Friday, December 31, 2010

Felice Anno Nuovo

Happy New Year! We have readied the house and yard for a festa tonight, which mostly involved stocking the fridge with Prosecco and picking up pieces of a dismembered gorilla (toy) that have migrated to every corner of the yard and terraces. For a small dog toy, Scully and his BFF sure managed to shred and spread it. The Glass House got an update with our all day trip to Ikea, which was as awful an experience as it sounds. Hours upon hours walking the aisles to decide on lamps and pillows and bookshelves and wardrobes! But we're now ready for the fireworks viewing. Italians LOVE fireworks. There are some for every festival and event. Every night, local teenagers light off firecrackers in the piazza up the street. It's now 2:40 in the afternoon, and we already have such heavy booming nearby that the dog is quivering on the sofa. He's going to have a long afternoon and evening.

Back to our previous two weeks though:
Nathan's Aunt B. and Uncle J. made the long trip across the pond for Christmas. After Nathan showed them Rome, Orvieto, and Assisi, I took over for a couple of local days. We visited Herculaneum, a place I've already blogged about. I did take some new pics this time, though:

The next day, we explored Centro Napoli, focusing on some of the beautiful churches there, as well as a walk down Christmas Alley. Napoli is famous for presepios (nativities), made of bark and moss, as well as many handmade figures to go into them. Christmas Alley is the place to go for these things. I didn't take many pics while down there, but I did get one that is so typical of Centro:
A gorgeous church, kids playing soccer in a piazza, and a humongous pile of trash.
Nathan had the Thursday before Christmas off, so we did an Aunt/Uncle split. Nathan and Uncle J. headed off to Benevento (a nice, mountain town) and then on to Pompeii, while Aunt B. and I headed to Vietri, yet another town I've already blogged about. Vietri is a small town on the Amalfi Coast and home to gorgeous ceramics shops and artist studios. Aunt B. cleaned up with some great finds that all made it safely back home in her carry-on luggage.

Christmas Eve found us on a train up to Rome, checking into the adorable M.D.M. Luxury Rooms next to the Vatican. I'd booked them online, and while the reviews were great, the name brought to mind a Vegas brothel. Thankfully, the hotel ran a beautiful, clean establishment. We stayed so close to the Vatican because the Aunt/Uncle combo had managed to secure tickets to the Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican. Despite a torrential rain all afternoon, the weather cleared just in time for our two hour wait in line in the square outside St. Peter's Basilica. Church doors opened at 8:30pm for the 10pm Mass, and we only had to elbow one group of nuns out of our way to get in. The others beat our elbows to the punch. Once inside, the dilemma was whether to try to sit closer to the front, but in the middle of the row, or further back and practically right on the aisle. We picked the latter, and if I'd transferred the photos of my iPhone, I could show you how this worked out! As they say in Italy, "Domani, domani" (tomorrow, tomorrow). Following a Christmas morning of sleeping in, we headed back down to St. Peter's Square for the Pope's noon blessing of the city and the world before running back to the Metro, and just making it before public transportation stopped running at 1pm. We headed home to Napoli and a nice Christmas dinner with friends.

The day after Christmas, we drove down to Paestum, an area that contains some of the most complete Greek ruins outside of Greece. There are three, standing temples that are just gorgeous. Unfortunately, we arrived 15 minutes after the ticket office closed, so we had to content ourselves with gazing at them over the fence line.

