Wednesday, November 26, 2014



After walking around cities for a few days, inhabited or otherwise, I need to get away.  I don't like the noise, I don't like the traffic  (let me remind you we are talking about Italian traffic here!!!), I don't like crowds.  When my friend suggested Capri, I said sure!  An island in the Mediterranean!  Something I would do if the opportunity dropped in my lap, and it did.

It was a good thing we were there in the off season, because our hosts at the Antico Monastero said that we cannot imagine just how crowded it is in the summer.  By the way, if you want to go there, here is their website:  If you don't speak Italian, you can also book it on tripadvisor in English.  The family was just wonderful, offering all sorts of advice on activities and souvenirs and how to get off the island to catch a train in Naples at 8:00.  (Which we missed, but that was our fault.)


Capri consists of flat areas where the towns are, and vertical limestone cliffs, inspiring me to look down and quote "Behold, the Cliffs of Insanity!" You can imagine the underwater topography.  Hence the lighthouse.  We were told that there were some stairs down to the lighthouse...but our knees refused to consider them.  Never mind coming up again.

You can ride a chairlift to the highest part of the island, where we encountered fog.  For some reason, they wanted you to remain quiet on the chair, which did have a (non-locking) bar to keep you from falling out.  However, this sign did not have the "no" slash on it, I wish they would make up their mind.  I did not detect any skeletons on the pathway below the chair, so at least they deal with accidents promptly.

This almost gives the impression that there is another island!

You are not allowed to go to an island in the Mediterranean and not take a picture of turquoise seas.  This was taken with my telephoto.  I never got close enough to swim.  (Something about being there on the off season, with less crowds...)

And finally, some vegetation I did not expect to find:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


If I had a bucket list, Pompeii would be at the top.  I have 169 pictures of Pompeii.  If you want to see them all, come on over.  Here are some you probably won't find in the books.

This is ancient welcome mat.  The H is silent.

Rome is famous for aqueducts, and they provided water to the city through the fountains.  Most of which are drinkable.  The brass faucet is remarkably well-preserved, don't you think?

Restaurant (serving dish embedded in the counter in the background), with a crazy quilt pattern on the counter.  Proving the ancient origins of quilting.

The ruins are extensive -- several city blocks (A unit which is undefined, so you can't get me if I am wrong).  Each intersection is labeled.  In Roman Numerals, of course.

When they detected voids in the compacted ash, they poured concrete into them.  That is how they found people (and the famous dog) in the ash.  Well, they also were able to find root systems, and so the gardens are very similar to what was actually there.

Those stones blocked the chariots from the forum, and also provided a cleaner place to cross the street.

The necropolis.  With the typical pointy trees you associate with Italy.

And there is the perp, Mt. Vesuvius, in the background, looking innocent.

The crater is still smoking.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Flavian Amphiteater

I refuse to have a bucket list.  If I actually complete it, does that mean I die?  What if I forget something?  What if I die before everything gets crossed off?  Does that mean I have failed life?  Plus, I enjoy ruts.  I like routine.  I like predictability.  If I have a bucket list, that means I need to interrupt life as I prefer it.

I do, however, have a list of things I would like to see someday, and I crossed 3 of them off this month.

I also enjoy knowing things (usually, of course, from the safety of my home), and one of my new facts is that the Coliseum is only a nickname.  The true title is the Flavian Amphitheater, built by Vespasian and completed by Titus, both of the Flavian family.  In order to build it, Nero's artificial lake was drained and other buildings torn down, except for the approximately 30 meter (100 foot) tall statue of Nero next to it.  This statue was known as the Colossus of Nero and gives the Flavian Amphitheater its nickname.

Now, the Flavian amphitheater and it's nickname remains, but the statue has disappeared.  I like Vespasian better anyway.

Enough dry (but interesting) facts, on to the pictures.

I got to walk on an actual Roman Road.  (I think this was on my third tier list)

It is truly colossal.  (Sorry about the rain drops, I cleaned my lens off a few days later)

Do we build on this scale any more?  Even my B & B in Florence had 15 foot -- oops, 5 meter -- ceilings.  I think these arches are higher than some buildings.

This shows the cells where the gladiators, beasts, defeated enemies, Christians, and other victims were kept until it was showtime.  The floor in the background shows the level of the spectacles.

Somebody's sharp eye found this cross.  It marked the Emperor's entrance -- obviously a 4th century addition.  Before that, Christians had a different entrance.
For my friends who are engineers:  Brick construction, covered with concrete (Another fact to store away:  The Romans invented the words cement and concrete and were the first to use them on big (I mean colossal) projects.  But even they were using ancient technology.)  The façade was white marble, but that disappeared along with other useful building materials.  
And a later addition:  For a small fee, you can get your picture taken with them.
I got to see it with my own eyes.  I got to touch ancient stone.  I got to walk ancient stairs (and developed a new appreciation for standard measurements!).  I got to Be There.
And I am thankful that the existing bathrooms were not original.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Food in Italy

I have a joke, in which the various countries contribute their character to heaven and hell.  In Heaven, the Italians are the cooks.  (In Hell, they are the time keepers.  This I believe also, having waited for a bus in Sorrento that never arrived...the schedule said that no less than 5 busses should have come in that hour.  Plus one of my trains was over an hour late, probably due to the rain.)

