Roma e Sorrento (e Napoli)

8 Apr

We made it to Rome, but not on that pre-dawn train. Even so, we arrived early enough in the day to do the ancient city and even found ourselves checking sights off the list that we hadn’t planned to get to until the next day. Rome is so small and convenient/twisty and you’re never really quite sure what direction you’re heading.

I’d been to Rome once before, remember, so I didn’t really take too many photos. There were a few new things for me (like the Bocca della Verita and the Raphael rooms in the Vatican), and of course it’s always more fun to do things with a friend. I also felt a lot less piggy getting a gelato a day when I wasn’t doing it by myself.

Look out, he bites!

After two and a half days in Rome, we were ready to head south for Sorrento. More train troubles meant we didn’t arrive to the area of our hostel until about 10:30 at night, and we probably wouldn’t have found it at all if it had not been for an older Italian man who was friends with the owner and offered to give us a lift up an incredible hill.

The view from Casale Antonietta in Sorrento

We were a little travel-weary but rallied with a lovely breakfast the next morning and managed to catch a bus headed to Positano, I believe the northernmost town in the Amalfi Coast area.

Mamma mia, what a cute little town! Our friend Kera had recommended we visit it, and I’d say it was easily one of my favorite parts of the trip. It was so nice to be by the sea, and since it was still low season, there wasn’t any competition for space on the sand-rocks. The half-day we spent there was just enough time to relax and recuperate.

Those are some sorry winter feet if I've ever seen some.

The next day was spent in Pompei, and my iPod had just enough battery left for Rick Steves to guide us around the town. Obnoxiously, at 11 a.m. they were out of English maps and booklets, so once Rick Steves was finished, we tried to piece together what information we could from the Spanish (Noel) and Italian (me!) guides.

Pompei definitely came with a few mind-blowing moments. I think top among them was the fast-food industry that was established in the city. Marble countertops with holes for pots of hot food and cool wine; tracks in the doorsill for an accordion-style sliding door; grooves in the sidewalk for attaching an awning. Mind. Blown.

This seems like a nice place to discuss how darn easy it was to get around down south without a car. In the Napoli train station we switched to the Circumvesuviana line, which is somewhere between a regular train system and a light rail system. Ticket prices are reasonable and trains run twice an hour between Napoli and Sorrento, the two terminal stations, and stop everywhere I can imagine a tourist wanting to visit, including Pompei and Erculean (another Vesuvius-preserved town). The staff at the Sorrento station had perfect English and helped us with the bus system, for getting to both our hostel and Positano.

Downtown Sorrento, too darn cute

Anyway, I really liked every part of the Sorrento leg of our journey and am happy I’ll get another chance to visit it again in May. We had a brief time in Napoli before we got on the train back to Bologna. Poor Napoli. It was a bit drizzly (the only bad weather we had on the whole trip), we were carrying all of our stuff and a bit paranoid because the first thing most people say about Napoli is how sketchy it is, and we didn’t even get to eat at the amazing pizzeria because the crowd in front of it was just too darn big. Napoli, I’m sure you’ve got a lot to offer, but you kind of reminded me of a developing country.

Ahh one more thing I need to write down so I don’t forget it. On the train back to Bologna we were in a compartment with the most charming Italian kid I’ve met and her grandmother. The 7-year-old had no DS, PSP, iPod, cellphone–niente–and yet she managed to stay well-behaved and not at all annoying the entire eight-hour journey. About halfway through the trip, her curiosity was enough that she started chatting with us, and in my very broken Italian and with the assistance of a 20something with less-broken English, we shared our story. And then I pulled out Noel’s sudoku book and the girl sat right next to me and wanted to know how to play. One of the other passengers knew the game and explained the basic rules in Italian, but then I was left to try to explain strategy in Italian. Oi. But she got it!

