Morning came and we woke up with only 45 minutes to spare before the car service picked us up. We had Lucas shower the night before, so that would save time... and two bathrooms in this great little apartment meant that Lisa and I got ready tandem style. I woke our very sleepy Lucas up with 15 minutes to spare but in seconds he was bright and cheery and jumped right up once he realized this was Going Home day.
Our packing was done the night before and was lined up at the door... only our magical, amazing multi-device charger was left to stuff into a carry-on. When 6:30 came, Adele` was already waiting outside in our tiny piazza. Left keys on the table... pull to lock the door... hoist our 4 bags into the trunk of the sedan and we were in the darkness of Rome.
The streets were deserted with barely any cars... the least traffic we've seen since we've been here. From Trastevere (pronounced trast-EV-ehr-ee) to Fiuminco airport took about 30 minutes or so.
Then another 30 minutes or so getting through security, passport control and then luggage check. Not so bad. We were early for sure but better that than being late. We checked two bags this time, now also using our lightweight duffle that we originally packed for most of our clothing... a great way to free up our carry-ons for fragile gifts and mementos be were bringing back. In fact, the larger backpack carry-on (Lucas' luggage) was now stuffed with our day cooler-backpack we had brought along. (It turns out, we didn't buy as much to bring back as we had planned... more on that in a later post.)
We found breakfast... well, sort of... in a cafeteria area with huge glass windows, inappropriate Italian MTV blaring and a view over the runways and sunrise. Cold scrambled eggs, no milk for Lisa's coffee, airport cornettos and a Fanta for me (it's got real orange juice in it here... not like that God-awful sweet Fanta back home).
Lucas and I went into duty-free shop to find a last minute component for his classmates' gifts and discovered there is nothing "Free" about duty-free... all the base prices were 50 - 100% higher to start with... even a €3 bag of M&Ms cost €6.30! Sorry, but people who shop in Duty-Free are what Lucas and I call Shopping Zombies... buying anything, regardless of the actual value or even if they really need it, as long as the words FREE or SALE are reflecting in their lifeless eyes...
So, then came boarding. The lines were long and with no little air conditioning neither my sweat glands or my poor knees were looking forward to it. So I showed my handicapped card and we were allowed to pre-board, after the more obvious and more seriously handicapped people, of course. With all the trouble my legs gave me on this trip, I'm feeling less and less guilty about finally applying for the handicapped placard and putting it to good use. Lucas is funny... calling it my Old Man Powers!
The seats on our flight were exactly the same as the "extra leg room" seats Lisa insisted on paying for on our first flight. So I think this is another United Air rip-off.
The flight was long...over 10 hours versus 8 for the first flight. I think I watched 3 movies, several TV shows and napped a bit... and still I had time to spare. Lucas was a great world traveler, settling in quickly and keeping himself entertained with Mom's Kindle (Minecraft and drawing) and watching movies. No matter what food or snack was served he ate with gusto. He even used the bathroom! His only nervousness was with turbulence or during our very windy landing at Newark Airport. Hey, we all had white knuckles with that landing. Thank the Lord... he brought us home safely. (Terrorism was on our minds during this vacation... all that mess with ISIS got fired up right before we left on this trip).
The process for passports, baggage claim and customs was slow, but not terribly so... and besides, Newark airport was actually COOL. When we went outside to wait for our dear friends to pick us up, we all loved the 52 degree temps, even though were were in short sleeve shirts. My first time without sweating in three weeks!
A few texts back and forth and at last, the Bartels drove up waving like crazy, driving our Town & Country swagger-wagon... what a happy homecoming to see our great friends. Hugs and smiles and buoni amici... Nothing like that feeling. I let Denny drive because to my body's clock it felt like 9pm. English signs and American cars were a pleasant sight to see. We talked and laughed for the entire hour trip. A short stop for basics at the Stop and Shop and then HOME.
More kisses and hugs and dumping the luggage into the kitchen and we were home.
We ordered pizza... take out. Then settled in to watch some comedies on our Tivo that had been building up... no Big Bang Theory or AFV in Italy. Then around 8pm (2 am Roma time) we all enjoyed our own toilets, our own mattresses, our own pillows, Lucas cuddled with the Buddies that had watched over his bedroom while he was away... I cuddled with Lisa... and we all dropped off into a safe, homey sleep...
Sleep came fast after this great adventure...
--Jerry F. aka Babbo
Before setting out on this three week adventure, I researched the weather of Italy so we could bring appropriate clothing. I checked travel blogs, long range weather sites and checked historic weather data to see how cold, wet or warm it might get. We packed appropriately... or so we thought.
I learned that average daytime temps for most of Italy would be lower to mid seventies during the day and mid sixties to upper fifties at night. Nonsense.
For the last three weeks the weather has been amazingly warm... upper seventies to mid eighties in the day and rarely cooler than 65 at night.
Curiously, the Italians really think this is autumn, and admittedly we did see some grapevines dropping their leaves in northern Tuscany, up near Vinci... but that is near the mountains. It does get a little cool at night there. But everywhere we went, in the north or way down by the southern heel of Italy's boot, Italians dressed like it was winter, never mind fall. And scarves... most wear them. Day or night. Man or woman. During the evening passeggiata when we strolled in shorts and short sleeved shirts, everyone else wore the puffy vests and jackets or outright winter gear. Check out the pic... I was wearing a short sleeve shirt and sweating, these people were dressed for a cool, breezy autumn day!
The odd thing is, most people do sweat... I've seen it. "Why don't you take off that sweater, the sun is out and it's hot", I'd find myself thinking. Like the French, I don't think Italians are so much into daily showers or baths... thus the abundance of bidets in this country. And, like the French, they are into perfumes and colognes... no deodorant sprays, just piling on the cologne to cover up their sweatiness.
There are others who seem to have no functioning sweat glands. I've seen them too... usually when I'm sweating like a pig. Like this nice lady in a gift store near the Pantheon yesterday... We had bought a few things and while Lisa and Lucas waited outside, I was waiting for her to pack things up so I could pay. I kept mopping my brow and my shirt was sticking to me... and no air conditioning and very bright hot lighting in the store. And there she was, dry as a bone, happily fussing to the extreme with fancy wrapping, gift bags, and tying ribbons as Italians in chi-chi shops tend to do. No joke, while I stood there exuding bodily fluids, she spent the better part of ten minutes perfecting her little packaging gems... I was dying to get my fading consciousness out of that sweat shop and onto the street where the breeze of a speeding scooter might give a tiny bit of relief.
Needless to say, autumn does not exist here and we packed too many clothes for cooler weather. Lisa never got a chance to wear that wrap I bought her. My one corduroy shirt remained packed.
