Wednesday, August 10, 2011

August 10, 2011 -- Palm Desert, California. Wow, after 2 days of travel we returned to Palm Desert at around noon on the 9th. We boarded the Alitalia flight at 9:30 a.m. for the first leg of our return on the 8th. As soon as the plane was boarded by all passengers, there was a medical emergency and a doctor was called on-board. The bottom line is that, instead of leaving at 10 a.m. we sat in the plane for 2 hours and finally left at noon. The result of that delay was a missed flight for the second leg of our journey and were forced to stay overnight at Ohare Airport in Chicago. So, making the best of the situation, we chose a hotel across the street from the airport, had a nice dinner and got some sleep.

The rest of our journey went flawlessly, and we arrived at the Palm Springs airport at 12:10 on August 9th. The temperature was 109-degrees F, but it was good to be home after such a long and exciting trip. So, of course, jet-lag is part of the reality of these kinds of trips, so here it is 1:50 a.m. on the 11th. I'm wide awake and ready to get busy. The rest of the "world" is asleep!!

Looking back on our travels for the last month, I think about the many places we've been -- but more importantly, the many people we met. Our stay with Francesco, and his wife Laura, in Tuscany was a highlight. Their hospitality was a wonderful gesture of friendship. Our visit with Carlo in Caserta was just as wonderful, and I'll always remember the lunch his mom made for us. On every day, and every where throughout the trip, we had serendipitous meetings with people from all over. Young people traveling throughout Europe and people of all ages on holiday from every part of the world. We met people from Canada, the U.S., Singapore, Slovakia, Russia, the U.K., the Philippines, Austria, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, China, Iran and Afghanistan. One highlight was meeting Dr. Sajo, a Justice of the European Court of Human Rights

Our favorite city was Florence Italy. The music, culture, food, activity and people there were beyond description. In every corner of the 3 countries we visited -- Italy, Austria and Germany -- we found friendly, engaged and happy people going about their routines of working and living their lives. We had the occasional "language barrier", but in every instance, we were able to make ourselves understood in one way or the other. We did find that Italy is going through it's own "financial crises", but for some reason, the people were engaged in the "moment". I think their "social safety net" helps them cope with these realities. In some way, the Italians seem assured knowing that they live in a society that invests in the "individual" through such programs as universal health-care.

So in closing, I can recommend travel to everyone who can find the time to do so. The benefits of going to different places in the world and meeting the people there are incalculable. As the old TV commercial used to say: "Try It You'll Like It"!!

How true.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Bocca della Verita
August 7, 2011 -- Rome Italy. It's hard to believe that our trip is coming to an end. We'll be catching an Alitalia flight at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning. This has been quite the experience, and we've enjoyed every minute of it.

We did have a plan for today and set off around 10 a.m. to get a couple of things done. After an initial check-in at one of the local Internet Points, we found that it isn't possible to check-in on-line for our flight. I can only think it's because of the emmigration requirements. So, we'll get to the airport a bit earlier than planned to take care of checking in and getting to the gate on time..

One of the tourist attractions we wanted to see is the "Bocca della Verita", in English it's translated as "Mouth of Truth". It was made famous in a movie scene with Gregory Peck and Audry Hepburn in the film Roman Holiday. It is the image of a man's face and has been on the wall in the pontifco at the church Santa Maria in Cosmedin since the 17th Century. It is most "famous" for its role as a "lie detector". Tell a lie, and it is purported to "bite off your hand"! So, I was sure to tell the truth when it was my turn. Neither Linda nor I lost any fingers.

After we left the church, we noticed we were'nt very far away from the Jewish section of Rome, so we decided on a "kosher lunch". We found a cute restaurant called the Bocconcino Kosher and enjoyed some Falafal, beer and salad. While there, we had an "fun" exchange with a family from New Jersey. One last chore we accomplished was finding the train that'll take us to the airport. The Italian system is pretty efficient, with trains leaving at :22 and :52 minutes past each hour.

We finished up the evening with a nice "Japanese" dinner!! OK, so we haven't enjoyed the Italian food here that much, but it really doesn't seem to suit our taste. Go figure.

Ciao for now, ciao from, and "to", Italy.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Carlo IZ8GNR at his radio.
August 6, 2011 -- Rome Italy -- Today, was our day to head out to my "ham radio" friend Carlo Capola. Carlo lives near a city in southen Italy named Caserta -- not far from Napoli. Yesterday we had bought reservations on a "fast train" to Caserta and the trip was supposed to take 1 hour 15 minutes. Yet, the Italian train system has its own way of doing things and we stopped in the middle of no-where for 40 minutes. No explanation was given and we arrived late. Carlo was patient enough to wait for us, he found he is short order (I must look like to American tourist, because he picked me out immediately) and we got into his car bound for his home.

Lunch is Served!!
Carlo lives in a farm-house in the Alvignano area of southern Italy -- about 30 minutes by car away from the train station and Caserta. Linda and I met his mom and dad and we were told we were invited for lunch. Meanwhile, Carlo took me to his radio shack for a look at his ham radio equipment. He has a really nice setup, and we discussed  the kind of activities he enjoys the most -- which is "chasing distant stations" on the radio.

It wasn't long before lunch was served and we joined his parents at the table in their home. Now, we were told we were "special" guests, so a multi-course meal was prepared! It consisted of "anti-pasti", followed by a main course of spaghetti, then salad and then ice cream! I gotta tell you, I don't have much of an apetite for large quanities of food, so by the end of the meal -- Linda and I were contentedly "stuffed". What a wonderful meal made by an Italian woman in the southern Italian countryside.

We returned to the train station at 3:30 for a 4:00 p.m. train and got back into Rome, also a bit late, a 5:25!! I have been having a battle with my "sinuses" for the past day, so  I made a stop by the "Farmacia" to get some anti-histamine. In Italy -- Europe I think -- the pharmacists are trained to prescribe some medicines, so I was lucky finding a young woman who seemed to know what I need. NOW, I just need the courage to take the stuff!!

News at 11..

Friday, August 05, 2011

August 5, 2011 -- Rome Italy. We boarded a train this morning in Florence for Rome and arrived at about 12:45 p.m. We reaquainted ourselves with "Riccardo", a new friend we made when we were in Rome a few weeks ago. Riccardo manages a hotel a few blocks away, so without much effort we found our way, got settled and set off for the Sistine Chapel at theVatican. We had 3 p.m. reservations, so it was easy to get there on time.

Linda and the St. Peter's Basilica
Once we were at the Vatican, we entered a bit early and wandered through the extensive collection of the Vatican Museum. Along the way, we had an opportunity to take a break and a cup of coffee on the Vatican grounds. You can only imagine at the majesty and beauty of the Vatican. Its lawns, flowers and hedges are beautifully manicured. Despite the thousands of people who visit the Vatican Museum on a daily basis, the grounds are spotless. There is an extensive collection of Egyptian relics, Roman and Grecian sculpture and artificates from the early history of the Vatican. Once we entered the Sistene Chapel, the frescoes are breath-taking. Michaelangel's work is amazing, and one can see why the Vatican  in general, and the Sistene Chapel in particular, is such a sought after tourist destination.

Oh yeah, and one more thing!!
After about 2 1-2 hours in the Vatican Museum, we hopped the subway back to the Roma Termini. I have an acquaintance in Caserta south of Rome by about 2 hours. Carlo Capolla is a ham radio operator who lives nearby the city. He and I made our acquaintance through Facebook, and Carlo will be hosting us at his home tomorrow for a few hours. It'll be interesting to see a new city and visit the ham radio "shack" of an Italian ham radio operator. So, stay tuned for that blog tomorrow night.

Once we were back at Riccardo's "Internet Point" cafe, we asked him about a good Chinese restaurant in the nighborhood. He and a co-worker put us onto a neat little place around the corner and we enjoyed "yet another Chinese meal in Italy"! We'll be getting some well deserved rest this evening, do some reading, watch some TV and get ready for an early rise for our trip to Caserta tomorrow.

So, as always, stay tuned.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

August 4, 2011 -- Florence, Italy. So, readers, first things first. Today is my son Ken's birthday. So, I want to wish Ken the best birthday ever! Take the day off, enjoy the wife and family and have a snack at Canter's Deli for me!! I love you.

Rowers going under the Ponte Vecchio
Today is our last day in Florence, and we're 4 days from returning to the U.S. We started out the day getting some laundry out of the way. We also thought we could rent a car and head for Lucca. There are a couple of car rental agencies in Florence -- one, EuropCar, had cars for rent but cars were 160 Euro's for the day. That's $240! On top of that, they didn't have a GPS, so even if I was nuts enough to rent a car for that kinda money, I couldn't find my way around. The next agency had cars for less, but a 2 hour wait in line deterred us from getting one. So, we thought -- OK, we'll take a train.

