Goodbye to Italy

Hi everybody,

Its now 1am and we are sitting at Singapore Airport.   Just had the best shower….since leaving home four weeks ago.   Travel can be “challenging” sometimes.  I’ve seen it bring out the worse in some people, especially at airports.   For me, I’m (usually) happy as long as I have a clean hotel room, doesn’t matter how old it is, and cereal for breakfast.   Everything else can go up/downhill from there, but I’m happy.

Rome has terrible internet links, so I haven’t been able to update my blog.   Here’s a quick summary of the past few days –

Dinner with Gianni and Ada, Enzo and Paula, in the gold house:

Aperitivi each evening, watching the beautiful people go by in Piazza del Popolo (Emperor Nero is buried underneath here, and our hotel is just 20 meters down this road) –

When we again walked past Michael’s former office at the Banco di Santo Spirito in Rome, I made him go up and knock on the door to be asked in –

This is via del Corso on a Sunday afternoon.   It is packed, absolutely packed with tourists and shoppers.  This was early in the day; by lunchtime it was crazy –

So we usually head for the side streets.  On the right-handside is the local hospital emergency dept (no signs….as always) –

More evening drinks – this time in the Galleria near the Trevi Fountain, Zara, and La Feltrinelli bookshop (my favourite) –

 

Our hotel courtyard in the centre of Rome –

And that’s it.   The four-week tour is over….until next….year?

See you all soon.

 

Trevi Fountain

The saying is true….the other night we returned to the Trevi Fountain (which is the belief if you throw a coin over your right shoulder into the fountain).

Looks like us, and another 2,000 people who were also there in the middle of the night will also be returning….

as

 

 

 

Rome – Pantheon and Shopping, Shopping, Shopping

First full day in Rome has begun fabulously.   But this visit, Rome seems a little less appealing.    Too many people, cars, garbage.   The other italian cities probably appeal more to us – like Torino and the towns in the north (but not Bologna), and the beach south of Rome.

On our way to see the Pantheon, we came across one of my favourite shops in Rome – La Fabriana Boutique, a stationery shop in Rome since 1264 (yes, 1264).   Spent nearly an hour and lots of $$$ in their shop.    Love it.   I am such a sucker for notepads, wallets, and writing wallets.  Those italians really know how to design stationery and accessories.   And they way they apply their design skills to their window displays is very impressive.

As is the Pantheon.  Have visited it each time that we have visited Rome, and it still remains one of Rome’s most impressive monuments.   It is incredible that after 2000 years, that it remains intact when other structures are shadows of their past.   And the engineering and slaves involved in its construction.

The pretend Gladiators outside are corny, as is their price of 3 Euros just to have your photo taken with them.   AS IF….

Inside, the centre of the dome is open, there is no glass.   Rain comes down and enters a drain in the centre of the floor and flows away perfectly.

 

 

And its the perfect place for pick-pockets – lots of people, confusion, etc –  with lots of signs warning tourists to be careful.

And this is the bank that Michael used to work in – check out the bars on the windows.   Its directly across the street from the State Parliament building.

 

This evening we are off to Il Chianti for dinner, a few doors up from the Trevi Fountain.

And tomorrow off to the Coloseum in the morning, and then Villa Borghese before dinner with Michael’s friends who still live in Rome.

Just 3 days left…..

 

Rome

Greetings from Rome !!

We are now on the home stretch – 4 days in Rome before hitting the airway on Tuesday lunchtime.

Have had a very interesting first night in Rome.

Sat down at a bar across the road to sample aperitivi.  The bar was on a corner of two one way streets.

Anyhoo,  this black people mover car pulls up, parks in the middle of the street (no other car could get past, because of course its a one way street, with cars already parked both sides of the street) and 6 seriously gigantic black american guys jump out, in black suits, with sunglasses on, and start talking into their sleeves.  We both look at each other and think, what the f**k.