In Italy, like in any other country, you get what you pay for.  The cheapest food wasn't worth eating.  But the rest...well,  let's just say I am thankful that I did not gain weight.

Breakfast includes dessert.  Note the strawberry leaves...which are edible.

This is the country that originated pizza, and here is my pepperoni pizza.  This is about 16 inches in diameter, making the pepperonis about 5 inches wide.

Friends in Florence recommended a steak dinner...These are 1 kilogram steaks.  That means 2.2 pounds of meat (before cooking).  It took three of us to eat one Italian steak.

This is the country that originated ice cream, and perfected it in gelato.  (Whatever you do, skip the gelato carts (which I only saw at the Vatican.)  You may get 4 times the gelato, but it is grainy and tasteless.)  The best was the limoncello gelato in Capri.  Or it was the dark dark chocolate in Florence.  Or maybe it was the grapefruit flavor in Florence. 

Friday, November 21, 2014


Sometime in October or late December, a news article appeared on the internet:  Swings are Dangerous!  We have to Protect Our Children!  They must be REMOVED!

Are you freaking kidding me?????

I have one thing to say to these people:  You will never survive in Italy.

Aside from sharing the streets with the cars, there were numerous places where there were no (GASP!) handrails.  Like stairs.  (Which, as I have stated, are not up to USA standard codes.)

This is the dock to the ferry.  No handrails.  Nothing to keep a car from knocking you into the drink.  Boarding at the same time as cars, which no (Zip Zero Nada) traffic cop.

Obviously, Italians believe that you are responsible for your own safety, and presumably that of your kids.

Which isn't to say they are ignorant of What Could Go Wrong.  They did warn the cars about the water, but for some reason there is no similar sign (pictorial or otherwise) for the people.
Even then, this sign was pretty high in the air.
Notice anything missing from the amphitheater in the Pompeii Ruins?  This attitude has been around a long, long time.

Better not tell those pantywaists that there are naked statues in Italy.

(Don't worry, the sword placement is coincidental.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Italian Traffic

Italian traffic is legendary.  They have rules and ignore them.  Even on the freeways, I was amazed at how the taxi driver changed lanes and tailgated and....we survived.
Here are a couple of the smaller roads in Tivoli...and since this was the only access to the parking, it is a two way road.
Jaywalking is undefined in Italy, in the same way that dividing by zero in mathematics is undefined.  It just doesn't happen, because you have as much right to the road as the cars and bicycles and motorcycles and busses.  Notice how we are walking in the middle of the street?  In a lot of streets, you don't actually have a choice.  Even getting on a ferry to go to Capri, we went on at the same time as the cars, with no traffic control.  At All.
Italians, however, can tell who are the tourists.  They are the ones with cameras taking pictures of (what is for them) normal things.  Suitcases are a dead (hmm...possibly a bad adjective) giveaway -- I got honked at then.

On larger and busier streets, it does pay to use the crosswalk sign, although you still have to watch out.  We watched this Pompeii intersection from the café.  It is supposed to be a two way stop, with the cross street having right of way.  It was more like a four way stop, except that you had several cars in the intersection at the same time.  And "stop" isn't at all accurate.  Even a "California stop" doesn't really describe it, since Californians at least stop when they have to yield right of way.
I think "right of way" is also undefined.
I really don't have any pictures or videos of the incredible dance of Italian traffic.  You just have to imagine a whole bunch of people walking around a piazza in different directions, avoiding each other, allowing others to go ahead, never running into each other...except they are driving cars.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bathrooms in Italy

It has become traditional to comment on bathrooms first thing when I return from a trip.  So here we go again.

The second (or third?  life becomes confusing when you change 9 time zones) day, we ate at a place in the Piazza Navonna in Rome, and here is the sign so you know where to go.  Although it is a little misleading, there was no bathtub.  And it was unisex.  But it looks very...genteel....I guess you would say.

As the trip went on, though, I discovered no cutesy little signs, just the general figures like you would see in any airport.  Kind of disappointing -- don't Italians have any sense of humor?  The place is full of naked statues -- men, women, real and mythical creatures -- and they are anatomically correct (except when broken) so it isn't like they are, um,  shy or anything.

Then I began to notice something:  They decorate their bathrooms.  This is one in Capri (accent on the first syllable, by the way):

This is a public bathroom, and it was really cool!  Then there was this restaurant bathroom in Florence (which, by the way served an excellent bean soup, but there was no direct connection):

We do this in the nicer restaurants -- Olive Garden springs to mind for some reason.

I should also mention bidets.  All the hotel and bed and breakfast bathrooms had them, and I contemplated using them.  I looked up directions on the internet, and decided not to when they said you don't actually sit down on them, you hover over them.  My knees immediately vetoed THAT idea!

Other scattered thoughts about bathrooms:  There are no lids in Italy.  Just warning you.  They are not broken, they were never designed to have them at all.  Also, you can never tell (even in America) when the soap or water or towels were automatic...when means you feel like an idiot when you realize the sensor isn't broken, there just isn't one.  And people were watching you.  Also, it is not possible to dry your jacket on the hand dryer in the bathroom at the Santa Maria Novella Train Station in Florence.  It isn't strong enough.  (And it cost me 1 euro to find that out.)  More on that later.

Aside from all that, Italians are really considerate.  In nearly every bathroom I came across, they had something like this: