Thursday, September 30, 2010

Royal Palace and Medieval Town

Last Sunday, we drove to a nearby town, Caserta, to visit the Royal Palace - Reggia di Caserta. It was modeled after Versailles, has the most amazing fountains, and was built from 1752-1774. Due to some constructions problems (things never change), the palace is minus it's intended corner towers and central dome. It was used as a summer palace for the Bourbon kings, and was intended to be a center of political and social life, safe from attack by sea.
Royal Palace at Caserta

There is a very interesting description, written by an English guest (Lady Anne Miller), of one the dinner receptions at the palace. The description is too long to include, but in summary, there were no tables, only rows of chairs. Good looking soldiers did all the serving, with one spreading a napkin across the guests' laps, another placed a silver plate on each person's lap, and the food was..."a great pate, composed of macaroni, cheese, and butter...drinkables are served between the arrival of each eatable." Who knew that today's college students are eating the dinner of royals!

The apartments were filled with frescoed ceilings, frieze covered walls, and gilded furniture. One room is taken up with a huge presepe (nativity). How many times have I heard the story of the birth of Christ and “no room at the inn,” while not really thinking about the atmosphere of the town. This presepe, though, gives a wonderful, visual image of what Bethlehem must have really been like. Teeming masses of people who are cooking, eating, chatting, doing laundry – just living their lives. It’s a wonderful picture of the old, old story.

As impressive as the palace is, the gardens are even more so. A 1.8 mile walk stretches along incredible fountains, cascading into one another. The crowning glory is the Great Cascade, which has a waterfall coming out of the side of the mountain out of a temple like structure and falling 250 feet into the pool below, then flowing down the terraced pools.

Aeolo Fountain
Beside this long promenade is an English garden, filled with statues from Pompeii and Ercolano, reproduction ruins, a Bath of Venus pool, Beekeeping area (which actually looks like a theatre, complete with marble statues), rose garden, Gardener’s house, numerous lawns, a temple, an orchard…the list goes on and on. We got quite lost in the English Garden, but kept making our way downhill, thinking the exit would be at the bottom – and found that the only exit is at the entrance, way back up top.

Following our exploration of the Royal Palace, we headed up the mountain to Caserta Vecchia, founded in the 9th century, and is today, a preserved example of a medieval town. It’s a small, hilltop town with narrow, stone alleys and lots of pizzerias. We’d planned to have a little dinner, but it was only 5pm. None of the restaurants open for real food until 7:30pm. And while the food here is great, I’m so tired of takeaway panini sandwiches. That or a tiny, folded pizza are the only two lunch items around. Yes, the bread is fresh, the sauce is homemade, the buffalo mozzarella is creamy, and the prosciutto is perfecto…but eating the same two foods for lunch every single day does actually get old. The caffe does not get old. Soooooo delicious. Anyway, we left Caserta Vecchia still hungry, but with our “home” (in the hotel) only a 20 minute drive away, we decided to save a nice dinner in Caserta Vecchia for another time.
Beautiful Caserta Vecchia

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Random Bits

I still owe you some pics and stories from our Sunday tour, but that will have to come in a day or two. I'm just too tired tonight to upload photos, label them, and write up a description. I thought I'd just share a little bit of the daily stuff. I started language classes yesterday, and I think they're going to be really helpful. It's a four-week immersion class that meets in downtown Napoli for four hours a day, Monday-Friday. It's through an Italian school, not affiliated with the military. The only problem is the distance...

Getting to school in downtown Napoli involves getting a ride to the nearest train station, training into downtown  35 minutes, and a 25 minute walk to school. The reverse trip includes an extra bus ride on a bus that only runs once/hour, so if we (a friend is also in the class) miss it, it's a long wait. You may recall my mentioning the emphasis in our Area Orientation on "getting outside the wire." I find this highly ironic considering that most incoming families do not have transportation. Therefore, in order to leave the base to go anywhere, one must take a bus to the nearest train station. The bus picks up outside the gates, but in order to take it, you have to have a ticket purchased in advance - it's not available from the bus driver. The office on base which is supposed to sell these tickets always seems to be sold out. So you can't get on the bus. And when I've asked the question (I've brought this up with several different people now) about how to get the tickets, I'm told, "You have to go to the train station." I really enjoy looking at the person and saying, "How do I get to the train station." They always say, "You take the bus." I just look at them and wait a few seconds - usually the light dawns quickly, but if it doesn't, we get to play an interesting round of "Who's on First."

The class is a lot of fun, and four afternoons per week, we have some sort of optional activity - a film, a lecture, a sightseeing tour.

I missed the activity for this afternoon because...drum roll...we met with Housing and our landlords today. We are officially in pre-contract. Today was negotiating day. Our landlady and her son came in, and we loved meeting her son. He is really nice, speaks great English, and is planning to open a pizzeria in Florida next year. For the negotiating, we'd hoped we could get the rent lowered as we're coming out of pocket quite a bit. Naturally, when the time came to ask for this, we choked. I brought it up, but we were sitting across from this sweet, 76 year old lady who tells us how pretty we are every time we meet her. We both started backpedaling. We're terrible negotiators. By the end of that discussion, the landlord had offered a lower rent, and we actually offered to pay more!!! Sweet, little Italian ladies are a powerful negotiation tool.

The only thing we asked for was that the alarm system be hooked up to private police, which the landlord assured us is completely unnecessary. He sensed how uncomfortable I was, and the Housing rep told him that we're American, so we don't understand the area and security issues...the upshot after only a brief discussion was that our landlord offered to install for us a video monitoring system, and after a few months of living there, if we feel unsafe, we can have the private police. Our landlord offered for us to use the pool at his hotel whenever we'd like and for us to come to dinner with their family at the restaurant. When Nathan told him he'd like to learn how to make an authentic Napolitano pizza, he offered to teach Nathan using our outdoor pizza oven. We were very happy to meet our landlady's son and are looking forward to developing a nice relationship with them.