Police then turn up.

Then a largish, white mini bus pulls up, with shaded windows, but with down lights inside.

The security guys then start pacing up and down the street, talking to the police about the street.

Turns out they were complaining that they wanted the street cleared so that the minibus could get through.

That was never going to happen.  There was no way there was enough room for the minibus to turn the corner into that street.

Cars behind the minibus start honking their horns, over and over and over and over.

Meanwhile, I’m sipping my campari and side and michael’s drinking his beer, and everybody is looking at the black guys and the white mini bus….and Michael yells out:  Its Madonna.   Idiot.  Idiot.

But some nearby Americans thought it was funny, though.

Anyhoo, there were paparazzi at the end of the little one way street and a massive crown.   Massive.  So I walk down to find out who is arriving.    Couldn’t find out, so walked back down the street to Michael and my campari and soda.

Arrive at our table on the pavement to see the mini-bus do a u-turn in one of Rome’s narrowest streets and am told that its Cory somebody, the highest earning basketballer in the world, earning $70 million per a year, and I – very Australian-like go – “Who???  Who the hell is he???”.

So when the minibus finally finishes its 589-point turn into the street to his adoring fans waiting at the end of the street, Michael starts pretending to dunk a basketball.   How embarrassing.

After dinner, walked through the streets of Rome.  Very hot tonight, and lots of people out and about.  As always, I’ve already been stalked by hawkers and gypsies.   Jezzzus.

Get back to our hotel and the walls are shaking.  How funny.  One of Rome’s most popular music/bars is in our hotel.   Our friends who are staying here are gonna hate that – because they moved rooms today because the road outside our window is too noisy.  Man, what are the chances that their new room facing the courtyard captures all the noise from the nightclub.

Anyhoo, I’ve never seen so much botox and tiny 6 butts squeezed into size 4 jeans all in one room.   The price of the handbags in that room alone would save all the children in Sudan.    I wanted to take a photo to show you all – but too “Cooma” of me to do so in that crowd.   I has to be seen to be believed.   Michael’s comment:   no economic downturn being felt by this crowd.

Arrivaderci for now,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends that we are travelling with are not happy with the noise in the rooms.

Tanning, Parking and Italian Politics

The Beach at Sperlonga

Michael is on his way back from Roma this afternoon….about now, he’d be in peak hour traffic out of Rome with all the other commuters who travel between the small towns around Roma and their work in Roma Centro.

The reason is that we were supposed to meet friends in Roma for the next few days and “show them the ropes”….but we were having such a nice time in Sperlonga that we invited them down here for the evening instead.   We wanted just one more night……so now we’re paying for a hotel room here in Sperlonga and another in Roma (couldn’t get our money back)….he, he, he….very economical – NOT.

I needed to work on my tan at the beach.    The days are often overcast, but its still really hot.

The ocean has no waves here, unless there is a storm.  Its great for swimming and not getting dumped by waves.  But you certainly couldn’t surf here or undertake any water activity other than lying on a lie-lo thing.

The yellow and green ombrelloni (umbrellas) are those owned by Franco’s family who own this part of the beach (a big chunk right in the middle of Sperlonga beach).

Which leads me to cabana-boy, who “looks” after the lettini (chairs) and ombrelloni of our hotel.

Probably the most useless cabana-beach-boy that you’ve ever seen.   Has only the front row of chairs set-up, so the place doesn’t look that inviting.  At breakfast this morning I watched as some hotel guests had a fight with one of the chairs to get it to sit up properly.   Where was cabana-beach-boy?   He was busy at the breakfast buffet.  Nice one.

When I’ve walked past him in the “tunnel” under the hotel to access the beach, I’ve passed from behind him and seen him busy, busy, busy, at a little table with his computer…on Facebook.

And, at the end of every day, he’s busy smooching his girlfriend, who by the way looks of an illegal age !!@!  Mmmmm…nice one.

