Yesterday was great. We woke up early (for once) around 7am. Took breakfast downstairs and off to the train station for the hour commute to Rome. We could not come here and not go to Vatican City. After a short subway ride, we returned to the streets to find the entrance to the Vatican Museums.
What a surprise. A combination of tourists and Italian nationals, but the line was VERY long. The entrance opens at 10am, but people start lining up around 8:30am. Despite being long, we only waited for 1½ hours to enter . As always, check out the photos cuz they tell the story better than I can. We spent about 1½ hours in the museum finishing with the Sistine Chapel. Despite fear of arrest, PJ even managed to take a couple of photos in the Chapel without the flash. This relegates him only to purgatory for a few years, not directly to hell.
After departing, we walked back to Piazza San Pietro for a few more outside photos before heaving for Piazza Navona. There is a national Italian lottery drawing on January 6th that pays five million euros. Lucia told me the lucky tickets come from here, so we found a place and bought one. Of course, that means I have to come back in January to pick up my prize. Oh well.
We headed back to the main shopping area (Via del Corso) to pick up some regali (means presents – Italian word of the day). Lots of people, tourist and otherwise. Turns out that the day after Christmas is also considered part of the holiday, but the day after is like in America. People are out shopping for bargains and returning unwanted gifts. What a surprise.
After success, we headed back to Piazza del Popolo to the train station for the hour ride home. The train was crowded at first, but as we left Rome center, there were more seats. PJ slept (what a surprise). I called Lucia to let her know when to expect us. Of course, she was waiting at the station with the car. Not necessary for us to walk (well, actually, as fat as we are it would have been a good idea.
When we returned, it was more sleep for PJ and internet updates for me. We have had very good fortune with the weather here and for travel. After, I went down to the kitchen to hang out with Zio Mario. Like us, he was feeling sad and asked us to stay longer. It was very nice because he asked me to sit with him by the fire, and we talked about everything and nothing. What it was like to be a kid in Italy during WW II. It was tough for Italians because they started out (well, what we would say) on the wrong side.
He talked about encounters with the Italian and German soldiers, and finally the relief from the Americans. He called it Fromaggio giallo, but that means yellow cheese, or as we call it, American Cheese. Made me want a grilled cheese and tomato soup, my favorite as a kid.
Soon it was time for dinner. Romano, Lucia, Rodolfo, Chiara, Zia e Zio plus the cousins, Argante and Sylvia. We had a blast. We talked a lot. Drank a lot of good wine. Romano has quite a collection. And simply enjoyed eachothers company with a little Italian and English. At one point, PJ remembered that we had the DVD from “If Walls Could Talk”. So, we subjected them to 30 minutes of purgatory watching me and PJ on TV. We laughed, but soon it was time to head to bed. Our last night in Rignano.
We slept well, and I woke early to start packing. It was not necessary because everything fit easily. We didn’t buy too much or bring too much. Zia Laura came over to say good-bye while we were having breakfast. Then, it was time to bring the bags down and go.
Oops, I forgot to mention that Vincenzo and Christina came by last night and brought a present for us. A beautiful hand painted Italian plate full of candy. Yea, for us. They also brought their photocard, so we could show you pictures from pizza dinner last Saturday. Two meters of pizza on the table for 12 of us. YUM! They are great friends, and we hope they can come to Maine soon.
Lucia drove us to the airport; was nice enough to see us through check-in and a final cigarette for PJ; then we said good-bye as I do for now. Ciao Italia!
Wish we could say the same about the weather today. No complaints from me as their idea of rain and ours is substantially different. But I have to say, today was the first day I felt cold outside. The temperature barely made it into the 40’s, and with high humidity, you definitely felt a chill.
We hung out with Zia Adrianna and Zio Mario in the morning. Zia was nice enough to take us into town to see the square of Rignano and also see Zia Maria’s apartment. Zia Maria was Mario’s sister. She passed away in October. I told you about her last night.
