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Tag Archive: Italy

10/19 – Agrigento

As we’ve traveled around Sicily, we’ve made some observations. Here goes!

  • Low to the floor beds!  5 out 6 beds have been ridiculously low to the ground.  Only one bed has had box springs. We wonder what someone who grew up here thinks the first time he/she sees a U.S mattress and box springs on a high bed frame??  Mark says all the pillows are flat, too!
  • “Transition” coats – We learned this term from a German friend who says there’s no good English translation for the German word but it amounts to a light Fall jacket.  We see people in puffy coats all the time; meanwhile, Mark has his shorts on and Susan is wearing capris and no jackets.  Sicilians don’t seem to be very fond of A/C or drafts either. Scarves are everywhere and not for decoration.  One of the ladies working in the Poste today had a heavy scarf around her neck. We couldn’t even tell any A/C might be on!
  • Signage in National Archaeological Parks or the lack thereof – After visiting 3 of these sites, we’ve determined no extra money is spent on signage to guide visitors around the sites in a logical or even illogical order.  One site had a pretty good map; one had a barely useful map; and one had none at all!  The ticket guy just shrugged when I asked for one. Why would I need a map? A few arrows along the way would help visitors decide if the track leads someplace – like to a temple – or if it’s just a track made by visitors? When they do have a “path”, let’s just say some of the paths would never quite be approved by the U.S. NPS!
  • Laundry  … just typical European washing machines – The wash and rinse process takes a minimum of 90 minutes. Why do our clothes need rinsed and spun 3 times??
  • Toilets – our grades for public toilets are based on 4 things: toilet paper, soap, water, and a hand dryer/paper towels. We haven’t found many that score 4/4. We carry TP and a hand towel with us along with hand sanitizer.
Agrigento is known for the Valley of the Temples, a large complex of important Greek/Roman/Byzantine sites. We walked all over the complex for about 3.5 hours and 4 miles in the sun!
Temple of Juno at Valley of the Temples
Walking up the hill to Temple of Juno. Toilets and a snack bar were at the bottom of this hill.
Must need a snack back in town after the Temple day. The cannoli shells are baked but empty when you order. The baker fills the shell when you order to insure freshness.
Later in the day, we visited the Cathedrale which was magnificent. The path we chose involved walking UP about 200 steps to wind our way through town to the top of the hill because where else would a cathedrale be built?
Mark walked up the inside of the church to get the view from near the painted ceiling. He didn’t go higher when he heard thunder and saw black clouds.
Sure enough! It poured while we had a drink on an outdoor patio. Thank heavens the umbrella over the table kept us dry.
Some steps with a few local cats hanging out!

10/19 – Ragusa

Ragusa is another hill city. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692; rebuilt up high but the aristocrats liked the lower part better. They rebuilt there, separated by a valley. Lower Ragusa is the most scenic part as far as tourists go.

We took the bus from Modica to Upper Ragusa (only place the bus goes); found the local bus to Lower Ragusa, guessing where to get off. The streets are narrow, winding, and all UP or DOWN. Lots of houses appear abandoned. You could buy one if you’re in the mood to deal with Italian bureaucracy for the sale and then all the workers to renovate it.

Of course, to return to Modica, we did the whole thing in reverse. Riding buses in Sicily would be MUCH easier if any of the bus stops happened to have a posted schedule on it or even show the bus numbers. In Ragusa, the bus route number was handwritten on white cardboard and placed in the bus window. The schedules must be passed from generation to generation!

Lower Ragusa from the bus as we drove to upper Ragusa
Duomo dome above the buildings in the narrow street
Narrow street to walk up to the Duomo.
For some reason, the duomo doesn’t sit flush with the piazza. It’s at an angle to the piazza which is on a hill! Notice the steps UP to the entrance to the church.
Table with legs on a block to level the table
When the tables sit on a sloped piazza, the only solution is to use blocks to make the tables level. Quite clever!

10/19 – Modica

Modica is a hill town in Sicily, famous for making chocolate! When the word “hill” is used to describe anything in Sicily, you can count on MANY hills and steps to move around the town. Modica is a lovely town; if you visit, make sure you check the location of your B&B or hotel. You could find yourself lugging suitcases up MANY steps to find the correct street!

