A Travellerspoint blog

Reformation-land!

Plus Rousseau, the election(s), and friends from Waterville

semi-overcast 14 °C
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After over two weeks in the land of elaborate churches and the BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary) on every street corner (and, in some places, above every door), we experienced a welcome break (at least for me) from Roman Catholicism. Alas, it was a short break, as we returned to Roman Catholic-land yesterday. But, for a short while, I reveled in Reformation-land in Geneva, while Joseph enjoyed a new dimension of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau nostalgia tour.

We arrived in Geneva Wednesday evening, after another long day of traveling. The day began with trying to find out what had happened with the elections—the Presidential election as well as the election of the new Waterville Ward 2 city councilor (Joseph was the Republican candidate). News is hard to come by in Vernazza. We didn’t have a television in our room and there is no newsstand at the train station. One English speaking man on the platform was talking to a few other English speakers, telling them that Obama had won. But, could we believe him? And, aside from the news about Obama, he didn’t know much—and certainly not anything about what had happened in Waterville, Maine!

By the time we had reached Monterrosso, we had heard from several others that indeed Obama had won the election. I tried to curtail my elation, while Joseph reviewed all of the mistakes that McCain had made during the campaign. It was certainly interesting watching the campaign from so very far away. We wondered about the conversations that had taken place in recent weeks on familiar streets—places like Waterville, etc. In Italy, we had seen plenty of support for Obama—from U.S. tourists and from locals. But, still there was the question of whether or not people would really vote for him.

It was only when we got to our hotel in Geneva, with internet access, that we found out the details of the national election and learned that Joseph was defeated by a roughly 2-1 margin. On the plus side, it meant the fact that he received the wrong local election ballot (for Ward 3, not for Ward 2), did not cost him the election!

Both Joseph and I found a place of agreement, mostly, in the column written by David Brooks in the New York Times on November 4, “A Date with Scarcity.” Not optimistic, but very smart.

Anyway, on to The Reformation!

We spent much of Thursday exploring and learning about the Reformation. We started at the big Protestant cathedral in Geneva, St. Peter’s. We took a look around and then climbed the tower. After the church, we went next door to the interestingly named the “International Museum of the Reformation.”

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The museum is an excellent one, with a variety of displays. Plus, they offered a great kid activity. In the Museum, information is presented in a variety of formats. In one room, we heard a young girl asking questions about the Reformation and Martin Luther and John Calvin answering her. In another room, a “theological banquet” was set up, with reformers at a dining room table discussing their views on predestination. Jean-Jacques Rousseau got the last word, which was a treat for Joseph.

My only complaint about the museum is that the label “international” is a stretch. It is really a museum of the francophone reform. Except for a brief appearance for Martin Luther at the beginning of the museum, other reformers are not really mentioned. John Calvin is the star of the museum. In the twentieth century display in the basement, male and female pioneers are displayed—but only pioneers from France, Switzerland, and, francophone Africa. Not a word about those great Congregationalists who ordained a woman in 1853!

After the museum, it was on to the archaeological excavations beneath the church. There were, apparently, three previous cathedrals on the site of the current one, and beneath it all, in the spot directly beneath the altar, what did the scientists find? The tomb of an Allobrogian (pre-Christian barbarian) leader. Ironic, no? Margaret's favorite part was the elaborate mosaic decorations on the floor of the fourth century bishop's residence.

After the museums, we marched down to the waterfront and over to the Ile Rousseau to get a photo of Geneva's monument to Jean-Jacques.

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At this juncture, the kids demanded hot chocolate, and we needed some coffee, so we refueled at the Starbucks on the rive droite. With new energy, we started the "Reformation walk" recommended by the good people at the museum, which, for the record, was staffed by some of the most helpful and enthusiastic docents we encountered anywhere. We meandered across the old town of Geneva towards the starting-point, which was the "Reformation Wall." But before we reached it, we found the giant-size chess boards in the park, where the kids started a game. As Margaret started to pull ahead of John, an older local came along to give John help and advice (in French, of course). Mostly he kept saying "attack!" and "you do this!" gesturing where to put what. Naturally, at this point, Joseph helped Margaret.

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But the old Genevan (on the right in the photo) was too much for Joseph, and he managed to pull out a victory for John, despite the overwhelming material advantage that Margaret and Joseph had originally secured. John was, needless to say, elated. Both kids demanded that we return the next day (which we did).

On Friday, we began with the Reformation Wall and some more giant chess. (The kids claim to want a yard-size set, with three or four foot tall kings, if anyone wants a gift suggestion). Here's Susan looking pleased with her company at last.

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Then, finally, off to the Espace Rousseau, which is Geneva's museum to their most troublesome great son. The museum is located in the house where Rousseau was born, but seems to have no actual artifacts from Rousseau's own life. Instead, there are audiovisual presentations that introduce the outline of his biography and his basic ideas. There was a cd recording of his opera, but it was not even part of the main tour. The Espace did a great deal with what were probably not large resources, but on the whole the place was a disappointment.

We had a little more time remaining, so we strolled down to the waterfront and admired the "Jet d'eau," the aptly-named but pointless artificial tourist attraction created from the waters of Lake Geneva.

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In mid-afternoon, we caught up with Liliana Andonova, Joe’s colleague from Colby who is currently in Geneva. Liliana and her daughters, Daniela and Nicolina, showed us around the castle in Nyon.

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Then, we went back to their flat in Faunex, where Liliana’s mother (Liliana’s parents were visiting from Bulgaria) had made us a delicious dinner.

We had a great time catching up with them and seeing their little part of Switzerland, not far from where I spent a summer when I was fifteen.

We left Geneva yesterday and we are now in Paris, the last stop in the Grand Tour. It’s hard to believe!

We’ll post new photos soon.

Au Revoir!
Susan

Posted by jrreisert 23:01 Archived in Switzerland Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Vernazza and the Cinque Terre

Beautiful, despite the rainy weather

rain 16 °C
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We arrived in Vernazza, one of the “five lands” of the Cinque Terre (that’s what Cinque Terre means, “five lands”) on the northwest Italian coast, late in the afternoon on Monday. The train travel from Pompeii to Vernazza was rather grueling. We took the commuter line from Pompeii to Naples and then got on a train that would take us from Naples to La Spezia, the southern gateway city to the Cinque Terre. The train ride from Naples to La Spezia was about six and a half hours. Then, it was about thirty minutes from La Spezia to Vernazza. Yikes. It was a long, long day.

But, when we arrived in Vernazza, the promised rain had evaporated and we were treated to some fabulous views all along the coast from the first of the “five lands” to Vernazza, the fourth town. We were met by our “host,” Egi, who escorted us to his house along the main drag, up a very long, steep set of stairs, to a short set of stairs going down, to the “Orange Room,” his family-size room. Vernazza is a tiny, beautiful place, with a population that shrinks to about 500 in the off-season. It doesn’t really have any hotels—a few “pensione” and a bunch of private homes that rent a few rooms to tourists. Egi rents three rooms in his house, each a different color.

Here’s a photo of Vernazza, taken on our arrival:

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We basically dropped our bags in our room and headed right out. Darkness would come quickly and we wanted to get a look around. Vernazza has a lovely little harbor, a beach area, and a nice little piazza by the water, and a breakwater. The waves were really coming in when we got down to the breakwater, oh, about a thirty second walk from Egi’s front door. A group of young American tourists (probably college students) were on the breakwater catching some photos of the beautiful sunset. But, they misjudged the waves and got hit by one of them. They were soaked, along with their cameras.

We didn’t go out onto the breakwater. Here’s the shot we got:

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After checking things out, we headed for the local food store, which was about as big as our living room, and got a few things for dinner (our room came with a kitchen). After a long day in the train, we didn’t really feel up to the kind of behavior necessary for going out.

On Tuesday morning, we awoke to the sounds of rain drops on the roof. We were discouraged. There’s not much to do in Vernazza when it’s raining. The allure of the area is the string of trails that connect the towns. By the time we got ourselves dressed, however, the rain had stopped, so we decided to head out. We checked in first with the tourist information office. In order to hike the trails, a special trail pass is necessary because it is a national park area. The man at the desk warned that it had been raining on and off, and sometimes heavily, for about a week. The trails were not in good condition and one trail, connecting towns two and three was closed because of the threat of landslides. He told us to go check it out and if we ended up using the trails, to pay later.

So, we headed off in the direction of Monterrosso, the fifth town. This hike is the most strenuous of the coastline trails, but would offer great views. First thing was to climb to the top of the town, which, of course, Margaret was very excited about. Here, Joe has just asked, “Hey Margaret, you want to go for a hike, mostly uphill??”

M_says_what.octet-stream

And no one can deny that the hike to the top of the top offered some lovely views:

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Finally, we reached the trailhead. Some drizzle had started, but we decided to brave and to press on. Early on, Margaret was not happy:

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But after a while, Margare reconciled herself to what she was in for:

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Besides, the views were really stunning, despite the increasing rain. And, the rain did continue to pick up. By the time we reached Monterrosso, it was pouring. So, we decided to find the train station and take the train back to Vernazza. The train line that runs from town to town is the lifeline of the area.

The afternoon was spent resting, taking hot showers, trying to figure out to do a load of laundry (laundry has been the real challenge of this entire trip), and getting a drink at the Blue Marlin bar, where we would, supposedly, be able to up-date the blog. Well, we finally got a load of laundry started, which was a lot harder than you would think. And, after settling in at the Blue Marlin, with drinks and the laptop, we discovered that the Blue Marlin did not actually offer wifi—at least not to us. They had two computers in the corner and another, more local customer, with a laptop in another part of the bar. The customer with the laptop seemed to be on the internet, but, we werea just tourists . . . .

Anyway, we finished the up-date (the Pompeii entry) and went across the street to the internet point, which did offer access. So, we were able to up-date the blog and check e-mail—quickly. We didn’t have much time.

Then, it was time to check out our dinner options. Dinner in Italy starts around 8:00, although a few places were open a little earlier than that. A few of the Rick Steves suggestions were closed for the season, but we found one of his suggestions, Pizzeria Vulnetia, on the piazza, open and with quite a few other customers. Joseph started his meal with a local specialty, fresh anchovies. He was in heaven! John tried them too, which was really big since John is not known for an adventurous eating habits.

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After dinner, we started chatting with the couple at the next table, a couple from North Carolina. She was a school principal, expecting to visit the local school the next day. We had a lovely chat with them and then it was time to return to the room, get packed and get off to bed. Wednesday would be another long travel day, this time to Geneva.

We are in Geneva now, as we write, but our Geneva story must wait!!

Hope all is well where you are.

Ciao!

Susan

Posted by jrreisert 13:25 Archived in Italy Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Two Days in Pompeii

Take out wallet; distribute contents with reckless abandon

sunny 25 °C
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So far on our journey, Pompeii wins the big prize for separating us from our money with amazing efficiency—all wrapped up in a charming, easy-going, English speaking, Italian smile.

But for this view, isn’t it worth it?

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[That is the four of us in front of the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter, with Mt. Vesuvius in the background, just looking like it should be climbed for an awesome view.]

But back to our story…

We arrived in Pompeii Saturday afternoon. Saturday morning, we hustled to get to Roma Termini to catch our 9:00 train to Napoli (and then a commuter rail kind of service would take us to Pompeii). We got to the train station in plenty of time, but became alarmed that our train was listed, but was not given a track number. At 8:55, the board finally moved. Our train would be leaving at 10:00! And, then, at about 9:40, the board moved yet again. Our train was scheduled to leave at 10:30.

The Roma Termini station is not the worst train station to be stuck in. It’s more like a mall. We could have bought an entirely new wardrobe, new luggage, a library of books in English, various newspapers and magazines, and all kinds of food—without walking outside.

When our train finally arrived, everyone waiting on the platform stuffed themselves in. We had reserved seats, thank goodness, although we did have to kick an older couple out of them.

