Friday, July 13, 2018

Buon Giorno, Amici

2 June, Salerno, Italy
Almost ready to leave southern Italy after a whirlwind trip.  Yesterday we taxied over to the port for a 90-minute (or so) ferry ride to Capri.  Talk about teeming.  We could barely get off at the pier so many were landing and leaving along a one-meter-wide walkway.

Entering Capri harbor
An interesting and extremely hot, humid day.  We ended up just staying in the port area.  When we arrived, the line to the funicular was so long that we decided to wait. By the time we got back there, it was dicey as to whether we’d get back to the coast in time for our 4 pm boat back to Salerno.

Shortly after arrival we stopped for coffee … 19 euro ($22) for two cappuccinos and two small bottles of water!  That was our introduction to Capri pricing.  In Reggio, it’s less than 10 euro ($12) for three americanos, three latte macchiatos and two pastries, and we get small glasses of water for free with each coffee.  

We wandered around the port, found some gifts for family and friends, located a quieter, less expensive place to eat and drink.    One good deal I got was a colorful, very light weight cotton dress — loose and sleeveless and perfect for the weather.  I changed from my capris and teeshirt immediately.  We took a boat tour to the Blue Grotto and other sites along the coast. Unfortunately weren’t able to enter the grotto because the water was too high.  

Back here, we enjoyed our room’s a/c, then wandered down the street to another good meal at a small caffè before returning to organize our packing.  Our suitcase is nothing but dirty clothes; the small roller computer bag is all gifts and toiletries.  

3 June, Reggio Emilia
Although our favorite caffè is closed on Sundays, we have learned that we can use its internet connection after hours by sitting on a nearby retaining wall … or in chairs outside the laundromat across the courtyard.  That’s what we’re doing today.  In between washing, drying and folding, we’re online in more comfort than the retaining wall.  Glenn’s back at his ancestry search and I’m polishing the blog about the first two weeks of the trip.  Can’t get pix inserted; probably too far away for enough signal so I’ll do that tomorrow over coffee.

4 June
Spent much of this morning in two small towns from which Glenn’s mom’s parents emigrated — Poviglio and Castelnovo di Sotto.  Olga (Glenn’s shirt-tail relative) drove and Anna (her retired English-teacher friend) were with us.  Glenn was able to request information at the courthouse in Poviglio with Anna’s help; she translated his request as it had to be in writing, complete with a copy of his “document” (driver’s license).  In CdiS we spent about an hour looking at the cemetery where older burials had been moved.  Found one Pigozzi (his mother’s birth name) and a few other possible relatives.  The Pigozzi is his grandfather’s brother who returned to Italy from the US.

Glenn outside church
in Castelnovo di Sotto

We opted not to walk into Reggio, having agreed that we pushed it a bit in the south.  But we did stop at the Coop (supermarket) to pick up sandwich stuff for supper.  Our fallback meal-at-home (lunch or dinner) has been Italian cold cuts like prosciutto and coppa and perhaps a slice of cheese on the great rolls we found at the Coop.  Interestingly the rolls are sold by the kilo, not the piece.  Oh, and don’t forget the Coop potato chips, a new favorite junk food along with waffle cookies filled with hazelnut cream.

5 June
Back in our regular routine — coffee and internet first.  Then, before returning to the house, we decided on another trip to the Coop as we had little left in the larder.  Glenn says we’re shopping like natives; I say we’re shopping like my Granny — same thing: buying what we need for a day or two only.  We probably should’ve joined the Coop!

Yep, back to our old routine.  Here we sit outside the laundromat using the caffè’s internet.  It’s been a looooong and hot day.

We walked into town on a number of errands, including my need for a hamburger.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Italian food, but pasta and pizza six days a week is getting to me.  WellDone, a caffè near the flat we rented last year, has good burgers, so that was our destination.  Because they hadn’t opened yet, we went on an exploration — without a map in hand, Glenn directed us toward the street where Studio Bododi was located.  That was the name on a family photo his grandfather brought to the US 100 years ago.  I found a Studio Bododi in Reggio online, so we decided to visit.  Turns out the address was for a Studio Bododi but not a photo studio.  The gentleman who answered our ring explained the photo studio had been in the Center and closed quite some time ago.  His English was on a par with my Italian:  He said he’d studied it 50 years ago, and I told him I studied Italian 50 years ago.  He has a marvelous collection of old manual typewriters, including one like the Royal Standard that I learned to type on.  He was quite charming and very polite to the two strangers he let into his office.

Back to the streets, hot and humid, and in the air conditioning of WellDone, to my hamburger.  Glenn had one too.  A brief search for the post office, which wasn’t where we thought it would be.  Then to a cemetery that we both have been wanting to explore.

We pass Cimiteri Urbani when we walk to/from town and can see some very interesting mausoleums (mausolea?) behind the tall walls of the cemetery.  Inside, we could see that it is huge, makes the one we visited on Monday look like a postage stamp.  Keeping in mind that many of the oldest residents are in boxes in a wall, per the cemetery keeper on Monday, I started on the first wall while Glenn explored.  Found a Pigozzi and a couple of Nizzolis, names Glenn was looking for.  He photographed and we continued to explore until the heat and the size of the task overwhelmed us.  We separated to check out different “rows” on the way to the gate and eventually re-connected … and took a bus toward the house.  We got off to have a cold drink, then walked home to have a nap.  We are definitely getting old!

While Glenn booked a wine tour in Florence for next week, I ran over to the Coop to get more water … and it was closed.  Got to remember it closes at 8 pm, not 9.

Tomorrow we’re going to visit the travel agent and see if she can help us book our next trip.  We want to got to the seaside with Olga on Thursday, then on to Perugia, Assisi and a Florence wine tour.  If she can’t, we’ll do ourselves online.

Buona sera.

6 June
Another hot day.  Time to make plans.  Glenn booked a wine tour for next Tuesday afternoon in Florence; we meet the guide near the train station.  We can catch a train back to Reggio afterwards.  In between, we’ll go to the seaside with Olga.  She has a place in Porto San Giorgio on the Adriatic Sea and leaves tomorrow.  If we stay here, we lose our hot water as she turns off the gas, and we do want to see the sea.

Since we’ll be gone for a week again, we did a load of laundry while we had our morning coffees.  We’d packed lightly for this adventure knowing we’d have access to a washing machine at Olga’s (minimum).  Now have the wonderful self service place with dryers. 

Our travel agent wasn’t able to help us much because the locations we are venturing to aren’t accessible by AV (high speed) trains.  She did book the airport hotel in Milan for our last night in Italy (after Poland) and gave us some ideas about routings.  We walked to the old train station and using the self service machine (!!!), I bought our tickets to Porto San Giorgio for tomorrow, same train as Olga is taking.  Once there, we’ll find a travel agent to help us get to Assisi and Perugia; from Perugia to Florence is easy, per Glenn’s daughter Jennifer.

Before venturing to find a Ganassi Photo Studio (an online find), we stopped at a caffè tucked into a corner near the train station and again had amazing food.  The waiter brought us a bread basket, then small plates.  He poured on EVOO, added a dash of salt and pepper … voila!  I got my usual mixed salad, adding a dash of balsamic and EVOO.  Needless to say, we polished off the bread basket and the plates were clean. I had the house specialty (tagliatelli with seafood), Glenn had spaghetti with scampi (two large langoustines).  My sauce included pieces of octopus as well as a huge amount of clams, mussels, and more.  I tried the octopus and found it too chewy. I gave it all to Glenn; he likes octopus.  

The address Glenn had for the photo studio proved to be too far down the road to be practical in today’s heat.  Most businesses close at 1 -1:30 pm for lunch and don’t reopen until 3 - 3:30 pm.  We didn’t want to walk a kilometer or so in the hot sun and find the studio closed.  We’ll make that trek another time.  Back home we went for an afternoon nap and to pack.  

7 June, Porto San Giorgio, Italia
The taxi was on time as was the train.  We both snoozed during part of the trip; Glenn even missed the 15 minutes that the train sat (not sure why it did that but afterwards, at every station, the announcement included how late we were: 15 minutes, 21, 18).  On arrival, we reconnected with Olga who was in another car and walked to her apartment.  A nice L-shaped route that made it easy for us when we walked later.

After we all settled in, we went to a nearby restaurant (a favorite of Olga’s late husband) for lunch.  Later we walked toward the center of town in search of wi-fi and a caffè for morning coffee.  We stopped for gelato (THE best dark chocolate gelato yet).  Then through the railroad underpass to the beach area.  Along the walkway it seemed that most beach access was under consignment — caffès and bars, changing cabanas and lots of umbrellas.  Nothing said wi-fi.  When we came to La Dolce Vita, a freestanding bar/restaurant, I asked the bartender if they had wi-fi.  He said yes, scrounged for some paper and wrote the name and password on a piece of scratch paper for me.  While a bit of a walk for morning coffee, who cares?  They have wi-fi and we can always use the steps.  (BTW, we average between 15K and 20K most days!).

On the way back, we noticed a tourist information office was being re-opened.  The agent gave us a map and location for a travel agent to help us with the next legs in our trip.  

Back at Olga’s, I took a nap, Glenn played computer solitaire, and we had dinner at the flat with Olga (deep fried calamari that she’d picked up on the way in).  Then, computers in hand, we returned to La Dolce Vita where the wi-fi worked, the beer was cold and the Campari came with sufficient soda to dilute the bitter syrupy taste.  Every bar here puts out a salty snack, often potato chips.  This one gave us pistachios, chips and peanuts.  It worked — Glenn had two beers.  

Tomorrow, off to the travel agent as well as “up the hill” to Fermo.

8 June
Wow!  Have we been lucky today:  a new caffè and wi-fi spot near our home base, a helpful travel agent and cool weather.  We even missed the rain storm.

We set out early with Olga, we walking, she on her bike.  She wanted to show us where we’d catch the bus for Fermo and where to get the tickets, then she returned home.  We were very near the location of the travel agency, which we found opened at 9 (earlier than our Reggio agency).  As the tourism info rep said, it’s across from Bar Italia.  We decided to have our morning coffee there and found that Bar Italia has wi-fi!  We had two coffees each and a pastry for 7 euro.  Our new morning coffee spot.

At the travel agency, the man at reception said he’d understand our English if we spoke very slowly.  And we did and he told us how to get near Assisi on the bus on Sunday.  His associate helped us with a hotel in Perugia. Perugia and Assisi aren’t far apart, and Santa Maria Degli Angeli, where the bus will drop us, is really close to Assisi. We’re set.  All we’ll need is a taxi to the bus stop on Sunday … and a way from Santa Maria to Perugia.  Easy peasy.

Olga wasn’t exaggerating when she said the bus to Fermo would be straight up the hill.  It was a steady climb the entire way.  The guidebook says that Fermo was built in a spiral around the Sabulo hill … and you can sure see that as you ride/walk along.

View from Fermo
to Adriatic Sea

We exited the bus a little before the town square and climbed the rest of the way on a cobblestone sidewalk until we found an “ascentore,” an elevator!  Five floors up through the rocks to a hotel walkway that overlooked the five-floor ascent.  I made Glenn walk on the outside and move quickly.  Once on solid ground I could better appreciate the view all the way to the Adriatic  Then we walked up hill some more to the historic town center.  The piazza was lovely, surrounded by beautiful old buildings and a long wall of colonnades.

where we ate in Fermo

Fermo became a Roman village almost 300 years BCC, and a Roman cistern under the main square dates to the first century AD.  We weren’t able to see it.  Most of the buildings we did see — library, art galleries, churches, etc. — are 13th to 18 century.

The weather all day was cool, windy, overcast and threatening rain.  Great for sightseeing on foot since it didn’t rain while we were there.  We had morning coffee on the piazza but lunch indoors, both at the same restaurant. 

My knees greatly appreciated that we took the bus from the main square back to Porto San Giorgio, and they weren’t required to walk on cobblestones any more.  

Once back in PSG, we stopped at a barber shop Glenn had seen earlier, and he had a “shave and a haircut, 10 euro.”  Ali, the barber, did a wonderful job of scalping him in a stylish way.  Lots less hair, to say the least, but he looks quite nice. After his first ever shave with a straight razor, Glenn said his cheeks were smoother than a baby’s back side … I checked; he’s right.  We’ll see what his Facebook friends have to say; he’s posting later.

Ali finishes Glenn's haircut
9 June
After dinner last night, we walked up to Bar Italia to check their hours.  OMG, they open at 5 am.   Glenn was in heaven … I was a bit more sanguine.  So this morning we were up and out and at the caffè around 6:30.  We’re on our third coffees and hammering away on our laptops.  I’m sure we’re the “weird Americans” to this server as we are to so many others.  Locals have one espresso, often standing for a reduced price, and perhaps a sweet roll, and fini, they’re done, even if they stay for a bit of conversation.  We sit and drink multiple cups of coffee, a lora.  

When we’re done, we’ll take the laptops back to the apartment and walk to the place where we’ll catch the bus toward Perugia tomorrow morning.  We will take a taxi to the bus stop tomorrow but want to have a sense of where we’re meeting our bus.

Today’s “breakfast” — three coffees each and one sweet roll.  7 euro.  I’m glad we went to Capri, but I’m more likely to return to the seaside here.  Not only is it more affordable, it’s much less crowded and not so touristy.

The walk to the bus stop was longer than we expected, but at last we know where we’re going.  We’ll ask Olga to order a taxi.  From the bus stop, we walked to and along the beach, spent a bit of time at La Dolce Vita using the Internet, ate lunch at a new spot by the train station, Cafe Florian, checked out a wine store, made dinner reservations and walked home for a bit of rest.  I had an excellent salad at Cafe Florian, lots of fresh greens, tomatoes, mushrooms, corn, assorted seeds; gave Glenn the black olives.  We stopped at a wine shop we’d passed earlier this morning to see what they had.  Nice selection of 5-euro-a-bottle wines, but our suitcases are too full to add any wines.  They had some pricey stuff too — 300 euro for a bottle of wine?!

We took Olga to dinner at LoRè, a seafood restaurant a few blocks from her flat, and of course had great food. Interestingly I noticed on the menu that it said no lemons were served.  Thought it was weird, given most of us add lemon to seafood.  But I had pasta with a red langoustine sauce so didn’t need lemon.  But Olga ordered a mixed fried seafood plate, hadn’t seen the “no lemons” warning on the menu and asked for some lemons.  She and the waiter got into quite a spirited discussion, but he finally and reluctantly brought her some lemon wedges.  Prices still amaze us — the whole meal, wine through dessert was less than it would cost Glenn and I to eat at a good restaurant in Pittsburgh.

10 June, Perugia
Today’s adventure was less adventurous than we expected.  We had tickets to Santa Maria Degli Angeli, near Assisi, and en route to Perugia where the travel agent had booked a hotel for us.  The trip went smoothly through some 20 tunnels and across a beautiful countryside as it was awakening.  We saw a lot of round hay bales but ironically not a cow that might consume them. How do they make all that cheese? Saw many a vineyard though.

We both had visions of the SM Degli Angeli (per the signs) bus drop being on a roadside in the middle of nowhere.  Not.  It was in front of the cathedral, and with a few signs and a helpful policeman, we easily walked about a kilometer to the train station.  It was the Assisi train station.  We got tickets to Perugia on a train leaving in 30 minutes and our first coffees of the day.  In Perugia, a cab driver took us to the top of the hill — the old town — and right to our hotel.  On arrival we learned that today was the last day of “Perugia 1416,” a medieval festival.  We have enjoyed that all afternoon and evening.  Glenn got some incredible shots and videos of a long processional.  Beautifully and richly outfitted medieval lords, ladies and retainers glided down the main street behind their commune’s banners.  Drum corps competed loudly.  A witch was escorted by four ladies in front of the stake at which she’d be burned.  Church officials followed the devil and his entourage.  

One of many in

Each group has its drum corps

We broke with the crowds watching the festivities and went to dinner in a small out-of-the-way cafe.  Decent pasta and wine in a quiet spot.  Then a bit of a walk and on to gelato before turning in.

PS  I had my one and only “bad” meal to date at lunch today.  While the prosciutto was good, the melon was far from ripe and trying to cut it with a “butter” knife almost impossible  As a meal, I ordered eggplant parmigiana, one of my favorites.  It was layered:  The eggplant rounds were about 2 mm thick as were the tomato slices.  The cheese was significantly thicker and hard as a rock.  And the whole thing was lukewarm.  No, I didn’t complain — I haven’t learned how to complain in Italian yet.

11 June
A day of climbing stone hills under the hot Umbrian sun.  We ventured to Assisi via train, then took a bus as far up the hillside as available.  The church of St. Francis was partially visible way up ahead.  As we exited the bus, we weren’t sure which route to follow upwards.  As we pondered, we talked with a couple from Ohio who were in a quandary about how to get to their hotel, a Best Western.  On a three-week European trip, they had two sizable suitcases each.  I asked to see their voucher as we had an Assisi map … their hotel’s address is in Santa Maria Degli Angeli, the suburb that we’d come through yesterday.  We suggested they take the bus back to the train station and a taxi from there to their hotel.  Or a taxi directly from our current spot.  With that, we said,  “Arriverdverci”  and departed.

Up we went toward the church and beyond, and while Glenn snapped pix, I tried to stay in the shade when I could.  My suntan is peeling.  In my whole life I don’t ever recall my skin peeling, which is a very unappealing state.  We stopped for a cold drink and to decide how to proceed.  Returning to the ticket office, we learned admission today was free.  Off we went to explore the Papal Basilica of St. Francis as well as see where St. Francis is buried.  It is truly an imposing structure. 

Papal Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi
The Lower Basilica built in 1230 is Romanesque while the Upper Basilica, completed by 1239, is Gothic.  The crypt of St. Francis is under the main altar in the lower church.  Some of the most distinguished artists of the middle ages contributed to its frescoes and paintings.

While in the upper church, I “lit’ two electric candles — they’re supposed to light when you make a contribution although I didn’t notice any lighting action.  So when we went to the lower church, I bought a real candle and left it in the basket to be lit later.  Apparently the monks light the candles for you.  The candle was for my friend Maura’s late father who always wanted to go to Assisi.

On the way uphill earlier, outside at an artisanal food and wine shop, we sampled cheese-and-sausage panini and got a spiel about wine and air conditioning.  So that’s where we returned for lunch.   The server also gave us two different plates of cheese chunks with flavored Balsamic reductions.  Excellent new taste treat.  We bought four small bottles to bring home as gifts and half a panini to eat later. They were huge and delicious.  A bit more souvenir shopping, then to the bus stop for a ride to the train station and back to Perugia.

Nap and shower done, I was ready for dinner.  We looked at menus of all the restaurants on the wide main pedestrian street and settled on Regina because it had lamb chops.  That sounded soooo good to me.  And Glenn found something with pig jowls that he wanted to try.  The food absolutely made up for the two hours it took to get our meals.  My Campari spritz was chilled with lots of ice and had a good ratio of liqueur and sparkling water; it just took 20 minutes to arrive at the table.  The prosciutto and melon were absolutely ready to eat and delicious … and arrived only after the head waiter offered us a free glass of wine for our ordeal.  We declined.  And although our mains arrived even later, they were well worth the wait — thank God, as Glenn said.  When he went to pay, the head waiter apologized profusely and said they’d just moved to this location and nothing is working as it should.

We walked to the square to buy Baci candy for Jen, then back to the hotel where I have managed to pack everything into our suitcase and small roller computer bag.  I have also told Glenn that he is doing the packing for our next trip.  He thinks I’m joking.

Tomorrow we’ll bus down to the train staton and head for Firenze and a wine tour.

12 June, AV train from Firenze Santa Maria to Reggio Emilia AV Mediopadana
Our luck with trains from Florence is holding although today’s 25 minute delay is a pittance compared to last year’s three-plus hours.  But we’re streaking across the dark countryside at 260 km per hour.  First stop Bologna, then Reggio where we hope there’s a cab to take us home.  I would love a hot shower but that won’t be possible.  Olga turned off the gas before she left for Porto San Giorgio, and she won’t be back until tomorrow at the earliest.  It’ll be a very, very short shower!

Glenn had found a wine tour in the Chianti region of Tuscany, a half day beginning at 2:30.  Since we weren’t sure how long it would last, we didn’t book tickets for Reggio.  The half-day tour took five hours but was well worth it.  Unfortunately it was a large group, 50+ people, but the guide was well organized and well informed as were the winery staffs.  The guide did the tour in English and Spanish.  

I cadged the two front seats and our guide was sitting across the aisle, so we had a chance to chat with her.  She’s three months pregnant with her first baby, and she and her boyfriend are quite excited.  She told a few stories to keep us in line, like about the client who got stuck in a church tower and had everyone looking for him.

We visited two wineries where we sampled three wines each, and in between a small town Greve in Chianti where we could stretch our legs and shop.  Other than one Prosecco, which was quite tasty, the wines were all variations on Chianti.  We learned that chianti has to have at least 70 percent Sangiovese grapes to be labeled chianti.  Of the six reds we tasted, the Chianti Classico at Il Molino di Grace was our favorite.  We bought a bottle as a thank you to Olga’s friends Clara and Annibale where we had dinner a few weeks ago.

Il Molino di Grace Winery

13 June, Reggio Emilia
Good to be “home” and back at our favorite caffè.  Less than 10 euro for three americanos, three latte macchiatos and two pastries — free Internet and a barista who’s happy to see us.  Who can ask for more?

Ever the multi-taskers, we schlepped a big bag and a small suitcase full of dirty clothes to the nearby self-service laundromat.  It all fit into one 16kg front loader, then I used two dryers so the heavy things could be at a hotter temp.  Word of caution:  Never leave your clothes alone in an Italian laundromat.  No, they won’t get stolen (at least not in Reggio), but they will be dumped into available laundry baskets the minute the dryers stop, even if they are still wet.  An untimely trip to the bathroom lengthened my time away, and I returned to two baskets of some dry, some wet clothes and a local woman filling the dryers.  I sat and read my book while I waited for her dryers to stop (and to be honest, part of me wanted her to be late so I could dump hers into baskets.  But alas, she was back before the dryers finished their cool down. 

Glenn went to the Coop for water and lunch stuff while I finished laundry.  We rendezvoused back at the house to sort souvenirs and make a list.  His backpack is full and probably too heavy to carryon if they weigh it.  Ah, travel.

I sent a text message to Anna to learn if she still wanted to go to the mountains this weekend.  Unfortunately her mother is in the hospital again, so the mountain trip’s undetermined for now.

Another afternoon nap, then off to get dinner at our favorite nearby restaurant/pizzeria.  Mr. “I’ve got cash” didn’t.  He walked off without the ubiquitous safari vest he wears, a pocket for everything and everything in a pocket, including his wallet and money clip with a fresh infusion. I had 20 euro … and a Visa card that worked.  We took a walk home via the ice cream store and now we’re winding down.  Tomorrow we’ll go to the parmesan cheese place again to buy cheese to take back to PA.  Friday we may go to Bologna to see, finally, the photo exhibition of the industrial Pittsburgh of our youth. (We bought tickets to an EU-sponsored

14 June
Overcast and cool.  Good day to walk into town, with an umbrella just in case.  Did I mention that my arms are peeling?  And that the Italian sun is bleaching my hair blonder than either the JCC or YMCA pool?  I’m so blonde now that my white roots hardly show!  And my hair is shoulder length so I can pony tail it on hot days.

15 June
Well, we never did walk into town yesterday, which was actually good.  We both needed a lazy day after our hectic trip.  Plus, as Olga announced she had a Green Cross ambulance shift starting at 2 pm, she also told us that Luciano was coming by at 5.  Luciano is her 75-year-old motorcycle racing friend that we met last year.  Due to age restrictions, this is his last year of racing in Italy although he will be able to continue racing elsewhere, like Croatia where he goes often.

We did go to the cheese factory shop and bought five kilos of cheese, only one for Olga, the rest go with us.

Oh and it rained in the afternoon.  Good time to settle in with a book and to take a nap.

Luciano finally arrived around 6;30; his wife was at the supermarket.  We chatted briefly and agreed to lunch on Monday.  And Olga mentioned a local event that will include caplets for lunch today, so we’ll do that for sure.  (Caplets are cappelletti in local dialect.)

16 June
So, yesterday was about the least lazy day we’ve had — today we walked nine miles, all totaled.  Of course, it started with a trip to our favorite coffee shop.  I made two as I was having trouble with my laptop and needed my iPhone which was at the house.   We had lunch at a nearby community center — no caplets, but great ravioli.  Glenn’s was filled with pumpkin and mine and Olga’s with pesto.  Must admit that given where we were eating, I was amazed at how good the raviolis were.  The pasta was especially nice, thin not heavy.  And I love pesto and this was lovely.

We walked into town in the afternoon, mostly for a walk and to decide where to have dinner.  We ate at Mario’s last night and told them “arriverderci.”  We were also doing a bit of last minute souvenir shopping — things that take up no space and add no weight.  Glenn wants a Reggio hat, but no luck finding one.  We finally sat in one of the squares and had a drink while we waited for restaurants to re-open.  Most close from 3-3:30 to early evening.  It was nice just sitting and people watching.