If you look at the latitude of Pennsylvania and Italy they are almost the same... but the weather sure isn't. By the time we get back home most of the leaves will have fallen, the best pumpkins picked. Italians don't know what they're missing.
Since we have been traveling in Italy we have noticed a pattern that we've run into many times. People keep invading our personal space... and this time I'm not talking about pickpockets. Italians, Russions, Arabs, and especially the Chinese just get in our way and in our faces... literally.
Today, on Palatine Hill for instance... we were sitting on a wall taking a drink break when some Russians sat to my right. Within a couple of minutes I became invisible to the guy next to me. Talking to his wife about the view to our left, he started pointing to it with his finger gesticulating about an inch in front of my right eye. Really? This went on for an uncomfortable 20 seconds or so... I was just getting ready to push his arm away when he took his hand down.
And you know when you're strolling in a crowd of people and a sort of natural right of way happens? You steer right of the oncoming person and they do the same... somehow you avoid each other. Nothing spoken. No directional signals. It just happens effortlessly.
Well, not here. I can't tell you how many times at the last second I realized the person is going to walk right into me... then I have to move very abruptly so they don't hit me. Lisa described it perfectly... they are like the zombies in Lucas' Minecraft game... walking without purpose or a way of seeing what they are about to crash into. It's as if they really don't see me. This is especially true when said zombie is glued to her cell phone or when gabbing with another zombie. The odd thing is how this will even happen in a broad, uncrowded piazza. You stroll across minding your own business, see someone strolling toward you, shift your path slightly and then notice they've shifted slightly and are aiming right at you. It's as if they have no peripheral vision or no vision at all.
Just today, while on line in the Colosseum gift shop, an Arabian looking man was pushing behind me as we were getting closer to the register. Too close... and no crowd behind pushing him. He was just a pusher. I had to step around Lucas for a second to hand the cashier money when he then moved in on Lucas... physically pushing his body into Lucas as if to speed things along! Imagine any adult invading a child's personal space like that! I very strongly took my hand and shoved his chest away from Lucas with a loud "Scusi"! At last, he backed off.
This sort of line shoving happens all the time... waiting on lines and taking your turn mean nothing here. Many have simply shoved us out of the way to get ahead. I recall at the Roman Baths in Pompeii where we had to take turns viewing a beautiful chamber--the frigidarium. Taking turns is pretty normal for us in the U.S. but not here. There were some especially pushy Italian and Chinese tourists that literally shoved us out of the way even though we were waiting on an ad hoc line--trying to take a turn to take a photo in a gated doorway not wide enough for even two people. Lucas even got shoved! That's when I kicked into gear and made certain he had a turn. A Chinese lady shoved me and I just held my ground (I have a large mass) leading Lucas in front of me. The Italian couple acted as if they were the only people there, barging through at least 8 people waiting in front of them.
Mmmm.... sort of reminds me of how cars kept passing me on the roads on blind curves even though I was going faster than the speed limit...
And then I think about the truly crowded situations where people tend to mass tighter than I'm used to in similar U.S. situations. I mean, here in Italy they will wear puffy jackets on warm days, bundle up with scarves, drink all sorts of digestive waters and medicinal milks, and many won't go onto windy beaches--for fear of catching a draft and getting sick. But yet, they crowd like lemmings spewing their germs on each other rather than backing off a bit to allow someone their spazio personale and some fresh air. And the bulk of the tourists are even worse. Shoving and pushing their way through a major tourist check-list item, just to say they saw the Sistine Chapel, Check. Or the Trevi Fountain, Check. Or the Leaning Tower, Check. Speeding and shoving through sites that years ago used to be done slowly to savor the amazing history or to absorb the art. Years ago I spent hour after hour savoring the Louvre, and went back several times. The visitors seemed to be art lovers, not just tourists. I recall seeing photos decades ago of people with binoculars lying on their backs on the Sistine Chapel floor with loads of room (and time) to ponder. Those years are gone...
It's all becoming too Disney-esque. (Another place I would never go back to).
We just got back from a grueling day doing the tourist thing in this crowded, hot, chaotic city and we started to think about things we miss about Home. While lying on our comfy big bed in the coolness of proper air conditioning, we all contributed to this list...
a keyboard and real computer
milk from the cold dairy section
Mom's coffee machine (K-cup)
take-out food when we are too tired to cook
eating dinner before 8 pm
eating lunch at all
eating a breakfast that isn't just carbs and sugar
our own toilet... or public toilets with actual toilets or toilet seats
toilet paper rolls that aren't brown
very cold air conditioning
a good chef's knife
a home cooked meal that doesn't include pasta
a shaving mirror
Sunkist diet soda
Stop and Shop
--Jerry, Lisa & Lucas Finzi
After settling into our Trastevere Gensola apartment, we decided to head out into the neighborhood for dinner. Trastevere is known to be a real neighborhood where people actually live. It's much less touristy than the rest of Rome. Think of Soho or the west Village in Manhattan. There are little trattoria, osteria and ristorante around every little corner in this rabbit's warren of streets.
We settled on a rustic little place with a huge brick pizza oven and old peeling murals on the walls... shabby, but in a good way. We had lasagna (incredible), ravioli with sage & butter (amazing) and spicy pasta l'arrabiata for Lucas. The waitress thought she was doing Lucas a favor and told the chef not to make it too spicy. He was disappointed, the little spice demon. The food was amazing for cheap restaurant. During the meal street performers--a sexy, gypsy looking gir and guitar player--came to play, sing and dance. I remember loving this kind of thing years ago in Paris. Restaurant owners consider these strolling minstrels as a plus for their customers. It definitely adds to the ambiance.
The streets here are alive, mostly the under 30 crowd. It seems safe enough to walk around although you always come across people trying to sell you some nonsense or looking for a handout. The outdoor seating is alive and chatty... one fish joint down the street from our apartment was always packed. It was strange to see young people standing, drinking and eating fish at counters and bar height tables. I just love this area.
After dinner we went back to the apartment and slept the night away with the best air conditioning in all of Italy! Great Internet connections let me catch up on the blog and check my maps. The shower here has such strong water pressure it nearly blew my eyelids off. We enjoyed not having to catch a train, drive or park a car or worry about check out time, so we slept in a bit the next morning and rested before heading out.
First mission... to get cash from a Bancomat ATM machine (always tense because I worried about it eating my card). Next, we found a great shop with breads, pizzas, focaccia, pastries, sandwiches and drinks. We got a little of this and some more of that for a picnic down near the the river.
We strolled down to the Tiber River (100 feet away from our door) and crossed the bridge to Isola Tiburina, an island in the middle of the river. We had our picnic on the point at the tip of the island under a shady tree witha view of Ponte Rotto, the ruins of a 2400 year old Roman bridge with dragons carved on it--the oldest bridge in Rome. Sitting there at the point of the Isola, it reminded Lisa and I of a similar picnic we had on the pointe of Isle St Louis in Paris during our honeymoon. We both agreed it was much better to have Lucas with us this time around.
At the point of the island under a modern building, there is an ancient stone Roman galleon. We sat on the shallow steps and had our formaggio, foccacia, porcetta sandwiches and some pastries. The best time so far... simple, tasty, breezey and fantastic views, not to mention the fantastic company--each other. And we weren't driving or walking. Ahh... perfetto.
Well, I knew it couldn't last... NEXT we walked, and walked, and walked... we started seeing some Roman temples, a Roman theater and then toward something that was on Lucas' to-do list, but he was starting to chicken out in the last few minutes. We waited on line to put our hands in the mouth of the Bocca del Verita (mouth of truth). It is a huge carved face that you place your hand into, and IF you are truthful, your hand comes back out. If you tell lies, it bites your hand clean off.
The line was about 80 people or so, but was moving quickly enough. As we moved closer and closer, I noticed a look of intrepidation on Lucas' sweet face. I didn't want him to bail on us, so I leaned over and whispered, "Buddy... it's just a legend", his face cleared with a look of relief. But then I leaned in to his ear and said, "Or IS it?" He looked stunned for about a half second, but then got the joke and smiled... totally relaxed. That's my boy!
Luca's and Lisa's hands came out clean but I felt it starting to close just before I yanked my hand out. I remember seeing Gregory Peck doing this with Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Great fun.
After leaving the Bocca, more walking, walking, walking... then we bought some artisan gelati and walked over to sit on the steps of the Circus Maximus, the huge racetrack where chariot races were held. It's a fairly boring looking field with lots of dog poop nowadays, but you can imagine the huge structure holding tens of thousands of people watching with the Emperor's Palace just above. You'd think they'd install some chariot replicas and horses here, perhaps a few statues, with a stable off to the side and horses dressed as they would have been 2000 years ago. But alas, I don't run the world.
Anyway, our gelati melted way too fast and we grew tired of swatting flies, so we headed off to find the entrance to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. But we headed the wrong direction (we met other travelers doing the same thing) and walked up the back side of the Palatino... many gates from when it used to be free and open to the public all the time, but nowadays, all locked up tight. We couldn't get in. As they say in Maine, "Ya cahn't get thayer from heyah".
This is typical Italian thinking. They complain about no jobs but don't hire enough ticket takers to man the many entrances... so the tourists endure long, long lines to buy tickets or just to get into the place via the single funneled entrance on the Colosseum side of the of Palatine. We kept looking through gates and down at the ruins through fences and took pics, but no dice--couldn't get in. Then a kind policeman suggested by the time we'd walk around to the other side they'd be closing down anyway. They close one hour before sundown. Oh well, we'll wait til Saturday for the ruins and Colosseum... but now, a walk back to the apartment for us. Drinks along the way helped with the heat and the hills. Rome is very hilly. It was over 80 today. Unusual some Romans tell us, while most say it's normal for October.
So, back to the Gensola apartment and get the sweat off ourselves then out to dinner. The restaurant turned out to specialize in fish... immediately after sitting down, we were accosted by a fast talking tourista waiter (who wouldn't even let me speak Italian) with a three foot wide tray of "fresh fish"... sticking it right under our noses! Lucas was dying until he took it away. It smelled. And as he described each dead creature, he kept poking or patting them. No ice on the platter, and afterwards I noticed him placing it back onto a cart near the entrance to the dining room. Pretty gross.
Lisa loved her pasta with swordfish, Lucas had spicy rigatoni that he wasn't crazy about, and I took a chance and ordered tagliatelle pasta with shrimp (4 small ones, unshelled and un-veined), calamari (no flavor) and an overly fishy sauce. The wine was good though... a white Frescati. Bright and fresh. Dessert was a very dark chocolate soufflé. That was good.
At the end, fatigue and perhaps too much wine caused me to mispronounce "il conto, per favore" (check, please) as "il conte" (the Count). The waiter started in at me with a bad joke... "Oh, you want Count Dracula?" That was bad enough, but then right behind my back, he started to tell the Count Dracula nonsense--in Italian--to the Italians sitting to my rear, all laughing at my expense. Mind you, they weren't laughing with me... it was at me. What a weasel. I'm so glad I don't have to leave tips in Italy. This was also the most expensive meal we had in Italy. Not worth it.
Ok, trudge home over uneven cobbles with achy feet, a stop at the alimentari for supplies, then bed... gotta get up tomorrow early for our Vatican Tour. Dio Mio ... will my feet and sweat glands be able to take it?
I hope you enjoyed this article... ciao!
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Hertz in Italy is not the same Hertz in the States. They are independent brokers. They treat people politely on the surface but insult us with the slap on the face they call "Service". "For your convenience" really means "for our convenience". Returning a car to Florence, for example, is not convenient. Instead of being open 24 hours at train station and airport locations, they open at 8, close completely for a few hours at lunch (even when more than one person is manning the office and they could easily stagger lunch hours), and close by 7 at night. They complain about no jobs and failing economy... Gee... I wonder why it is failing?
Then do they put pickup/return offices at a desk IN the train station? No. You have to drag your luggage several blocks from the station to their office through through the typically sleezy and dangerous streets to find them. Are there signs at the huge train station at least telling you which direction to head? No. (Naples Central is about a kilometer wide... Hertz about 1/4 mile away from the closest exit... over very rough cobbles). Also, when returning cars to Florence, you have to be incredibly careful about NOT driving into the ZTL (no drive zone, or Zona Traffico Limitato) or six months after your trip you'll get a very expensive summons from one of the many ZTL cameras. (BTW, these are legitimate fines, not scams. Learn about the ZTLs HERE and HERE).
And to top it all off, they never bring the car to you. In Chiusi we had to walk in the rain, dragging luggage over a quarter mile and get the car parked near a bridge. In Florence they actually give you a map to get to the garage. He told us it was a parking lot, but Lucas noticed the teeny Hertz sign on a garage building that also does hourly parking. He said it was a one minute walk only "30 meters" across the street and around the corner... it was more like 1000 meters. We had to pass all sorts of low-lifes, smells and filth. I was seriously worried about our safety. Oh yea... and that street in front of their office that we have to cross? No crosswalk... a very busy intersection with cars jostling to get onto the nearby interstrada.
Hertz in Italy is just a logo... a method used by schemers to latch onto a good company name and deliver a dumbed down, lazy Italian style service... "for your convenience... for your convenience..." Yea, right.
Oh... the last straw: months ago I booked a compact class Fiat 500L automatic for our southern part of the journey... especially to help navigate the twisty, mountainous, narrow roads of the Almafi Coast. They didn't have automatic in compact class so I wound up getting a a very wide Volvo SUV. It was diesel, which saves money on gas, but Lucas said it sounded just like his schoolbus (it did). Oh, and they gave it to me dirty... then asked if I wanted it washed. I said yes. He said "another 20 minutes" which in Italy means over an hour... or so. I said no since we still had to get over the mountains to our Amalfi apartment where the caretaker was expecting us as a set time.
Such is car renting in Italia. I'd love to hear from others about their experiences with other Italian rental companies (i.e., brokers) to see if it makes any difference. I doubt it, though. For instance, the Florence in-town location also had logos of other rental companies. The experience would be the same no matter what logo you decide to rent with.
P.S. If you like what you've read, please LIKE us on Facebook and SHARE us with your friends who might also be interested. Gratzie!
After Molfetta we drove to Bari... a 25 minute drive on the Autostrada. The driving on the streets of Bari was a bit stressful due to crazy streets, no stop signs, yield signs when no one knows how to yield, scooters suddenly appearing on either side, and cars simply pulling out of intersections forcing me to stop. Driving in Manhattan is a stress free experience compared to this stuff. Needless to say when we saw the Hertz sign there was a collective sigh of relief... Driving in this nutty Italia is finito, completo, fine, full stop. Done. Whew.
Returning the car was painless enough. They even offered to drive us over to the station, avoiding a three block walk dragging luggage, and going down a flight of stairs to a tunnel under the tracks, then back up to the main platform. (Why don't they have car rental offices right at the train stations here?!) They dropped us off right in front of Bari Centrale. Great.
We waited over an hour for the train, then suddenly realized we forgot to get some lunch for the ride... I bought a few snacks and drink from a vending machine... the train pulled in at 1:17pm. Duh. Train arriving right around lunch. Duh, Babbo.
The train was pretty crowded so negotiating luggage was a task. Once we got moving we were fine... train travel here is actually very comfy. Babbo saved the day by cutting up some Altamura bread (still fresh) and getting out thick Tuscan Millefiore honey, cacciacavallo cheese and Nutella for lunch. It satisfied us. We nap a bit, play word games, Lucas plays Minecraft on a Kindle, we snack, more water and Fanta and in four hours we arrived in Rome Termini Station... one of the busiest stations I've ever been in. There are multiple trains pulling in several minutes apart, people everywhere, the signs are not too apparent... yikes. I mean, I've dealt with New York's Penn and Grand Central stations in my life, but I've never seen anything like this.
Then the we couldn't find our driver... they usually hold a card with your name on it and stand by the platform your train comes in on... but no driver and the throngs were so thick it was hard to see through them. A phone call and 15 minutes later, our fast talking, older, yet chic driver Cicelia showed up outside and took us to Gensola, our neat apartment in the Trastevere district... a cool, workaday yet trendy part of town which reminded me of Greenwich Village.
Our apartment is called Gensola in Trastevere. The first floor apartment is modern, stylish and very comfortable. Two bedrooms and two modern baths and a kitchenette on a ground floor of a teeny piazza with steps leading up to the Lugatevere, the road alongside the banks of the Tiber River. Cold air conditioning, powerful water pressure and comfy beds made this place a hit with all of us. Perfect.
And no more driving... I just hope my feet hold up with all the walking I know is ahead of us....
After a long day with caves, bread and sinkholes we finally made it into Molfetta, a surprisingly big city nowadays 10 miles away from the even bigger city of Bari where we would return the Volvo and catch the high speed train to Roma. At first, Tommy drove us through some weird little streets (some barely wide to make a turn around a corner!), but I straightened him out with my own sense of direction.
We then pulled right up to the port next to the Duomo where our apartment waited... above a restaurant and tabacchi shop where we had to check in. The man in the tabacchi was very nice, especially when I mentioned my dad being Molfetese... then he talked about people he knew in Hoboken! The two towns are twins in the eyes of Molfetese and share the same patron saint and festival day, the Madonna di Materi.
The location of the apartment could not have been better... right on the port, view of the harbor, next to the Duomo and its bells, and part the historic old center, or centro storico. It was one flight up with a door on a tiny alley through an archway in the old building.
The apartment itself was a stark contrast to the 500 year old building it was in... ultra modern, sleek, kitchen, bath, even a laundry with dryer. I went straight to our balcony and soaked in the view. There was a pot garden on the balcony with limes and kumquats on the trees. The harbor is beautiful... as my Dad told me, lots of fishing and sail boats, the buildings all white, and the smell of the sea. Many still use wooden boats with a stand up paddling technique using two long oars. I spoke to my Dad... we made it, Pop. I could feel him.
Lisa went into laundry mode, cleaning what we needed for our last week before heading home. The trouble is, these machines are not like our washing machines. It took way too long and the dryer kept shutting down every few minutes. While she was busy and since it was late in the day, Lucas and I hit the twilight streets of Molfetta for the first time on a quest for dinner supplies.
We walked to the main street named for their saint, Madonna di Matieri, looking for an alimentari for pasta, cheese, wine and anything else we could make dinner with. The street was lit up and lively, but definitely not touristy. This is a local scene. One church (there are four on this street alone, not counting the Duomo around the corner on the harbor) was busy with a service... singing and all. Men were sitting in front of various clubs and organizations... veterans of war, political parties, the festival committee, fishermen, etc. Some were playing that odd southern card game we saw back in Castelmezzano, using baroque looking cards without numbers. Many people were just out for pasagiata--the evening walk.
We talked to several people, asking directions and the like... no matter who we spoke to they were always very friendly with a big southern smile...kind of like my Dad always had. The contrast from northern Italians is obvious. Northerners are more businesslike, curt and talk fast with immaculate pronunciation. Southerners seem happy, casual and talk with that southern garble, smoothing off all the sharp edges of words. In fact, hearing the Molfetese dialect reminded me of when my Dad spoke Italian. I had almost forgotten what he sounded like, but these people are bringing back memories. Dialects can change down here from town to town, village to village. As I am writing this while already in Rome, I can tell you how on the train from Bari the announcements were in three languages... Italian, English and southern dialect. They are distinctly different.
Lucas and I bonded that night... he felt the town the way I did. He kept squeezing my hand and telling me how glad he was to be here with me. He had a glowing smile on his face all through our walk. What a son.
We found an alimentari and brought the goodies back to the apartment to make a simple dinner of pasta, sauce, cheese, wine and focaccia. We even had a surprise for Lisa... a take-out liter container of gelati for dessert. A simple meal, but again... one of the better ones. By the way, all around Italy we've been buying very good bottles of wine in alimentari for 3-4 Euros... less than five dollars. They have all been good. Even the house wines in restaurants have been fine.
The next morning we didn't have much time since we had return the car and catch a train in Bari for Rome. But we did have a couple of hours to take a stroll around the centro storico, take pics and imagine my Dad and grandfather here. I imagined my grandfather living in the historic section because it was close to the port--he was a sailor. As we watched the early morning activities of the residents today, I imagined my ancestors doing the same sorts of things... hanging wash on their balconies, sweeping the already pristine marble streets, hosing off the steps, walking the dog, watering the plants and spices growing on the balconies, or simply sitting and getting some morning sun.
Maybe I'm being romantic about it, but in Molfetta we found the most real lifestyle in Italy. Simple, honest, clean, and robust. For the first time we've actually seen people with well fed bellies... the people in the north are amazingly skinny in comparison. These people love life, simple as it may be.
We headed over to the old fish market which looked very lively, but Lucas couldn't take the fish smell, so we walked the harbor wall on the way back to the apartment. Lucas and I went down the marble steps to the water and both cupped some Adriatic water and blessed ourselves in honor of Angel Grandpa, as we call my Dad.
When checking out, yet another man at the tabacchi talked about Hoboken and the link with people in Molfetta and said of my Dad that he is part of our bodies... pointing to me and Lucas and touching a hand to his heart. His big southern smile choked me up as we said our goodbyes.
Yea, Dad... we made it... with you.
Jerry Finzi, Sal's son.
Next we headed on to pay homage to my father, Saverio (Sal) Finzi. We are paying a visit to his birthplace, the Adriatic port town of Molfetta. Thousands of immigrants left Molfetta and traveled to America--like my grandfather, grandmother and their 3 children--and settled in Hoboken, New Jersey, another port town. My Dad was 3-1/2 years old when he came over. My grandfather, Sergio Finzi, was a sailor and had been to the U.S. before--It was 1917 and he was finally bringing his family to his new world. More to tell about my Molfetta experience a bit later. Right now we are traveling at about 135 mph on a high speed train, the La Frecciargienta, closing in on Rome's Tiburtina Station... sure to be a stressful experience until we locate the driver we hired to meet us there...
Sorry for the delay in my posts. We have not had any Internet for the last couple of days. (We are currently in Rome and catching up on the postings.)
By the way, even though we are now well away from the trullo region, we are now seeing more and more ancient forms of trulli... cone shaped piles of rock burial tombs, and stone dwellings with stepped dome shapes (less pointed than a trullo). All very old and ancient--their stones weathered and lichen covered. The dwellings are obvious--they are taller. The tombs are often fairly low to the ground and clustered together.
There are also other types of ruins commonly seen in this area of Italy. The Poste--surrounded on all sides by dry laid stone walls--were used for centuries by shepherds to protect their flocks from predators and weather. The other type is called the Jazzo (jazzi, plural), for sheep farms. It's a good thing that this area is a national park which protects these treasures. The sad thing is that some species are endangered or have disappeared altogether... like the Egyptian Vulture.
We then drove to the other side of Altamura... out into the Alta Murgia, the gently rolling plateau where I surprised Lucas with the gigantic Altamura Sinkhole. (Lucas had become quite the sinkhole expert after a recent science fair.) We were all shocked at the vastness of the thing as we pulled up to the rim of the ancient crater. It was about half a mile wide and about 500 feet deep. It collapsed thousands of years ago and provided homes to primitive man in the caves just under its rim. The reason it collapsed is the structure of the Murgia itself. This is a karst region, geologically speaking. That means the limestone structure underground is filled with caves, many sometimes collapse causing a sinkhole. We were all amazed. Lucas and I decided to roll a boulder down and see if we could hit the bottom. It stopped halfway down on a ledge... and I threw a muscle lobbing it in.
One more thing. Today I finally saw my first hoopoe bird close-up... a woodpecker sort of bird with long tail, curved beak and a flashy comb on top of his head. When they fly all you see is a flash of black and white and that crazy comb. The Alta Murgia National Park is one of the little known wonders in Italy--a nature lover's delight. You see, there's a lot more to Italy besides the Leaning Tower, gondolas or the Trevi Fountain. A whole lot more. I've fallen in love with the Natura d'Italia.
The dinosaur site was just outside of the historic walled town of Altamura where we heard tales of their famous semolina bread with a meaty texture that could last for a month. I parked outside the arched port in the old town wall which I knew was close to one of the oldest panifico (bakeries) in Italy... the 500 year old Forno Antica. A direction from a passerby and a couple of minutes later and we found it... in a tiny piazza tucked into the alleys of the citta (city).
We entered the centuries old little panifico and met Vito, a mostached, bearded pirate of a baker with a robust personality. His oven was rustic and fed by olive tree logs. Huge loaves of chef hat shaped breads were all around. When I asked about the bread he suggested a tasting--una degustastione--of not just bread, but of all sorts of foreign delights. Dio mio! Are we about to have a lunch... and actually at lunchtime?!
He led us out to a single umbrella covered tavalo (table) where two other couples were already enjoying a feast. We sat, introduced ourselves and began one of the best meals we've had so far. The conversation ranged from English to French to Portugese to Italian. Lucas loved the experience and they all loved him. Then came the food. Bruschetta, pasta, crostini cheeses, wine carpaccio and the bread... that great bread. Lucas ate with gusto and was amazed when he learned later that the carpaccio he had was raw, marinated veal... and he liked it! It was obvious to all that Lucas was no typical MacDonalds American kid.
Afterwards we all took pictures, hugged like old friends and left with bread, full bellies and a great memory. THIS was exactly the kind of European experience I wanted to share with Lisa and Lucas....
Watch the video below which features Vito's bakery.
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After Castellana di Grotte I wanted to surprise Lucas with something else incredible... but not all well laid plans come to life. We drove a stark landscape via my lat long coordinates to a quarry where they recently discovered thousands of dinosaur footprints of several species. But when we got there a locked gate prevented us from entering the site. It seems the site is in transition... a half built visitor center and a locked gate. A nearby railroad worked told me the only way to visit is to make an appointment with the owner of the land who lived in a nearby town. Darn... that would have been cool... but we are very short on time today...
Nearby there is another ancient find that you need an appointment to visit... the Altamura Man. He is a 130,000 year old ancient Homo Sapiens species whose fossilized bones were found in situ in a cave near Altamura. There is really a ton of ancient history in this area.
