Visit to Utah. 4/14-4/29/18

We enjoy a quiet couple of weeks in Utah. The first week is windy and rainy and limits what we can do but the second week the weather is beautiful.

Our first event is the battle with the geese. Since more of the houses around the pond are occupied full time, the geese have fewer choices to use as their bathroom facilities. Ours has become a favorite. We strike back with our Patriotic Goose Guard! This turns out to be a good deterrent but since we will have to take it down when we depart, we are hoping that the geese will be imprinted with “this is a bad place to go.”

Patriotic Goose Guard

Once John has cleaned off the goose poo from the patio and washed the windows we are all set to enjoy the view out the windows.

John washing windows

But what is this I espy? A giant swan in the pond! I am impressed with how enormous this bird is. I look up information on swans. They are the second largest migratory bird in North America (after some sort of pelican) with a wing span of 10 feet across. They are also nasty tempered and I decide not to go out and try to shoo it away.

Swan-zilla across the pond

The swan swims closer to check out the goose guard

Many of the plants in our yard are blooming. The cacti all around the neighborhood are putting on quite the show this year.

Coreopsis, flowering cactus, and some sort of succulent by our driveway

We have done A LOT of cooking while we are here including two “fancy” dinners.  Fried scallops is always a favorite of mine and the shrimp in saffron Pernod sauce is especially delicious.

Fried scallops with new potatoes and broccoli salad

Shrimp in saffron Pernod sauce served with brown rice and collards and corn

While we are outside cleaning and setting up our goose guard we meet our new next door neighbors Shaleace and Rocky Price. They suggest that we come to dinner the following Sunday. With some trepidation we accept and I make snickerdoodle cookies to take along. We figure that they are LDS so the simple solution of a bottle of wine is a no-go.

Snickerdoodle cookies

They stop by on Sunday to arrange a time and catch us in our sweaty tennis clothes with the house in mild disarray. It is rather embarrassing. They say to come at 5 PM and when we do, we all sit down and eat immediately. We chat with them and their children, Shantay, and Clayton, over chicken and ribs. When dinner is done it is obvious that it is time for us to leave. It’s 6:45. It is a little weird. We go home and have a post-dinner happy hour.

While we are in St. George our nephew Andy’s wife, Brittany, has her baby. They name him Harrison but he goes by Harry. Now there are two new babies. Mike and Becca’s Jack will be the slightly older cousin. They have a little get-together to introduce the babies to each other.

New members of the family, Jack and Harry. Jack is about two months older than Harry.

The rest of the second week is spent playing tennis and doing shopping. It seems like there is always another thing we need from some store. St. George is notorious for not having everything you want in one place. At the end of the week we manage to make a dish that uses up mostly everything left in the refrigerator, Mediterranean Seafood Soup.

Mediterranean Seafood Soup

On Sunday we make the long journey home. Recently I decided it is better to do the whole trip in one day. Now I am not so sure. We end up being pretty exhausted afterwards. One bright spot on the trip is a stop at Mojave Thai Cuisine where we enjoy Spicy Thai Basil Eggplant with Tofu. Yum, spicy and delicious! (And enough to bring some home for lunch.)

Mojave Thai Cuisine’s Spicy Thai Basil Eggpllant with Tofu

We will only be home for a few weeks before heading back to St. George. Jonathan, Nathan, and Sam are flying in on June 3rd for a week+ visit. Looking forward to it.

Final vacation day. 3/27/18

We have one last spectacular sight to see, the Monreale Cathedral. It is the best of all the mosaic-decorated churches rolled into one.  It was begun in 1174 by William II. From top to bottom it is full of glittering mosaics on gold backgrounds.

We leave the hotel in Palermo in the morning and make our way up the steep mountain to Monreale. I must give John a shout-out for a great driving job throughout our trip. He has negotiated the traffic, the narrow roads, the unpredictable driving habits of Italians, and my navigation without getting ruffled. While it is possible to see many of the sights we saw during our trip by public transportation, having a car gives you the flexibility to go a little off the beaten path and set your own schedule and agenda. After we see the Monreale Cathedral we will drive to the Palermo airport and say arrividerci to the car and Sicily.

Following are a bunch of pictures of the Monreale Cathedral. It is so huge that taking pictures is hard and enlarging them afterwards often makes them a bit fuzzy with dulled colors. In order to make sense of the visual onslaught we rented an audio tour to help us.

Monreale Cathedral

Close up of apse

Mary among angels and apostles

The Last Supper

Noah’s ark

The betrayal

Back wall

Biblical stories are told everywhere!

Now we need to kill some time before our flight to Rome. What better way than by having a leisurely lunch at Taverna del Pavone, a restaurant we have eaten at in the past.  As usual we start with salads and them move on to a main course.

Mary – tagliatelle with boar ragu

Sarah – spaghetti with bottarga

John inexplicably orders a plate of chicken. Perhaps he is pining for home.

Goodbye, Sicily

We fly to Rome and spend the night at an airport hotel. In the morning we make our way to London and then the long flight to SFO.

No matter how many times we have been to Italy, I am always looking forward to the next trip. See you in December, Italy!


Palermo, Day 2. 3/26/18

We have a lot scheduled today to make up for losing a day yesterday. We start by walking through an outdoor market on the way to the Palermo Cathedral. Sicily has fertile, volcanic soil and a great climate for growing everything. On the sides of the road and between sidewalk slabs there is fennel growing! Also, being an island, Sicily has wonderful fish and shellfish.

A type of cauliflower, artichokes, fennel fronds, and more

Fish and squid


We round a cornier and see the very Norman looking towers of the cathedral. They look a lot like the towers we saw in Cefalu.

Towers of the Palermo Cathedral

Palermo Cathedral is a mash up of building styles from different ages. It was begun in the 12th century but not finished until the 18th century.

Palermo Cathedral

The beautiful portico on the front hails from around 1500.

Portico entrance to the Palermo Cathedral

Inside any of the older components have been redecorated away. The most interesting thing is the meridian or solar observatory. A small hole was made in a minor dome and the image of the sun is projected on the floor. With this device they were able to fix the time of  the vernal equinox and to provide the correct date for Easter. The signs of the zodiac are a part of the instrument. Of course I take a picture of my sign, Sagittarius.

Solar observatory

My sign, Sagittarius

Lots of church helpers are scurrying around getting the church ready for Easter. We see a guy on a ladder with a long pole shining up some of the decorations.

