Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Full Circle

View over Amalfi Coast as we started the walk from Ravello

Thirty four months ago, we crossed the Atlantic Ocean and took up residence in a hotel on base. We had no car, none of our own things, no friends, and no idea of how things in Italy work. We quickly realized that we needed wheels...and fast! We were stuck on the base with our only out in the form of a public bus which ran on its own, inexplicable timetable (despite there being an actual timetable it was "supposed" to run) and no way to purchase tickets for this bus anyway...no need to repeat all that - it's well documented in my early posts! We could see the car we had shipped over to Italy. It sat sadly behind locked gates while we impatiently waited for the day when we were allowed to take our Italy driving test. Passing that test felt better than any school test because it meant FREEDOM! Our first day trip other than driving around Naples with some new friends was to the Amalfi Coast town of Ravello: Amalfi Hill Town was the post about that day trip. Completely coincidentally, Ravello was also our final day trip of our Italian life.

Enjoying the vines along our path
We'd played around with an actual weekend away, but we are both exhausted. The moving out and checking out procedure to leave Italy is phenomenally painful. At every turn, we have had some type of problem or hurdle. We have sold one of our cars already and decided to ship home the other. Nathan is dropping off that car with the shipping agent as I type, and tomorrow, we leave Italy. We don't really have any leeway in the event we had a problem with the car on a road trip. I was very firm in my utter lack of desire to spend my last weekend in Italy in our on-base hotel, so Nathan suggested a day trip to Ravello. Then at dinner with our friends last week, they recommended a beautiful walk from Ravello down to the coast town of Atrani, then another five minutes over to Amalfi and an open air bus ride back up the mountain. Perfect. We were sold. And so, we have come full circle in our Italian adventures.

My re-entry into American life has already begun. Our hotel has laundry, and I have found that I can wash AND dry a load of laundry in only 75 minutes!!! There are no words. Actually, there are. What sort of magical wonderland is this? I'm working on a post that was full of things I miss about the USA and all the things I know I'll miss about Italy. Since I never got it finished, I'll post it later. Tomorrow morning at 4:45am, we will depart via taxi for the six block ride to the airport. With a baby, stroller, car seat, six suitcases, and four carry on bags, a taxi is the easier choice. And if all goes according to plan (ha, ha, ha repeated over and over), we will be in Seattle by tomorrow night...which will already be wake-up time on Thursday morning here in Naples. I will keep up with this blog because I have a number of posts I still want to include. And it will give me time to think about setting up another blog. Until then, here are a few more photos of our Ravello adventure:
Looking down into tiny, but charming, Atrani
Unseasonal rain and cold delayed our beach season, but it's finally begun
We ate lunch at the base of Amalfi's fabulous Duomo before catching the
open air bus back up to Ravello; the bus was my favorite part.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Last Links

Our Italian Villa by the Sea
We are officially moved out of our house and countdown to takeoff has begun. I'd intended to write several posts this week, but I'm running on about 15 hours of sleep in the last five days. I did write an entire blog post in my head last night at 3am, when I was up for an hour with La Bimba. I started the post at 11pm, then imagined some more of it at 12:30am, and finished it up about 3ish. That post didn't make it into the computer because my hands were full of a sweet baby who just could not settle down after so much frantic activity. It was a great post - my best one yet, I'm sure.

One last photo from our Lower Terrace of Pozzuoli port [ancient Puteoli]
Moving out was quite anticlimactic and incredibly surreal. Especially because our landlord met with the new tenants and a Housing representative at the house for lease negotiations while we were waiting on movers. It was a weird feeling to have this lovely family gazing about their new home and imagining all the great experiences they have before them while our time here is over. Movers showed up and quickly packed our few remaining belongings. Housing showed up and took away all our loaner items. We cleaned. Then called our landlord to return for key pickup. We thought he was also coming for a final walk thru - make sure the house was in order and such. So he shows up, we're showing around, room by room, and halfway through, he realized what was going on. And he said the sweetest thing: "Nathan, you are gentleman. But I don't want to see the house. Only get the key." I suppose that wasn't as sweet as telling us that his home is our home and he hopes we will bring La Bimba back to Italy to see her home.

With our landlord
Also, we had one final episode of not understanding a situation at all. I had asked if I could bring the baby to the swimming pool on Monday afternoon. "Yes, this would be wonderful," was his reply. Then I asked if late afternoon would be okay. Yes, it would be fine. Then my landlord said to come at 6:00. Nathan asked if this was for pizza. He laughed, and said yes. Then I asked if I could still come to the pool. "Whatever [I] want." And when we went downstairs for final goodbyes and to drive away, our landlord told Antonio, the electrician and handyman who was with him, that we would be coming to the hotel on Monday for spaghetti, macaroni, and pizza. So we have no idea what is expected of us. Which is how it has been for three years, so we're still on trend.

