Thursday, March 31, 2011

How on Earth...

As I believe I've written several times, this blog is as much a diary for me as it is a mass email to our family and friends. And so, when I have three weeks of exciting touring and have neglected writing any updates, I'm just not able to do one big update. I want more for myself, whether anyone else wants to read about it or not. So how on earth do I get caught up (shame on me for procrastination!). Having the chance to share my new home region with friends and family has been so exciting as I have gotten to either do new things or look at this life with fresh eyes. It's easy at times to let homesickness and loneliness take over. But for today, I'm sitting in our Glass House overlooking the sea and reflecting back on the last few weeks and the sheer diversity of our sightseeing (and looking at a huge column of smoke nearby, too big for a pile of burning rubbish, and wondering if I should walk down the street to check it out - insert here the very Italian, whole body gesture of a shoulder shrug, upturned hands, downturned mouth, and grunt).
Our excitement began with the agriturismo (from Agriturismo post)  in Tivoli (near Rome). I still cannot get over how relaxing and beautiful it was.

 With our friend, Paige, on her first day here, we visited the Villa d'Este and it's stunning gardens and water fountains, then drove on to Hadrian's Villa. But Villa d'Este was our main goal. All we knew about it was that one visits for the gardens. As it turns out, Villa d'Este is an actual villa, built about 800 years ago, then reconstructed in the mid 1500s. It's now devoid of all furniture, but oh my, the frescoes. Room after room after room of incredible walls and ceiling frescoes. Whereas the super-rich of today might have some nice artwork hanging here and there on a wall, the super-rich of several hundred years ago surrounded themselves with art. Quite literally, every single surface is a sight to behold, from paintings covering the walls and ceiling (no inch left unpainted) to intricate, marble patterned floors. Leaving the villa behind, we entered a fantasy land of water fountains. These were installed by the cardinal who was gifted the property about 1550.  There is a handy little map with a suggested route we followed in order to not miss a single one of the more than 20 water fountains. The fountains were a wonder for the time period and sparked landscaping inspiration all across Europe.
We enjoyed this fun fresco
I'd read that the other main sight in the area was Villa Adriana (Hadrian's Villa), but on this, we really knew nothing. Not a clue what it was, where it was (thank you, GPS), or why we should visit it...yet off we went. With only a couple of hours before closing and aching feet, we decided to give it a quick look anyway. Walking through the entrance, we began walking up a path...and walking...and walking. We had no idea it was so big. Finally reaching a huge stone wall that seemed to be some type of fortress wall, we followed it to another entrance, where we entered a land full of half buildings and huge complexes lying in ruins.

With all the activity and such going on, today is the first chance I've had to even read up on Villa Adriana. As it turns out, that area was as big as it looked, covering over 250 acres (much of it unexcavated - what wonders must exist under the dirt and grass!). Emperor Hadrian built it in the 2nd century A.D. as a retreat from Rome, and my favorite spot among the ruins is thought to have been yet another retreat. As Emperor Hadrian spent more and more time there, much of the court moved to the complex. A beautiful, circular ruin, arbitrarily called the Maritime Theatre, has an exterior portico surrounding a circular pool of water. In the center is an island holding a small house - this is thought to have been Hadrian's retreat...from his retreat. Quite interestingly, the Cardinal who reconstructed Villa d'Este (and installed it's gardens and fountains) stole/repurposed much of the marble and statues he used from the Villa Adriana, lying in ruins by that time. Among it's other wonders, Villa Adriana hosts a large bath complex, with the structures modeled after the Pantheon (which Emperor Hadrian also built) and a large, rectangular pool that was once lined with statues on three sides. The fourth held a covered dining area and a water feature in which diners sat behind a cascade of water falling into the pool. We quickly realized that we had neither proper information nor proper footwear to do this place justice and headed back to our car and the peaceful agriturismo.

The peace lasted until dinner time, when we couldn't find the restaurant we'd wanted to visit and instead had to take to the car and drive around town in search of a table. The town was tiny, hilly, and full of parked cars. In our attempts to drive through town, we made the mistake of following a larger van in hopes that he knew where he was going - hah! That driver was parking at the very top of this town, on an alley the width of a Smart Car that also had a row of parked cars along the side - and it was a dead end with no place to turn around. So, Nathan had to reverse down a cobblestone alley, in the dark, with stairs down the hills dropping off at points (no rails or curbs to stop our tires from going over these edges) and navigating a ninety degree turn with cars parked in the actual turn. He did it, we found a restaurant, Paige got a good meal at last, and Nathan had me drive home (the easy drive) so he could recuperate.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Yumm, Sorbillo!

