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Archive for the ‘Europe 2016’ Category

21 – Barcelona

Note – 3 days in Barcelona so another big post

Eight hours travelling from Arles landed us in Barcelona at 2pm. Our apartment was just two blocks away from the train station thanks to Monica’s good planning. We met Fredrico and quickly settled into the 3rd floor apartment complete with air conditioning and terrace overlooking the busy (and noisy) street below. Because of the noise and the heat however, we didn’t use the terrace much.

We went right out to spend the afternoon exploring the famous La Rambla street with its shady pedestrian center promenade. Barcelona is a huge city but the subway got us there in just 10 minutes… very easy to get around. We started the top of the street at the picturesque Catalunya Plaza with its lovely fountains and statuary and walked down the street all the way to the shores of the Mediterranean (about 1 kilometer). Lined with souvenir shops, restaurants, hotels, markets, theaters and thousands of people enjoying this beautiful Thursday afternoon, La Rambla is a wonderful place to stroll, people watch and enjoy some tapas and sangria.

Three hours later, we arrived at the bottom of La Rambla to the harbour and the impressive 200 ft high column monument to Christopher Columbus. He reported to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand on his return from discovering the New World in 1492. All around this plaza stand magnificent government and business buildings highlighting the grandeur of Spanish Renaissance architecture.

Later in the evening, we strolled from our apartment 1 km to the Placa Españya at the foot of Mont Juic to see the Magic Fountain show. This is the site of the 1929 International Exibition and is totally mind blowing. Getting there, we walked past a modern sculpture by Joan Miró  (we saw his work in Chicago), past the Moorish influenced Torres Arena (built as a bull fighting ring but now a shopping mall), past the ornate central fountain (influenced by Gaudi), through the massive twin Venetian towers, along a corridor of vertical fountain jets toward the Palau Nacional  (now a museum) with it’s breathtaking cascading fountain. At the foot of the stairs to the Palau, the Magic Fountain show started precisely at 9:30 to the delight of the huge crowd gathered there, young and old, happily milling and dancing in the mist from the water jets timed to music. It was just like watching fireworks… that oooh and awww sense you get when mesmerized by moving color against a night sky. It was truly spectacular and we are so lucky to catch it as it only runs periodically through the the summer.

The next morning was clearn and bight and promised to be a hot one. So, where is the best place to go when it’s hot? Inside a church and today we saw four remarkable ones plus a city park.

We started by catching the subway to mid-point La Rambla and struck out to explore the streets of Old Barcelona. The buildings are all tall (5 stories at least) and connected end to end with no space between except for streets. The cobblestone streets are very narrow, barely wide enough for a small delivery van, and some only wide enough for pedestrians (4 ft) making this part of the city quite shady (a good thing… temp already 25 at 9am). Most of the buildings date back to medieval times with some as old as the Roman Empire. However, as a result of the closeness of the buildings, you cannot step back anywhere to get a photo unless you are in a small plaza. Such was the case with some of the churches we visited…difficult to get an outside shot.

The first one we came to was Santa Maria del Pi situated just one block off La Rambla in the Gothic Quarter. The name means Saint Mary of the Pine and there has been a pine tree growing in the small courtyard since the 1200’s. The church itself is of Catalunya Gothic design and is, by comparison to other Catholic churches, quite simple and unadorned both inside and out. However, its most notable feature is the remarkable rose window over the main entrance. At 10 meters in diameter, it is one of the largest rose windows in the world and is absolutely breathtaking. Photos cannot capture it’s beauty. To get the whole thing in the shot, you have to zoom out and then you lose the wonderful details. I was very happy to see this.

Moving on through the Gothic Quarter, we came next to the Bacilica of Barcelona also known as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia and is the seat of the archbishop of Barcelona. Saint Eulalia was a 3rd century virgin who was martyred by the Romans for refusing to recant her Christian beliefs, by being stuffed into a barrel, stuck with knives and rolled down the street. As for adornment both inside and out, the cathedral is at the opposite end of the scale from the previous one. Begun in the 11th century, it took 200 years to complete and therefore displays both got gothic and neo-gothic styles. The entire perimeter of the church inside is sectioned into individual chapels, each dedicated to a specific saint. The statuary is incredibly beautiful…the artists really capturing well the emotions of the biblical stories.

