and ended up being the big eater of the group! Our food was okay, but not great - but the setting was fabulous, looking out onto the square full of people, the boats, people swimming.

It was the perfect day for doing this walk - sunny and warm, but not too hot. Steve and I wore shorts and running shoes (instead of our heavier and hotter hiking boots). Stephanie and Cesare wore jeans and running shoes. I asked them about 20 times if they were too hot or were sweating, but apparently they weren't. I was pretty hot and sweating.

We left Vernazza at 3:50 for the last section - the hardest walking and the longest. This section has over 500 steps up to start, then 500 steps down to Monterosso at the end. We walked this section in 1 hour 30 minutes.

So we did the walk in 4 hours, 5 minutes but the APT guide lists it as a 4 hour, 30 minute walk. We walked a slow pace (I think the other three of our group could have done the hike much faster) and stopped many times to enjoy the views. Our whole day out was from 10am leaving Levanto on the train until 5:45 when we took the train back to Levanto. If we had not stopped for a long lunch, we could have easily done the last 2 hours 30 minutes from Monterosso to Levanto. However, I was absolutely beat after the hike - and covered in dirt. We all raced for the shower when we got back. I had to scrub the dirt off my legs and I would like to burn the t-shirt I was wearing.

We bought the Cinque Terre card at the train station which covers your train and the fee for the trails. I think they were 6 Euro each. You have to stamp it in the machine at the station (it dates the ticket) before you use it the first time and then it is valid for that day. You show the ticket on the train and at the "toll booths" along the trail.

After much showering, we went out for dinner to a trattoria on Piazza Cavour. We each had one primi course followed by salad. I had gnocchi with pesto - very rich, but since we were only having one dish, I could handle it. I slept well that night.

September 22, 2003

Monday, September 22 - Inland Liguria - Varese Ligure

Sunny and hot

Still wonderful weather, but we wore jeans instead of shorts because we were heading inland to small towns, where everyone does not wear shorts and flip-flops. We met in the breakfast room, then headed out in the car. It is a 15 minute drive from Levanto, up the hillside, through a few villages, but mostly thickly wooded areas, to the Autostrada. We did not get on the Autostrada, but continued up the Vara Valley to San Pietro Vara. The driving was easy - the roads were wide and there was not much traffic. We went through a few towns, but mostly thick wooded area still. It changed to some vineyard areas as we got higher. It was only about a 30 minute drive from Levanto to San Pietro Vara.

San Pietro Vara is a small town at the intersection of two main roads (and two rivers - the Vara and the Torza). We were headed further on to Varese Ligure, but made this our first stop. We were using The Heritage Guide - The Italian Riviera, and it had a few details about this town and its church.

We parked in a field on the edge of town and walked into the town. There were a few shops along the main road, one caffe and a sign pointing to a restaurant. The town was not busy but there were a few older men hanging around and some construction workers working on a house. We found the church, but the door was locked. Cesare talked to one of the old men and found out where the priest's house was. We rang the bell and the priest called out from an upper window. Cesare said (in Italian of course) that we wanted to see the church. The priest hestitated at first - the church was closed - then said he would open it. We waited at his door, then realized he would probably appear at the church door, and got there just as he was opening it.

The church was magnificent. I will post photos later. I have a good one of the priest in front of the marble alter. The priest was very friendly and talkative and he and Cesare talked as he showed us the church. We spent about 30 minutes looking at everything. There is a famous triptych behind the alter, by Luca Cambiaso (mentioned in our guidebook - I have never heard of this painter). The alter was huge and made of several types of marble. They had large chandeliers hanging down in the church. Some had been stolen recently and replaced with modern ones. Everything was frescoed - ceilings and walls. That combined with the eight or so crystal chandeliers made the church very festive. The priest has been at that church for 40 years. He discussed everything with Cesare; they even got to talking American politics. Many people from this village immigrated to the US and send money back to keep up the church. First they put heat in the priest's house, then in the church. He said people come to him for records of their ancestors.

It is wonderful traveling with people who live in Italy and are fluent. We would never have thought to hunt down the priest to see the church, but Stephanie says they have done this before. In most of these small villages, someone has the keys for the church and will let you in if you can find them.

Next we drove another 15 minutes to Varese Ligure. I have always wanted to see this town. I remember seeing a listing for a vacation rental in this area and I have read about it in guidebooks. It has a "Borgo Rotondo" - a circular design of the town. We parked and walked around for about 45 minutes. It is a small town with one caffe and a couple of restaurants.

We found a hardware store that had not closed yet (it was almost 1pm) and I bought sheep bells. I was so proud of myself not buying cow bells in Switzerland, as I have done on every trip, and then I caved when face to face with a hardware store in an Italian village. The bells were expensive - 12 Euro for the larger ones - but I got a few. They are beautifully made and have a really nice sound. They are very different from other sheep bells I got in Italy on previous trips.

The town is beautiful. There are old remains of a castle from the 1400s and beside that the Borgo Rotondo - a row of houses in a semi circle. This town was once on a major trade route. There is a stone bridge, built in 1515, over the river. This river and the river in San Pietro Vara were nearly dry - probably as a result of the summers drought.

We had a light lunch at La Taverna del Gallo Nero, the only open restaurant in town. Steve and Cesare both had Trofie al Pesto (noodles with pesto) but Steph and I had a baked noodle and vegetable dish that was small, but really good. They followed with salads and Steve and I shared a plate of carrots. I had an apple cake for dessert, but Stephanie and Cesare both had "drowned gelato" - gelato with espresso poured over it. They got decaf espresso (ask for Caffe Hag - this is the brand of decaf used in Italy). The desert was listed as "gelato affogato al caffe" - gelato drowned in coffee.

After lunch, we drove back the way we came until we were nearly at the Autostrada, then took a road to Brugnato, another village we wanted to visit. From the road we saw a little village high up on a hillside, then we saw a road and drove up it to the village - just out of curiosity. The road was narrow and winding as it went up the hillside. Cesare made Steve beep on each turn - even though we assured him this road was twice as wide as roads like this in Tuscany or Umbria and it was paved, so we could meet a car coming down the hill with no problem. It was fun beeping on the curves. The town was Cornice.

The town had a sign for a restaurant, but I think it had closed long ago. We saw a few people about, but not much activity. Some houses were remodelled, some were abandoned. Cesare had to take a business call on his cell phone, so we left him near the car and we explored the town. We saw a guy working on a house and Stephanie asked him if there was a main square or a caffe. He then started talking and did not stop for about 20 minutes. He talked too fast for Steve to fully understand, but Stephanie understood and prompted with a few comments and questions. He was from Genoa, didn't like Genoa anymore, was living here now and fixing up the house to live in, gathered food from the surrounding hills, said the people in the village were friendly, not like people in Genoa. I caught one or two words of the conversation and that was it.

We left Cornice and went to Brugnato. Parked and walked around the town, explored the church. It was getting late and Stephanie and Cesare were taking a 7pm train back to Rome, so we drove back to Levanto (got stuck behind a big truck for many miles down the winding road), sat around in our garden and watched Steve juggle (he can juggle five balls), then walked them to the train.

I would have been crying as we walked to the train station with Stephanie and Cesare, but we are going to see them at the Chianti lunch on Friday and then in Rome a couple of days after that, so it really wasn't "goodbye".

After they left, we went for a walk around town, got a bit of foccacia and ate it sitting on a bench watching the sea, went back to the apartment and cooked a few potatoes and vegetables for dinner.

