Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Best of Italy Trip


In our effort to help others enjoy traveling, we've created two new videos of the hundreds of great photographs we took on our recent trip to Italy. The first is on mainland Italy, and the second is Sicily. They're only 7 minutes, so they won't take long. Hope you enjoy!!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saturday, June 19th, Home


After 27 hours of airports, economy plus, and a life-saving couple who live in Sebastopol, we're home. Our flight out of Rome was delayed, the flight into Chicago directed to do three complete 20-minute holding pattern circles over northern Michigan (while a storm passed over O'Hare), and the flight out of O'Hare to SF was held on the runway for an hour while another storm passed. We were in the process of trying to book a hotel in SF to accommodate our too-late arrival for the Santa Rosa shuttle when Pat spotted a health care colleague in the Chicago airport. Their generosity (and parked Prius) was the complete antidote to an experience which has confirmed our commitment to try to book direct flights on international trips. Our dedication to using United mileage benefits, and VISA card payment miles, has just run out. While we may not be able to avoid weather problems, we can reduce their impact on us by avoiding connection-based delays they make worse.

Later this year, we'll travel to the East Coast (South and North Carolina, the Appalachian Trail, and a visit to the Boston area) in the Airstream. Our two travels in 2011 will include a February-March trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos - with some other side trips, and a September - November trip to East and South Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, South Africa, and Namibia). IN the late summer, I'll be in the San Diego area for a 45th Point Loma High School Reunion.

Hope you enjoyed the time we spent together, and that you'll share with us your adventures.

Gregory and Pat

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thursday, June 17th, Ostia Activa


This morning, we visited the last ruin we'll see in Italy. It's probably the perfect one to leave for last, as it's the easiest to see a large amount of structures in a short period of time. Paestum was a series of civilizations which lived along the western coast of Italy just south of Salermo.

Here is a description from Wikipedia: "Founded around the end of the 7th century BC by colonists from the Greek city of Sybaris, the original name was Poseidonia. in the 5th century BC, the city was conquered by the Lucani. From the archaeological evidence it appears that the two cultures, Greek and Oscan, were able to get together and thrive. What is known is it later became the Roman city of Paestum in 273 BC after the Graeco-Italian Poseidonians sided with the loser, Pyrrhus, in war against Rome during the first quarter of the third century BC. During the invasion of Italy by Hannibal the city remained faithful to Rome and afterwards was granted special favours such as the minting of its coinage. The city continued to prosper during the Roman imperial period, but started to go into decline between the 4th and 7th centuries. It was abandoned during the Middle Ages and its ruins only came to notice again in the 18th century, following the rediscovery of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The decline and desertion were probably due to changes in local land drainage patterns, leading to swampy malarial conditions (this is difficult to picture, with the present aridity; the site is now left to lizards and a few tourists)."

It was flat, and easy for three nearly waster travelers to enjoy and photograph. Here is a link to today's photos (the last of the trip): Paestum

See you all soon


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wednesday, June 16th, Paestum


We're all pretty exhausted. Italy has been great, and we are in complete awe of Sicily. But we've just completed an eight-hour drive from the slopes of Mt Etna, down to the port of Messina, across the strait by ferry, and up the long western coast and mountains (think California's Hwy 1 - only with more winding road and higher) to the town with the second to the last set of ruins we'll see in Italy.

Ken's completely wasted, Pat's almost wasted, and I'm actually going to pass on a chance to swim tonight on a beautiful beach with real waves. We're going to have one more dinner, and call it a night. I have to say, we've eaten more than we probably should for the past two weeks. Lately, we've taken to having breakfast, and a light lunch, in order to have room for dinner. For the last two days, we've just had a gellato for lunch (how tough, i know, Italian ice cream for lunch). But there's alot to eat at dinner, and we're not getting that much exercise during the day. The legs get a workout walking the ruins and museums, but the upper body suffers.

Oh well, a good excuse for garden work for Pat and golf for me. Tough life.

We'll be visiting the local ruins tomorrow morning, and then driving up to the Rome Airport. We'll turn in the rental car a day early, hang out tomorrow night in the hotel, and catch our planes early on Friday morning. You'll probably not see any posts until we're home on Friday night, possibly Saturday if we don't sleep well on the flight.

Thanks all of you for sharing our adventure with us, and we're hoping that you all get some adventures soon too. The market's back up, and hopefully we're all as rich as we were when we left. The Euro is down, and it was a great time for Americans to travel.