Carrying on, me moved from the Gothic Quarter into the Ribera del Borne Quarter to find the third church, Santa Maria del Mar. Built in the 12th century at the height of Catalonia’s maritime and mercantile preeminence. Hemmed in by narrow streets, it does not have the typical cross (transepts) design of most cathedrals but rather is one long straight building with no architectural divisions from front to back. This gives the church an impression of light and space. The stained glass windows and the statuary are fantastic. There are so many interesting things to see, I felt like I was simply blowing past all the stories and history. Because of time, however,  we had to move on.

It was already 11:30 and we were famished and we had 12:15 reservations for the fourth church of the day, La Sagrada Familia, so we had to hustle. Lunch was some quick food at the Picasso Bar right across the street from La Sagrada so we could make the quick dash when we finished.

Begun in 1882 under the engineering leadership of Antoni Gaudi, the cathedral was far from complete at his death in 1926 and is still under construction today. Estimated completion is 2026 (100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death). Consecrated by the pope in 2010 as a minor Bacilica, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The design will have 18 spires in total when complete.. in ascending order of height, they are: the 12 apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and the last one, not started yet, will be Jesus. When completed, the pinnacle of the Jesus spire will be 170 mts high making La Familia Sagrada the tallest church in the world.

The facade over the entrance depicts the Holy Family (La Familia Sagrada). All in concrete gray, there is no color to distract from the wonderful expression of the sculptures. The color is reserved for the inside. Oh my goodness…. I don’t know if I have ever seen or felt such wonder in a church (yes, I probably have but in this moment, I was overwhelmed). I have seen many beautiful windows and architectural designs on our travelss… but nothing like this. So brilliant, so different, so, so, so, egahhhhh! I can’t describe it. You really have to see it for yourself. My photos might just give you an idea.

Leaving there, we caught the bus to Parc Guell in the north end of the city. Also designed by Gaudi, is is a fantasy place of sculpted stairs cases, doll house cottages, walking pathways through shady grottos and balconies overlooking the park, some with sweeping views over all Barcelona. Also in the park is Gaudi’s personal residence (now a museum) where he lived for the last 20 years of his life.

We toured it all and then headed home at 5:00, exhausted as much from the heat as the walking. Too tired to go out for dinner, we crashed in our apartment to snack on oranges, yogurt and peanuts while we blogged in the comfort of air conditioning.

Next morning (last day in Barcelona) we decided to revisit the Gothic Quarter of Old Barcelona. The first thing we came to exiting the subway terminal on La Rambla was the fabulous and vibrant St. Joseph Market, commonly called La Boqueria. It is a public market with estimated 200 booths inside selling every food item imaginable… from soup to nuts (see the photos). Impressions include; colorful, aromatic, happy people, fresh everything, bizarre food, wonderful.

From there, we strolled through the streets past some landmarks we had seen yesterday looking specifically for the artist’s market I had read about. And there is was right beside the Cathedral. Delighted, we were. Chose something for our collection, we did.

We carried on through the streets enjoying the architecture. Most of the people were other tourists so it was difficult to find authentic Catelonians. One exception was a funeral procession on its way to the Cathedral. We paused, watching them pass, very solemn, very quiet, quite lovely in its own way.

Then lunch at the #1 burger joint in Barcelona, Bacoa. Excellent burgers! I had the lamb…Mon had chicken. And off we went towards home stopping at Placa Españya for some daytime shots. This is where we went our first night to see the Magic Fountain show. From the upper deck of the Torre Arena, you get a great view in one direction of Placa Espanya, Mont Juic and the 1992 Olympic site and in the opposite direction, Barcelona to the west all the way to the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus high up on the distant hills to the west.

For our last night of this trip, what a wonderful coincidence when we learned that Monica’s niece, Sandra and her husband Tom, just happened to be in Barcelona as well. We connected through email in the afternoon and made plans to meet for dinner at their hotel not far from Placa Catalunya. We rode the subway there and walked a short distance to the hotel, passing the famous Casa Batilo designed by Gaudi on the way. It was a real treat to seem them and hear of their travels… they had just completed a biking tour through the Pyrenees Mountains. What a wonderful night we had, laughing, sharing family stories, eating excellent food and toasting to our health and happiness.

This concludes our European vacation of 2016. Thanks for reading and hope your enjoyed travelling along with us through my blogsite. Saludos mi amigos.