Anyway, we arrived in Naples about 2 hours late. And, then, we took the wrong computer line. We didn’t realize that three of the lines had stops in three different places in Pompeii. We ended up across town from our hotel. As we looked around outside the station, trying to figure out where we were, a man came over and asked if we needed a taxi. Well, we realized that we were stuck and at their mercy and that our hotel was not within easy walking distance, so, yes, we needed a taxi.

Let the games begin . . . .

The man called a taxi and told us that it would cost 10 euros. Well, it turned out that the ten euros was only for the people. Not our bags. The bags cost four euros extra. We must admit that our cab driver, Enzio, was very entertaining. He spoke English well and was very chatty. He also gave us his card and told us about all of the other places he could take us, and how much that would cost, etc.

Finally, we settled into our hotel, the Palma Hotel.

And, then, it was off to the ruins!

On the way to the closest gate, we had to run the “gauntlet,” the string of tourist stands and the people who run them, plus those who are begging for money, sometimes with a child in tow. Then, we came upon the audioguide stand. That woman just reeled us in. She spoke good English, she charmed the children and Joseph too. She had all kinds of deals for us. And, in the end, we had audioguides around our necks and a book as well. (The audioguides were okay — but despite the fact that they cost us 10 Euros a piece, they still had ads! The frescoes from this house are on display in that restaurant. After visiting the fuller, we were treated to an ad for the latest woolen products from Naples, etc.)

We were under the impression that we could buy a three-day pass that would enable us to visit the ruins for less than the cost of two days of separate admissions. Well, that wasn’t the case. We would have to pay the full 11 Euro admission price per person, no reduction for children for each day (There would have been discounts had we been citizens of the EU, but we’re not, and we’re too proud to pretend to be British, though I’m sure we wouldn’t have been asked for proof if we had asserted our British-ness.). Anyway, we were there. What else could we do?

We spent a couple of hours on Saturday visiting the ruins, until the ruins closed at 5:00. Actually, we didn’t get out until 5:30, but the Italians seem to be lax about times and rules and anything smacking of order.

The ruins of Pompeii are enormous. Once we started walking around, we were struck by the fact that Pompeii was a real town before it was blanketed with volcanic ash. And, what is left is the size of a small town, not just a small area for tourists. The sheer size of the ruins is awesome.

In our first couple of hours, we visited only a small section of the ruins, despite the fact that many of the houses are closed for renovations. Before we left, we found some of the plaster casts made from the empty places in the lava after the bodies decomposed. Those were really very moving. Adults, children and even animals were shown in that last moment of their lives, as they were enveloped in the ash. Here are two photos of the casts (though one is from a site we saw on Sunday).

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After leaving the ruins, we investigated our options for dinner and for obtaining provisions for the next day. We discovered that, since it was November 1, it was All Saints Day—a holiday. We were told that lots of places would be closed. The only place that we found to be closed, though, was the food store—and the restaurant the hotel (which was a little fancier than what we had in mind anyway).

The hotel recommended a place for dinner called “Pizza e Pasta.” Although it wasn’t the best pizza we’ve had, it was pretty good. And, they had Belgian beer. The pizza winner of the evening was my pizza, with tomato, parmesan cheese, prosciutto and “rocket” (Brit-speak for arugula). It was delicious.

On Sunday morning, we had breakfast in the hotel breakfast room, and headed straightaway for the ruins. If we were going to have to pay full fare for another day, we were going to get our money’s worth!

A guest at the hotel had told us that the ruins have no food offerings or even drinks, except for water available at various fountains around the ruins. It was officially the off-season and the restaurant and snack bar had been closed. Since we found that the local food store was still closed, it was now Sunday morning after all, we were a little concerned about what we had for food. We gathered up all that we had—half of a small loaf of bread, a jar of Nutella, a few pieces of fruit that we had pinched at breakfast, and some cookies. When we arrived at the gate, we asked about the food situation and we were told that it was true that no food was available (interestingly, there was no sign warning of this situation). So, we asked if we would be able to go out of one of the gates (our hotel was located at a minor gate, not the main gate) in order to pick up some lunch and then re-enter the park. The woman at the admissions desk thought for a moment, as she contemplated the cigarette dangling in her hands, and then said something along the lines of (in a thick Italian accent) : “Well, you should ask the person at the gate and they might let you out to get something and then back in without paying. They might. You should ask.”