Dinner was at a prosciutto shop.  Glenn had caplets that looked more like his in size, but he said had lots more flavor; they included mortedello which his don’t.  I had gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce, delicious but way too rich.  Took half home.  We started for our bus stop, then returned to the shop for Glenn’s camera, which he’d left on a chair.  They had it behind the counter waiting for him.

17 June
Here I am, a day behind again, and it’s Sunday so our caffè isn’t open.  Thankfully the coffee shop at the supermarket opens at 8 (market at 9). but no wi-fi.  We’ll sit outside the laundromat later and use the caffè’s wi-fi.

When we got home at 8 last night, we were both exhausted.  We’d done our usual wi-fi and coffee run early and quickly as Anna was picking us up at 8:45 am, which she did.  We climbed into her two-door Suzuki “jeep” (me folded in back) and off we went to the mountains.  She had a full itinerary planned, a complete circle with stops at places of interest as well as her mountain house in Piolo, a village of 40 residents.  On the way we stopped at the foot of Pietra di Basmantova, a geological formation that is reminiscent of Devil’s Tower in the US and is mentioned by Dante in his Divine Comedy. Formed in the Miocene period, it was once a sea bed, and many shells, other sea fossils, even shark teeth were found when a core sample was taken. 

Pietra di Basmantova
It’s popular with rock climbers who favor the straight stone face and of hikers who trek through the forested parts, all aiming for the top which is more than 1000 meters above sea level.  From there we found our way to Piolo. where we stayed for several hours — stretched our legs with a walk, met neighbors, had a real Italian four-course lunch and rested.  

Anna's mountain cottage
Anna’s son Matteo had brought a large wardrobe in his van for her, and Glenn helped move it from the entry way to Anna’s bedroom.  Matteo and his girlfriend who’s a vegetarian joined us for lunch at the village’s only bar/restaurant. The couple who own it do everything —he was our waiter, she was the cook and bartender.  When we arrived, a dozen or so long distance cyclists were everywhere in the small establishment.  We had to wait for them to leave before we could fit inside.

Lunch started with assorted vegetarian ravioli, went on to a platter of osso buco, pork kebobs and scallopini with lemon.  A green salad with bright fresh red tomato wedges was accompanied by a side of small onion slices for those of us who like onions.  Then a platter of locally made cheeses.  All accompanied by wine.  Wonder why we declined dolci and caffè?

Completing the route Anna’d plotted, we stopped at a resort that’s next to a hydroelectric dam and were able to get a spectacular view of where we’d been earlier.  We visited a sculpture garden, mostly the work of a not-formally-trained sculptor who works in rocks, trees, wood.  His wife does scenarios on the remnants of tree stumps, one looking much like a Smurf village.  

19 June, Malpensa Airport, Milan, Italy
On the road again … we’re waiting for LOT, the Polish airline, to open its checkin desk, then we’re off to Warsaw.  We started the day as usual and did our best to tell the caffè folks we were leaving and how much we had enjoyed ourselves.  A young woman who works there (their daughter?) has my contact info in case she gets to the US.  

We took the high speed train to Milano Centrale, then a local to the airport.  I thought that was much easier than the bus, but it was a mess getting from the train to Departures A, where we found few seats and no one at LOT.  It was, however, about five hours until our flight.  We shared a sandwich for lunch and got onto wi-fi, then found seats where we could watch the LOT desk.  When a queue started to form, we hopped on over.  

We were offered to check two extra bags for free and did so, lessening our burden as we wended our way through the long security line and afterwards the high-end duty-free shopping area.  We stopped for something to eat — burger and fries for Glenn, caesar salad for me.  

Tonight we’ll stay at the Marriott Courtyard in Warsaw.  My colleague Steve arrives Wednesday morning, and a driver will take us first to Piaseczno to shop for pottery, then to my friends Hala and Michał’s farm for a night of fun, food and catching up.  We’ll move to the Hotel Basztowy on Thursday afternoon.

20 June, Czermin village, Poland
For what it’s worth:  FitBit results from the time we left the US until we left Italy.
436,933 steps, which made 206.09 miles

Maybe I won’t need a new wardrobe after all.

21 June, Sandomierz
Of course, Hala overfed us and we didn’t complain too loudly.  She had dinner ready when we arrived Wednesday afternoon, then at dusk we roasted kielbasa over the fire pit. This morning, as always, Michał had the coffee ready and waiting for me.  We all slept in.  Breakfast was Michał’s famous salad plus cold meats, cheeses and bread.  While I went into town for my semi-annual mani-pedi, Glenn and Steve relaxed under the gazebo and picked cherries with Hala.  More food before we all came into the hotel. 

Steve & Hala
with fruits of their labor
Glenn flaked out with his laptop in our room while Steve and I met with two of the three Management Board members to review financials.  

24 June, Warsaw, Poland
Needless to say, I’m behind again in both writing and steps!  

Glenn said last night that the food at this year’s meeting was the best of the three he’s attended.  (He never imagined he visit Poland once, let along three times.)  He especially enjoyed the “kolacja na plenerze,” outdoor supper — a barbecue with three kinds of grilled meats, freshly made pierogis of all kinds (savory and dessert), eight or 10 different salads, and the ubiquitous platter of homemade cakes.

