I promised Glenn adventures, not just travel …
16 May, Atlanta GA USA
And we are definitely having an adventure.
Up early — who can sleep the night before a big trip? Not this woman. It’s why I never really minded those 6 am flights when I lived in Skopje, up and out and on my way.
Glenn and I walked up to Pamela’s on Murray for breakfast, then returned to do a final run through of the apartment and call for a taxi. We opted for a regular cab to the airport as we figured the cab driver would have an easier time getting a return fare than a Lyft would. Jason, our driver, was on time, personable and a good driver. We got to the airport at noonish well within the three-hour check in window recommended for our 3:30-ish flight to Atlanta, our first leg. We each did a bit of walking and wistfully wished we were on the overbooked LaGuardia flight that was offering $1200 to anyone willing to relinquish a seat.
Then the first delay of our flight was announced … we could still make the Milan connection, per Mark at Delta. I called to check in lieu of standing in a long line at the counter. After the second delay, I called again, and we decided to rebook We’d never make a 20-minute transfer from one terminal to another. Per Heather’s suggestion, we re-checked in for our original but now very late flight and confirmed that our bags would be in Atlanta. She said to be sure and get a hotel voucher. Our delays had been caused by a mechanical problem that led to a need for different plane.
And then there was the third delay — after about 20 of us had boarded. A lug nut on a wheel was found sheared off; a new tire was required. We deplaned, re-planed and finally arrived in Atlanta about an hour after we should’ve been over the Atlantic. We found the Delta Help Desk, got help and hotel and meal vouchers, found the shuttle and arrived starving and exhausted at the Marriott Courtyard Atlanta South. But, food first. Or should I say alcohol. I had a glass of wine, Glenn a beer and we shared a caesar salad and chicken/bacon quesadilla. All delicious.
Back in our room, I opted to finish my wine on the deck outside our room. Lovely to be outside in fresh air and warm but not hot temp, Glenn talked to both of his daughters … and fell asleep. I’m next. More tomorrow.
17 May, Maynard Jackson International Airport, Atlanta
Cloudy skies and even a bit of a sprinkle, but off to the airport we came. After breakfast — and coffee, of course.
Sierra, the young woman handling the hotel cafe, was swamped, and the credit card machine still wasn’t working. Our vouchers covered all but 66 cents plus any tip. She had no change, only a drawer full of $20s. Putting anything on our room wouldn’t work; we had filed no credit card with our registration because we used the Delta vouchers. A supervisor came over to help and seemed to make things worse. Sierra politely asked her to leave and continued to get things done as efficiently and pleasantly as possible. Eventually I was able to get change for my $20 from the front desk and paid the check and tip, complimenting Sierra for her fine work in a very tough situation. Meeting nice people has been one of the pluses of this lengthy delay.
Before we left the hotel, I used my Skype Out to call Olga in Reggio Emilia and let her know we’d be a day late (and a dollar short since I used my Skype Out account. which allows me to cheaply call a real phone when someone doesn’t have Skype.)
We’d emailed Olga the day before, but we weren’t sure if she was as compulsive about emails as we are. But she’d seen my message on her phone and knew we’d be arriving on Friday. Then I left a voice message on ItaliaRail’s Customer Service line to see if we could get any refund on our Milan to Reggio tickets that we obviously won’t use today. And finally booked new tickets for tomorrow.
With time to kill, we did the “Laurel vs Yanny” test. That’s the sound that some people hear as “Laurel” and others as “Yanny.” I heard Laurel almost the entire spectrum and something like Yanny in about a quarter; Glenn heard Yanny the whole way. Hmmm. No wonder Glenn doesn’t hear sometimes ….
|Glenn in Atlanta|
18 May, Milan, Italy
It’s official. Glenn slept with another woman. When I had to re-book us for the Atlanta-Milan flight, I wasn’t able to get us an exit row nor Delta Comfort for both of us. Got one of each: I got an aisle Delta Comfort in the center section, and Glenn opted for a two-seat exit row with even more legroom. Next to him sat Angela, 31, a stock broker from Atlanta. With a friend, she is venturing overseas for the first time ever. She had traded seats so a married couple could sit together. When I came by to say “hi,” she thought I was going to ask her to switch. I assured her that we would be fine. We chatted several times during the flight. I invited her to visit Pittsburgh (she’s never been), giving her my contact info. And she and Glenn chatted about places to see while she’s on her whirlwind Italy trip. During the 8+ hour flight, Glenn slept for some time, I nodded off for a bit, and Angela said, despite wearing an eye mask, she didn’t sleep at all. Welcome to transoceanic flights.