20 – Arles

Note: we had a 3-day stay in Arles so this is a big post.

It was long travel day from Nice to Arles involving mad dashing to catch connecting trains and buses that were either late, cancelled or jammed packed with standing room only – all because of the ongoing rail strike in France.

When we did eventually arrive in Arles, it was a clear blue day and hot. We found our room … and it was absolutely adorable, in a cool ground level apartment under Natalie’s house (our landlord), complete with private patio, friendly family cats and decorated with various artwork, some of it original (Natalie is an artist).

First thing on the agenda, laundry! Off we went to find a laverie. Arles is a small city, easily walked from one end to the other in less than 15 minutes. Laundry done, we found a grocery store to stock up on wine, snacks and breakfast items (notice the priority order) and returned to the coolness of our patio for a couple hours of relaxation.

In the evening, the temperature moderated and we set out again to search for a restaurant. We chose one near the Place du Forum on Docteur Fanton St., Les Filles du 16. Excellent food, great wine, super friendly and attentive staff… we had a wonderful meal (see the photos) while we planned our next day. Strolling home along the Rhone, we imagined Van Gogh sitting there with his easel and paints 130 years ago creating “Starry Night Over the Rhone”… our favorite of his.

Next morning dawned clear and bright. The plan was to do the self-guided walking tour called “Following Vincent’s Footsteps”. Off we went and had a wonderful day visiting nine points on the map where Van Gogh painted specific pieces during his 2 years in Arles. He created more that 300 paintings in total while he was here and it was thrilling to stand in the same spots where he created these nine. Included on the walk was a visit to the Van Gogh Foundation where we saw 31 of his original paintings. They are spectacular. His treatment of light and shadow while capturing peasant life, landscapes and stills is mesmerizing. I tried to limit my photo gallery to my five favorites. Becsuse of the afternoon heat, we didn’t make it to the final point on the map, deciding instead to save it until next morning.

Also during the walking tour, we saw several other notable landmarks such as the 2nd century obelisk in the Place du Republique, Saint Triomphe’s Church, the ancient Roman walls of the city, the amphitheater dating to 90 AD, the Summer Gardens of Arles, beautiful fountains, and just really enjoyed the slower pace of this lovely city in comparrison to other larger European cities. The color in this city comes not from the buildings themselves, but from the doors and window shutters. They are painted in every color of the artist’s pallet mostly in soft muted shades. Really different and totally fascinating. Monica had great fun planning a collage of Arles shutters.

By afternoon it was pushing 30 degrees so we retreated to the coolness of our room for a siesta. An afternoon thunderstorm passed over with its haunting deep booming echoes reverberating through the alleys followed by a gentle patter of rainfall for 30 minutes. Then it was gone and the sun came out again and we were back to full humidity.

Later on, we strolled out for dinner and dessert and then lingered on the banks of the Rhone to watch the moon rise. Peaceful, quiet, serene … all on a starry Tuesday night.

Next morning (last day in Arles) it was bright blue skies again as we set out to find the final Van Gogh spot where he painted “Les Alyscamps, L’Automne”. On the way, we passed more ancient monuments and ruins affirming the importance of Arles in antiquity. It was (according to wikipedia) an important Roman intersection of the Alurian Road and the Rhone River. Armies, statesmen, merchants… all would have passed through Arles.

After a 10 minute walk, we found our destination. Alyscamps is an ancient Roman necropolis dating to the 2nd century AD and is the final stretch of the Alurian Way (the route from Rome to the western reaches of the empire) leading to the city gates of Arles. We appreciated the cool shade of the trees as we wandered among ancient sarcophagi toward the abandoned abbey. We had the place all to ourselves except for a few pigeons, and took our time exploring this ancient treasure with its vaulted domes, stained glass and secret tunnels under the floor. Monica was quite nervous as I disappeared into a dark passage, i-phone torch in hand, not sure where I would emerge.

Leaving there, I got nice shots of the ancient city gate tower (ruins). We proceeded onward to one more Van Gogh spot just down the road. It was was not on our walking tour map but we learned that is where he painted “Le Vieux Moulin” (The Old Windmill). A short walk, and there is was…very dilapidated, over run with weeds and pigeons but still recognizable from his painting nearly 130 years ago (1888).