That was on Friday at the end of our informal meeting with staff updates and tour to visit a selection of the Center’s clients.  Our final visits of the day were in the village of Świnary.  At the “Museum of Useless and Forgettable Things” established by a local association, we saw old Communist posters, photographs of life under martial law, old household and farm equipment, typewriters, telephones and radios (that I remember from my childhood!).  As a fund raiser and effort to enhance community involvement, the association has as an annual “Pierogarnia,” a pierogi festival.  We just missed the 11th annual event but were able to sample some at the BBQ — meat, sauerkraut-mushroom, cheese, various fruit fillings — all delicious, all handmade by association members.  (FYI, for the Pierograna this year, about 50 women made 12,000 pierogis.)

Kolacja na Plenerze
Dinner in the outdoors
The park where we picnicked was on the site of a former sand quarry that had closed.  The market for that type of sand had collapsed.  The community repurposed the area with a community center, soccer field, small set of heavy duty exercise equipment for adults, fenced playground for small children, a pavilion with picnic tables and benches, and a nearby fire pit and grill.  Some of the old quarry was retained and turned into art by community members, including an area for graffiti. 

One of the Poland board members, Krystyna, brought her husband for the first time.  Mart, a Dutchman who speaks Polish and English (and more), and Glenn spent time seeing the city while we met on Friday morning.  Glenn had the honor of being the tour guide since he’s been to Sandomierz twice before.  Mart has worked internationally so we compared experiences in early Poland, Africa and the Balkans.

Yesterday’s formal board meeting went well, lively discussions as usual but perhaps fewer diversions since two members weren’t in attendance.  Our van driver brought Steve, Glenn and me to the airBnB that we’ve rented.  We took some time to catch our breaths before taking a cab over to Marta and Łukasz’s flat.  Marta served a Ukrainian dumpling very much like Glenn’s caplets though larger and filled with lamb.  Delicious!  He’s going to try lamb in his caplets next time.  Łukasz brought out his flavored vodkas and sampling began.  I abstained — someone had to be able to operate all the electronic locks to this flat! 

Two-year-old Tosia was the star of the visit, a bit shy at first but venturing into the crowded kitchen to sit with us. Her huge smile lights her face and the room. 
Tosia in April
At one point she toppled unhurt from her chair but bellowed nonetheless.  Marta comforted her and took her into the bedroom.  When she asked Tosia what she wanted, Tosia said “That man,” meaning Glenn.  They had been playing hand games earlier.  Later, while the men sampled Łukasz’s flavoried vodkas, I moved to the living room with Marta and Tosia.  Tosia showed me each of her dolls as she lovingly moved them from stroller to bed to pillow.  She must have two dozen already.  An “American Girl” clone from Germany will be added in February when she turns three. 
Eventually Glenn, Marta and I drove over to see the new flat that’s under renovation.  On the fourth floor (fifth in the US) and without any elevator, it’s a hike but well worth the effort.  They have an incredible amount of space, not the least bit boxy like so many flats.  When it’s done, it’ll be gorgeous.

Today we took an osobowy (local) train to Milanówek to spend the afternoon with my friends Maryla, Staś and their son Tomek.  Unfortunately the rain prevented us from enjoying the back patio and garden which is my favorite place there.  But still, a peaceful, relaxed afternoon chatting, then dining on the meal Staś had prepared.  Glenn got to meet Khalif, a rescue macaw that Maryla has had for 25 years.  She got him when he was one year old.  Macaws are nurtured by their mothers for seven years, and since he was emancipated early, he bonded with Maryla as his mother.  He’s very tame and calm now, used to people etc. 

25 June
Very rainy day … and I’ve got a head cold.  That’s what I get for not taking my vitamin C every day.  I’ve been very lax about my vitamins this whole trip.

After breakfast at a nearby cafe, we walked to the Marriott where we met Maryla between her meetings. Yesterday I forgot to take the “hostess” gifts I’d gotten for her.  Then across the street and through the train station to Złoty Terasy shopping mall to pick up a few more gifts we needed and on to Cepelia for the last.  On the way back we stopped for coffee and after dropping all our packages in the flat, we walked over to Hala Koszyki for a lunch of tasty crepes.  Hala Koszyki is an old warehouse building repurposed into an upscale mostly  “entertainment mall “— restaurants, bars, appropriate retail.  Very reminiscent of one near friends Ana and Art in Amsterdam and one Glenn and I visited in Florence last year.

Back at the flat, I dozed for a couple of hours, then in the driving rain we walked to Wiedz Co Zjedz, a restaurant near Plac Konstytucji that friend Gina had picked.  Dorota, Jacek and son Franek also joined us.  Everyone enjoyed their entrees:  Dorota and Jacek had steak; Gina, fish and Glenn, stuffed chicken breast.  I had a huge bowl of hot rosoł (chicken soup) and Russian pierogis (potato and cheese with sauteed onions on top).  Perfect.  After spending time catching up, we departed to reasonably clear skies.