Man on ladder attending to shining up decorations for Easter

From here we walk to the Palace of the Normans. Much like the Palermo Cathedral it is a building that was added to over the centuries starting with the Emir of Palermo in the 800’s. The building is the oldest royal residence in Europe, the home of the rulers of the Kingdom of Sicily and imperial seat of Frederick II and Conrad IV. But what everyone comes to see is the Palatine Chapel added by King Roger II in 1132. The chapel is a mosaic jewel with influences from Arabic, Byzantine, and Norman architecture and art.

Sarah in the gardens in front of the palace


Palatine Chapel

Back wall – Jesus with Peter and Paul

Creating Adam

Creating Eve (on the right)

St. Paul hiding in a basket

Islamic wall decoration

Hipster lion

Noah’s Ark

Every inch of the Palatine Chapel is decorated with sparkling mosaics. The mosaics were made in the 12th century but they look like they could have been created yesterday.

We look around the rest of the building which is interesting but really takes a backseat to the chapel with the exception of King Roger II’s Hall which is interestingly mosaiced with each mosaic being a mirror image.

Mirror-imaged mosaics in King Roger’s Hall in the Norman Palace, Palermo

Time for lunch! It is hard to escape the “tourist special” kind of restaurant when you are in this section of the old city. We finally decide on Antica Trattoria mostly because they did not accost us as we walk down the street. The lunch is so-so. After seeing the tremendous amount of pasta in a serving I decide on pizza – bad choice. Sarah’s lunch turns out best. She has cacio e pepe.

Sarah’s cacio e pepe

My not-so-good pizza margarita. John’s pizza was about the same except with pepperoni

After lunch we head to Martorana, another church with mosaics. Since no one has checked to see when it is open, we find that it is closed until 3:30 PM. I am somewhat annoyed that my companions never take the initiative to find out when things are open. I have left the planning of the day to them and now we are stuck with over two hours to kill. We stop at the Liberty Bar and Sarah and I have an afigato which is espresso with vanilla gelato. John has a caffe corretto which is espressos with grappa.

Afigato – we should have ordered the espresso and gelato separately because the gelato was a tiny scoop and melted too quickly

Since we cannot figure out how to kill the two hours left, we decide to go back to the hotel for a little rest. I decide to opt out of the long walk back to the church. I have seen it once before and my knee needs a rest. Sarah and John go and have brought back pictures of this little church which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and built in the mid-12th century.

Exterior of the Martorana

Church interior overview

Nativity scene mosaic

Mary death with Jesus carrying her soul to heaven

St. Joachim, Mary’s father

St. Anne, Mary’s mother

Dome mosaic

Two angels

Jesus crowning Roger II

All the buildings we have seen today are part of the same UNESCO World Heritage site that includes the Cefalu Cathedral. Tomorrow we will see the Monreale Cathedral which is the biggest example of this confluence of Byzantine, Norman, and Islamic art and architecture.

For dinner tonight we are going to Sapurito, Cucina Povera e Pizza. It belongs to the Slow Food Movment. We last ate at one of these restaurants in Pompeii . We hope this one will be as good. Turns out later I have some horrible distress from something I have eaten but I cannot say which of today’s foods is to blame.

We share an appetizer of fried artichoke

John has grilled squid that he really likes

Mary has involtini of veal (I think)

Sarah has an ancient grain pizza with pine nuts

We share a small dessert

Tomorrow (Tuesday) we are off to nearby Monreale to see the fabulous cathedral and then we head to the Palermo airport for a flight to Rome. On Wednesday we take the long flights home.

Spleen sandwich. 3/25/18

No, this is not just an attention-getter. It is a famous Palermo street food. And there are some people in our family who want to try this delicacy. I am not one of them.

We wake up to a rainy day in Palermo. The high today is around 50F and along with the rain, windy conditions are expected. It is a perfect day to stay in, do some laundry, write my blog, and read a book or play games on my iPad. Sarah suggests that she and John go out and find a purveyor of pane di ca meusa, spleen sandwich. I am happy to have them go without me.

Spleen sandwiches

Sarah has found a restaurant, Nino U’ Ballerino that sells them. They have big pots of spleens and other innard parts bubbling away. Their pane di ca meusa is so good they have won the 2017 award for best street food!

Nino U’ Ballerino’s pot of guts

Many tasty things to choose from

The red shrimp award for best street food

All I ask is that they bring me back a can of Pringles to munch on. They stop in at the local supermarket, Conad, and find my Pringle lunch. Sarah strolls around the store comparing Italian to American prices. Most things in Europe are pretty pricy but we have found that bread, wine, vegetables, and pasta in Italy are much cheaper.

Barilla pasta – we are excited when it is $1 a pound at home. Here it is for .69 euro for a kilogram (2.2 lbs.)

In case you are wondering what they thought of the spleen sandwich John found it quite delicious with a bit of a funky taste and soft texture. Salt, pepper, cheese, and lemon finish off the preparation and it is served on a soft sesame bun. He wished there had been a little raw onion served on it for some crunch. Sarah did not make much comment, only that she needed to go lie down to let things digest.

Not much else to report today. Even after their spleen sandwiches Sarah and John were ready to go out to dinner around 8 PM. We got a recommendation from the front desk to try Trattoria Bionda. It is quite full when we get there. Lots of Sicilian families are eating in the front room and several tables of Germans and us are in the back room. There is a German tour group staying at our hotel. The front desk guy probably gave the same recommendation to everyone. The food was good and we enjoyed ourselves.

Fancy stoneware at Trattoria Bionda

Sarah’s penne with eggplant, meat, and mushrooms

John’s rice curry with shrimp

Mary’s veal with a lemon and white wine sauce, roasted potatoes and onions (This was really good!)


In search of Odysseus and more… 3/24/18

As we are leaving Taormina and the lovely Villa Ducale, Paolo says to me, “we see you next year, yes?” And I wonder if I will see these places again. Then Sarah says to me, “you said that last year, too, Mom.”  So too much drama and gloom and doom. I will get my knee fixed and I will back in fighting form next year. That is a promise to myself.

Before heading down the hill and towards Messina we take a ride up to Castelmola, high above already high Taormina. I have been wanting to go up there for years. Unfortunately a    police officer comes after us tweeting her whistle as we stop to take a picture. “NO PARKING!” she yells at us. Since we tend to get at least one ticket every trip, we scoot away and take some pictures as we descend the hill.

Looking down on Taormina from the heights of Castelmola

Usually I have quite a few shots of Mt. Etna but the volcano has been hiding in the clouds the whole time we have been here. There is a little clearing as we descend the mountain and I get a partial picture.

Mt. Etna with snow and probably some steam

Okay, wish one granted. Now on to Odysseus.