The rest of the morning was spent souvenir shopping and slipping into the occasional church for coolness. By noon, the temperature was already over 30 degrees, so we headed to our room to relax and blog the afternoon away… with a nice chilled bottle of Van Gogh white.

Dinner was at Galoubet just a 5 minute walk away. The evening was calm and warm. We strolled the back streets to the restaurant finding new and charming scenes to photograph, like the bicycle with geraniums and sleeping cat. Music drifted in from someplace across the river and we enjoyed a lovely last meal in Arles.

 

19 – Nice and Monaco

Today’s original plan was to take the 10 minute train ride from Menton to Monte Carlo, tour the morning and then carry on to Nice for the night. We reversed that plan after a little online research told us there is no baggage storage at the train station in Monte Carlo. So we went straight to Nice, found our hostel, stashed our bags and walked to the bus station for the 45 minute ride back to Monte Carlo. On the walk to the bus in Nice, we passed a few notable landmarks (see the photos) and got our first glimpse the elegant grandeur of this Mediterranean architecture.

We arrived in Monaco, the second smallest country in the world after the Vatican, at 11 am. Hungry after already walking for nearly 2 hours, the first restaurant we came to was Planet Sushi… I was so happy to finally have a gluten free meal. Really good sushi… totally satisfying…. ready now to see the sights of old Monacoville.

We strolled along Montecarlo harbour admiring the many yachts… the smallest of which would cost an arm and a leg… saw people swimming, and the beautiful facade of the Oceanographic Museum, until we came to the elevator that lifts you to the high plateau of Monacoville. The option of climbing the stairs was rejected since the sun was out in full force today. At the top, we strolled through the Jardin du St. Martin. The coolness of the trees’ shade allowed us time to admire the flowers and lovely statuary and spectacular views across the sea.

Next we visited Saint Nicholas Cathedral (where Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly were married in the 50’s). Not huge by Cathedral standards and quite dark and refreshingly cool with gorgeous (relatively small) stained glass windows and exquisite statuary. No frescoes but a breathtaking mosaic of Mary in the dome with the gold pieces shimmering brilliantly. Of special note are the tombs of Rainier and Kelly. Tourists were eagerly crowding that space for a photo.

Next, we passed through the souvenir district (not historical, of course, but amusing just the same) until we came to the palace of the prince of Monaco, Prince Albert the 2nd (son of Rainier and Kelly). The palace itself is big but not outrageous and not as interesting photogenically as the guards pacing back and forth in front of it.

By 3 pm, we were on the bus back to Nice, ogling at the incredible vistas along the way…sheer drops above blue-green harbours, dotted with yachts at anchor and ringed with colorful stuco-sided mansions. This French Riviera coastline is mile after mile of wealth and expense… or so it seemed to me. I can admire it but can’t really appreciate it.

For the next 2 hours, we strolled through the main arteries of Nice to the train station to get our tickets out for the next morning. Along the way, we had fun people watching on this beautiful Sunday afternoon. Thousands were out enjoyingg the sun in the gardens and promenades of Nice. A highlight and complete surprise for me was the Bascilique de Notre Dame… with its deeply colored stained glass windows… perhaps some of the prettiest I have ever seen.

Back to our hostel for some blog-time and to cool off our hot feet. We only ventured out once more to stroll the 1 block down to the beach to see the sun set. Monica dipped her feet into the sea… she said it was cold… I didn’t try. The night sky was a flaming salmon color over the promenade hotels… Ryan had coined it a “wine sky” when we were in Florence. I think he named it appropriately.

 

 

 

 

18 – Menton

We left Cinque Terre at 7:30 am on the train to Genoa where we would switch trains. Genoa is a huge sea port… there are at least 8 train stations. We had a 2 hour wait for our connection to Ventimiglia so we stepped outside the train station to look for a suitable breakfast spot… choosing the Grand Savoia Hotel on the other side of the Christopher Columbus Plaza … his huge monument in the center. Full buffet breakfast at the hotel…very swanky and really delicious.

Arriving in Ventimiglia, we discovered there was a French Rail workers strike happening which was disrupting the schedules and we didn’t know if we would be able to continue on to Menton (just across the French/Italian border)… our train did go so we got lucky… others heading to the Nice airport did not.

We arrived in Menton around 3:30, easily found our hotel, checked in and set right out for an exploration specifically to find St. Michael’s Bascilica and the picturesque cemetery high above the city.