After another day of some local sightseeing right around our house, we said Arrivederci to Aunt B. and Uncle J. We had such a great time spending time with family and showing them a part of our new life here. And they'll definitely be back since they followed the time honored tradition of ensuring one's return to Italy:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

We Haz the Internets

Yippee! Our internet is now installed and working just great. It's so funny how so many things in Italy are delay, delay, delay, and then poof...they work. We got the phone call last week - the Tuesday before Christmas - from the telecommunications company. We had company in town for Christmas week and a packed itinerary. This is how the conversation went with the Telecom rep:

Company Rep (aka, Nice Lady):  Hi, we'd like to schedule your appointment for phone and internet installation. Are you available in the morning or afternoon?
Me: Oh, great! How exciting! Can you come next week?
Nice Lady: No, no, no. We are coming tomorrow. Would like us in the morning or evening?
Me [thinking fast b/c of our tour guide schedule]: Ummmmmm...morning?
Nice Lady: Okay, 10-12.
Me: Can you come between 8-10am?
Nice Lady: Okay, tomorrow, from 8-10am.
Me [remembering the multitude of stories I've heard on how the technician NEVER shows up for the first appointment...or the second]: If the technician doesn't show up, should I call you?
Nice lady: No, no, no. He will be there tomorrow between 8-10a.m. Ciao!

And so he was. At 8:30 a.m. There are times that I just love this place. By 9:30 a.m., we were online and able to surf the internet. However, I had places to show our guests, so there has been no internet surfing, blog posting, TV watching, etc. until today.

I'm sorry for the lack of posting. While back in the U.S., the schedule became packed with visiting. I arrived home last Monday, without my luggage, I might add. My two bags were two of the 20,000 pieces of luggage Lufthansa lost/misplaced/delayed last week. But I got my luggage five days later, on Christmas Day, just 24 hours after I'd decided that I probably would never see my luggage again - it's a Christmas Miracle!

But back to arrival day, flight got into Naples with no other problems, I picked up Crazy Dog from his BFF's house (BFF is a boxer named Doc), got home and bathed him (Scully and Doc play non-stop, including lots of slobering on each other, so a bath is always required), watched the Survivor finale (thank you Armed Forces Network for airing shows the day after they air in the U.S., which meant I actually got to see it!), and proceeded to fall asleep 10 minutes before the finale ended - you know, the point when you actually find out who won the million dollars, the goal of the show that you've been watching for weeks and weeks and weeks. So a 2nd thank you to Armed Forces Network for airing the Survivor finale twice, one right after the other. (I actually stayed awake through the second airing.). Nathan soon arrived with his aunt & uncle, who came to visit for Christmas. They'd actually flown into Rome while I was gone. Nathan drove up to pick them up, and the three of them spent a few days exploring Rome and the Tuscan hill towns of Orvieto and Assisi. I have got to go back and re-read the Anne Rivers Siddons book, "Hilltowns."

We had lots of fun visiting and showing our first set of guests around. In the coming days, I'll post some more updates from the last couple of weeks. So excited to have the internets! Hope everyone had a Buon Natale (Merry Christmas)!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Back in the U.S.

I left Italy on a gorgeous, blue morning this past Sunday - our first clear, beautiful day in forever. We had coffee that morning in our Glass House, sitting on our NEW sofa. The Glass House is finally usable! It was heaven to sit and enjoy our caffe while looking out at Capri and the ferries leaving Pozzuoli port. Scully decided to use his great, fluffy tail as a table sweeper and near knocked my caffe onto the new sofa, so he was banished. But he's too cute to have let that last, especially since his tail was wagging so hard due to happiness at being near us. There's just no getting irritated at that.

I flew from Naples to Munich, flying over the Alps on the route. Wow! Absolutely phenomenal, especially from the air. Mountains as far as the eye could see. Snow has hit northern Europe, so we then flew over a white blanket, and at one remote farm, there were three horses with riders galloping across a field, headed towards a home with smoke coming from the chimney. What a wonderful, winter scene and so relaxing in preparation for the many hours I was about to spend crossing the Atlantic. I had a 1.5 hour layover in Munich, and it was just enough. The Germans are super serious about their security measures. I'm thankful for it, but as I was standing in my final security line watching the monitor that stated my flight was boarding, I must confess to a little anxiety. And when my time through the line came, I realized what all the hoopla is about in regards to the airport pat-downs. My security officer was very professional, but I haven't been touched in all those places by someone other than my husband since I was a toddler. We were so intimate that I really feel like I should have gotten her name.

