Roman Tiles on my Mind

Before I get into the creative process of my newest quilt attempt, you need to hear the story behind the inspiration.  For that, I take you back to September of 2010, when Michael and I had the opportunity to spend a month in Rome.   Here is the story of this inspiration……

The second stop of the day was going to be the Church of San Giovanni in Laterno and the “Scala Santa” (more about this below).     The only problem was that the Holy Stairs closed at noon and it was already 10:50 so I knew that I needed to hurry. I jogged down to the Metro station and hopped onto the train, thinking that the metro station was right across the street from the church.  Unfortunately, this is what I saw when I got up to street level…..

_9279870Now, if I had of looked UP I could have seen the top of the Cathedral, but since I didn’t do that, I went back into the underground station and came up on the other side of the street, but still no church!!!  I walked a couple of minutes and then FINALLY looked up and saw the cathedral….

_9279872  ….on the other side of the wall around the city.  So, I hurried thru the portico and up to the cathedral.  I walked inside but couldn’t find the Holy Stairs and finally read in Rick Steve’s book that the stairs were in a building on the side of the church.  I started on the right side, but finally found out that they were on the left side of the church.  I got there about 11:40. 

Now about these stairs…..they are called “Scala Santa” and according to tradition, they were brought  to Rome in 326AD  by Saint Helen who was Constantine’s mother.  It was believed to be the stairway from the palace of Pilate in Jerusalem which Jesus was supposed to have traversed several times on the day of his condemnation.  It is comprised of 28 marble steps which have been covered with a walnut wood frame to protect them.  Tradition says that that you can only ascend the stairs on your knees and this is what I wanted to do!!!

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I was one of the last to be allowed on the stairs before they closed for lunch.  It was quite painful to climb them on my knees, but was a wonderful, worshipful experience!!!

Now that I had accomplished my goal I returned to the church that I had madly rushed thru, opened the door and saw this…..

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How did I miss this!!!!

I was in quilter’s paradise and proceeded to take 92 photos of the tile patterns on the floor, while two ladies sitting on a bench had a good laugh at me as I dutifully photographed every inch of the sanctuary.

The designs were magnificent……

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Now, fast forward to today……

These tiles have stayed in my mind for 7 years now and I kept trying to figure out a way to piece them.  I decided to do a test and see if I could do it so started with one of the simpler designs….._9279825

First I needed to draft a good circle and split it into wedges.   I knew that I needed some drafting tools and started looking at various quilting supply sites but then had a thought to check the local hardware store.   There I found the circle drafter and spinning protractor…..

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I also needed some heavy, large format paper to use for drafting and was happy to find bulletin board paper (used by teachers).   It was perfect!!!

I started playing with my new tools to draft the circles…..

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Now let me say that the design of the circle creator is not wonderful and I had to be VERY careful to keep it in place….

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Then came the problem of trying to split it into a series of even wedges.  I tried using the extended arm protractor but couldn’t get the measurements accurate enough but after MANY trial and error attempts I finally had a pattern that would work…..IMG_3422My original thought was to paper piece the design and I made a start…..IMG_3432

….only to find out two things…. First of all, I HATE PAPER PIECING (I already knew this but had hoped I could do it anyway), and secondly, I realized that it was going to be almost impossible to keep everything lined up perfectly.

So, I went back to the drafting table and reworked the pattern.   After a BUNCH of attempts, I ended up with this sample….IMG_3435

Even though I like how this looks, I knew in my heart that I would NEVER have the patience to paper piece an entire quilt top!!! 

So, on to the next idea……and the next blog……



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Leaving Italy…..

We got up at 4:30 this morning (Sunday) to start our trip back to Watkinsville.  The trip progressed something like this…..

– Taxi ride to Naples Train Station

– Train ride to Rome

– Another train ride to the Rome Airport

– Bus ride to Terminal Five

– Go thru passport security line

– Go thru line to check bags and get boarding passes

– Go thru security

–  Take bus to Gates

– Take bus from gate to plane

– Fly in plane to Atlanta

– Drive in car to Watkinsville

Total travel time, door to door……  20 hours

We have had a WONDERFUL seven weeks.  Michael got a chance to talk to several groups of researchers, teach a series of classes to Graduate students, complete a scientific manuscript for submission and collaborate with MANY scientists.

All of our hosts have gone out of their way to provide us with a fun and exciting Italian experience and we have appreciated that so much. 

We have found both good and bad things about the Italian way of life.

The most important thing is that they KNOW how to relax and enjoy their lives.  Meals are an event, not a quick bite in between work projects.  Waiters will not rush you and will not bring you the check until you ask for it!!!! 

Espresso is all important and will be drunk at all hours of the day and night.  Normally, it is drunk while standing up at a cafe counter.

Unfortunately, as a whole, Italians are not well standardized.  Things seem to change from  day to day, including one way streets, train schedules, prices, and the basic processes used to perform simple tasks.  This tends to lead to some confusion!!!

Italians know how to drive and how to park!!!!  They are able to park, double park and merge lanes without blinking an eye and they don’t flinch when a motorcycle or scooter pulls around them.   Some cars are equipped with side mirrors that can be remotely folded all the way in.   We even saw one small car that had doors that slid back like a van’s doors rather than opening out into traffic…..what a great idea!!!!

The countryside varies greatly from North to South as does the temperament of the people.  The Northerners are much quieter and reserved, while the people in Naples are raucous and loud.

But whatever their temperament, they were friendly, helpful and wonderful and we are so thankful for the time that we have had here with them!!!!

This has probably been the nicest long-term trip that we have ever been on and we will forever remember our 7 weeks in Italy.

Thank you for traveling with us!!!

Ischia

On Saturday we ended up with a free day so we decided to take a ferry to the Island of Ischia.  The trip took about 35 minutes by a very fast boat and we spent a wonderful few hours wandering around the island.

As with most of our trip, we ended up on a different boat from the one we originally wanted and pulled into port at a different place on the island.  That just proved to be an opportunity for us to learn how to catch the bus to get to the next port.

The Island is the result of a Volcanic eruption many years ago and it now contains many hot springs and spas and is a a gorgeous area.  Although there is a lot of tourism on the island, it is not nearly as overwhelming as it was on Capri.  We had a slow stroll down one of the pedestrian only streets and enjoyed shopping and looking at a gorgeous park.

We eventually made our way to the Castello Aragonesse d’Ischia, an old structure that dominates one end of the island.  We spent about an hour wandering around the castle, finding ourselves in some of the most interesting cubbyholes…..

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_A090822 _A090828 _A090870There was a Cathedral that was built in 1301 but destroyed by an earthquake in  1809.  It was interesting to see the crumbling concrete statues…..

_A090833 _A090835 The views of the harbor and of the town of Ischia were magnificent…..

_A090812 _A090829 _A090839We met a lady from Munich who offered to take this photo for us…..

_A090802After coming down out of the Castle, we had a nice lunch at a sea side cafe.  The Bruschetta had fresh Tuna on it and was wonderful……

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We laughed at the music playing at the restaurant…..it was all stereotypical Italian music with “O Sole Mio” and “Santa Lucia” on the play list.  We decided that we needed to watch for a limousine to drive by for an “attempted whacking”. 

While we were eating, we enjoyed watching a couple taking wedding pictures on the pier.  I particularly liked how the photographers threw themselves into their work….

_A090880We returned to Naples and tried to finish up the packing…..it is NOT looking hopeful and we have already added another soft sided bag full of stuff that we bought!!!

In the evening, Salvatore picked us up and took us to an Italian Steak House.  As usual, the meal began with a huge collection of “Starters”.  They included a  ball of Mozzarella  (ping-pong size for EACH of us), slices of Proscuitto, a slice of Chengale sausage, another unknown meat slice, roast pork slice with a spicy sauce, plates of sautéed mushrooms, zucchini, bell peppers,  potatoes, a slice of Eggplant casserole,  and 2 others that I cant remember right now.   Happily, we skipped the Pasta course and went straight to the Meat course.  We all had a grilled steak, expecting it to be wafer thin, but were served a HUGE Sirloin Steak that was grilled to perfection.  We drove to a Gelato shop to finish out our last meal in Italy.  As we ate it we strolled around a park, watching all of the teenagers gathered in groups.  The drive back to the hotel took about an hour as the roads were totally clogged with people enjoying the evening….remember that at this point it was 11:30 pm!!! 

When we got up at 4:30am to leave for our return journey, there were still people outside!!

Wanders in Naples…..Day two

On Friday, I spent the morning wandering around in Naples again while Michael was at the University. 

The first thing that I saw as I began walking down Santa Lucia was a bunch of people, a few signs and some police officers……someone was demonstrating about something, so I continued on.

As I entered one particular piazza, I encountered a HUGE group of people with more signs, but these people were chanting, clapping and having a wonderful time.  This was all taking place just outside of a Middle/High School.   I stayed long enough to see which way they were moving and then to head the other direction….

_A080692 Later in the day Michael told me that it was a strike….of all of the Middle and High School students!!!!!  It looked as if they had just given themselves a three day weekend, but apparently they were protesting some major cuts in education that had just been proposed by the Prime Minister.  Oh well, to each his own!!!

