Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tuscan Afternoon

Yesterday, we took the train up to Lucca, a nice sized town in Tuscany with the crowning glory of completely intact, medieval walls which now form a pedestrian and bicycle promenade. We were supposed to be in Livorno, picking up the car we'd shipped from the U.S. Those of you who've read the blog from the beginning may remember that the government shipped one car, and we elected to ship our 2nd vehicle at the last minute. With some sort of weird mix-up, we did not ship it with the same company who holds the government contract like we thought we were doing, so the car did not get all the way to Naples. Instead, it was shipped to Livorno, about five hours north of Naples, and coincidentally, the place where Nathan's uncle was stationed several years ago while in the Army. When we told a few people about having to go to Livorno, they all recommended a visit to Lucca, about a half hour away, so we made our hotel reservation for a little B&B within Lucca's city walls. We weren't able to get the car out of customs yesterday, so instead, spent the late afternoon wandering around Lucca's streets, enjoyed a late lunch in a piazza that sits in the middle of what used to be the town's amphitheatre, rode bikes on the city walls, and had a great dinner at a local trattoria.

The port in Livorno closed today at 11:30, and we calculated it would take us an hour to get there given the 15 minute walk to the train station, two trains, then taxi to the customs agency office. Thankfully, we got ready a little early and decided to head out rather than have breakfast at our B&B. Due to our late trains, the trip ended up taking two hours. But we made it, got to the port, and while our customs agent was inside getting the documentation stamped, we stared at our car in a nearby parking lot...and realized one of the tires was completely flat. While we were staring in consternation, wondering how we're going to get that car back to Naples today (not optional to wait due to the movers!), a security guard walked by to ask what we were doing, and Nathan, mistaking him for a port agent, started into the whole story. The very nice security guard offered up the use of the air compressor he keeps in his trunk (??? why???), spent 20 minutes with us while pumping up the tire, then gave our customs agent directions to a nearby repair shop who would do a fix immediately and for a fair price.

The sense of relief we felt when we were finally on the road, in our own car, was so great. We concocted this great plan to have lunch in Florence and dinner in Rome since both were on our route home. We re-routed the GPS for Florence, but then decided that instead of battling Florence's traffic and busyness, we'd detour off the main route and lunch in San Gimignano, one of Tuscany's best hill towns. San Gimignano has 13 of it's original 70+ towers still standing, the most of any city in Tuscany. Most cities tore down their towers for the sake of development, or, the towers crumbled with lack of upkeep. For lunch, we picked a trattoria on a side street that didn't seem too touristy and had one of the best meals we've had in Italy. Absolutely phenomenal. Nathan had a beef carpaccio antipasti he loved, and for our primi plates, we had tagliatelle with tartufo (truffle) and ravioli stuffed with gorgonzola and walnuts. Plus a chocolate cake made with almond flour for dessert - yum, yum, yum. After that, we hit a calorie coma and were so tired that we skipped walking around San Gimignano for more exploring. In addition, we nixed the dinner in Rome plan after remembering all the packing up of the hotel room still left to do. Unfortunately, it meant nixing the entire blog I had written in my head and entitled, "Lunch in Florence, Dinner in Rome." Another time, perhaps.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Key Pickup

Tonight I met our landlord and his Mama (our landlady) at our new house to pick up the keys. I have absolutely no idea what all of these go to. That was the purpose of the meeting, and unfortunately, the electricity had still not been turned on. So not only did we not have any light to see by, we've yet to test the electric garage door, the electric metal shutters, the video surveillance system, the doorbell, the automatic gate opener, the light fixtures...the list keeps going. Hopefully, the electricity will be turned on by Friday. Then, I can find out how on earth we will possibly need 11 keys for one house. AND...there's another basket of keys (not a duplication of these; I'm talking about more keys we supposedly need) in the house.  In addition to these keys, we have a garage door opener, some sort of wand thingy for the video surveillance, and four remotes for the four A/C units in the house. I didn't get a good look at the house tonight because it was raining hard, and one drawback I found, our front door does not have an overhang. This means that while one is shuffling through 11 keys to find the correct ones to get through the front door (multiple door, multiple locks), the rain is dripping down the back of one's neck, down the spine, down the pants, and falling onto feet wearing flip-flops in November because one only packed two pair of closed toe shoes, both of which have given recent blisters. Note to self: Do not go grocery shopping on a rainy day. And find some shoes that don't rub blisters.

I had a carload of stuff to unload because somehow, everything does not fit back into four suitcases. In the event we do not get our 2nd car out of the customs lot tomorrow or Thursday (long, long, long and frustrating story that's too demoralizing to repeat as getting a pocketful of keys to a house in a quiet, little, seaside village that's on the Metro line lifted me out of my funk)...what was I saying...oh...if we don't have car #2 to drive to the house on Friday morning, there is no way everything would have fit into the Toyota in one trip. As I was dragging this heavy, X-Large dog crate filled with other stuff out of the trunk, here comes 76 year old Mama (I was wrong about her age on a previous blog) who just grabs one end and starts hauling. I felt terrible and kept saying, "No, no, no," but off she went. I had no choice but grab the other end and try to hang on! We can't wait to move in for good! Please let there be light...