The flight from Munich to Chicago was brutal. It wouldn't have been so bad, but I kept thinking, "When this agony ends, I have another three hour layover and then two hour flight to Baltimore. This trip will never end." The movies on offer were recent, new, and plentiful, and my seatmate was pleasant, so the trip wasn't so bad. I'm now in Baltimore at my sister's house, and it is fantastic! I love spending all this time with my niece and two nephews. They are adorable and I love when they come running into my bedroom in the mornings, hollering "Auntie, Auntie." We spent the first two days running errands. I had a short list that quickly grew very long of things I need to buy here and take back with me. Although in just the first day, I'd collected a pile so large that I'm now putting together a box (or two) to ship home. I miss the stores here. I know it's just familiarity and knowing where to go for what specific item, so in time, I know I'll love the shopping available in Italy. Right now I'm still in the stage of having to figure everything out. Where to go, how to get there, where to park once there, do I have a euro coin for the shopping cart (you have to "unlock" the carts with a coin, then you get your money back when you rejoin the cart to the other carts), how do I ask the shopkeeper the question I have to find an item or about an item...the list just keeps going. It has been nice to have a few "normal" errands.

Yesterday, my sister and I, along with her sister-in-law, took the kids to Longwood Gardens in Baltimore to see their Christmas displays and lights. It is beautiful there. I've included a few photos at the end of this blog. Longwood has the most incredible Children's Garden, filled with water features, fanciful ironworks, pathways and a "secret" staircase. The conservatory was filled with rooms of beautiful trees and plantings, and I think the kids had as much fun as the adults.

I'm here for a few more days before traveling to North Carolina for most of next week for my best friend's wedding. I'll return home just before Christmas. Nathan is back in Italy with Crazy Dog, who is reportedly acting even crazier than normal. Nathan's uncle lives near a great, pet supply store that sells eco-friendly dog toys (organic fabrics, etc.). We got one for Scully just before leaving for Italy and it became his very best friend. He loved his bunny rabbit to death, literally. Nathan's uncle sent a dog toy care package, which arrived a couple of days ago, and here is Nathan's email to me on the events surrounding it's opening:

Scully was too funny as I opened the box and was reading the note.  He repeatedly tried to steal/walk off with the new toys as though I wasn't looking.  I figured that he should get to enjoy the care package from his Great Uncle.  So, I cut the tags off and laid them out on the couch for him to choose.  He sniffed them all very carefully, decided on one, and ran off to the yard with me chasing after him, "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! Not outside!!"  I finally caught up to him (he thought it was great fun), and brought it inside.  He never put it down and ultimately slept with it in his box.
[Box is our name for his crate, which we now use for his dog bed that used to be inside the crate, but is now just in the corner of the room.].

Here are the Longwood Garden pics:

Friday, December 3, 2010


Naturally, the day after my post on the rain never ending...the rain ended. Yesterday morning was warm and sunny, a proper Mediterranean climate. This morning, even clearer, blue skies and warmer temps. I am back on base, this time searching for the lost remote control to our garage alarm (a bad thing to lose, especially since the garage alarm was turned on). So far, no luck. I think the remote is gone forever. We have other keys to the alarm, however, in order to turn off the alarm, you must use the same key or remote control used to set it. Unless I find the remote control, we have no way to do a reset. I am sensing the return of "the Electric Man" to our house.

But back to weather, as I entered the library, clouds were massing for a kicker of a storm. Our reprieve may be over. I left Scully outside, too, thinking he could use a nice day in the yard. Oops.