The destination of the day was to return to an area that I had visited on Thursday and really enjoyed.  It is a series of shops that are located on Via Gregorio Armeno….

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These are the people that sell wonderful nativity sets, many of which are entire TOWNS that have the manger located somewhere in the scene.  The bigger ones are very expensive….I saw one 12-14 inch hand painted shepherd that cost 700 Euros.  However, there were an infinite number of smaller, much cheaper versions.

You start out by purchasing a backdrop…these are a couple of smaller ones…..

_A070587  Then you buy individual people, scenes etc to fill up your town….

_A080702 _A080705_A080699_A080707 Many of the pieces are very detailed and the nicer ones are all hand painted.  In many of the shops you can see the workers in the back putting together the miscellaneous scenes…. _A070592 This guy was painting one of the larger backdrops in one of the more expensive shops.  The thing that interested me most was the “mud” paint that he was using for the first coat…..

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Many of the figurines were displayed on old dirty workbenches, apparently just off of the artist’s brush and many of the shops had pots of brushes and paints sitting everywhere.

BUT, the really fun thing was seeing the small scenes that had been put into motion.  The basic motion was the same on each one, but I really liked the different ways that they incorporated the simple move.   Here is a video that shows some of my favorites…..

Here also is a video of a street singer….he had a gorgeous voice and I loved his “portable harp”……

There was a young girl in front of me while I was walking and all of a sudden a  gush of water fell on her.  As we both looked up we saw the woman on the 4th floor watering the plants on her terrace and the overflow was hitting the sidewalk!!!

As I was walking back to the hotel, I passed a small street market and really enjoyed seeing the fish markets….

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…..loved the Swordfish steaks!!

 _A070596Came across this “Tripperia”…..I figure that their motto is “All Tripe, All the Time”, but somehow seeing cow and sheep stomachs on the street was a bit much….

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I stepped into this cheese shop and was completely overcome by the wonderful smells of ripening cheese….._A080733 In one of the large piazzas they were setting up for a “Race for the Cure” festival and a few booths were open.  As I walked around I saw two guys playing “table soccer” (not foosball).  I enjoyed watching the guys flick the players with their fingers to make them kick the ball.  All of the other men were standing around giving advice to the two players…..

_A080735Michael and I went back to the same restaurant for lunch and were once again given a complimentary glass of champagne.  We enjoyed bruschetta  as a Starter course…..

_A080741 Calzone for a Second course (we split one this time)……

_A080743 And we ended the meal with free icy Limon Cello….

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The rest of the day was spent working on packing our suitcases and relaxing around the hotel some.

Napolitano Wanderings

Michael had to teach his short course on Thursday morning, so he headed out to work and I went in the opposite direction to explore more of the city.  My first  ambition to find the Duomo….the one that we couldn’t find on Tuesday!!! 

The first sight that I saw as I turned the corner from our hotel was the pier with all of the cruise ships in harbor…..

_A070576 I made my way on down Via Duomo and found the church without any problems this time.  As I was walking to the church I passed a long line of stores selling wedding dresses many of which were very simple in style, but beautiful.   I also passed one store that sold nothing but white wedding shoes!!!The official name of the church is the “Cattedrale de San Gennaro”.   The church itself is fairly plain (in relation to other Italian churches).

_A070583However, there is a Cupola on one of the side apses and a smaller altar which is almost entirely decorated with silver.  There were no photos allowed in this area so I didn’t get any pictures, but the statuary was magnificent.  When I entered there was a Mass going on with 3 or 4 people participating, but there was also a tour group there with 30 people milling around in the back looking at the chapel.  The REALLY incongruous part was that there was a souvenir stand set up at the back of the chapel and there was a brisk trade going on as the Priest was offering communion!!!

The church houses a vial of the blood of Saint Januarius which is brought out twice a year, on the first Saturday in May and on the 19th of September, when the dried blood usually liquefies. If the blood fails to liquefy, then legend has it that disaster will befall Naples.  According to one tour guide, the last time that it didn’t liquefy was in 1980….the year of a great earthquake.

In the crypt area of the church I found this statue that I liked…..

 _A070577 and these very disgruntled looking nuns…._A070581

I was also enamored with this altar piece and had a hard time figuring out whether the “fabric” part was stone or fabric….it had so much dimension…

_A070582 I was interested to see that the Priests who were taking confessions were doing it face-to-face and not in secret.  Most of them seemed to be very compassionate when they were talking to the confessors.

My next stop was to the Cappella Sansevero.  The highlight of this chapel was a statue by Giuseppe San Martino  entitled the “Veiled Christ”…..

Veiled christ 2_1267728253 cristo-velatoIt was extraordinary the way that he was able to replicate the sheerness of the fabric and the body underneath.  One description called it an  “intangible marble veil”.   You could even see the wounds in the hands and feet thru the veil.  The edges of the veil had lace edges that looked like they had just be tatted.

The other statue that I liked was one that had fishing net carved into it…..

desillusion1232419060_1  In another part of the chapel were two anatomical studies that consisted of a skeleton with the entire circulatory system wrapped around it.  There has apparently been some discussion as to whether  it was made by injecting a body with something that caused the veins to harden and then the flesh decayed around it, but, however it was made, it was an amazing demonstration…..

corpse28chapelsansevero29_1 I laughed in this chapel because it had all of these wonderful sculptures, but the cupola was fake…..it was just drawn to look like it had dimension!!!

As I was walking back, I excitedly passed a thread, button and trim store, however when I went inside EVERYTHING was in drawers and behind doors so that you couldn’t just look at stuff to see if you were interested.  I guess that you had to describe what you were looking for and then they would bring it out.

I also enjoyed watching all of the cars that were double parked along the street.  I dont know how it works so well, but no one ever seems to get stuck where they cant get out of their parking spot……of course, they are not too proud to drive on the sidewalk if needed!!

In the afternoon, Michael returned from the University and we decided to go out for a later lunch….well, later for US.  It was about 2pm and the restaurant that we chose was full.  We told them that we would wait and they handed us a complimentary glass of wonderful champagne to sip on while we waited.    They seated us, but before we could order, the waiter came and asked us if we would mind moving to a smaller table so that he could seat 4 people at our table.  We agreed to move and were rewarded with ANOTHER glass of champagne.  We had Bruschetta,  I had a calzone and Michael had a pizza.  At the end of the meal we were given complimentary glasses of Melon-cello…..much like Limon Cello, but tasting distinctly of cantaloupe.

We returned to the hotel where Michael Skyped with the people in his lab and then we headed off to the National Archaeological Museum.  The bottom floor was filled with statues from the 1st and 2nd centuries….some were massive in scale…

_A070617 _A070618 I loved this dog…..

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The top floors were filled with pieces that had been removed from the Pompeii excavation site.  It was wonderful to see the inner workings of the city at the time of the disaster…..

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We loved these frogs…..

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We then entered a maze of rooms that contained frescoes that had been removed….

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It was interesting to see various portraits that had been painted straight onto the walls…..

_A070677 _A070673By the time we left the museum, it was 7:30 and dark outside.  Michael and I had a wonderful time strolling thru town to return to our hotel.  The streets were absolutely clogged with people!!! 

It was another wonderful day!!!

To Pompeii and beyond

Let me start this post by saying that when I was 12 or so, I remember reading a National Geographic article about Pompeii and was horrified/amazed/astounded about the events of the morning of August 24th, 79 AD.   

As the information board told us….. “a sudden terror abruptly interrupted the daily routine of the inhabitants of Pompeii.  This was followed shortly afterwards by a tremendous blast signaling the beginning of a violent eruption with a column of debris rising over 20,000 meters into the sky.  Carried by the wind, this cloud of debris hailed down upon Pompeii, submerging the city in just a few hours in some three meters of material.  The roofs of many houses caved in under the weight, often crushing and killing those who had taken refuge within.  But the worst was yet to come.  At dawn of the following day, the first pyroclastic flow, composed of hot gas and fine ash hit Pompeii and sealed the fate of every person and animal it encountered.  The burning ash clogged the lungs and caused death by suffocation.  In the end, Pompeii was left buried under 5-6 meters of ash and debris in a desolate grey landscape whose only features were a few protruding walls.”

With this terror in mind, we did what any good tourist would do….. we climbed to the top of Mount Vesuvius, which is still an active volcano!!!! 

We took a train from the Naples station to Pompeii and then hopped onto a bus that took us up onto the side of the Volcano.  After that, we hiked up to the top and looked into the cause of the disaster.

On one side of the trail, we had wonderful views of Naples….._A060265

while on the other we had amazing images of the volcano cone….

_A060277 All along the way there were monitoring devices (aptly named a “blind crew”) and there are lots of scientists studying the area…..

_A060317 There was definite evidence that the volcano is still active as you could smell the acrid Sulfur odor and see the steam rising from some of the vents…..

_A060280 We met a wonderful couple from Hungary and walked a part of the trail with them.  Most walkers kept to the trails, however as usual, there was one errant soul……

_A060310 This was also a reminder that they dont have “personal injury lawyers” in Italy!!!!

The weather was wonderful, but a few clouds moved in as we were starting down the mountain.  It was fun to realize that you are up among the clouds…..

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While walking down, we could see one area where the lava would have flowed out of the crater and then we could find the lava field on the other side of the trail….