They might??!!

So, we took our bread, our Nutella, the fruit and the cookies and we decided that that would be enough!

Thankfully, the day was gorgeous. Warm (hot, even) and sunny—not a cloud in the sky. Here’s the proof —

Here we are like the Roman Beatles on Abbey Road:

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And Margaret's favorite picture -- Beware of the Dog (you can just make out the Latin saying Cave Canem in the mosaic at the bottom):

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Here's Margaret looking cute in the House of the Faun:

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And the kids looking great on the crosswalk stones in the Roman streets --

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A generally awesome shot of the ruins (the gladiators' training area, behind the large amphitheater)

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And, finally, Dad with the kids basking in the golden sunset of a generally great day:

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We explored all over, into houses, the forum, the various temples. And, then, Joseph got that “itch.” It was such a beautiful day, we should try to squeeze in some other adventure—like climb Mt. Vesuvius. Wouldn’t that be a great idea?? He had a whole plan in mind. Call our new taxi driving friend, Enzio, and see if he might be free to take us there (the day before, he had quoted a price of 60 euros to take us to Mt. Vesuvius). Just after lunch, though, John took a nasty spill in the House of the Faun. He scraped the palm of his hand, his forearm, his knee and his side. After patching him back together with some band-aids, Joseph came to the realization that Mt. Vesuvius was out of reach. Oh, well.

But, we spent the entire rest of the afternoon at the ruins—well, almost. We saw everything that could be seen (except for one temple) and left the ruins about fifteen minutes before closing, We were a bit concerned about getting Joseph’s ID back, since the audioguide place wasn’t actually open when we went into Pompeii in the morning, but they were open when we got there. Fortunately. You just never know what will happen in Italy. The whole country—well, the southern half, anyway—seems to operate on a different schedule from what we are used to. It’s all part of the adventure.

We gave serious thought to eating in the Palma Hotel restaurant on Sunday, but it turned out that the restaurant was closed again on Sunday (for all we know, it’s closed until May, but we were unable to get any definite information on that score). We could have had expensive room service pizza in our rooms, but we went back to Pizza e Pasta, had a lovely dinner, and got ourselves ready for our early start to Vernazza on Monday.

ciao,

Susan (and Joseph)

Posted by jrreisert 09:27 Archived in Italy Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Ancient Rome and the Vatican

Four days of intense touring

storm 18 °C
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Monday

On Monday, we went to the Colosseum, which was a big disappointment for Joseph and not just because of the huge line to get in (and that was the shorter of the two lines — the security line for people who already had tickets; the other line was, even in late October, colossal). It’s an impressive spectacle from the outside. Inside, it still impressive, but not really any more so than from the outside. In fact, all of the really best details are on the outside. As for me, it was difficult to focus on all of the carnage that once took place at the Colosseum, including the slaughter of Christians, when the experience was shared with so many people all vying for the best viewpoints from which to take photos.

On Monday, we also visited the Spanish Steps and wandered about that part of the city. We found a nice little café in a park (the Pincio) and, since they weather was good, we had coffees (the kids had hot chocolate) and cannoli. Delicious. We wandered down to the Piazza del Popolo, where there was one of the super-touristy Leonardo da Vinci exhibits that seem to be franchised all around Europe. This time, we went in. Joseph thought it was so-so; the kids had a great time.

From the piazza, we walked to the Pantheon, which is a bit of a hike. We admired the architecture (including the little hole Brunelleschi was allowed to cut into the dome), and the tombs of two Italian kings and of Raphael. Then, it started to rain. We grabbed a taxi to get back to the flat.

Tuesday

On Tuesday, we started the day with some lessons. Then, we walked to the Crypto Balbi, which is not far from the flat. The Crypto Balbi is a bizarre little exhibition that is intended to show the various layers of development in Rome. The kids liked going underground (the old city of Rome is quite a bit deeper than today’s Rome), but our “tour guide” (you can only get there with a tour guide) didn’t guide us with English or Italian, so we had a hard time making out what we were looking at.