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Deal is Done

Our housing contract is signed, we've applied for the utilities, and finally (!) have a move-in date. We're set to go for this Friday. I go tomorrow to pick up the keys and drop off a load of things. It can't come too soon, especially because we found out today, after almost seven weeks of living in our government assigned temporary lodging, that we're not actually getting reimbursed for the entire amount of the room. It's a long and frustrating story as to why not and frankly, just makes me angry, so instead I'll focus on our other good news.

In addition to getting our house this week, we will also be picking up our second car (we hope). Although even that was not without it's drama. The car came into Livorno, which is about a six hour drive north. Having not heard anything in awhile, we emailed the company who shipped the car last Wednesday. On Friday, we received a reply from the customs agent in Livorno, with whom we'll be working, and he said, to paraphrase, "Your car came in this past Monday, and after six days, you will begin paying storage fees." Thanks for the heads up. In addition, he's not actually clearing the car into Italy as the shipping agent told us he would. He's giving us a temporary clearance. Then we have to drive it down to Naples, and hire a second custom's agent to give us a final clearance. Nathan and I both spent hours today working on this problem, each dealing with separate issues having to do with the car. is secured, paperwork has been faxed, Crazy Dog care is arranged, transportation to the train station is set, and best of all, we have reservations at a highly-rated (in user reviews) B&B in the walled, Tuscan town of Lucca. It's only a half hour drive from Livorno, so since we have to spend the night up there, we decided to do it in a town so many have raved about to us. This will be our first weekend trip together here, and Nathan's first trip to Tuscany.

The blog is probably going to be updated slowly for the next few weeks. We will not have internet for a month or two. A friend just showed me how to make my iPhone an internet hub, but it will be pretty slow. I'm hoping it will be fast enough for me to at least upload to the blog, but I'm not sure how it will handle adding the pics. We'll just have to see how it goes - only four days, and I'll know!

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Literally, hallelujah! One of the biggest challenges we have faced as we've moved all over the U.S., and now around the world, is finding a home church. In our 14 years of marriage and eight cities, we've only had two churches that we felt were true home churches. We've always managed to find a place where we liked the preaching, but in many places, we've just never felt welcomed into congregations. We came here with a small list of potential churches here (one of which, coincidentally, is pastored by missionaries supported by my aunt/uncle's home church in Alabama). A friend in my language class mentioned her church one day, and it was one on my list, so we made it our first visit to a church off base. Thankfully, we both really enjoyed it. A band provides music in the form of contemporary songs that we like. In addition, both the singing and the sermon are dual language. We sang one verse in English, then repeated in Italian, and so on. Same for the sermon. There are several preachers who take turns. Today, one of the Italian preachers gave the sermon (a good one) while an American preacher translated. As it turns out, we knew several people in the church, three or four of whom work with Nathan, as well as a lady I've befriended who is moving (with her family) to a house that is just up the street from ours. We felt very welcomed, loved the music, and heard a great sermon, so...hallelujah!

Saturday, October 23, 2010


"Evento PeriGoloso" is a fun play on the Italian language. Pericoloso (with a "c") means dangerous, while a Goloso or Golosa is a man or woman who really, really, really likes sweets - can't stop eating sweets.
(continued from Friday's post)...
We loaded back onto the tour bus Sunday morning for the short drive to Perugia, but then waited for over an hour while the tour guide tried to figure out the best way for us to get into the city. There must have been over 1000 people just in the parking lot where we were, all trying to buy tickets and then get on the shuttle buses and/or tram into Perugia's old city. After much plan changing, we got our bus tickets and were given freedom until 5pm that night. After missing two buses due to crowding, my group of six ladies shoved our way onto a bus Japanese style, and a few of us even secured seats - a wondrous feat.

Exiting into the Old Town, we were faced with a split, one stream of people going up some stairs, the others going into a tunnel that sloped up. Heading into the tunnel, we went up, up, up and came off of escalators into some sort of amazing forum or colisseum from antiquity. Lots of dark, arched tunnels and rooms branching off. These types of ruins are so interesting to those of us from Naples because the majority of "our" ruins were buried by Pompeii, thus, to see ruins in this region, you head underground. The hilltowns are, well, on hills, so it's a really different feel when visiting buildings and ruins that are hundreds, even thousands, of years old. In Perugia, there was a display set up from Mexico with samples of chocolate in one of the side branches. It was crowded, but not terrible...we should have known better.