Panorama shot from the overlook at the top of Modica. We took a little train around the city to get up high.
Upper and lower Modica with the cathedral. All the buildings are approximately the same color.
Church of San Pietro – 23 steps to get to the door. These steps are a popular place for local teenagers to hang out in the evening.
“Steps to nowhere” or up to the next street through the arch.
Modica chocolate tour factory. They make it without any added milk products. It’s pretty yummy! The tour had plenty of samples including a small sample of Italian hot chocolate. It tasted like melted chocolate to me – quite thick.
We saw some amazing bridges! This is the view from the balcony of our AirBnb in Modica. The train station is below the bridge and only entailed a short uphill walk pulling our carry-on sized suitcases.
The other great part about our balcony was watching the parking adventures below. Lines are optional and turning on the blinkers seems to make parking OK wherever you put the car.

10/14 Siracusa

Sicily is an island – check.  Sicily has LOTS of cactus (prickly pear, cholla) growing – check.  So what’s the climate like??  The island would make you think humid and the cactus makes me think dry.  You are correct on both counts.  The land is pretty dry, supporting the cactus, but lots of citrus orchards dot the island.  The air on the other hand is quite humid, at least by Colorado standards. 

We’ve had great weather with very little rain, lots of sun, and some major wind thrown in.  My hair has been pulled up many days because the air is so humid that when we’re in the sun, my hair is wet from all the sweat!  I’ve given up on curling the hair and just use tons of hair spray to keep it out of my face!

We spent 5 nights in Siracusa, staying on the island of Ortygia. At this time of year, abundant tour groups appeared every day in the narrow streets. By night, we had the streets pretty much to ourselves and were on a first name basis with the owner of Gusto, a gelateria!

View from our apartment in the Jewish Quarter of Ortygia.
Greek walls in Duomo walls
The duomo was built on the site of a Greek/Roman temple and incorporates the columns into the church walls.
A column or two are visible on the outside of the Duomo.
In contrast to the Duomo, this Basilica was built to our Lady of Lacrime in the 1990’s, I think. This pointy roof is visible from all over the city.
The archaeological park is the big attraction in Siracusa with a Roman theatre and a Greek theatre (this one). We wandered all over, up and down, waiting for the rain to come. The sky looks blue here but it quickly turned to black!
The day at the Greek theater Garmin told me I walked 37 flights of steps!
This board is the Funeral announcement board for Funeral masses and memorial commemorations.
As far we can tell, Michelin is a sponsor of this church – maybe some renovations??
Susan holding a wine galss.
I needed some prosecco after we got caught in a rain storm!

10/10 On to Taormina

Stop number 2 in Sicily was Taormina and we took the Interbus from Catania – not a bad ride for about an hour and only cost $7.50 each. Taormina is a very touristy town set on a hill with beaches below. At this time of year, it was crowded during the day with cruise ship gaggles and tour groups. At night, it was a little more calm. We stayed in a VRBO right outside the old town, making for a nice walk every day. Yes, we got at least 10,000 steps every day and many of them were on hills and actual steps to move between levels.

This was the view from our patio. They guess it was a bath but no one can find the source of the water. Watching traffic go by on a hill, stop on a hill, double park, blow horns was good entertainment.
The Ionian Sea.
Aperol spritzer and an arancini (rice ball with various fillings mixed in)
Seafood is huge here, given that Sicily is an island. We ate seafood risotto and seafood pasta one night. Yes, it was yummy!
Italian breakfast – granite (crushed ice, lemon and a bit of sugar) and a brioche. The pink one is a strawberry granite
Panorama of the Greek theater, a mere 2000 years old, with Mount Etna looming in the background
We were at the top of the Greek theater where you can see Mount Etna really well on a clear day. It’s not very far away!

More Rome 10/16

I forgot to add a story about not paying attention when you’re walking – no, not me!  At the street corner near our apartment in Rome, the city was repainting the cross walks on the very narrow streets.  A few barricades were set up, an orange truck was parked, 2 guys were painting .. you get the idea.  Everyone was walking around the wet crosswalk, the guys and the truck except for one man, clearly an Italian.  He was about to saunter right into the wet white paint when the Italian workers started yelling at him and waving an arm.  Did this get his attention? Not at first but ,finally, and he managed to avoid the wet paint and paint buckets and sprayers.  I would love to understand the Italian that came out of the painters’ mouths at that point as they shook their heads and looked dumbfounded that the guy was so clueless.

Then I forgot to put this panorama of the line around St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday of the audience.  It’s a bit hard to see but the lines were on both sides of the square – one for individuals and one for tour groups.

panorama line at St. peters

Lines on both sides of St. Peter’s Square for admission to the audience area

5 days in Rome

Rome … the eternal city or so the saying goes.  I’ll preface this posting by saying we’ve been to Rome four or five times at various times of the year – May, June, January and now October.  January was definitely the least busy as far as visitors go.  We thought May and June were busy but this visit tops them all.  Rome was crammed with visitors from all over the world.  We heard people speaking every language we can identify and a few we can’t.