Gorgeous view from our friends' terrace
Generous friends offered to have us over for dinner after our long day, so we enjoyed a delicious dinner (and a yummy birthday cake!) with one final view over the sea and the island of Ischia. Then we moved into a hotel room on the base. We have two bases in Naples with hotels. One is far away from the city, but has all the support activities, such as hospital, personal property office, where we'll drop off our car for shipment back to the U.S., etc. The other base is next to the airport and where most people actually work, and it's where we are staying for our final five days. I was surprised to find that we aren't completely giving up a unique view when I looked out our hotel window and saw Mount Vesuvius, with all of Naples spread out below and a sliver of the Bay of Naples winking at me. So we're easing back into an American life with base living, but holding onto that last link to the ancient world.
Vesuvio standing guard

Monday, June 17, 2013

One Final Capri Getaway...Or 2nd to Final

View from our hotel's pool deck - love the lemon tree, with the
12th century monastery and the Tyrrhenian Sea beyond.
A friend and I were talking about how much we wanted to go back to Capri and when could we do a day trip and how we wished we could spend the night. Then we thought, "Why can't we spend the night?" and made a plan for the following week. This was back in May. Now you all know how much I love Capri. With every visit - has it been half a dozen now (!) - I return home and write a post on how wonderful Capri is. So here is yet another of those posts. Once you get out of the crowds and just spend some time walking, Capri is magical. Sweet smelling flowers line walls and gates that hide dreamy homes and peeks of sea views. Then you might reach a piazza or a viewpoint or a break in the greenery to see that gorgeous water, possibly the Faraglioni (the three, rock stacks off of Capri), or perhaps looking west to Monte Solaro, at the top of which is a viewpoint and seasonal cafe with world class views.

Lido Baby
My friend and I decided to go a little fancy and booked into Hotel Flora, located right near all the action in the town of Capri. The plan was walk, beach, eat in no specific order. To our delight, the hotel was incredible - hand painted tile work, a pool deck overlooking the 750 year old Certosa di San Giacomo and the ocean beyond it, and our room was a beautifully decorated suite. We set out for a favorite walk, going past the famous Hotel Quisisana and the numerous, ritzy stores lining the pedestrian path, then up a tiny dogleg before getting onto the flat, Via Tragara. Since we had our beach bags with us, once we reached one of Capri's best viewing piazzas, we then continued down, down, down lots of steps to the base of the Faraglioni, where my friend had gone to a beach club on a prior trip. Lunch at the Lido restaurant was delicious, but the view would have made anything we ate worth the trip. Spending a couple of hours on the "lido" capped off our sunny afternoon. I use the term lido loosely since there is no actual beach, more of a concrete slab with a ladder down into the still very cold water. Which didn't matter in such a gorgeous setting.

Lido view to the mainland, the Sorrentine Peninsula is peeking through
Knowing our time in Italy was drawing to a close, this trip was more about visiting old favorites rather than discovering new ones. Dinner was at Michel'angelo - a restaurant with no view, but the food is amazing, the restaurant has a nice feel to it, and it's about the only, decently priced restaurant I've visited on the island. We re-visited our top shop picks, including the Carthusia perfumery, Arte in Maglia cashmere shop (gorgeous cashmere scarves and wraps), and a bakery that makes the yummiest, local style cookies and gelato (wish I could remember the name of it, but it's located just below the Piazzetta, the little piazza connected to the big piazza where the funicular is located). And the next day we enjoyed a morning by our hotel pool, lunch at my absolute favorite restaurant, La Terrazza Brunella (delicious food, jaw-dropping views, expensive and worth it), and more walking before catching our ferry back to Naples. We didn't even make it over to Anacapri to enjoy the beautiful town there. I'd hope to get in one last Capri visit after this one, but with only nine days to go, I don't see it happening. Although writing this blog post did inspire me to stop halfway through and look into spending our final weekend in Italy on Capri. There is one hotel available in Anacapri only and a 15 minute walk from town. I have a room booked that I can cancel by Tuesday, so we have two days to decide just where we'll spend our final weekend in Italy. The other top choice is Gubbio, a hill town located in Umbria, staying in a Ducal Palace. Tough choice.
View from La Terrazza Brunella

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Taking Our View With Us

We rented our house because of the view. For heaven's sake, who can say no to a Glass House on a Roof Terrace with a view of Capri! What a dream. The minute we set foot on the Roof Terrace, we both gasped and started murmuring to one another out of the sides of our mouths. "I love it. Do you love it?" "I want to live here." "We have to make sure they pick us as renters." "Don't mess this deal up!" And so on. Because see, our realtor had told us that Mamma Anna had to like us or she would not want us living in her house. This is the house she and her husband built as a young family and in which they raised their children.