My aunt and uncle eating their first Neapolitan Sorbillo's in Centro (downtown), my favorite pizzeria!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

On the Go

I've been on the go with friends, Paige and Julia, so have tried to keep up a little through photo blogging. We've had a great week, and I've gotten to experience some new adventures with them - places and things I hadn't yet done since moving here. I'll update in more detail later, but tomorrow, the three of us head to Rome to pick up my aunt and uncle. We'll go, en masse, to the Umbrian hilltown of Orvieto and spend about 24 hours before returning to Rome for dinner and a little night walk of the sites. Then, sadly, Paige and Julia will leave us, but my aunt and uncle's vacation will just be kicking off and will include the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Capri, an overnight trip to Venice, and a few other fun adventures.

A Gorgeous Capri Day

Floor of Eden - Chiesa San Michele, Anacapri

Coffee on Capri, at our lovely hotel

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Statue from Herculaneum in Archeological Museum


Our friend, Paige, had only one special request for her entire stay here, and that was to see the gardens in Tivoli. Her dad visited them many years ago and they had been a really special memory for him. Since one of P's childhood friends was flying into Rome on Sunday to meet up with us, we had the perfect opportuniity to spend a weekend at an agriturismo and visit Tivoli.

Agriturismos are very popular throughout Italy for lodging and/or food. They are generally farms or rural that may or may not have a restaurant and may or may not have lodging. For example, we have an agriturismo near our house that is a farm with a restaurant. The restaurants generally serve food and wine grown or produced on-site. The ones that offer lodging can run the gamut from ultra-luxe to a simple room or guesthouse. We picked Tenuta Colfiorito as it was the closest one I could find to Tivoli that accepts dogs, and we'd decided to bring Scully along on this vacation. After our difficulties finding the place (detailed in Friday-One of Those Days post), we were delighted to find the place to have been well worth the trouble. The farm is a certified, organic olive tree farm with rooms in a gorgeous, stone building that looks as if it just grew up out of the land. The building is atop some ruins, and we could see the remains of a Roman column just outside our door. I still marvel at the fact that these types of ruins have become a part of my daily life.

The grounds had gorgeous landscaping, olive trees spread off into the distance, a small chapel sat the end of a long drive with cypress trees, and rising up off the drive were two, beautiful and distinctly different buildings - one made of stone and with an ancient feel to it (this is the one built atop a ruin) and the other, a brightly painted, coral structure with iron railings and huge wooden doors. Our room was yellow, with white furniture, terracotta tile floors, and a wooden beamed ceiling, views over the grounds, and a nice sized kitchenette. Upon browsing through our agriturismo information packet, we found they sell some of their products to guests - they make one red wine (3.50euros/bottle), olive oil (of course), and four different olive spreads. We bought some of everything. Our first agriturismo visit for lodging was wonderful and restful, and I can't wait to visit another one.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Friday - One of Those Days