We now enter an even longer bureaucratic process. The home inspection takes place on 12 October and probably won't pass (apparently this is very common). Something will have to be fixed, then a 2nd inspection. Once the house has passed, we'll get an appointment 3-5 days later to sign the contract. After the contract is signed, we'll have a move-in date of about 5 days after that. We're easily looking at the end of October before we're moving in [big sigh from me and Scully]. For now, though, it's off to try to get a good night's sleep. Although my mind is taken up with figuring out how to get to and from school on Friday as the Italian transportation workers are going on strike, and when we asked at school about parking for those of us with a car, the teacher just laughed.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Amalfi Hill Town

View of Amalfi Coast from Villa Rufolo
We have wanted (and asked for) a duty station in Europe for over a decade now. Adding a great amount of fuel to that fire was one of Nathan's prior bosses. He and his family arrived in Key West from Naples, and we had the luxury of hearing about their experiences when sitting around their dinner table, eating pasta with a traditional sauce taught to them by their Italian landlords and drinking wine they brought back to the U.S. with them. One of their favorite places they mentioned often was a little town up in the hills above the Amalfi coast, Ravello. While living in a hotel for months on end (for the third time in six years!) is pretty much a drag, the benefit is that weekends are completely free (maid service every four days is one luxury I will gladly accept!) - no cleaning or home chores weighing us down. This past Saturday, we woke to gray skies and a rainy forecast, but decided Ravello had to be a sooner than later visit. Scully needed an excursion as well. I don't know exactly how long it should have taken us, since we (yet again) made a wrong turn, but my guess is about an hour. After making our way through the approach, which was filled with tour buses, we found a town as delightful as the rumors foretold.

One of Ravello's charming, pedestrian streets
We were in need of a lazy day - a time to just wander and soak in atmosphere rather than a blitzkrieg of sightseeing. Plus, it was drizzling for our first hour in town, so we just strolled around the piazza and alleys, visited a limoncello factory, bought prosciutto sandwiches and ate them in a covered alley, and shopped in ceramic stores. This region is known for beautiful, painted ceramics - I thought I wouldn't really like the style, and Nathan just keeps muttering, "no more stuff" at random moments, as if he's been suddenly afflicted; however, we both were drawn to some of the work - the detail is amazing.

Once the rain cleared up, we visited one of Ravello's few actual sites - Villa Rufolo, built about 800 years ago. There's not really a villa to visit, but there are some beautiful ruins and gardens. Excavation is still going on, and one of the very recent finds is a Turkish style hammam (bath type complex). I just love how so much of this type of thing is underneath our feets here. As a side note, I was with a friend in downtown Napoli today, walking past a fenced off area of road construction. We could clearly see that where the crews have dug down pretty deep is some type of ancient, columned building. This was underneath a major road in one of Europe's densest cities. But back to Ravelo and Villa Rufolo...below are a few photos.
In the courtyard
We're not sure if this is actually a centuries old dog house, but it sure looks like one.  Scully seemed to like it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Grape Stomping & Wine Tasting

We've had an action packed weekend enjoying the area, so I'll be posting three separate blogs with our activities. On Friday night, we joined a tour offered by the USO to a local winery for grape picking and wine tasting. Just the drive to the winery was an adventure. We left for what was supposed to be a 20 minute drive to a winery located on the side of Mount Vesuvius. After an hour, we reached the base of the mountain only to be stopped by the carabinieri (police) and turned around due to demonstrators on the mountain. We're not sure what they were demonstrating for or against and why on the mountain, but our amazing bus driver obligingly turned the bus around and headed through the back roads. The same narrow roads that we don't seem to manage in our Toyota without some scrapes and bruises, the bus driver took at light speed, whipping around corners, bullying other cars and people out of the way. He got a large round of applause when he pulled up to the winery! This winery does not sell their wine to any other stores or distributors, and they're only open on Saturday & Sunday to the public...except for special events and tours such as ours. Since we were very, very late, we were quickly led into the vineyard and given shears & crates to get to clipping. Pepe the Winemaker supervised.
After filling our three crates, which seemed to take way longer than it should have for a group of 20, we headed back to the area where the real magic happens. The owner talked a little about how wine is made today, BUT...talked about back in the day when wine was pressed the traditional way...stomping on grapes. He had the barrel ready for us. Nathan, along with most of the men in the group, elected not to do this, but I decided why not. We had a fun tour group, and I don't care how touristy it is. Up rolled the pants legs, and off with the shoes...thankfully, because I had somehow stepped in a humongous pile of dog doo somewhere in the vineyard.

Finally the wine tasting began. We had a lovely plate of antipasti, accompanied with small tastes of the 2009 white, rose, and red. Next up was some of the best spaghetti I've ever eaten with a 2007 red and the reserve 2004 red. All the wines were absolutely wonderful! We finished up with the winery's special dessert beverage...apricot grappa. One shot each. Yummy! Actually, that wasn't the finish. For the finale, Maurice pulled out the pitcher of grape juice that we'd created from our stomping. Everyone got a small taste set in front of them, but only a small taste because he said any more would give us an upset stomach. (I should note here, everyone had to wash their feet before getting into the wine barrel! But the grapes weren't washed, no filtering, nothing else - straight off the vine). Most of us in the group went ahead and tried it. It just tasted like really, really good grape juice, so I drank my juice plus that of the lone hold out at our table who refused to try it. That extra juice was a very bad idea. Very, very bad. Next time, I will heed the advice of the winery owner when giving instructions on drinking foot-stomped grape juice. I'm just going to leave it at that...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Going to hell...twice

Yesterday, we met with our landlady and realtor at the house we hope will soon be ours. The meeting went well - basically, we asked our realtor if we could have things like patio furniture, the alarm hooked up to private police, the gas tank fixed, etc., and the realtor replied no, we could not - as I understand it, our house is considered pretty desirable, so we don't get any extras. Our house is pretty desirable to us, but the other lady who looked at it first hated it, so who knows. The landlady and her husband built this house and lived in it for decades; she now picks who she wants in it, and they have to take it as it is. She cleans it up and makes repairs as needed, but we don't get to come in like all the other Americans in rentals and negotiate a whole bunch of things, like maids, gardeners, private police, patio furniture (which we desperately need!) and so on. We can live with that.

Since Nathan didn't have time to attend this meeting, ferry me back to the boondocks, return to work, then return home, we had a couple of hours to explore some nearby sites. Without prior planning, the two places we visited were both once considered entrances to Hades. How on earth we managed this coincidence, I don't know. First up was Vulcano Solfatara, an eery, volcanic crater with fumaroles (smoke) escaping all over the place.