For our first year, we used the Glass House almost every day. I spent hours up there just staring at that magical island, and watching the ferries pass to and fro. We'd have a cocktail or glass of wine in the evenings up there. On weekends, we would get a selection of meats and cheeses from Gennaro, down at the salumeria, throw in a bottle of wine and a bottle of frizzante water, and then while away the afternoon reading and napping in the Glass House. Our second year, I was pregnant. We used it, but not quite as much. We'd built more of a life, so we had more social obligations. We tried to travel on weekends a little more. And then, once Nora was born, I'd thought I'd resume use of the Glass House while La Bimba napped in the travel swing I bought just to have up there. Hah! I never did take her up there. I go up there now just to hang laundry or take it down...but what a view to have while doing such a mundane chore!

Last year at the International Festival held on the NATO base, we met a painter living not too far from us, originally from Germany, who will paint your view for you. We saw some samples of her work there, so I took her card then and always had in the back of my mind that I would love to have her paint our view. In getting ready for this move, I found her card again and decided to go for it. What a special memory for us. With Anja's permission, I am showing a photo of the painting here! I love it (I don't think my photo shows how pretty it really is). Anja included Capri, Capo Miseno, a little bit of Bacoli, and Baia Castle, with it's little beach and red lighthouse below (beach is only accessible by boat). It's everything I love about our view going home to the USA with us. I've started feeling a little depressed about leaving, despite everything I'm excited to be moving to, there is so much I'll be leaving here. I love that I can hang this beautiful painting on our wall and be able to instantly recall the special memories our Italian villa has given to us.

Note:  For anyone in Naples who wants to contact Anja Gemlau, just send me an email or post a comment below. I'll get her contact info to you. She provides such a unique memory of your Naples life for you to take home with you!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Umbrian Ramble

Mosaic Ceiling at Chiesa San Vitale, Ravenna
To leisurely make our way back to the Sud from the Nord, my friend and I decided on a ramble through Umbria. We picked Ravenna as a daytime stop between departing Padova and ending up in Urbino for the evening. Ravenna is famous for it's mosaics. Sadly for us, the day was quite rainy, which put a damper on our willingness to tramp around town. Thankfully, the parking lot my friend had found and navigated us to ended up being at the edge of Chiesa San Vitale, which had some of the most amazing mosaics we'd seen outside of Venice's Basilica San Marco and Rome's Basilica San Pietro. Truly stunning. The church is small, but the mosaics and the colors are just incredible. Then, the rain just wouldn't let up and a man told us that most of the churches closed in the afternoon. So we found a pretty cafe for lunch and a refuge from the rain before heading back to the car and on to Urbino. There, we stayed in a charming hotel outside of town, but spent all our time in the old town.

Main piazza, Urbino
Urbino is a lovely, small, hill town. (I'd love to go back and re-read Anne Rivers Siddons novel Hill Towns, but I remember trying to re-read it before moving to Italy and the main character just making me so angry I put the book down.). Old Town Urbino is at the top of a giant rock, so we rode the elevator up and down several times in our one night/two day stay. The town itself is still quite hilly, which made me nervous with the stroller, but it has a fabulous atmosphere. At night, there were all kinds of happenings, late into the evening. It wasn't loud or crowded or annoying - just felt like we were part of a community actually living, not holed up inside homes. And Urbino is where the BEST GELATO in all my searching is found. See this post: This Time I Mean It.

From Urbino, we traveled on to Spoleto. My friend did not like Spoleto. I thought it was a nice enough town. The parking did throw me for a loop in the beginning. In Urbino, there is a fabulous, large parking lot at the base of town. In Spoleto, there is a tiny piazza with pay parking or, once our hotel in the pedestrian zone gave me directions, free parking that you have to drive around awhile to search for. And hope your car is safe. Our hotel clerk did look at me quizzically and with surprise when I asked if the parking was safe (after all, we had Nove ceramics and Elephant in the car!). Then I explained that we live in Naples, and she replied with an, "Ahhhhhhhh" of understanding.

One of the fanciest hotels in which La Bimba
will stay while she's on my payroll.
We were booked into a fancy hotel that we picked based on one photo of a room with frescoes all over the ceiling. I loved the hotel. We had frescoes on our bedroom ceiling. The breakfast rooms were a fresco bonanza. It was stunning, and I felt like royalty. Spoleto itself was pretty dead at night. We managed to find some restaurant recommendations on Trip Advisor (thank you again, Steve Jobs) and walked into Il Gusto, possibly the best meal I've eaten in Italy. We even got an amuse-bouche sampler that included caviar! My first ever caviar. And yet despite the fanciness, we wheeled in with no reservation and a baby in a stroller. No one bat an eye, and they set us up in a tiny room (the restaurant is a bunch of different sections) with only four other tables, where the stroller was so in the way that servers had to squeeze their bodies to get to other tables. Not a single person from the server to other patrons, ever sent a single, irritated glance our way. This attitude is in my Top 3 of the things I will miss about Italy. The devotion to children as a part of everyday life in all things is so freeing. Returning to a Land where we'll have to begin eating out at "family restaurants" is going to be a big adjustment.