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A scrawled note

5 Apr

It turns out Garibaldi is as formidable an opponent when it comes to meeting deadlines as he was when met in battle. I’m feeling downright overwhelmed by this editing project—it looms over me all the time. Additionally, my time in Italy is coming quickly to an end, so all of those trips that were being put off until the nice spring weather are piling up, and people want to be social. People can be hard to say no to. Those people also include those two other jobs I still have, babysitting and tutoring.

And oh man, could this weather be more beautiful? Nope.

I know I still owe you photos from my trip with Noel, not to mention some of the delicious food we made, but now I’ve got new photos to share with you from my trip this past weekend to Cinque Terre. These will all come soon.

Since most of my readers are back home and I haven’t had much recent contact with them, I just want to use this as a way to tell them all that I’m happy and healthy and working hard and missing them and learning lots and eating well and not packing just yet but starting to worry about it.

Excuses

31 Mar

I just want everyone to know that I still haven’t even unpacked from my trips with Noel. The blog (and correspondences and going through photos and cleaning my room) has taken the back seat this week while I’ve tried to get caught up on everything else. I promise photos and stories soon.

Too much of a good thing

19 Mar

Speaking of diminishing marginal returns, this is a terrible photo of the delicious antipasti at our Bolognese dinner at Il 15 the second night. Tragically, I left almost an entire plate of pasta uneaten. Meal fail.

Noel and I have had a bit of a traveling fail. We need to rewind all the way to Thursday, when we were supposedly on our way to Florence to enjoy the free museums. Well, as Noel’s boyfriend put it when he heard the story: “Florence is so cool it sells out.”

Taking the sold-out morning train as a sign of overwhelming crowds on the Florence end, we opted not to take the slightly later train and to save Florence for another day, as originally planned. Instead we bought tickets for a noon train to nearby Ferrara and power walked back to the main square to catch Bologna’s parade for Unification Day.

I have to say, I wasn’t expecting all the military action, but it was neat to see the flags everywhere. I was almost sorry we were leaving Bologna, actually, because everyone seemed to be in a festive mood and enjoying the sunny morning.

With still a couple hours before the train, we climbed Bologna’s tallest tower. Coming in at a remarkable 97 meters, almost double the height of Pisa’s tower, the Torre Asinelli offers a fantastic view for those able to get up all 498 of the steep, worn wooden steps.

We eventually made our way to Ferrara, only 30 minutes away on the train, and it turns out they were celebrating Unification Day with free entrance to museums too! So we explored their castle (one of the few in Italy with a functioning moat—“functioning” in the sense that there’s still water, not that it keeps out invading enemies). We peeked in their duomo (the first time I’ve been caught touring a church when a service started). We shared a gelato (strawberry and some yummy white chocolate and fudge flavor).

I think every Italian city I’ve visited has felt less claustrophobic than Bologna because they don’t have the portici covering the sidewalks and hiding the sky. I have been grateful on so many occasions for the portici (I think they’re ruining my instinct to grab an umbrella when going out on a rainy day), but it’s a nice change to stroll without them, especially through Ferrara’s many pedestrian-only walkways.

OK but the plan for the next day, yesterday, was to try again for Florence. We didn’t have tickets, but figured if we arrived when the museums opened the lines wouldn’t be too bad. Unfortunately that meant catching a 6:45 train. Well, that didn’t happen. Noel met me in the kitchen at 5:30 looking like an absolute zombie: jetlag had struck again—she’d only slept for two hours. Today was not a day for touring museums.

"I don't trust them."

Venice, however, doesn’t require the intense focus of appreciating Renaissance art, nor does it require as early a start. We left for Venice around 10 and had a lovely sunny day strolling around the canals and listening to Rick Steves.

"I'm on a boat!"

But we should make it a fairly early night, we reasoned; we’ve got Cinque Terre tomorrow. Well…

I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this if we’d made it, but I’m kind of glad I am. I feel a little bad: I’ll have another shot at Cinque Terre before I leave, but Noel definitely won’t. We are both bone-tired already, and that’s not the way we want to start our week in Rome and Sorrento on Monday. I think we need this weekend to regroup a little, rest these weary feet.