_A060318This lava flow would have been from the last eruption in 1944.  By the way, it erupts about every 50 years so they are waiting for it to blow again!!!

This walk was a wonderful start to our day…..

_A060267We took the bus back to Pompeii and entered the excavation site.  Here was our first view of this magnificent city…..

_A060335  We walked along the roads that were composed of HUGE blocks of rock.  Every so often there were three larger boulders in the middle of the road.  One of the tour guides commented that these were the equivalent of “speed bumps” for the chariots!!!

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As we were in this first piazza, it was ironic to look up and see Vesuvius just behind the ruins….

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We noticed that many of the houses had bricks that were made of lava…..
_A060380…one would think that it would have twigged that there was a volcano close by!!!  Having said that, they are even now building towns on the slopes of Vesuvius….even a new Pompeii. 

It was so interesting to walk along the streets and see the houses, shops and villas that were part of the city….

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_A060386 _A060374 _A060520_A060409 I was expecting the above sights, but was surprised to see some of the villas that had beautiful (but faded)frescoes on the walls……
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….Note….in tomorrow’s post I will show more artifacts that are housed in the Archaeological museum in Napes…..

I loved seeing these artifacts as well….

_A060455 I loved the shape of these urns….cant wait to put them into a quilt!!!!  With my quilter hat on, I also found various patterns that I loved…..

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_A060344 _A060364 _A060398  In these areas they stored some of the artifacts that were excavated from the site.  The “people” are actually plaster casts that were made from the impressions that were found in the ash…..ie, the person died, his body rotted leaving the impression….

_A060561 _A060555 _A060557 _A060560 All in all, it was a wonderful trip!!!!!

We returned to Naples and were picked up at 8pm by Salvatore and taken for dinner.  The restaurant that he chose was having a special night of Funghi (mushrooms) so we had numerous courses of nothing but mushrooms.  The first part was a raw mushroom with olive oil and salt.  Next came a plate with 5 different kinds of mushroom dishes, a spicy stuffed cap, a grilled cap, one wrapped with bacon, one deep fried and a square of a mushroom casserole.  That was the Starter Course!!!!

Next was a mushroom soup made with all different shapes and sizes of mushrooms, followed by a fresh pasta dish with a mushroom sauce….that was Primi Course.

Next was a roast beef with a mushroom and spinach sauce on it.

Finally, for sweets, we had a chocolate filled pastry that was SHAPED like a mushroom!!!!  The chocolate filling was also infused with Truffles.

There were two wonderful musicians trolling the room.  It was fun to watch how they”danced” with the waiters to get out of their way while still continuing to play.  When they found out we were from the US, they played “What A Wonderful World”, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and a medley of other typical US tunes….

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We fell into bed tired, full and happy!!!!

Second verse…same as the first

As I write about Saturday and Sunday, you will note that they are almost identical days….Saturday was so wonderful that we decided to repeat it in its entirety on Sunday.

Both mornings started out with an excellent breakfast…”Mama” is in charge of this aspect of the hotel and she does a wonderful job…

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I am especially enjoying the huge Croissants that have a hint of lemon and are dusted with powdered sugar.  Also the fresh fruit each morning is spectacular!!!  Each day we have been entertained by their cat, Billba. 

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He stays outside but runs across the window ledge, digs in the plants and peers longingly in the window at the diners.    We feel sure that he has deemed himself the morning  entertainment!!!

Each morning, we put on our swimsuits, grabbed beach towels from the Hotel and descended 340 steps to the beach.  We paid “Fabio” (our name for him, but more about that later) 20 Euros to rent two beach chairs and an umbrella for the day and took our pick of the now empty chairs. 

I LOVE the beach chairs…..they have a cool ledge that you can put up over your face so that it is not in the sun.  It certainly makes reading easier!!!

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After we got good and hot, we would stumble over the stony beach and dive into the water and boy was it cold at first.  But once we would  get warmed up it was fun to enjoy the views of the city from the water.  I wish that I could get a camera out there to take photos, but that is not going to happen.

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After the first dip, it was a matter of dry off, heat up, take a dip and repeat!!!!

Now, about Fabio…..he is muscled, super tanned,  has sun streaked hair and he LOVES to wait on people, but only if you are an unaccompanied woman!!!  On the first day Michael asked him for an Espresso and he waved us off and said he was busy and it would have to wait for a while.  He never returned to us, but did serve the lady next to us 2 drinks and a pizza!!!!  We watched with amusement as he worked the crowd of single women.  Oh, and Michael NEVER got his coffee!!

