Sunday, October 16, 2016

On to Siena

So when we got the car in Florence it was time to start the roadtrip portion of our Italian trip.  The first step was to find a road to Siena.  We found a way to Siena but it wasn't the road we expected.  We aren't usually so inept but maybe we were simply excited.  However, Siena was quite lovely. 

We stayed at a hotel on the outskirts of the city.  These hill towns have been here for a long time and are basically pedestrian only places.  My wife wasn't feeling well so the first day in Siena I went into town on my own; the second day we went back together.  Siena isn't a huge city so walking around the town is no hardship.  There is parking outside the city wall so we would drive into town, park then walk.  Even the scooter riders are on foot.
Once in the town the piazza known as Il Campo is the first star of the place.  It is a huge space shaped like the letter D with restaurants and shops all around the circular parts and the Palazzo Pubblico and Museo Civico forming the straight portion.  It is in a natural depression so you walk along the street then descend into the piazza.  My photo here doesn't do real justice to the fact you are descending a couple flights here.  On the right you can see the tables of a streetside restaurant that are built out on little patio things.

Every summer there are horse races in Il Campo.  The various parts of the city sponsor different horses and while it looks pretty wild apparently a good time is had by all.  We were having lunch at one of those tables when a huge parade of drummers and flag wavers came by.  We think they were associated with one of the winning horses.  My wife took the photos so I managed to get into one or two of them.
As you can see, they are going down to Il Campo.  There had to be 30-40 drummers and an equal number of flag wavers.  Many of the participants were teens and young 20's in age but there were some who were maybe 10 and others who were closer to 60. 

They were headed for Il Campo.  This photo shows the restaurants lining the semi-circular portion of the space.
This is the museum on the flat side of the D.  This view is coming down the hill and is only part of the building. 

Of course every Italian city needs to have a cathedral.  The Siena Duomo is obviously very fine.

Finally, of course, Siena is in Tuscany.  Every movie you've ever seen about Tuscany talks about the beautiful countryside.  It's true, it is beautiful.  Even the view from our hotel pool area wasn't too shabby.
Now it was time to be leaving Siena.  Our first stop was to be Pisa.  I don't know enough about Pisa to really talk intelligently about it.  But you have to check out the leaning tower.  BTY, you won't be alone.

The Duomo doesn't get nearly the attention but it is a massive structure!  The tower is just hiding back there.
We saw the tower, saw the Duomo; it must be time to head north along the coast.  We aren't going to anyplace particularly famous.  We just want to enjoy Italy.  There will be more.  Thanks for stopping by.  Have a good one.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Etruscans and Florence

After our fun in Naples and Pompeii we hopped a train for Rome.  We didn't want to visit the city itself but had read of Etruscan ruins north of the city near Civitavecchia and Tarquinia.  There isn't a lot of evidence of the Etruscan civilization but there are ruins.  We thought we'd rent a car and go check out a couple sites.  Unfortunately we didn't account for the Italian desire for a day off and showed up on Monday when both the sites we wanted to visit were closed.  Bummer! 

We did get a little insight into driving in Italy and it paved the way for our second, longer, car rental.  The roads in Italy are generally excellent.  Even where we were driving on 'local' roads they were great with guardrails where needed and just in good condition.  The car we rented was a Nissan Micra which was pretty small but adaquate.  Speed on the motorway was in the 90 to 110km range (60-70 mph) and the car was comfortable if not quick to accelerate.  I have to admit it's been a while since I drove a stick but it comes back quickly if that's what you've got.

We spent the night in Tarquinia at a small hotel.  We started our dinner at a table out by the swimming pool but had to retreat to the dining room when a rain shower came by.  The next morning we returned the car and got a train to Florence. 

Florence is of course considered to be the birthplace of the Renaissance and is filled with museums dedicated to that time in history.  We started out walking from the train station to our hotel.  It was a LONG walk let me tell you.  But it is Florence so you tell yourself to get over it!  My wife used Trip Advisor to book the hotel and when we arrived in Florence we used the mapping feature to lead us to the hotel.  That's another use of that phone data plan that we had and very handy it was.  In the end we were just about three blocks from the Galleria dell' Accademia and perhaps eight blocks from the Duomo.  There would be a problem with these places:  tourists!  This is the line for the Accademia.
 Then there was the line for the Duomo.  These people were standing in front of a sign warning that if you are standing in the line here it will be an hour and a half wait before you get inside.
The fun part for me is just walking down the street and seeing this in the distance.  It also gives you an idea of the not huge sidewalks!  Well, in the tourist areas people did walk in the streets a lot.