We will be leaving for Rome before the sun even comes up on Monday for six days down south—that’s the plan, at least.

Happy 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy!

17 Mar

So here is the skinny since I’m hopping on a train soon. Last night I found out I don’t have to work today, so Noel and I are heading off to Florence. As part of the celebrations, Florence has made all of it’s museums free today! Excellent way to save a few euros or an entire day spent waiting in lines? We shall see.

“I’m not so much a cook as I am an artist”

14 Mar

One of my favorite new websites is TasteSpotting.com, an aggregator of food blogs with a beautiful layout and photos that get your salivary glands pumping. For the last couple weeks, Garibaldi has been consuming much of my kitchen time (jobs: what a bummer), but I make time at least once a day to just click through the front page, where the most recent submissions are posted in a smorgasbord of recipes.

I’ve had lots of luck with the handful of things I’ve tried from TasteSpotting, and my list of bookmarked recipes to try grows almost every day. My timid food-blogging attempts are a direct result of this website. I have to say though, sometimes it gets a bit outrageous. Truffled celery root and potatoes puree. Hazelnut, homemade raspberry jam, and white chocolate ganache tarts. Cheesy chive bread with walnuts and white pepper. Almond-pulp crackers (gluten-free). Caramelized bananas and fig oatmeal. Yes, they all sound delicious (except for maybe those crackers). Yes, I admire these bloggers’ creativity. No, I will not be trying any of them.

I’m a simple girl. I’m not above dehydrated pasta and a jar of sauce, even on a weekend night. I have served friends beans knowing the bottom of the pot was stuck half-an-inch thick with charred beans. I don’t think they think any less of me; they have come back around.

I felt quite able to relate to a New York Times’ columnist who signed up for a Brooklyn food exchange and felt her chocolate chip cookies and samoa bars were a little underdressed sitting next to bottles of vodka infused with organic pine needles and jars of candied tangelo peels.

Tonight’s going to be a pasta-and-jar-of-sauce kind of night. I’m under the weather (thanks, babies) and behind on this editing project, Colin has class until 8:30, and Noel arrives tomorrow evening. After that, I plan to be eating quite well—in restaurants all over Italy.

Silence on the blog waves

12 Mar

Apologies for the extreme dearth of posts recently. I got myself a bit of a grown-up job last week and have been spending most of my free computer hours working on that. It’s definitely what I should be doing now, but I’ve missed you.

My new project is editing a book manuscript about the military history of Garibaldi. The typical response from people when I tell them that is laughter, some confusion. The Italians I’ve told have been utterly baffled.

I’m only 25 pages in, but already I think I know more about Giuseppe Garibaldi than I do about any other figure in history. (But I still had to look up how to spell his first name.)

As I toil through the roughly translated paragraphs (only 200 pages to go!), occasionally throwing up my hands in frustration, reaching for the thesaurus or my style guides or Colin’s better understanding of what an Italian might have actually intended, the weather gets nicer, Noel’s and my family’s arrivals get closer, our time here gets shorter.

This job is making my English better at least.

I’m no more sure about where we’ll be next fall, but I am sure that I’ll be arriving in the San Diego airport the evening of May 17. I am so excited to be going home, but there is a twinge of sadness that I will be leaving before everything wraps up here, plus that load of anxiousness about getting all my stuff into just a few suitcases. There will be casualties.

And I’m OK with that. Our vibrant-blue couch throw, purchased in Yonghe’s night market at a jacked-up price, will not make the cut; I know that. The next tenants of our lovely apartment will get to use it. Pass it on. Purge the baggage.

But I know when it comes down to it, I’m going to want to keep this stuff, my stuff. My name is Valerie, and I am a packrat.