After making our way out of this building, we were hit with the full blast of an Italian festival. Wall to wall people. The festival was set up running up and down the main street of Perugia's old city, along with a few off-shoots. Booths upon booths of chocolate from around Europe on both sides of the already narrow street. We pushed our way up to one of the booths and were able to get a couple of samples - Mama Mia! Delizioso! Unfortunately, that was one of the last samples of the day. The crowds were truly unbelievable and defy description. One of the things we were all looking forward to was the hot chocolate (I was walking around with the ladies from dinner the night before), so we got cups of that - and ate it with a spoon (see picture on right side of blog - yummmmm). We also pushed or way to the booths with liqueurs made from chocolate. All sorts of sauces and cremes were available - chocolate & orange, chocolate & almond, chocolate and pepperocini, and just keep on imagining. After pushing our way through the crowds (and in the rain, so add umbrellas to the madness), we decided to take a respite in a shoe store, an oasis for which were all so grateful that we all bought shoes. This also kept the shop keepers from saying a word about us dripping all over their tiny store and lounging around on their gigantic, leather seating.
I'm really not exaggerating about the crowds - here's a pic, and keep in mind, this street is one of the side streets of the festival!

Back into the madness, we quickly decided it was lunch time. We'd only each had a large breakfast, four sips of chocolate liqueurs, three pieces of chocolate, and cups of thick, creamy, hot chocolate. Clearly not enough food. We lucked out in finding a nearby restaurant with a great menu, good food, and only a ten minute table wait. When we left, the restaurant had a 45 minute table wait because by then, the light, misting rain had turned into an all out assault. But Perugia is yet another beautiful, Italian town with old stone buildings, fountains, detailed carvings hanging off the buildings, enticing alleys, and so on. I wonder if I'll ever tire of these charming, little places. My group decided to spend the afternoon getting off the beaten path and exploring Perugia's old city.

We walked around taking pictures in the rain, found a little chapel with a fresco painted in the 1500s (or thereabouts), and in general, just enjoyed the town without the crowds. The day was so nice, despite the rain, but we had a really rough, long trip home. I did learn a valuable lesson for the future. If we join in these tours on the future, we will drive our own car. The trip home took about 6 hours due to multiple bathroom stops (which each took a minimum of 30 minutes), while the driving time should only be about 3.5 hours.
Just a little sampling of what was available...

Friday, October 22, 2010


This past weekend, while Nathan was out of town, I joined in on a USO trip to a chocolate festival in Perugia in the Umbria region. I'd spent the previous week on the waitlist, calling the (very nice) lady at the USO office every single day to see if I'd made it onto the trip, which left at 7am on Saturday morning. It wasn't until Friday afternoon, 1.5 hours before the USO closed, that I got the long as I was willing to share a room with another lady on the waitlist. Since we'd already arranged Scully care, and I didn't want to sit around the hotel all weekend, Saturday morning at 6am found me up and on my way to my pick-up point. The USO arranges for bus transportation for these trips with plenty of rest stops (too many for me - 100 people on our bus plus all the other bus tours who are stopped all trying to use about 4 toilets...really, I think we spent more time waiting for a free stall than actually driving to our destination). Our trip consisted of spending Saturday afternoon in the town of Assisi (a surprise to me) and Sunday in Perugia, the location of EuroChocolate.

Assisi is gorgeous! It began raining as we arrived, and the clouds obscured the view, but it was just clear enough to show us what we were missing from this little hill town. The panoramic version of the more you know, the more you know how little you know...or something like that. Sadly, we didn't have nearly enough time in Assisi. There are two main churches in town, which anchor the ends of the main street. The largest and most famous church is the Basilica of St. Francis, who was born in Assisi. The story of St. Francis is more fascinating than I ever imagined and rivals any of the modern soap operas. He was born in the late 1100s to wealthy cloth merchant, and while working in the market one day selling cloth, he was compelled to give all he had to a local beggar. After this event, he joined the military, spent a year as a POW, and shortly thereafter, had a serious illness. At some point during this time, he faced a crisis in his spiritual life convicting him to nurse the ill and renounce material things (all material things, including shoes and soft clothing) in order to rebuild the churches. The final straw for his folks (or at least his dad) came when he sold a bunch of his dad's wares and gave the money to the local priest for rebuilding the church. Dad retaliated by beating him, then taking him to interesting take on the parental "I'm going to teach you a lesson" lesson. St. Francis (then known only as Francis) left Assisi, founded his new order (the Franciscans) and lived in the valleys around Assisi repairing churches as well as doing some travel preaching. In his travels, he attempted a peace treaty with the Muslim world, and so impressed the Muslim leaders that the Franciscans were the only ones allowed to stay in the region as the token Christian representatives.  To this day, 1000 years later, the Franciscans are still the ones charged with responsibility for the Christian sites of the Holy Land. St. Francis was pretty radical for his time - he believed everyone (even poor people) should be allowed to talk to God in their own language, not just in Latin (gasp!). And a final fun fact, St. Francis set up the first (known) live nativity at Christmas. I left out all the other drama, such as being shipwrecked, having visions, getting his very own mountain to use for meditation, and the stigmata that plagued him for his final years. So there's your very unofficial guide to the life and times of St. Francis. The church built in his memory is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. The insides are covered in frescoes. There was a terrible earthquake in the region about 30 years ago, which severely damaged the fresco - one of them was broken into so many pieces that only (only) 200,000 of them were found...and put back together.
Unfortunately, this is NOT the hotel where we stayed; but I love the red scooter up against the ancient, stone walls.