With Michael gone today, I had to practice my crankiest voice to get rid of the hawkers.  I think I mentioned that the other day, I bought one – just one – bracelet, and then every hawker for 20 miles stalked me to buy one of their bracelets.

Early this morning when Michael and I were at the beach, another one approached me, seeing “sucker” written on my forehead.   I thought:  oh god, here we go.   I had to be really nasty to them for them to go away.   I had no choice:  it was either be nasty to them or have Michael and Franco tell me off for being fleeced by them.  Jezzus.

And they flog the most ridiculous things.  One guy today tried to upsell carved wood elephants to me.   Dude, I’m lying on the beach sun baking.  Do I look like I’m in the market for a wooden elephant???

Then the next guy comes past flogging clothes that look like a hippy at Byron Bay knocked together on the singer sewing machine one night.   For 3 Euro.  AS IF…

Then another one, makes his pitch to me about his jewellery.   He thought that telling me that they are the best made in Thailand would impress me to part with $30 Euros (about $50-60 AUD).  I started to laugh.   As if…

Then another one thought I was definitely in the market for a torch.  Yes, dude, its 27 degrees, bright and sunny, and I look like I need a torch.   Jezzus.

And lifesaving here is non-existent.   Oh, there’s an attempt to lead swimmers to believe that there is someone capable of saving their loved ones, but let me tell you its a joke.

Every second or third beach owner has a lifesaving “boat”.  Imagine an old 1970s laminate kitchen table turned upside down, floated, and a kitchen chair put on top of it and then the “lifesaver” or cabana-boy jumps on, stands up and tries to paddle to the person in distress.   I saw one guy “practicing” today – a one-man rescue simulation exercise.

At first, I thought:  what is that person standing on????   Then I realised what it was.   AS IF…..as if that is going to save anyone’s life.

Of course, if it was one of our hotel guests, they could kiss their family goodbye because cabana-boy would be too busy on Facebook or smooching with his chickey-babe.

Parking

Went for a walk this afternoon.  Had to.  If I eat another spoonful of italian food without at least taking a short walk I am seriously going to pop.

On my way back from the centro storico (old centre), I passed a car and it made be laugh.   I don’t think that I’ve mentioned this aspect of italian life to you yet:   parking is obviously at a premium here, and if someone wants to go into a shop, they just drive their car halfway up onto the pavement, put the emergency blinkers on, get out of the car and go shopping.  Of course, all the passing traffic has to then take turns stopping and letting each other pass.

Politics

Italians looooooove talking about politics.  Out of 200 free-to-air channels on TV, 198 are full of shows that talk about politics or make fun of politicians and especially Berlusconi and his bunga-bunga parties with 20 young girls.

Today, the front page of La Stampa, one of the national newspapers, described someone who gave in on a deal as having “ha calato le braghe” (dropped his pants).   There are lots of references here to peoples’ bottoms in italian politics.   Another similar expression used for someone who won’t budge on a deal is described as having “pantaloni di acciao” (pants of steel).

Another article in La Stampa was talking about how one in three young people in the south of italy are unemployed.  Imagine that.   So lots are leaving the south and heading north for work, but the problem them is that they are separated from their families and shortfalls in government services means that their ageing parents and grandparents have no one to look after them.   They don’t really have old people’s homes here in italy because families have historically looked after older relatives.    And those young people who stay in the south, then find “work” with that other notorious “family business” that uses a lot of guns, etc, etc…..if you get my drift.

L’Aquila

On our way back from Ascoli-Piceno to Sperlonga last week, we stopped to visit L’Aquila, the city that had the earthquake in 2009.

The main centre of the old city took the brunt of the earthquake.   The buildings are all held up by steel poles and ropes threaded through from one side of the buildings to the other side.  The shops are all closed and the army continues to guard some streets from side seers.

 

And apparently there was the usual rorting of government funding via taxes to pay for the reconstruction….