19 May, Reggio Emilia, Italy
Malpensa Airport in Milan was hectic but pretty easy to get through. We took a bus to “Milano C.le”, the main train station, where it was sunny and pleasant outside. We checked our two biggest suitcases for the day, then found a cafe with outdoor seating and had a European breakfast (sandwich and cappuccino). We checked out where our train would leave from, then wandered around the area of the station. My Poland phone worked to call Olga, but it’s battery was way too low to ensure we could call her when we arrived in Emilia, as promised. The woman who checked our bags let me use an outlet there; I stood for 40 minutes to get a 25 percent charge! Thankfully I was able to continue recharging on the train.
Despite having to double check where Olga’s street Via Alberti is located, the cab driver brought us directly here. As we drove, things actually looked familiar from our visit last summer. A smiling Olga was waiting for us. After she showed us around the flat, complete with a pile of breakfast goodies and nibbles, she departed for her flat upstairs and we took a nap. We all went to dinner at a nearby restaurant where Olga had made reservations. She and Glenn had delicious and very large individual pizzas, and I had a green salad (insalada mista) and linguini con vongole (linguini with white clam sauce). That’s one of my favorite Italian meals, and it was perfect other than half a dozen broken clam shells in the sauce — lots of flavor, lots of clams and al dente pasta.
Back at Olga’s, I plugged in both phones for recharging. My international data for the iPhone starts later— heaven forbid that a US company should accommodate time zones; that is, it won’t start until midnight in the US.
This morning we took a walk to explore a nearby shopping area. We didn’t want to get lost by going too far afield. Found a lovely coffee shop that was open, and Glenn had a cappuccino and I had two americanos. Back at Olga’s we have slowly been getting ready for the day. Olga will take us to the Center, and we’ll bus back. Tonight we have dinner with her friend Anna who taught English.
|Ceiling of Reggio Opera House|
Of all the Italian surnames for Olga’s friend Anna to mention as her birth name, it had to be Codeluppi. We had dinner at Anna’s house tonight and a lovely evening of chatter about many things, including family. When Glenn talked about his ancestry work, Anna told us that she’d given her students a project once to map where Italian names were found in the world. She said she was surprised to find hers in New York. And when she answered Glenn’s question about the name, she replied Codeluppi — the birth name of our first grade teacher and part of a big family that lived in the same town where Glenn’s dad grew up.
Anna served baked tagliatelli — both pasta and sauce homemade — in delicious but too large portions. Dessert was mini cream-filled donuts and fresh sliced strawberries.
No internet at all today as Olga has none and our little caffé is closed on Sundays. When we found it yesterday, we noticed a wi-fi sign on the door but neglected to check the hours of operation. Open at 7 am but closed all day Sunday.
Midday dinner with Olga and her friends Clara and Annibale was another food and wine extravaganza. We had met them last year and know they are excellent cooks. Bruschetta and Lambrusco on the patio to start, then pork tenderloin, fresh salad, sauteed zucchini, and a tart of green pea and feta mousse that even Glenn liked (I’m going to get the recipe) with a chianti-like homemade wine and Asti Spumante, buraka cheese with grape tomatoes, and finally a fruit tart with fresh strawberries, and a fruit liqueur that Olga brought. Have I eaten enough for a month?
Lots of family ties discussed as Clara’s grandmothers were from two of the villages from which Glenn had grandparents. They may yet be related. Unfortunately with so much food and wine, I actually started to doze. To distract me, Olga suggested that a short walk to a nearby park.
Back home Glenn and I both napped for more than an hour, declined Olga’s kind offer to heat up Anna’s leftover pasta and took a long walk that included a gelato stop. Tomorrow back to the Center to get online and to find a place to print things. We want to go to Rome on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Much frustration this morning. We got up early to walk over to our caffé for coffee and try the wi-fi. But for some reason it won’t accept our credit cards. Maybe it’s because it’s 2 am in the US, and I recall that’s when computers are updated. Oh, well. We’ve had excellent cappuccinos.
Patience, patience. The woman who served my panini just brought the caffé’s wi-fi code, and after seeing my many unsuccessful tries, she again took pity on me and came over. I was mis-readying her numeral 9 as the letter “s.” Nearly 200 messages flooded in and were quickly deleted. Among those that arrived were four from my Visa card with international charges alerts and three from Vodafone that I had become part of the Vonafone community. I could just input the code in the email … which I might actually do if the email contained any words. Two messages in the inbox list only get as far as telling me I’ve been charged 5.79 euro, and a third welcomes me, again with no copy. Glenn apparently has codes but cannot figure out how to use them. We’re going home to shower and walk into the Center.
Olga was surprised when I told her we were walking into town. Two kilometers! she said. I told her we’d be okay; Glenn walks at least five every morning. Before going, we checked a map she gave us as well as the one we had.
|Ugo Bossi, where San Pietro meets|
San Stefano and always pointing
in the right direction
The only real tension between Glenn and me is when we are planning to go somewhere, especially on foot. His business in traffic control helped make him map-dependent. I like a map to get the lay of things but generally rely on my observations. I had watched the route Olga took when we drove to town yesterday and didn’t need to look at a map to know where to go. We worked it out, as we always do, and had a great day overall.
Internet, or rather lack thereof, seems to be out biggest obstacle. We had lunch at WellDone, and I easily logged into their server. After taking care messages and reading a bit of news in my many news feeds, I sent Jennifer, Glenn’s younger daughter, a text on my iPhone to determine if she was available; it was 6:30 am in PA. Since we was, I opened Skype and used SkypeOut to call her, then handed the earphones to Glenn. Shortly after they finished, I did the same for a call to Michelle, the older daughter. In the late afternoon, I used SkypeOut to call Uncle Victor and set up our Skype call with him and Aunt Louise. Took some doing, but we got through for a few minutes of catching up.
After all our hard work, we stopped for a drink (beer for Glenn, Campari Soda for me), then started the walk home. As the winds picked up and skies darkened, we decided to take the bus. Good choice. We only had to walk two blocks in the rain.
Rainy day but fruitful morning. Off to our caffé for coffee and Internet, then to a nearby travel agent where we found Maura, who spoke English, and helped us book next week’s trip south. We’ll go by train to Naples first and stay two nights, then train to Salerno for three nights. Naples will be our base for Pompeii, and Salerno for the Amalfi coast. We’ll return from Salerno to Reggio. We have hotels booked in both Naples and Salerno, and a place to eat in Naples recommended by Maura. Big plus — our train back from Salerno to Reggio is direct, no running through train stations trying to interpret signs.
I checked out a local laundromat, and we bought sandwich makings for lunch. After we eat, we’ll return to the “lavanderia self service.” I did a load of light colors at Olga’s last night, and they are still soaking wet today. The laundromat has dryers, so we’ll take the wet things to dry and the dark load to wash and dry. Thankfully the instructions are in English as well as Italian and German.
|Found by shopping center: a receptacle|
for used batteries. What an idea!
Laundry done, emails checked, trains to Perugia-Assisi and hotels checked but not booked. A walk through a drizzle home to put away clothes, read, take a short nap. Then back to the caffé for a quick download of a book by Glenn, followed by some shopping for dinner. We’re going to replicate lunch for dinner, too tired to find a restaurant and things close earlier here than in the big cities of last year. Here everyone shuts down at 7:30 while in Rome, Florence, Venice, restaurants re-open at 7 pm for dinner/supper. I had bought a bottle of wine and we picked out some cold, grilled peppers, an orzo salad and some miniature sweets to complete the meal.