In the morning, we finished breakfast at our trullo, said goodbye to our host, and drove on to Castellana di Grotte, a cavern system in Puglia. When we arrived, Lucas felt sick, so we delayed our tour until he felt better...a mild case of twisty road car sickness. A cool drink and lemon gelato pop put things right and he was good to go.
Rather than walking down hundreds of steps with the main group, we opted to take the elevator with the other folks with mobility issues, which saved our legs for the rest of the tour. (A bit embarrassing since the rest were very old people with pretty severe walking problems). We didn't know that they'd make us walk uphill and around to the highest point on the Grotte property where the elevator shaft stuck up above everything. We had already walked down to the entrance, then Lucas felt ill so we had to walk way up to where the snack bar was, then back down to the entrance waiting on line for 20 minutes (even though it was late for the time of our tour) and now we were going way back up. Sigh. The cave itself had lots of steps anyway and fairly steep and slippery paths, both upwards and down.
The main cavern is a 180-foot tall bubble in the earth...with a 50-foot wide oculus on top, letting the sun shine in. We went through four huge chambers and loads of side passages...stalagmites, stalactites, huge columns, bizarre shapes...all colorful and strange. Lisa thought Luray caverns was better, but Lucas and I were wowed.
They only allowed pictures in the first chamber (an arbitrary rule), after that, the tour guides turned on their jailhouse charm...watching us like hawks and threatening to end the tour if anyone snapped a pic. They even came after Lucas at one point as the tour started and he was still taking pics beyond some imaginary point of NO PHOTOS. Ridiculous. I'm a professional photographer and this stuff always gets me--especially for amateur shots. A pro might bring lots of equipment and tripods, flash units, etc.... and they have a means to earn money on the photos. But amateurs don't typically earn money at all, so when tourist places forbid picture-taking the only reason is they want to ensure purchases of their own promo materials... books, postcards and the like. These rules are silly.
Anyway... We made it out alive, but my knees sure didn't. By the way, anyone visiting this cave should know that while it is a bit cool, at least during this warm October the humidity was very high and sweating was unavoidable.
The second day we started out from our trullo and first found ourselves strolling the shady, cool narrow streets of the town of Locorotondo... one of the gorgeous white hilltowns Puglia is famous for. The white comes from the white tufa stone in the region... and white marble. It also is from the Greek roots of southern Italy. The Greeks ruled here long before the Romans and at times we felt like we were in Greece. The pot gardens around every corner were lush. We enjoyed wide vistas from a little park... then gelato to refresh us instead of lunch (everything closed at lunchtime!) Afterwards we drove to the coast and saw the Adriatic Sea for the first time. Low rocky, rugged coastline peppered with grottoes, little beach coves and palm trees. The cleanest water I've seen.
We wound up at Egnazia, an archaeological site at the edge of the sea with ruin of a 2600 year old Messopotamian civilization and a Roman town from 200 bc. There was also an excellent museum with urns, glass, jewelry, sculptures and everyday objects almost three millennium old. Lucas got some ideas for his next pottery class and bought some gifts for classmates.
By evening we came upon Polignano a Mare... a great old town with ancient historic center on the sea. Its best feature is the little beach tucked down between sea cliffs below the bridge through town. We parked a few blocks in from the sea and walked around a bit in the Centro Storico. It was around 6 or so and we had to wait an hour and a half for any restaurant to open for dinner. We found an artisan pizza restaurant right across from the beach, but they weren't open yet. (La Terrazza) The kind waitress let us sit at a side table and have drinks and snacks before they opened. Then we finally had our pizzas--individual pizzas that filled our plates and our bellies. Lucas had one with hot sausage on it, Lisa had eggplant and grana padano cheese, mine had sweet sausage, pesto and pignoli nuts. By far the best pizzas we've had in Italy so far.
It took us an hour or so to drive back up the windy roads to the plateau where our trullo house was. We tucked ourselves in our trullo and slept dreaming of Romans, the sea, grottoes, and pizza...
Before leaving Matera we drove across the canyon to get a look back at the cave city. But first, a stop at an outdoor sculpture park where Lucas' favorite was an old Italian car crushed between two boulders about 60 feet up in the air. Wild.
Then we drove to a spot overlooking the canyon. As we drove into a wide parking field at the edge of the canyon, I saw another of the dreaded parking lot scammers... waving for me to park where HE commanded. I didn't drive toward him and went right to the edge of the canyon to park. When I got out of the car, he started claiming that it was too "pericoloso" (dangerous), even though there were others parked there. Mind you, this is a parking area in a free, national park. He got upset when he realized he wasn't going to get a parking "tip" from me and seemed to disappear (just like the one in Florence... must be in the same union).
The gravina looked like a little Grand Canyon with cave homes clinging to the mountain above the gorge. A wide stream was far below. We explored some ancient caves that people had lived in tens of thousands of years ago... and saw a cave church. Both lizards and blue shirted Italian boy scouts darted about.
On the road again, I had a quick stop for Lucas that I thought might interest him. The Italian Space Agency had a radio telescope research facility nearby... with several large telescopes. I had heard there was an exhibit inside the facility but we were not allowed in. Perhaps it's only for Italian school trips. Still it was great to be up close to these large devices.
We then told Tommy to head toward our Trullo rental...
Trullo facts: Trullo = one. Trulli = more than one. They say that the people in this region designed trulli around 1400 to get out of paying taxes (sounds like modern Italians) because a distant ruler raised taxes on permanent houses. A trullo traditionally was built using no mortar, so when the tax man came visiting they would dismantle the trullo. I'm not so sure about that because there are more ancient tombs and more rounded trullo looking structures that might be an earlier version. Besides, it would have been a huge effort to completely dismantle and then reassemble even a dry laid stone structure. It might simply be a method of dealing with the very strong seasonal winds that can plague the Adriatic coastline--wind won't blow down a pointy, cone shaped roof. For the same reason church steeples on the Côte d'Azur are made from filigree ironwork and not brick or stone. Many trulli have ancient symbols painted on their cones... some early Christian, some pagan, some zodiac. These are supposed to protect the home. Trulli are often made of us more than one connected trullo and the rooms inside have tall pointed ceilings--keeping them cool in the hot months.
As we got closer to trullo country, the roads closed in with white rock walls on either side... like they have in Ireland or England. The fields contained horses, olive trees--more olives down here than anywhere else in Italy--or crops of various salad greens. There are vineyards too. This part of Puglia makes most of the country's wine. Some fields had been harvested and fresh manure was spread, reminding me of the spring back home, except this is October and they must be preparing for a winter crop.