 

 

On the way home, we stopped around 3pm for a coffee at an Autogrill on the superstrada outside Rome.

We ordered expressos and the lady behind the counter gestured towards a sundae-bowl filled with a coffee coloured mixture.     Franco (who was driving) and Nunzia showed me what to do.  You take one or two spoonfuls of this caffe’ creme (caster sugar mixed with expresso) and mix it into your expresso.

The caffe creme is like an Australian slushie – but its not ice – its pure sugar with expresso coffee mixed through.

But this one had something extra – Grappa!!!@!

It was caffe creme con grappa….which you can buy a whole glasses full when you make a pitstop at the Autogrill on the autostrade, or just add spoonfuls to your coffee.  Its a sugar substitute.  Fantastic.

 

 

Spent the day at the beach….again.  Today was overcast, but really really hot.

Italian beaches are privately owned, with a couple of narrow spaces where you can put a towel down for free if you wish.  It costs about 30 Euro per day for one chair on the front row, less for the second row, and less again for the third row back from the beach.

Today, I saw one of the “hawkers” lie down on one of the last chairs at the restaurant/beach we were at.  I thought: oh god, here we go.  This isn’t going to end well for him.  Sure enough.   Along went the assistante bagnanti (beach patrol)  and told him to pay or move on.

Because both sides of Italy are close to other countries, the ocean is more like a giant lake.  That is, it doesn’t have waves (only when there is a big storm).   So most italians just wade through the water.  The beaches are more for working on your tan and sleeping…..before your next meal.

Italy doesn’t really have any nasty animali…..no snakes.  But I have seen a scorpion in the carpark (man, that sucker would hurt if he clamped on to your skin) and wasps that look like they’ve flown in from Land of the Giants.  Those bastards are massive and friggin’ scary….especially when they fly around your head (which is what one did to me the other day).

Have just returned home (to the hotel) from another fabulous dinner.

Ristorante Il Giardino Di Anngelica:   http://www.ilgiardinodianngelica.it/

 

Had a fabulous meal in a fabulous location.   One of the best seafood pastas that I’ve ever had.   Its a new restaurant in Sperlonga that Franco and Nunzia have discovered.  Run by a husband and wife team.  He’s “front of house”; she is in charge of the kitchen.  The way he prepared/plated up our fish tonight in front of us was like a maestro.

 

The restaurant is new, just opened this summer.  It is on a piece of land that was an abandoned Orto, that is, a vegetable garden/small farm next to the ocean.  They have converted it perfectly.  My photos don’t do it justice.   It would be a fabulous location for a wedding.   Its sits beside the sea, below the citta vecchia (old city/town).

And tonight, I understood the word surgelato (frozen), which I’ve read many times and understood to be something cold.

For dessert tonight, Michael and Nunzia wanted sorbetto, lemon sorbetto.   It was served, surgelato.   When it arrived, it then understood surgelato.   It means frozen.   Their gelato was served inside half a frozen lemon.  Oh, the limoncello was mine 🙂

And, once again, ate wayyyyyy too much.  Its absolutely impossible to pace yourself.

Antipasti – fagolini (fagoli (beans) cooked and pureed with a salsa of polpette fritto (fried calamari and pane fritti)

Primi – Paccheri (large pasta shells) con cozze (mussels) e vongole (not sure of its english name)

Secondi – Pesche con vedure

Dolci – sorbetto ai surgelato e limoncello

and lots and lots of Moscato di Terracina (a popular wine made in the town next door).

Just as well we went for a walk up to the centro storica (old centre) before dinner to build up an appetite for dinner.  Bonus was that there was a fabulous sunset (probably because today was so hot).

Tomorrow, we are off to the family vineyard up in the hills of Esperia.

There have been many conversations around the dinner table about the family vineyard; but it was only the other night when the penny dropped for me and I fully realised what they were all saying.