Our friend was due into the Rome airport about 5:30pm. The best-laid plan was for me to leave the house at noon, go to Nathan's workplace and wait until he could get out of the office, drive to our Agriturismo near the small town of Tivoli to meet their check-in time, then get to the airport (late) for our friend. One thing after another delayed me at home. We'd bathed Scully the night before and sprayed on his new, special detangling lotion (from the pharmacy of the former monastery in Florence). Apparently I used too much. I awoke on Friday to a very shiny and very greasy dog. Apparently, one squirt of the stuff would have been enough. Since we all need to look our best for guests, back into the shower he went. And yes, as I was bathing him for the second day in a row, I did see the utter ridiculousness in having special hair products for my dog.
Then a bird flew into our house and began pooping everywhere, including on the sofa, in between bouts of flying underneath our armoir. Once that was dealt with, I still had a load of laundry to do and our lockdown procedures. While sleeping, my subconscious came up with some new safety ideas to use. We have yet to have a problem, and I'd like to keep it that way. We personally know two families who have been burglared, and have heard of several more, so I'm always wanting to ensure we are doing our best to make ourselves a difficult target. My new plan involved lots of chain, heavy duty bike locks, etc. It took me half an hour to implement. After loading the car, I finally escaped Fort Knox, only to realize as the garage door shut that I'd forgotten something. Getting back in was incredibly difficult, which was the point in our new plan for when we're out of town, but not great when I'm on a schedule.
Finally arriving at Nathan's work, I found that he'd been waiting on me for over half an hour. But at least that meant we could just leave rather than a further delay. We made the short, two hour drive to the town of our agriturismo...and couldn't find the place. An hour of driving around, using a GPS and two different mapping programs on the iPhone, and multiple calls to the Italian-speaking only caretaker, and we finally found it. We both had shot nerves at this time, and headed off to the Rome airport.
We arrived just as our friend's flight did, so I was pretty excited...until she didn't come out of the customs area. An hour passed, another half hour. I'd asked the information office for help, the counter of her airline was shut down, there was no one to help. After two hours and a second flight coming in from her departure city, I called her husband who was able to call the airline and find out she'd not made one of her two connections and would be on a later flight. That flight landed...and she didn't come out. As it turns out, her bags had made the earlier flight and she didn't, so while she stood in front of the baggage carousel to the bitter end, her luggage was stored in a room nearby. She'd also sent an email to me regarding her delay that I didn't get - that email is still lost in the netsphere somewhere. We'd all missed a decent dinner, but the small airport food counter sold chocolate bars and bottles of wine. After her 30 hours of traveling and our day full of setbacks, all we really needed was chocolate and wine. Day saved.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Second Round of Visitors

We head up to Rome today to pick up one of my dear friends from our days in San Diego, who is making the trip to celebrate a milestone birthday. Since it's not my birthday, I won't put an actual number on it. Her one special request for her time here was to visit the gardens in Tivoli, outside of Rome as they were a place her father really enjoyed. We will spend the weekend at an agriturismo - our very first agriturismo stay! My horseback riding trip was at an agriturismo, but this is mine and Nathan's first family trip. Even Scully gets to go - he's going to flip when I motion him into the car. Actually, when he sees me pull out his portable crate and start shoveling dog food into a Ziploc, that's when he'll start walking in circles on his hind legs. A neat trick for a 55 pound dog.

After we get Paige from the airport, we'll have a nice, quiet dinner in Tivoli and hope that our beds back at the agriturismo are comfortable - it's hit or miss in Europe. Actually, it's also hit or miss what kind of bed you will get. Options are either a Double or a Single. A Double bed could be anything from a Queen Size, Full Size, or two Twin beds pushed together - or even two Twin beds not pushed together, and when you complain to the front desk and show them your reservation form with Double bed on it, they look at you in surprise and say, "You just push the beds together," so then you trundle back up three flights to your room, and move around several nightstands and possibly a chair before trying to shove really heavy beds in place and then you have to actually move those same heavy beds every night and morning in order to pull bed sheets up or down (true story). Regardless, our agriturismo apartment sleeps four people and we will only be three, so I'm confident there will be some sort of suitable arrangement.

On Saturday, if Paige is coherent after 30 hours of traveling and a nine hour time difference, we'll visit Villa d'Este for their gardens and Adriana's Villa (Hadrian's Villa), also a worthwhile site to see. Before returning home to Naples on Sunday, we'll swing back by the airport to pick up a childhood friend of Paige's, who will be joining us for our week of touring around. Nathan will be sorely outnumbered next week with a house full of women, but he'll only have to put up with us for a few days as we head to Capri and then back up to Rome to pick up my aunt and uncle flying in from Georgia. Either my blogs are going to be more interesting because I'll actually be sightseeing every day or they'll be non-existent because I'll be falling into bed exhausted every night.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Daily Life - Eating Out

I'm long overdue for my promised "Daily Life" posts. So sorry.

Last year, whenever our upcoming move to Italy came up in conversation, talks of food inevitably followed...usually in the form of envy. Therefore, a few days after our arrival in Italy, and with great excitement, we headed off base with another couple for our first, real deal Italian meal. I blogged about that first restaurant experience in the post Outside the Wire, and that experience has repeated itself over and over again. The thing you need to know about Naples is that their food is the one thing the Neopolitans pride themselves on above all else. They may have trash covering every street corner, a stranglehold on the local government, traffic that is known throughout Europe as the absolute craziest, but is theirs. And their pride is well-earned, because the food is's very different from what Americans think of as "Italian food." On my recent trip to the "nord," we ate food that would be served in Italian restaurants back home. But, here in Naples, you have two real choices: pizza or seafood. Pizza deserves it's on blog post, so I'm not even going to write about it right now. To go out to eat at a restaurant (not a pizzeria), we've found a pretty standard formula for what we're going to eat and how the evening will play out. It goes something like this:

We go to a restaurant and are the only people there. That's because we have gone to eat dinner at 7:30p.m, far, far too early for Italians. Generally, by the time we leave (about 9pm), the restaurant has a steady trickle of families streaming in for their meal. Families including young children.

