Kaffee Klatch

Little of this, little of that...from an avid coffee lover and wanna-be world traveler.

Location: Houston, Texas, United States

Would knit all day if my fanny and my hubby didn't get so sore.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Giornali Firenze Part Duo

April 15 (Cont'd)
We began so energetically and ended up exhausted! We headed first toward the church of San Lorenzo and the Capella de Medicii, or chapel of the Medicis, which contains several of Michaelangelo's most beautiful sculptures commissioned for the famous family's tombs. We toured the Cathedral which, with an unfinished facade and dark interior, was beautiful but hardly compared to others we saw later. In fact, I can truly say that each cathedral I entered was more beautiful than the last, with the most spectacular being the Duomo in Milan.

We spent 2-3 hours shopping for souvenirs around San Lorenzo, not knowing what would be open on Easter Sunday. We eventually wound around to the Straw Market, and had a very late lunch/dinner at about 4:00 in an outdoor restaurante in the piazza. A couple of beers, salads, and a shared pizza really hit the spot.

Rested and replete, we walked the 6 blocks or so to the Duomo, which became more amazing the closer we got. At a distance, it looks as if it's punctuated with windows with black painted sills. A little closer and you see it is dark green rectagles against the white Carrera marble. Closer still, you see veining & realize it's actually green marble with pink marble accents.

Next we toured the octagonal baptistry across the street. It is particularly reknown for its bronze sculptured doors, the most fabulous by Lorenzo Ghiberti and nicknamed the "Gates of Paradise" by Michaelangelo. The dome inside is covered with mosaics of angels, saints, and demons, and a large image of Jesus dominating all. A vivid image of Satan devouring humans might shock a few backsliders back onto the straight and narrow.

Then Ted decided we should climb Giotto's campanile (bell tower) and get a nice view of the city. Since the tower closed at 6:00, we didn't have time to "catch our breath" much on the ascent. 440-something steps to the top! But the awesome view was very much worth the wheezing.

After that we were done for. Ted had some gelato and I drank about a gallon of water, then headed back to the hotel.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Giornali Firenze Part Uno

April 15
After being warned not to drive in Florence, we had no choice since the train tickets were sold out. But we felt lucky (plus we had “Genie” the GPS lady), so we took off after an early breakfast. The drive down was beautiful, even on the Autostrada. We went through Parma, Reggia, and Bologna (nice sandwich, huh?). The closer we got to Bologna, the more pastoral the landscape became. Little farmhouses nestled halfway up the hill, villages snug up against a mountain stream, a country chapel dominating over all.

As we got into Florence, we quickly realized our mistake. Genie the GPS led us straight to the hotel (okay there were a few wrong turns, but she got us back on track). I had picked this hotel specifically for two reasons…the terrazzo overlooking the city and onsite garage. But Easter weekend traffic was so bad that Ted wouldn’t let me get out to ask how to find the garage, afraid he’d never find me again. So we thought we’d park at the stazione and carry our bags…but the sign at the stazione garage said “Complete” and they weren’t letting cars in.

After much discussion, we let the reservation go and drove out to the airport, where I had researched some hotels before leaving. This is where Genie the GPS led us astray. The thing about computers is they keep doing the same thing even if it doesn’t work the first time, or the second, or the third. And Genie couldn’t see the sign that must’ve said “road closed” in Italian.

Finally we got to the Ibis hotel around 1:00 pm and checked in. The nice lady at the desk agreed to phone the other hotel to see if they would refund our money, but no luck. To be honest, I missed the Hotel Derby terrazo (right) more than the money!

So we dropped our bags & hopped the bus into town for our first full day together in Italy.

Giornali Torino Part Duo

After lunch, my feet were too sore to walk much further, so I headed back toward the stazione. Shortly after entering the outdoor shopping galeria, a very nice-looking boy (maybe 25 years old) started talking to me in Italian. "No parlo Italiano". He said "Oh, Americano!", and then keeps talking...in Italian! Again, "No parlo Italiano"! Instead of leaving me alone, he told me his name and asked mine. Since I wouldn't answer, he starts guessing..."Maria? Natalie? Angela?..." Meanwhile, I'm trying to ignore him and walking faster, looking over my shoulder. I was watching out for a co-conspirator trying to pick my pocket.

So he's talking to me for about 5 minutes and finally he asks me a question. No idea what it was but he says "blah blah blah, SI?". So I said "NO!" Finally he said "Ok, ciao bella" and gave up on whatever his intention was. Who knew a 40-yr-old with no make-up, sore feet, and frizzy hair could attract a virile, handsome, 20-something Italian man! I felt like I was Frances Mayes in "Under the Tuscan Sun". I was a bit smug the rest of the trip!