You can buy tickets from your hotel that will eliminate the wait but it costs an extra 4 or 5 euro for each person.  Well, we went for the Uffizi but decided to skip the others.  It wasn't the cost that swayed us but the crowds.  Here is Botticelli's Birth of Venus as it actually looks:
How can you enjoy something with 10 people in front of you?  Of course there was usually someone elbowing their way to the front of the group and taking a photo of it or even worse a selfie with them next to the picture.  Grrr! 

When it came time to leave we splurged on a taxi to take us to the airport.  It wasn't much of a splurge.  It was 25 euro and the bus would have been at least 10.  The Florence airport is rather small but they do have rental cars and that's what we were needing next.  We wanted to travel in Tuscany, Chianti, Emilia-Romagna and other provences by car so that's what we needed.  In the end we drove almost 1,200 km around central Italy.  That's for another post of three.

As an aside, the family accountant (aka my wife) tells me we spent approximately $8,400 on our month in Italy including the air fare, trains, the car and everything.  We are pretty good at keeping receipts so that's pretty close to correct.  I don't think that's bad at all!  Take care and thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Our visit to Italy started with a long train ride from Venice down to Naples in the south of the country.  Naples itself is a busy city and we did see some small part of it but the basic reason for our visit was to see Pompeii.  There is a modern Pompeii but the one we wished to visit was destroyed in 79AD when Mt. Vesuvius erupted covering the city with ash.  Our friend Wikipedia says the town had about 11,000 residents at the time of it's destruction.  It was lost for many centuries and wasn't really found again until the mid-1700's.  Excavation and re-building is still going on.

We chose to stay in Naples near the train station since there is good train service to Pompeii.  Hotels are found in modern Pompeii as well but we got the impression they were quite some distance from the ruins.  The train worked just fine for us.  The day we visited was a beautiful sunny day; unfortunately warm though since we were both wearing long pants.  You pay your entrance fee then need to decide if you want a human guide, an audio guide or nothing at all.  We chose the no guide option.

You hike up this hill and come to a large open forum.  The roads are rough, large cobblestones and the sidewalks vary in height from a few inches to close to two feet (10 cm to 65cm). 
The photo of the street was taken quite early in the day before the hordes of tourists arrived.  As you can see we were hardly alone.  The forum is currently being used to display some modern bronze sculpture.  They actually fit in reasonably well but were a bit disconcerning.

 The town as it has been excavated consists of nine sections and you can pretty much wander around at will.  Some of the homes and buildings have been rebuilt using those portions of the original building that could be found and reused. 
It is really quite amazing that these frescos managed to last 2,000 years!  There are even some paintings that were done on exterior walls that have managed to survive.  There are buildings in all stages:  some like the frescos shown above that have roofs, some are shells, some are only a couple walls.
There is work being done to make the place even more of a tourist destination than it is already. This building had a history of being re-built several times prior to the cities destruction.  Now it is at least covered over while someone decides what further work should be done.

As a large Roman town, Pompeii had it's own ampitheatre where I'm sure all kinds of grisly games were played.
Before visiting Pompeii we had visited the Archaeological Museum in Naples.  It wasn't directly associated with Pompeii but gave a good overview of the Roman Empire arts and crafts.

I should mention one unfortunate happening in Naples.  My wife and I were returning from Pompeii when we were stopped by a young man who said we'd dropped something.  We said we hadn't but we were held up for a few seconds.  We walked on and a minute later arrived at our hotel.  I removed my backpack to discover it open and my wife's purse was missing.  Hmmm.  Pickpockets can do backpacks as well!  My wife is an unusual woman.  She carried nothing in the purse but her glasses and her camera.  Her credit cards, money and id are in her pockets.  It was a pain in the ass but not the worse thing in the world.  The next day we reported the theft to the police.  They were very nice but they can do nothing.  We spoke with one officer who spoke rather good English while another kind of followed along.  When we gave them our address in Nevada, the one following along pulled up our house on Google Earth!  They got a big kick out of that.  Yes, rural Nevada is just a little different from metropolitan Naples.