A kind, male (always male) waiter gets up from the table where he is watching T.V. in the back ("Simpsons" is quite popular) and asks, "Antipasti?" - he is asking us if we want appetizers. In almost all cases, we do not get a menu. In our Area Orientation, we were warned against this practice and told to insist upon a menu. However, I'd say at least 70% of the restaurants we visit do not have menus. And we've yet to have been taken advantage of except on Christmas Eve in Rome. Generally, we're brought delicious food and charged a fair price for it. We always reply in the affirmative for the antipasti and order a bottle of water (frizzante) at the same time as well as some table wine. Water is either bottled naturale or frizzante (carbonated) - there is no table water/tap water as in America. As for wine, we go with the table wine and haven't had a bad glass yet.

The waiter shows back up with a few plates of food, always including some fried, herb dough balls. I don't know what these are exactly, but they are delicious. The shape and outer fried bit of a southern hushpuppie, but inside, yummy, salty, goodness. Another plate is going to be the fresh octopus with lemon juice, sometimes over a bed of lettuce, sometimes not. Also, always delicious. Really...this is from someone who supposedly "hates seafood." All I can say is that it is completely different here. There is some type of grilled vegetable, whatever is in season.

After a few plates of antipasti and just when we've gorged ourselves, more plates of antipasti come out - more fried foods, maybe a ball of mozzarella (Nathan's favorite) or some creamy ricotta (my favorite), some more fresh seafood in the form of anchovies or oysters or shrimp. We now know enough to look at each other and begin assigning food to each other. We hate not eating it all, but it's just so much, so the bargaining begins: "If you'll eat the rest of the octopus, I'll eat three more dough balls," or something like that. At some restaurants, even more antipasti has then come out, to the point where we begin looking at each other in horror and wondering how much food is even left in the kitchen. At this point, our bargaining takes a turn towards nastiness (on both sides): "Last time, I had to eat all the octopus, mozzarella, and the anchovies! You need to step it up." Finally,we sit back, plates of half-eaten antipasti still littering the table.
Here, in an Alberobello restaurant, we're on round two (or maybe three) of the plates of antipasti. There is prosciutto, basil souffle, bruschetta, two types of fried things, and a trio selection of delicacies (here, we had tripe - I tasted it, and that's the end of that). This may not seem like a lot of food, but imagine two prior rounds of this...and this is the appetizer! A little different from you're average, wilty salad appetizer back home.

The waiter notices we are quiet now and returns. "Primi?" (First Course?). At this, the routine varies. Either a menu appears, or we get a choice of two things, or the waiter just tells us what he's going to bring us, or we just say "Si," and more food appears. The few times we've eaten somewhere with a menu, what we want off the menu is rarely available. It really is best to just let your waiter bring you what he wants. The primi is always pasta, and here in Naples, it's generally pasta with seafood. I seem to recall one time when a spaghetti marinara was available, but generally, it's pasta with seafood. After about four bites, I am so full that I have reached misery point, that point where you are just staring at your plate, knowing you need to eat more for whatever reason, but also knowing that if you put another bite of food into your mouth, bad things are going to begin to happen.

But we are still not done. I have never, never made it to "secondo" (second course). While I surreptitiously look up the Italian word for "full" each and every time (I seem to have a mental block in learning the word), Nathan spends a few desperate moments trying to figure out if he can really fit in a secondo. He has made it to secondo twice, and only because he wanted to try it the specific dish, not because he actually wanted more food. Secondo is usually meat - beef or pork. It's served by itself. If you want a side dish, you order that separately. You can have roast potatoes, grilled vegetables or a salad. Secondo is for the heavy hitters. I watch in awe when other diners order secondo. I suppose one might (maybe, maybe, not sure) be able to skip antipasti and primi to go straight to secondo, but really, that's just not done. I certainly wouldn't try that at a restaurant I hope to frequent in the future.