Anyway, the apartment is cute and quite small. Living room, dining room and kitchen (all in one) along with a small bedroom and bath. Romano did a great job converting the space for her. He’s a great person.
When we returned, Lucia was awake and reported that Romano was at work; Rodolfo was out with friends; and Chiara was feeling sick. Ugh! We took some time to get caught up on emails and blogs and spent some time alone in our rooms. Before I knew it, it was time for lunch.
After lunch, Lucia graciously volunteered to be our tour guide on a trip to Vitterbo, the largest city in northern Lazio (the state where Rome and Rignano are located). It’s an awesome medieval town whose origins lie with the Etruscans (who the heck are they). I don’t have a clue, but apparently PJ studied them in Art History in college. Nice to know at least some of that tuition money went for good use.
Anyway, the oldest part of the town today is medieval (check out the pictures), but was built on Etruscan ruins that date back to Christ’s birth. They basically built caves or gallerias (Italian word of the day) in which to live and start a village. More on this later…….
I forgot to mention that before we arrived in town, Lucia drove us past an upscale resort that is built over natural hot springs (acqua caldo – a bonus word of the day). Not much to see unless you were willing to pay to go inside, but it was still interesting. She also pointed out a low lying area of water that was frequented by people who wanted the perceived benefits of the hot spring, but were unable/unwilling to pay the price. I thought that was quite funny, the idea of a bunch of strangers wrangling around in the mud. I digress……..
After we finished in Vitterbo, we returned to the car and headed home (or so we thought). She took us a different route, and I didn’t quite understand because it was already dark. There was really nothing to see, or was there…….
Every vignette was set in a galleria and represented how the Etruscans might have lived culminating to the live nativity at the end. Of course the Italians take their religion very seriously, so the three wise men had not yet shown up. But while we were there, we found shepherds in adoration. Not too shabby. The beauty of this cannot be expressed in words (you understand this idea is impossible for me), but it’s true.
Another 30 minutes, we returned home in time for dinner. Leftovers, but nothing to complain about. The food was great the first time and the second time too. After, we started talking about stuff, and Zio Mario asked if we were fans of Hillary Clinton.
Nice to know she’s as much a joke here as she is at home (Sorry friends, Louie, and Uncle Frank, who are democrats). If it’s any consolation, I like Obama. Does that count? Well, I also like Rudi too. Do they cancel each other out? OK, no politics, only Italy. Tomorrow, it’s off to Vatican City and Rome to enjoy our last day here. Ugh, I’m very sad now. Time to go to bed.
The house is awesome too. Four bedrooms, five baths (at least five as we stopped counting) in a traditional style from Tuscany. There is this HUGE room downstairs complete with a separate kitchen (Yes, even in Italy they have them). It stays warm enough here that broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce are always fresh. The meat we ate, chicken, beef and pork, were all fresh off the farm, quite literally. Well, except for the prosciutto (sp) and dried sausage which Argante had made previously along with the strawberry wine. It was good too, and by the way, when does he find time to go to work? I don’t know.
We arrived around noon and the first round of eating commenced shortly after 1pm. The cast of characters extended to include Romano’s brother, Fabrizio and family, his sister, Natalina and his Mom, Nonna del Fina. We were 18 for early dinner and 24 for the later meal. That included the rest of Laura’s children Rosella and Frederico and there families, a long list of friends of Romano and Lucia.
Overall, it was a wonderful family day. We spoke to PJ’s parents and my family in GA. We miss this puppies, and I am afraid to say, a little home sick. It’s hard to be away for so long. Well, we have two full days left to go out and explore. We are going to make the most of it, so there’s more to come. Merry Christmas to everyone!
We stopped at a local market to pick up some flowers to visit the tomb of Zia Maria, Mario’s sister that passed away this fall. I called her, Mani Magico or magic hands (and two day’s worth of Italian words of the day) because she was always doing something. Sewing, knitting, whatever, she could not sit still. She was the quiet one who never married. She lived in the house that she grew up in. In fact, she was the success story of Mom’s reconnection to the family.