Because the “kids” have all moved away for work (Sicilia, Roma, Germania) there’s no one to carry on the vineyard and the winemaking.   So after hundreds and hundreds of years, and generations and generations of running the vineyard up in the hills and making the famous Moretti vine, they are abandoning the vineyard.   They are all getting too old to maintain the vines, harvest and make the vino.  So tomorrow is the last time they will harvest the grapes and make the wine.   It is very sad.

Yesterday, we drank one of the last bottles of Moretti wine from last year’s vintage in Pasquale’s garden:

Sperlonga – Latina – Ascoli Piceno

Apologies for the long pause in between blogs – I’ve been very busy with family….lots of visiting, lunches, dinners, trips.

Sperlonga is a great little town in summer.   Only about 3,000 people live here; but in summer the population swells by about another 30,000.   There’s lots of holiday apartments here (in the new part of town).   We arrived just at the right time – the new school year started last week, so there’s only a handful of tourists now.   Lots of Russians, though.

Had a fabulous day today – up at the crack of 10am, down to the family restaurant/beach for coffee and cornetto (croissant), a massage, “light” lunch… until 4pm, then a snooze on the beach.  Had to go for a walk at sunset…..to make room for the next family dinner – spaghetti vongole – Michael’s favourite and made specially for his visit.

Got smothered by hawkers at the beach today – after I made the mistake of buying a bracelet from one of them.  Of course, then they all thought I was in the market for jewellery from them too.  Michael and Franco had to intervene, because they wouldn’t take no from me for an answer.  There’s hawkers for umbrellas, spiderweb cleaning brushes, kids toys, clothes, etc, etc.  Check out the kiddies toy seller wagon –

Sunset from our hotel room –

The restaurant that I insisted Michael take me to the other night….we had to have a break from the big meals.   Can you believe it, the red wine – Dolcetto D’alba – was $4 Euros – bargain – usually $50-60 dollars in Australia.  Fantastic.

Last Monday night, our first night with family, was dinner with the family here in Sperlonga.

Tuesday night, dinner with Zia Giuseppina, her son Antonio and his wife Mirella in Sperlonga.

Wednesday night, back to Latina, and dinner with Damiana and her family.

Then last Thursday, we (Franco, Nunzia, Michael and me) set of for Ascoli-Picena in the Le Marche region.  Was a pretty good trip.  Too much driving though.

On the way to Le Marche, Michael was obsessed with finding one of the famous porchetta vans on the side of the autostrada.   Porchetta in italy is a bit different to porchetta in Australia.  Its often available freshly roasted at Panorama, one of the best supermarkets in italy.  But its also available on vans on the side of the road –

The traffic at this van is so busy, that the vendor has signs everywhere telling people to drive slowly and be careful around the clientele.

Couldn’t find a hotel in the town centre at Ascoli-Piceno, so had to stay on the outskirts of the town.  Hotel was at the end of a dirt track with a couple of houses around it.    They guy who ran it was just lovely – but talk about jack of all trades…..receptionist, in breakfast host, tourist guide.  He helped us plan our trip around Ascoli-Piceno.

One night we came home from dinner in town, to find the streets around our hotel packed with cars – up trees, up fences, double-parked, they were everywhere.   Turns out that one of the most popular restaurants in town, was in a converted house right next door to our hotel.   So that’s were we dined the next night.  Fabulous food.  Had Scamorzza for the first time – smoked cheese cooked in the oven.  Absolutely beautiful.

It always amazes me – these restaurants located in strange places (it seems to me) often have the best food.

On one of our trips into the countryside, we came across this scarecrow.  Then this old guy driving past stops and has a chat with us.  We thought that he was going to tell us off for taking and eating the walnuts from under the walnut tree.  Instead, he stops to tell us the story of the scarecrow.  It was built by the locals as the centrepiece for their town dinner that they held in the field behind it.

 

 

Then it was on to a little town called, Offido.