We got a nice Christmas surprise at our house. Last week, while on the phone on a cold, rainy day, I was huddled by the radiator in our dining room staring out at the garden. It finally dawned on me that the tree growing right outside our front door is a poinsettia tree, covered in blooms. The tree is so tall, that the blooms aren't noticeable unless your either on the roof terrace or looking up. I've never seen a poinsettia tree like this. Our landlady came over yesterday and told me she was given a plant as a gift many years ago, and after natale (Christmas), she planted it. The tree is the result:

And just another little photo to share - this one is of Piazza Dante, in the center of Naples. It's a beautiful piazza in an area with much to offer - one of the best archaeological museums, great shopping, pizzerias, ruins, castles, etc. This picture was taken yesterday when I met a friend for coffee at a nearby bar. You may notice the piles of garbage in the middle of the square. We believe a demonstration was about to begin. I'm not sure how much the American news has covered the garbage crisis here, but it's gotten really bad. I haven't taken our garbage up the street to our neighborhood dumpsters, so I'm not sure how much our area is impacted, but there are alleys in downtown Naples where cars can no longer drive because the garbage covers the entire alley. If the issue is still going on after Christmas, I'll take a few photos - just what you all want to see, photos of trash. Anyway, here's the very pretty Piazza Dante:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving Trulli

I am uploading several posts today while I'm on base using the library WiFi. I am beginning to think we will never get internet. After Christmas, I am going to go get an aircard so that we at least have something at home. I thought it might take 6 weeks or so, we're at that mark now, with still not even an appointment (from all reports, it takes at least three scheduled appointments before the service tech actually shows up). It's especially odd because a family who moved onto our same block, three weeks after us, had internet within two weeks of move-in. Usually these delays are because internet isn't available in one's neighborhood. Ahhhhh, Italy!

The time has once again escaped me, and I need to leave the base soon, but I'll quickly write about what we did for Thanksgiving. We decided to travel south to the Puglia region to a little town called Alberobello (pretty tree). The town is an UNESCO World Heritage site due to thousands of trulli homes - little, white, round houses with conical roofs of stacked stone. They are adorable. This trip was inspired by an article saved for us by Nathan's Aunt C. when we visited last spring. She had an article on the food in the Puglia region with pictures of this town, and my imagination was captivated. Once we arrived in Italy, other people also mentioned the town, and there is a friendly hotel owner who has captured the American military market (and allows dogs in his houses!), so we decided to make that our mini-vacation. We stayed in a trulli house (they are cold for the first day or so until the heat fills the space!) and had the chance to enjoy the town in the off-season. It was nice to have some quiet, but it was a little too quiet. The shopkeepers were somewhat aggressive since we seemed to be the only game in town. And every restaurant we visited, we were the only table - we got great service! The food was phenomenal. I had the best pasta I've ever eaten - freshly made, and filled with ricotta and chestnuts in the lightest cream sauce. I'm drooling as I remember it.

We tried to do a good bit of exploring of the surrounding area as well, visiting the Grotte Castellana, a fantastic cave system. I've never been to Luray Caverns in Virginia, which are reportedly amazing, but this cave system here is just indescribable. "Room" after "room" of formations all over the floors and ceilings. One particular cave in the system, the White Cave, is so named because every formation in it is white - and no one knows why. There are plenty of theories, but no one knows for sure.
Another day, we visited the town of Lecce. This is a beautiful town, but to me, it was like many beautiful towns in Italy...charming streets? Check. Beautiful architecture? Check. Amphitheater in the middle of town? Check. Lecce is worth a visit for sure, if only to see the baroque architecture on the churches, but I think  the more important "site" is some of the best gelato ever! Ever! It's at Natale, which is located off of the piazza where the amphitheater is located. And Nathan finally had the chance to taste "real" gelato. He loved it! On our way to Lecce, we stopped in the tiny town of Locorotondo, which our guidebook stated has the prettiest centro (center) in Italy. I might just have to agree. The buildings are all white, the pavement is ivory, colorful flowers spill out of window boxes, and alleys are small and curvy, leading you ever onward with the expectation of more lovely sights to see around the corner. Shops and bars were all closed, but the kids were on recess, which apparently takes place in the alleys/streets of the town. We dodged many soccer balls, including one made of balled up paper.

