Sunday, November 30, 2014

Giving Thanks in Camogli

The day after Thanksgiving, Cassie and Stefano had planned a huge feast for their Italian and American friends.  Cassie, a native of Long Beach, met and married Stefano here in Camogli.  They have a two year old son named Jackson and have purchased a bar/caffe/pizzaria here and called it Jack's.

For two years, Cassie has had Thanksgiving dinner at their bar on Friday.  Inviting American teachers from Genova and Stefano's Italian friends and family from Camogli.  This Friday was to be no different and Chris and I were going to be here to partake.  Turkey, stuffing, two kinds of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cornbread, cranberries, creamed corn.  Cassie asked me if I could think of anything else.  I thought, "a bit heavy on the starches", and said how about a creamed spinach dish.  Spinach isn't in season here, so I said, "what about Kale!"

Chris and the calm before the feast at Jack's
So I went and purchased 20 bunches of kale, cream, milk, butter and Cassie had bacon and sundry items and I made Creamed Kale with my hotel room that had a small kitchen.  Cassie made everything else with some help from Erin and Chris at her apartment up the hill.  Dinner was at 8 and we all met there at 7 to finish up the preparations.  At 7:30, Cassie said, "I forgot about the gravy". Chris said, "Tom can make gravy".  Butter, flour, chicken broth with S&P to taste, viola, Gravy!

The Gravy maker with Cassie

The spread.  The Creamed Kale with Bacon 2nd from the end.

Fabrizi with his American teacher girlfriend

Etmae, enjoying the leg with assistance from Chris
Unfortunately, Erin had to catch a train back to Rome at 6 and would miss the feast.  About 40 people came and it was half American and half Italian.  Cassie, understanding that Italians would never choose any of the food items, (what, no pasta?) served everyone some of everything.  Not trying the food would be an insult, so they had no choice but to eat.  And man, did they eat.  The creamed kale and corn were a hit, and the gravy, a bit runny for my liking, tasted great and the Italians didn't know any different.  Cassie's food was amazing and we all acted like all Americans do on Thanksgiving.  We ate too much.

Libby, Cassie's mom, got up and explained what Thanksgiving meant to Americans and then Stefano played the Star Spangled Banner and all the American's got up and sang.

Probably the best Thanksgiving ever with our new friends in Camogli.

My beautiful wife

No words necessary

Friday, November 28, 2014

Holy Camogli

Due to many WiFi issues, I'll attempt to catch up.  After Siena, on Tuesday we stayed put in Florence and walked all over the place.  Saw a bunch of renaissance art and sculptures.
(How's that for catching up)

Wednesday was a traveling day.  Not unlike most Americans going or coming home for Thanksgiving we were traveling.  Only we were traveling to Camogli.  A wonderful seaside town just south of Genova.  Going to Camogil, one must pass through Pisa.  When one is in Pisa, you go to that place.

Obligatory Picture

Why Camogli, because that's were our good friend Libby Acevedo was going to be.

Libby with Conan, the Wonder Dog.
Seaside village of Camogli

Libby's daughter, Cassie, lives there with her husband and son.  They also own Jack's bar.  I'd travel 3 hours to spend time with a bar owner.  Walking through this enchanting town was very therapeutic.  Also very hilly.  From the sea, the town goes straight up the mountain side.  During the war, most of the towns marble was knocked off the buildings when we bombed the Germans.  So they painted the town.  Part of its charm is the windows and doors are painted like the marble was still there.

The Castle Dragon built in 1518

The castle was built on a rock and much later the town was build over water so today it looks like more like the picture with Libby, Chris, Erin and Conan.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Tuscany Region and back to Normalcy

Monday, we scheduled a bus tour where we stopped in San Gimignano in the Chianti region that included a wine tasting lunch at Tenuta Torciano winery.  This city is one of very few where the all the towers are still remaining.  Fourteen of them to be exact.  The winery has been around for about 150 years.  After being tutored on how to taste wine, we got to sample a white, Chianti and a Chianti Classico.  The designation for Classico is the Black Rooster.  No Black Rooster, no Classico.
The gate into San Gimignano

Chianti Classico with Rooster
A Tuscan lunch
Erin with our wine host, Fabrizio
Florence and Siena were warring regions for centuries.  Sort of like the Crips and the Bloods.  
The fortress of Monteriggioni was the last bastion of resistance only falling with the advent of cannons.
The fortress Monteriggioni
Then off to Siena, my other favorite city in Italy. 
More to come as we gotta catch a train.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Rebirth

Florence.  The home of the Renaissance.  After spending a very tense 36 hours in Rome, we were ready for a re-birth.  I love this city.  It makes you feel good about being here.

Relaxing on the rooftop of our Florence Hotel

A Renaissance with good reception

Then a very short walk to the Academia Museum to see some hack's sculpture.

I have been here two different times.  It absolutely amazes me how spectacular  Michelangelo's sculpture of David is.  It makes you go WOW!  History has it this was actually done by 4 different sculptors, but Michelangelo was the one who finished this masterpiece.

We walked right in with no waiting.  No crowds to impede us.   Maybe we'll put a hold on that return ticket for just a bit.

The Good, Bad & Ugly - No pictures

Today is Sunday, November 23rd.  I have to write that as I'm never quite sure where we are or what day it is.  We are in Florence.

After Erin's arrival in Rome on Thursday, we traveled to the Vatican on Friday and marveled at St. Peter's Square and waited in lines.  I did buy a pass to the Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel to bypass all the lines we experienced getting into the Vatican.  Paid $36 euros and then walked all the way around to the museum and there were no people in line.  Walked right in.  Paid double I did.  (Yoda)
Had a great pizza dinner across the street and took the underground to Bernadini and walked back to our hotel.

Saturday was to be our Roman excursion.  Coliseum, The Forum, The Pantheon ending up at Piazza Navona.  It didn't include a trip to the Carabinieri to fill out a form for my stolen wallet.  Picked at the train station in Termini.  I think back and I knew when it happened but didn't realize it at the time.  My concealed fanny pack was safe in the suitcase at the hotel.  While filling out the form, a couple from Pennsylvania came in to report their passports stolen.  It was like a steady stream in there.  Credit cards cancelled, money lost, confidence shattered. we pressed on.  Had dinner at Harry's Bar and a drink at the hotel.  We actually did see all those sites, by the way.  Erin was in awe.

This morning, up early to catch the express train to Florence at 10:55.  The cabbie took us to the wrong terminal, so we entered a new cab and paid to go to the correct terminal at Tiburtina.  Waited upstairs and saw a train entering our platform so we walked downstairs.  We showed our voucher to the conductor and he pointed and said, "this way".  Half way there, another conductor came to punch our voucher and informed us we were going in the right direction, but on the wrong train/company.  $129 euros later, we got off in Florence and melted down completely.

I named this blog in a amusing comparison to the spaghetti westerns starring Clint Eastwood.  "Fistful of Dollars, "For a Few Dollars(Euros) More", etc.  (insert music que here)

The Ugly; Losing trust in everyone we saw in Rome and now Italy.
The Bad;  Wanting to come home now, screw the costs, just get me on the frickin plane.
The Good;  Seeing Erin take charge and become the adult as we crumbled.

It is a sad day when you realize you're not as in control as you want to be.  Call it culture shock, old age or a combination of things.  I remember going through this with my parents and I'm sure if you are older, you have experienced this as well.

Pressing on, were doing a Chianti Region bus tour on Monday in Sienna and I'm probably going to get drunk.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Light and Sunshine on our Adventure

Up at 6 AM Thursday for our bus trip to Rome.  We packed the night before so all we had to do was eat a bit of toast, lock up and walk to the bus stop.  It was cold.  It was foggy.  It is late November in Italy.

Misty, morning rain.
The bus arrived on schedule and we boarded.  Not knowing fully the system, I tried to pay the bus driver.  He declined my money.  OK,  so we got on the bus with the other 4 passengers and we were on the road to Rome.  On the way we picked up another Sulga Bus Co. employee and he took my money.  $12 euros each and we were settled up.

Driving into the city made me shudder as more and more traffic piled up.  Vespa's buzzed by like hornets.  (Note: Vespa is the Italian word for hornet).  Got to the main terminal in the City Center and departed for the taxi line.  Ominous signs warned us to be sure to take the legitimate cabs that are white.  I wondered if illegitimate cabbies could read those signs.  Anyway, we got in the cab and $10 euros later we were at our ***** Star hotel.  It includes breakfast.  But not on arrival day.  Having arrived around 10 we could not check in but we were hungry.  Breakfast was served till 11 so we checked our bags and went in.  The buffet was all that was available and it was $36 euros...each...Nothing like a $80 US dollar breakfast of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for the two of us.

We met the concierge and he outlined where some of the near touristy spots were.  So we walked  over to the Spanish Steps and a further walk to the Piazza del Popolo (Plaza for the people)
The Egyptian Obelisk fronting construction at the Spanish Steps

At the people's plaza

All the time waiting for Erin to arrive into Rome.  At 6:45 PM,  Erin finally arrived at our hotel.  YEA!!

Erin's here

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Gate to Roma

At 1500 on Tuesday, I was thinking, how the hell can I make it back to Long!  But, with Google Translate I wrote to the electrician: Non c'è una sostituzione in modo da poter aprire manualmente il cancello? Si si, no problemo!  Yes he could override the power and we opened the gate and out came the Fiat.  Long Beach can wait.

By 1600, were out of the house and back to the Poker store to check on Wind....again.  We took our Mac and the Wind device and showed the very patient lady who works there that we were not able to connect.  Figuring we did something wrong and would, again, have to pay another $25 euros for our 12 Gigs.   She brought over the store owner, a most unforgiving man, who took the Wind device and our Mac and tried to connect.  Again and again, it would not connect.  It kept freezing.  Interesting thing about where the Poker store is located, outside the store they have free WiFi.   Now this is weird, he took the Wind device outside, placed it near the free WiFi sign and left it there.  10 minutes later, our Mac was connected, on Wind.  Only in Italy.

I realized I had not posted any pictures of Franco during my last two posts regarding Casperia.  The nicest man, ever.
Franco, Paola's husband
Franco brushing of 1 of 7 cats

Wednesday was our day to prepare for leaving Collevalenza and meeting up with Erin in Rome on Thursday.  I had to buy a chain and lock for the electric gate that no longer worked and was on override.  Meaning you could push it open.  So off to Franchesco's again and he took me to a hardware store.  Good thing, I would have never found it.  So for a grand total of $40 euros, I paid the  electrician, got a chain and lock and the gate is locked up.  Cleaned the casa, packed and had a great dinner.  Tomorrow at 7:40 AM we catch the bus to Roma.

La vita è facile in Italia.
Life is easy in Italy.

$40 euros later

Gate is Kaput

Leaving Casperia
Sunday morning we departed Casperia and drove back to Collevalenza.  We snapped a pic for our last look as we departed.  Instead of taking the A1 we headed toward Tierni and the E45.  No tolls and a much more direct route.  GPS is ok but it has several draw backs.  One being all the instructions are in Italian.  We changed the language but the written instructions suck.  Anyway, driving over the mountains to Tierni, we came across a fantastic rainbow. Surely, this was a pre-curser for the rest of our stay.

Somewhere, over Tierni

We arrived in Todi, and went to the market as everything closes at 1:30 on Sunday.  Got home and decided we would go on-line.  We had 22% of our 12Gigs and knew we were still ok.  Waiting to connect, seemingly forever, it just would not...connect.

So I made pappardelle with a meat sauce for dinner and we watched Love Actually.

Monday morning, Wind still was showing 22% of our 12 Gigs but we could not connect on-line.  Chris' phone still showed her full 3 Gigs and we were suspicious that the phone was tapping into our WiFi.  We went back to the Poker store to see what was up with our Wind.  (now that's a strange sentence)  Poker is the name of the store we purchased our device.  Not the card game.  Seems Chris' phone was stealing gigs from our WiFi and then we were told that when Wind gets below 25%, you can't connect.  "So, I said, we pay for 12 Gigs but really only get 8 gigs."  Never really got an answer to that one.  We reloaded our 12 gigs for 25 euro's, got the separation from Chris' phone so it wasn't stealing from Wifi and off we went.  Got home and no internet.  It just froze and would not open. Again, and again, and again. Monday night, we had a colossal rain and electric storm.  Hours and hours of thunder and lightning.

Tuesday the rain had stopped.  I got up early to check on the bus arrival time as we are heading to Rome on Thursday to meet up with Erin.  It was cold, so I decided to drive up to the bus stop.  We park our rental car behind the metal electric gate here at the house.  I pushed the remote to open the gate and it just stared back at me and said, "F#@$ You!"  So I walked up to the bus stop, got the info I needed and headed back.  It had to be from the huge storm we experienced.  I checked the circuits, checked the fuses in the gate panel.  That gate was not going to open.  Panic set in.  It occurred to me I could ram the gate with the car.  But the hill on the street side of the gate would only allow the gate to open about 3 feet.   Not to mention the explanation I would have to give to the Sistoni's.  And the cost!!

The Gate!
A neighbor, a fellow named Marco, came to see what I was doing.  With limited communications skills on my part, but with hand gestures galore, he understood.  I asked if he could give me a ride to Franchesco's, where I rented the car.  Off we went, seems he is a good friend of Franchesco, and after Google translating my dilemma Fanchesco called an electrician and would be at our house at 1430 or 2:30 PM.  He showed up at 1445 and after examining the circuit box, turned to me and said: "Gate is kaput!"

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Saturday morning we set out for Casperia.  My home three years ago when I attended cooking school here in Italy.  From Todi, there are two ways you can drive to there.  You can take the E45 through Tierni or take the A1 Autostrada that takes you directly to Rome.  The A1 is a toll road.  TomTom took us this way.  The thing about the autostrada is the lack of on and off ramps.  This is important.  As I was passing a truck, our off ramp came up and I missed it.  20 miles later, I had to exit, pay the toll, re-enter and drive 20 miles back to my exit.  And pay another toll.  Then it was a series of small towns, twisty windy roads and and few backtracks.  We finally made it to the Cucina Gusto Al Borga just outside Casperia, Paola's restaurant and school, only to find that my chef had sold the place.  Hmmm...  So we drove to the town and went to where my old apartment is located.  Paola had moved there, upstairs from my apartment and she had opened a new school which is also their home.  With a wonderful lunch of tortellini, wrapped meats, bread and wine, Chris and I shared with Paola and Franco our first visit to Italy.  Then a nap and a walk around the old town.  It had not changed, what a surprise.  Then dinner with their daughter Cecilia who drove up from Rome.  It was a great day for me to be back here.
"The Door" vintage 1050 AD to my Apt.
Paola's new school

Chris with Paola, ready to cook

We were invited to lunch on Sunday, but Paola was cooking for 12 new clients and we did not want to interfere, so we declined.  Leaving Casperia was sad knowing we will probably not be back to a place that has so many happy memories.  "to be continued"

Friday, November 14, 2014

Touring the Hill Town of Todi

We are staying in Collevalenza di Todi.  A small suburb of Todi.  On Thursday we ventured into the hill town of Todi.  This town looks over the Tiber valley.  Artifacts from ancient Etruscan and the Roman period go as far back as 500 BC.  The current town was founded by Garibaldi.    Most towns have a Piazza del Popolo as it means 'the peoples plaza'.  See statue.   No not me, the tall one!
Garibaldi in the Piazza del Popolo

The duomo 1508 - 1607

High schoolers catching the bus


The duomo of Santa Maria della Consolazione sits outside the walled town across the street from the local high school.  This duomo only took 99 years to complete.

We went through Todi's Museo Etrusco-Romano.  Chris and I were the only ones in there, so for 5 euros and with a worn english tour brochure we made our way though to the end.  Then off for some pizza and a walk around the town.   Europe, where the history is.

Mmm, pizza!

Inside the town (note earthquake retro-fitting)
Yes, I did drive on these streets

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hiding our asses in Narni

Tuesday, we went to Narni.  It's a small hill town that houses an Italian university.  Cool fact abut Narni, the book series by C. S. Lewis was entitled The Chronicles of Narnia because he liked the name Narni found on a Atlas map of Italy.  They made three movies from that series.  We'll be going back there as Chris had a small relapse and we left before we were able to do much.

Narni or Narnia if you prefer

Wednesday.  The gas man is coming, we hope.

Thursday morning.  Been waiting for the gas man, Luca.  I understood he would be here Wednesday, but he didn't show.  Maybe today.

Meanwhile, Chris discovered a cool app called "Hide my Ass".  It allows you to change your IP address.  So in Italy, where we have an Italian IP address, we can use Hide my Ass and we can select a US IP address to hide where we are.  It shows that we are actually in the US.  Why, you ask, would we want to hide our ass?  Easy, to stream movies and TV shows from Netflix.  We never saw Breaking Bad when it was making its run so we started season one.  We're hooked.

We will be going to Casperia this weekend to see my chef instructor, Paola, while I was here in 2011. Then, Erin comes in to Rome on Wednesday.

Might try and find that pastry shop today in Massa.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mundane Monday in Massa Martana

Monday brought us to Massa Martana.  One of the hundreds of hill towns scattered throughout Italy.  Nothing much notable happened there.  Their church was built in the 1500's.  It was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1960's and rebuilt in 1997.  We were told they had a wonderful pasticceria, pastry shop, but we couldn't find it.  You can see some of the retro-fittings from the earthquake in the middle picture.