Sidebar: When Mom retired, she wanted to research our family tree. When you come from immigrant families, it’s not easy since the records are not local. She went to my grandmother’s old address book and wrote a letter. She made 9 copies and mailed them to the last addresses she had for my great grandmother’s, Lisetta, siblings. Eventually, all but one were returned undeliverable. The last one went to Otttavio, Maria and Mario’s father and Lisetta’s younger brother. Zia Maria still lived in the house and kept the letter even though her dad was dead. She brought it to Rignano on her next visit. That’s where Patricia, the American girl from Rochester, NY, came into play. She met a guy from Rignano; fell in love; and stayed in Rignano to marry and raise her family. She translated the first letter from Mom which led to the reunion in 1996 and our reconnection to family once lost.
After Torrita, we returned to Rignano to visit the tomb of Mazio, Adrianna’s brother who passed away from a heart attack shortly after Mom and I were here for the first time back in 1996. He was a good guy who was full a life. Funny thing, his oldest son, Argante looks just like him. Argante was one of the many we spent the holiday with this year.
That brings me to Christmas Eve dinner, and the night of 1,000 fishes. Well I exaggerate a little, but the Italian tradition is to eat only fish on Christmas Eve both as a sacrifice (the catholic part) and for good luck. Adrianna did not disappoint. There was enough to feed an army, and a small army we were. Our family plus Laura, Mazio’s widow, two of her children, Argante and Sylvia, Laura’s sister and her husband rounded out the number to 11 in Mario and Adrianna’s seemingly small apartment, but there was plenty of room. Good food, a friendly game or two of Bingo, then it was off to midnight mass for some, bed for others, and as it turned out, two hours more work for Adrianna, ugh. We went off to bed, so Santa or Babbo Natale could come.
How do you top a day returning to an era before Christ? You go to the village of Calcata about 20 minutes from Rignano. It’s medieval. Built on a mountain top, sheer cliffs surround ninety percent of the village. There is a castle like gate which serves as the only way in and out. Turns out that today, it’s an artists colony not unlike Monhegan Island near us on the coast of Maine.
Same idea too. The locals, artists, tolerate visitors and tourists because we bring the cash to buy the art. Turns out there are some very creative people who are also rather anti-social. After Calcata, it was off to Bacciano. By the way, our tour guide today is Virgilio. He’s Adrianna’s cousin who lived in Rochester, NY for a few years, so he has some English. Chiara and Lucia came along for the ride too.
There is a castle in Baccianno we toured. Check out the photos, it rocks! Literally, it’s made of rocks and sits on a bluff over looking a lake that’s a former volcano. Not too shabby. For those of you who appreciate the lighter side of the news like PJ, the castle’s recent claim to fame (if you can call it that) was hosting the wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Well, at least I can say they have some good taste.
Anyway, we arrived at Stazione Flaminia which is just outside Piazza del Popolo. Chiara had some last minute shopping to do. We were content to be tourists. We walked down Via del Corso to the Statue Vittorio Emmanule on a horse. It’s significance (other than being huge) relates to the liberation of Italy during the war. He is immortalized in a HUGE bronze statue. Big enough that during construction, the crew of workers used to sit in the open belly of the horse to eat lunch to escape the hot sun.
After many steps, we continued on the street through with the Roman Forum (ancient Rome) below us on either side. Our next adventure was at the end, the Coliseum. Have you seen the movie Gladiator? Even if you are not a Russell Crowe fan, it’s worth it to watch and see the Coliseum digitally recreated. It’s even more awesome in person. Check out the pictures.
If anyone doubts the social, political, scientific and artistic credibility of the Italian people, just send them to meet to be set straight (so to speak). Better yet, send them here for a few days. So many things relating to our daily life are part of the landscape (literally) of Rome.