Our final stop was on the way back to Naples, where we stopped in Matera, home of the Sassi (stone/cave dwellings) and the town where "Passion of the Christ" was filmed. The sassi rise up on a hilltop, and across the gorge, the views are of more and more cave dwellings. These places have been used as homes for many thousands of years, and Matera is thought to be one of the oldest, inhabited towns in the world (the whole world - not just the western world!). This place is only two hours south of Naples, yet we'd never heard of it until we were skimming the guidebook to see what types of things were on our route. I look forward to returning and doing some exploring in the gorge/ravine, where there are many, frescoed churches in caves.

We didn't load up on turkey, stuffing, cranberries, potatoes, and pumpkin pie. But we did have a Thanksgiving feast, quite by accident. We'd had a late (and large) lunch, so at dinnertime, we headed to one of only two restaurants we found open and asked if we could just have antipasti, wine, and dolci (dessert). The answer to these types of questions is always a yes, with a look of confusion as to why that would not be possible. But anyway, we ordered our bruschetta, the wine, then decided to also try the antipasti sampler of regional dishes. Good gracious was that a lot of food. Six of us could have eaten on that appetizer as our meal and still not finished it! We had a cheese platter, meat platter, basil souffle, chickpea mix, a bunch of other things of which we weren't sure what we were eating, and even that most disgusting of delicacies, tripe. We'd never tried it before, but since it is considered a very special item here, we thought we'd at least give it a taste. Well now we've tasted it. And that's all I need to say about it. At this point, the food had been so plentiful and delicious, we decided we had to try their dessert and ordered what we thought would be a small bowl of gelato. Nope. Large bowl of gelato, big plate of cookies (lots of cookies), and another large plate of chestnuts the restaurant owner had been roasting at a nearby stand. The restaurant was an old olive mill, in an underground trulli house, so the atmosphere was as delicious as the food. The only thing missing was the nap on the sofa after our gluttony.

Just an update

I now believe that it is never going to stop raining – never, never. It has rained all day, every day for weeks on end now. I think we might have had a nice day two weeks ago. One nice day. Even a friend from the Northwest recently commented that this is worse than Seattle, just to give you an idea of how much rain we’re getting. Crazy Dog is stir crazy in the house, but doesn't want to be in the rain. He has developed little monkey paws, and when I leave for language class in the mornings, as I'm trying to close the front door, he hooks a paw around the door like a cat and has apparently been lifting weights as he has developed enough strength to actually stop me from closing the door. So every time I leave the house this happens, I have to open the door back up, whereupon we have yet another discussion on how scared he is of thunder and lightning, so he may not stay outside while I'm gone. During one of our recent storms, Scully jumped full into my lap and commenced shaking. That was fine with me as the lightning was hitting really closely (and we've already had one strike that knocked out a light fixture), so we cuddled together until the storm was passed. I hope by my return to Italy we will at least begin having some sun every now and then!

In other news, I have finally ventured into our local Supermercato. Supermarket is a bit of a misnomer as it is more of a neighborhood grocery, but it has all the basics, with an added bonus of the most interesting freezer section I've ever come across. Sadly I didn't have my camera with me, so photos will have to come later. The freezers are the ones that are open on the top, like where all the frozen turkeys and chickens are put in American stores. Except here, there is frozen seafood...not in a package. One section has a bunch of frozen octopus(es? - what exactly is the plural?), another has some pre-fried seafood, just ready to go back into your own pot, and yet another has a bunch of beady-eyed fish staring up at the shoppers. It's fascinating.