Adam & Eve at the entrance to Via Roma at the train station in Torino.

Practically crawled the rest of the way to the train station about 1 1/2 hours before departure. Luckily the train was already there. I wandered through some shops and bought my first Coke Light - Heaven!!!

An elderly lady sat across from me on the train reading the paper, while a family of 10 on a weekend getaway sat behind me. The whole way to Voghera, they had the window open and everyone in the back was getting wind-blown and very annoyed. And one little boy was squealing and jumping on the seat while his mother chastised him, "Chito! Comportamenti bene!" or something like that..."Be good" Of course, Chito ignored her.

The lady across from me and I exchanged looks of aggravation every few minutes and sighed. She was primly dressed and proper, (but even she answered the phone "Pronto"). She had tried to strike up a conversation earlier and found I didn't "parlo". At her stop I surprised her by wishing her a "Buona Pasqua", Happy Easter. Thank you James for the language tapes!

For dinner, Ted and I ate at the Pizzeria 2 blocks down in the center of Salice Terme. Best pizza we had the entire trip! A nice, thin crust with chicken, Gorgonzola, asparagus tips, raddiccio, and mozzarella. The ensalata misto (mixed salad) was a tasty blend of bitter greens. Italians only use oil and vinegar for dressing, so by the end of the trip I couldn't wait to have a Ranch, honey mustard, or even a Caeser!

I really don't know how Italians stay in such good shape. The waitress thought we were nuts when we ordered uno pizza por duo persone. Everywhere we went, the Italians ate twice as much as we did, yet they were all thin and tone. Must be all the walking...I know I lost 3 pounds on the trip! "La Dolce Vita"!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Giornali Torino Part Uno

April 14 - Torino

Up early and had breakfast with Ted in the terrazzo...croissants, brioche, yogurt, fruit, juices, and of course cappucino. Ted dropped me at the train station on his way in to work. Bought a round-trip to Torino. I tried to also buy 2 tickets to Florence for the weekend, but they were trying to tell me the return train was full. I asked for "otre horas", but no luck. Not only is it a school holiday, but it's also Easter weekend.

The train to Torino was 40 minutes late, but I finally got there around 10:45 The drive there was much prettier than from Milano. It helps that you're heading toward the alps. All of a sudden the light went on that Piedmont (the name of that region) means, literally, foothills.

Torino was the cleanest and prettiest city on the entire tour, possibly because of the 2006 Winter Olympic games held 2 months before. And maybe partly because it was the home of the Savoy kings from the 10th to the 19th century when the unification of Italy began. It was also much easier to get around since the city was originally laid out by the Romans in a square grid. From the train station, you just walk north straight on Via Roma through the shopping galleria (not much I could afford, but fun to look). After about 5 blocks, I came to the huge Piazza San Carlo where the twin churches of San Carlo and Santa Cristina occupy the south entrance. IT's one of the largest piazzas I saw with only a statue in the center to break it up.

Then I continued north a few more blocks to the Piazza Castello. The original 12th century castle was renovated and given a new facade somewhere around 18th century, I think. Then a few steps to the north the Palazzo Reale (royal palace) is reminiscent of the Louvre in bright white marble with welcoming spacious wings on either side. The gates are adorned with beautiful filigreed ironwork with sculptured faces.

Around the left wing, I found the Chiesa (church) di San Lorenzo and the Capella della Sacre Sindone (chapel of the Holy Shroud of Turin). The outside is more simple than many Italian churches, it was very beautiful and tasteful. The duomo, or cuppola, of the chapel was being renovated and was surrounded by a drawn image of the real thing. The bas-reliefs in the archways above the entrance doors are very impressive. Inside was a copy of DaVinci's Last Supper on the back wall. The chapel (at the top of the cross-shaped cathedral) was being renovated and was covered by a drawn image of the chapel.

Though I find it difficult to believe that the shroud is authentic, it certainly inspires a lot of people to worship and bring to life the miracle of Jesus' resurrection. So I reflected, prayed, and left some Euros in the coffer for the restorations.

Going back outside, I went around by the campanile (tower) and noticed a glass pyramid, similar to but much smaller than the one at the Louvre. Within was the results of an excavation...a very old and beautiful mosaic floor entitled "Map of the World". They had dug it up & pieced together what was remaining and raised it to ground level above its original location.