Another day of high adventure after a pretty tame yesterday. On Wednesday we took our time going into town (read: lots of coffee and wi-fi time at our favorite caffé, showers and clean clothes at home before leaving). We went back to the caffé for lunch (a delicious warm grain salad for me, lovely rigatoni with red sauce for Glenn). In town, we looked for the various museums and galleries where the European Photographic Exhibition is. We learned quickly that none of the venues is open until Friday. In our wanders a German couple who spoke English and heard us talking stopped us. They were seeking a city map. We gave them the best directions we could to the newsagent where we’d gotten ours and later realized we had an extra we could’ve give them.
So, today’s adventure. We walked to the old train station to take a local to Bologna; no need to pay taxis and high speed costs for a less-than-60-minute trip. Yesterday in Reggio we saw a series of free-standing poster boards about the photo exhibit in other Emilia Romagna cities. One that caught our eye is in Bologna and features photos of Pittsburgh during its steel-producing heyday. Olga gave us some ideas of other things to see in Bologna, the two towers and town square, for example. So off we went …
In Bologna, we walked into the Center (about 2 km).
Lots of spectator stands being assembled, perhaps for 2 June festivities (a national holiday). Found a tourist info office and got what we thought were directions via bus to Fondazione MAST where the exhibition is. We were told it was outside the city center so not on our map. Carefully watching both sides of the various streets our #19 bus traversed, we got all the way to the end of the line at the village of Casteldebole and no gallery. We sat for a bit, and returned to the center city. Just before we alit the bus, there was a sign directing travelers back to where we’d been to the Fondazione MAST.
|Neptune statue on Bologna square|
We exited the bus a few stops before the city square and headed for the train station which was jammed. We were both tired and hot and ready to be home. The ticket lines were long. I sent Glenn to check which local train we’d take and I got in line at a self service machine. Before I had to buy, he returned. The only train he could identify as going through Reggio was one to Milan that was just leaving. We spotted a train helper at another machine that only handled the high speed AV trains. We told her where we wanted to go, she took great pains to tell us this was the high speed train, and we got tickets. Once we left Bologna, we’d be in Reggio in 20 minutes. And we were. It’s amazing how quickly the AV train gets up to 220 km per hour. It cruised mostly at 240 but got as high as 260, and we didn’t feel like we were moving. We taxied to Olga’s, tired but also very hungry. En route to her meeting, she dropped us at a restaurant we hadn’t seen before. Definitely going to return — it’s an easy walk from Olga’s — and we stopped at our caffé and used the internet en route.
|No art exhibit but a familiar name|
BTW, if you’ve noticed, I say “we walked” a lot … because that’s what we’re doing. We both wearing FitBits and check at the end of each day. Many days we are well over 15,000 steps, some have approached 20,000. My stride is apparently recorded as shorter than Glenn’s, so his steps equal more miles than mine. Something to fix some day.
After our morning coffee-and-Internet run, we told Olga that we weren’t going to Bologna again today. It’s warm and sunny. I’d do some laundry and we’d stay in Reggio. She called the parmesan cheese maker and arranged a tour, pronto. No showers, just a quick teeth brushing.
Roncocesi is a small village outside Reggio, and the cheese maker has modernized the facility since Glenn and his family visited a few years ago. For example, a machine turns the huge rounds of cheese, two at a time, not a person, and cheese is lifted from the brine bath by another machine. The cool aging room holds 18,000 rounds of parmesan! It has to age for at least one year, then an official controller checks every round, marking first quality with a special stamp. Second quality is scored on the round edge although we were told sometimes producers or stores sand off the lines and it’s sold improperly.
|Glenn, our guide and Olga|
|Testing cheese quality|
|A few of the 18,000 wheels|
in storage for a year or more
After the tour, we were hosted with beverages (only the Prosecco and water were drunk) and snacks. including some lovely looking sweets. I actually didn’t have any because they also served a spinach pie similar to spanakopita but with more of a pie crust than one of fillo dough. I’d tasted this last year and really like it — an excellent breakfast.
