Saturday, April 30, 2011

Having a Blast on Vesuvius

After two hectic days in Rome that were a flurry of fun, it was time to pack me up and load me under the bus for the trip to Sorrento. On the way this happy band of travelers was going to climb Mt. Vesuvius, and visit Pompeii. My Owner had planned on wearing a scarf around her head to cover her hair on the top of a windy volcano, and as she put on the new boots she had purchased the previous night around the corner from the hotel she thought she looked like a pirate. Her daughter thought she looked like a gypsy. I won't bore you with the other details of this little fashion saga since Madame Owner already shared it in her blog post: A Pirate Post. Frankly, I just thought she looked silly, but she didn't ask me.

They arrived in Naples and the large motor coach began its ascent up the volcano;  hairpin curves. narrow misses of other cars and buses, popping was all making MO's firstborn a little nervous. Madame Owner? Of course she loved it but then there is something slightly wrong with her. After she gets her daughter married off in the fall, she is planning on going skydiving, so that little feeling of danger and excitement thrilled her. On a recent cruise to Belize MO wanted to go repelling and cave tubing and tried to enlist her daughter.

"Where is your spirit of adventure?"

"Mom, I don't have the spirit of adventure. I have the spirit of relaxation!"

I suspect she got that and her good sense from her father, a most practical man. But I digress. Let's get something straight about Vesuvius. It is sold as more or less of a walk. It isn't, it's a climb or at the very least, a hike. There is a path which is covered in a dirt/gravel mixture. It's fairly steep and takes a good 45 minutes. MO, who walks 3 or 4 miles a day started out at a fast clip that she couldn't keep up for long...over confident, that one. She couldn't keep up with her daughter and huffed and puffed her way to the top. 

Guide with Naples and Bay of Naples in the background.
Arriving at the top the climbers found a little store (which felt like an outpost), thin air, and a ruggedly attractive Italian guide. The fact that he is dressed as if taking a group on a tour of the Alps should give you some clue as to the conditions you are likely to encounter in March.

This volcano has a fascinatingly destructive history. To read more about it and the surrounding area I recommend this page from Mount Vesuvius-Italy. (Scroll down a bit as the info doesn't seem to be at the top of the page.)

This isn't a volcano where you are going to see molten lava like Hawaii's Kilauea. You will see the massive crater and some steam coming out of several rocky formations, which made MO's daughter a little nervous having been told by the guide that Vesuvius is five years overdue to erupt.

The experience of standing on the rim of this volcano and seeing the massive crater, then turning and seeing the city of Naples and the bay stretch out before them took their breath away...and just after they'd caught it!

So if Madame Owner huffed and puffed on the way up, once there she caught her breath, enjoyed the informative tour and had an empowering burst of energy. She ventured around a large rock formation while her daughter was chatting with new friends and ran to the farthest point possible. It was a disappointment to her that it was impossible to walk the entire rim. Running felt wonderful. She was very glad they had all bought those boots. When she rejoined her daughter who asked where she'd gone she told her that she'd run to the end of the path.

"You RAN on top of a volcano, what is wrong with you ???"

I wish I'd been there. I could have asked how much time she had.

This is the post card MO's daughter sent to her fiance. 

Anyone who knows her would find this hard to believe, but it is actually documented. Where she  bought the postcard at the top (where the star is that she made) they stamp it saying that you were indeed at the top.

 Good Bye! 

        Next week: 


Sunday, April 24, 2011

We're Not in Kansas Anymore

  Even a suitcase needs a holiday off, so today I'm borrowing a recent post that My Owner wrote for her blog about learning something about one's self while traveling.

Kansas & the Razor's Edge: Eating, Praying, Loving.

Delphi, Greece
"There's no place like home." the wizard had Dorothy say while clicking her heels. I'd agree with that in a lot of ways, but can't help wonder if the gingham clad heroine of that tale would have traded all she learned on her adventure to stay at home and help on the farm.  I think not. The story of home is safety, comfort, predictability. While all those things are nice, a constant dose of them can be stifling which is what made Dorothy long for adventure over the rainbow. She's only able to come to the conclusion that home is the best place in the world after leaving it and learning something about herself apart from it. Had she stayed safely in the confines of Auntie Em's care she would likely spent a life filled with a certain restlessness, wondering what it was she'd missed.  We, knowing all she would have lost out on, shudder at the thought.

At the library used book sale over the weekend I picked up a lovely and worn vintage copy of The Razor's Edge, a story of travel combined with searching for meaning in life, a recurring theme in literature which has more recently given us Eat, Pray, Love. So what is the connection between all this wandering and wondering? Mark Twain said " Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." That is certainly true on a larger social scale but I suspect it may also be true on a very personal level. We are likely to catch a new glimpse and expand our view of, not only the world around us, but of the one within us. We are more willing to let go of our narrow-mindedness about who we are as we embrace new experiences in strange places. We are going, whether we want to or not, to learn something about ourselves.  Finding ourselves outside of our normal roles of employee, spouse, parent--being recast as merely a person in the larger world, is freeing while also being uncomfortable, challenging, and exciting. If "all the world's a stage" some of us desperately need new lines and a scene change from time to time. Our own selves, cast in a different light, may surprise us.