We were only a few blocks from the train station, so we made our way over there to check out the schedule. There was, in fact, a train for Lucca at 13:44. It turned out to be a "slow" train and the trip would have taken 2 hours plus to get there. So, in the end, we decided not to go to Lucca -- at least this trip. We saw on the map there is a Science and Technology Museum in Florence and decided that, after lunch and an Internet Point "fix", we'd make our way over there.

Planetarium in Florence, Italy
Lunch was at a nearby Falafal joint we discovered near the hostel. They have great coffee, my favoriate drink (Fanta Zero) and the best beer in Italy -- Birra Moretti. The Falafal is pretty good, too. About two doors down is a place called the "Internet Train", so we stopped in and used the computer to buy a ticket for the Sistene Chapel tomorrow at 15:00. We'll be in Rome by noon, so that'll give us plenty of time to drop our bags off at the hostel and make our way to the Vatican. We then set out for the Museum of Science and Technology -- and the planetarium there -- to see what we could see. Unfortunately, they were closed, and the building seemed completely shut down.

On the way back to the hostel we stopped at one of the local supermarkets, the Billa, to buy some fruit and drinks. It had been a busy day wandering the city, so it was nice taking a 30-minute break enjoying a cold drink, listening to some music on the T.V. and talking. We thought it'd be fun to find a Chinese restaurant, so we made our way over to the "InfoPoint" nearby. We learned there were a couple of good restaurants near the train station, so another hike over there was in order. We found a great little family-owned place and had a light dinner of noodles, won ton soup and rice.

At around 8:45 p.m. it was time to check out the music concert near the Odeon Theater in the middle of town. By now, we knew Florence pretty well, so we found the venue in short order. The quartet consisted of a drums, piano, base and "bongo". I would describe it as "modern jazz" -- and frankly it wasn't to our liking, so we left, making our way back to the hostel. On our way, we ran across a street guitar player/singer, Paolo Depa. He was better listening than the more "professional" group, so we stayed for a while. He sang a variety of popular songs from the 60's-90ìs, including the Beetles and Elvis!!

By now it was 11:15 p.m., so we figured it'd be prudent to get a good night's sleep and hit the train station early.

More tomorrow from Rome..

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

August 3, 2011 -- Florence, Italy. This morning we went over to the train station to get our reservations for Rome on Thursday. We've gotten a 11:15 reservation one of the fast-trains, so it'll be a comfortable ride on the last leg of our journey. While we were there we decided to follow through on some research we did last night and take a day trip to Cinque Terre (pronounced: chink-wa terry). We boarded the train for Cinque Terre at 9:30 a.m. and arrived around noon.

Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre is on the coast of the "Italian Riviera". The closest city, and the city we changed trains in is about 10 minutes away by train but through a long LONG tunnel through the mountains.. The literature about the area says that "over the centuries, people have built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea. Part of its charm are the small family owned businesses. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages, but cars cannot reach the villages from the outside".

The first train stop is the village of Riomaggiore. This is an amazingly beautiful village dating from the 13th Century. It is known for its unusual character and wine. We didn't see the vineyards but they are, we were told, extensive in the hills nearby. It seemed to me  the major industry was tourism. There were hundreds of people walking the narrow streets, looking in the shops and at the marina. I noticed, for example, a group of about 10 folks dressed in Scuba gear getting into a boat for a trip out into the harbor. There was a dive shop nearby.

While there are a total of 5 villages all connected, we decided that one was enough. By the time we walked up and down the hills, and climbed the hundreds of steps from the top of some of the streets to the bottom where the marina was located, we were "done"!  We made our way back to the train station and caught a 4:30 p.m. back to Florence thru La Spezia and Pisa. We finished up the evening having a delightful "kosher vegetarian" meal at Ruth's Restaurant in the Jewish section of town.

Ciao for now

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

August 2, 2011. Florence Italy. We boarded the "Frecciarossa" -- the 175 mph high-speed train from Bologna to Florence at 9:30 a.m. Our train was actually at 10:30, but a train came into the station and it was headed for Rome, so we boarded. Interestingly, no one asked us for our tickets or any other identification. These are wonderful trains. Comfortable, air conditioned, VERY fast and has internet on-board!  It only took us 35 minutes to get our destination.

One interesting event occurred when we were making our way to the train station in Bologna. We noticed much of the station blocked off and radio and TV crews setting up their equipment. Additionally, there were a fair number of Carabinieri" (police) at and around the station. Once we neared the front door of the station, I asked what was going on and was told that it was the anniversary of the 1980 bombing of the station which killed 85 people and wounded 200 others. The policeman told me it was the worst tragedy of its kind since the end of WWII. It seems there would be a commemoration later in the day. The picture at the right is of me and the policemen who said they were in their "dress uniforms". Very impressive, wouldn't you say???