The 2nd church is the Church of St. Clare. St. Clare was a woman quite taken with the ideals of St. Francis. She ran away from her parents because they wanted her to marry a wealthy young man.  This seems preferable to a wealthy, old man, however, one may assume that said young man was "che bruto" since it doesn't seem like she even gave the guy a chance. St. Clare, like St. Francis, also founded an order. Hers was called the Order of Poor Ladies, and after her death, it was renamed the Order of St. Clare. The nuns of this order are today known as the Poor Clares, and it is still a cloistered order. Only three of the women are allowed to leave the cloister. They can't even participate in mass in their very own church, which is attached to the cloister. I seem to recall something about a room opening onto the sanctuary but blocked off with an iron grate.

We only had time for a quick jaunt down the main street of Assisi, which had tantalizing, little alleys begging for exploration, colorful flowers in window boxes set against old, crumbling stone walls, monks wandering around, lovely shops, and finally, finally, finally, the chance to walk around a gorgeous street with no fear of death by speeding Vespa. How disappointing it was to then return to our hotel, which was one of the worst hotels I've stayed in. However, my roommate was great - just moved here from DC, so we had a lot to talk about and stayed up late into the night. This and the fact that my bed had clean sheets were the only redeeming qualities of the night. I take that back - the dinner was also fun. Food was only so-so, but the companionship was fantastic. My table was all women, most of them moms on weekend getaways, and we had such a fun time.
From now on, while we're on trips like these, I'll be updating an on-the-go travel journal separate from this blog. The blog is to update our loved ones on our life here, to act as a diary for me, and to be somewhat informational for anyone out there moving to or visiting the region. The Everlater is very different. It has actual details, such as name of hotel, where we ate, what tour we took, etc., plus it will have quick thoughts - a place to record a sentence or two on what we're seeing, experiencing, eating, one or two photos, etc. I've added a link to "My On-the-Go Travel Journal" on the right side of the blog, under the title "Blogs and Links I Love." Below is also a link:

Since I just wasn't able to stop writing about St. Francis, I'll have to leave Perugia and the Chocolate festival (the actual reason for the trip in the first place!) for tomorrow.
Just a little decoration on the walls in Assisi to enjoy as you wander down the street

Friday, October 15, 2010

Vietri sul Mare

One of the best spots ever for the afternoon riposo (nap)
We visited the lovely Vietri last Saturday. Getting a late start, by the time we found parking, our stomachs were growling in tune. In our parking search, we'd noted that Vietri has one main street where the tourists head...and that was our destination as well. Vietri is home to some of the most vibrant ceramics in southern Italy, and that main street mentioned above is home to dozens of itty, bitty shops, each with their own handmade ceramics. In our walk from the edge of town we took a wrong turn and ended up outside a church immediately following a wedding. We lurked about a few minutes to take in everyone's wedding finery, then as we headed out of the piazza, we found ourselves caught up in the procession of the wedding guests down the one, narrow alley exit. A bit embarrassing, but we just smiled gamely at all the shopkeepers standing in their doorways until we could duck off onto another street...where we ran right into Nathan's boss and his family who had just sat down to lunch. (Vietri is VERY popular among the military folks. It's only a short drive away, has a large selection of items that make great gifts and souvenirs for our homes, and you can see from the photo above that the views are spectacular.). We had a nice lunch with them and got to pick their brains for all their great travel recommendations in the region, specifically for a place called Alberobello, where we hope to spend Thanksgiving. By the time we finished lunch, shops were all closed for riposo, so we followed in tradition by finding a comfortable bench to nap for the next hour.
I'm in love with the vibrant colors of the Vietri ceramics.
I'd heard and read about how beautiful the Vietri ceramics are, but I had this vision in my head of something along the lines of South of the Border - a whole bunch of tourist shops selling the same stuff. Wrong, wrong, wrong...or, as they say in Italia, scoretto, scoretto, scoretto. Because each shop is selling handmade items, they all have slight differences. While the bowls, plates, mugs, platters are similar shapes, the actual artwork is subtly different. And there are a few stores that have broken from tradition and have very unique, different artwork on their ceramics.
This shop has an inventive way of showing their wares...and it certainly worked in getting us to head downstairs.
Vietri has a ceramics factory which sells a good number of cast-offs, irregulars, and the like. But the best thing is it's Gaudi-esque building containing the showroom. Despite the resemblance to Gaudi's architecture, the designer actually studied under Frank Lloyd Wright.
Our visit to Vietri was one of the daytrips we've come to really love. We have a morning where we're focused but not rushed - sit for breakfast, check email, read for a bit, then get on the road. At our destination, we don't hurry, but rather stroll along, take the side alleys that look interesting, stop for caffe and gelato. We generally end these days feeling so relaxed, excited that we saw something new, interesting, and different, and glad that we took our time enjoying the surroundings rather than just checking the block off the tour list.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yet Another Housing Update