This is a dormant area, so no threat of catastrophic eruption, but it's unique in the numerous fumaroles of sulphuric gases. There are also a couple of bubbling mud-pits. We alternated between two names for the place: Fire Swamp, since it looks like an all white version of the one in Princess Bride, and Earth's Anus - it smelled seriously bad. In fact, for any of you coming to visit who wish to visit this place, I have already determined that I will be waiting for you in the car up at the entrance. I just cannot smell that again. The Fire Swamp name really stuck though once we crossed paths with a couple on a little tour. Their guide lit up a torch and started waving it across the ground. The fire sucks out oxygen, which then causes more fumaroles to steam up. We walked across this area just after the tour guide finished and the ground was still burning hot in some places and soft from the steam. I kept imagining steam shooting up as I stepped on a patch and then a pit of boiling mud opening up. Hell, indeed.
Tour Guide in the Fire Swamp

Bubbling Mud Pit, OR...Pit of Despair

We also visited Lago d'Averno, which is just a short walk from our (hopefully ours) house. We have two lakes and the sea (the Tyrrhenian, not the Mediterranean, is our shoreline) just a short walk away. Lago d'Averno has a walking path that goes all around it, about 1.5 miles total, and several restaurants line the shore. The restaurants are concentrated on one quarter, though, leaving the rest to vineyards, ducks (and duck blinds - guess hunting is big on this little lake), and a couple of ruins. Odysseus entered the Underworld from here as did Aeneus in the poet Virgil's writings. The Temple of Apollo is thought to have once been a thermal bath area and had a domed roof rivaling that of the Pantheon in Rome. In 37 B.C., Agrippus (the Roman General) turned this lake into an important naval port, linking it to Lago Lucrino (right by our house) and the sea with canals. He also built the first, major road tunnel that allowed chariots to travel to and from nearby Cumae - it was just over half a mile long. That tunnel was in use up until the 1940s! Yet another interesting tidbit is that just two months ago, police seized the lake from it's owner, who is accused of being a mafia frontman. News reports state that he allegedly purchased it on behalf of a former godfather Giussepe Setola. Setola was featured in the book, Gommorah, a bestseller about the Camorra (mafia) here in Campania (the region of Naples and surrounds). I haven't read this book yet, so I hope our library on base has it in stock.

And finally, Sibyl's Grotto is also located on the shore of Lago d'Averno (although other locations have also been suggested). Sibyl's were legendary ancient prophetesses, and this one, the Cumaean Sibyl, was the most famous among Romans. She first appears in writings from 500 BC. She is later featured in Virgil's Aenid, and also makes an appearance on the Sistine Chapel, painted in among Old Testament Prophets. This is due to the Middle Age belief that one of her prophecies foretold the coming of a saviour, perhaps because Emporer Constantine interpreted one of the written Syballine Oracles as holding an acrostic in which initials from verses spelled out "Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour Cross." The Cumaean Sybil lived 1000 years due to a deal with Apollo, but because she refused to sleep with him, he granted her only a long life, not youth. Sybil aged the entire time, so by the end, only her voice remained. Or so goes the legend. My favorite reference is in Virgil's poem - Sybil is a guide to the Underworld, which is entered through Lago d'Averno (Avernus):

Trojan, Anchises' son, the descent of Avernus is easy.
All night long, all day, the doors of Hades stand open.
But to retrace the path, to come up to the sweet air of heaven,
That is labor indeed.
(Aeneid 6.10.)

We did not get to view Sibyl's Grotto. At the mouth of the path up to it were still smoking, fire remains. We passed those and continued up the path, to find the same thing. At the third fire, we turned a corner and glimpsed a man with a loose dog hanging about. Considering we were heading into a tunnel with a man who seemed to like to enjoy lighting fires within 10 feet from one another (creeeeeepy!), we elected to turn on our heels and quickly exit back to the lake path. The lake is a nice walk from our house, and will be a good place to walk Scully, so we'll save it for another day.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Touring Aversa

Today I took a tour into the nearby town of Aversa. This is not a town that would be on any tourist's route because it's attractions can also be found in locations that are prettier, more easily accessible, and in far greater number. But Aversa is our nearest large city to the Support Site base with a handy, little bus which picks up right outside the gates and drops passengers off at the Aversa train station - which connects us with downtown Napoli and Rome, and thus, the rest of the country. But Aversa on its own is a nice destination for military families living out here. The town has over 100 churches, one of which we toured (not the one in the photo).

The cathedral we toured has one of the most gorgeous interiors of any I've ever seen. A friend who has traveled throughout Europe once remarked to me that once you've seen one cathedral, you've seen them all. She didn't mean it quite that literally, but on my backpacking trip back in 2003, I began to understand. There's a cathedral on every street corner, and they all hold remarkable paintings, plasterwork, altars, etc. It's very easy to quickly reach cathedral apathy. The cathedral we toured today, though, was stunning. The walls and ceilings were painted white, so even with the soaring arches overhead, we could clearly make out the ornate plasterwork. Marble floors were being buffed as we walked by staring at the artwork, and then we reached the truly amazing parts. Normans conquered this region back in the 1000s or so. At that time, they built this cathedral, and in the back of the church, we could see the part of the church still standing that was built by those Normans over 1000 years ago. In addition, some surviving, plaster panels were on display with artwork unlike most European cathedral art. As one of our tour members commented, the panels had a design more reminiscent of the South Pacific than of what we'd think of as Celtic influenced. In addition there was a replica of Mary's (mother of Jesus) house set right into the front of the cathedral. There are often little side chapels and the like, but this was an entire, freestanding house. Apparently, after Mary died, a wealthy family from around here brought her house to the region and put it on their land. This cathedral had a replica built of it and has turned it into a gorgeous chapel. Unfortunately, photographs were forbidden. I would have loved to share this place in photos with you.

Aversa has a small historic section, and while wandering up the main, historic street, we came across this:
Just an old column supporting this building, containing a clothing store. Living with this ever-present reminder of ancient history seems so overwhelming to me. Everywhere I turn, there are ruins or churches a millenia old, or ornately-carved decorations on crumbly, old buildings that are probably 300+ years old, or a lake that the ancients thought was the portal to Hades (more on that later since we'll be living about 1/2 a mile from it - yep. we're moving in next door to Hell - fantastic. I hear there is a lovely, little nature walk around it, enhanced by the faint smell of sulfur.). I want to learn about all of it, but I start reading the history of one little thing, which leads to all these other tangents, and then I get lost in the mythological world of Sirens and Hades and Sybil the Oracle (we're also living just down the street from her cave).

Aversa also offers a nice bit of shopping, including several outlets, a mozzarella di bufala shop, restaurants, and a wine store that sells wine out of humongous, metal vats for 1.5 euros per liter (a liter is slightly larger than a typical bottle of wine). The shopkeeper sticks your bottle (your own or one you buy for .20) under a tap, much like a soda fountain. There were about 10 wines to choose from. I tried the first tonight - it's not going to win any awards from me, but for 1.5euros, it tastes great!