 My dream trip to Italy,  taken a couple of years ago with a friend, was life altering. Something new was woven into the edges of life's fabric and added an inexplicable layer of richness. Questions were answered; others beckoned. We just recently discussed over a long lunch how much fear that we'd harbored for years dropped by the wayside on that journey, a magical turn in a twenty year friendship.  So when I read Somerset Maugham's story of Larry's search for answers I feel for him and the fact that few understand it. Least of all his fiance, Isabel who I dislike and not just because she says "I'm twenty, in ten years I shall be old." I can't help comparing her to Elizabeth Gilbert who enticed us with her journeys through Italy, India, Bali.  Ms. Gilbert would have been an apt companion for Larry's spiritual journey.  Quests call for loyal companions of like mind as all good storytellers know. A fellowship, a band of brothers, at the very least an honest friend, sometimes taken along, other times met along the way. In these three stories the friends are picked up as the roads and the stories unwind. Unusual bonds are forged between travel companions, no one else will quite understand your experiences like those who have shared them.

You cannot travel and remain the same, as Twain knew. You will, as Gilbert knows do some eating, and if you are a conscious traveler you will also pray and love.  You'll try new things and expand your culinary horizons.  You will pray prayers of gratitude and wonder, prayers of thanks for the kindness of strangers.  You will fall in love with art, and sweeping vistas. You will love cities and the people in them, you will love fellow sojourners you meet on the way, as well as love and appreciate friends left behind and relish afresh the comforts of home.

Our distant observations are likely to be vastly different than our close up experiences. You cannot travel and remain the same. The world with all its permeating richness, color, diversity, and teeming  life simply will not allow it.

Shimmering possibilities over the horizon beckon the sleeping gypsy soul.

Home will be waiting when you return.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The School of Athens in Rome

The Birth of Venus had the odd effect of making My Owner's  knees go weak when she unexpectedly came upon it in the Uffizi Museum in Florence on her first trip to Italy. (Click here to read her account of that encounter) On her most recent trip to Rome she had another experience that came close. While on a guided tour of the Vatican Museums (which house some of the most valuable art in all the world) she entered the Raphael Room. There on one massive wall was the famous fresco, The School of Athens. Again a surprise.

She has this thing about not paying TOO close attention to what might be on the agenda for the day, so as not to be disappointed if buildings are closed or items are being restored. She is illogical and silly, I know.

She had been only slightly disappointed on her last trip by not getting to see it, but the Sistine Chapel can make up for a lot. This time she didn't give it a thought, so thrilled was she to be sharing all the beautiful treasures of history and art with her daughter. You could visit these museums many, many times and never see all that there is to see. Only moments before entering the room did the art professor traveling with her reveal what lay in store. She was even more excited than MO because on all her previous visits the guides had taken a short cut and she had never been to this room.

You enter the room through a door that is in the wall with the School of Athens on it, so you don't see it immediately. The first thing to strike MO about it was the size. You never get that from the pictures.

Here are the pictures MO took while in the room housing The School of Athens...

You can see the door they entered in at the bottom left of this picture.

In art books it comes across as a painting of large size but not big enough to fill an entire wall. The frescoes on the other walls are beautiful and stunning. Then you realize that everyone is turning around to look back from whence they came and...there it is.

My Owner immediately thought of her son, who is an artist and wished that he could be there to see this.

Click here to read the history of this painting and its artist.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Slice of Rome

My Owner wanted some bourbon. Now she should have remembered from her last trip to Italy that she wasn't going to find it. In case you don't know the difference between bourbon and whiskey, bourbon is distinctly American. So when traveling abroad you are not as likely to find Jack as Johnny (Walker Red). She and her friends and daughter were giddy with their shopping deals and returned to the hotel to plop the bags in
someone's room and look for a place to have dinner. They got directions from the desk clerk and headed out. They happened upon a tiny pizzaria and stepped inside.  This didn't appear to be the establishment that the hotel employee had indicated but it was both empty and inviting. At the end of a day dodging, pushing, and being elbowed in pressing crowds, while maintaining a death grip in their purses (having been warned repeatedly by everyone about pickpockets)empty looked extremely appealing. The bustling, crowded city of Rome, crammed subway cars, and the fact that Italians have almost no concept of personal space, can wear on American nerves after a while.

My owner's main appreciation when she returned home was for the amount of SPACE everywhere.