Boys will be boys, guess who tried to ride the bike???

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sperlonga

We’ve arrived in Sperlonga two days earlier than originally planned.   After days and days of gran caldo (heatwave), can you believe it, but today is cold and its blowing a gale.

Nunzia retired last year and she looks fantastic for it.   Slim and beautifully tanned after a long, hot summer.   She’s been under l’ombrello whilst Franco has been running the bar at the beach restaurant.

She made the most fabulous feast tonight.   We’ve been eating for hours.  I had to refuse dessert tonight….so that gives you some idea of how much I’ve eaten !!

I’m still awake here and its just past midnight – I’m thinking its because of all the espresso con grappa that we had before our passegiata (walk) through town prior to starting dinner tonight.

 

Tomorrow the agenda is sleeping in, late breakfast, then down to the beach where the hot weather is forecast to return.   Then another family dinner with Zia Giuseppina (who is an absolute scream) and her son, Anthonio, from Fondi who are driving down to Sperlonga.

Then the night after that…. another family dinner, in Latina this time, where we will visit Damiana, Roberto, Chiara and Alessandro.  Overnight in Latina, and then on to Le Marche….where more eating will be done !!!

 

 

 

 

 

I love the Autogrill

In italy, there is a chain of road-side restaurants called, Autogrill.   The best ones are so big, that they hover over 6 lane autostrade.

I love them, especially the ones over the super-stradas.    They have everything that you could ever want, when travelling – a cafe for coffee and croissant, then there’s a sandwich bar, and then there’s the restaurant with every pasta, and roast and contorni (side dish), and dessert, and maps, and formaggio (cheese), and proscuitto, and mortadella, and fancy-dressed italians (mean very confidently wearing purple lacoste t-shirts, with orange jeans, and white runners), germans with their comfortable sandals, its goes on and on.

During this trip to Italy, i’ve noticed, though, that they have all converted their shade-cloth coverings in the car park – to keep customers’ cars cool – to solar panels.   Check this out –

I’ve actually I’ve noticed a lot of solar farms in Italy, on this trip.   They are everywhere.

Right after I took this photo (above), Michael was gaffing around, shifting stuff in the backseat of the car, and I was just watching people go by…..when I see an Audi station wagon reverse smack-bang into the side of a little quartro Mercedes.   Shit it hit it hard, cause I saw the whole Mercedes rock back and forth, and at first couldn’t work out why it was rockin’.

And the best thing was, that the Audi driver told the Mercedes driver that she was stupid to pause where she did, told her to shift her car or he’d drive right over the top of it,  then drove off.   The Mercedes driver was dumbfounded.    Shit, I laughed.   What a classic move by an italian:  “if you’re stupid enough to pause behind me, then you get what you get.”

 

Handbags, biscotti and soccer

Drove from Bologna to Siena today – normally about a 3 hr drive.   But our trip took 5 and a half hours because we detoured to San Gimignano for handbags and to go to the bakery for brutti ma buoni biscotti.    That bakery is amazing.  Sacher torte and cappuccino for lunch.   Beautiful.  Now that’s how lunch should always be 🙂

Parking in San Gimignano was crazy.  Of course, we chose a Sunday to visit.

But not as crazy as it was in Siena…..because wouldn’t you now it, but we arrived right in the middle of a regional soccer game – Juventus and Siena – and our hotel is right next to the soccer oval.   Had to navigate through closed roads, and roads full of cars double-double parked, i.e. side-by-side on the centre line in the street, as well as parking along the side of the street, and those notorious one-way streets, and some police telling us we couldn’t go where we wanted to go.  Handy one.

Finally made it to the street of our hotel, where we crashed into a crowd barrier.   I couldn’t help but start laughing….which, as you can imagine, didn’t go down well.

The soccer fans are crazy.   I was nervous that we would still be navigating through the streets when the game finished. The police presence was incredible.