”Then seizing two strong spears I took my stand on the ship’s bow, for it was there I expected first to see the monster of the rock…Then we entered the Straits in great fear of mind for on the one hand was Scylla and on the other dread Charybdis.“

As you approach the embarkation point for the ferry across the Strait of Messina there is an exit for Scylla. We have never taken it and I wish we had. I figure that on Sicily there should be a spot for Charybdis. So we drive all the way out to the point, Torre Faro, in search of Charybdis but there is no mention of her. You can, however, see the giant rock which is Scylla. This point is between the spit of Sicilian land and the great rock of Scylla is the narrowest point of the strait and no doubt the most turbulent and dangerous for ships.

The distant large rock in the water on the right is Scylla, and Charybdis is a whirlpool on the Sicily side

We have been trying to time ourselves so that when we get to Cefalu, our next stop, the cathedral will be open. It seems that almost all the churches take the most holy of institutions, the three to three and a half hour lunch break. We decide to take our lunch break too and stop at a rather grotty Autogrill for a salami sandwich.

Haute cuisine

By the time we reach Cefalu, park the car, and take the pleasant walk to the cathedral it is 3:30 PM and time for the church attendants to go back to work.

Pretty seaside town of Cefalu

The Cefalu Cathedral is in a UNESCO World Heritage Site which encompasses Arab-Norman Palermo and The Cathedral Churches of Cefalu and Monreale. These nine sites are examples of the meeting of Western, Islamic, and Byzantine cultures on Sicily which gave rise to new concepts of architecture and showed how people of different origins had a fruitful coexistence (at least for a time.)

The Cefalu Cathedral was begun in 1131 and the mosaics inside were begun in 1145. In the picture below imagine the cathedral without the two spires on top of the towers and lacking the porch facade, both of which were added later, and the church is very much a fortress.

The facade of the Norman Cefalu Cathedral

Inside only the apse is decorated in mosaic. I read somewhere that they ran out of money. They had brought in masters in mosaics from Constantinople and the mosaic artists and the materials were probably pretty pricy.

Looking toward the apse

The mosaic features Christ giving a blessing with one hand and holding the Gospel of John in the other. His face is a little less Byzantine then many others we have seen. Below him are Mary and four angels and then the Apostles.

Fabulous mosaic

Mosaic of Christ Pantokrator on a golden field

After a lengthy look at this beautiful cathedral we head back to the car for the rest of our journey to Palermo.

Sun reflecting on the Tyrrhenian Sea

We check into our hotel, the Best Western Ai Cavalieri in Palermo. It is kind of a big let down after Villa Ducale. We go down to the Graal Bar which we have been to before. Last time when we ordered glasses of wine we got a giant free spread of appetizers. In the last three years they have wised up. We have to pay for the appetizers now and they are not nearly as good but are definitely plentiful!

Un-free appetizers at Graal Bar but still a cheap dinner


Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Today is Sarah’s birthday.  We have been celebrating in Italy the past few years. I cannot believe she is 38.  That makes me….old. Anyway she and I are going to have a mom and Sarah day and then later the three of us will go out to dinner.

The Villa Ducale has an awesome breakfast. There are a wide array of choices to munch on while sitting on the porch with a view of lower Taormina, Mt. Etna, and the Ionian Sea. Here is an example from one of John’s plates.

Clockwise from 12 o’clock: caponata, stuffed tomato, egg and herb frittata, eggplant parmesan with frico, and bacon. There are a vast array of normal breakfast things plus a whole table of sweets.

While we are planning on going to the Roman theater down in town, John is planning on taking a hike up to Castelmola, a town high above Taormina. We think he is crazy but on the other hand Sarah and I are planning on walking down the mountain.

Castelmola is the town high up on the mountain

First Sarah and I must walk up the hill to the old church and then descend a twisting staircase down to the commercial part of town and the site of the Roman theater. You can see the Roman theater behind Sarah in the next picture.

Sarah with Roman theater in the background

It is a long way down to the theater on a set of switchback steps especially for someone with a bad knee who is using a cane. But Sarah is a sweetie and holds my hand a lot to help me. Ladies holding hands is not so unusual in Italy.

In the next picture you can see a portion of the switchback stairs and the Roman theater in the distance.

Our starting point at the upper right and the switchback stairs

We are part way down! The theater is on a slight hill near the sea.

We finally reach the bottom and find our way to the ancient theater, buy tickets, and audio guides. We take time for a mom and Sarah selfie and a picture of Sarah.

After a lot of downhill walking and stair descending we are in the Roman theater

Sarah in the Roman theater

I am still amazed that we made it to the Roman theater from the bump to the left of the high point of the mountain.

Sarah looking out to our starting point which is the lump to the left of the highest point in the picture. Wow!

Some views of the Roman theater.

The Ionian Sea through an ancient arch

Another view of the Roman theater

The wind picks up and it starts spitting little daggers of cold rain. We finish up at the Roman theater and find a place to have lunch, La Botte. I order spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, and chiles and Sarah has a pizza with mushroom, sausage, and onions.

I have earned every strand of this spaghetti today

Can Sarah eat a whole pizza? Yes, she can.

Sarah has read about this place, Bam Bar, in Food and Wine Magazine as the best place to get granita. On the recommendation of the waiter we both get an almond granita on the bottom, followed by coffee granita, and then kind of whipped cream on top. For someone who doesn’t like desserts, I am surely doing a good job eating them!

We finish lunch with almond/coffe granite with cream on top at Bam Bar

Later John, Sarah and I meet to discuss the day and tonight’s plans. John has made it part was up to Castelmola but decided it was just too far and steep. He also wrote part of my yesterday’s blog post for me while I was gone. We decide we are just too tired out to go out to dinner and after birthday hugs return to our rooms to collapse.


Rainy driving day. 3/22/18

Mary: Today’s post is written by both John and me.

John: It’s raining as we leave Matera. We drive up out of the Sassi cautiously, make our way to the SS7 towards Metaponto where we pick up the SS106 and drive southwest along the shoreline of the arch of the Italian boot. We have driven on very few good roads this trip, and a lot of bad ones, but this is the worst. Fortunately we cut over to the A3 in Calabria more toward the boot’s instep and head down toward the toe.

We stop for coffee, of course. When we resume, it starts pouring. I am not doing a good job controlling the weather. Fortunately Mary has done a superb job making sure the bad weather falls on a travel day.

Mary: Ever since we heard the ridiculous and anti-Semitic remark by the Washington D.C. city councilor that Jews control the weather, we have been on John’s case to keep the weather pleasant for our vacation. I, on the other hand, am well-known for my magic powers so it is no surprise that it only rains on travel days.

John: Italian civil engineers love tunnels. We go through many very new ones that are wide and well-lit. At Villa San Giovanni we exit the highway (toll-free even for the long stretch we drove) and make our way to the ferry. Thanks to Sarah spotting the critical “Imbarco” sign we catch the ferry with just a couple of minutes to spare and sail over to Messina. We successfully wind our way through Messina onto the Autostrada down to Taormina.

Sailing across the Strait of Messina under threatening skies

While ascending the narrow twisty streets to Villa Ducale I am once again appreciating the automatic transmission of our Opel and the fact that it is a bit less wide than the Alfa Giulia. We arrive at our hotel with only the occasional raindrop coming down. Maybe I have done my job after all.

Sarah enjoying a welcoming glass of prosecco at our hotel in Taormina, Villa Ducale

Our room with spectacular view at Villa Ducale

Mary: This is actually the fourth time John and I have stayed at Villa Ducale. It has become a lot more boutique than when we first came here almost ten years ago. A lot of the staff has changed with the exception of Paolo, the hotel manager. His father, Aurelio, gave John a cooking lesson the first time we were here and Sarah had a lesson three years ago. Sadly we hear that Aurelio has passed away.

At the hotel is a superb breakfast, afternoon tea with treats, and cocktail time with hors d’oeuvres. We stop in for a glass of wine on the porch around 6:15.

Hors d’oeuvres

View from the porch

We decide to have dinner at the hotel. We are tired from the long day’s drive. The food here (other than breakfast) is okay and the view is great. Getting down to town involves expensive taxi rides or meshing with a shuttle schedule and that seems like too much trouble tonight.

Fusilli with pistachio pesto for Mary and Sarah

Veal Marsala for John

Matera. 3/21/18

Today is a pretty quiet day for me. It is John and Sarah’s opinion that I should not be walking around the Matera sassi with its uneven pavement, hills, and lots of steps. I spend the morning in our cave catching up on my posting. Sarah and John go to visit the Crypt of Original Sin. I have been there before and it is a lot of uneven ground and sitting on the floor of a cave. Not in my ability zone.

The Crypt of Original Sin is situated in a rocky hollow overlooking the limestone cliff along the ancient Appian Way. Inside the “Painter of The Flowers of Matera” has narrated scenes from the Old and New Testament in a cycle of frescoes dating back to the 9th century. A. D.

Lights in the cave pick up the various paintings. There are three niches depicting St. Peter, the Madonna and child, and three archangels. On the side wall there is the creation story with God dividing Light (depicted by a woman) and Darkness (a young man) and the whole Garden of Eden creation and expulsion. Tying this all together is a field of red flowers.

St. Peter with St. John and St. Andrew

Three archangels

Madonna and Child

Creation story

Sarah and John get back around lunchtime and seem pleased that they were able to go see this amazing 1000 year old work of art. I in the meantime am pleased that I was able to catch up on my blog and have a little alone quiet time.

For lunch we head across our little alley to Osteria Pico. For once I choose something truly delicious.

Since we all need more vegetables we order insalata mista

Sarah’s spaghettoni, is made from grano arso,  blackened oven sweepings. A true dish of poverty.This is served with tomato sauce and beans.


My fabulous dish is ferricelli with pistachio pesto

John’s selection is strozzapreti with pepper sauce and bread crumbs

After lunch Sarah heads off to the cathedral in the sassi. This activity is deemed too difficult for me. She sees some excellent frescoes.

The upper panel of this fresco from the cathedral reminds me of the Final Judgement in Santa Maria Del Casale outside of Brindisi

John and I laze around the rest of the afternoon. After Sarah returns she has a two hour session in the Roman thermal baths at the hotel. Around 8PM we go out in the rain in search of pizza.

At Ristorante La Talpa John and I split a sausage, cardoncelli, and mushroom pizza. Yum!


Sarah has a Pizza Arso (or burnt flour) with chef’s choice for toppings. This is a kitchen sink pizza!

Since we have a long drive tomorrow, we are off after dinner to pack and turn in early.



Trulli. Sassi. 3/20/18

Today we pay a visit to Alberobello to see the trulli, buy a loaf of what is supposed to be the best bread in the world in Altamura, and sleep among the sassi.

About an hour from Lecce in the Itria Valley is Alberobello, home of a large concentration of  trulli. These are traditional Apulia dry stone huts which used to be temporary field shelters or storehouses and were sometimes used as permanent homes for small businesses and agricultural laborers. They were built in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Because they are odd and charming, they have become big business in Alberobello. Some hold B & Bs, or restaurants, and there is even a Trulli church. The most common business, though, is gift shop. There are many, many gift shops selling exactly the same thing although we are told that everything has been lovingly made by someone’s mother.

Some houses houses have symbols on their roofs which are usually related to Christian themes.

Explanation of symbols include a tree cross, the pierced heart of the BVM, Christ, and a host

Famous line-up of Trulli houses

Trulli rooftops with a tiny head of Mary

Trulli schlock stores

John in Trulli-land

Sarah with rooftops

Leaving Alberobello we head to Altamura which is famous for having the world’s best bread. These large boules of bread supposedly looking like priests’ hats have only four ingredients. We need to find a bakery and buy one before everything closes down for siesta. We want to have lunch but I insist that bread must come first or we will be out of luck after lunch. We stop in at Fantasie del Grano and pick up a half kilo loaf. It costs 1 Euro! We will eat it later. (BTW when we come back from lunch every store is closed.)

Now we need to find lunch which is not an easy task and we meander about without finding anything. I know how to find lunch. I did it in Manfredonia and I will do it here too. While my esteemed companions with their smattering of Italian hope to stumble across something, I flag down a butcher outside a market and say,  “Scusi, Senore. Ristorante pranzo?” I find using all nouns works best for me. Well, of course the butcher is happy to help and yells to another guy that we need lunch and he should take us to so-and-so restaurant. The new guy walks us there and, voila, we have lunch.

Ristorante Alla Povera Vita

There is no menu just the waiter saying a bunch of Italian so I pick the first thing he says, orchiette with sausage and mushrooms. Sarah has it too.

John has the last thing the waiter says which turns out to trofie with strips of veal and some cherry tomatoes

Unbidden the waiter brings us zeppole at the end of lunch

We have accomplished two things on our list and now we just have to get to Matera and find our way through the sassi to our hotel, Locanda San Marino. The sassi are ancient cave dwellings which originate from a prehistoric troglodyte settlement and are suspected to be among the first human settlements in Italy.  There is evidence that people were living here as early as the year 7000 BC.

Originally the houses were dug into the soft rock on a slope that led down to a river. Although it was an area of  poverty in the 1980s, it has now been regenerated into an area of tourism with businesses, pubs, and hotels. It is a UNESCO site. Our hotel is in this warren of dwellings. We will be sleeping in a cave.