View from Rooftop Terrace...and why we can't wait to move!
What a difference 24 hours makes. After the depressing (three) conversations that Nathan had with the housing office yesterday, we were very discouraged. Today, however, I talked to our realtor, and she told me some information that is direct opposition to what housing told Nathan. She said she was at the house with the inspector on Tuesday, and she (the inspector) did perform the inspection.  And...that the inspector found nothing wrong with the house save the missing gas meter. The realtor said the gas line is in fact installed, and the landlord is only waiting on the meter, due to be installed on Mon/Tue. This isn't even a situation in which there is a misunderstanding. In this case, we are being told two completely different stories that absolutely contradict each other. The housing rep told Nathan that the inspector reported there is no gas line to the house, and the gas line was scheduled to go in Monday/Tuesday  but there would not be a meter available until a week after that. Also, housing said that b/c the gas line was not installed, the inspection was not done. The realtor assures me that none of this is true and has advised that we sit and wait until Tuesday, at which point we'll know whether the meter was installed or not and can then get a better idea of a timeline. It's so difficult to know who to trust as our realtor has really done right by us, yet the housing office is supposed to be an advocate and support office.

One of the issues in the forefront is not just that we're ready to move out of the hotel (and Crazy Dog even more so!), but that we're only allowed 60 days here. We're now at five weeks, with only three to go. If Housing is the one with the correct story, then it's unlikely we'll get into our house within the next three weeks. At the 60 day mark, we have to leave this hotel. I've already gone to the hotel front desk to request an extension past the 60 days, but they're booked, and we're pretty far down the waitlist. For obvious reasons, we'd really like to avoid moving to yet another hotel!

Since this is one of those times when we have absolutely no control, we're trying to stay busy on the weekends. In fact, this past Sunday was the first day we didn't do something sort of touristy. We did, however, head to the local Auchan, Decathalon, and Leroy Merlin, similar to SuperWalMart, Sports Authority and Lowe's, respectively. That was a great trip as we found great wine at Auchan, cheap swimsuits at Decathalon, and patio furniture (albeit, ugly plastic stuff, but's October, so we're beggars at this point) at Leroy Merlin. On Saturday, we had a great day, which I'll post about tomorrow. For this weekend, I'm on the waitlist for a USO trip to Puglia for EuroChocolate. A chocolate festival in a beautiful, Italian town - what could be better! I really hope someone drops out as I've already arranged Scully care with the young woman who kept him his first two days here in Italia. Should I not get onto the trip, I think I'm just going to take the ferry to the island of Ischia and spend the night out there. Nathan is on travel, so it will be a solo trip for me. We have lots of jokes about his destination, which he said I could post once he was there. Here's my favorite: What did K.C. and the Sunshine Band say when they visited Africa? Shake, shake, shake...Shake, shake, shake...Shake [you guess what goes here]. Hee, hee, hee.
It's our kitchen! Just's actually the outdoor kitchen. That fireplace thingy is a traditional pizza oven, one of Nathan's favorite features of the house.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

House Update

I really, really wish this update was "Yay, our house passed inspection and we're moving in a week!" Sadly, it is the complete opposite. One of the things the landlord has to do is have a city gas line installed. Prior to now, he's had a very large gas tank in the backyard which is plumbed into the house. This is very common here. A new Italian law has put strict limits on how these things are stored, and one of the conditions is they must be underground. It's cheaper for our landlord to just plug into the city gas line. At our pre-contract meeting, I clearly remember the housing representative saying the city gas line did NOT have to be completed by the time of the inspection. However, the inspection was supposed to be yesterday, and today, we found that the inspector did not perform an inspection. Once she saw the above ground gas tank and no installed city line, she left and apparently will not return until the gas line is ready to go.