September 23, 2003

Review of Villa Margherita Apartment

This is a two bedroom, one bathroom apartment on the ground floor of the Villa Margherita B&B. Villa Margherita is an old villa, 4 stories high, one block up from the main part of Levanto, on a hill, on the road to Bomasola. You enter from the street and go up one level to get to the gardens and the apartment level. Up another set of stairs to the hotel's entrance.

There is one large garden for hotel guests and a smaller (but really quite large) garden just for the people in the apartment. This garden is what makes the apartment so special. It is grass, with two large palm trees in the center, and flowering plants and bushes on the edges. It looks down on the street below and looks out to the town and the mountains. It gets good sun and is a lovely place to sit. It is not totally private because some of the hotel room windows look down onto it, but they are two floors up and it does not bother you. No nude sunbathing here, but it is a lovely place to sit and visit or read. There is a big table with chairs and a lounging chair.

The apartment has nice big windows with shutters, but no screens. We noticed bugs one night and usually kept the windows closed at night when we had lights on in the room. You enter through glass French doors to the main room. It has a kitchen area along one side (small sink, counter, oven, stove (didn't use this), dishwasher (didn't use this), and medium sized fridge. The pots and pans are not the best, but there are lots of them and I picked through them and got a set that worked well for us. There is a small table with four chairs, two nice wicker chairs, and a very uncomfortable couch that turns into a bed. The furniture is not beautiful, but it works okay (except for that couch). There is a nice sized TV with a DVD. It can be hooked up to satelite, but we didn't bother - we only watched a bit of Italian TV.

The next three rooms are in a row accessed from a hallway - bedroom with a double bed (two singles together), second bedroom with two singles, bathroom with a shower (no tub). The shower is a good size and has a shower cabinet, so you don't flood the room. Big fluffy towels. Also a washing machine. There is good hot water.

The floors are all tile - that white, shiny tile, not the cotta floors you see in Tuscany. There was a desk in the bedroom, but we put it in the living room so one person could use the computer and the other watch TV or read (okay, so I could use the computer - I am hardly letting Steve near it). The apartment is heated, so it could be used off season.

There is some noise from the breakfast room above. This disturbed us the first night, but then we got used to it. It doesn't start until 7:30 or 8am - but you hear people walking around and scraping chairs. There is noise from the street, but you are going to get that everywhere here and this is not that busy of a road and the hotel sites above the road.

Federico and his family (father and sister) run the hotel. They and everyone else who works here are very friendly and helpful. Federico will look up train schedules for you and give you advice on where to eat. He speaks fluent English. There are a number of guide books in the breakfast room. There is also a big TV with piles of videos if you want to watch a movie.

We stayed in the hotel for one night last year. Since then the furniture in the rooms has been "upgraded". They are building a parking lot behind the hotel and putting in an elevator from the parking lot to the lobby. Since the villa is built into the hill, the parking lot will be at the level of the top floor of the villa. The road goes by the front of the villa, then further on does a sharp curve and goes behind the villa at a higher level on the hill.

Levanto is a wonderful town. It is a mix of beautiful older villas and newer apartments. There are many restaurants, caffes and shops. The town is lively and fun. The beach is rocky on the free parts, but sand is brought in for the pay areas. The water is calm when the weather is good, but there are waves in the bad weather. The train station is a 10 minute walk from the hotel and Levanto is a stop for both IC (intercity) and local trains.

I recommend the hotel as a good place to stay in this area. I also recommend the apartment, but be aware that it is not luxurious. We enjoyed our 11 nights here and will stay here again. (Disclaimer: I work for Federico, running his hotel web site.)

Tuesday, September 23 - Rain!! (after six months of no rain here)

Overcast, heavy rain, lightening and thunder in the morning, then overcast and some sun for the rest of the day. Very muggy.

Well Rick Steves didn't mention rain!! Because our apartment is in the hotel, we get to use the breakfast room. The guests here seem to be Americans, Brits and Aussies. The name "Rick Steves" is heard often.

One morning we talked to a middle-aged American couple who had flown into Italy the day before, picked up a rental car and drove to Levanto. They had read about this area in their Rick Steves book. Their itinery included a couple of nights here, then to Florence (drop off the car), a couple of nights there, then the train from Florence to Capri for one night so they can "relax and drink wine" (only possible in Capri, I guess), then back to Rome for a few nights, then home. They told us how they were "ripped off" at dinner their first night because they restaurant had a cover charge that they only found out about when they got the check. By that point in the conversation I was removing my socks and stuffing them in my mouth to keep from speaking. Steve pleasantly explained about the "pane e coperto". The man is a saint. I managed to say "Didn't you read the section about restaurants in Rick Steves book?" before stuffing more articles of clothing into my mouth to keep me permanently quiet. (Note to self: Don't anger the guests - I work for the hotel.)

Today we woke up to rain and decided to take the morning "off" to see how the weather went. We lazed about, walked into town and hung out at our new favorite caffe (Barolino on Via Italia - recommended by Federico). It has four tables outside on a patio that they built out onto the street. I usually sit on the chair closest to the road (since Steve is the one that earns our living, I feel obligated to take the risk of being struck by a car while having coffee) and I could feel the cars whizzing by. Luckily there were not too many of them. Still, it is quite pleasant to sit out there and have espresso and cornetto and read the International Herald Tribune and eavesdrop on the other English speaking groups (a bunch of Aussie women today). The bar has lots of indoor seating and even another outdoor area in the back.

Then back to the apartment where we dithered about did we want to do a drive to some local towns in the hills above the Cinque Terre. Steve was getting more tired by the minute so we decided to read (we are both glued to detective novels - Steve with the Ian Rankin I read last week, me with a Donna Leon I picked up in Switzerland), then we walked into town again for a nice lunch. We ate at La Loggia, on Piazza del Popolo, beside the Medival Loggia. We had a wonderful lunch.

Our meals out here are usually the same. No antipasti because they are all fish. Once I found Caprese (mozzerella and tomato) and had that. Today Steve had a shrimp cocktail. Then either we both have Trofie al Pesto (noodles with pesto sauce) or I have that and Steve has swordfish. Today he had swordfish. I will have had enough pesto for the year by the time we leave here. The restaurants in Tuscany have more variety for a vegetarian, but not much more. At least in Tuscany you can find lots of vegetarian antipasto.

We even splurged on dessert. I ordered the "Affogato al caffe" (you could also get this with whiskey). It is cold espresso poured over gelato. Stephanie and Cesare had this at lunch yesterday and I sample theirs. The dessert is gelato "drowned in coffee".

Ristorante La Loggia, Piazza del Popolo 7, closed "settimanale Mercoledi"
Shrimp cocktail, mixed salad; Trofie al Pesto, swordfish, french fries; white wine, water, dessert, one espresso. Lunch for two, 56 Euro

Back to the apartment after lunch and we alternated sleeping and reading. Maybe it was the five towns in one day that did me in - or just all the social excitement being with friends for the weekend - I was tired! I also find that on these longer trips (although this one at 5 weeks is a short trip for us), that we really have to have one day a week where we do NOTHING. We don't travel at such a frantic pace the other days (as you can see from this blog), but we still need a day off from it all each week.

We found a self serve laundromat in town - 10 Euro to wash and dry one load - and I think I will use it before we leave to get ourselves ready for our last few days in Tuscany and Rome. We go home one week tomorrow (Wednesday). This trip has flown by. I was thinking at one time that we might extend the trip by a week or two, but I don't feel like it. We both have some new work projects to get started on and really we have been pretty worn out for most of this trip - not as enthusiastic about doing lots of stuff as we usually are. In our old working days (20 years ago), we only took vacations to Hawaii so we could just do nothing. That is the kind of tri p we needed this year - and really it is they kind of trip we did. Switzerland is a no-brainer of a trip for us and so was this time in Levanto. Not much to read to prepare for the days outings - mostly walking and swimming and a few drives.

Our last few days will be a blur of social activity with the big GTG lunch on Friday, dinner with Gary and Zak Friday night, another lunch on Saturday, hopefully seeing Joanna's new house then too, drive to Rome on Sunday (meeting Tom and Rob for lunch on the way), Monday morning with Robert, Monday GTG lunch, Tuesday GTG dinner - home Wednesday morning. A social whirl!! And I am really looking forward to every minute of it!!

Some of you reading this may think, why did we do this trip when we really did not have time to plan it and took the easy way out by staying longer in fewer places. Couldn't we just have gone hiking in Colorado? My answer is that I would rather have a less adventurous trip like this than not do a trip. I love coming to Europe and if I had to come tired and not able to be going flat out the whole time, then so be it. At least I get to come here and do a few things. It has been a fabulous trip (and we still have a week left). We both got a really good break from work and from being at the computer. We have done so many trips to Switzerland and Italy now, that it is easier for us being here than it used to be. I more or less understand how things work and how we live while we are here - so I don't need the time to prepare (well, I could have done some preparation). Blah, blah, blah - what a ramble.

Dinner at home tonight I think. The kitchen is not great, but I have made several dinners here, so it is good enough. We usually have basmati rice (I bought extra in Switzerland because it is hard to find here) and vegetables.

I finished my book, Donna Leon's "Wilful Behaviour", 2002. It was much better than her previous one, "A Sea of Troubles", which ended with a stupid chase scene. This one is back to her old style of good writing and a good mystery. It was set in Venice. I am down to reading Gore Vidal's "Julien", which I put aside because it was not that interesting and "Pagan Holiday" which Steve read and loved. I will read "Pagan Holiday" next. I still have the new PD James mystery, but will save that to read on the plane home (although I usually end up gorging on movies the whole way).

September 24, 2003

Wednesday, September 24 - Rain again, and a drive to Camogli

Overcast, a few rain showers, muggy, some sun

Woke up to heavy rain. We had a delicious sleep-in - missed breakfast in the hotel, but made oatmeal at "home". Lazed about, Steve did some work, I read some email and, after the rain stopped, we took the car out and drove to the Autostrada and then north to Camogli. It was an hours drive.

There was a sign saying the Autostrada south to Tuscany was backed up and tonight on the news we saw there was flooding and the Autostrada was closed.

It was just after 2pm when we arrived in Camogli. There are lots of parking lots right on the edge of the centro (central area). We parked and walked into town. The main shopping street was all closed up because it was the afternoon siesta. This street is higher up on the hill and has a few steep staircases down to the road along the sea. Camogli is a small town, Santa Margherita Ligure to the south is larger, and Rapello, further south, is larger still. Camogli is built on a steep hillside and the buildings are very tall - 5 - 7 stories - and narrow. From the seaside, looking towards town, the tall buildings are joined together and look like a wall along the sea. The buildings are brightly colored and many are painted with fake architectural details. Some have a column of fake windows. Beautiful to look at.

The town is charming with these painted buildings and narrow lanes. We found a place where we got minestrone and sandwiches. There are several focaccia places, as there are in Levanto. The weather was very overcast and the mugginess was almost unbearable (especially for people who are used to the dry desert). It made me feel sluggish and my hair frizzes beyond belief.

We ate our lunch sitting outside looking towards the sea. Lots of young kids were in swimming. After lunch we walked all around town. We had planed to do a drive from the Heritage Guide book, over the peninsula to Santa Margherita Ligure and then to Rapello, but we got too late of a start, so we decided to leave that for next time. We left Camogli around 4:30 and drove back to Levanto.

You can do lots of hikes in this Portofino area - we saw maps posted. There is a walk from Camogli to San Fruttoso out on the peninsula, or you can take a boat. The walk is 90 minutes and is rated as a difficult walk. Next time.

We really did not need a car for our 11 nights in Levanto. We knew that and originally were going to try to organize the trip without a car for this part, but in the end it was just easier to have the car. We needed it in Switzerland and we need it this weekend in Tuscany. But you really do not need a car here - most places are easily reached by train and the trains run often.

On the way back we took one of the small roads back into the hills above Levanto. The road was paved, but very narrow and wound up the hillside through huge olive groves. Most groves had the nets already under the trees but they were not opened yet. We saw a couple of small villages along the road, then turned around and drove back to Levanto.

We are really loving this town. We hope to come here on a regular basis - it will let me keep in touch with Federico for the web sites and is a perfect vacation destination for us. It always feels so peaceful here. There is the usual buzz of an Italian town, but not the craziness that we experienced in some other seaside places. We went out to get a paper, but the IHT had not come in today, so we were forced to get the USA Today. Boy George and Rosie are on Broadway!

We went to a pastry store and got two very small pastries for after dinner - I was in favor of getting more, but Steve somehow felt these were enough. I did buy some of these candies that look like different colored rocks, but were filled with almonds or chocolate. Like those crunchy Jordon candies we have in the US. I bought a small bag of these to take home. Then we went to the Enoteca and got a bottle of Limoncello and of a local sweet dessert wine to take home. Federico is trying to get us 5 liters of organic olive oil from a friend of his, but his friend is out of town, so we may not be able to get it. If not, we will either buy some from the Enoteca or get it in Tuscany. I am still using our oil from the last trip. I know this is not the best time of year to get it, but it is better than nothing. I will ask Federico if they expect to get oil this year. (On the message board, some people have posted that some parts of Italy have no olives this year because of a late frost.)

Then we went to Café del Mar, where we have been twice before on this trip, to sit out on their nice patio and have Campari and Soda. Then home for a simple dinner of rice and vegetables. I really don't think I could survive eating every meal out on a trip like this.

Tomorrow is our last day here. I plan to go to the self service laundromat in the morning and have many coffees and read the paper while waiting for the laundry. Then do the ironing and get ourselves packed up. From here it is five nights in hotels - Tuscany and then Rome. Now we get to wear our nicer clothes (well, still jeans, but nicer tops).

September 25, 2003

L'eredità: the quiz show

When in Italy and parts of Switzerland that receive RAI 1, I (Steve) like to watch the TV quiz program "l'eredità". I am attracted to this show for its astonishing complexity, its (for me, anyway) educational content - both general knowledge and spoken Italian - and other elements that seem distinctly Italian in flavor. The Italian version of "millionaire", il millionario, plays on Mediaset in the same time slot. It has never kept me interested for more than a few minutes, but l'eredità gets my full attention.

The basic rules of l'eredità are fairly simple. Seven contestants each start with an "inheritance" of €50,000 (eredità = inheritance). In a series of competitive quiz events, players are eliminated until only one is left standing. As players are eliminated, their inheritance is given to the player who eliminates them.

It's personal (like family members fighting over a family inheritance).
- A player is always eliminated by another player.
- A yellow light marks a player with one wrong answer in an event (errore!).
- A red light and "awooga" noise indicates a second wrong answer (doppio errore!!).
The player with the second error selects another player (A punta il dito contro B) who must then answer a question; if player B answers incorrectly he is eliminated, otherwise, player A is eliminated.
- The eliminated player goes home empty-handed (the host's cry of "Roberto s'è stato eliminato" or "Giulia s'è stata eliminata" ringing in his/her ears).
- His winnings to that point are transferred to the player who eliminated him (they "inherit" the money).
- The last surviving player becomes the champion (il campione) and, in addition to winning a significant amount of money, earns the right to return and play against six new competitors.

L'eredità delivers emotional highs and lows, mystery, suspense, informative facts, audience participation and, um, dancing girls (l'ereditiere! It *is* Italian TV, after all).

Question formats used to eliminate players include:
- "vero o falso" (true or false): Say whether a given statement is true or false.
- "la patata bollente" (hot potato): The player is given three answers, but not the question to which one of them is the correct answer (la risposta esatta). The player may choose to try the question or pass it to another player of his choice (la tengo or la passo a Roberto).
- "lei o l'altro" (you or the other one): Given a question and one of two candidate answers, the player must say whether the correct answer is the one shown or "l'altro" (the answer not shown).
- "la scossa" (electric shock): A question is given along with seven answers; all answers are correct except for one. Each player in turn chooses a correct answer not yet used, the host says "scossa?", and a light ding or sizzling electric sound indicates if this is the one wrong choice.
- "l'ultima sfida" (final challenge): This occurs when only two players are left. They alternate answering questions (not multiple choice), scoring a point for each correct answer. The player with the most points wins. It's not over yet, though. L'ultima sfida, despite the name, is not the end. The champion gets to answer seven more questions, choose a second answer if the first is wrong - but only for the first five - and if he answers two or more wrong, the "nearly eliminated" player gets to attempt il colpaccio (see below).
- "il colpaccio" (sudden strike): The second last survivor returns to attempt one (generally difficult) five-choice question. If the answer is correct, this player steals the champion title, keeps the winnings and comes back the next night, otherwise, the original champion remains and gets all of the above.

A couple of times during each show, the dancing girls come on in scanty, form-fitting costumes and gyrate to a dance routine. A recent question: the 2003 edition of a standard Italian dictionary defined "ereditiere" (the host's name for the dancers) as a dancer on this quiz show - "vero o falso"? The correct answer: "falso". The contestant got it wrong.

Occasionally, a popular song is played and the audience, onstage contestants and host perform the accompanying movements. Friends and family members are often introduced and chat with the host for awhile between questions.

It's great fun and it's on every night except Sunday from 7:00pm to 8:00pm on Rai 1. Followed by 30 minutes of national news.

Thursday, September 25 - Leaving Levanto

Sunny and warm

The weather is turning - you can feel the cooler weather coming on. And we both feel like we are getting a cold. Today we did nothing except get ready to leave. We went to the laundromat in town and did two loads of laundry to get us through the last week. Unfortunately, the washers do not let you add your own soap (we use unscented soap), but it is automatically added, and it was a little scented. It took a couple of hours to do the laundry, so we wandered around town and sat in Barolino having coffee and reading the paper while the clothes were washing and drying.

11 nights here and we have not even seen all of Levanto. We didn't go in the church. We didn't walk from Levanto north to the next town (can't remember the name now). We didn't drive inland from the Cinque Terre to Pignone. We didn't hike from Portovenere to Riomaggiore (5 hours with twice the climb of the Levanto to Monterosso hike). We didn't take the boat between the Cinque Terre towns. I can't remember what we did - when I count back through our activities I come up with two days of hiking and three day trips in the car. That leaves five days unaccounted for.

We spent the afternoon packing up and napping (to get rid of these colds). When we took some stuff out to the car, there was a parking spot on the street right in front of the hotel, so we moved the car from the lot where we had been keeping it and parked there. Easier for loading the car, but the street is narrow and although everyone parks along there, I don't think you are really supposed to and cars are always having to wait while oncoming cars take the corner. The lot that Federico uses while his parking area is being built is a block from the hotel, down a steep alley just a few feet then into a field that is fenced and gated.

We did a long walk around town in the early evening and got to Taverna Garibaldi just before it opened. I took some photos of the owners, Thomas and Elena, in the restaurant. I am going to make a page about them as an example pizza restaurant on SlowTrav. Thomas is going to email me their menu. I also took photos of the pizza we had for dinner. We both got pizzas with no cheese - which was perfect - nice and light for our last Levanto meal.

We had asked Federico where we could get organic olive oil locally and he had a friend, but it turned out the friend was out of town. Instead they gave us a few liters of their own olive oil (I guess they have land somewhere - a guy came in with the oil and with a basket of vegetables for them).

September 26, 2003

Friday, September 26 - The Chianti GTG

Sunny and warm (cool in the evening - needed a jacket or sweater)

Have I mentioned how much I hate those route planning web sites? Last year I printed out driving directions from Mappy and they were useless. This year I printed out driving directions from Maporama and they were more than useless, they were also misleading. Two hours from Levanto to Castellina - or so they said. More like three and a half.

We were up early and in the breakfast room before they opened. Turns out it opens at 8:30 - so me complaining about the noise in our apartment from the breakfast room seems pretty lame now.

A few days before, I had heard Federico tell a guest he could loan them a hair blower. Last night, I asked his father (who is at the hotel in the evenings) for the hair blower. He could not find it. He asked me to come up later when Federico was there (Federico is there later at night). I came and Federico said they were all in use, but if I came up in the morning he would have one. I tried to say that it really wasn't important, that I don't always use one and really didn't need it, but they were not going to let me out of this one.

This is the first trip ever where I brought a blow dryer. Usually I wear my hair very short and in Santa Fe everything drys in two minutes, so you don't need a blow drying. The last few years I have been wearing my hair a little longer and it gets pretty frizzy in Italy, so I thought a blow dryer would be good. I tried to use it our first week in Levanto and I blew a fuse or something - probably burnt out the dryer. It is supposed to be good for the US and Europe (it is one of those little travel ones and says right on it 110 - 220). But, I turned it on and the lights went out and there was a burning smell from it. Steve flipped the switch for all the electric in the apartment (rebooted the apartment) and it was all fine, but I was not going to try that dryer again.

I went to breakfast with wet hair and asked if he had the blow dryer. Federico said he didn't but he was going into town now. I said not to bother, I really didn't need it. He said he was going into town anyway and would be five minutes. After a quick breakfast, we went back to the apartment. Federico came with a blow dryer. I have a feeling that he went and bought one because it was still in a box and packaged up. I dryed my hair and it really did look good - and this was important because we were having lunch with 26 people. Long story and I don't quite know why I am writing this.

We said our goodbyes to Federico and I was feeling kind of teary and gave him a big hug which shocked him I think (Federico is not that out going). We really did not get that much work done on his web site because this is his busy time of year and he did not have much time to spend on it, but we planned out what we would do on the site this winter.

We left Levanto at 9:05. I was hoping to be on the road by 8:30, but there was the late breakfast room opening and the blow dryer which slowed us down. We needed to be at the Siena train station by 11:00 to pick up Stephanie and Cesare who took the bus (the "pullman") up from Rome. We got there at 12:15. Here are the real driving times:

9:05 - Leaving Levanto
9:20 - Entering the A12 autostrada
10:05 - Exiting the A12 near Lucca and getting on the autostrada to Florence (5,30 Euro toll)
10:16 - A11 autostrada entrance near Lucca
Very quick stop at the Autogrill near Pistoia for coffee and restrooms. We wanted to get gas and pulled up to a pump with a guy there but were ignored by everyone. Other cars pulled up to other pumps and were served. We saw no sign saying this was self-service - but we must have screwed up somehow. We admitted defeat and left - figured it would be shorter to find a new station and try again. I always think in these situations that if you have been waiting a long time, they just don't see you anymore. This is why we always start looking for gas and ½ tank. If we had been served, it would have been 1,249 Euro/liter.