We did a little walk around the town in the morning, visited the famous, Roman theatre which is home to a huge, arts festival in summertime, ate lunch at a popular and delicious Enoteca, then headed home with our Italian treasures and Umbrian memories.
Spoleto was even hillier than
Urbino, but had charming paths.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

True Treasures

City of my heart.
To resume the posts about my trip with a girlfriend to the Nord back in February, we drove up  Nord to go to Nove for ceramics and Venice for masks. So after that night in Padova, we headed to Nove. We'd been told to go to Ceramiche VBC. I was expecting a town like Vietri sul Mare, which is the Nove of the Sud. A town devoted to ceramic production, except in a way better location - the Amalfi Coast is so unbelievably gorgeous! But the Nord has it's charms, too. And each region of Italy has a different style of ceramics. There is an area of Tuscany also famous for ceramics, Deruta. Then Sicily has this gorgeous, red scroll with a spot of turquoise style.

Nove came about because I was talking to a friend in our base department store when a friend of hers stopped by on the way to the post office. She mentioned that she was mailing a Tiffany bowl from Nove to a friend. In my mind, there was a record scratch stop. Tiffany? Nove? What? She pulled out this most beautiful, white lattice basket that I wanted to snatch out of her hands and run away quickly. Now I like ceramics fine, but I'm not overboard. Until I saw this bowl that is. I could not get it out of my head. I told Nathan about it. He Who Cares Nothing For Ceramics and Wants No More Ceramics or Stuff of Any Kind in Our House. That's how much I liked it - I actually mentioned a material thing I wanted. I asked Nathan how he thought I could convince my friend to go with me on a driving trip all the way up to Nove. His answer: "Ask her. I don't think you'll have to do much convincing." Good advice, since it took her about 2.7 seconds to agree to accompany me. In her words, "Otherwise, I'll just be sitting on my sofa watching TV. And you're chatty, so it's sort of like TV."

We headed into Nove and found a town nothing like Vietri sul Mare. In Vietre, you park your car in any of the numerous spots that are easily found, and start walking - the pedestrian zone is all ceramic stores. In Nove, the town looks like a town. A supermarket here, gas station there, sign for random ceramic store down that street. We managed to find VBC (thank you again, Steve Jobs!) and thought we'd spend a little time, then move on to another store. Ha! We closed down VBC at their 1pm Riposo. At which time the son of the (?) owner was so desperate for us to leave that he was offering us all kinds of discounts to buy the things I was dithering over and just get out. But VBC is amazing. Filled with ceramics made for fancy stores like Tiffany's and regular stores like Home Goods. It reminded me of the time in college when I did a Service Project to Jamaica, and we visited a local bra factory where dozens of women sat at sewing machines all day sewing bras. One lady showed us her work, and in pulling out the bras she'd completed that day, we saw bras with uber fancy brand labels and bras with discount department store labels. Sewn by the same lady. But I suppose it's all in the design. And the Tiffany ceramics were gorgeous! And I bought my coveted basket (please, please, please don't let it break in this upcoming move).

A very bad photo of Elephant (taken very quicky for our
Personal Property shipment). Sadly, I have no photos of
the actual store. Because the owner has photos up
EVERYWERE saying "No Photos;" which hasn't
stopped other bloggers. I'm just wimpy. So if you really
want to see more of her work, use the Google.
After a great morning of ceramics buying, we headed to Venice, my favorite city on the planet. Venice and Paris switch off with each other being my #1 and #2. Venice is just so fabulously unique. Back in November, when I'd gone to Venice with my sister, I'd insisted we search for a mask store I'd seen on a Venice trip with my friend a year and a half earlier, and after three hours, still couldn't find it. I thought I remembered where it was, but Venice's winding alleys and canals got the better of me. The next day, I managed to find an actual address for Rugadoro that took us right to it. I had regretted not getting a mask from Rugadoro for a year and a half, and then I had a baby. Rugadoro's masks are handmade using vintage, Italian fabrics in a patchwork style and crafted into animal shapes. They are incredibly unique. Baby Nora was getting a Rugadoro mask. Nathan and I picked out a Giraffe, but we really loved the unfinished Elephant she had hanging on the wall. She does not mail them, though, and we weren't going to be in Venice long enough for her to finish. After leaving Venice in November, just like my previous obsession for Rugadoro masks, I could not get the Elephant out of my head. I called the shop owner before the Nove trip and asked if she had an Elephant mask completed. Was she open on the Tuesday that I could be in Venice? Did she close for Riposo? Would she save Elephant for me? Was she sure? I called back to re-ask all my same questions. And Nora came home with a wonderful Elephant mask while I thought that I have a very weird life if I can just "pop into Venice" for an afternoon to pick up a mask.

Back in the November trip to Venice, my sister and I met a middle aged, American lady who had decided about a year prior that she'd always wanted to live in Venice, and she wasn't getting any younger, so she decided that if she didn't make a bold move then, she never would. She was trying to work as a masseuse, but it was difficult. Still, she loved Venice and was following a dream...and having a blast. That lady will never know how much her five minute story inspired me. The material things we've been able to collect on this European vacation are beautiful and special, but the memories, friends, and inspirational people are the true treasures that will live in our hearts.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why I Shouldn't Waste My Time Cleaning

In a little break from the posts about my February Trip to the Nord, never let it be said that I don't know how to get out of doing housework. To start at the beginning, Salvatore is still here. Don't know who Salvatore is? Read this post:  Salvatore. One day, turned into two, turned into the rest of my time in this house - eight more days. There aren't even any more pretensions that Salvatore and his assistant, Guiseppe, will finish soon. Today, my landlord stopped by and assured me that no work would be done inside (I didn't realize there was still a question about that since in my mind, there would absolutely not be anymore work inside), and he ended with, "Outside is no problem?" Since I've sort of gotten used to Salvatore and Guiseppe hanging about, I agreed that it is no problem. I did notice that my landlord gave Salvatore the key to my house today. That's a little problem. But really, I'm just too tired to pursue it. Side note: Guiseppe plays my favorite, contemporary Christian music on his boom box (is that the term the kids use these days?), and he even sings along, so at least I get a show each day.

As I've written before, we live in something resembling Fort Knox. Bars on every window and steel barred doors, metal shutters that roll down electrically in between the metal bars and our locking windows. These metal bars are painted white and show every bit of dirt that floats around so heavily in the air here. I gave up cleaning them a long time ago. I did realize that upon moving out, we'd probably need to clean these beasts. So this morning, before Salvatore's 8am arrival and gung ho work ethic took over my yard, I spent 45 minutes, a roll of paper towels, and half a bottle of cleaner wiping down every single, horizontal bar on my front door, 8 foot tall, metal shutters. I certainly didn't get every speck of dirt, but they were looking good. Now only nine sets to go.
My walk into the village. From this, you can see why I am greatly looking
forward to moving to a town with wide sidewalks, even a waterfront
boardwalk with NO traffic. But you can't beat the view here of
Pozzuoli, known as Puteoli in antiquity. Oh...if you think those are
sidewalks on either side of the road, think again. It's trick photography.
For lunch, I walked into the village. Actually, I was walking to the rosticceria to pick up a chicken. Then I realized that we have dinner planned for the next four nights and don't need a chicken. So I decided to walk on to Baby Ciu Ciu, this super fancy, baby clothing store - Baby Armani, anyone? Only 156 euros for a dress! But last summer, I stopped in one time, not realizing they were so fancy, and discovered that they have a sale room where things were 5 and 10 euros. Much more my speed. Yet for some reason, I haven't been back. One last visit to Baby Ciu Ciu netted Nora a pair of totally cool, harem style blue jeans, a hippie top, and a baby bandana that is too cute for words. Then we went to La Piazzetta for pizza, my favorite pizza near our house. Naturally, Nora fell asleep for her afternoon nap when I was on my next to last bite of pizza, necessitating a 30 minute stop on the way home at the gelateria while I waited out the rest of her nap. The things I have to do for that Baby.
A nicer view of the village.
When I got home, Salvatore caught noticed me sneaking entering into my front door and called me around to the front of the house to show me that he was power washing all the bars. Yes, including the front door, the one I'd spent 45 minutes of precious, precious free time cleaning. Dang it! But my bedroom window was open, so he hadn't been able to do that one and wanted me to close the window immediately. I did so, then got busy playing with Baby. And a little thought finally worked its way into my brain that reminded me of our totally crappy windows. So horrible that in the winter (i.e., rainy season), we have to keep towels in the windowsills to soak up all the rain that floods around the edges. I started going through the house, and sure enough, every single room had floods of water in it. Salvatore is extremely thorough in his power washing. And since we no longer have any of our stuff, we also do not have scrap towels to clean up messes. I went outside to get Salvatore, he called Guiseppe, the two of them grabbed a mop and some towels they found somewhere, and they started mopping up all the water.