Okay...time to rest, breathe, roll your eyes to heaven and think about how to walk to the car or back home with all that food sloshing around. After a sufficient amount of rest time, back comes the waiter to inquire about "dolci" (dessert) and "caffe" (coffee). Oddly, just the word "dolci," makes all the food currently in my stomach magically rearrange. Whereas 30 seconds ago I thought I was going to pass out from calorie overload, now I've reached the "why yes, I would love a tiramisu" phase of the evening. Dessert is yummy, coffee is a great digestivo. Evening over, right.

Nope...limoncello time. Or grappa. Or a coffee liqueur. Or a bit of each. You absolutely must have a digestivo. Must. The name says it all - "digestivo." Italians believe that a small drink helps your food digest in your stomach, so that is why one must partake. In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans steeped herbs and seeds in alcohol as an aid to digestion, which has led to the current philosophy. I did a quick bit of research and found the French belief is that your full stomach can now handle a beverage with a high alcohol content. Pick your reason or not. After all, do you really need a reason to drink a bit of limoncello?

Colors of Italy

This posting was a test to figure out the best way of sending photos to the blog while I'm on the road. It worked and was easy, so hopefully, even when I don't write any updates, I can still send some photos in.

Marzo Pazzo & the Hunt for Organic Food

I'd heard that March is called Marzo pazzo (crazy March) because of the unpredictable weather, and now I am experiencing the reason for the nickname. Last week, it rained all week long - hard, torrential rain with thunder through Saturday night. Sunday was sunny and mild, pleasant enough for us to clear out all those darn nettles! Monday brought heavy winds strong enough to knock over our outside umbrella set in a concrete filled base. And today, Wednesday, a gorgeous day with mild enough temperatures to really air the house out and then freezing cold at night. Definitely Marzo passo. I am looking forward to spring with great longing.

Today, an Italian friend took me and another lady (American) - we are all neighbors - to her organic food store in nearby Pozzuoli. We are sorely lacking in organic produce. I hear conflicting rumors as to whether farmers in the region use pesticides and what Italian law is [insert big laugh - I just read my last sentence...laws are followed at a whim I have not yet grasped, so I don't think it actually matters what the law says]. In addition, I clearly remember a sign near some lemon trees several months ago that had a large "Sprayed with Poison"  notice - I took a picture and wrote about it here. I have found one organic store (biologico/a is the term here) in Centro, but that's a longer trip, and the metro from Centro is usually very crowded. This store is just three stops up on the Metro and then a pleasant walk through a large park with views over the sea. It's a small store (we have nothing like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's) but has a nice variety of products, from canned goods to tea to honey the lady makes herself. Each of us found something we'd been seeking, so it's great to have another source. Sadly, she did not have any produce today, so I'm still on my quest. I'm specifically searching for organic lemons in order to start making our limoncello. We used to have a grocery store near our house that had a large organic produce section, but they have recently changed ownership (and name) and supposedly cut that section. Since I didn't get to that store before (and haven't been yet, still), this is all hearsay.

After our successful shop trip, we wandered back towards the Metro, but took a little detour to the fish market of Pozzuoli. This place is two aisles of produce and fish (and one bread guy), open daily until around noon or so. We visited one stall in particular that the other two ladies knew had a good reputation and stood around talking about how to buy fish, how to tell if it's farm-raised or fresh from the sea, how to have the fishmonger clean it for you, all those important things to know.  Getting out into town like that is always so inspirational for me and reminds me of what a great experience living here is. All too often, I get caught up in my own "to do" list at home, or once I feel caught up, I try to get in some relaxing before getting busy again. I haven't taken the time to really just slow down and enjoy. Upon our return back to our neighborhood, we stopped off at our local bar for coffee and elected to sit out on their patio to take in the sunny weather...and to slow down and enjoy.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Little Slice of Naples

I took a tour yesterday through the base of an area called Vomero, located on a hill over the center of downtown Naples. The tour was led by Aldo, a fantastic guide who has put together several, wonderful tours of the area. Our bus dropped us off in Vomero, which was once a wealthy playground for the elite, a hilltop paradise of villas and gardens looking over the sea. The gardens have been razed and Vomero, while still an exclusive area, is now made up of large apartment buildings, several stories high, built on those former green spaces and on top of the fancy villas.