To see the few photos, click on: Campanile di Sicilia to Paestum

Love to all,

Gregory and Pat

Tuesday, June 15th, Capanile di Sicilia


We found a mountain castle hotel on the north side of Mt. Etna, with no internet in town. Here are the photos (Campanile di Sicilia sent to Picasa on Wed afternoon, once we had completed our long drive to the Messina ferry, and even longer to Paestum - on the Italian coast south of Salermo. Will write more after dinner later.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday, June 14th, Nicolosi


Today won't feature as many photographs, as we spent the morning driving up to near the southern limit of Mt Etna. It took a while to get there, and then another while to find our way up. Let's say that the word needs to get to Garmin that their maps are a little out of date. First, there are several new fast roads (autostrade) which don't appear in the database. Getting on them, and having Greta believe we're lost in a farm somewhere, is a little confusing. Hooray for Sicily for improving their road systems, and boo hoo for Garmin for falling behind in how advanced the country has become. Second, there have been a few more eruptions on Mt Etna, which have caused detours on the road system of the mountain. We were glad the local signs were well done, and we finally turned Greta off.

After spending a couple of hours in awe of the highest active volcano in Europe, we found our way to our B&B in Nicolosi. What a jewel! The owners are terrific, and arranged a better set of rooms for us at the same price. We hit it off well with them, and spent at least an hour talking about plants, trees, backgrounds, families, and Sicily. They oriented us to the local town, and we decided to walk over to the supermarket to stock up on food for a lunch in the B&B garden. We're now resting at 4pm, and contemplating dinner later on at a local restaurant.

For a look at the few photos for today, go to: Mt Etna & Nicolosi


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday, June 13th, Siracusa

Today, since we weren’t planning on traveling to a new destination tonight, we decided on an easy pace for the day. After a leisurely breakfast delivered to the room, we went out for a walk to the Archeological ruins and museum nearby. The ruins include an amphitheatre, a colosseum, and an altar to Hieron II. The museum’s collection covers the 1,700 year history of Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans on the island. From about 1,200 BC to 500 AD, carvers, potters, metalworkers, and sculptors were making objects to be used to celebrate, immortalize, fight against, and bury other people. As usual, I chose to photograph the celebrations and the immortalizations, though I’m sure some of the images I captured were of items which probably were found in burial urns.

It really can’t be said enough how central Siracusa was to the ancient world. Cicero called this the most important city in the Greek empire, and the Byzantine empire moved their capital from Constantinople (Istanbul) to here toward the end of their civilization. We are very impressed by what Sicily offers to the traveler interested in history. The country is warm and friendly, and the culture is varied and rich.

This afternoon, we’ve been kicking back in the room – catching up on emails, reading, and just relaxing. Outside, in the street below, a horn player was trumpeting a tune. I thought it would be nice to use as a soundtrack to some of the photos we took today at the museum.

Here's the YouTube Video

and the complete set of photos on Picasa.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Saturday, June 12th, Siracusa


Today, we visited the museum at Agrigento, one of the best in the country. Seeing so much Greek pottery and sculpture from the 6th to the third century BC, I can better understand the predominance of Greek culture in the shops and neighborhoods. While the Roman, Byzantine, and Norman cultures controlled this area from the 2nd century BC until the 12th century AD, they left very little behind to fill museums or to visit on tops of hills. It’s the Greek artifacts and images which are sold to tourists, and appear on guidebooks.

And let me say that there is much more than great female faces in the collection. I just got on a roll with those, and I do think that the artists of the era favored them.

Afterwards, we asked Greta to chart us a drive as direct as we could from Agrigento to Siracusa. The route took us away from the coast in the beginning, over a mountain, and then back down to the coast again. Lots of winding roads, up and down, and through some small towns. Not as scenic as we’ve seen, but still better than the autostrada. We even stopped for a train crossing, which seemed like it took forever getting to us. And then it turned out to only have two cars.

For a look at the photos taken today, click on: June11-12th, Agrigento


Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday, June 11th, Agrigento


We visited the temples built by two civilizations that fought on this island on behalf of two waring parts of the Greek civilization in 450 BC, shortly before Athen's defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War in 404 BC. Rivaling the Parthenon in size and detail, temples at each are located on hills overlooking amazingly fertile valleys and gorgeous coastlines.