And that's how I got the inside of my house cleaned, too! Since our house cleaner has had some family, medical emergencies going on for the past six weeks, we've been a little on the dusty side. But not anymore. Sparkling floors, compliments of Salvatore's fastidious power washing. I know it was fastidious because he told me so. Fastidioso. He told me that he is fastidioso with his own home. I'm not sure if he was remarking that he ALSO (as in, like me) is a fastidious cleaner, or if he meant that in HIS home, it is fastidiously cleaned (as in, completely unlike mine). I don't really care. All I know is my floors are now clean and I didn't have to clean them. Salvatore can stay as long as he wants. And Singing Guiseppe, too.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

To the Nord

In February, a friend and I headed to the Nord for two things:  1. A visit to Nove, the town which produces all your ceramics you buy in America that say "Made in Italy" on the bottom of them, and 2. For me to go into Venice and buy an elephant mask from my favorite mask shop, Rugadoro. With a baby, ceramics shopping, and a delicate mask to procure, we decided to drive, so we planned a route that allowed us a sit down lunch in the beautiful, Umbrian hill town of Orvieto. We stretched our legs a little, wandered the town, took a look at the Duomo (one of Italy's prettiest Duomo facades, I think), then headed on to our evening stop, Padova. Also known as Padua, of Taming of the Shrew fame.

Loved the gorgeous, old buildings with the sleek tram in front
We picked Padova because it was a largish town centrally located between Nove and Venice, which we'd be visiting all in one day. We thought we'd have a lot of evening options for food and such. We were wrong. Padova did not impress on our drive to the hotel, but we set off gamely for dinner, very hungry. In a couple of blocks, we landed on one of the most beautiful piazzas - and this thing wasn't even mentioned in any of our guidebooks. We'd heard nothing about it at all. Yet it's huge! A center, circular park is dominated by paths and benches and little bridges that go over a moat into it. Ringing this is an extremely wide bike, skate, and walking path...with people on it, too! In Naples, this thing would hold six lanes of traffic, but here in the Nord, a few people were casually skating by. Surrounding this pedestrian ring is the traffic ring. Only two lanes and these are shared with a very modern, bullet shaped, quiet tram that takes people who knows where. We never got on it.

Turns out this is the Basilica of St. Anthony, and one of only eight
international shrines recognized as such by the Holy See - so it's a big deal...
and reminds me of why I used to actually read guidebooks instead of
just stuffing them into the bottom of the stroller.
We wandered beneath frescoed arcades and happened upon a stunning, domed Duomo. But still no food. Padova was impressing us with it's beauty, but the one restaurant our hotel had recommended was closed, and we were having no luck in our wanders finding an alternate. We finally spotted the teeniest doorway to a place that looked like it might serve food, and sure enough, upon looking in, we'd found a darling restaurant. La Bimba was fast asleep in her stroller, so we excitedly opened the door...and were told we couldn't bring the stroller in. This late at night, taking La Bimba out of her stroller and holding her while she just wanted to sleep was a guaranteed recipe for a miserable dinner not only for myself but for everyone else in the restaurant as well. The despair must have shown on my face because another lady rushed up to us and began moving chairs and tables and creating just a perfect little space for us to fit that stroller in. And so we ended our Padova day with a lovely walk and dinner and high hopes for the Nove and Venice "errands" the next day.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Scottish Photo Roundup

A few of my favorite photos from our Scottish Christmas:
One of our first stops in Scotland - and our first whisky purchase

Another Royal Mile Edinburgh photo

The Highlands are seriously beautiful

Photos of these phone booths never get old

Christmas Day on the Isle of Skye

Ran into a few Highland Cattle

View from our hotel room at Hotel Eilean Iarmain on Isle of Skye

There are no words

Just because she was too cute not to include

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Christmas in Scotland

View from Edinburgh Castle
We spent our final Christmas in Europe in Scotland. December is an odd choice to visit the country, but we correctly figured that if we wanted to get to Scotland before moving back to the U.S., Christmas was the time. BB [Before Baby], trip planning went very differently. I would exhaustively research our destination, possible activities, and hotels. When we left for Scotland, Baby Nora was just shy of four months old. I was lucky I had clean clothes for us. We did have a guidebook, but I had not even cracked it open. So imagine our surprise when everyone from hoteliers to waiters to shopkeepers would greet us, ask where we were from, then say, "So are here for Hogmany?" We were clueless. Finally, as Nathan was updating his Facebook page, a Scottish friend asked the same question and Nathan admitted that we had no idea what this Hogmany was. That is when we found out that one of the hottest, most vibrant, New Year's celebrations in the entire world is in Scotland. Hogmany. We were flying back to Naples on December 30. So much for that.
Our Edinburgh hotel, The Scotsman