In the afternoon, we explored the Capotoline Museum, where we were hounded again by the exact change monsters. We admired the sculptures, etc. Joe was disappointed that there was no post card of the massive fresco depicting Brutus condemning his own sons for treason.

TIME FOR AN INTERESTING, IF UNSETTLING, FACT ABOUT ANCIENT ROME:
What did the upper class folks use for toilet paper when using the loo? They used the soft feathers on the underbelly of a small bird. Think about that! (Or this may just be a made up "fact" added to the guidebook to see how credulous guidebook readers are — but it's in the book Keys to Rome by Frederick and Vanessa Vreeland, p. 34!).

After the museum, the sky opened up once again. We took refuge in a church (Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ara Coeli), where John prayed for better weather. Following the advice of our kids’ guide to Rome, we looked for the bees of Urban VIII and the image of Emperor Augustus (on an altar!). That night, we called it an early evening, made a big visit to the Despar (that’s what the big “Spar” stores are called — no kidding!) and got ready for our big Wednesday. (And Joe wrote his KJ column about the Roman Republic).

Wednesday

We got up early and got ourselves together to storm the Vatican. We wanted to get to the Vatican Museum early to limit the time spent in line—because, well, there’s almost always a line! Well, when we arrived at the Museum, there was no line. Lots of tour groups going in, but hardly any individual tourists. This actually ended up causing all kinds of problems. Joseph was just not prepared to just walk in. It was the Vatican! There was supposed to be a line and . . . . suffering! That’s what is was all about.

When Joseph finally gathered himself, we made our way through the Museum, which is quite a large one. Although we spent a little time amid the Egyptian pieces, we soon figured out that we should get going toward the Sistine Chapel. The hordes of tourists were bound to come at some point. We knew they were out there somewhere (likely at the papal blessing that takes place on Wednesday mornings). So, we started off in earnest toward the Sistine Chapel, which turns out to be really quite far away.

Much of the way was littered with things we didn’t really want to spend much time gazing upon, but we were all left agape by the Raphael rooms. Very impressive (Margaret thought the rooms were the best part of the Museum). Joseph was pretty much rendered speechless by The School of Athens. The kids and I enjoyed the moment of silence!

Finally, we reached the Sistine Chapel. Almost immediately, Margaret declared it a let-down. It was too small. John seemed just overwhelmed. As we have written, John has become something of a Michelangelo fan. But, the Chapel was almost too much for him to appreciate. Our kids guidebook was helpful in pointing out the highlights of the ceiling. But, then we got to the wall behind the altar, The Last Judgement. Finding St. Bartholomew actually hanging onto his own skin (he was skinned alive) was about when the kids and I declared that we were done.

We made our way out (fighting the crowd because by now, the hordes of tourists had most definitely arrived) catching a few of the other highlights of the Museum on the way. We also posted a few post cards, with the Pope’s special stamps. We had a simple picnic lunch just outside the gates of Vatican City. Then, it was time to go back in—this time to see St. Peter’s.

There is, as Rick Steeves tells you, a way to get straight from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter’s, but we couldn’t figure out how to do that and retrieve our bags with our lunch and jackets in them. So, after lunch we had to negotiate the 20 minute long security line to get into the Basilica.

Our first order of business was to climb to the top. Can you guess Margaret’s reaction?? It was pretty, let me tell you. Especially when she realized that there was an elevator that would have taken her about a third of the way up. Joe and I refused on principle, not because it would have cost 2 euros extra each.

The way up is quite an experience, especially with lots of other people you’ve never met (and speak an amazing array of languages). The staircase gets narrower and narrower as you ascend, but at least it’s enclosed (the stairs from the bottom of the dome to the very top at St. Paul’s in London is anopen, iron set of spiral stairs). Good thing, because once you start up, there’s really no way to change your mind. You must go along with the crowd. There’s no escape! I must be in a Catholic tower!!