After driving through narrow, wall lined back roads, barely seeing any other cars, we pulled into Trullo Rosso. It's like a little hobbit house with eclectic gardens decorated with various tools from olive oil production from the old days. Our host, Hugo was extremely friendly and responded to our every need. The rooms were clean yet rustic... with four trulli cone ceilings.... each of our bedrooms looked up at a cone. There was even a fireplace... too hot for that, though.
That afternoon we decided to do the big tourist thing around here... we visited Aberobello, a town filled hundreds of trulli in the historic center. It was like a festival... lots of people, but curiously mostly locals. The cruise ship bus tours drop off thousands in the mornings but they were all gone and the locals were in their passeggiata mode.... strolling, smoking, gossiping, drinking, all wearing puffy quilted.coats.or other winter garb. The cool 68 degree evening was way to cold for them. We were stared at... shorts and shirts gave us away as other worldly.
We bought some gifts and I got Lisa a silver pendant of one of the ancient trullo symbols... the trident... representing the Holy Trinity and (my thought) our We Three family.
We three had dinner in a tourist restaurant... after 8pm, of course. Sigh. Not great, but similar to a stop at a pizzeria back home. Having gone through another day with no lunch, we were starved.
The drive back was easy because of the white walls lighting up the sides of the roads. Sleep came easy as we looked up at the rustic cones above our heads...
I made an interesting choice this time... a night in a luxury cave hotel. Matera is a town in southern Basilicata (in the boot's ankle bone) where as far back as 40,000 years people lived in caves. There are even ancient churches and pagan temples in caves here. Back in the fifties the Italian government moved all the people out of the cave home because of poverty and disease. They built a new town up the hill... nowadays it is a fairly large city with its historic Sassi sections. Sassi means stones... the term for these unique homes carved from the mountain.
At first we couldn't get to our hotel... Tommy kept directing us into a pedestrian zone crowded with people here for a hot air balloon fest. The the fiesty gps directed us to enter a dreaded ZTL (zona traffico limitata)... where cameras capture your plates and you get an expensive summons six months after returning to the U.S. We called the hotel and they said to drive through the ZTL and they will give the police our plate number.. no ticket. I guess we'll see after six months.
The hotel is chic and very stylish... the room they gave us was up several flights of exterior stairs... whew. They had someone to carry luggage but still... what a climb on rustic stone steps. I mentioned to the porter something about my bad knees slowing me down and before I knew it, we had switched rooms to a larger suite lower down with a huge walk-in shower and bigger rooms. The air conditioning was barely working... the Italians aren't into chilled anything.
We walked the village and looked across the gorge to where the paleolithic caves are...lots of them. There is a church carved into the rock cliff above the Duomo. We bought a clay water vessel whistle for Lucas in the piazza outside the Duomo. You fill it with water... blow into the spout... and it sounds like a bird's warbled song. Oh, and I got myself nice clay ocarina. I collect instruments of all types. This is a little treasure.
Next, we walked through an archway next to the duomo toward the Sassi Museum. This was very interesting and reminded us that these sassi used to be the homes for people--and livestock--up until the 1950s when the government decided to move all the people to modern (and sterile) apartment blocks in the newly built part of town--away from the gorge. Instead of moving them, I think they should have helped them modernize their homes to have healthier places to live. There is a movement today to take back control of the sassi from hotel developers and international investors and put the descendants back into their sassi homes.
We first tried to go into a nice restaurant with a good menu... we walked in and all of a sudden about 7 waiters snapped to attention and looked toward us. I said, "Tutti per me?" (All of you this, for me?) No one laughed. One look at us and they claimed the restaurant wasn't opened yet. It was after 7pm so I thought it should be. Then I got it. The white shirted and tie waiters, the white table cloths. Sure, for someone else (who didn't happen to be wearing shorts), they might be open. For us, no. Seriously, this was the impression I got.
SO... we found another small, modern place called Panecotto (literally, Cooked Bread)... and that was their specialty--stale bread country soups. I had a bean soup with stale bread and sausage. Definitely something to try at home. We also had an assortment of bruschette, cacciocavallo and ham. The restaurant was in a renovated cave. Pretty cool. Afterwards when paying I noticed what I though was Altamura bread--with the brown crust and looking like a floppy chef's hat. (Then I realized the bread on our table was the same). I asked about it and I was corrected immediately. "E la pane di MATERA!" These people are really passionate about their local versions of bread. It sure tasted the same as Altamura bread.
The next morning we had a chic so-so breakfast in a white on white cave deep in the bowels of the hotel... VERY deep. It was like a rabbit warren of passages and steps. And it was very hot, with Italians coming into breakfast wearing puffy quilted jackets or sweaters. It's been mid-seventies to over eighty the last few days... and WE have longed for each cool evening while the locals put on winter coats an scarves! There was no ventilation in the dining rooms at all, and everyone was SO quiet while they ate. We were compelled to whisper. I whispered to Lucas that one of us should let out a loud burp or fart to wake everyone up! (We didn't).
We walked out to the balcony and saw hot air balloons launching over the canyon. There was a balloon festival across the canyon that we knew nothing about. What timing. We then packed and loaded up and headed out across the canyon to see the view looking back toward this sassi town. It's like a little Grand Canyon with a village clutching its edge. We even found a cave church over there...
Next stop... a two night stay in a trullo. A cone shaped house known only in this part of the world...
To get out of Amalfi we had to put up with more twisty madness and twisted drivers. I can't describe how dangerously these fools drive considering the narrowness of the roads and the abundance of blind curves. Lisa shot a video that captured the insanity... including a near head-on collision. Once we headed south of Sorrento on the highway, things became more normal... well almost.
The highway was six lanes wide in places. Ahh... cruise control, come to Babbo. Actually, I was amazed that the South had such a great highway--huge bridges crossing over deep ravines, and lots of tunnels going through the mountains. Italy has always turned their backs--and the government wallets--on the South. But, get this... every several miles there were lane closures, switching lanes over to the opposite side of the highway, with no construction or workers in sight. There was one such detour that funneled 3 lanes down to a single narrow lane, with concrete and metal guard rails that were inches wider than my Volvo XC60 SUV. I actually stopped completely... thinking I was going to scrape the sides of the car. The collision sensor was making that flat line sound! I JUST made it... and somehow the small box truck behind me made it, too. This stuff is nuts.
Anyway, the rest of the drive to Castelmezzano was beautiful. Bigger and more rugged mountains lined our path. This was like the West in the U.S.... big sky and mountains. Some were bald and rocky, others were forested. Then there were dizzyingly high peaks with villages clinging to their cliffs.