This is the first time that I have been around a European beach and I am amazed at some of the sights.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, most of the women wear Bikinis, however today there were some that were only wearing HALF of a bikini.  I believe that one girl was happily showing off her new acquisitions…clearly they were not original equipment!!!!    There was also one girl who had on a string bikini but unfortunately you couldn’t see the strings for the fat rolls, and one gentleman whose Speedo was hidden by similar appendages!!  Michael and I both felt pretty good about how we looked!!!!

In the afternoon we took a stroll around the town.  As with Capri, it is mostly hotels, restaurants and shops to buy things to bring home with you!!!  I bought a cute shirt and we bought some wonderful pottery that is going to be shipped to our house.

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As we walked, we passed  two parking garages just down the road from us…I hadn’t really stopped to think where everybody staying here would park!!!

On Sunday there was a meeting of the “Positano 500”, a group of small Fiat’s.  There were some cool cars…..

_A030174 I had a moment’s consternation that they were actually going to race around the winding road, but apparently it is only a meeting to show off their cars.  As I write this I can hear them leaving the city, all tooting their little horns  and sounding as if they are having a wonderful time. 

We walked along the dock and saw this wonderful jelly fish floating in the water.  As we started taking photos a crowd gathered to view one of God’s truly amazing creatures…..

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On both days, we split a Panini from the local grocery store and enjoyed a bag of M&Ms too.  Now about M&M’s here….in the US, they are all pretty much the same size and the colors are vibrant primary colors.  In Italy, they are all different sizes and the colors are much more muted.  They taste the same, but look entirely different!!

On Saturday night we walked across the street and had an excellent dinner……._A040208 ….that consisted of a super thin grilled steak, fried potatoes, salad with oil and Balsamic vinegar, appetizer and dessert.  We started talking to our waiter and he gave us a free glass of Limon Cello to end our meal.  We enjoyed it so much that we went back again on Sunday and had basically the same meal again, but we split it so that we weren’t quite as full at the end of the day.

So, thus ends our time in Positano.    We loved our stay in Palazzo Talamo and would suggest it to anyone traveling to Positano…

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Tomorrow we travel to Naples to experience yet another wonderful part of Italy!!!

La Scala Insanity!!!!

The day started in the usual way with a wonderful breakfast.  This morning, she added a very tasty spinach pie that had a super flakey crust.  It was excellent!!

We had walked about 1/2 way down the stairs to the beach when I realized that I had on my flip-flops rather than my Chaco sandals so I had to run BACK UP the 150 stairs to change shoes.  But, in the long run, it was a good decision.

This morning we decided to take the ferry to the Isle of Capri.  By the way, it is pronounced CAP-ree and not Cap-REE.     Our original plan was to take a boat to see the Blue Grotto, but we realized that ALL of the tour boats and most of the people on our ferry were planning to do the same thing.  Since only a few people are allowed inside at one time, we decided that we didn’t want to spend our day waiting so we started reading the guidebook to find other things to do.

The ferry ride was great and we passed some beautiful sights.  This is the private island that was once owned by Nureyev……

_A010008 and I loved these outcroppings….._A010013 Our first views of Capri showed us an area similar to Positano, but not nearly as pretty…..

_A010016The town was completely full of tourists and I cant imagine what it would look like during the “high” tourist season.   We decided to get off of the beaten path and try to find a place with fewer people. 

We momentarily thought about renting a scooter, but decided that it was just a traumatic head injury waiting for a place to happen, so we looked elsewhere for out day’s fun.   We had read that there were a set of stairs that led from Capri to Anacapri, the other town on the island so we started looking for it.  We asked one of the scooter rental guys where the stairs (scala) were and he just shook his head and said “no….too far”.  Not to be deterred, we went looking and found the entrance and started upward.  There are 880 stairs to reach the top and we climbed every single one of them. 

The lower ones were well kept and obviously traveled a lot, but they got wilder and less  standardized as they progressed upward.  It was interesting to see houses built along these paths as well and are still amazed at what they would have to do to bring home groceries…..

We passed a much younger British couple who also had the idea of climbing and had a fun discussion about how everyone at the bottom tried to discourage us from this endeavor.

Here is a photo that shows the route that we took….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         When we looked at it from this angle, we were amazed to see exactly how far we had climbed.

Here are numerous photos showing the ascent…..I used the need to take photos as my reason to stop.  And really, it had NOTHING to do with the fact that my chest was heaving and my legs were cramping!!!!!

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We reached the town of Anacapri and found it to be pretty much more of the same as Capri….simply another tourist town with tons of shops and eating establishments. 

We went into one church that had this interesting Majorca tile floor….

_A010069 We decided that we had worked hard enough for one day so we caught a taxi back to the Marina Grande.  But, this was no ordinary taxi……it was a open air vehicle and we had an enjoyable trip to back down to the beach.