The sassi area of Matera looks rather bleak in the daytime

Our room is nice with all the mod-cons you would expect although some of the walls are actual cave

Instead of going out for dinner we go down to the bar, order some wine, and ask for plates and olive oil. Tonight our dinner is the pane di Altamura, the best bread in the world.

Pane di Altamura and a glass of Chardonnay

Walking back to our cave room, the sassi of Matera look pretty magical.

Sassi of Matera at night

The heel. 3/19/18

Today our plan is to do some olive oil tasting, sip some wine and have a gourmet lunch fillled with local products. Hah!

”The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy! ”

Perhaps a bit heavy, Robert Burns. Plans often go awry but can be replaced by something new and exciting!

This morning we start out with olive oil and wine tasting at Azienda Zacheo.

At Aviendo Zacheo you bring your giant wine container in its wicker basket, put it on the low metal tables, and they fill it with the hoses attached to a large supply of house wine

We are greeted warmly and there is a barrage of Italian which even our best Italian speakers (not me!) are having trouble with.  I am immediately flustered and forget to take any pictures. (Thank you internet for the pictures!) We must have said something correctly because the server pulls out a big plate and some stale bread which she proceeds to inundate with olive oil, a lot of olive oil. She also pours three glasses of wine – red, rose, and white. We are not too taken with the wine but the oilive oil is superb. We decide that we can somehow nestle the olive oil into our suitcases along with the meloncello that we bought in Pompeii.

Delicious olive oil!

This whole transaction took maybe 20 minutes so now we are way ahead of the schedule that I have in mind for today’s activities. We move on to the wine tasting part of the program which is back towards Lecce. This is suppose to occur after lunch and now it is 10:30 AM. We decide to follow one of the brown signs which mean something to see of significance historically. We stop in a town, Martano, in order to see the Cappella dell’ Immacolata and waste some time. This is a bust as the church doesn’t have anything of particular interest to us.

Baroque to the max (Cappella dell’Immacolata)

Italy Traveling Tip: If you need to use a restroom while sightseeing drop into a caffe and order a cafe (espresso). It will cost about 1 Euro. Mostly this is drunk while standing at the coffee bar but there are usually tables as well. Now you have entry to the bathroom facilities. If you are lucky the toilet will be full American but sometimes it is just a bowl and no seat. I think you are supposed to stand over this and pee. We tend to clean them off carefully and perch on the edge. If you are really unlucky it will be a hole in a porcelain surround that you stand over. We have not run into any of these this trip.

So we stop in at Caffe Ficile and use the restroom which has a seat! Yay!

Off we go to our wine tasting stop. John wrote to them on Friday that we were coming on Monday so we are looking for the proverbial red carpet. Before going in we stop for a picture.

Sarah and John in front of Apollonio Winery

We go inside and encounter no one. While waiting for the welcoming committee we take some more pictures.

John in the tasting room of Apollonio

Finally someone shows up and says “chiuso” closed. What? We explain as best we can in Italian that we have written to say that we are coming. But he shrugs and says chiuso. Well, okay, but can we at least buy some wine? Si.

Sarah with our wine purchase

We have had the Apollonio Chardonnay and know we like it and John wants a bottle of red so we buy two bottles and are on our way. It is now noon. We have completed our day’s activities in about two hours. It is still too early for lunch.

We are about an hour away from the bottom of Italy’s heel so we decide to travel down and look at the sea and have lunch. It is a pleasant ride with the Italian fields on either side newly planted and fruits trees blossoming. We reach the very bottom of the heel and take some pictures before finding a place for lunch.

Sarah looking out at the sea

We opt for the Hotel Rizieri for lunch since John and I have eaten there on a prior trip. Once again I choose badly. Swordfish and eggplant? Why did I think that would be good?! John and Sarah decline my leftovers.

Spaghetti vongole

Linguine with swordfish and eggplant (?)

On the way in we have seen signs for the Devil’s Grotto. We decide to go and take a look. It is at the southernmost point on the heel (punta ristola). The path to the point is rather rocky so John and Sarah go ahead and I stay on the sturdier land behind.

Looking east from punta ristola towards the lighthouse

Sarah on the southernmost point of Italy’s heel

Looking down towards the Devil’s Grotto

Mary looking windblown

Later back at the hotel John finds a store and buys some chips and instead of going out to dinner we have a wine and chips picnic in our room.

Instead of grief and pain that our plans went awry we made our own joy!


You can see Albania from Otranto. 3/18/18

Today our plan is to go to Otranto and see the cathedral plus wander around and have lunch. It turns out to be a lovely day with fun, sightseeing, creative time-wasting, and great art.

Since today is Sunday we know that there will be services during the morning at the cathedral. After parking the car we scurry up the hill to the cathedral in hopes of catching some viewing time after Mass and before Italian lunch. As we walk up to the door it clangs shut. Closed until 3 PM.

Otranto Cathedral now closed for the next three hours

So now we are left with three hours to kill. We find a free exhibition where an artist has captured the look of Byzantine icons and frescoes by analyzing brush strokes, hand positions, and facial proportions. He will not allow us to take pictures though.

It is still too early for lunch so we go out into the piazza and look at the Adriatic Sea which is quite beautiful today and take pictures of each other. On our way into Otranto we could see snow-dusted mountains across the sea. Turns out we were looking at Albania which is only 45 miles away. Gosh!

Mary and John in Otranto (my new accessoriy, a stylish cane to take the pressure off my back and knee)

Sarah and mom

Then Sarah gives John and me a lesson in taking selfies. It seems that you have to hold the phone in a certain way so that you can still use your thumb to take the picture. Also hold it high enough so that you are not shooting up at your face which is an unflattering angle. Sarah decides that I could probably use a selfie stick since my arms are too short so my head keeps coming out too big in the pictures. (Which is amazing because I have a small head.) Much laughing ensues.

Too-  big head selfie

John’s selfie

We have wasted an hour so it is time to go in search of lunch. This proves more difficult than anticipated. Places are booked up. Finally we are granted an uninviting table next to the front door and the noisy espresso machine at Ristorante da Sergio. We need to really draw out this lunch. Sergio is not going to be able to turn this table quickly!

We dawdle over our salads rearranging our lettuces and putting our forks down frequently. Fast eating Americans have real trouble eating slowly! Then on to the main courses. I refuse to choose something safe and mediocre today. I can see that Sergio is impressed by my bold choice, linguine ai ricci, linguine with sea urchin!

Sarah and I both have the linguine with sea urchin

John has a massive pile of mussels

We order dessert to extend our lunch. This is a zeppole stuffed with cream. It is so sweet. Sarah and I salt each of our bites to try to make it taste like something other than sweet.

Sea urchin tastes and smells like the sea. Turns out that I prefer food that does not taste like this. At least I tried.

We still have half an hour to go so we buy gelato and sit around eating it slowly and taking more pictures. I do not like desserts and now we have had two in a row!

My stracciatella gelato

We climb back up the hill to the church. There is a crowd waiting to get in. Finally the door is unlocked and we rush in like it is Black Friday at Walmart.

The Otranto Cathedral is a Norman church consecrated in 1088. Those Vikings were everywhere in the 11th century! The most amazing thing about it is that the entire floor is covered by a mosaic done by Panteleone and his helpers. On it are Bible scenes, fantastic animals, the months of the year, and the zodiac signs. It is somewhat blocked because there are pews on it. Amazingly they let parishioners use it like a regular floor!

A picture of the entire floor from a postcard I bought

The Tree of Life running up the middle

An elephant (they had obviously never seen a real elephant)

Satan and a damned soul

Cain and Abel

A lion

Signs of the Zodiac

A siren or as we know it, the Starbucks logo

There is also a grisly side chapel where the skulls of the martyrs of Otranto are displayed. These were 813 inhabitants of Otranto who were killed on August 14, 1480. The mass execution is often explained as taking place after the Otranto citizens refused to convert to Islam when the city fell to an Ottoman force.

Grisly side chapel full of bones and skulls of the Otranto martyrs

Time to head back to Lecce. We go out later for pizza at 9cento around the corner. There are lots of people in the streets even at 9PM, more than we have seen our whole time here.

John in his traditional beer pose

Sarah’s salsicce, nduja (a spicy Italian andouille) and arugula pizza

John and I split a pizza Margarita

Tomorrow no old churches on the schedule. We are in search of a wine tasting, olive oil sipping, local specialties gastronomic kind of day!

Brindisi and Lecce. 3/17/18

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! There doesn’t seem to be much celebrating of the Irish here in southern Italy.

We leave Bari today to make our way to Lecce via Brindisi. The wind is really blowing today even though the temperature is around 70F. We are hoping to find Chiesa Santa Maria del Casale near the airport in Brindisi. Amazingly this 13th century church is right next to a runway even though it was named an historic site in 1875. Santa Maria del Casale was in use in1310 when a trial took place involving the Knights Templar of Sicily.

Santa Maria del Casale near the Brindisi airport

The outside called a “hut facade” of this church is beautiful but the inside is astounding. It was once covered with frescoes and luckily many of them still survive. There are layers of frescoes inside. One of the most striking is the Last Judgement on the side nearest the door.

In this fresco the good are weeded out and appear on the left. The devil and fires of hell appear on the lower right along with a multitude of sins that can get you there.

Last Judgement

In the upper portion of the following fresco stands St. Catherine surrounded by scenes from her life. She is holding a broken wheel since that was the instrument of her martyrdom.

Life of St. Catherine

Last Supper

I have lots of pictures but this sums it up.

St. Maria del Casale looking towards the altar

After a quick stop at the airport for a bathroom break because finding a bathroom in Italy can be tricky we are off to the city center of Brindisi. Brindisi is not as charming as Bari as we drive in.

We are looking for.the Temple of St. John entombed (Tiempo S. Giovanni al sepolcro) an11th to 12th century reconstruction of a 6th century circular building.

Tiempo S. Giovanni al Sepolcro (picture from Wikipedia)

This building is wedged between apartments and business down a little alley. Along with sadly deteriorated frescoes and fanciful animal carvings on the door jambs there is a glimpse of a mosaic floor underneath from a 1st century Roman house.

Interior of temple

A look down at the mosaic floor of a 1st century house

Badly deteriorated frescoes – one on top of another

Bird carving on door jamb

We find another church that we are looking for but it appears closed and there is no parking nearby so we head off to Lecce which is the next stop on our tour of southern Italy. We are able to check in early at the Risorgimento Resort which is not a resort but just a hotel. We stayed here in 2011 and the hotel looks a little more worn than when we were here last.

Our room (picture included so I know for the next time we are in Lecce. Also stall shower!)

John has found a restaurant nearby that rates highly on TripAdvisor. Sometimes I wonder who rates these places. People who have never eaten anything good before?

John lunch – chickpeas and pasta

Sarah lunch – the local dish orecchiette di rape

My horrible lunch – orichiette with tomato sauce and cheese (the tomato sauce was thick puréed tomato glop)

After siesta we explore our environs. Lecce is more of a central base to do other things and less a place to examine old churches. We look at the Roman theater, the statue of St. Oronzo, and visit some Baroque churches.

Roman theater around the corner from our hotel

St. Oronzo, patron saint of Lecce, atop the marker for the end of the Appian Way taken from Brindisi

St. Oronzo was bishop when there was an outbreak of plague. Lecce came through it quite well so the populace decided it was because of their bishop rather than their nice lady patron saint, St. Irene.

Baroque churches make me tired. Too much over-the-top decoration.

Santa Croce

Former patron saint Irene’s church

Exterior of Lecce duomo

Interior of the cathedral

We meet for drinks on the rooftop bar and to plan tomorrow’s activities. We are supposed to go out to dinner tonight but Sarah is practically falling asleep at 7 PM and we all decide just to call it a night. What is up?! We are supposed to be over jet lag by now!!!!

Goodbye, Giulia! 3/16/18

I had the brilliant idea of trying to exchange our unwieldy Alfa Romeo Giulia for something pedestrian at the Bari Airport. We had no idea whether this would work. We imagined ourselves (John) trying to explain the situation to someone who understood only a little English. It was not an encouraging scenario.

We get to the airport, park, and gird our loins for a protracted fight. We approach the car rental place and are waited on by a lovely young woman who after listening to our plight says, of course, no worries, and she rustles us up an small Opel SUV with automatic transmission. We return the Giulia and, after some discussion among the agents, they decide that the scratched wheel casings are just normal wear and tear or pre-existing conditions and we are on our way. John, I think, is somewhat less excited about losing the Alfa than Sarah and I are. Yay!

Opel Mokka

We head to Siponto outside of Manfredonia to see Santa Maria Maggiore. The complex includes a 11th-12th century church and a much earlier one. Since there are only foundations and a floor left, an artist has made a suggestion of the church with a wire frame. It is quite amazing.

Santa Maria Maggiore in Siponto

Suggestion of Paleo Christian church next to 12th century church

Art Installation

Exchanging the car and looking at Santa Maria Maggiore has taken up the entire morning and so we stop in Manfredonia for lunch. Since it is a seaside town we are lucky to find anything open. We have lunch at Baciati del Mare.