When Nathan returned home, we headed out to visit Auchan...Italy's version of WalMart. Surprise, surprise - we did NOT get lost on the way, but then, we weren't using the GPS. At Auchan, I was just overwhelmed by such a large store after weeks of not seeing anything like it. It has a lot of groceries, which we skipped on by to check out the wine and liquor sections. They are excellent, by the way. We'd planned to then stop at the nearby Decathalon (think Sports Authority), but the sheer volume of people and stuff in Auchan forced us to take cover in the car and plan our retreat. We'll storm the castle another day.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Getting Lost Again

It seems to be a theme with us that as soon as we leave the base, we get lost. And that is using the GPS (aka StupidHead). Our GPS is not good. Yesterday, she took us on one of those very narrow streets, lined with cars on both sides, around a corner which took a 3-point turn to make, only to find it was a dead end and we then had to back out! On the plus side, we see a lot of interesting things by getting lost. Yesterday, after the realtor dropped us back to the base, we drove back downtown in order to explore the area around the house. Here's what we passed when we got lost going the long way to the house:

This is at the Pozzuoli Amphitheatre. We parked the car and stood in front of the blue box we thought was the parking meter receipt box. After staring at it for a minute trying to figure out how to work it, we realized the photos next to the buttons showed couples in intimate positions. The little machine we were trying to pay for parking was actually just selling condoms. Everything is an adventure.

Napoli has this marvelous thing called the Artecard which allows entry into over 60 museums / sites for either 3, 7, or 365 days. We haven't found a place to buy our Artecard yet, and this site, while included in the entry, doesn't actually sell the card. So we had to content ourselves with pictures through the iron fence until a time when we can actually spend time exploring it. Good thing we didn't waste our money on a parking condom.

We eventually made our way to the house we hope to rent and explored the area. I'm very happy with it. The only thing missing within walking distance are some shops for clothes/shoes/home items, a supermarket, and a weekly produce market. For those, I'll have to drive or take the metro. The other drawback is that the garage is only a two car with no other outdoor space for parking, so we have some decisions to make in regards to my Cinquecento. We did, however, see cars parked along the street (nice cars) and not a one of them had the wheel lock, so I'm hopeful that means the neighborhood is nice. (Many cars have this lock that covers the entire steering wheel & column to prevent hotwiring - theft is a huge deal here.).

We now have an appointment for a contract, but it's not a done deal. The landlady may decide to continue showing the house even though we have a contract appointment. The Housing Office here will not show the house to anyone else (supposedly), but there are many NATO countries represented here in Napoli, so if the landlady wants to continue showing the house, she might do so.

Nathan has gone to work today - his first day. I plan on reading the mountain of paperwork we were provided last week and getting it into some semblance of organization. We'll take it easy for a couple of days and meet our realtor on Thursday in order to develop our list of negotiating points. We'll go over the house carefully and list anything we want the landlady to do for us before we agree to rent. It's really an interesting process over here - so different than anything we're used to. We'll keep you updated.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Vineyard House vs Villa by the Sea

My 2nd post for today (so scroll down first and read my post from this morning!).

Yesterday, a realtor showed us an incredible "country" house attached to a very small vineyard. Vincenzo, the owner, has a "casa piccola" (little house) behind the vineyard where he comes everyday to tinker with the plants, make coffee, take a little nap. Nathan hit it off with Enzo, despite neither of them speaking the other's language. The house is huge, with five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a laundry room we could play soccer in, covered terrace surrounding the upstairs rooms, and the huge, tiled terrace with 360 degree mountain / countryside views. The property has lemon trees, kiwi vines, grapes, roses - the list goes on. To get to the house, you drive off of the main road onto a narrow, 1.5 car width lane that passes by beautiful ruins of an underground city. It's quite interesting to think of driving by this every time we return home. Then it's up, up, up the small lane - when you meet another car, one of you must back up until reaching a driveway to pull into and allow the other car to pass. Despite this remoteness, the house is only a 10 minute drive to the Pozzuoli port (the port in the blog from about three days ago). Before we left, Enzo disappeared into his casa piccola and returned with 5 liters of his homemade wine as a gift for us. We're both a bit in love with Enzo.

We thought this was the house for us. But today, another realtor took us to the "villa by the sea." This one is all about outdoor living. Park in the garage at street level, then head up the stairs and onto the terrace. The house is all on one level with very small interiors - a living room, kitchen, three bedrooms (small) and 1.5 bathrooms. The 2nd bathroom does have a shower head in it with a rack to hang a curtain, however, when you pull the curtain closed, the toilet would be in your shower with you. So I'm going to call it just a half bath. The floors are traditional, Italian tile - each room has a different pattern, and we find them gorgeous, although they're not to everyone's taste. The outdoor terrace is larger than the interior, and also includes a "casa piccola" for the landlady to use on weekends (she has her own entrance from the street). It has a large grassy area for Crazy Dog, and in the back corner, an outdoor kitchen, complete with an old pizza oven and marble washing tub (one of the ones with the top that flips over and has the washing board grooves on the other side). Continue on around to the back of the house, and there is a covered patio and a cantina / wine cellar built into the slope. There are floor to ceiling wine racks with room for hundreds of bottles - more wine than we could drink in a lifetime! The front terrace has a view of treetops in front, and off to the side, a nice sea view.

Quite nice...then we were directed up a set of outdoor stairs. The house became ours the minute we set foot upstairs. A rooftop terrace with unobstructed sea views - Capri and the Sorentine peninsula in the distance. Smack in the middle of this terrace is what the landlady called the "gazebo." A little different from what a U.S. gazebo is like - it's a fixed structure with metal frame and roof, but completely glassed in - I believe the closest comparison might be a greenhouse. And the clincher - a gelateria is just two blocks away, along with a little shop to purchase the wine and bufala di mozzarella, several restaurants, a metro stop to get into town, and a free beach where we can take Crazy Dog in evenings and winter. And the clincher to the clincher, the landlady owns a hotel in the next village over that has swimming pools and hot tub. Her tenants are allowed to use the pools. Yes!

We basically begged the landlady (through our realtor) to not show the house to anyone else today, and plan to be at the Housing Office tomorrow when they open in order to put in a contract on the house. We do have some concerns b/c our realtor told us the landlady wants a price much higher than we can pay, but that she told the landlady what we could afford and that's what we'll pay. She also said the landlady is fine with us having a dog, but I'm not sure "Mama" (as Nathan asked to call her, she's 86 years old and a firecracker) actually knows we have a dog. I think we're okay on no one taking the house out from under us b/c it's very different from what most American families want and definitely has some drawbacks - no dishwasher (egads!), only room for a tiny stove, small interior, only one shower, small garage with no way to enter the house w/o going outside (so in cold & rain, it will be a pain), but for us, it meets every single wish we had on our list. During this contract negotiation process, we'll have to give up our hold on Enzo's country house. It will go quickly to someone else, so if this house falls through, we'll be back to square one. My biggest concern is the price, but we have to give trust to our realtor that she's being honest with us. She's come highly recommended - I haven't had a single negative review of her, so let's hope all goes well!