We also finally tried out our local pizzeria. It's yummy, and about a 3 minute walk away, so "perfetto" (perfect). I was scolded by the owner because I only ate half my pizza and Nathan ate the rest. I think he didn't believe me when I said how good it was. But the pizzas are the size of two dinner plates, and one person is supposed to eat a whole one! They are significantly lighter than U.S. pizzas, but still!

Horseback Riding in the Abruzzi Mountains

Weekend before last, I joined a tour organized by our Outdoor Rec program to the Abruzzi Mountains. We stayed overnight at an agriturismo located within the National Park and enjoyed two trail rides through the beautiful region as well as their incredible food. Agriturismos are very popular in Italy and are somewhat similar to a countryside B&B. They usually include meals, which are hearty, traditional, and delicious, and many offer some sort of additional attraction – cooking classes, a vineyard and wine tasting, etc. This one was also a horse ranch and offered trail riding. We were in a group of eight plus one guide provided by NOR (Navy Outdoor Recreation), and I went with my roommate from the EuroChocolate trip of last month and another friend from language class.

We left Naples and quickly found ourselves enjoying Italy’s incredible countryside, stopping twice for the obligatory “caffe,” much needed on the chilly, rainy day. Reaching the agriturismo, ValleCupa, we checked into our cozy, clean and pretty rooms and hotfooted it down to the nearest town, Pescasseroli, for some lunch. The rain was really starting, and much of the town seemed closed. We were able to find a small trattoria, warmed with a wood burning fireplace and decorated with wooden beams and vintage photos of the town, and had filling pasta, bean soup, and local cheeses – yummy! Following lunch, we returned to the agriturismo to saddle up for the first trail ride. The rain continued, but we were determined to head out and see the scenery.

With only one really experienced rider in our group, the first ride was quite an experience. This was capped with the fact that the horses were not at all happy about being taken out in the rain, so they just started wandering up hills on their own, refused to stop, and in general, behaved like cranky children. My horse, in particular, was determined to always be in front. He was not at all a follower, even if keeping his lead meant running through large thorn bushes. We all seemed a bit frazzled after the first ride, and I don’t think any of us really had a chance to actually look around at the landscape.  Even the lone experienced rider in the group had an "active" ride. After naps, we headed into town again to do a little shopping and, as is the Italian way, ended up in the bar (coffee bar). Dinner back at the agriturismo was a traditional meal with many courses, each more delicious than the last.

The next day dawned with blue skies, lifting our spirits and giving us hope that the morning ride would go a little better than before. During breakfast, though, the clouds started rolling in. We were able to get started early, and remarkably, the horses seemed to have gone through a personality transplant overnight. Some were given their same horse; I got a new one – Furetto (I later learned his name meant “Little Fury”). He was wonderful. Calm and very much a follower. He had his friends, and he was determined to stay just behind one of them. He also had some enemies, resulting in a little kick given to one horse and a few bites when some of his enemies tried to pass too closely. But he remained calm and even-paced for me, so I was quite happy with him. Some of the other riders were not so happy with him, so there were a few people I did not get to visit with on the ride.

I could not get over the scenery. In our two hour ride we traveled through mysterious forests, populated with trees covered with moss and bare branches reaching to the grey, rain-laden clouds, huge boulders rising up from the red leaves coating the ground, a green grass highland reminding me of Scottish moors that I’ve seen only in my imagination, and steep, rocky trails where each of us were sure our horse would slip, throwing us onto the rocks below. It was so tranquil, and the only signs of other life came when we came across a group of wild horses. They must not have been too wild since one was wearing a cow bell, but there was no farm around. The group began to approach our group, and I thought we might have a little horse rumble on our hands, but we passed without incident and got to enjoy watching the lead horse of the wild pack, a magnificent white horse with a flowing mane that was lifting wildly in the high wind. It could have been the cover of a novel.

Our ride was followed with yet another delicious meal, the best one yet, and then back to reality in our little van that took us out of the quiet mountains and back into the craziness of Naples (after a stop for caffe!).