Sarah lunch – spaghetti vongole

John lunch – Grilled octopus

Mary lunch – pasta with pork and asparagus

We take a walk down by the marina and look out over the Adriatic Sea. Something tells us we had better head back to Bari soon.

Threatening sky in Manfredonia

It is a long drive back to Bari made longer by a search for a derelict old church which we could not visit. We meet later for pizza at Botta, a pizzeria recommended by the hotel staff. It is delicious! Not quite NJ pizza but still pretty good!

One pizza Diavalo and two pizza Nocina

Beating octopi. 3/15/18

The breakfast room at our hotel is up on the sixth floor with a panoramic view of the Adriatic Sea. What a view to start our day with!

View of Bari and the Adriatic Sea at breakfast

Since this is a real working harbor we decide to visit the fish market where the fishermen have just brought in the early morning catch. As we walk along the seafront we are impressed by how clean the water is.

Looking down into the water

At the market the fishermen are selling their wares. You can get something called a Bari breakfast which is octopus liver and some other delight. John and Sarah are all gung-ho for trying this but luckily we get there too late for the local delicacy.  There are all sorts of sealife for sale – fishes, octopi, shrimps, and sea urchins.

Fish for sale along the docks

It is interesting to see how the octopi are tenderized and cleaned. First they are beaten on the cement to tenderize them and then they are washed in big buckets of what looks like soapy water.

The fisherman on the left is beating his octopus with a club while the guy on the right is slamming his down hard to tenderize it

Fisherman washing octopi

From here we venture into the old city in search of interesting old churches. As usual we come across features from the Roman past.

Piece of a Roman road with cart ruts in the stone

We are looking for the Basilica of St. Nicholas. The streets are a winding maze of houses, churches, stores, and cafes. Thankfully it is all a pedestrian zone. We come across the side of a large white building and know we are in the right place. On the side is a bas-relief of a Saint with his miracles – dowry to three women, boys in a pickle barrel, three golden balls, it has to be St. Nicholas.

Bas-relief of St. Nicholas and his miracles

The basilica was constructed between 1087 and 1197.  It was is built to house the recovered relics of Saint Nicholas from the saint’s original shrine in Myra, Turkey. When Myra was conquered by the Saracens, it was seen as an opportunity to move the saint’s relics to a safer location. The relics were carried off under the noses of the lawful Greek custodians and their Muslim masters, and on May 9, 1087, were safely landed at Bari. (Paraphrased from Wikipedia)

Church of St. Nicholas, Bari

Like so many of these old, old churches, the interior was redecorated several times to the modern standard of the era. St. Nicholas has been brought back to its original Romanesque look recently but all the frescoes that would have decorated these walls have been lost.

Interior of Church of St. Nicholas

A few early Renaissance pieces exist but like this beautiful Vivarini are kept at a distance from the tourists.

Roped off Vivarini

We want to explore the crypt where some of St. Nicholas is entombed but there is a service going on and we need to keep a respectful distance. I am not sure what sect of Catholicism this is. The priests are in peacock blue vestments and wear beards so I imagine it is Eastern Orthodox. Perhaps these are from Myra, Turkey where the relics were taken from. I have read that they are still disgruntled about the “safe-keeping”.

Service in the crypt

The other famous church here in Bari is the Cathedral of St. Sabinus. It is dedicated to Saint Sabinus, a bishop of Canosa, whose relics were brought here in the 9th century. The present building was constructed between the late 12th and late 13th centuries and was built on the site of the ruins of the Imperial Byzantine cathedral destroyed in 1156. This is another lasagna church and we can explore the centuries underneath for 3 Euros each.

Exterior of Cathedral of St. Sabinus (photo from Wikipedia)

Inside is the same whitewashed look of Basilica of St. Nicholas. Here is a piece of fresco. Maybe St. Sabinus?

St. Sabinus?

We go down below the cathedral where there are catwalks and explanation about what is what but it is hard to visualize.

Under the cathedral is a jumble of earlier constructions

Rounding a corner there is a fragment of fresco. Stylistically it looks 11th or 12th century.

Medieval fragment of a fresco

The most interesting piece is a 6th century mosaic floor by Timoteo with an inscription.

Sixth century mosaic of Timoteo

The border contains flowers, fishes, and squid!

Detail of floor

We have been tromping around for quite a while and now it is time for lunch. We find our favorite restaurant in Bari, Giampaolo, and settle into a our leisurely main meal of the day. Our waiter is the same one from when we ate here three years ago.

John and Sarah are way more adventurous than I am and end up with the better lunches. I am just afraid of eating things I haven’t tried before.

Sarah starter – sea urchin pasta

Sarah main – grilled local fish. She wanted octopus but was steered away by the waiter who brought out a couple of fish for her to look at and choose from

John starter – clams in brood. John wanted mussels but the waiter said not good today

John pasta – local favorite orichiette with bitter greens

Mary starter – tempura shrimp. I could tell the waiter was disappointed by my wimpy selection

Mary pasta tortelloni with lobster, shrimp and crispy zucchini. Never found the zucchini. Dish was pretty meh

Yay, limoncello sorbet with blackberries. Free cream puffs

Thus sated we returned to the hotel for siesta.

Later in the afternoon we went to the local art museum not far from our hotel. John and I had no admission charge because we are so-o-o old. There was a special exhibition by Sandro Chia of the terracotta warriors of Xi-am all painted up in gaudy colors. It was mostly in the midieval and early Renaissance room so we dodged around the 20th century stuff to see the “good” stuff, G. Bellini, Veronese, Tintoretto, etc. Unfortunately no photos allowed and they followed us around so I could not even sneak one!

No dinner tonight we just met for a planning session and retired early.


Unplanned spontaneity 3/14/18

Using our time until check out to the fullest, this morning we visit the St. Ilario complex. It is not far from the Arch of Trajan and is a very ancient, small building dating from the end of the 6th or the beginning of the 7th century. It was used as a church and later a farmhouse and thus has not been much changed through the centuries due to continual use. Inside there is a multi-media presentation which explains all the bas-relief carvings on the arch of Trajan. He was a much beloved leader who secured the Roman Empire borders, was emperor and yet still was humble and like a common man or soldier.

St. Illaire with the Arch of Trajan in the background

Many buildings have re-used pieces of Roman buildings after the fall of the Empire. This piece looks like it was some sort of serpent.