Back home I did two loads of laundry and hung it to dry, then we went into the Center. I needed to print our Pompeii tour tickets and directions to the gallery in Bologna (we’ll go there sometime after the Napoli trip). Hot and sweaty day. We stopped several times for something to drink as we visited locations in the European Photography Exhibition. A couple weren’t open but we saw several, ranging from extremely interesting to “huh?”
One of the most interesting was at Spazio Gerra, an open, mostly glass gallery at the end of a piazza near the opera house plaza. A lovely young woman who spoke good English walked us through all three floors, explaining “fotoromanzo” to us. Without her, we would never have understood the gorgeous black and white pix. Pre social media and reality TV, Italy had several magazines similar to comic books only they were illustrated with photographs and the stories were romances typical of those times. One, “La Colpa,” is about a young woman who’s raped and when she goes to the police, she isn’t believed; she’s shunned and made to feel guilty. As part of the exhibition, the story has been updated, photographed and posted on Instagramyui. Our guide said the exhibition director wanted to bring the story into the #metoo generation.
I’m slowing down in my writing, so much going on, no time. Yesterday Glenn and I took Olga and her friend Anna, who’d hosted us at her home, to lunch. We spent several hours at the restaurant and at Olga’s chatting. Anna wants us to come to her mountain cottage and also to take us to the largest lake in Italy, a couple of hours north of where we are
|Glenn and Anna talk family|
Today we walked to the center for lunch and hoping to see more of the exhibit. No luck on the latter but found an excellent restaurant (does Italy have any other kind?) for lunch. I opted for Nizzarda, a saladé Nicoise) and Glenn had spinach gnocci in gorgonzola sauce with crisp prosciutto sprinkled on top.
28 May, AV train to Napoli
Here we are on the high speed train to Napoli. Who’d’a thunk it? We’ll stay two nights in Napoli and three in Salerno. We packed light, one small suitcase and one carryon along with our laptops. Remarkable. Glenn’s getting better at packing light. Just noticed we’re up to 300 mph!
Later, Napoli, Italia
Way hotter than Reggio and humid, but then we’re on the sea. We got a map at the train station, located our hotel (Palazzo Caraccioli, a Sofitel) and trudged upward through a teeming microcosm of the world — natives and immigrants from everywhere. Vendors in small store fronts and moving through the crowds, selling everything you can imagine. “Carton of cigarettes, give you good price.” Every few feet a sidewalk cafe, bar, gelato stand squeezed onto the worst sidewalks I’ve ever experienced: broken pavers, uneven surfaces, garbage and trash Cars parked everywhere literally or driving like bumper cars in the streets. A construction zone blocking our way across the first piazza we had to traverse. But we made it.
The hotel is beautiful, truly an old palace with two large interior courtyards (one a formal restaurant and the other a large seating area). Each has a large canopy as well as a unique drainage system to keep guests dry on rainy days.
And the wi-fi is strong throughout the hotel. That taken care of, off to find food; we’d left before breakfast and only had complimentary cookies on the train.
|Dining room courtyard at hotel|
I had the best bread I’ve ever had in my entire life at a little sidewalk cafe a block from the hotel. “Nuff said about that.
|Bruscetta on THE best bread|
After dithering about transportation to Pompeii (45 minutes away), we finally ordered a taxi to pick us up. We meet out guide tomorrow at a coffee shop near the site entrance.
The Acropolis, Delphi and Corinth in Greece, Stobi in Macedonia — all awesome pre-Christian archeological sites that I’ve visited but none comes near Pompeii. Perhaps a big part of my reaction was our guide Barbara: personable, professional, knowledgeable and passionate about her subject. She spoke English well although she didn’t learn it as a child; she didn’t want to sound like her Boston-born father
|That's me at gate to Pompeii|
Our group of four (Glenn and I and a young couple from Dallas) got an incredible history lesson full of enlightening tidbits — things you didn’t learn in history class:
- Pompei held no importance to history or Rome until it was destroyed by the heat (temps of 200-500F) and ash of Vesuvius which literally blew its top. As a result of the eruption, it has two peaks with a valley in between.