By now I am realizing that there is not a chance of making it to the Siena train station by 11. I phone Cristina, hoping to convince her to go pick up Stephanie and Cesare, only to find out that she is very sick and both her girls are sick and her husband is at work and her friend who looks after the children for her just had a baby - so there is no way Cristina can come to the lunch she has organized, let alone go pickup Stephanie and Cesare. I called Stephanie and told them how late we would be. Their bus was 45 minutes late.

11:04 - Traffic started slowing near Prato. I had forgotten how the A1 near Florence can grind to a halt. It did not slow for long, but on the other side there was a big accident and traffic was at a standstill for miles.
11:30 - Exited the A1 for the SI-FI Raccordo (Siena - Firenze). 5,70 Euro toll.. I think we had another 2 Euro toll in there on the stretch between the A12 and the A11. 130kph speed limit on the autostrada, but 90 kph on the SI-FI Raccordo. Cristina says they patrol this road and have cameras that catch you speeding. We found the autostrada much easier to drive on this trip. I think people are obeying the speed limits! You can move into the passing lane to pass a slower car, without having a BMW appear on your tail with his lights flashing. On previous trips that happened all the time. It has not happened once on this trip - people are driving slower.
12:15 - Took the Siena Nord exit and entered what I like to call the Chianti Bermuda Triangle. But we have driven through it many times (sometimes three times while circling endlessly) - and now I actually know these roads - so we drove straight to the train station and put Stephanie and Cesare in our back seat with one of our big suitcases. We had planned to visit Cristina first, but this was no longer possible. I called her and then we drove to the restaurant on the edge of Castellina and arrived at 12:40. Others were arriving too.

I think there were 25 people. Afterwards I realized that most of them are expats living in Italy (and Cesare, our one "real" Italian). The only travelers were me and Steve, Charity and Bill from Santa Barbara and Gail Hecko and her husband John. Everyone else lived in Italy - Judy (DivinaCucina), Ann (TuscanTraveler), Chandi and her husband (RedRedWine), Bill and Patty Sutherland (TuscanWomenCook), Gaynor and Terese (LaBellaToscana), Margaret and John (Casa dei Sogni), Barb and Art (who moved to Umbria two days earlier), Rebecca (Brigolante), Stephanie and Cesare (Webfabbrica) - or was planning to move to Italy - Joanna. Joanna's cousin Stefy was also there. I think I am missing some people from this list - it will come to me later. Carmel from Rome was supposed to come, but had to cancel because she had to be in Rome that day to get some paperwork done for her Visa. She sent presents for every person at the GTG (envelops of wonderful spices)!!

The lunch was wonderful. We sat at two long tables outside under awnings. The menu had been decided and course after course arrived. We ate and talked and took photos and changed places and talked and ate from 12:45 until 4:30. At the start each person stood up and introduced themselves - which was a great idea because we all got to know who was who.

It seemed like we all talked nonstop for the whole time - or was that just me? As promised, Rebecca was shy and not the great wit we were all expecting … for the first 15 minutes. Then she warmed up to all of us and was talkative and funny. Judy made Steve's day by telling him she loved his L'Eridita blog entry (about that Italian TV show) and that she watches that show too. Charity then further made his day by showing him how she had printed out all his language lessons and carried them around with her on the trip.

Many of the expats are in the travel-tourist business. Judy does cooking classes and tours, so do the Sutherlands. Ann is a tour guide in Florence. Chiandi organizes weddings in Italy. Rebecca runs her Brigolante vacation rentals. Stephanies builds web sites for many travel related businesses in Italy. Gaynor and Terese run La Bella Toscana, a vacation rental agency (a SlowTrav favorite).

At the end of the lunch, just as people were starting to leave, Dario (the author of 2 Much Tuscan Son - which I intentionally spell wrong so the search engines won't pick it up) called Judy and said he was going to come and say hi. This was pretty strange because I really did not like his book and had all kinds of things that I wanted to say, but didn't. Also, on the mboard, he recently admitted to posting under another name to shamelessly promote his book. I had suspected that this other name was really him and had emailed him about it a year ago, but he had denied it. This is a little too weird for me. Anyway we all talked with Dario for a few minutes, but it was strange. I wonder if he noticed my big American feet? Probably.

As we were leaving, the chef was trying to talk us into grappa and limoncello. We declined. I took photos of him and his wife in the restaurant and will post them with our group photos.

When we arrived, he had something for me - a card from Doru!!! I had been thinking of Doru, because he had been in Castellina a few days before the lunch, but was not there for the lunch. He left a card for us knowing we would all be there after him.

Me, Steve, Stephanie, Cesare, Barb, and Art drove to Vagliagli to meet Cristina. She stood outside her house and we talked for 30 minutes or so. She was sick and her girls in the house were even sicker. It was such bad timing, because Cristina organized the whole lunch and would have had a great time at it. People had brought presents for her, so I hope that made up for it somewhat.

We didn't leave Cristina's until 6:30. We took Stephanie and Cesare to the train station, but the next bus was not until 8:20 - so they had some time to kill. Meanwhile it is getting later and we had another hour to drive to our hotel in San Quirico. Note to self: Never, ever do a GTG on a travel day. What was I thinking? We should have booked two nights in Castellina and had the GTG on the full day we were there. We ended up doing too much driving.

And talking. I have now been talking for two days straight, because we had another GTG today (Saturday).

Driving on the white (dirt) road from Castellina to Vagliagli was the first "hairball" driving of the trip (well, from the A12 into Levanto is a bit hairball). Narrow road, lots of curves. Driving on the paved road from Vagliagli to Siena was busier than anything we had been driving before (and extraordinarily beautiful as we looked out over olive groves, vineyards and villas). And the driving around the Siena train station was very busy and somewhat chaotic. But we survived it all.

We got gas in Siena, made our way to the Siena Nord entrance to the Raccordo, and continued south to the SS2 and to San Quirico d'Orcia. That road is always a bit difficult, with lots of trucks that you have to pass. There is a piece of road about half way, where you leave the road and enter an "Autostrada" type of road for about two miles, then they have a real exit sign (Uscita) as if you had the choice of going straight or exiting, when really, you have to exit and then you are back on the one lane in each direction SS2 road that you were on before. I guess they have plans to make this a highway the whole way, but only built this one little bit. It has been like this for years.

We pulled into San Quirco around 8pm in total darkness. First, the town is about five times as large as I remember. Second, I have not got a clue where we should park or how to get to the hotel. I figured we would be arriving about two hours earlier and would park and walk into town, find the hotel and find out where to park. Which is what we did - but in complete darkness. We found an area I thought I recognized and we parked, but we could not find the way into the historic center. An Italian couple were carrying some paintings and things into town, so we talked to them and followed them (and carried some things). They took us into the center, I saw the linen store I shopped at last year and I knew where we were.

The town was full of people - and it was not all tourists (maybe some Italian tourists). People walking and talking, sitting in the square. There were way more shops than I remembered too. Really fun and lively!

We found the hotel, they gave us a map and showed us where to park, we went back to the car, drove in through an arch that is maybe two inches wider than the car, down a very narrow lane, stopped in front of the hotel, unloaded three bags (left some in the car), Steve drove into the square, turned the car and then backed it into a garage door that is about two feet wider than the car and takes about five back and forths to angle in correctly.