Nathan raised the point with housing that since the inspector is probably going to find other problems the landlord will have to fix, why not perform the inspection, and then give him the list of repairs required...which would include the city gas line installation! We did not get an answer back. This says to me that the inspector is just not going to budge, so the gas line installation is going to take another 1-2 weeks (in Italy time, that means one month), then housing will schedule another inspection (probably at least a week's wait for that), then the inspector will give the landlord a list of required updates/maintenance and schedule another inspection 1-2 weeks later. Once we pass inspection, if ever, then our contract signing appointment will be made (takes about 4 business days to get on the books for that). Once the contract is signed, we can move in approximately 5 days later (we can't get utilities set up until the contract is signed, and the utility companies need 5 days). To cap it all off, our stay here in temporary lodging expires in three weeks. I have no idea what hoops we're going to have to jump through to get an extension approved, or if we get the extension, if there's room in the hotel. We could very well go to the front desk to extend and have them say, "Too bad." And just to complicate matters even further, Nathan's travel schedule for November has gone bonkers. It seems he will only be home 7-9 business days in the entire month, and I'm including Veteran's Day + the holiday Friday after it as well as Thanksgiving and it's holiday Friday. This whole house thing could go a couple of ways - one, it could very well take another two months, or two, something we don't understand will happen that all of sudden allows us to move in. We called our realtor this afternoon to ask her to please encourage the landlord to get this thing done, and her response was, "Ciro [landlord] is going to give you a free bombola (basically, a propane tank people w/o city gas or a gas tank use for house gas) while the city line is being installed." Nathan told her over and over that housing is not going to let us move in until the city line is installed, but she didn't seem to understand. 

Despite the delay, I do want the city gas line installed b/c if we move in w/o it, we'll never get it. It will always be, "The line will be put in next month," and we'll be stuck buying bombolas and having to worry about turning them on and off, leaking, exchanging them, hooking up the hoses, etc. Looks like at least another month in the hotel, probably two. I love living in Italy. I love living in Italy. I love living in Italy...seriously, I really do like it here, but I hate being unsettled. It's the worst part of the constant moving we do. We've now been living out of two suitcases each for 8 weeks. The weather is turning, and my teachers at school give me sad looks when I show up every day in sandals. I did bring in my suitcase some winter shoes, but I need to break them in, and don't want to do that on a day when I have to walk two or three miles. So far I haven't had one of those days.

A Small Bit of Sightseeing

View from window of our classroom at Centro Italiano.
With class in downtown, it's the perfect opportunity to explore the museums, castles, and churches. I'm right there within walking distance of it all. But four hours of struggling to speak and understand a foreign language takes most of that day's brain power quota. Then add the thought of the commute home, and I've just not gone off exploring. One day last week, however, I made myself take some time. Naples has an underground most of Europe's larger cities, it's built on top of ancient cities. Dig down just about anywhere, and you'll hit some sort of sign of habitation from centuries ago. Even way out here in the country, this base must be built over some sort of old city or farm because our commissary and department store both have glass walkways on certain aisles providing a window onto the ruins below.
In the Exchange (base department store); We'd lived here three weeks, and I'd passed this aisle half a dozen times, before I looked down and saw this!
One of the sites I really wanted to see was Napoli Sotterranea - a tour of the underground city. Arriving at the site, I found the tour was still an hour away, and "it is not possible" (a favorite Italian phrase) to visit without taking the tour. Next door is the San Lorenzo Maggiore church, which has their own access to a subterranean site. While the San Lorenzo scavi (ruins) are listed in all the guidebooks, by all reports, it's closed to the public. Since I was there, I thought I'd just go see for myself. Off I headed to stand at the ticket booth. And there I stood, in front of a lighted booth with no one in it...and waited, and waited....watching other folks heading into the area, walking with purpose. I finally got tired of waiting and went through a nearby doorway, which opened onto a very pretty courtyard surrounded by a loggia on all sides. Discreet signs pointed the way to the scavi. Not too many people were about, so I followed the signs, walking down a corridor lined with old columns on their sides and statues, and eventually coming to a narrow staircase headed down and an open door at the bottom. Since I'd yet to run into anyone who challenged me or looked askance at my presence, I headed down...and into an amazing subterranean world. Since I hadn't actually paid for a ticket, I didn't have any information on what I was seeing with the exception of my limited Naples guidebook. That at least told me which parts were ruins of an old main street - a street of shops.
Main Street
 Even without information, it was wonderful to wander about on these old streets, walk into homes last inhabited centuries ago, and just imagine what the lives of those who came before must have been like. A friend commented several years ago that the older he gets, the more he realizes that people all over the world are the same, regardless of country, economic circumstance, religion, etc. People everywhere are just focused on their friends and families, raising their kids, getting together with friends, all the things that make up our daily lives. The women living in these houses of old were most likely thinking about what to make for dinner, heading to the shop to get some lamb or chicken, resewing a fastener onto their children's clothing, and taking time to chat with a neighbor. I love the opportunity to live in a place where history is so very present in the day to day. Rounding a corner can bring speeding cars and vespas, yet rounding another corner can put me face to face with a castle built 1000 years ago, and still another corner brings an exposed column set in place over 2000 years ago.