Then we had to order propane for the house.  We went back and spoke with Danila, or Dani as she prefers, and with the help of Google Translate we ordered propane.  I don't know how much it will cost or exactly when it's being delivered, but it's coming and I need to pay for it when it's delivered.  How's that for knowing what your doing.  Then some mundane grocery shopping, dinner and a movie.  "Finding Nemo"

Would have liked to have found that pasticceria!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Communication Breakdown

The past two days have been anything but a fun trip to Italy.  After getting the cars switched on Friday, it seemed just about everything went down hill.  Chris' bronchitis seemed worse, she was sucking on Halls Menthol drops like a chain smoker and her throat was scorched.  Our decision to put WiFi on her phone backfired as we removed the Verizon SIM card for a Wind SIM data card and lost our international calling capability.  Erin arranged for me to have international calling on my phone through Verizon at home, but it wasn't working.  Sickness, communication breakdowns and a language barrier that was more trouble than we had anticipated left us feeling a bit down.

Perseverance and patience was needed and it finally paid off.  Sunday night, using the phone given to us by Rina, were were able to get a hold of Verizon International and get my phone up and working.  Seems my settings were wrong.   Chris stopped sucking Halls Menthol drops and her throat was getting better.  So was her bronchitis.  Skyping with Erin and Chris' friend, also a Chris, proved therapeutic.  Then a walk to the Sanctuary in Collevalenza and a healing cappuccino at the bar seemed to work its magic.

And, nothing like some homemade meatballs and some spaghettini #3 to make everything seem a bit better.  So it's on to week two.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Fruits of our Labor

Today we are scheduled to return the Hertz car in Perugia.  So this morning we went back to Francesco's Nissan repair shop and rented a car.  This will be our car for the next 3 months.  We are turning in an Audi Quatro SUV.  It had 900 miles on it.  Navigation, Bluetooth, you name it, it had it.  We rented a Fiat Punto.  Manual transmission,  passenger rear side door opens with a bit of magic and finesse and a diesel that smells just a bit, BUT, goes zero to 90 kilometers/hour in about 4 1/2 minutes.

I mentioned yesterday we were expecting rain.  It came, in buckets.  Chris was to follow me in the Fiat.  That lasted about one mile.  Traffic, rain, foggy windows just about did her in.  So we switched.  I sympathized with her plight.  She wasn't suppose to drive the Audi.  It's not in the HERTZ contract.  But one thing I have found in Italy, rules don't mean squat as long as you don't get caught.  So off we went, in the pouring rain, me following her to Hertz.  I swear we got within 50 yards of Hertz, and we got separated.  So I pulled over and stood on an island, in the rain, praying she would somehow find me.  Five minutes seemed like an eternity, but I heard the horn and there she was.  I got in, got fuel and returned the car.  Then off to Euronics, Italy's Best Buy, to purchase a TomTom.  I am not driving in Italy without navigation.  Columbus be damned!  He didn't have to navigate round-a-bouts and scooters zig-zagging all around.

Got home and this was the best part of the day.  A Todi Sangiovese.  Blessed be the fruit of the vine.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Google me This!

So today, we set out to meet Bert and Rina's family.  We met Rina's sister, Maria and her daughter, Danila.  They own a dress manufacturing plant and happen to be next door to a Nissan auto repair shop that rents cars.  Who don't speak much English.  Thank goodness Danila was able to speak a little and we got our points across.  Just an aside, when you come to a foreign country on your own, learn the language.  However, there is a savior.  Besides that's Google Translate.

Having rented a car at the airport to get to Todi, we have to turn it in this Friday.  At $280 euro for three days, we would have to come home before Thanksgiving if we kept it any longer.  That's where Franchesco comes in.  He's a friend of the family.  He also owns the Nissan repair shop that rents cars thats next to the dress manufacturing company.  So for $400 euros/month we'll pick up the car, a Fiat, and Chris will follow me to Perugia and we will drop off the Hertz car.  Then make our way back to Collevalenza and then huddle down as it's suppose to pour this weekend.
Looking Eastward, toward the gathering storm
Other exciting news; we got the fireplace working, found the electric gate opener and a place to put the trash.

There's a movie that came out this year that we streamed.  It's called "A Trip to Italy".  It's funny and light hearted.  Watch and see if they have these issues.