Fishy Friday

Our final day of briefs was a City Tour. One of the great services on base is an "Intercultural Relations" office staffed by three Italians. They do tours around the region, language classes, cooking classes, etc. So on Friday, we boarded a bus and took it to the Joint Forces Command (JFC), the NATO base here in Napoli. JFC is right downtown with a Metro Stop only a couple of blocks away. From there, our leader, Giuseppe, showed us how and where to buy the proper, public transit ticket, and off we went on the Metro. We wandered through a very nice little area in downtown that included a market.

We also visited Galleria Umberto again (aka, "the mall"), wandered down to the sea, then took a funicular up the hill to the area of Vomero. Vomero is lovely! A two block pedestrian zone that is lined with trees, breezy and cool compared to being down in the city, and unfortunately, full of apartment living only (and expensive apartments at that).  After a fun stroll through this area, back to the 2nd funicular line and down to the Naples seafront. While there is a nice, wide boardwalk here, it was hot, hot, hot! We did, however, get to stop and watch these fisherman clean their catch:
If you can't make out what he's cleaning, click on the photo to enlarge it. Then you should be able to see the tentacles wrapped around his arm.

We had a nice day out, which was a good ending to long days of sitting in the base theater listening to briefs. I'm so glad we had such a thorough orientation, and I really did enjoy most of it, but I'm exhausted! As someone described it, we got a "firehose" of information.

We've spent the weekend house-hunting, and I'll do an update on our search later today or tomorrow.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Exploring via Auto

We finished today's orientation schedule early and decided to head out on our first major exploration in the car. As I've written numerous times, we are staying out in the country. As we want to live down near the coast, we wanted to drive around in the area and take a look at the various villages / towns. A couple from our orientation joined us, and off we went. Yet again, we had no plan and no directions. Nathan was here in June and drove all over in his rental car, so he was hoping to find some roads he recognized and take a little coastal drive. We got off the autostrada (freeway) and headed down to the sea, driving under this interesting ruin (possibly the remains of a Roman aqueduct?)

 Driving the coastal road was harrowing at times, but had some great views.
 Early on in our trip, we got our first Naples "kiss:"

Following this minor issue, we took off of the main road and ended up in a very narrow shopping district. Great little town - I think it was Bacoli. Very cute, clean (!), nice shops and restaurants. Did I already mention the narrow street? It was time for passagieta (stroll - many Italians go for a stroll in the early evening), so the already narrow street had cars parked on one side and pedestrians strolling on both sides - no sidewalks. With our windows down, as we passed one group, we heard a lady give a small yelp, indicating we may have ever so slightly bumped her. Actually, she was a little behind us, so she bumped us as we were passing. Or...she'd just noticed the "SALDI" sign in the shoe store. Regardless, since we were only moving about .25 miles per hour (and no one started screaming or chasing after us), it was not a huge issue, and as our new friend, D., commented later on in the evening (when we were complimenting Nathan on his driving), the driving was a success - we only hit one car and one pedestrian (maybe). We're going to call this one a win.

One last photo to leave you with - the port of Pozzuoli. We'd very much like to live somewhere near here. However, we hear from realtor after realtor that there is just no inventory right now and that this is unusual. It must be unusual because when we talk to other military families about our house search, they say things like, "Oh, you'll see 60, 70 houses. You'll find a good one." Meanwhile one realtor had one house to show us, another had nothing, yet another says she has nothing but will try to find something by Saturday (when we're due to meet her), and our Sunday appointment also said there is nada, or should I say "niente!"

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Outside the Wire

A few days back, we had a brief from the Commanding Officer (amazingly, he took over two hours out of his day to talk to us about the region - that's a lot of time for a busy man to spend with us), and he referred to the Support Site (where we temporarily live) as Mayberry, but encouraged us to "get outside the wire," meaning, "go off base, explore, don't stay in Little America all the time or you'll miss out." This base is Mayberry in some can play safely, people can walk at night, your car window will still be intact in the morning, and you can go to sleep at night without lowering the lockdown shutters that cover every window and door. But it's a Mayberry surrounded by barbed wire, armed guards, and Hum-Vees manned by assault-weaponed, Italian Army types. Thus...get outside the wire to experience the real Italy.

We did just that tonight. We, along with another couple from our orientation class, drove to a nearby restaurant (Country House) using our GPS to get there. In order to go places here, you put in GPS coordinates, rather than a street name. We tried checking the restaurant's coordinates with Google Earth per instructions, but couldn't figure that out, so off we went anyway. Error one happened within a block of the gate when we accidentally got on the highway. No problem, the GPS recalculated and got us turned around. We followed that stupid GPS straight to our "destination," which took us to someone's house. Thankfully, we avoided the Chevy Chase error of knocking on the door to look for "sex." For some reason, I then suggested we just drive around looking for a street name we recognized (I don't know why I thought we'd recognize a street name in a foreign country in a town none of us had ever visited, but that became our plan.). And we eventually, after a few turns, found the restaurant - nowhere near where the GPS took us and down a very long driveway with only a small sign at the road. Not a clue how we managed to find this.

We had an absolutely delicious dinner...our first real dinner "outside the wire" that was not pizza! Caprese salad, antipasti, calamari, lobster, pasta, clams, mussles, tiramisu, chocolate souffle, and a bottle of wine. Absolutely delicious. I ordered the special of the day, lobster pasta, thinking it would be pasta with lumps of lobster. Nope - the plate showed up with half of it a yummy pasta dish and the other half a humongous lobster tail. I've never had one of these that I had to crack open myself. It went fairly well. When it came time to use the cracker thingies, I only lost the lobster half off the plate rather than shooting it across the room.

About this time during dinner, it occurred to us that we should have taken a GPS waypoint back at the base so we'd know how to get home. The food was good, wine even better, so we decided to worry about getting home once we were in the car. The restaurant is really only about 1-2 miles from the base, so we decided to follow our earlier plan of just driving around. Nathan gets the points for making not a single wrong turn!  [Note: Nathan was our driver and had only one regular-sized glass of wine - our rule while here in Italy for the designated driver.]

A mostly successful day. Really the only disturbing point was while at our little fieldtrip to the Housing Warehouse (where we took a look at the washers/dryers/fridges that we can have on loan), I noticed the sign below in a nearby garden:
Can't wait to try Limoncello now!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

We Are Mobile...