We took a side detour to a ghost town I had heard about hanging on one of these sort of cliffs, 2000 feet above a steep valley. It became a ghost after an earthquake decades ago. But as we pulled into the village some officials were just leaving and locking a huge gate that had been recently installed. They said it was to protect the historic site from vandals and that it was too dangerous. I had seen lots of pics from people visiting this site and we had supplies for a picnic overlooking that incredible view. They must have locked the place up fairly recently. What a shame. The men were very nice and their leader told us to follow one of their cars to a nearby rustic picnic area that turned out to be really nice. Bread, olives, cheese, tomatoes, fruit, "gassata" (sparking water) and Fanta... lunch was simple but great. (By the way, Fanta here is NOT like the chemical tasting stuff in the U.S. It actually has orange juice from Italian oranges in it. Very light and refreshing.)
Pulling in to Castelmezzano was great... uphill twisty roads but more sheep than crazy drivers. Our first views took our breath away. What a mystical setting. A village tucked under amazing dolomite pinnacles. We were able to pull right up to the hotel an unload... parking a short walk down in the village parking. The reception was on the 5th floor... our room was down on the first. At the desk, Lucas tasted the huge block of salt that someone turned into a glowing lamp. Salty with a soft glow. This was an upside down, fairly modest hotel clinging to a cliff with views of the dolomites outside our windows. At least there was an elevator.
Dinner was a bit stuffy and formal but food was good. As this was mid October, the hotel seemed to have only 3 rooms booked. I suppose they get busy in the summer with people flocking here to do the zipline (more on that below). Afterwards the highlight was walking the passagiata with the locals (we were the only tourists) and coming upon the piazza overlooking the cliffs and village just as all the lights were lit. A Christmas village illuminated right before our eyes. I got some great pics using my tiny backpack tripod. We then walked a bit on the little streets, so narrow that you had to hug the walls if a small car came past.
The next morning we drove to the nearby sister clifftown of Pietrapertosa via an amazing twisty and dangerous road (one part was undercut from a landslide... I drove quick over that.) Even this drive was an enjoyable adventure with just us on the roads--aside from the sheep and goats. I tried taking a photo of a line of sheep heading toward our road to cross... as soon as I got out of the car I heard one of the "sheep" give two sharp barks. It was the sheep dog warning of the danger. The sheep stopped dead in their tracks and would not move as long as the didn't get the all clear.
The views of Pietrapertosa were even more astounding than Castelmezzano. I'll be sure to post some pics... words can't do it justice. The pinnacles were ornate and many. Some looked like faces... others just impress with the volcanic uplift that created them. The views from the road is amazing. In some parts of the village the cliffs lean and hang right over the houses!
There is even a zipline that runs between the two towns called the Flight of the Angel (volodellangelo.com). You lay flat in a harness--Superman style--and fly at over 70 MPH! I had hoped to do it myself but it was a bit of a logistic problem... You need to decide which direction you want to travel in. There are lines going both ways but in different locations due to the downward pitch of the line needed to go from one town to the other. I couldn't figure out how to get back and forth--and one of the roads between the two towns is closed. (Yea... that's my story and I'm stickin' to it... yea, that's the ticket.)
We then drove into a broad high plateau to move to our next amazement... the cave city of Matera, where we would spend the night in a cave hotel....
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We decided that we were going to pick up supplies to cook with tonight after our trip to Florence and Fiesole. We tried to look for signs for an In CoOp supermarket or an alimentari Grocery store... but no signs and the only alimentari on the way back to Mormoraia was closed (at 5pm on a Saturday afternoon?), so we pulled on the side of the road and asked Tommy where the nearest one was. Niente closer that 20 miles... at least that's what he says. I don't trust him totally. After all, besides sounding a bit robotic, his accent is pure American! How much can he possibly know about local shops? He's just a tourist--just like us!
So I figured that nearby San Gimignano must have an alimentari outside the historic walls... so we set course... 8 minutes away. We found one! A nice one too. Paper towels for napkins, cleanup and to clear my clay dusted rear window... eggs... sliced tachina (turkey)... brasciola (very thin sliced salt cured beef)... little tomatoes... onion... snacks... drinks...butter... half loaf of bread. We were set for dinner and breakfast--or so we thought.
Another side hassle was that we were so chatty with the prospect of a home cooked meal combined with our friend Tommy not calling out turns for some reason as he usually does... we kept missing the turn-off out of town--four times! Sigh. (Our family travel theme song, to the tune of Beach Boys, I Get Around: "Turn, Turn Turn around, I turn around... Turn around, ooh..ooh...oooo... I turn around... I'm gettin' bugged drivin' up and down the same old street...")
As we hunted for basics in our cucina cupboards, there were no staples that typically are found in these apartment or house rentals... salt, pepper, foil, spices, coffee, sugar, etc. So this meant that problem solving Babbo had to fix this somehow--and we were not going to pay the 50 Euro per person for dinner in Mormoraia's little cafe!
OK... boil water... cook bird nest pasta we bought... frying pan... butter... slice up the brasciola (salty enough) into the pan... Lucas, slice those little tomatoes and toss in... add some wine... reduce sauce... toss in a bowl and grate little piece of leftover pecorino cheese we had two days ago... butter the unsalted regional bread... pour the rest of the wine... and Presto! My new recipe! Pasta Pomodoro e Brasciola alla Babbo!
Lisa and Lucas said it was one of the best meals here so far. Bravo, Babbo! One morning I made a down and dirty frittata with the little we had in our Mormoraia pantry. Buono gusto!
Other times we bought food at the large supermarkets, which had great cheese displays, not so decent breads, unrefrigerated milk in cartons, but lots and lots of produce. The fruits and veggies were very good for supermarkets. The tomatoes disappointed me, though. They seem to be selling a lot of hybrid hothouse grown tomatoes (like tomatoes on the vine in the U.S.). Decent quality, but not organic, fresh picked or heirloom varieties.
The cheeses were something we could get anywhere--supermarket or alimentari. Cacciacavalo was our favorite... a dumbbell shaped cheese with mellow, nutty flavor which went with everything. One of my favorite things was the millefiore honey... thick as jam and incredibly delicious on bread in the morning. It was also great with ricotta. (I was never really a fan of American style honey.)
Lisa also fell in love with making coffee (espresso, excuse me) in those little Moka pots. I'm sure Santa will leave one under the tree for her. I wish I had access to a pizza oven while in Italy. I would have loved to make pizza there... but heck, I discovered that I make pizza better than we had in most of Italy anyway.
Cooking for ourselves in Italy became one of our favorite things, although Lucas always liked eating out in a new ristorante.
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