Resting up for their Big Night
Scotland was remarkably warm for our time there, but it did indeed rain every day but one. We started out in Edinburgh, arriving to our hotel about 9pm, very hungry. We thought nothing of heading out to dinner at 9:30pm. Here in Naples, the families with young children show up around 10ish, so we were ahead of the rush. Scotland is apparently more like the U.S. The restaurants were closing. No problem. We remembered the great pub grub from Ireland, so we looked for a pub. Music would be a happy bonus. No go. Babies are not allowed in pubs. Again, here in Italy, babies are allowed everywhere - fanciest restaurant in town? No problem. Bar? They offer to bring the baby juice. Coffee bar so small it's standing room only? Wheel that stroller in. We returned to our hotel still hungry and opted for sandwiches from room service. The next day we enjoyed strolling up and down Edinburgh's beautiful, historic Royal Mile, anchored at one end by the Edinburgh Castle and the other by Holyrood Palace. Stopping off at Cadenhead's Whisky provided a little warming cheer. Some sunshine peeked through our second day, as we toured the Castle, walked through New Town, and got to see reindeer! Edinburgh had a huge, Christmas Market going on, which we walked through briefly, but mostly, we just enjoyed the atmosphere of the old town. 

Edinburgh's Royal Mile - isn't it beautiful, even in the rain!

Driving to Isle of Skye through the Highlands - stunning!
On the night before we were to drive to the remote, Isle of Skye, we landed in the Emergency Room (or A&E in the UK) with Nora. She was diagnosed with bronchiolitis due to RSV - basically, a respiratory viral infection. She did not need to have oxygen, but we were instructed to watch her breathing carefully and to take her into the hospital on the Isle of Skye  if we noticed certain issues with her breathing. We were quite nervous about this, of course. After a drive through the stunning, Scottish Highlands on Christmas Eve, we settled into our hotel, Hotel Eilean Iarmain, and walked over to the hotel's very fancy restaurant. We were seated next to a nice couple from town, there for a nice dinner out, and chatted with them briefly. After dinner, we ran into them in the hotel lounge, a warm and cozy spot for pre or post dinner drinks and relaxing. Chatting briefly again, we mentioned our nervousness on being in such a remote area with the baby sick...turns out the lady was a doctor at the hospital and her husband a nurse. They allayed our fears completely and gave us directions to the hospital should an emergency arise. We never had to use those directions, but Nora did have to sleep upright in her stroller every night, and I woke up roughly every 7 minutes to check on her. Until I came down with the flu myself. Then Nathan had to take care of both of us in between much deserved jaunts to the hotel bar (open on Christmas Day - yay!) for a wee dram. Until he also came down with the flu. We were one sorry family. Severely ill, rain, and cold...and we still loved Scotland. That says a lot about a country.

Christmas 2012, Hotel Eilean Iarmain on Isle of Skye - our holiday home
Despite our illnesses, we were determined to see what we could manage, so we did a couple of Isle of Skye drives before sadly departing our lovely loch-side hotel that fed us yummy food and local whisky and even had Santa leave a few gifts for us on Christmas morning. The lounge of the hotel served as a guest gathering place, where we could make friends and enjoy Christmas in the company of other travelers. Leaving Isle of Skye, we went to Oban (via a drive by Loch Ness...no Nessie sightings for us though), mainly for the Oban distillery, but also because it was supposed to be a charming town. It probably is, but we mostly just slept. We'd love to go back to Scotland again and not all three get sick. And at a time when Nora is allowed in the pubs so we can enjoy the music, so I suppose that will be in 16 years time or so that we can plan another trip there.
Loch Ness, but no Nessie in sight

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Salvatore has been working at my house for three days now. I want him to leave. He is a very nice man, but I'd like him to be a very nice man somewhere else. Our house needs a lot of work, and our landlord kept saying, "I make much work. After you leave." Then realtors started showing the house, and our landlord said, "People. They don't understand that I make much work. They don't like to see..." as he gestured to falling plaster, rotten wood, and the like. No, Ciro, they don't like to see. Ciro came last week and asked if Salvatore could come work on the outside of the house one day this week. I said yes and provided Tuesday as the ONE day. On Tuesday, Ciro brought Salvatore and said he'd work one day inside and one day outside. Salvatore worked all day Tuesday in one room. Chipping out plaster, applying new plaster, sanding plaster. This necessitated me moving a humongous pile of stuff that was in that room waiting on me to sell it or donate it. Then the plaster dust started flying, and I realized I also had to move all the baby gear and toys from the adjacent room. La Bimba and I moved to the back of the house and spent all day in my bedroom. I also had to avoid leaving my bedroom because the very nice Salvatore likes to talk. A lot. He has a ton of stories, and I understand almost none of them. He likes to call me into the room to tell me about his arthritis or his daughter, who lives in Rome and is Carabinieri.

My favorite was when Salvatore was hard at work on the plaster, and I had to get something out of the living room. He stopped me and said (in Italian), while wistfully looking off to the side, "In America, your houses do not need much work. They are made of wood, and they are good. They are new." I just couldn't resist. I said, "Salvatore, in America, our houses are good. But some people have old houses. And inside, when we have an old house, we fix everything. The electric. The plumbing. We make it like new. The house is old on the outside and new on the inside. And yes, they are good." He nodded sagely and said he understood this because his daughter in Rome did the same thing to her apartment. Everything new inside. But then he looked sad again and said, "Here, it is just too difficult." Yes, Salvatore, I understand.