Author: Stephanie

There is a gas strike beginning tonight at 10pm. Italians are genius at their strikes. I'm not quite sure what they are unhappy about, but for this strike, they have announced that no gas will be available from 10pm tonight through Friday night. As a side note, Italians do not have unions that will pay them when they strike, so a strike means no pay. When the transportation workers strike, they pick the time of day to strike. For example, the air traffic controllers may strike from 8am-noon, pilots will strike from noon-5pm, and some other group will strike from 5pm-midnight...or some such schedule. In this way, they can completely halt all air traffic for the day while still getting a half day's pay. See...genius.

Because of this upcoming strike, we were hot under our collars to get our car out of "jail" today in time to get a fill up. When you ship a car overseas, it must have virtually no gas in it. We shipped our car way back in July in order to have it here as soon as we arrived. This has proven to be a good idea since the base where we temporarily live is out in the country, and public transportation into Naples takes approximately 1.5 hours. Driving time is only half an hour, but public transportation is via bus, then train, then bus again.

In order to get our car, conveniently located right here on this base behind a locked fence, we had to go through a two hour Safety / Driving brief, which taught us the actual rules coupled with discussion on how Neapolitans ignore most of them. Then time for the driving exam on road signs. Sadly, "no french horns" was not one of the multiple choice answers for the sign in my previous blog.  We were allowed to miss two questions on the 88 question exam. I made 100% on my exam. Nathan missed two. I have to include this information b/c the reality is that Nathan will be a much better driver here than me, so I have to take my kudos where I can get them.

We then raced over to the on-base DMV office to get the AFI (Armed Forces Italy) plates, get our car insurance restarted for Italy, and get registration, then Nathan ran to the "fence" to liberate the car while I ran to the Exchange (dept. store) to get our gas coupons. (Yet another side note, the Italian government puts a very high tax on gas. The govt has allowed the U.S. govt to sell us a set amount of tax-free gas rations each month). Nathan ran out quickly in the afternoon to get a gas fill-up, so we could have a little freedom despite the gas strike! Yay! And we've just heard of a restaurant nearby with decent food, so now we can get to it.

Finally, I forgot to let you all know that yesterday's briefs included the very important "What to do if Mt. Vesuvius erupts and does not kill you instantly." The military disguised the title by calling it "Emergency Management." You will all be glad to know that Mt. Vesuvius's threat level is at Basic, which is the bottom of four possible levels, and it has been at Basic for the last 10 years. Furthermore, there is now monitoring which provides an early warning, so theoretically, we would have time to evacuate. As this was second on my concern list, next to our housing, yesterday was all around a successful day. And getting our car AND gasoline made today pretty great, too! The Volvo will arrive in about 6 weeks, but I'm on the hunt for a cheap little (very, very, very little) car called the Cinquecento for around town. Here's a photo, and if I can find the outfit this lady is wearing, all the better...

Monday, September 13, 2010


I LOVE comments on the blog. If you're following it and feel like posting even a quick comment, I welcome it!


We have received our "non-availability" letter from the Housing office. This means we are officially released to get housing "on the economy" [out in town]. We are actually 17th on the waiting list, so housing is pretty full right now. And even better, we're released right now, but in four months, housing then gives us the option to move onto base again. It's an option only. So if we secure housing on the economy, then find out our utility bills are unaffordable or we live in an unsafe area, or anything else that is really horrible, then we can move onto base at that time. Or we can continue on in our house in town.

We're very excited. Unfortunately, both realtors we've talked to have no real options for us in the area we want to live. We're hoping for a single-family house, behind gates, with an ocean-view. This may sound like a tall order, but it's what most military families have, so it's not a complete reach. It's just that for the same reason base housing is full, so is military-desired, town housing full. We're at the end of PCS [transfer] season, so other families have come in and snagged all the good stuff.

In other news, tomorrow we take our Italy driver's license. For this, we need a current U.S. license and to pass a written test on Italian road signs. We've been studying. Here are some of my favorites - see if you can guess what they mean.

I'm not sure that this one really exists as I spent over 1/2 an hour trying to find a clear picture on the internet of one. I finally resorted to taking a blurry photo of our study paper:

Any guesses? I'll give you a hint: The triangle indicates a yield.

If you guessed, as I did, "Yield to french horns," that is incorrect. My next guess was "yield to parades." Wrong again.

This means "yield right-of-way when meeting bus on mountain road."

Another favorite is this one:
This does NOT mean "No Amish people." In reality, it means, "No animal drawn carts." There's yet another one for "No pushcarts," which looks an awful lot like a farmer pushing a hand-plow. And the final one to show you is not one we were actually given to study. I found it in my search for photos of road signs we actually have to know. But this is my favorite:
We're not sure what this sign means, but we sure hope we get to see it in person. Our best guess is: "Slow down, crucifixion going on ahead."
There is actually an even better road sign here in Italy, but you'll have to check Nathan's Facebook page to see it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Alleyways and Neon Jesus

Here are a few photos of our first day of touring around Naples. We first started by following a little walking tour out of our Lonely Planet Naples guidebook. That took us to Santissima Annunziata, a church which was closed. But attached to it was the better site anyway - an old orphanage with a baby drop-off wheel:
Drop off your baby!

That window overlooks an alley. A nun sat on this side waiting for the wheel to spin, where she would then bathe the child in this little basin before registering it into the orphanage.

 Shortly hereafter, we just started off wandering, and headed to a pizzeria. We have no idea where we were, but found a little pizzeria on a side street. We figured that in Naples, it would be impossible to get a bad pizza. While the pizza was delicious...

Our first pizza in Naples - yummmmm!

 the best was the picture of Jesus framed in neon on the wall behind the brick ovens.

Brick Ovens, Pizza Artist, and Neon Jesus
We're all for Jesus, and if having Him framed in neon helped make our pizza taste as good as it did, then bring on the neon.

More wandering led us past fantastic alleys...
Laundry, Laundry everywhere...electricity is too expensive to use dryers; also notice the blue bucket about 2/3 down in the pic - this is apartment "shopping." The lady holding the bucket on a rope lowers it for her items, pulls them up, then lowers money.
By complete accident, we found one of the most famous streets in Naples:
Via San Greggorio Armeno, home to presepi (nativity) artisans. Sadly, the presepi are made out of bark & moss, which the USDA bans from importation. These are one of the top "souvenirs" of Naples.

Here it first Neapolitan gelato. Pistachio. Yum, Yum, Yum.
The mall; yep, that's our shopping mall.

And finally, this is some castle. I'm sure I've seen it listed in guidebooks. We were just headed to our bus and came upon it, so I have no additional info at this time.