Just to the left of the campanile, about 2 stories below street level is a huge excavation site of a Roman ampitheatre. The stage appeared to have been right under what was a palace and is now the Museo di Antichita (Antiquities). Across the street, I marveled at the Roman Porta Palatina which has remained standing since 28 AD. I was quite surprised by the color of the red brick used in the gate. I think of Roman architecture being made with stone, but I guess the architects used local "ingredients". But it wasn't just a simple gate or wall...it had two rows of archways above the larger gates at ground level

By this time, it was 1:30 in the afternoon and I was famished. I kept thinking, I'll see one more site and then eat. But it was just boom, boom, boom...one thing right next to the other. In fact, I really wanted to visit the Museo di Antichita, but just had to eat first. But this was my first meal on my own in a strange country. I was trying to eat light lunches so I could eat a heavier dinner at night.

I bet I walked up to 20 cafes, bars, & ristorantes (one of which served horsemeat!) before I finally found one with simple sandwiches that I thought I could order with my spattered Italian. I bought a proscuitto and mozzarella panini and aqua naturale por la via (to go). I walked back to the Piazza and sat on the steps at the base of a statue to eat and watch the crowds stroll by.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Giornali Milano Part Tre

April 13

My first full day in Italy! No kids, no responsibilities, lots to see and do. Mmm...think I'll sleep late.

Wasted 30 minutes trying to get my new Brookstone converter/ adapter to work. Hope they'll take it back. Planned to walk around Salice Terme and get the lay of the terra. The spa/bath appeared to be closed (cost an arm/leg anyway according to brochure in the lobby). Walked down to the park. It seems Italianos prefer natural parks instead of nicely manicured ones like in France & England. Looked just like the back 40 where my brothers used to hunt dove and quail.

While walking, I recognized a lady from the hotel restaurant the night before. One of the Cameron bigwigs, James, had said she was the wife of a big customer of theirs from Perth, Australia. I introduced myself and found that she had no idea what to do and was equally bored with the small town so far. We explored a little more and saw the Fonti Sale (salt well) from 1st or 2nd century A.D. which was simply a hole in the ground with a concrete cover in a grafitti-covered round wellhouse.

I find it interesting that in Italy they refer to A.D. as A.C. (Anno Christus?). I would've thought that we English picked up Anno Domini somewhere along the way from the ancient Romans.

Here's a castello that Ted found in Salice after I left. It's now a private residence.

Sandra and I had fabulous and filling lunch of Tagliatelle with rabbit at the hotel, then decided to catch the bus to Voghera and see the sights there. Not knowing the schedule, we walked down the main street to the bus stop, tried to read the schedule and determined that the schedule was somewhat reduced because it was Spring Break there.

After 45 minutes or so, we did catch the bus and tried to give the driver money. With a little confusion dialog, he motioned for us to sit, then at the next stop waved us to get off. I finally understood that the Bar on the corner sold biglietti (tickets), while the nice lady sitting next to us said "Andiamo, andiamo", which I assumed meant hurry! So we ran across the street to the Bar and asked for duo biglietti por l'autobus, and hopped back on the bus, giddy with how smart we were!

We walked around for about 3 hours and saw a 17th century Cavalry building, under restoration, an imposing 12th century visconti castello that appeared to have been used as a jail at some point (as were most castles) also under restoration, and a nice little church in the center of town. We enjoyed some gelato in the church square and then found the shopping in the square was quite nice.

After a leisurely stroll back to the train station, Sandra commented on how our husbands might be worried. I thought we were early, but had lost an hour somehow. So we got to the hotel around 6:00. Sandra's husband had come back early to spend some time with her and was locked out of the room (they did let him in eventually). At dinner, I apologized to John for being a crazy American lady can't even tell time!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Giornali Milano Part Duo

April 12 (Cont'd)
After about 20 exhausting hours of travel, the train arrived at my not quite final destination. Ted was working in a plant just outside the small town of Voghera and would pick me up. As expected, my cell phone didn't work over there, so voila, I'll use a pay phone! But how to use one? I hoped if I dialed a number, it would tell me how much money to insert (in Italian of course). When that didn't work, I asked the newstand man how to use the phone. ha ha! He shrugged as if to say either "I don't know" or "I can't believe you're that stupid".

So I bought a Coke (no diet anywhere so far) and threw myself on a bench. Once the caffeine kicked in I figured the phone thing out and hitched a ride with the hubby in his sexy little rented Ford station wagon and we were off to the hotel in Salice Terme, a hot spring resort town.

The Hotel Milano is where all the Cameron folks stay when visiting the plant, so we met quite a few people during our stay. The staff is wonderfully friendly and helpful, and speak excellent English. Had a close encounter with the bed while Ted went back to work. Then I woke in time to share a glass of vino and a fantastic 4 course dinner at the hotel, topped off by a semifreddo with two spoons.