Yesterday, on Day Two of Salvatore's work, it became quite clear to me that he intends to set up camp at my house and work for days and days. I began quizzing him. "Salvatore, today you will finish?" He laughed. I told him that he could not come on Friday. He said he was going to visit his daughter on Friday and would come next week, on Monday. I said no and that I have many things to do and people to see. Then when he left last night, he came inside and started gesturing to more inside walls, saying he'd work on those today. I have put my foot down. No more inside work. I have less than two weeks left here, and I don't intend to spend those cooped up in my bedroom entertaining a nine month old. It wouldn't be so terrible if Salvatore worked a normal, Italian schedule. But he does not. He shows up at 8am!   And stays until after 6pm! This is crazy. He even eats his lunch here instead of going home for a couple of hours. I do not understand this behavior at all.

Salvatore showed up at 8:00 on the dot this morning. Now La Bimba gets up btwn 7-7:30. I get out of bed myself then and change her diaper and nurse her. That means that often, I am not dressed at 8:00. This morning, I was beyond irritated that Salvatore was even at my house, and the hour did not put me in a better mood about it. Then Salvatore gave me the breakfast he brought for me, which confirmed to me that I am a truly horrible person. My landlord has been here today and quizzed me on when Salvatore can work inside. Not next week, I tell him. He says maybe one day, "only 2, 3 hours." Yeah, I've heard that story before. But my landlord now has a key to the enter the outside gates of the house. Apparently Salvatore is no longer going to Rome tomorrow. He will be here. In my yard again. All day long. He told me when he left tonight that he would see me tomorrow morning at 8:00. I said no, you will not see me. Do not ring the bell because of the baby. He assured me that Il Dottore will use the key. Our landlord, who has his doctorate degree and is a Big Deal, is known by all and sundry as Il Dottore. Even his own relatives call him Il Dottore, which I find hilarious.

Tomorrow, I am determined to enjoy Salvatore and his stories and his congenial behavior, such as rushing to help me when I'm carrying the baby in her car seat and my diaper bag while trying to lock the door into the house. I will ignore Salvatore when he follows up this kindness with charming stories, such as the one about the Italian man who left his two year daughter in the car because he forgot about her. Salvatore's sad face is really sad, and I wish I had the guts to ask him if I could take his photograph. Salvatore is starting to grow on me.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Three Weeks

Our personal property was packed out six weeks ago. The process went fairly
smoothly, including the short cut way of moving our sofa between levels.
We are actually leaving. The time is here. It's not some event that's too far away to wrap my brain around. In two weeks, we move out of our house. In three, we fly out of the country. I am ready to go. I wasn't sure I would be a few months ago, but now, I am excited. More than anything, I'm excited to be able to walk out my door and have a nice walk with La Bimba (la bimba is the Italian slang for baby girl). I went for a coffee with a friend this past week in Pozzuoli. I love her area. She is set amidst these former palaces, now fading in glory, with cobblestone streets, church bells that ring out, and a vibrant neighborhood that is just so Italian the minute you step outside her gates. I went over early to walk Nora to sleep in her stroller so that we could sit down and enjoy coffee without the Shrieker (Nora's latest skill, so she currently practices it often). And the minute I stepped outside her gates, I remembered: I hate walking the stroller in Naples. I always think in my mind that it will be different, but it never is. The cobblestones are not at all romantic when using an umbrella stroller [for this exact reason, we also bought the big mama of strollers - but it's not practical for tiny, coffee shops and restaurants]. There are always random stairs or large potholes or no sidewalk, so street walking is along narrow streets with speeding cars, scooters weaving in and out, more speeding cars avoiding the other speeding cars, and so on. If we were to stay here, I know that I would just change how I operate to continue to make the most of the opportunities, but because we are indeed leaving, I can allow myself to mentally let go of Naples and look forward to the positives that face us in the Pacific Northwest.

I have a head full of blog posts to write before leaving, so I'm hoping I get them all written! But PCSing overseas (or back from overseas) is HARD! Those who have read this blog from the start may recall my constant whining about how difficult the move here was. I guess I thought getting back would be easier. But it is not. Ducks have to be lined up just so, and if you get one out of order, chaos ensues. We are on a good track. I just know something will be dropped on my end though. My attention span away from Nora allows for about 12.5 minutes at a time, which does not allow me to think through a problem/event/task list and act on it in a meaningful way. Speaking of...La Bimba is awake. My 12.5 minutes that it took to write these two paragraphs are all that I can write for now.

Just a random photo:
These are the tracks to the Cumana line of public transit;
a Metro that runs mostly above ground and serves our suburb.