Despite the iffy weather, we got a nice view from the top. Once we descended (and stopped at the roof-top snack bar), we were emptied into the church. The inside of St. Peter’s is almost impossible to take in. It’s just enormous. And, then, there are those hordes of tourists sharing the experience with you. And, some of them like to push and shove. We found a little place off to the side to read some excerpts from our trusty kids guidebook, which was helpful (although some of the best parts, pointed out by the book, were roped off).

By this time, it was late afternoon. Time to call it a day and head back to the flat?? No way! We walked over to the Castel Sant’Angelo, Handrian’s mausoleum. It probably would have been more fun during the day (Europe ended daylight savings time last weekend, so it’s getting dark quite early now), but we had fun exploring this very old site/museum.

And, still, the day wasn’t quite over. We decided to go out to eat. We went to a place recommended by Rick Steves, Trattoria da Lucia. It was just over the bridge, in the Trastevere neighborhood. We had a delightful Italian dinner of pasta, grilled veggies, wine, and fabulous desserts (chocolate mousse and panna cotta with fruit). Finally, it was time to call it a day, brush our teeth and crawl into bed.

Thursday

Yesterday, Thursday, we spent much of the morning ironing out details of our travels for next week (which had not been finalized before we left; we will be heading to Pompeii on Saturday and then to the Cinque Terre on Monday).

For our tourist endeavors, we headed first to the special Bellini exhibit in town (we’ve been noticing missing Bellini’s all over Europe, with notes that they are here, in Rome). Margaret has decided that she loves Bellini, so we decided to check it out. The exhibit is really very impressive and well displayed. But, the little guidebook that was provided was filled with the most ridiculous, pretentious sounding art-speak that we found ourselves laughing out loud at times as we read through (especially as John struggled to read through some of those very long words that don’t really mean anything).

We had a nice picnic just across the street from the exhibit, until we were shooed away by a police man. We have no idea what he objected to (other people were doing roughly what we were doing and he didn’t shoo them away), but we thought it best not to ask any questions. He wasn’t speaking English anyway.

In the afternoon, we visited Trajan’s market. Then, we hiked it over to the Diocletian Baths. We thought we found the Baths, only to find that we were really just in a museum of what was found at the Baths. We checked out the map again and felt pretty confident that we knew where we were going, so we headed in a new direction. That was when the sky opened up, with torrents of rain, and the place where we were sure we would find the entrance featured a locked gate with no information at all. So, we were soaking wet with no place to go!

So, we went to a café and got ourselves something warm and a couple of delicious Italian pastries to share. When the rain let up, we decided that we were done with trying to find the Baths, and we headed over the National Museum of Rome. It was very late in the afternoon, so no hordes of tourists to found anywhere near the Museum. Rick Steves gives the museum his top rating. We are not sure we agree exactly, although we did enjoy checking out the sculptures, the amazing display of mosaics and household frescoes (really, really impressive, beautiful, and well-displayed), and the collection of coins in the basement (with real and imposing vault doors). By the time we left the Museum, it was almost 7:00 o’clock. We were done.

We actually managed to successfully navigate the bus system to get ourselves reasonably close to the flat, although the information desk guy Joe spoke to had some fun with us at the expense of Joe’s lame efforts to give an Italian pronunciation to the place we were aiming to get to. Once aboard but 64, we had to share our section of the bus with a large group of obnoxious young, male Brits, who were on a school trip and fretting about their accommodations: “Oh, I do hoooo-pe there will be caaaah-pet underfoot” (you must say with the worst sort of almost lisping, limpid toff (upper-crust) English accent).

Susan prepared a home-made tomato sauce, which we ate with some ravioli, a veggie, and some fresh mozzarella on toasted bits of baguette. Yummy.

Pictures to follow.

Ciao,

Susan and Joseph

Posted by jrreisert 00:33 Archived in Italy Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Ah, Italy . . . .

The Land That Will Pretty Much Drive Me Crazy

rain 21 °C
View The Reisert Family Grand Tour on jrreisert's travel map.

Buon Giorno Friends,

First of all, we are having a great time in Rome, although our luck with the weather is beginning to fade. We are experiencing more rain here, some downpours even. Thankfully, the kids and I have really only been caught in one downpour so far.