A castle sits up there, Castel Sant' Elmo, the star castle, so called because of it's star shape - the points helped keep out invaders. The view is supposed to be spectacular. I wouldn't know because the terraces were closed due to high winds. I don't believe I've ever lived in a place as windy as this one. We're constantly having sustained high winds. We were able to enjoy a beautiful view over Naples with Vesuvius in the background. You can clearly see that Naples really is the most densely populated city in Europe.

Since the castle didn't work out, we visited a cameo factory next door for a little shop around (the center of the world) for cameos carved out of shell is here in Naples, in a little area at the base of Mount Vesuvius) while Aldo checked into getting us tickets for Chiesa di San Martino. In hindsight, I am so grateful the castle was closed or we would never have visited this amazing church and museum. The church is just a confection of inlaid marble covering the floors and walls, with a vibrant, frescoed ceiling. In the rear of the church, behind the altar, is the choir area where the monks sang - they could not have contact with the public, so they were hidden. Something I'd never seen before is the choir echo chamber - underneath the choir's singing area is a large, specially shaped room, and in the choir area is a huge grate. As the monks sang their chants, the echo chamber would allow the music to fill the church. Attached to the church is a museum with a variety of exhibits...
Old Carriage
Royal Barge
A peaceful cloister
And a huge presepe - I love the flying angels above this one.
 Following our quick peek into this gem, we walked down over 400 steps to the Spanish Quarter (Quartieri Spagnoli) in centro. This area was built to house Spanish troops in the 1500s and is now an area where the working class live. It's vibrant and busy and a slice of real life. Streets are narrow, about 10 feet wide at the most), and apartments open directly onto the street - no sidewalks. I read that this area now has some of Europe's highest rates of youth crime, unemployment, and respiratory disease (from Wikipedia). This area, very near to where my language school was last October, is full of things to see.

We're preparing right now for our spring visitors, who begin arriving this weekend, and I'm having a hard time developing a tour plan between the incredible museums (three major ones, and at least one "don't miss" minor one), the castles, the glass-roofed mall, the churches with their incredible art and marble works, Christmas alley...the list goes on. Balance that with the pure, overwhelming chaos of traffic and people and trash that is downtown Naples and you can get a small idea of this city. I wonder if, over the three years we live here, I'll get to a point where I think I've seen "enough" or "everything" there is to see in Centro.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Nettles Galore

 We've just spent three hours pulling nettles out of our yard. Here are two photos of our yard - these photos cover every grassy space except Scully's Kingdom, a small clearing reached by a two foot wide path above our back patio and not a place we ever visit.

 Now imagine every part of this green space covered with weeds and nettles instead of grass. Our gorgeous yard basically turned into a trash heap of weeds...and dog poop. We've had to switch Scully's food to what we can get here, which has affected, ummmm...output. This has also been pretty detrimental to our yard since we no longer "watch" and then pick up when he uses the privy. BUT, having a yard for Crazy Dog to run has been amazing. He loves it, we love it. Sometimes, as I'm sitting on the sofa on the computer, I look out the wall of glass windows onto the terrace and notice Scully out there throwing his toys in the air. Other times, I watch as he runs by at full speed, then again a few seconds later - he just gets taken over with the urge to run laps around the house...which is one of the many reasons we call him Crazy.

But back to the nettles. They were everywhere, big ones, small ones. We weeded and bagged until neither of us could bend over anymore (and have now resorted to strong cocktails to ease the muscle pain). Now, we have a dirt lot covered with palm fronds to keep Scully from digging holes and preventing grass to grow. The palm fronds are from our dead palm tree. I thought our neighbors had killed it on New Year's Eve when they shot a firework directly into the top of it, however, it turns out Naples has the plague of the Red Weevil right now, currently killing off the palm trees. There is no cure. So far, only one of ours has died but the others may soon follow. I suppose I'll have to come up with a new name for our yard then. I name everything. The yard pictured above is called Palm Tree Path. I really hope the name can stay, but if we lose them all, we'll still have a few Eucalyptus trees as well as some cacti varietals, so I can come up with a new name. While pulling out all the nettles, we even found a flagstone path in part of the yard that we didn't know existed.