After the Coliseum, we walked back through the ancient Roman Forum. Building after building in ruin but clearly recognizable. Not bad considering they are over 2,000 years old. There is even a newer church built over the ruins of an earlier structure. The only thing remaining was a series of columns which turned out to be so well built, the church was built inside the columns as the builders of the church were unable to destroy the columns. Again, check out the pictures.
So finally, it was off to the Trevi Fountain which is a must if you plan to return to Italy. A few coins over your shoulder in the fountain are supposed to bring you good fortune to return as if all the great stuff isn’t enough to bring you back. After, we moved on to the Piazza di Spagna home of the Spanish steps. These two are located within what is considered modern Rome. And by modern, we mean only about 500 years old.
Via Condoit intersects Via del Corso and runs to Piazza di Spagna and is considered the “Fifth Avenue” of Rome. From Fendi to Bulgari, all the designers are represented. In fact, most had long lines to enter as there was only two shopping days left until Christmas. At 4:30pm, we met up with Chiara; walked back to the station; and took the train back as we had dinner plans with Christina and Vicenzo Ferrara.
Christina’s mom is Adiranna’s best friend from childhood. PJ and I know Christina and Vincenzo because they lived in NYC for three years. Vincenzo works for the government, and often, work overseas is necessary. I guess there is a long term benefit for his career too. Anyway pizza for dinner, what could be better?
Turns out, nothing could be better. According to PJ (me too), this was the best ever! The place is located about 20 minutes north of Rignano. We had to take two cars to get there, but it was worth it. Thin, but chewy, crust covered with all different ingredients as far as the eye can see. I’m not kidding. Each pizza was one meter long. We ordered two, so that’s roughly 72 inches of delight, and we finished it all. Well, not just the two of us.
A short ride home and it’s off to bed. Buona Notte.
With much regret, we departed Ravenna on Friday around 1pm after visiting the mosaic studio of our friend Alessandra. Go to the previous blog and there is a link to work she did in a church in Orleans, MA. It took 10 years to make, ugh. We americans don’t have the patience to wait that long. So, we have one last cafe in a cafe with the sisters, and we headed for Rome.
I have to say I like Ravenna. Even without directions, I was able to find the right road to connect us to the Autostrada. Maybe I’m getting better in Italy (not really, I’ll tell you later. So we headed south along the A14 along the Adriatic Coast. Near Ravenna, it’s so flat we were not able to see the water. This was one of the reasons we chose this route, so we thought we would be dissappointed. Patience paid off.
About half way down the coast near, Ancona, the road and the land raised up giving us beautiful panoramic views of the sea. Wish I had one for you, but somebody (not me) forgot to take the camera out of the back of the car, and like my dad, I don’t stop for any reason, but gas and to pee (even that is discretionary). The rest of the trip was uneventful to Rome. About an hour south of Ancona we turned west in Pecara toward Rome using the A25.
It’s crazy what a difference a few miles make. Once inland, we started to see snow and it became much colder. Initially, the autostrada rides in a valley in the Appini mountains. Then, the tunnel (galleria – word of the day). It was 20 kilometers long! We got out the other side in a winter wonderland. Fortunately, only enough snow to be pretty, but not enough to be dangerous.
Fearing we would not make the rental return in time, I hauled ass averaging 130 kph. We made it to Rome in only two hours. Well, we made it near Rome in only two hours. It seems that I forgot that yesterday was the Friday before Christmas, and like Americans, Italians were trying to get out of town to return home. It took us an hour to get the last 10 kilometers. Worse, it took us an hour to find the rental return by the train station.
Even though we arrived before they closed, the sole clerk was nowhere to be found. What the hell do we do? The counter was in the train station. Needless to say, we couldn’t just leave the car on the street. Well, finally he returned after our third attempt to find a place to park (impossible in Rome). Basically, we ended up just dumping the car in the garage where Thrifty parks their cars. There were no spaces, so I left it in the aisle and the keys with the cashier. That’s what he said to do. I guess I will just dread this until the credit card bill comes.