27 June, Sheraton Malpensa Airport Hotel, Milan, Italy
Yep, behind again.  But looking out at clear, sunny skies.  From the time we left Sandomierz until we went to bed last night, all it did in Warsaw was rain.  As a result, we had a slow day yesterday, then a leisurely dinner with friends Ula and Iza (they had not met Glenn yet) and an evening of packing … all accompanied to the sound of rain.

Yesterday I did online check-in for LOT but couldn’t add our bags, which were to cost us.  Finally got through on the phone to someone who put in our request for a third bag and said to “call back in two hours” to learn if it’d been accepted.  Two hours later I was 57th in the queue, waited and waited and got disconnected. My pay-as-you-go Poland phone was down to PLN 9, from about PLN 30 when I started.  I used Skype to call LOT’s New York number and was 98th in the queue.  While I listened to their orchestral Musak, I went online and figured out how to add money to my phone, did so and hung up on Skype.  Dialed LOT again and I was 97th in line (wonder why?), and the Musak started again. Then I got the brilliant idea to run up to the LOT office by the Marriott.  Perhaps they could take care of the baggage for me.  The stickler was that we wanted to pack Glenn’s “computer bag” with heavy things like the 3 kilos of parmesan cheese we bought.  Thus the bag probably would not meet carry on weight limits.  AND a second bag on LOT is very expensive — $62 on line, $77 at the airport.  Our cheap tickets were getting more and more dear with each add-on cost.  Beware, all you cheapo airline travelers.

Skies were looking good when I left our flat, still on hold with LOT and listening to Musak.  When the friendly agent said, yes, she could help for a fee and found my reservation on her computer, I hung up the phone.  No idea where I was in that queue, but I was number one in this one.  She took my Visa and gave me receipts for three checked bags and confirmed our seats were reserved (ie, paid for).  Despite the onerous charges, at least we were secure in getting bags to Milan.  I was feeling good until I started toward the door of the building … it was pouring rain outside and I had no umbrella.  No ducking it, I had to get back as dinner with Ula and Iza was in less than an hour.  Thanks to tree-lined streets and outdoor cafe umbrellas, I was very wet but not soaked.

Recharging laptop in Italy
Dark has fallen on Malpensa, and we’re getting ready for our flights homeward tomorrow.  We fly to Pittsburgh via Charles de Gaulle in Paris.  That leg is on Air France whose systems were down for some time today, but after my nap and some lunch, enough time had passed and I was able to check us in online, confirm that we could check three bags at no cost (thank you, Amex) and print boarding passes.  I’ve allowed 2.5 hours between flights at de Gaulle, which should be enough to exit the EU and endure the mishegas to enter the US. And Delta has already upgraded us to Delta Comfort.

For some fresh air this evening, we walked around the nearby parking lots.  We could see them from the floor to ceiling windows as we walked within the hotel.  The parking lots are all in circles, rather than a grid —makes for a more interesting view.  Returning indoors, we walked around the airport as Glenn was intent that we’d at least get in our five miles (we did).  Then to the Sheraton bar where we’d had lunch.  We shared a half bottle of delicious, crisp Pinot Grigio and a tasty meat-and-cheese platter as our final meal in Italy.

28 June, Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh PA USA
Home again!  Easy flight from CDG.  It wasn’t full, and we were in a three-seat row with an empty row ahead of us.  I was the “pickle in the middle.”  After take off, the man next to me moved to the row ahead, so I could have his seat and a workable TV screen (mine wouldn’t move beyond “choose language.”)  One of the movies I watched was “I, Tonya.”  Easy to see why Allison Janney won the Oscar for best supporting actress — so different from her CJ Cregg persona on West Wing.  

The apartment was surprisingly comfortable temp-wise.  I was expecting an oven or sauna.  But keeping it closed up seemed to help.  We’ll stay here tonight, then go to Mount Pleasant after breakfast tomorrow.  Laundry to do plus my car is there.

Speaking of cars, Glenn’s did fine in my building’s parking lot while we were gone — other than acquiring a significant layer of leaves and mud from all the storms.  Tomorrow he’ll take it to a 25-cent carwash to get that off before going to his regular car wash for a wash-and-shine job.

Final FitBit numbers are in:  
525,410 steps which made 247.81 miles.  
For 43 days, we averaged 5.63 miles per day.

29 June, Mount Pleasant
Fell sound asleep at 9:30 last night while Glenn did his usual — sitting on sofa with laptop in his lap and his chin on his chest (snoring, of course).  We are definitely home.

I’ve started laundry while Glenn’s off to wash the car and get groceries.  Wings and farm-fresh corn for supper.  Summer is upon us.

30 June, Squirrel Hill
We discovered last night that Glenn’s hot water heater isn’t working.  Given temps in the 90s, a cold shower might feel good.  Not.  Glenn was able to get through to Sears, but repairs won’t take place until next weekend.  So, I packed up and came home before lunch, took a hot shower and ran errands.  Glenn arrived a few hours later.  We spent most of the afternoon and early evening with Victor and Louise, showing them photos of our trip.  Almost as much fun as the actual trip.  Great ending to the month.  

PS to all you skeptics, 44 days together and we’re still alive and together!