Right now, we're in a beautiful suite in a two-story B&B a block from the beach looking out across palm trees to a turquoise sea. i'm trying to decide whether to put on my bathing suit and go for a swim before we all head off in search of a restaurant for dinner. It's 7:15pm, and Ken is taking a well-deserved nap (he did the bulk of the driving as usual today), and Pat is writing in her journal.

Tomorrow, we'll go to the local museum before completing our visit to the Valley of Temples and heading off to Siracusa.

To see the photos taken today, click on: Sicilian Greek Temples


ps. That's langostina (rock lobster) in pasta we had for lunch.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thursday, June 10th, Trapani to Grotto de Genovese


Leaving Monreale early, we drove to Trapani to catch the 9:20am ferry to an offshore island where the Grotto de Genovese contains neolithic cave drawings 7,000 to 12,000 years old. Cameras are not allowed, and the journey is not for those prone to seasickness, or claustrophobic. Inside the cave, our guide pointed out early (12,000 year-old) carvings (with obsidian not found on the island since it split off from the mainland) of deer, wild donkeys (the kind with humps), and bison. The drawings in occre and charcoal from the 7,000 year-old period (after it became an island) show tuna and dolphin, and lots of male and female figures.

The promotion indicates the drawings are on par with Altamira and Lascaux. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but still worth a visit. There are two ways to the cave once on the island, neither easy for the sea-challenged or non-hiker. But the air is fresh, the sea is warm, and the people are generous and knowledgeable.

On our return to Tripani, we registered at the Hotel Vittorio (That's the statue of him in the square across the street), and found a little restaurant (Triolo's) where we had pasta and some local white wine. We're right now resting in our rooms, and thinking about our evening adventures.

To view the photos taken today, click on Grotto de Genovese.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wednesday, June 9th, Monreale and the Hill Country


We had originally thought of staying in Monreale for three days. Using it as a base for regional travel, our extraordinarily successful first two days has us now planning on ending the third day in Trapani, after a hydro-jet trip to an island off the coast for a tour of a cave with stone drawings that rivals the best in the world.

Then we'll head south and east for a couple of days, and then head for the east coast and the Mt Etna area. We're making such good time seeing what we are interested in, we're thinking of taking the ferry to Genoa on the last day here. We may also take the ferry across the Messina strait to the mainland, and drive back up to Rome across the southern end of the boot.

Pat said I could include some of her journal today, so I'm jumping at the chance.

But first, for a look at the photos taken today, click on: Hill Country Drive and Cefalu


Another beautiful day in Italy. Probably 80, but with some steady ocean breeze. We didn't want to drive through Palermo to get to Cefalu - the direct route along the coast - so we planned a route going south (up the hill) through some high passes then north (back down the hill) before picking up the autostrade for the last 20 miles long the coast route. We spent a glorious three hours wending through some upper plains - we saw great escarpments, roc formations and gentle valleys. The roads were generously wide by Sicily town standards and well-paved, and with very few cars. We did have some adventures. Greta the Garmin GPS got a little turned around in the many winding streets - but there was always a roundabout way if we missed a turn.

We left at 9:30am and arrived at Cefalu at 1:30pm (a 60 mile drive by the direct route), but the drive was worth every minute. Once we found parking, it was a nice walk to the old town - medieval town on a sandy cove. We walked the main street to the Piazza del Duomo, and decided to eat al fresco at the Duomo Restaurant. The guys ordered suppa de cozze, I got the smoked 3-fish (salmon, sword-fish, and one other). Well, the mussels came as a huge platter - maybe 36 in a tomato, garlic, and tarragon sauce. They were the tastiest, most succulent and tender mussels any of us had ever had. The next course was good pastas all around, but couldn't compare with the transcendance of the mussels.

After a leisurely meal, we climbed the steps of the Duomo, another Romanesque Church built about 60 years before Monreale, and about half the size - but also with stunning gold mosaic work around the alter. It was lighter and brighter and et up for a wedding. The air was redolent with white lillies and red roses all over the alter. We continued on through the town, not over-crowded with tourists, and no tour groups we could discern. At the end of the town, we turned onto the sandy beach, and walked the esplanade - pretty well full of bathers back to our car. We stopped to pick up picnic material for dinner tonight.
We leave early in the am tomorrow to reach Trapani to catch a hydrofoil to an offshore island to see Lescaux-like neolithic cave drawings.