We drag our bags to the third floor (American third) and collapse. The room is lovely - canopied bed, high ceilings, very old building but a brand new renovation, fabulous lighting fixtures and furniture, fabulous tiled bathroom. No tub (but an enormous shower) - I as hoping to collapse into a hot bath.

Instead we had a very simple dinner (riboletta - vegetable soup, and two contorni - vegetable side dishes), then went to bed. Steve is exhausted from the drive. I am just exhausted. We took some vitamins - maybe we can fight off this cold.

This is the phase of the trip where I miss my cats and I want to be home. I don't want to go to all the effort of driving into Rome, returning the car, unloading all the luggage into a cab, dragging it into a hotel, then doing it all again to go to the airport. I just want to go home. But, I always feel like that and then we get to Rome and we LOVE it. I won't want to leave.

September 27, 2003

Saturday, September 27 - San Quirico d'Orcia GTG

Sunny and warm (but I wore a long sleeved top today and a jacket in the evening)

I slept badly. Woke up at 4 am (counted the church bells) feeling very congested and slightly paniced because I had done nothing to arrange this lunch expect make a reservation for 17 and I was not really sure of the number of people coming or if anyone would come. We got up at 8 and Steve was feeling bad from this cold - but I was feeling much better. I really wanted to go and get some organic olive oil from a place in Montisi where we go each year, but I thought Steve really needed to rest all morning before our next lunch.

We went down to the breakfast room (very nice) and after a our usual double espresso, some bread, butter and jam and a cornetto, Steve was perky and we thought we could do the olive oil run. We had planned to meet Wendy and Riccardo from the message board at 11:30, but I called them on their cell and we agreed on noon to give us extra time.

Took the car out of the garage, and drove out into the incredibly beautiful southern Tuscany countryside. I had forgotten just how wonderful the Crete area is - big open fields with rows of Cypress trees and farmhouses in the distance, the distinctive grey clay on some of the hillsides, occasional forests, big groves of olive trees. We drove towards Pienza, but turned off just before to go to Castelmuzio, then Montisi. We drove past the farmhouse (La Fornacina) where we spent three weeks in fall 2001.

We buy our oil from La Romita in Montisi. It is an organic producer and he is really into the oil. Everyone tells us we pay way too much, but I think his oil is great and am willing to pay more for the organic production. Everyone tells us that all the oil from this area or from all of Italy is organic, but then I wonder why there is an organic movement in Italy when everything is already organic? People in the US will tell you there is no need to buy organic, but we always do. La Romita is a restaurant on the main street of this small village and the frantoio is below it. We were in luck, because as we drove in, the owner was driving in too. He showed us new equipment he has for this year's harvest. He presses olives in October, November and December. The earlier pressings are his more expensive oil. He will be doing his first press next week - but we won't be here, so we have to buy last year's oil. We got a five liter tin of last year's October oil (150 Euro - yes, yes, I know - too expensive). This is the third year in a row that we have bought five liters from him.

We drove back to the San Quirico and met Wendy and Richard at the caffe. Wendy and Richard (Riccardo) are both on the mboard. Wendy has written several vacation rental reviews. They could not stay for the lunch, but were in the area, so we had arranged to meet before. They are both Slow Travelers (staying mostly in vacation rentals) like us, and have been traveling this way a long time. We had coffee and talked about our current trips. Barb and Art found us in the caffe, then Joanna. Wendy and Richard headed off, and we all headed to lunch at the restaurant owned by the hotel.

We had about 18 people for lunch: Linda from NC and husband and 3 friends, Joanna and friend and cousins, Zak, Barb and Art, Charity and Bill, me and Steve. We sat at a long table in the garden area and shared antipasto and ordered one other dish each. The food was very good, the conversation even better.

After lunch, we drove up to Joanna's new house. Linda from NC and her group were driving to Cetona to spend a week in the house we stayed in last year (from TuscanHouse) so they didn't come, but everyone else did. Joanna's house is in a lovely hill town near San Quirico. We had not been to this town before. Her house is beautiful (needs to be renovated, but is in pretty good shape) - she and her friend Stephy had spent the last week cleaning it. It has a large garden area too. The town is small, but has several stores, a caffe and a pizza place. The views from the town and her house and garden are beautiful - you can see most of southern Tuscany from there.

The group split up at this point, Charity and Bill heading to a vacation rental in Chianti, Zak back to work, Barb and Art back to their new life in Umbria, Joanna and Stephy to Rome to fly home the next day.

We drove to Pienza to check out my favorite bookstore there (on the main piazza, just outside the walls). We got a couple of books and some DVDs in Italian.

One book is very interesting and I will post more about it on the mboard, but it is almost exactly what I have done in the Instructions for Visitors section of the web site - photos of parking signs and descriptions of parking methods, photos of menus, photos of garbage cans - all that stuff that I wrote for the web site and have been thinking of turning into a book. It was a relief to see it. I made a detailed plan for that book, a proposal and sample chapters two years ago and sent it around to agents and publishers. All rejected. Then I worked more on the outline and tried to get an expat in Italy to write it with me - but the project never came together. Instead of working on the book, I always worked on the web site instead.

I just did not want to write the book - for many reasons. I didn't think I had the idea right, I didn't think I should be writing this (because really I don't know that much about Italy), I thought it was too hard a project for probably too little financial rewards. Now I can forget that project - and I am happy!! I will put a link to this book on the web site. It was written for Brits, but if you translate courgettes to zuchini and aubergines to eggplant, it will do for Americans. It is very well done - the main problem is the title which makes you think it is a language book. I have it packed away now, but it is called something like Language Survival Skills and is published by Harper Collins. Written in 2001, right when I was writing all the same stuff for SlowTrav. They even have language lessons for each type of thing described - exactly how we were going to do the book.

I still have another book plan for SlowTrav - and this was always part of the book idea - about how to find vacation rentals and what to expect. This has been written before, but I don't think it was done well. So I still have a big project to avoid doing in the next few years.
Drove back to the hotel and had a very simple dinner again at the hotel restaurant.

September 28, 2003

Sunday, September 28 - Blackout in Italian is "blackout"

Overcast, heavy rain on and off

You probably read about it in the papers. The electricity went off in Italy at 3:30am. I woke up in the middle of the night and noticed the power was out. This is one of the weirdest travel feelings for me, waking up in the middle of the night and not remembering where you are or what your room looks like or where the bathroom might be. That happened last night and the room was dark, very dark - no light from the street, no night light showing where the bathroom is. I figured it was out in the town because the power goes out frequently in rural Tuscany.

When it was still out in the morning, and there was no water, first I thought it was just our room, or maybe our hotel, possibly the whole town. I sent Steve down to the front desk and he found out it was out in a larger area. We phoned Stephanie and Cesare in Rome (cell phones still worked and our had recharged before the power went out) and they gave us the details. The power was out for all of Italy, but was already back in northern Italy and was expected back in Rome by the afternoon.

We washed using bottles of water we had with us in the room and lit a candle for light, then went to the breakfast room. They had lit the room with candles and were serving all the usual things except for coffee - they were able somehow to make tea. We were back in the room debating what to do - should we drive to Rome assuming the power would come back or stay at the hotel in case the power did not come back that day - when the power came back on at 10am. So we packed up, checked out, loaded the car and headed to Rome.

We had arranged to meet Tom and Rob from CA (Tom is Goldengate on the mboard) at the restaurant Dante in Montefiascone (I don't have my map and have probably spelled that wrong) on Lake Bolsena in northern Lazio. Tom and Rob are staying over near Terni. We could not figure out a good place to meet and this was our fall back because someone had posted about this restaurant a year or so ago on the mboard, but we had no address or phone number for it. I had called Tom on his US cell phone in the morning when the power was out and got his voice mail. I left a message cancelling, but when the power went back on I called again and left another message saying lets still have the lunch.