_A010076 However, it is always interesting when you meet a bus going the other direction…..

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After that, we pretty much just ate our way thru Capri, stopping first for pizza, then again for gelato and finally for coffee and tea.  While we were sipping our drinks we witnessed a “dust up” between two Italian drivers.  We are guessing that there had been some sort of collision, but we really just enjoyed watching them both gesture as they yelled…..

_A010091 We caught the 3:30 ferry back to Positano and enjoyed talking to two Australian women who were sitting next to us.

The bottom line is that I would not return to Capri…..it is just for tourists, but at least I can say that I have been there!!!

Oh, by the way, we have changed our itinerary so that we can stay an extra day here in Positano and will not move to Naples until Monday.  This was the original suggestion of Salvatore (Michael’s colleague in Naples), but today we saw the wisdom of the idea……why should you leave paradise before you absolutely have to!!!!

A Little Bit of Heaven

On Wednesday, we left Rome, lugging our 50 pound suitcases down the stairs (well actually Michael did the lugging), and up the street to the Metro station.  We decided that the Metro would be too busy at this time of morning so instead we grabbed a taxi to take us to the train station. 

As usual we were WAY early for our train so we found a couple of chairs to sit and wait.  Michael got up to get a cup of coffee and a little woman asked if she could sit in the seat while he was gone.  The other woman with her asked if I knew how to catch the trains and I started explaining it to her.  When Michael arrived he walked her over to the necessary spot and told her exactly what to do.  While they were gone, I started talking to the woman sitting with me.  She told me that she and her sister were from Brooklyn and that they had been in Rome for several days and were now traveling to spend time with distant relatives.  They were both a hoot and Michael and I are still laughing about some of their comments. 

They were talking about trying to sell the house that their parents had lived in and that they had included a “P.S” on one of the mass requests that the house sell quickly.  Our favorite comment was….and read this out loud in your best Brooklyn accent…..”straight from my lips to God’s ears”!!!!!   As we said goodbye and walked away from them I heard one say…(again with the accent)….”I cant believe all of the angels  that we meet while traveling”.  They were such fun and a great start to our journey!!!  . 

The train trip was uneventful and the 70 minutes passed quickly.  When trying to figure out how to get from the train station to Positano we had read about taking buses and ferries and both had nightmares about transferring our large suitcases between vehicles.  SO, we decided to splurge and hire a driver to take us from point to point.

Thus, our driver met us at the platform and, of course, his name was Giovani.  He was a typical Italian 20-something…..coiffed hair, shiny fabric grey suit, matching shoes, and lives with his parents!!!  It is very hard for kids this age to move away from home because it is so expensive to live here so many of them live with their parents until they get married.   Many also work in family businesses and it is fun to see parents and children working side by side. 

Giovani was from Sorrento and knew lots of information about the area.  As we drove, he would point out things that we should see.  We drove around several sides of Mt. Vesuvius and it was interesting to see that people are starting to build houses on the slopes again.  It erupted last in 1944 but is now considered dormant.

As we climbed into the mountains we passed many groves of Olive trees that were getting ready to be picked.  Large nets are stretched under the trees  and a machine is used to shake the olives out of the trees.  The nets were already in place to catch any olives that might fall due to wind.

The views all along the road were magnificent and we arrived in Positano in about 1-1/2 hours.

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Now let me talk about Positano……it is a small town that is built into the side of a mountain that runs right into the Mediterranean Sea.  There is one road that switch-backs thru the town with traffic only allowed to move in one direction….from top to bottom.   Fortunately, our hotel is directly on the road so we dont have to navigate a set of steps with our suitcases.  The hotel is the Palazzo Talamo and it is quaint, clean and absolutely wonderful!!!  The room is small, but opens onto a terrace that looks out over the water which is dotted with all varieties of boats.

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Since we hadn’t been sleeping all that well, my first act was to lay down on the bed for a two hour nap while Michael donned his bathing suit, ordered a bottle of wine and lounged on the terrace…..we each have our own way of relaxing.

That night we walked all the way across the street to a restaurant for dinner.  I had a Gnocchi dish that had sautéed zucchini

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…and Michael  had a fried fish platter that included Shrimp, Sardines, Calamari, Octopus and this unknown, but tasty morsel…..

_9299925  After dessert and coffee we carefully made our way across the street back to our room…..thus the end of our first day in Paradise.

Now, on to day 2…… after a wonderful sleep with the doors open to the Sea, we arose, showered and headed down to breakfast.  The hotel is run by a brother and sister and their mother, and Mama is in charge of breakfast.  She doesn’t speak a lot of English but her cooking (and her gracious smile) speaks volumes!!!!   Everything that we had was wonderful and the fresh fruit was amazing.