So finally, Lucia and Chiara were waiting for us outside the garage. We loaded up and off we went to return to Rignano. With a couple of phone calls, dinner was literally waiting on the table for our return. Everything was better for us.
Now, its off to bed. More to come.
After some debate about our route with the palace staff (do we go on the autostrada or over the mountains), we left around 10:30am. By the way, turns out the morning desk clerk at the palace is from Boston. Don’t you think we should stay? OK, I just have to let it go. Anyway, we decided to use the autostrada because the more direct route (half the mileage) will probably take twice as long. Too many turns and small towns. A trip for another time, I guess.
So off we go. The trip is uneventful. By now, I am very comfortable driving on the autostrada. After Siena, I am comfortable driving anywhere. The views were nice, and we even stopped at AutoGrill to have lunch. For those familiar with the NJ Turnpike, AutoGrill is the equivalent of the Molly Pitcher service area with one difference. Even the highway food is awesome.
I had prosciutto sandwich on a crusty roll with just a little butter. PJ had a chicken cutlet panini. By the way, Coke has even taken over in Italy. For just 6.50 euro, you get sandwich, soda, dessert and a commemorative coke truck for the holidays. How beautiful. So we finished lunch and headed back to the car. Of course in Italy, they make you exit through a maze of items for sale. Kinda like Cracker Barrel, but instead of crap, there’s tons of more great food. We could have stayed all day.
But we didn’t and headed on to Ravenna. As you may have figured out by now, we are somewhat directionally challenged when it come to local streets, so I was not going to let Ravenna get the best of me. Before we left the palace (remember, it’s beautiful), I used mapquest for door to door directions to our hotel. I even elected for maps step by step. Afterward, I cut/paste the information into a Word document, so PJ could navigate once we exited the highway. Well, it worked, I am happy to report we easily made it to the hotel with only one mistake and no blood curdling arguments.
We arrived around 2pm, so there was plenty of time to visit the old sites of Ravenna. For those who don’t know (us included), Ravenna was once a capital of the Roman Empire before being nabbed by Venice. The town is famous for mosaics. Words cannot describe the beauty. You have to look at the pictures.
After touring, we returned to the hotel to rest for a few minutes. Then we went out again to explore the streets and shops. Turns out there is a new department store and grocery store right across the street from the hotel. I think we are the only people in the world that can window shop in a grocery store, but the food looked great. Again, we could have sampled all day and night.
But there was no reason, at 7pm Alessandra Caprara and her husband picked us up for dinner. We came to Ravenna, in part, because she and her sisters visited with us in October, and they wanted us to see their beautiful town. Also, she saw the article in Classis Country Life about Pizza Rustica and wanted us to try their regional dish called Pasticce da Macaroni. It’s a sweet pastry crust like Pizza Rustica, but filled with pasta, eggs, sauce and meat. Could there be anything better? Answer, simply no.
After Pasticce, there was another course with flatbread, cream cheese and carmelized figs along with a savory casserole, then, the usual dissert display of panatone, chocolates, coffee and dessert wine. It was a great night, and we were out until almost midnight which leads me to apologize for a late posting. After working on this for an hour last night, exhaustion or alcohol got the better of me and I lost my writing before I was able to post. So, I am re-writing this morning before we leave the hotel.
But before we leave the hotel, we go to see Alessandra in her studio. She is a very accomplished mosaic artist. See the link below. She just spent 10 YEARS working on a 1,000 square foot mosaic for the Transfiguration Church in Orleans, MA. That’s why they were visiting Maine. After she finished, the family joined her for a vacation. Check it out. By the way, the religion seems a little out there, but she said they were very nice and respectful of her.
OK, it’s time for a quick cup of coffee and we are off. By noon, we must depart to return to Rome, return SmartCar and reunite with Lucia and the gang. See you later.