The friendly woman behind the counter spoke no English. My Owner used her very limited Italian to order drinks for them (this included lots of pointing). Next they contemplated the food on display in the case and a man came out from the kitchen and through a series of hand gestures and laughter they understood that he wanted to go in the back and make a fresh pizza for them. Once they understood, they were very happy women and sat down to enjoy their drinks and recount their adventures of the day in Rome.

How many times had they ended up back at Trevi Fountain?

Those twin churches were beautiful!

 How wonderful to find the topper for the wedding cake in Rome!

Weren't the girls in that one shop helpful and fun?

Did you see the way the women in the shop near the Spanish Steps glared at us?

We paid how much for cappucino at Babington's???

They laughed continuously and smiled a lot. Knowing them, I'm sure they were quite loud but the owner and his wife seemed entertained. At last he appeared from the kitchen with a lovely pizza in hand and held it up for display. MO snapped a blurry pic. They sat down and ate. Delicioso! When they finished the owner brought out tasty little pastries of some sort. They ooohed and aaahed. Universal signs of approval. The owner beamed.

When they finished the pastries he went to the ice cream case. He gave them samples, emphasizing that it wasn't gelatto but wanted them to understand it was ice and fruit, not unlike a sorbet.

"No gelatto!" He said emphatically.

His wife rolled her eyes as wives will as if to say "There he goes again." It made MO smile. She loves the sameness of some things among people no matter how far you travel.

A local patron came in and the someone suggested to MO that she asked him if he spoke English. She did. He grimaced and replied " Un poco." MO explained to him that she and her friends were having such a good time and enjoying the pizza very much and could he please relay that to the the couple. More laughing, nodding, and gesturing.

The owner beamed some more.

Finally, it was time to pay the bill and return to the hotel. More gesturing and smiles. MO took some pictures. They all collected business cards.  They tried to get some pictures outside but that wasn't easy after dark. They returned to the hotel full, a little giggly, and very very happy.

If you are in Rome and want to feel at home here's a link to where you can find The Gold Dream Bar Gelateria:

Buon Appetito!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Buon Giorno, Roma!

My Owner and her daughter arrived in Rome and after a bit of confusion sorting out accommodations they got their key and headed to their room. Tiny and neat, MO at once went to the window to open it and see the view.

Being able to open a window is a luxury in Italy that is unheard of in our safety conscious American culture. The practical Italians assume that your first impulse might NOT be to hurl yourself out of an open window.

The view was of some apartment buildings built around a courtyard area. Was MO disappointed? Au contraire! She loved seeing the women hang their laundry out on lines from the windows.

It was a little glimpse of real life away from the hustling tourist attractions

If you are a coffee lover Italy is going to seem like heaven to you. Forget lounging around sipping your espresso while you read the paper and listen to commercialized hip music. In Rome everything is moving at a rapid pace. Here you'll go straight to the cashier, order and pay, and receive a receipt.

You will then take your receipt to the bar and give it to the barman who will make up your order for you.
MO had a machiato, which was wonderful. But don't get comfortable! You are going to stand there and drink it at the bar.

I noticed that on this trip MO was often so rushed that many of her pictures came out blurry. Somehow it seems fitting considering most of the time they were trying to take things in without stopping long to soak them up.

Rush, rush, rush, so much to see!


MO and her daughter were shopping and trying on dresses in a little shop with sales girls who could work magic with accessories. My Owner couldn't resist getting a pic of her potential purchases.

I will tell you that being in a dressing room in Rome made her a little giddy.

A quiet side street, a shop, a bicycle parked outside. This is the kind of little detail she loves. 

She adores the street lights
which hang overhead, because --Where would you put a lamp post?

Trevi Fountain, where MO and her daughter made sure to throw in coins so that someday they can return to Rome!

It worked last time!

They were very impressed with the gas stations on the sidewalk.

Okay, My Owner loved this. The perspective helps a little, but yes, the pot was almost as big as the car.

Rome moves at a fast pace, and when you are trying to pack in as much as possible it can seem like a coffee drinking, gelatto eating, shopping, sight-seeing frenzy!

Because, of course, it is. 

At the end of their first full day MO and the rest of her group (3 very energetic and highly entertaining ladies, in addition to her daughter) visited the Pantheon, which may be her favorite spot in Rome.

To read the history of the Pantheon, click here.

It was a very chilly afternoon that turned into a cold night, rapidly. After shopping in a nearby linen store the women decided to eat at one of the lovely little restaurants at the edges of the Piazza della Rotonda.

The heaters scattered amid the tables helped ward off the evening chill as night fell.

The wine didn't hurt either.

This was the view from where My Owner sat eating her dinner!

This was what she ordered. Her friend the Food Maven will be very disappointed that she does not remember what she had.

The creme brulee however was beyond memorable. The highlight and perfect ending to a day in Rome and fuel for the long, cold walk back to the hotel.

Buona Serra, Roma!
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