We're constantly finding things we don't know are there, even in this small yard. The reason is because everything gets so overgrown so quickly. In the Lost Gardens (named after the television show)...

we're constantly finding little surprises. I think I blogged already about the huge, amazing water fountain we found in the back corner of one (we haven't tried to get it working yet, and with a large tree growing all around it, may never do so). Last week, in the small, island garden, I found a huge piece of carved plaster or stone - like a pediment over a doorway. It had been covered by ferns and other growth, but I was in there weeding and found the half-buried carving. It's a lot of fun and is why we call these the Lost Gardens. Peek behind a plant, and I find some sort of ruin.

Scully's Kingdom, which I mentioned above, has some sort of citrus tree (itty-bitty, orange, sour things), a huge area of a flowering tropical plant, some bushes and grasses, a chimney (??, no idea why), and best of all for him, the wall bordering our yard upon which Sinbad and Other Kitty like to saunter. Scully spends lots of time up there, lying about in the sun, standing up on the wall to look for his kitties, and other dog sorts of things. Since that area is his Kingdom, he does not pollute it with his waste. How thoughtful, to not poop in the one area we never, ever visit.

Our terraces and patios have completely boring names with no iota of creativity - so disappointing. They are Front Terrace, Back Patio, and Roof Terrace. We also have Glass House, but that's also pretty uncreative, considering it's a large room with metal framing and glass windows forming every single wall. We did finally secure some citrus trees for the Glass House - actual, usable citrus, rather than the sour things growing in Scully's Kingdom. On our way home from church today, a nursery on our drive was finally open, and we spotted some lemon and orange trees in her offerings.. We found the lady to be incredibly helpful (at least in Italian - we hope we understood her instructions) and were able to pick up a four-season lemon tree and an orange tree - only two oranges left on it, and then, no more until next winter. We were hesitant to buy more than the two as we don't know if we'll be successful in keeping them alive. We also got a camelia bush that has a bud on every single, little branch, and I can't wait for them to open! We're excited to see what spring is like in our yard.

Totally off topic from this post: Nathan just showed me the Bing homepage today. If you're reading this on Sunday, take a look at it. For those unfamiliar with Bing, it's a search engine and the home page each day is always some sort of fantastic photo of a place in the world. Nathan likes to look at it every day and read about the location - he calls it his daily "Ten Minute Vacation." Today's photo is the Galleria Umberto, here in Naples. It's a mall located downtown with the most gorgeous roof and plaster work you've ever seen.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Blog Access Problems

Have any of you run into problems where going to my blog redirects you to an ad survey that you cannot get past? I've been having that trouble lately. I'm not a pro at computers, but did a little research. For me to fix the problem, I installed an Ad-on called No Script (I use Firefox as my browser). Once that is installed, then when the pesky little ad survey opened instead of my blog, I went to my tabs at the top of the page and clicked "Tools," "Add-ons," double-click "No-Script," "Advanced," then checked the box "Forbid META redirections." That works for now. I hope no one else has been having this problem.

Photos Added

I've spent hours upon hours finally getting my photos really organized, and hopefully, I now have a system in place. The Gallery page (listed on one of the tabs up top) has links to our photo albums, in case you want to see more photos than the few I include in blog posts.

Final Trip Photos

And here are the rest of the Siena photos that I wanted to share...

Siena's Main Square, Il Campo
Duomo interior - reminds me of a Dr. Seuss book
We spotted this through an open doorway on a quiet street - no idea of it's significance, but wouldn't you love to ride in this carriage!
Duomo exterior is so ornate and fun
Duomo exterior again - I loved how this lion seems to be looking right at me
We came across this...thing while attempting a shortcut to Siena's market; it's not listed in any of my guidebooks. There are two more arches just like this one, a pool of water in the covered area (filled with koi) and a tiny amphitheater. We liked the two decorative lions here having a little chit-chat.

Several times, we found ourselves on a road with a view towards this church. We never found out the name of it, but we always paused to enjoy the view.
Panoramic View of the Duomo and the rolling hills of Tuscany

Friday, March 4, 2011

Travels in Italia - Siena

Our final stop on the Italy tour was Siena, and what a finale! We had a rough start with a windy, bus ride through foggy Tuscany that left both of us feeling a little carsick. When we finally arrived in Siena, we set off for our hotel, this one being the only hotel for which we didn't have a good map of the city or clear directions. An interesting fact about Siena: it is hilly. Very, very hilly. At this point, I'd done almost all of my Christmas shopping and about half of my birthday shopping for the rest of the year, so traveling light was a distant memory. After a long slog up and down hills, backtracking about six times, and passing a breathtakingly beautiful Duomo, we reached our gorgeous hotel, Il Chiostro del Carmine, located in what was originally a 14th century Carmelite monastery. Entering into the courtyard of our hotel wiped away all the negatives from our Volterra hotel and exhausting walk to the hotel. Peaceful and beautiful...we were back on our hotel jackpot streak.

After a little rest, we hit the town, or at least Il Campo, Siena's main piazza. I'd visited Siena in 2003 and remembered only one thing about the entire city - Il Campo. It's a huge, sloping, circle, anchored at the bottom by the City Hall and it's huge tower (over 300 ft) on one side. I love Rick Steves' description of the Il Campo colors in his Florence & Tuscany 2011 guidebook: "The square and the buildings are the color of the soil upon which they stand...a color known to Crayola-users and other artists as 'Burnt Siena.'" The setting sun hits those colors and cause the piazza to turn a glowing pink, giving evidence to the reason artists flock to Tuscany. In need of a little refresher, we headed to Il Palio for cocktail hour and sat at the window staring out at this beautiful town square. We only left when a man sat down outside and caught us staring at his luscious, pink martini. Apparently, he mistook the lust in our eyes as aimed at him, so in order to avoid an awkward moment, we quickly paid our bill and headed off to dinner.

The next day, our only full day in Siena, we walked through the car-free old town to the weekly market, held on Wednesdays. A little note here - markets in Italy can cover a wide range of items. Generally, the solo word "market," means clothing and household items, possibly a section with produce and flowers. Markets a big deal here to American spouses - huge deal, actually. I've only been to one so far. I have no good reason or excuse for this. The one I visited here in Naples was interesting, but filled with an awful lot of junk. K thought the same about the Siena market, but I was wowed by it. I absolutely loved it. We found a vendor selling mill ends for thread/yarn on cones (K and I both knit) for only 2euros per cone, there were children's wool coats, lined in silk, for only 15 euros, and so much more. But, we were only in Siena for a day, and we had several more things to see.

We needed some lunch and picked a place we passed while walking on a quiet street near our hotel. Seated next to an Australian couple living in Siena, we got to talking with them. As it turns out, by sheer luck, we'd landed in one of Siena's best restaurants. We enjoyed our lunch so much that we immediately made a reservation for dinner as well - the final dinner of our trip.

Feeling much better with a good lunch in us, we headed to Siena's wedding cake, 13th century, Duomo. It is spectacular. Black and white striped columns line the nave, inlaid marble designs cover the floor, there's a Michelangelo sculpture, a Bernini chapel (my favorite sculptor, and unfortunately, the chapel was closed for restoration...which means I will definitely be back), a carved, marble pulpit that is so intricate I can't even believe human hands created it, and best of all, a side library with vibrant frescoes, painted in the 1400s and never restored, yet still as bright as if they'd been painted last year. The Michelangelo statue adorns an alter that was supposed to be for the tomb of a cardinal. That cardinal became a pope, so the tomb was never used. Michelangelo was supposed to carve several of the altar's statues, but the "David" project came up, so he left Siena having only completed one statue. Visiting the side library with the vibrant frescoes, we took note of the strong warning to keep the line moving - then entered to find a completely empty room. where we could stare and take photos to our hearts' content. I love off-season Italy!
Duomo interior is as beautiful as it's exterior
Michelangelo's statue of Paul
The Piccolomini Library's amazing frescoes tell the story of Pope Pius II, who was from Siena
Just a small section of the marble pulpit, with relief panels telling the story of Christ's life; It was carved by Pisano in the 1200s.
One of the many marble, mosaic floor panels - this one shows Siena in the center with other, lesser cities surrounding her

With the plan to climb the tower of City Hall, we headed over there and disappointingly found it had closed just after lunch. So back we trekked to the Duomo, where there is a museum with a rooftop, panoramic view. We just made it in before they closed and got to run up for a marvelous view over the town and countryside. This gave the added bonus of being able to view the exhibit containing the original, stained glass window of the Duomo up close, as the museum has it in a beautiful, well-lit display.

And so, our trip came to a close. I can't think of a better city in which to end. K preferred Florence to Siena, but I really fell in love with Siena. Even in the off season, the streets were crowded at dusk, time for the passagiatta (typical, Italian walk around town at dusk), so the town was active enough to not feel creepy yet small enough to have a quiet vibe. I cannot wait to return.