- Vesuvius was said to have erupted in August 79 BC. However, more recent discoveries indicate September or October were more likely. Fragments of freshly harvested foods from were found in excrement in the sewer system.
- Pompeii is a typical Roman street grid, all of them one way and stone. The first “zebra crossings” were three large flat stone blocks spaced across the street so pedestrians didn’t have to walk in streets fouled by chariot horses. You can still see chariot grooves in some of the crosswalks.
- Rome was a highly patriarchal society. A woman went from under the thumb of her father to under the thumb of her husband. Husbands could divorce, women couldn’t. One enlightened ruler eventually allowed women to divorce IF they’d produced three children.
- In the 19th century a particularly Catholic ruler outlawed the use of the phallus, the long-standing symbol of fertility and good luck found everywhere in Pompeii. But the ever superstitious Romans just switched to a small red chili pepper, now as ubiquitous as the phallus once was.
- Prostitution was legal, open and accepted. The town brothel provided women for men, men for women and men for men. Notice, no women for women; it would’ve undermined the sense of masculine superiority, per our guide.
- Slaves, mostly people captured in battle, received housing, food and a small stipend. If they had special skills, those skills were used and rewarded. For example, educated Greeks constituted much of the education system. In some cases a slave was better off than a poor free man. A slave might save his stipend and eventually become a wealthy free man, equal to other men with similar resources. Money ruled.
Small world note. As we left Pompeii, I passed a man wearing a Steelers cap and said quietly, “Go Steelers.” He replied in his best Pittsburgh accent; he was from Monroeville, which lies between Squirrel Hill and Mount Pleasant.
Exhausted but throughly satisfied with our day, we took a local train back to Napoli, cleaned up at the hotel, then found another sidewalk cafe with more incredible food.
|Old and new in Naples.|
30 May, Inter-City train to Salerno
After a relatively leisurely breakfast, we taxi’d to the train station, checked two suitcases at “Left Baggage” and hopped on a tour bus for the first of two circuits. Our way to see some of Naples’ history and kill time before our train. An IC train isn’t as luxe as AV but more than sufficient for a 90 minute ride.
|Me outside Napoli's best pasta restaurant,|
per our travel agent in Reggio
|Glenn enjoying rabbit in the style of|
Ischia at di Martini. Our travel
agent was right!
Here we are at the Grand Hotel Salerno, our home away for three nights. We have a view of the port and of the train station from our balcony, working air conditioning, daily breakfast and a bar that serves Campari Soda and decent beer. We’re set.
Phew! What a day. We walked miles today in the hot sun, first to find the right pier for our trips to Positano and Capri, then in Positano. Somehow we got discombobulated over the Capri schedule and pier and literally missed the boat. We bought tickets for tomorrow. Then we schlepped back to the first pier in the hot sun and headed to Positano. That’s Glenn’s daughter Jennifer’s favorite place. (She did a semester abroad in Italy as a college student.)
Positano was a picturesque as expected. Also hot and crowded. Glenn’s photos will tell the story. We checked out a beach-side eatery Jen suggested — up about 200 steps, then down 200 more to the place. it was more bar than food, so we went up about 200 steps, then down again to find another spot to eat. The saving grace was the whole walk was in the shade. So much cooler we thought we’d left the island.
|Arriving in Positano|
We spent the day wandering and people watching, stopping for cool drinks and comfortable seats. Did a bit of souvenir shopping for the granddaughters. Then back to Salerno to wash away a day’s worth of sweat before dinner.
Dinner was once again spectacular. We walked down to the beach and ate at Surf, “lounge/bar/restaurant.” Are you tired of me writing about incredible food? Well, too bad, as this meal was another outstanding example of Italian cuisine. What’s even more amazing is how humane the portion sizes are — just the right amount to satisfy, not add 20 pounds to your hips. Service was impeccable. A waiter came over to chat because he heard us speaking English; he’d lived in Boston. He escorted us to see the dessert array … which, of course, we could sample because our dinners had been reasonably sized. The owner stopped by to ask if all was well. Another English speaker.
Tomorrow we’re off to Capri early and on Saturday we take the train back to Reggio Emilia.
|One of many Garibaldi statues|