While I enjoyed my little side trip, I was brought back to crushing reality when I got to the train station, waited almost half an hour for a train, finally got to my stop in Aversa (the nearest town to the base accessible via train), and headed to the bus stop alone. Waiting at bus stops in the outer towns, especially alone, is just not pleasant for women. Even when with a friend, it's a constant barrage of honking, men coming up to talk, circling the road by the bus stop to stare, etc. Alone, at least one man stops to try to get you into his car. You may be getting the picture of where the working girls ply their trade, so apparently, no matter one's mode of dress or the fact that they're wearing a backpack, woman at a bus stop equals woman looking for some johns. My friend and I asked our teachers at school what a good Italian phrase is to communicate "get away from me," as we had problems even when we waited together, but they said it's a problem for all women at bus stops,  foreigners or not, and you just turn your head away. So I spent an enjoyable afternoon in Naples capped off with a not so lovely commute home. Plus, it meant Scully was in his crate for 10 hours.  I guess my days of afternoon exploring are over until we're living in our house.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I've just begun Week 3 of my immersion language at Centro Italiano. I'm loving the class and feel like I'm getting a great intro to the language - as well as the knowledge of how/when to use what we're learning. But as I've said before, this commute is killing me! And it's just more confirmation of why I did not want to live here on the Support Site. It's a nice place if you need to be near things like the school, hospital, grocery store, etc. But for someone like me, who has a greater need to be near the museums/sites of Naples, it's difficult. I've tried three different options for getting downtown and walking to class, and no matter what, I can't get the commute less than 1.75 way. Most days, it's at least four hours spent commuting. In my month of class, I will spend 80 hours commuting just into downtown Napoli! If we were living here on the Support Site, I would not leave this base during the week. Planning the route, waiting for the bus that runs only once/hour to the train station, etc. is just exhausting.

A short bit about is beyond a doubt the dirtiest city I've ever seen. Trash is everywhere. Bagged trash, loose trash, overflowing dumpsters, dog poop. I could go on like Forrest Gump's  friend, Bubba, talking about shrimp. This is unfortunate because having spent time in other Italian cities, I find that Naples could easily rival any of the more popular tourist destinations. We have world class museums, including one of the world's top archeological museums, beautiful cathedrals,  historic castles, ruins galore with Pompeii, Ercolano, Campi Flegrei, Paestum, etc., charming alleys, the ocean and seaside towns, and easy access to incredible mountain towns, skiing, the Amalfi Coast, and three distinct islands with their own charms (and thermal baths!). Plus, the best pizza and coffee in Italy. Sadly, it's really hard to overlook the trash. You just can't escape it.That and the crazy drivers. Even the rest of Italy acknowledges that the drivers of Naples are loco.

Today was my first day driving alone. Conveniently, this day happened to be our first torrential downpour. Fantastic! I'm not normally skittish about driving in rain, but guess what Italy has lots and lots of. Marble. So much marble that they mix bits of it in with the asphalt used to pave the roads. Marble and rain create a dangerous combo alone, but then add in the driving. One particular intersection  I go through has four lanes painted on the road, but in the morning commute, these lines are ignored. Both times I've driven this way, the four lanes are actually about seven lanes of cars plus scooters zooming by at close range. Also, I get to this intersection via a tunnel, which spits me out on the left side of the madness, while I must make a right turn about one short block down. Here is the trick: don't look behind you. A refreshing cultural norm here in driving is that you are responsible only for you. For example, once you signal your intention to join a car in their lane, they politely move over for you. After all, the lane is clearly wide enough for 1.5 cars, so why shouldn't you all just share. And if you start moving over, the car must give way to avoid hitting you, which is their responsibility. See...easy.
Piazza Garibaldi in downtown Napoli, where the Central train station is located. One of my three commuting options includes taking a train into the city, and then beginning the death march across these streets to get to school. To quote my friend with whom I commuted for two weeks, "I'm pretty sure I'm going to die at least five times per day on this walk." Crossing streets is another skill...don't stop or hesitate, just walk. But give way to buses and scooters - they don't stop for you...ever.
One of the alleys I enjoy using to get back to the main piazza - this one has far fewer cars to avoid than the main street...and less dog poop.
One of the beautiful buildings in downtown Napoli. Sadly, it was days before I noticed it because my first few days walking the route were exercises in avoiding traffic, trash, dog poop, and a multitude of other commuters strolling along.
Most street corners have interesting art posters pasted to the walls.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sunday in Herculaneum