Gov't Building at Palazzo Vecchio
Once in Florence, it was easy to find our hostel since we had stayed there before. I made a reservation for 2 full days at the Alex House on "Borgo de Grechi.  We were surprised to find, this visit, that our accommodations is an "apartment", with a living-room, dining-room, kitchen, private-bath and bedroom -- and, of course, the balcony overlooking the city! Really neat. The Alex House is centrally located and very near most of the interesting spots in Florence. Not far away is the Ponte Vecchio and Galileo Museum. Florence is still full of life, with tourists everywhere. There are large numbers of groups walking throughout the city with tour-guides speaking all sorts of languages. We were also told that August is the month that most Europeans take their vacation, so people from all around the continent are coming here for their holiday.

Synagogue, Florence, Italy
In the early afternoon, we found the Jewish Museum and Synagogue not too far from the hostel. We enjoyed an hour going through the museum and spoke with one of the docents. Her comments were interesting, noting that Italian Jews don't use the word "Jew" or "Jewish" to describe themselves. Rather they use "ebraica" (and variations of the word) to describe their community. She said it was their way of putting a distance between the connotation of "Jew" (Juden in German) and all that it implies about their experience in Italy. Down the street from the museum is  "Ruth's Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant", and we made reservations for tomorrow evening at 7:30 p.m. That should prove to be interesting, I think.

We finished the evening by dropping by the "Odeon" to see if any English language films were on the play-bill.  We saw Roberto Benigni's It's a Beautiful Life. It seemed to punctuate our earlier visit to the Jewish Museum. Just outside the theater, the Cafe Odeon was offering its Happy Hour and for the price of a beer, we were able to enjoy a nice dinner in their outside seating.

We have two more days in Florence to go. So far, we haven't decided what to do as yet. Maybe a day trip or some other interesting activity. We'll know more in the morning after asking some questions and doing some research.

Ciao for now.

Monday, August 01, 2011

August 1, 2011. Bolgona, Italy. Well, it's hard to believe that it is August 1st!! We've been in Italy, Austria and Germany for the last 22 days, and we'll be returning to the U.S. on August 8th. But, we're still in Bologna and still enjoying our stay. We arose early this morning and enjoyed the hotel's continental breakfast. As usual, it was delightful. It turns out, also, that the hotel has a neat little "modem" that one can rent for 5 Euros a day. Just plug it into the A.C. and enjoy broadband internet connectivity in the room. Having high-speed broadband is always enjoyable for me -- I get to check into Facebook and read my email regularly.

Last night, when reading about the various museums in the Bologna area, we discovered many of them are closed on Monday. This being Monday, we figured we had chosen a "bad time" to spend our only day here. But, undaunted, we set off for the Jewish Museum we discovered yesterday. As we approached the museum, after a 10 minute walk from the hotel, it looked closed but some windows were open, so I knocked loudly on the door and asked if "anyone was there". Some one came to the window and motioned us to "pusha the buttona". We did and gained entry in just a few minutes.

The Jewish Museum of Bologna is located on Via Valdonica, in the area of the former ghetto. Information at the museum states that it was formed to conserve the Jewish heritage and culture that has been part of Bologna for centuries. There are few artifacts in the museum, but a rather complete description of the Jewish experience -- both in Europe, Italy and Bologna. The story seems to be the same everywhere one goes in Europe. The Jews were accepted, rejected, expelled and ghettoized in every country. Italy is no exception. Now Jews are accepted once again and in most instances somewhat "protected". We finished our time at the museum with a look in their gift shop and left after saying our "good byes" to the curator.

Once again, we decided on a double-decker bus tour of the city. It turns out that Bologna is a much larger city that we first thought. It is the 7th largest city in Italy with a population of more than 1-million. Bologna is famous for its towers and porticoes, its many churches, a historical downtown and, of course, its food. The city even has a "leaning tower", built in the 12th Century. The bus took us around Bologna, up into the hills overlooking the city and into the fancy residential and shopping neighborhoods. The open-air bus was comfortable and we enjoyed the time we spent seeing parts of the city we didn't know existed.

Tomorrow we're on the way back to Florence. We've made a reservation at the same hostel as before. It's comfortable and centrally located. A couple of days later, we'll be back in Rome for the remainder of our trip. Time -- I can attest -- passes too quickly!!

Ciao for now, i miei amici!!