After breakfast we headed down to the beach for some time in the sun.   There are two ways to get to the beach….you can follow the switchbacks or you can trot down 342 stairs…..we chose the faster stairs.  They follow along narrow passages and are dotted with openings to hotels and residences.  I cant imagine living someplace where I had to climb 50+ stairs to get to the street!!!

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This is my favorite view along the way…..

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We arrived at the beach, rented our chairs and umbrella and set up camp for the morning.  The beach is made up of volcanic rock that has been smoothed by years of crashing waves so it is a dark grey color and is VERY hard to walk on.

_9309945 I did not ever get into the surf, but did put my toes in, however, Michael dipped in several times. 

I spent my time drawing and then painting this church….

_9309936  It was by no means a masterpiece, but at least I got to try something different!!!

We returned to the hotel about 1:00, climbing all 342 steps to the top and spent a few hours relaxing.  Dinner consisted of a magnificent Panini prepared at a local deli (it had two 1/4 inch slices of Mozzarella cheese, 2 slices of ham, 3 tomato slices, 4 or 5 basil leaves and a healthy drizzling of Olive Oil).  We then waddled back down the stairs to the beach for Gelato and to see the beach later in the day…..

_9309963Upon returning to the hotel we sat outside and had espresso and hot tea to end our day…..

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Final thoughts on Rome

As we head to our next destination, I have been thinking a bit about our time in Rome.  It is a beautiful city and I was always amazed to turn a corner and see some wonderful fountain, statue or ancient ruin!!

In my opinion, the city is overrun with tourists.  This belief is partly because our apartment was located smack dab in the middle of prime tourist ground, but I found it really hard to get to a place where there were no souvenir shops or people selling city tours in double deck open topped busses.

Our apartment was wonderfully located as it was walking distance to Trevi, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trajan’s Forum, the Coliseum and Roman Forum and countless museums and churches.  Basically, the only sight that we had to use a metro for was to visit the Vatican and St. Peters. 

However, this close proximity meant that everything was LOUD!!!!!   The apartment sat on a cobblestone street which magnifies every sound so that we could easily hear it in our third floor home.   AND, the city NEVER sleeps.  There were people walking and talking and motorcycles racing down the street until the late hours of the morning.  About the only quiet time was between 5 and 6am.  This meant that sleeping was a bit hard, but what the heck…we ARE in Rome!!!

We had the most fun with the bathroom in our apartment.  As I mentioned early on, the shower was TINY…..here is a picture of BIG David showing his entering technique (fully clothed of course)….

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….he said that he had to soap up first so he could slide in!!!!   However, he had the best description of it.  On one HOT, SWEATY day, he dubbed it “4 square feet of heaven”!!!

One of the funniest things about the bathroom was the door…in particular, the noise that it made when opening or closing.  Have a listen for yourself…..

We each had our own special technique….some moved it slowly, some fast, and Roy shushed it each time made a noise.  But the  bottom line was that everyone in the building knew when we went to the bathroom!!!!

We perfected the means of crossing the street.   When we were here in 1998, we dubbed it “the Roman stare” and it goes like this……step out into the street and glare at the driver until he stops for you to cross.    There were numerous cross walks, both at corners and in the middles of the  blocks, but the driver’s would not always stop.  I had one motorcycle driver glare at me as I crossed (in the crosswalk), and I just glared back….the eyes say it all.   Another one came racing up as I was already in the crosswalk.  I hesitated and he smiled and nodded for me to continue. 

The hawkers and sellers of “original” products are everywhere looking for an innocent buyer who will believe that this Gucci bag only costs 15 Euros!!  Most of the souvenirs were the same from shop to shop but prices would vary greatly depending on how close you were to a tourist site.

Driving is harrowing….the lanes are fairly fluid and people just fit in wherever they can.  When cars stop at a light, all of the scooters and motorcycles weave between the cars to the front of the line and rev up and take off when the light changes.  And, people park EVERYWHERE, sometimes on the sidewalk!!!  Also, I have never seen people so adept at parallel parking.  There were cars pulling into spots that were only 18 inches longer than their car!!!

There was one thing that I had planned to do in Rome that simply did not ever happen.  I had images in my head of sitting in an area and playing with sketching, painting etc.  The problem with that dream was that there were TOO many people around and not enough places to sit.  Also, once I had climbed the stairs back into the apartment, I really did not want to go out again!!   I am happy with the work that I did on the underwater piece, but am sorry that I didn’t get around to the other.

The bottom line here is that we had a WONDERFUL time in Rome and have truly enjoyed our Roman experience.  But, now it is time to move on to another form of paradise…..more to come!!!!