Climbing, climbing we admired this very colorful city with most buildings some shade of yellow and the windows in every other color. We arrived at the Bacilica to discover a wedding in progress. This meant I couldn’t get great shots but I did managed to sneak in a few. The Bacilica is dedicated to St. Michael, Menton’s patron Saint, and also my favorite Archangel. There are several statues and frescoes of him throughout the church. The ceiling fresco in particular is commanding.

Outside the church in the piazza, you get a sweeping views of the harbour below. We continued climbing even higher through charming narrow streets hardly what we’d call an alley. Up, up until we reached the cemetary… for the best views over the entire city. Exactly stunning.

A light rain started falling as we descended back to sea level so we made tracks for our hotel to relax and catch up on some blogging. This is the first WiFi I have had since Capri, so I had lots of photos to upload and text to write. A glass of French wine was enjoyed during this time.

Blogging completed, we set out for an evening stroll to see the lights only to discover that Menton shuts down at 10pm. All was quiet… hardly anyone about. We walked past the casino and along the waterfront until we found a late night pizzeria open. There, we shared a pizza and called it a night. Menton is lovely and only a 10 minutes train ride from Monte Carlo  (we’ll go there tomorrow).

 

 

17 – Cinque Terre

We arrived on the train to the town of Vernazza in the afternoon. The sun was out despite a forecast of rain and the single street down through the town was busy with tourists. It took a minute and a phone call to find our room where we were greeted by Guiligmina who speaks no English but chatted away to us in Italian as if we understood. We nodded in agreement with everything she said.

So as not to waste any of this beautiful afternoon, we set out immediately to explore. Let me start by saying nothing is flat in Vernazza…only steep stairs get you around and these are STEEP.  Also no cars which is nice. The five Cinque Terre towns are built on the steep slopes of the Ligurian Sea between the cities of La Spezia and Genoa. Accessible only by train or boat, the absence of motorized vehicles gives them a quiet peacefulness we have not seen yet in our previous stops.

We started our afternoon with a visit to the Castello Doro tower that stands directly on the edge of the sea. Climbing to the top, you get a birds eye view of the town below. The houses are colorful and stacked up the hill like children’s building blocks. From here you can see the next town to the west, Monterosso al Mare, and the next town to the east, Corniglia. Absolutely beautiful.

We took frequent rest stops as we climbed up and down through the streets. Then for something completely impetuous, we hired a private 50 minute boat tour to take us along the coast to see the three other towns to the east; Corniglia (sitting high on the cliff-side with no harbour), Manarola (with the pretty Robin egg blue house in the middle of town) and Riomaggiore (the most easterly town and built in a valley that runs down the mountain to the sea).   Our guide, Loris, gave us lots of history about the region including stories of pirate raids from northern Africa (straight across the Mediterranean). The landscape is so different…so steep. Grapevines cling to the slopes, colorful houses dot the foot pathway between the villages and the cliff faces show the undulating layers of rock that were pushed up from the bottom of the sea millions of years ago.

Dinner was at Trattoria il Barrato. I had fresh anchovie spagetti followed by baked anchovies with potatoes. This is fresh fish… not canned. And so delicious. Mon had Spagetti a Scarpaa  (tomatoes, garlic and olive oil) and swordfish. The wine, Costa di Sera (white), is made here in Cinque Terre and was excellent with the fish.

After dinner, we climbed the pathway high above the town to get a wonderful night shot of Vernazza as the lights were coming on. What a great view. The air was warm, the night was still, frogs were singing and as we gazed in wonder at the shimmering scene below… another dream just came true.

The next morning we made plans to train hop and explore the other 4 villages. It was raining but we didn’t care so off we went all the way to the most easterly village, Riomaggiore. The views from the shore looking up the hill is very picturesque. However,  hoards of umbrella toting tourists certainly take away from the charm a bit. We climbed all the way to the top of the village, visiting 2 churches along the way, and shopped our way back down to the train station (watercolor print of Vernazza).

Raining harder now, we hopped the train to Manarola (2 minute ride). Equally as lovely but the rain was starting to dampen our spirits a bit. So, at 11am and completely soaked (even with rain jackets), we decided to return to our room in Vernazza to dry out and wait for the rain to subside. We learned later this was the worse rainfall Cinque Terre had seen since the 2011 rains that caused such devastating landslides and village damage.