Next day we hopped on another train this time headed for Rome.  We wanted to look at some more ruins.  Stay tuned but I'll warn you now, it was disappointing.  Take care!

Background Italy

My wife and I love Europe but have differing levels of exposure to different countries.  One place we wanted to visit 'extensively' was Italy.  We started talking about spending a month there last fall.  The idea was that April 2016 would be Italy.  Then I figured out that my neck was making me miserable and that took over.  So we aimed for September 2016 and what a month it was!

We left Las Vegas on August 30 and returned on September 27 flying in and out of Venice.  We visited Rome together in 2000 (not exactly last week but we were looking at the Roman Forum so....).  I had visited some of the hill towns like Florence back in the 1970's but let's face it that was a while ago.  My wife had been in Milan on business but that too is 'a different experience'.  The bottom line is that we wanted to see most of central Italy.

So the first thing we did when we landed in Venice is to find a bus to the train station where we hopped a train to Naples.  Why Naples?  Well, it is close to Pompeii.  That was the draw for us.  Our style of travel is still evolving.  When we are in our rv, it's easy, we are always home.  Traveling without the rv is a whole new business especially in a tourist-centric place like Italy.  If you go to Chicago, travelers are probably 80% business and 20% vacationers.  In Italy it's almost certainly reversed.  In this day of Trip Advisor and the like if you want to stay in a nice place for a reasonable amount you find yourself on the internet more than you might like.  In the end we usually stayed two or three nights in each of the cities we visited.  After the first 10 days we rented a car and visited less traveled parts of the country.  Finally, after two weeks of car travel, we settled in Venice for four days to see that amazing city.

We bought a tablet computer for our trip to Ireland and it has served us well.  It did the same in Italy as most hotels had wifi and it actually worked, usually.  In Ireland the hotels were smaller, it was a couple years ago and things just weren't as good.  In Italy we had a couple of places where we would get dropped from the network then 5 seconds later re-attached.  I've got no idea what was going on but it did happen in more than one hotel.  The tablet enabled us to make hotel reservations a couple days in advance.  It also allows us to make notes easily so that 1) we can remember where we were on a given day and 2) we can update Trip Advisor with reviews of hotels, restaurants, etc.

Our smartphones were important as well.  We didn't know what would happen if we swapped our SIM card for an Italian one so my phone was nominated to be the experiment.  For 35 euro we got a new SIM card and a month's usage with a special deal that gave us international calling as well.  It was way worth it!  We didn't make many phone calls but having the data available via the phone was exceptional.  I'm sure we used it multiple times a day and probably used less than 1 gig of the 4 gig of data we were allowed.  In addition, the international call plan allowed my wife to call her mother weekly as she has been doing for several years.  The calls were as clear as they are here and I don't believe there was any discernable lag.

The other 'inovation' is GPS, we won't be there without it.  In Europe, when not on a motorway, one does not follow a road, one goes to a place.  You don't follow the A22 you go to Maranello.  This is fine but it does require a certain ablility to adapt to change.  Maranello might not be on the road sign, it might say Carpi so you need to know that Carpi is on the way towards Maranello or not.  Back in the good old days you might have to go around the roundabout two or three times while your navigator (wife) searched the map for where the hell Carpi might lead us.  With GPS all you need to know is that the second turn on the roundabout is the one you want.  Trust me, it makes life much easier.  That's true even if, like me, you end up with TWO women telling you where to go:  my wife and the voice from the GPS.  It was actually kind of funny.  My wife would see that there was a roundabout coming up and we would want the 9 o'clock exit.  She would tell me that then the GPS would wake up and say 'There is a roundabout in 800 meters, take the third exit".   Between the three of us we only got off track two or three times in the almost 1200 km we drove on some of the many back roads of Italy.  It was also a lifesaver in towns.  If your hotel or whatever isn't on the main road you definitely need direction.

Well, that is the overview of our trip.   I'll be resizing photos to share over the next few posts.  There are only about 700 of them to choose from but trust me, I'll keep it to a reasonable number.