We had a great first day walking around. It was definitely key to just get lost as we got off the main, really congested streets and got a feel for the Neapolitan life. We even got to witness some sort of intense, Jerry Springerish, lady fight which had all the locals coming out of their houses, staring and shaking their heads. Sadly, no pics of that.
I've seen other blogs with photo albums attached, so eventually, we'll include some album links. Ciao for now.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nathan's post

We had a great day today, and I plan to post lots of pics...maybe after I get my second wind tonight. For now, here is Nathan's Facebook post (for those of you who are not on FB or are not FB friends with him):

Diario Italiano (11th Sept - Noi Arriviamo)
by Nathaniel Straub on Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 9:51pm

Well, three months later, here I am with entry number two. I am really sorry, but the commitment was never really there - if you read the inaugural post. the fact that I have returned - or arrived as it were - is testimony already to this incredible place. So let's begin.

That I write this note on 11 Sept is part coincidence and part [i don't know what]. The fact remains that as much as I love and am going to love living here, I cherish my home country, America, her people, and her way. So this paragraph is a nod to my home, friends, and family. We love you and will always keep you close - no matter how far we have traveled.

We have arrived! Arriviamo!!! After "much ado," there is a great deal more than "about nothing." For starters, we have sold everything except the two cars (boat, home, ... the big stuff). We are in Naples, living in a temporary apartment on the Navy base. We get the skinny on living conditions next week. More about that as things develop. Let's just hope that they do... develop.

I spent my 36th birthday on the road and in the air and arrived on the continent on Wednesday (9/8). Jet lag and endless briefings/presentations threatened to ruin any excitement, BUT NAY! We would not be deterred. We spent the day today - our first free day - on the town. We really did get lost on the grid of endless alleys and by-ways, but it was not an accident. You see, Stephanie and I subscribe to a travel philosophy that requires one to fully abandon any plan or agenda - to lose one's self in a place. We stepped off of the bus (we don't yet have a car = good thing?) and into the heart of bella Napoli. We wandered - sometimes past a spot familiar to me from the last visit but by accident - with the intent of discovery. Discover we did. We had a guidebook, and with its help, we learned a little and enjoyed a lot. Alleys, pizza, caffe, gelato. It was all there aplenty. At one point we looked up and realized that we needed to get back to the bus before it turned into a pumpkin.

The key advantage we gain with this lack of planning an a city so vast is that we can get off of the same bus on a different day, walk in almost the same direction, and see a different place - experience a different world - than we did this time. Naples is bombastic, vibrant, joyful, and thrilling. We just love it. We are excited to be here, and I am just as excited to share it with you.

Maybe this is a further commitment to this series. To say we have arrived stretches far beyond Stephanie and me. Welcome to your tour of Naples, Italy, and Europe.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day One

Author: Stephanie

We slept until 10:30 and would have continued on except for a ringing bell in our apartment. Turns out we have a doorbell, and the maintenance men ringing it were there to clean the mold that covered the bathroom ceiling. Good thing. We then headed off to explore the base where we're living, the Support Site. The Navy has two sites in Naples. The Support Site is just what it sounds like - schools, grocery store, exchange (i.e., department store), barber, hotel, schools, housing, hospital, thrift store, and so on. The Support Site is out in the boondocks, about 20-30 minutes from downtown Naples. The 2nd site is Cappodochino and is located on the back side of the Naples airport. So when you come to visit, Nathan can watch your plane land from his office. We headed off to the thrift store to pick up a book put out by the area Officers' Spouses Club, "Shopping in the Boot," which tells us all about markets, their locations and days of operation, and all sorts of great info. The commissary (grocery store) is very interesting because as I was wondering down the soap aisle, I happened to glance down, and this is what I saw:

The commissary is built on top of ruins. Apparently, almost anything you try to build in these parts is built on top of ruins. So Day One, without even leaving the base, we've gotten to see some Roman ruins. We did actually leave the base on the shuttle bus to the other base in order to see if Nathan's driver's license, which expired yesterday, had arrived from the state of FL. Success! Here's a photo from the bus:

That's Mount Vesuvius. We are that close. Part of our orientation is a safety brief, and I hope it includes the topic "What to do in the event of a large volcanic eruption that doesn't kill you immediately."

Nathan saw our car today, so as soon as we get our international driver's licenses (on Tuesday) and the new registrations, we're mobile! We also checked out the libraries on both bases, and I am very pleased. Each of them had a book I've been wanting that my library back home still had on order. We can also put in requests for books from libraries in the States, so my reading supply will continue, and I didn't have to buy an entire bookcase of books prior to this move. Too late now. We find out tomorrow whether we get to live off base or not, and if it's off base, then we're hoping to spend the weekend house-hunting. Or sight-seeing. Either would be great.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

First Hours

Author: Stephanie

We've now been in Napoli for five hours and what a whirlwind. We checked into the air terminal at the Norfolk Naval Air Station on Tuesday night. After checking our mountain o' luggage, we took Scully outside to walk and play for our final couple of hours. Since he'd been at the kennel for a week, we didn't want to put him in his airline crate until the last possible minute, even though the kennel manager told us they'd given him lots of extra treats and walks since it was his last visit. He also went to the dog bar-b-que at their pool, where (we were told) he spent two hours sitting directly by the grill (hotdogs on deck) rather than playing with the other 25 dogs in and around the pool. We have got to train him out of this obsessive begging.

We flew to Naples on a charter flight. The military contracts with commercial airlines to do flights like this, so we were on a normal airline (with a first class section, and sadly, we were NOT in it!). At our layover in the Azores, we landed on the Navy base for refueling, so everyone was off-loaded into a waiting terminal. It is hot there. Pretty...but hot. We, along with the other nine pet owners, were allowed to exit the terminal into a guarded, gated area where our pets had been delivered. We could take them out of their crates, walk them, let them drink out of huge bucket of water provided, and so on. Scully seemed just fine, so we didn't worry during our second leg. For the rest of the flight, I'd asked to move to a seat with a window since some folks had off-loaded for good in the Azores. Nathan elected to stay in his seat, meaning he got two seats to himself and I got the same. This allowed us to stretch out and get a little more rest. We had departed Norfolk after midnight on Tuesday night, and oddly, the flight crew served us dinner about 1am. Since it was long past dinner time for all the destinations of our plane (we had lots of stops, but thankfully, Naples was the second), I'm not sure why we got dinner rather than rest time, but food is food, so we ate it. By the time all of this was over, we only had about two hours of sleep prior to landing in the Azores.