By 3 pm, the rain had let up and we were out again. First to the west to visit the beach resort of Monterosso. Very elegant and not steep like the other 4 villages. We took a few photos and then hopped the train to the middle village, Corniglia. Here is where we would look for a restaurant for dinner.

Perched high on the edge of the cliffs, Corniglia has no harbour like the other four. The train station is at sea level and then you climb up and up. The village itself is adorable… quieter than the others with gorgeous views. The sun came out as we strolled the streets. The village church, San Pietro, was beautiful with frescoed ceilings AND stained glass and the only church we had seen to date with crystal chandeliers!

For dinner, we chose a simple family restaurant with a view of the sea (ironically called ‘Food and Sea’) and a southern exposure. While we enjoyed the sunshine, the food was just average as was the wine. But the price was right and the staff were welcoming and enthusiastic. Dessert was yummy gelato at Alberto’s. 3 scoops on a small cone!

Decending the stairs to the train station, we got a perfect shot of the next village, Manarola, in the evening sun. For a few quiet moments, we sat arm in arm, waiting for the train, and gazed out to the Mediterranean in appreciation and contentment. A wet start to the day ended beautifully and concluded our visit to Cinque Terre.

 

16 – Siena

It was a long day from Capri to Siena starting with the “worse going down than going up” bus ride from Anacapri to the ferry terminal…ferry to Naples, bus through Naples (traffic still crazy), tuna salad lunch at the train station, train from Naples to Rome, then to Florence and then to Siena and taxi to our inn. We arrived late so no time for much sightseeing except we did catch the last rays of sunlight on the Duomo… so beautiful with its green and white striped marble exterior.

The next day, we had a tour booked at 9:30 with “Tuscan Escapes” for a private guided hike through the hills and vineyards of Chianti Classico. Up early, we had time for some street exploring before meeting our tour guide. Siena is a small easily walked city with narrow medieval cobblestone streets. At 7am, we had the streets to ourselves. We passed by the Duomo (nice with no tourists in the shot), the Piazza del Campo… a very large uniquely scallop-shaped plaza famous for the horse races called “the Palio” held every July. We found a lovely small church with stained glass windows, saw children going to school, and the huge red brick San Domenico Bacilica with its contemporary stained glass windows.

Then it was time to meet our guide for our tour. Silvia picked us up at the Bacilica and away we went…just the three of us, toward Monteriggroni (just 15 minutes north of Siena). The first 2 hours of the tour was a hike through the vineyards up and down over the rolling hills with vistas of the classic Tuscan landscape. What a wonderful experience… we passed through several gates designed to keep the wild boars away from the grapes, we saw workers in the vineyards pruning the spring vines, we saw beautiful wild flowers (some used to make perfume and dyes), a huge snake (loved that), heard many different birds singing, the weather was perfect… warm but not scorching. We walked up an appetite.

Lunch was spread out for us on a table cloth on the ground of a hilltop overlooking the fields. Silvia had prepared barley salad, frittata, fresh tomatoes, Mozzarella cheese, foccacia bread, prosscuto and of course, Chianti wine. It was magical… a dream come true for both of us.

After lunch, we drove to the town of San Gimignano where Silvia dropped us off and left us for an hour of shopping and sight seeing. It had just started to rain as we arrived but luckily we had brought our rain jackets and really enjoyed walking the streets of this ancient “Manhattan of Tuscany” with its distinctive towers. The towers were built by private families in medieval times as a display of wealth and power… the taller the tower, the higher your status in the town. Originally there were 72 towers but today only 13 remain. All gray rock and cobblestone, the most colorful thing in the town that day was all the tourist umbrellas.

On the drive back to Siena we chatted easily with Silvia and learned much history about the town and the Tuscan region. Of particular interest is the fact that Siena is divided into several sectors or districts, each with its own animal crest and flag. We had seen some of these displayed on flags and street lamps; the goose, the dragon, the owl… so it was nice to know the history behind them.

We returned to our inn are 4:30 and had time to visit the Duomo before it closed at 5:30. What a beautiful cathedral. Only a couple of gorgeous stained windows  especially the Last Supper circular window in the east. The church is filled with many wonderful art works by Michaelangelo,  Donotello, Bernini among others. The most beautiful section is the library with its 360 degrees of painted frescoes. The room is kept silent by the librarian who quickly and sternly shush any noise louder than a whisper.