We'll get back to the more serious blogging in a bit, but for now, I've just got to get out my list of grievances. Rome (and Italy in general) is packed full of all kinds of important things to see. Yet, the place is really starting to get to me. Our trusty guidebook warns us of the chaos and encourages us to "accept it all as a package deal." It's all part of the experience and we should just roll with it. Well, I'm starting to doubt that I have the mental fortitude for such an approach.

So, here's a little list of my frustrations:

1. In Rome, there is hardly a distinction between the sidewalk and the street. We have certainly seen scooters-- and even a car once-- riding on what seemed to us clearly to be the sidewalk. In all fairness, I must admit that we have, on occasion (and only when clear) have walked on the street (Romans don't walk especially fast and sometimes we are in a hurry).
2. Museum cloakrooms in Rome do not accept cloaks-- only bags. Go figure. Since the weather has been mixed, we have had to take rain jackets with us. The first time we marched up to a cloakroom to deposit our jackets, we were given a stern "no." So, now we bring one of those bags that stuffs into itself and we stuff our jackets into that. Take that, Rome!
3. Romans (and Italians in general) have a strange and unhealthy obsession with "correct change." In most museums we have visited, there is a clear sign posted (usually in Italian and in English): "correct change, please" (sometimes, there is no "please"). And, even in other, unexpected places we have found correct change (or close to it) to be expected. A couple of days ago, I went to our local little market to stock up on some groceries. The total came to 41.61 euros. I handed the guy a 50 euro bill. He clearly wanted something different. He just held onto the fifty (holding it up), and kept looking at me and muttering in Italian. After a day of sightseeing (including "correct change" signs everywhere), I didn't have anything else. But, he persisted. So, I persisted too, shrugging my shoulders and, in English, "I don't have anything else." Finally, he made change and grudgingly stuffed into my hand.
4. The post office isn't really in business to sell stamps. They seem to have more important things to do than to handle mail.
5. Beware large gatherings of birds-- and I mean really large gatherings of birds. In Rome, I have learned that where really large gatherings of birds congregate, there will be a very large quantity of bird poo which, a) is hazardous when wet (slippery underfoot when it's raining), and b) really, really, really stinky. The most horrendous, most foul stench of our whole trip has been here, in Rome, in this little park near our flat where the birds gather in very large numbers. Oh, and it's loud too.
6. Many sights have elaborate security procedures with metal detectors and x-ray machines to check bags. Yet, the security guards are usually chatting among themselves (and, sometimes arguing), so it seems clear that they are not really paying any attention to who or what is going through the machines.
7. Signs at tourist sites are almost non-existent. Now, to be fair, New England is not known for good tourist and road signage. But, Rome is on a whole different level. Here, even at the end of October, there are hordes of tourists. And, yet, at many places there is no way to know if you are in the right line (and there's almost always a line). When we went to the Colosseum (major tourist site, don't you think??), our trusty guidebook (and good thing we had that) told us that, if we had a ticket (which we did) to stay in the left line, with the tour groups, and just to "muscle our way" to the turnstile. Well, this felt like a weird place to be, but we got in that line and stayed there. After some time of moving pretty steadily in the line, we finally came upon a little sign (maybe a little bigger than a normal 8x11 piece of paper), close to the entrance, that divided the two lines-- one line for ticket holders and the other line for without. Thankfully, it turned out, we were in the correct line. Thank you, Rick Steves!

Well, that felt good to get that out. Thankfully, it's not all bad. There is gelato (oh, the delicious gelato makes up for a lot!) and fabulous coffee (even in the most ridiculous and touristy places, they have real espresso machines and not those fake ones you find in the U.S.). And, in some places, they serve cookies at breakfast! Another good thing. Plus, we have found that there is a "discretionary" approach to admission prices at some tourist sites and churches (especially the smaller ones). Although most places post that children over six (and not citizens of an EU country) must pay the adult rate, we have found many sites take one look at John and hand us a free ticket. Sometimes for Margaret too.

We'll post more later. We have a lot to tell!

Ciao!
Susan

Posted by jrreisert 22:13 Archived in Italy Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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