We drove south on the SS2 through Tuscany, from San Quirico, past Bagno Vignoni, Bagni San Fillipi, Radicofani, Celle sul Rigo - areas we have spent many weeks in on other trips - then south into Lazio, Aquapendente and past the area where Cheryl has bought her house in the country (beautiful area) to Lake Bolsena. If you have read my other trip reports, you know I am not the biggest fan of Lazio, but this area of Lazio on the Tuscany/Umbrian border, north of Lake Bolsena was lovely.

You really notice the change when you drive into Lazio. You see many new farmhouses, instead of all old farmhouses that have been renovated as in Tuscany. You see many half constructed large buildings that are abandoned (I don't know what that is). And you see many falling down old buildings. In Tuscany, everything is perfect - perhaps too perfect. But in Lazio, things are more rundown.

By the time we reached Lazio, it was pouring rain. We found the town Montefiascone but did not see any sign of the restaurant. We drove toward the centro and stopped and asked. We were about two blocks from the restaurant - it is in the historical center, just off the main piazza. We parked and walked up. We had one of those fun experiences where we asked the guy in the newstand where the restaurant Dante was and it was about 10 feet behind us with a big sign. We had walked right by it and not seen it.

One of the reasons we wanted to have this lunch in a small town was so we could park the car beside the restaurant because the car was full of luggage. The trunk had one rolling suitcase, our duffel with hiking stuff, a rolling carryon with our two computers, another rolling carryon with our olive oil and a bottle of limoncello, a small bag full of books. In the back seat was our other rolling suitcase. Way too much luggage - we always bring way too much luggage - and yet we have used and really needed everything we brought (and I wish I had brought another pair of jeans each). So we end up leaving the car on a main street and going to lunch up in the old part of town. We expected the car to be empty when we got back - but we would get the last laugh because one of the computers is dead and they would think they got a good computer. Of course, we got back to the car and everything was fine - as it always is when we leave a car full of luggage anywhere in Italy.

Stephanie called from Rome to say the power went back on around noon.

It was pouring rain, so we went into the restaurant instead of waiting outside for Tom and Rob. I had not got a call from them and I left another message, but we were now thinking they were not coming. We eventually got a call at 4pm - their power in southern Umbria did not go back on until then. They assumed everyone's power was still out and could not use their cell phone for some reason. Mine worked fine (an Italian TIM phone).

The restaurant Dante is one of those simple small town restaurants with a 1950s décor and great food. We ordered two primi for me (soup and pasta) and a primo and a secondo for Steve (soup and fish). We thought we made it clear that I was having one primo when Steve had his primo and the other primo when he had his secondo, but I think the idea of having two primi was confusing. They brought the soup (delicious), but a few minutes later brought my pasta. I let it sit until I had finished my soup, but then started eating it because we guessed that they would not bring the secondo until all the primi were gone. We were right. Steve asked for the secondo to be brought so I could eat my primi with it, but they only brought it after I pushed aside my pasta (could not eat it all). So Steve watched me eat, then I watched him eat. Reminded me of the service in many US restaurants when all courses arrive at the same time, or when people together are not served at the same time. We had also ordered some potatoes (contorni) and they gave that to me when they brought Steve's fish. 43 Euro including water and coffee. Pretty reasonable.

It was still raining, but lighter now, so we walked around Montefiascone. It is a lovely town. There is a huge church and a beautiful main piazza and lovely narrow streets of old houses. You can see Lake Bolsena from the edge of the historic area.

Onward to Rome. We drove south towards Viterbo, then took the Raccordo from Viterbo to Orte, then hopped on the A1 to head to Rome. We stopped at the Autogrill just after the toll booths where you split off on the highway to Rome and got espresso and gas. It was raining on and off. Then I attempted once again to follow my maporama directions to the Via Dei Prati Fiscali Europcar office where we had hoped to drop off the car.

The Maporama directions went well until the very end. They said to follow Via Saleria, then turn right on Via Dei Prati Fiscali. My map showed Via Dei Prati Fiscali to the left. Via Saleria split into two roads, so what you had to do was take the left road, then take an immediate right onto Via Dei Prati Fiscali - so it was a right turn, but was slightly more complicated. We missed the right turn and ended up going back on Via Saleria towards the GRA (Rome ring road). I thought we might take a right turn and swing back to where we missed our turn. We could not do a u-turn on Via Saleria because all left turns were blocked off because some big concert was going on (and the traffic was really thick). So we ended up driving around a neighborhood, and not a good one. When we saw the swastika painted on an apartment building wall, we decided to give up searching for a road to go back to the turn we missed, and head to the GRA and drop off at the airport.

Pauline's new rule: You can pickup a car from a city location, but always dropoff at the airport. It is just too hard to find these small city offices - unless you have a GPS system (which someone suggested on the mboard and I think sounds like an excellent idea - it would have saved us about two hours today).

The airport was busy and a bit chaotic. We found the dropoff for Europcar easily because we have dropped off there a few times. I had read on the mboard that someone got them to have a taxi come right to the Europcar office, so you don't have to lug your luggage into the terminal. Brilliant I thought! Two other groups were waiting for taxis. But then the Europcar person came out and told them no taxis would come - they had to go to the airport.

I was figuring we would be loading our luggage straight from our car (at the city office) to a taxi. We ended up managing it all - but looked pretty strange with all that luggage and my hiking poles clutched in my hand. Everyone says not to do this, but we got a gypsy cab. We have done this many times. I ask the price before we get in (60 Euro). The guy had a nice car and talked in Italian to Steve (about politics and the blackout) for the whole ride (Steve loves talking in Italian when he gets the chance).

We got to the hotel around 6pm - what a long day!! We are trying a new hotel, Hotel Farnese near the Vatican, recommended by Pecepe on the mboard. We have the most perfect room! You could live out a 50s Italian movie fantasy here. It is a room built onto the roof with a private terrace. The terrace is as large as most hotel rooms in Rome and our room is large too and with a huge bathroom. I don't know how we ended up in this room. I booked through Venere (using my clickthru) and asked for a room with large windows.

Robert from Santa Monica was meeting us at 7:30pm then we were meeting Stephanie and Cesare for dinner at 8:30pm. We got a bit unpacked and cleaned up, then Robert arrived, we made him look at our room and terrace, then we all walked to Piazza del Popolo - only 15 minutes away. From there we waited in a short line at the taxi stand and took a cab to Piazza Navona.

We met Stephanie and Cesare at a restaurant they like near Campo dei Fiori (I will put a review on SlowTrav). It is an Italian restaurant, but with a non-traditional approach and a vegetarian section on the menu. The food was excellent. We even had dessert. Steve, Stephanie and I had fruit gelato that came inside the frozen skins of the fruit used. For example, the plum gelato was served inside the outer skin of a frozen plum. I took a bunch of photos and will post them. Delicious and beautiful.

We left the restaurant around 10:30. It was raining off and on. We all walked up to Piazza Navona. The piazza was beautiful and almost empty - perhaps the rain, perhaps because of the blackout. Half of Rome was still without power still. Stephanie and Cesare's phone and DSL were not working, even though their power had returned earlier in the day. This was a good side-effect of the blackout - we got to see Piazza Navona and then Piazza della Rotunda (the Pantheon) at night time with hardly any other people around. It was magical. The Pantheon is my favorite building in the world. Stephanie and I were walking together and we stopped just at the corner and prepared ourselves before we stepped into the piazza to see it. It sits in that piazza so massively and beautifully.