Dinner was at Trattoria Papei in the owl district.  Primis of beef and chicken liver pate for me and  papperadelle for Monica, followed by stewed wild boar, ossobucco and roasted potatoes… accompanied by a bottle of really good Chianti. (By the way, you can get excellent wine here at any corner store for less than 5 euros a bottle).

Monica was weary after the full day and wanted to retire. I, however, was still eager for some night shots of the city. So I promised not to be more than 20 minutes and off I went. I got fantastic shots of four churches, several statues and sculptures including Garibaldi (every Italian city has something named after him), the Piazza del Campo and the old and magnificent military fortress which today houses an amusement park. Very pretty at night but it seems like such a tawdry way to use that gorgeous old historic property.

I guess I was longer out than I thought. An hour and a half later at 10pm, I returned to our room to find a very worried and upset Monica. I’m sorry, Babe (I thought surely she would be asleep). After my scolding, she was just glad I was alive and safe.

15 – Capri

We caught the early train from Rome to Naples (crazy traffic in Naples…the taxi ride to the ferry was very scary), and then the ferry to Capri. We arrived before noon and hopped the bus to Anacapri on the other side of the island. The first impressions of the island views were absolutely stunning. Photos cannot give you the depth and perspective of distance. It’s gorgeous here… no wonder ancient Roman emperors came here to build summer palaces. Despite the blazing sun, the ocean breeze brought the temperature down to perfect.

The bus ride, however, is nothing short of terrifying with tight hairpin turns on a road barely wide enough for 1 vehicle and carved into the sheer rock face of a vertical cliff…gulp! The bus drivers are probably retired Monte Carlo race car champions.

Our BnB at Maruzzella is charmingly perfect with sweeping views west across the Mediterranean. The hostess (Lidia) and her mother (Maria) welcomed us along with the family dog (Mozzarella). We quickly settled in and then struck out for an afternoon explore of the town of Anacapri.

Charming, quiet, everything stucco white… first thing was lunch at Barbarossa for fantastic seafood spagetti (huge shrimp.. just like in Rome). Then we wandered the streets, oohing and ahhing at the wonderful strangeness of this place, unlike any they we’ve seen before… very southern Mediterranean if that means anything to you. We visited only 1 church, San Michele (Saint Michael) and discovered the most amazing tiled floor… a complete depiction of the Garden of Eden… absolutely silencing.

Toward evening another happenstance surprise, a town parade celebrating “First Comunion” and all the townsfolk were turned out complete with costumed children, marching band and fireworks. We couldn’t have timed it more perfectly.

Next morning after breakfast, we set off for the other side of the island to explore the town of Capri… famous as the destination of the rich and famous. I  could care less about that. The morning was quiet and we easily moved through the narrow streets admiring the shop displays. First destination, a 15 minute walk just outside of town to see the natural rock arch. Very cool! On the hike back to Capri, we stopped at a little cliff-side trattoria for refreshments (prossecco and lemon cake… oh yes!).

Entering the town, we met the cruise ship tourists… narrow streets, many tourists, claustrophobia. Nevertheless, we pushed through to the southside of the town to visit the Gardens of Augustus (2000 years old). So lovely, especially for the view of the Faraglioni Rocks, giant sea stacks jutting up out of the sea… one in particular with a huge arch under it through which even large tour boats can pass.

After a bit of souvenir shopping in Capri, we returned to Anacapri (very scary bus ride) and caught the chair lift up to the 589 meter summit of Monte Solaro for the 360 degree view of the entire island. My photos are great but still cannot portray the majestic views. Again, no wonder ancient Roman emperors (Tiberius and followers) chose Capri as their summer vacation home.

The last supper on Capri was at a restaurant recommend to us by a fellow guest from New York who is of Italian descent and familiar with the town. Laguna del Gusto…here’s the selections;  prossecco appertif (on the house), primis of deep fried zucchini flowers and spagetti primiverra, secundis of mixed seafood (squid, octopus, sardines, tuna, scampi, cod) and grilled swordfish, and limoncello finisher (on the house). The owner, Fernando, is most gracious. We ended the day with a stunning sunset on the Mediterranean. Totally lovely.

Ciao Capri…the photos will bring me back here time and time again.