The prior visits also mean we’ve been to all the “must see” locations – Coliseum, Forum, Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s, Pantheon – and didn’t HAVE to see them again.  Now on to our stories …

We both love seeing St. Peter’s Basilica. The size is awe inspiring, both inside and out, and the sculptures and altars are amazing. I always stop and consider how much time and money went into building it.

rome st peters at night

St. Peter’s Square is nice and quiet at night

One night we walked up to St. Peter’s Square at night and enjoyed the quiet.

The next afternoon we wandered past about 1:30 PM on the way back to our apartment and the line to get in was the longest we’ve ever seen – wrapped around the square clockwise.  We can’t figure out where all the people are coming from!  I would have been upset if that day was my only chance to see St. Peter’s and I had to stand in line for an hour or more.

Part of the problem is that everyone has to go through a metal detector and at any one time they may only have 4 or 5 open. The line moves pretty fast but we had no intention of standing in that line.

We looked on the Vatican website to find out that St. Peter’s opens at 7 AM. It seemed like such a good idea – be at St. Peter’s when it opened at 7 AM Wednesday morning.  To be fair to the Vatican, their website did say the Pope has an audience on Wednesday at 10 but no mention of any restrictions to St. Peter’s.

St. Peter's Square empty

The square was completely empty except for security before the Pope’s audience. Check out the little truck going down the steps of St. Peter’s.

We woke up at 6:30 AM, dressed, walked over to the Vatican just to see a long line, lots of Carabinieri, seats set up, bomb sniffing dogs, etc. We joined the line on the right side of the square, believing the Vatican website that says St. Peter’s opens at 7 AM. After standing in line for a bit, we noticed that the line wasn’t moving and no one was going into the church. And did I mention the tour groups showing up? As in lots of tour groups who were all funneled to their own line on the left side of the square.

The vendors were out in force selling rosaries, medals, whatever. They trolled the lines selling their goods. We checked the boundaries of the Vatican and they are clearly selling in Rome – no restrictions, it appears!

When the line moved at 7:40, we all were sent to a line a metal detectors (8 or 9 of them lined up) and saw people running to the chairs after they cleared security.  We went through the metal detectors, slowly sauntering our way nearer to the church. We finally asked some nice Italian police what was going on? Turns out the Pope was saying Mass or having his audience (a bit lost in translation) outside at 10 AM (it’s now about 8 AM) and St. Peter’s will not open until after the audience – about noon or 1 PM.  Since we had no intention of sitting for 2 hours to wait for the audience to even start, we bailed out. It explained why everyone was running – they wanted seats up front!

rome crowd Wed for audience

This was the line along the side of St. Peter’s that we went against to NOT go to the audience.

Getting OUT of St. Peter’s was just as hard as getting in – even following the EXIT signs. They led us to a long line of people who wanted in while we wanted out.  We finally made it out – lots of “Excuse me’s” -and stopped at McDonald’s for coffee and an Egg McMuffin. That McDonald’s may be the safest place in Rome – across the street from a Polizia station and the police all get their coffee and sweets in McDonald’s!

One idea for the Vatican – assign someone to keep the website updated with a few more details about opening and closing times!

St. Peter's Square at 7 AM is quiet when it's not audience day.

St. Peter’s Square at 7 AM is quiet when it’s not audience day.

This was the line at 9 AM when we came out of St. Peter’s.

The next day we tried the St. Peter’s thing all over again. This time, the line was just 20 minutes long to get through the metal detector at 7 AM.  One disadvantage of coming early is many priests saying Mass all over the church so some sections were blocked off. The basilica is still impressive, especially at 7:00 A.M.  when not many tour groups are around.

Again, we had coffee at McDonald’s and this time we sat by three American seminarians and eavesdropped on their conversations about coffee/espresso/café Americano and the seminars and shadowing they needed to do. I wonder what they would have done if I asked them what they are studying in Rome?

Keep reading … There’s more to come!

A week in Lucca, Italy

Lucca was a great place to hang out for a week – walled city, quiet or as a quiet as an Italian city can be.  Very few cars have permits to drive within the walls so most of the “traffic” problems occur when walking in narrow streets with pedestrians, bicyclists, dog walkers with small and large dogs, baby strollers, delivery trucks and the occasional car.  We saw one Belgian car driving down the main shopping street.  The passenger looked terrified, chewing on her hands.  We’re not sure whether they were supposed to be on that street but the Italians just went with the flow, getting out of their way.

lucca city scene

One of the many bell towers in Lucca on churches

lucca truck squeezing thru narrow street

This truck did manage to squeeze through but he rubbed the scarves outside the shop along the way.

