Sunday, 22 November 2009

Motorcycle ride

We went for our first real motorcycle ride today (Sunday). There is a group that rides every weekend. Lately they have been riding on Saturdays, which doesn’t work out since Austin has flag football games those mornings, but this week they did Sunday too.
In true Italy fashion what could have been done in a few hours lasted the entire day. That’s not bad, it just is…
We got on the road at about 9:30. From the Support Site, where we live, we went to a Harley shop in Avellino. Harleys are even popular in Italy. People don’t make nearly as much though so there are not a lot of them. We met up with a few more Italians there. All in all there were about a dozen of us, about half American, half Italians. From there we went to… somewhere east of Naples (up towards the mountains)…Bagnoli area I think. After looking at Google maps, maybe Lago di Laceno. We didn’t bring our GPS; we just followed. Nice gentle curves on the way up. We went through a few small towns on the way. It was foggy until we got up in elevation and through a tunnel, then it was instantly 10 degrees warmer and clear. Just in time for some nice views. We stopped at a “lake” to take in the view and ultimately eat lunch. The lake was more like a big pond. In the spring though it gets a lot bigger as the snow melts. From there we headed back down to the coast to Salerno. Very curvy roads through here. It started to get foggy again as we went down but there still were some nice views. We also saw lots of random animals. Horses, cows, pigs… Just along the side, or in, the road. From Salerno we caught the highway back up home. We finally got home at 5:10. Long day but fun. A learning and skill building experience (more on that below). The group was very friendly and happy to have someone else riding with them. Definitely worth doing again, and again.

I’m pretty sure in one of the early posts I made note that the roads out here have marble in them. So much so that some, a lot actually, have a polished look to them. Until today though I had never really gone through a lot of curves on the roads. They are slick. Nothing bad happened. At one point I hit a patch of sand or something and the back end broke loose. We recovered without incident and we slowed down a bit. Still, for the next 45 minutes or so I was starting to get worried I was loosing air in my back tire. As we were going through corners I kept having to slow down even more because the back end felt squishy/ shifty. Or even like Carey was shifting her weight on me. Once we stopped I was talking to a couple of the other guys and they said, “No, the roads are just that slippery…” That being said I will look into a sissy bar for the Yamaha for Carey. She still wants to ride on her own but after today we both agree riding alone on a real ride will take a while. It really does take some experience out here. Like I said the roads are slick. Lane sharing is not only legal but expected if you are on a bike. So you often find yourself side by side with a car in the same lane. Passing on a two lane road even if there is on-coming traffic… The cars just move to their right a little and the bikes take the center line. Highway or city street, its all the same. Just closer on the city streets… They’re not the best situations to throw a true beginner into.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Rome Part 1

Let’s start by saying first, having the Retrosi family out here was great. The kids all got along, entertained each other, and I think my kids asked more questions as we went around because they were there. Second, I have come to realize we are spoiled. I don’t envy the families that come to Europe for their two week whirl wind tour. Even Rome in four full days is exhausting. We saw pretty much every major site there is to see. By the forth day I looked at Carey and said something to the effect of “I think I am having a Rome over-dose.” To have the opportunity to spend a couple days at a time in one place or the other, AND be able to go back whenever shouldn’t be under appreciated. For instance, at some point Carey and I have already said we will take a day trip back to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel just to sit and look up. To have that kind of time is priceless.

An hour and 47 minutes train ride into Rome. Easy. Takes you along the coast vice in-land like A-1 (the autostrauda). We arrived and walked about five blocks up the street to our Hotel. A nice place centered pretty well in Rome. That night we all went to dinner at a restaurant just up the street. Not bad and not to bad priced.

Monday: And we’re off!

We walked up to the train station and bought our Roma pass. For €23 you get your first two sites free, discounts on a number of others and transit is covered for three days. We took the train to the closest stop to the Vatican (about another five blocks to walk). We got lucky and there was just about no line to get into the Vatican Museum. They do have quite the collection in the museum. One of the more interesting things was that they had mummies. Real mummies. Lots of sculptures. Like other places we’ve been you spend a lot of time looking up at the ceiling because some of the best art work is there. Once through the museum you go into the Sistine Chapel. Hard to believe one person painted that on his back on scaffolding… Unfortunately you need a lot of time to just sit and look up. Unlike some other museums we’ve been to, the Vatican has a lot of information you can read right next to the paintings and sculptures. Between that and tourist books (Rick or any of the Rome books…) you really can just take your time going through and soak up as much as possible.

On to Saint Peter’s. I should probably go to counseling, or church…, but personally I walked in and it felt like another giant capital building built as a demonstration of size, power, and wealth (which in part is true…) more than the foundation of the world’s largest religion. Having said that, it is amazing. The marble, columns, paintings, sculptures, 7 ft tall inscriptions that don’t look that big because they are so high up…

In between the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s we got our first lesson on where not to stop for lunch (or any type of refreshment). We stopped outside the museum and had lunch. €182.00 for eight of us. The food wasn’t that good. The wine was little bottles of Chianti… This is the type of place my parents and Aunt and Uncle ate… One other morning we stopped for hot chocolate and café for €52 across from the Coliseum. On the other hand, we later walked about 4 blocks away from any attraction and had some of the best pasta I have ever had for €82 for the eight of us. Four blocks, less than half the cost, and amazing quality. I digress…

That night we left the kids for a while and went up the street from the hotel and had a glass or two of wine, just the adults. Then we just picked up some pizza from a small shop for dinner.

November is one of the rainiest months of the year in Rome/ Naples on average. The averages held accurate; it rained every other day. We saw the Coliseum in the morning, in the rain. Still impressive though. You have to use your imagination a little bit for the full seating affect (50,000 screaming fans). The floor is mostly gone, which is good. There is a portion rebuilt so you can see the arena floor level. Below that, since the floor is gone, you can see the holding pens and other areas, such as where the people used for raising and lowering the elevators were crammed in.
Like I said, it was raining so that is when we stopped for hot chocolate and café. By the time we came out the rain had stopped and the skies were clearing.
Next was Palatine Hill. This is the area where the Emperors lived. It wasn’t nearly as preserved as say Pompeii, but you got the point. The best part of it by far was the view from the gardens that overlooked the Forum. By now the sun was shining and it was clear. You could see from arch to arch and imagine the parade of animals, new slaves, and soldiers returning from battle (kinda like the streets of Boston after the Red Socks win a World Series…). As you walk through the forum you start at the Arch of Titus which was built around 70 AD to celebrate defeating the Jews in Israel and pretty much making them homeless for the next 1,875 years (until after WWII). 50,000 had a home in Rome. They were the slaves that built the coliseum… The 1/3 of Constantine’s Basilica that remains is next. There are still three arches that stand about 80 ft high. The mid-section had arches at 130 ft. Near the end of the forum you can go into the old senate building where Rome’s 300 elected senators did whatever it is senators do (some things don’t change). Finally, you can see what is left, 8 huge columns, of the Temple of Saturn built 2500 years ago. There is plenty in-between, as this was the center of business, law, and politics in ancient Rome but to describe it I’d be just plagiarizing a Rome book…
After the forum is when we went to the restaurant a few blocks away. Sooo good.
That night Tony, Stephanie, Carey and I left the kids again and did a night walk through Rome. Most notables:
Piazza Navona with The Four Rivers Fountain. Wow. Now would be a good time to point out that Bernini was amazing. Sculpture/ painter, he re-did Rome. If you come to a large sculpture in a Piazza you can probably just guess Bernini did it (especially if it is amazing) and you would probably be correct. Go to Google images and type in Bernini sculptures. If you grabbed a hold of someone’s side or leg you would notice your hand pushes their skin in. So do his sculptures…
Piazza Navona is pretty big and also has a bunch of people selling paintings. Some prints, some oil paintings. Carey and I bought an oil painted canvas roughly 3 x 2 ½ feet big. The guy was asking €280; we got it for 100. It still needs to be framed but there is a local frame shop that does nice work and is pretty cheap (it’s where we got our painting of Vietri Sul Mare framed). I anticipate leaving Europe with a lot of art work…

Rome Part 2

We also passed by the Pantheon (I’ll talk about the inside on a different day’s summary) and then to Trevi Fountain. Beautiful at night (I’ll post some pictures). Interesting enough, there are some UV lasers at most of these sights that supposedly keep the pigeons away. They seem to do the job. It’s UV though so you can’t see it. However, when you are looking though the image viewer on your digital camera you can see them.

We started at the Borghese Gallery. Borghese was the nephew of a Pope, therefore due to politics, a Cardinal (he supposedly wasn’t very religious). He was however a good politician. The villa was stocked with paintings, old (done by the “hot” painters at the time ~1600’s) and older, and sculptures. He would then have the VIPs over. The kids really seemed to enjoy the paintings. They asked questions and came up with some interpretations of their own. I am more of sculpture guy… Here is where you can see Bernini’s The Rape of Proserpine. No actual raping going on. This was the one I was talking about though were you can see the imprints of Pluto’s hands as he is carrying the girl away. You can see the tears rolling down her face. In another room Napolean’s sister had a Kate Windslett Titanic moment where she posed on a bed for a sculpture (done by Canova). The mattress is so polished and smooth the crinkles look soft, you can see the indentation of her weight on the mattress and you can almost make out threads of the pattern sown into the sheets. It’s marble!!
After the gallery we walked through the park back towards the city center. We stopped for lunch at… The Hard Rock. After 4 months away from the states we really wanted an American burger. Sorry Tony and Stephanie… That was the best 20 dollar burger and fries! We did get the 15% off military discount though so it was definitely not the most expensive meal we had.
We then re-walked most our previous nights walk but with the kids this time. The inside of the Pantheon was pretty neat. It was originally a “one stop shopping” place for you to worship any of the Roman gods. Later it was turned into another church. The dome though is awesome. A hole in the center still lets in light and rain. The Romans were incredible engineer’s 2000 years ago. The Dome starts out with a heavy 20 ft thick concrete and tapers off to 5 ft thick lighter concrete. So 1) perfectly round, 2) 142 ft high 3) different types and thicknesses of a material they invented (concrete). The tombs of Raphael, and two of some of the last Italian royalties are in the Pantheon.
That night we left the kids, again, and had dinner around the corner. It was again very good. Four courses, wine, café,... Again, not real close to any attractions so it was great quality and a good price. The waiter we had was an older gentleman who knew a little broken English, had a great sense of humor and went out of his way for us (Carey wanted hot chocolate, the restaurant didn’t have any so he told the manager Carey was pregnant (SHE IS NOT and she doesn’t look it) so he could go next door to get some…).

Thursday: Rome overload…
We started off with some Catacombs. There was 4000 friars worth of bones here. They took the bones and decorated (made alter type areas, designs, symbols etc.). A little creepy but interesting.
We also went to Piazza del Popolo. This was the northern entrance to Rome. It was redesigned in the 1500- 1600’s. This was the time that Rome was being brought back to life. After the fall of the empire in about 500 AD all of Europe went into the dark ages for about 1000 years (how’s that for a recession…). So about that time the Popes put time and energy and money into rebuilding. The plaza is wide open and the three major roads that run through the city start here.
That night we took the kids to the previous night’s restaurant. Again a good meal with great service. This waiter took it upon himself to get us some roasted chestnuts after we were done and the bill had been paid.

All in all, a good trip. Exhausting. Lots of walking, lots of eating, lots of wine… The thing is, there is still more to see… Pictures to follow. We still need to transfer them to a computer and sort through them.