Ancient Herculaneum, Modern Ercolano, and Vesuvius watching over it all.
When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79AD (following an 800 year dormant period), the ash fell onto Pompeii, crushing the buildings, burning what could burn, leaving us what is now an overwhelming area of ruins. Pompeii takes a full day to really explore. But head northwest along the coast, and you'll come to modern day Ercolano, home to some of the best preserved 2000 year old ruins in Europe...the ancient city of Herculaneum (actually, the city was built around the 4th century BC). And best of all, these fantastically preserved ruins take only half a day to explore. As a side note, there was a devastating earthquake that rocked this region in 62 AD, and Herculaneum was completely rebuilt after this...only to suffer complete destruction only 17 years later, which really makes one think about the frailties of life and, in order to be a complete Debbie Downer in this blog, how little our material efforts really matter.
Rope found at the seaport
 ...depressed yet? Anyhoo, while Pompeii burned under hot ash, the (wealthier than Pompeii) citizens of Herculaneum headed down to the port for evacuation by sea, taking with them their gold and jewelry. (Yet another side note: this makes me think that guy on TV who hawks gold at every commercial break may really be on to something). Back to topic, again...hours after the initial eruption, a surge of hot gas blasted the town. At 900 degrees, this immediately killed all remaining citizens and carbonized all organic material (such as wood framing in buildings, plants, fabrics, wax tablets, and more interestingly, preserved the joint connections of all the people). Following this blast was a whole bunch of mud (or solid ash) - Nathan has a good analogy: honey flows very slowly at room temperature, but stick the bottle in the microwave, and then out comes this fast-flowing liquid. That's what happened to the top of Vesuvius. Hot air liquified the mud/ash/lava. This is what flowed down in several surges over Herculaneum, burying this carbonized town under 50 feet of tufa (volcanic rocks). There the town remained until about 1709 or so, when it was discovered during the digging of a well shaft. Excavations have taken place on and off since then. Once of the neatest features of ancient Ercolano is that the site goes right up to the edge of the excavated area, around which are tall walls. Immediately on the edge and on up to Vesuvius is the modern town of Ercolano. I enjoyed looking at those apartment buildings and thinking of just what is underneath them...grand villas of wealthy Romans, filled with frescoes, statues, papyri, jewelry, perhaps a few temples, some restaurants, some ancient apartment buildings upon which are sitting the modern ones.

I'm not really sure how often I can use the word "amazing" when I write these blogs, but I'm probably reaching my limit. Yet they'll still come out. Herculaneum is amazing. I visited Pompeii seven years ago, and while it's a wonderful site, it's a whole bunch of ruins. A column or two here where you must then imagine an entire forum, a foundation there to use in imagining the villa it once supported. Herculaneum has buildings, homes, thermal baths that you can actually walk into as if it were a modern city. When you look up, you might just catch a glimpse of the wood framing used within the rock walls. Frescoes are on the walls and you walk upon mosaic floors, giving any HGTV aficionado a great glimpse of the decorating trends of 2000 years ago. We took a photo of Nathan sitting in the "locker room" of the Men's Thermal bath. There was a bathhouse for both the women and the men, complete with a locker room, a cold room, a warm room (sauna), and the hot room. Herculaneum also had a very large gym (palaestra), which included a marvelous fountain of a Hydra (mythical monster that was a many-headed snake) which apparently flowed water all around it into the swimming pool, where young Herculaneumanos would go for their swim practice, which just goes to show that no matter what millennia we're in, people are concerned about working out. Although this gym also contained a fish breeding pond, so the ancient gyms were a little more versatile.

Herculaneum was so well preserved that food was found in pantries and stores. In one home, a loaf of bread was found, and fortuitously, bread was apparently once stamped with one's name; therefore, we now know that the House of the Deers was owned by Q. Granius Verus because this loaf of bread found there had the stamp "Celer, slave of Q. Granius Verus." My mind immediately heads to such hypothetical situations such as: What if Q. Granius Verus sent over his slave, Celer, with a loaf of bread to his new neighbor? I am assuming that the professionals have much better detective skills and subject knowledge to rule out these types of things.
House of Neptune and Amphitrite, so named because of these richly decorated, glass paste, mosaics. This was a personal dwelling.
Nathan hanging out at the Thermopolium (i.e., lunch joint). One such taberna contained the following saying painted upon the wall: "Diogenes, the cynic, in seeing a woman swept away by a river, exclaimed: 'Let one ill be carried away by another.'" Perhaps this particular taberna was an all male establishment.
Grocery Store
Walking the ancient paths

Saturday, October 2, 2010

First Month

In many ways, it feels like this past week was our first "real" week here. It seems like all the stuff involved in moving is coming together and getting settled. We're getting into a routine. We've figured out (a little) the transportation system. We're comfortable getting in the car and driving places. Our housing situation is in process. And we've finally begun cooking dinners instead of just eating cheese and prosciutto, or a bagel, or going to the one restaurant on base.

I absolutely love my language class! While I won't be fluent at the end of the four weeks, I'm learning enough vocabulary and grammar to be able to communicate, and it's a wonderful feeling to be able to come up with some sort of sentence structure to talk to people here.

This weekend, we're planning to take the ferry to Ischia. We have three islands off the coast of Naples: Capri, Ischia, Procida. Capri is the most famous. Ischia is less well-known, but reputedly more beautiful and is also home to wonderful hot springs. Procida is not really visited by tourists, so it's more of a Neapolitan, local island. Today, we're hoping to test drive a cinquecento car on a local car lot and then we'll see what sort of activity we come up with. Nothing heavy; we both need a little rest.