The weekend before we got to Lucca, the Rolling Stones performed outside of the walls in one of the open areas.  We were told the city was crazy with 60000 people and all the hotels and restaurants were completely sold out.  One lady told us that Lucca negotiated for 2 years to get the Rolling Stones to perform there.

The walls are not what we think of when we say walls. These are very wide – wide enough for cyclists, walkers, runners, a park or two, benches, picnic tables.  The Italian life in Lucca seems to swirl around and on the walls.

lucca susan on walls

Susan standing on the walls of Lucca while we were out walking.

Lucca city walls

Lucca city walls

Lucca Wall scene

People walked, ran and biked all along the 4 km. of walls.

Lucca Gate

This is one of the gates into the city. The walls are surrounded by parkland requiring regular mowing.

We rented an apartment via AirBnB in Lucca and it was on the ground floor. It is ALSO across the tiny little street from a Bicycle Rental shop that, unknown to us, rents tandem bikes as well as regular bikes.  This part of the city is pedestrian except for bicycles and cars and trucks with special stickers. You can imagine the chaos at times – people, baby carriages, bikes, tiny cars, delivery trucks, store displays, you get the idea.

I have the front window open while I work on the blog and we heard a crash of metal and 2 girls laughing.  They had American voices and talked to the bike store lady.  Turns out they’d rented a tandem bike and were trying to ride it.  The shop worker gave them a few pointers and off they went again only to return in about one minute and tell the shop owner “We give up on the tandem bike. We can’t ride with all these people around . There are too many lives at stake!”

Keep reading

A day trip to Pisa – the tower still leans

It was a Pisa sort of day and only 25 minutes from Lucca by the regional train.  After walking to the Lucca train station, we needed to buy a ticket.  Thank heavens, these ticket machines will actually print out a ticket!  A whole bunch of us got on the train we thought we needed and a nice female train driver came to tell us that they had to switch the train to a different track and we have to get off while they do it.  She kept apologizing but it was no big deal and shortly the train switched tracks and showed up again!

Lots of small villages dot the train tracks along with patches of tomatoes and beehives. Towers and big houses, old and new, could be seen in the distance. After arriving in Pisa and NOT buying a return ticket when there were no lines (more later), we walked to the Piazza de Miracoli following Google Maps and the Lonely Planet printed directions.  We would have lost a bet because no signs were posted at the train station or at a big plaza giving any indication which of many streets we should choose to walk down.  The first pedestrian sign pointing to the Tower wasn’t until we crossed the Arno River.

pisa tower sign

This is the first directional sign we saw and we were pretty close to the Tower.

Our route took us across the river and past the U. of Pisa Law School and more churches than we could count.  We stopped in one church for the obligatory visit. (No idea which church it was.)  We knew the Leaning Tower was close when the number of tourists increased dramatically as well as the number of gift shops and restaurants.

pisa Arno river

River Arno in Pisa

tower in the distance

A street scene as we got closer to Piazza di Miracoli and the Leaning Tower

The Duomo, Tower, and Baptistry are beautiful especially in the sun.  They all were bright white and, miraculously, only the Duomo still has some scaffolding on it.  Mark decided we should check out the W/C.   It cost .80 E  and the line for the Women’s room was really long – Surprise! –  but Mark just whipped in and out of the Men’s.  Lots of tour groups and individual tourists, like us, so I can’t imagine what it’s like in the summer.

Pisa Duomo

Pisa Duomo.

leaning tower and duomo

The Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Duomo.

Pisa Baptistry

The Baptistry described as a big cupcake.

Pisa leaning tower

Leaning Tower of Pisa. We didn’t do any of the pics holding up the tower.

susan with tower

Susan in front of the Duomo and Leaning Tower

We took pictures and picked up a walking map of Pisa from Tourist Information before we wandered our way through the city and the Piazzas. We didn’t visit the insides of any buildings nor climb the tower.

pisa big fancy building

This building was in one of the piazzas on the walk back to the train station.

The next challenge was getting a ticket to go back to Lucca.  All of the ticket machines in the Pisa station will only issue paperless tickets so even many of the Italians had to get out of the machine line and go use the ticket office line.  Of course, the non-Italians were all out of luck!  We queued up in the LONG ticket line, starting out with 4 ticket sellers; reduced to 3 when one of them served a guy and hung his “Closed” sign.  The line actually went pretty fast but Mark and I just commented “Full employment”.  We think Lucca machines sell tickets because the ticket counter closes at 8:05 PM.

Pisa summary – Ok for one visit but not someplace I’d go back to.  Pisa is a pretty busy city and didn’t impress us enough to want to return for another visit.