Stephanie and Cesare left around 11:30 to get their bus home. Robert, Steve and I walked to Piazza Minerva and then down to that main street to get cabs back to our "homes".

We had a great day today too. We both LOVE Rome. I could happily live here. Steve thinks it is the best city in the world. We have tomorrow, then we fly home on Wednesday. I want to burn every piece of clothing that we brought on the trip - and that computer of mine that broke on day one.

I saw on the mboard that the NY Times mention did not appear. They said it might be held for a week. This means that once I get home, I can work some more on that hiking section - which I would like to do before the article comes out.

September 29, 2003

Monday, September 29 - First day in Rome

Heavy rain in the night, but woke up to the sun breaking through the overcast. Sunny and warm. Wore short sleeves and jeans today. Long sleeves and jeans in the evening.

I am home now and it was a week ago yesterday that I am writing about.

We had hoped to have breakfast out on our lovely terrace, but we woke up to cold and overcast. We did have breakfast in the room, but the coffee was bad (I should have requested espresso - otherwise hotels seem to give you very weak and bad "American" coffee).

We walked into the historic center (20 minutes to Piazza Navona), had a quick coffee at Tazza d'Oro near the Pantheon, walked by the big foot on Via Pie'Di Marmo (someone had left two beer bottles beside the foot - this foot must have seen a lot since it first appeared in Ancient Rome), walked by the stone cat on the side of a building on Via della Gatta (the cat is very small and sits at about the third floor level of the building), and met Robert at the Palazzo Doria Pamphilij (around the corner from the cat). We had not been to this museum before; Robert was there last year but wanted to see it again.

The museum is in a Palazzo used by the Doria Pamphilij family. The oldest parts of this building date from 1435. Much of the building has been turned into an art gallery, so you get to walk through magnificent rooms and look at the art. Robert says the Velazquez painting of Pope Innocent X Pamphilij is the best painting in Rome. (I would question that, but then I know nothing about art. It was an interesting painting.) We saw some Caravaggio paintings. I have heard of that artist, but do not remember seeing his work before. I liked the paintings we saw. You cannot tour the rooms in the private apartment (this area is closed). When you pay to go in the museum, you get a guided tour recording given by a present day relative of the family (in a very poncy British voice).

After an hour or so in the museum, we walked back to the Pantheon - stopping in at Santa Maria sopra Minerva to see Michelangelo's "The Risen Christ", then for another coffee at Tazza d'Oro - to wait at 12:30 in front of the Pantheon for some people from the message board for a GTG lunch. We waited for 15 minutes and they didn't show, so we left. Neither Robert nor I could remember who we were supposed to be meeting, and they either forgot or saw our motley crew and pretended to be German tourists.

We walked over to the Sant'Eustachio restaurant where we had lunch last year and had another excellent lunch. (This restaurant is highly recommended by people on SlowTalk.) We sat outside under an awning.

After lunch, Robert headed off and we walked back to the hotel. Steve has been dealing with a cold the last few days and needed a rest. We were due to be at Stephanie and Cesare's apartment at 4:30pm, but at 4pm Steve was sleeping soundly (and I was writing my blog for an earlier part of the trip), so I called them and set the meeting time for later. By 5pm, Steve was up and feeling much better, so we took a cab to the Trieste area where Stephanie and Cesare live.

They live in a fabulous neighborhood of lovely buildings mostly from the early 1900s and close to the very large park Villa Ada and to other smaller parks. Their apartment is very nice and looks out to a quiet street on one side and a pretty inner courtyard garden on the other (with a big palm tree!). They took us on a walk around their neighborhood and over to the Coppede district, a beautiful area with Liberty buildings. This area is just north of the Borghese Museum and would be well worth visiting.

From a recent article in La Repubblica (which Steve translated): " ... the Coppede district, that quadrilateral behind Piazza Buenos Aires, enclosed within Via Tagliamento, Clitunno, Serchio, Ombrone and Arno and converging onto Piazza Mincio. It is named for the one who created it between 1921 and 1926, Gino Coppede, transatlantic architect and developer, a little extravagant in its eclectic style which evoked medieval and renaissance architecture with stylings of enchanted castles."

After our walk, we had dinner at their apartment (Stephanie made a really nice Minestrone) and talked. We took a taxi back to the hotel. It was a wonderful experience for us to have friends to visit in Rome, to get to see a real neighborhood and have a peak into a real Roman life. They also have a house in the Lazio countryside, Cesare's family home, that they visit frequently to get away from the hecticness of the city. I could happily live in their "lifestyle".

On the way home, we saw an accident right near our hotel, with a cab and a car. We saw another accident earlier in the day. Always wear your seat belts in cabs!

September 30, 2003

Tuesday, September 30 - We fly home tomorrow

It is Tuesday afternoon. Steve's cold is worse today, so we are letting him rest a bit before we set out again. I am going to post my blog up until Sunday, but probably won't post the last bit until we are home. It has been a wonderful trip. It seems to have gone by quickly, but when I think about it, it does seem a long time ago that we were in Switzerland.

I think many people have been reading this blog - which feels pretty strange, because I write like I have written my trip journals on every trip for the last 10 years and no one read those. I have been writing for myself assuming no one was reading it - thinking that I just want to get it posted so that turning it into an official trip report will be easier.

Things seem to be a bit strange on the message board these days. We have been through a series of incidents in the last two months where different people are trying to stir things up, or go after me personally, or after the moderators. It has crossed my mind to shut down the message board for a day or two, so we can all take a deep breath and realize that this is just a little message board about a certain way of travel that may suit some, and may not suit everyone. With all the things that go on in the world, our little message board is really very trivial. Fun, but ultimately trivial. That whole "Queen Pauline" thing is meant to be a joke - I am hardly an authority on travel, or Italy, or art - I have never said that I am.

I am sitting here now in our hotel room with the doors to the balcony open. A breeze and traffic noise is coming in. It is sunny and warm. Steve is starting to recover from this cold and is asleep on the bed. We had a lovely lunch at a Chinese restaurant. When we get home, I want to eat brown rice and vegetable stew for a week straight (to recover from all these processed grains). I think I will take a bath and wash my hair so I can look partially acceptable for tonight's GTG. Then we will head out to Piazza del Popolo, sit in a caffe for the last time on this trip, find the Lion Bookstore (just what I need - more books!!), then meet everyone for our GTG dinner. I am starting to tear up as I type this. I want to go home, I want to stay here.

October 3, 2003

Home and happy to be here

We have been home for two days. The flight back went really well, but what a long and tiring flight it is. We were in Business Elite (Delta) the whole way (upgraded with points), but it was still horrible. It is the last leg from Atlanta to Albuquerque that really does me in. Maybe we should try spending the night in Atlanta, then flying home the next day.

I was quite perky the day after we got home - even managed to go out for lunch with friends - but I keep going back and forth between reality and zombieland. Only jetlag can do this to you. It is that combination of the changed sleep cycles and the lack of sleep. Today I spent most of the day reading that new P.D. James mystery that I got in Zurich. I am giving myself until Monday to get through this zombiephase.

The message board is slow - I think many people are traveling now. Looking forward to lots of trip reports. But now it is 9:30pm and it feels like the middle of the night.

About Italy Sept-Oct 2003

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Pauline's Slow Travels in the Italy Sept-Oct 2003 category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Hawaii Feb-Mar 2004 is the previous category.

North America Travel is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.33