We landed in Naples about an hour early, but our sponsors along with the wife of the Command's XO were waiting to greet us. Another odd event is that we did not go through customs. Families on PCS (Permanent Change of Station) orders were shuttled to a different line than the others on the plane. That visa I had to get (the one that almost didn't arrive in time) was stamped, Nathan showed his orders, and off we went to baggage claim, where Scully awaited and a customs agent did not. What a refreshing lack of bureaucracy.

Our sponsors had arranged for Scully to stay with the daughter of a government service worker here who has a great reputation for keeping dogs. They drove us far out of their way to her house to drop Scully off, where he raced around their humongous yard playing with their dog (Scully has a girlfriend now!) and drank copious amounts of pool water (glad he's not sleeping in my bed tonight!). Then we stopped by their house nearby, and got to see what a typical house available to us is like. One word: gorgeous! Tile floors with mosaic insets, beautiful wood trim, marble staircase, unique iron banisters, rooftop terrace with a view, gated yard. This just reinforced our deep desire to live out in town! They then drove us to the Navy Lodge where we're staying (none of these places are near each other, so our sponsors really went out of their way to help us, not just in this but in a number of other ways). Our sponsors also pushed the Navy Lodge on providing a date for when a pet room would be available to us (it's this Friday), so it's yet another great help. Many of the other pet owners on our flight who were getting off in Naples did not have lodging arranged at all and said they had not been able to secure lodging on base. Several of them were unsure where they were staying. If that had been us, my nerves would have been "all aflutter," in the words of Mrs. Bennett from the PBS version of "Pride & Prejudice," which I got to watch this week with Nathan's Aunt Lisa.

We are in a nice villa with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, living room, laundry room, and outdoor terrace. We'll move to a similar villa on Friday with Scully and expect to live here for 6-8 weeks while awaiting housing (either on base or in town). We dined on parmesan cheese and wine from our sponsors and mac & cheese from the base chapel (the base chapel provides a Welcome Aboard bag which includes some food, and best of all, bottled water - tap water should not be drunk) while watching fireworks from the terrace. We couldn't actually see most of the fireworks due to a large building in the way, but the little we could see was a great welcome.

Tomorrow is a free day. We'll sleep late, go to the grocery store, and something else that I can't remember now due to extreme fatigue. Hopefully I'll remember tomorrow as I'm supposed to call our sponsor for help with it. Orientation begins Friday. Off to sleep now.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Last Minute

Author: Stephanie

We leave tomorrow and have had a great final week visiting family. We spent the last week at Nathan's aunt/uncle's house near Philadelphia, which included a visit with another aunt/uncle up from Alabama, errand running for all our last minute chores, an afternoon kayak trip, and yes, we did do the Segway tour in downtown Philadelphia. I did not fall off, crash, run into a tree, or any other such catastrophe. It was actually a lot of fun. I still can't believe that I made it through the entire tour with no disaster. Nathan is even more surprised. We took some good photos, but I don't have the camera hooked up to the computer right now - I promise to make a better attempt at including photos once we're in Italy! We're spending our last night in Baltimore at my sister's house and enjoying time with her kids (although Nathan is currently out at a sports bar watching the VA Tech football game - it's apparently an important game tonight). We had a little birthday dinner for Nathan since he'll spend his birthday tomorrow traveling to Norfolk and waiting around an airport lounge. I got to read my niece her nightly bedtime books, and my sister picked out "On the Night You Were Born," for me to read. Nathan & I gave our niece this book on the very night she was born, so naturally, I started crying while reading it, and then tried to make excuses for my niece to keep her from crying. Pretty much a mess all around.

Unfortunately and very true to form, we've had two last minute problems. I just have to say again how ready I am for this move to be over. I don't really expect everything to always go just right, but I do really need for things to go according to plan more often than having every single element end in chaos. Problem number one is in selling our car. Some of you may recall our plan of just stopping off at CarMax and selling the car to them. We'd heard this generally works quite well. I got all the blue book values for our car (taking mileage into consideration!) and had the numbers for the lowest value (private party, fair condition) to the highest (retail, excellent condition). As our car is in good condition, we hoped for an offer just over the lowest possible blue book value. The plan was then to get the appraisal (good for 7 days), spend our week in Philly, then drop off the car at CarMax on our way down to Norfolk to complete the sale. Great plan, except CarMax's offer was so low as to be laughable. Way, way, way too low. So we decided to try to sell the car ourselves on Philly's craigslist. I lasted approximately 4.5 minutes past the posting going live before reaching the panic zone, thus beginning to think of all sorts of contingency plans. It may have been less than 4.5 minutes. Let's go with 25 seconds.

The one we settled on is shipping the car to Italy. This is actually cost effective as we were buying a 2nd car over there anyway, and shipping our current car is cheaper. But this decision did not come without hours of discussion, obsessive checks of email for responses to craigslist post, getting the oil changed & brakes checked, taking the car to the Volvo dealership to see if they'd offer a better price (they didn't), emails to our sponsor in Italy, calls to the shipping agent, more obsessive email checks to see if the shipping agent had emailed back, obsessive phone calls to the shipping agent's office b/c there is only one agent in the office who could help us and she was not in that morning (turns out her child just started kindergarten, and the child did not handle it well, just in case you were wondering), and all sorts of other things that took time away from our relaxation time with family. But it's set, and hopefully all goes well tomorrow morning when we drop the car off at the Baltimore port. Who am I kidding? There's a slim chance this is going to work out as planned.

Problem number 2: We land in Naples at 7pm on Wed. night and will have to clear customs as well as pick up our mountain of luggage. Nathan made a reservation at the Lodge on base for a pet-friendly room. Few of the Lodge rooms are designated pet-friendly, so he was told to call the Lodge two days prior to our check-in to confirm a room is available. You can guess what's coming. No room. No room at the inn. And of course, the front desk chose not to answer their phone all morning, so we didn't reach someone until late late afternoon. We leave in the morning to head down to Norfolk and get our flight tomorrow night, which leaves us no time to make other arrangements. As it stands, we'll be landing after kennels have closed, have no reservation anywhere for the dog anyway, even if the kennel were still open, have no car to sleep in "just in case," and have more luggage than either of us have ever seen added to an extra large dog crate (and dog), guaranteeing that no taxi is going to be willing to take us to some hotel out in town. Not a clue what we're going to do. We have an email in to our sponsor over there for some recommendations, and I'm just praying there is some great solution that will miraculously occur. Sadly, I don't believe the military police will allow us to just spread out on a sidewalk somewhere. We're landing at the Naples airport though...I wonder how the Napoli police would take to us spreading out in an airport lounge for the night?