Our ride to Canosa di Puglia should take about an hour and a half and we arrive around 1 PM. First we look for somewhere to eat. We can find nothing. All there seems to be are grungy, graffiti filled streets. We decide to head to our hotel to see if we can check in. The hotel is situated among the grunge and everything is behind locked barriers. We go to our not very pleasant rooms and wonder what to do next. The proprietor says there is a restaurant next door so we go to there to find some lunch. The restaurant is also behind a steel grill. John presses the intercom but no one answers.

We decide we do not want to stay in Canosa di Puglia even if there is a penalty for it. John tells the guy behind the desk and they argue but we are not staying. That’s it. Sorry but this is our vacation and we are not staying somewhere like this for three days. We leave. I do not know what will happen next but I will keep an eye on our credit card account.

We head to Bari with much lighter spirits. We stop at an Autogrill and have another okay lunch. There are some weird choices that you can make, though.

Odd sandwich-y thing with French fries

Sarah and I have pizza with peppers

John has lasagna

We have been talking to John about ditching the Alfa at the Bari airport and getting a car that is a bit more driveable in Italy and Sicily. He asks for a picture of him with the Alfa.

John and the Alfa Romeo

We decide that instead of one night in Bari we will make it three and add one additional night onto Lecce to make up for the three days we were supposed to stay in Canosa di Puglia.

After much struggle due to a bad accident right in front of our hotel, we settle into our new digs. Our room looks over the Adriatic Sea. We are so glad to be here.

Our room with balcony overlooking the Adriatic Sea

Tonight our happy hour is happy indeed. We have a glass of wine and order the salami plate which ends up being enormous and more than enough to do for dinner.

Ginormous salami plate

World War II and earthquakes. 3/13/18

Recorded history stretches back a long way in these parts. To day we visit Avellino and Benevento on our way to southeast Italy.

Yesterday Yuri extolled the virtues of Avellino wine. The grapes are grown on the western slope of Mt. Vesuvius and that terroir gives the white wines a particular taste. We figure we will stop and pick up a bottle of their wine while in Avellino and visit the cathedral.

Driving and parking our giant, flashy Alfa Romeo is not an easy task in these ancient streets. John does a great job but we are discussing trying to ditch this car and get a smaller, more workman like car when we get to Bari. We do reach the Avellino Cathedral and find a parking space. The front door is open but the inner door is locked. We cannot get in. This is frustrating!

Avellino Cathedral photo from Wikipedia

This Romanesque Cathedral builtin the 12th century has been mightily changed by being bombed in World War II and by the 6.9 magnitude Irpinia earthquake of 1980. Still we had hope to see some vestige of its former self. On the bronze front doors are panels of planes flying overhead and the destruction of the earthquake. I cannot believe that I neglected to take a picture!

Anyway, since we cannot imagine finding another parking space to buy a bottle of wine, we decide to push on to Benevento where we will spend the night. Benevento is a very old place. Inhabited before the Romans, it gained new importance when two arms of the Via Appia intersected here. The road ran through the Trajan Arch which is still in good shape.

View towards the Trajan Arch in Beneveto

2nd century Trajan Arch

Further exploration will have to wait, though, it’s time for lunch! We stop at the bistro Dionisio and have an interesting lunch.

Sarah’s lunch – porchetta panino

John’s lunch – antipasti from the sea

Mary’s lunch – antipasti from the land

Thus fortified we go take a look at Santa Sofia, a UNESCO world heritage site, a part of Longobards in Italy, Places of Power 568-774 AD. We saw several of this group last year in northern Italy.

The structure built in 760 has an unusual hexagonal star shaped interior. It has been renovated several times,however, in1957 most of the original appearance was restored, based on evidence from historical documentation. Unfortunately most of the frescoes have been lost with only a few fragments left.

Annunciation and Visitation

The other two fragments have to do with the life of Zacharias.

Outside over the door is a bas-relief which is very Lombard looking from the 13th century and depicts Christ enthroned between the Virgin, St. Marcurius and Gregory the Abbot.

Longobard Bas-relief over entrance to St. Sofia, Benevento, Italy

Mary and John in front of St. Sofia

We return to the hotel for a little siesta. Later John and Sarah go out while I try to finish yesterday’s post. They visit the Benevento cathedral dedicated to St. Bartholomew and established in the 8th century.

Statue of St. Bartholomew holding the knife he was flayed with

But nothing lasts forever even if it survives earthquakes. Below is an archival picture of Benevento Cathedral after an Allied bombing in 1943. So nothing much is left of the original church.

Benevento Cathedral after Allied bombing

Later we return to Dionisio’s restaurant (rather than bistro) for dinner. It turns out to be a rather fancy place where you might get a chef’s menu. Really, all we wanted was a bowl of pasta but we do not have the nerve to leave and so have a much longer, fancier meal than we had anticipated.

Mary antipasto – a tart with chestnut cream, squash, apples, Camembert, and crispy pancetta

Mary main course – fusilli with tomato sauce, caciocavallo, and grated hazelnuts

Sarah’s starter – large spaghetti with hazelnut cream, concentrated San Marzano tomato sauce and eel foam

Sarah’s main – quail with fried accompaniments and egg

John’s antipasto – carpaccio of lamb with fried artichokes and herb cream

John’s main – tortellini stuffed with foie gras and broccoli

Oh, and also a bottle Fiano from Avellino!

The joys of a lard sandwich. 3/12/18

Today started out badly and ended spectacularly. You never know what is just around the corner.

This morning John and Sarah need to go over to the train station and pick up the rental car that we are using for the rest of our trip. I am to stand outside with the GPS to make sure it has a signal before they come back with the car. So I am all  positioned in front of the hotel with the luggage and  I wait. Then it starts to rain, then pour, then thunder and lightning. After about an hour they are back with the car. It is much more involved than had been anticipated. Plus we have this very flashy, wide car. An Alfa Romeo. It has weird gears.

Off we go towards Pompeii with an interim stop in Tivoli to see the duomo and maybe Hadrian’s villa. But probably not the villa because a lot of it is outside and it is raining hard. The traffic is horrendous and once we get to Tivoli the roads are very narrow. By the time we get to where we think the cathedral will be we are all pretty tense. We ask directions which we really do not understand because it is a long explanation in Italian but somehow we find the duomo down a long steep hill.

Tivoli Cathedral of St. Lawrence

We are looking forward to seeing the decoration and especially a wooden deposition group. We have seen these groups in a museum in Spoleto. Surviving examples are extremely rare. The group in the Tivoli duomo is supposed to have 6 life size figures including an angel and was carved in the early 13th century.

Here’s what we see when we walk in.

Interior of Tivoli duomo

Oh no, we cry out in unison. It has been such a hard morning and we finally found the church and now it is shrouded in scaffolding and sheets. Bummer.

There is no one here except some workers with noisy equipment so we start to poke around. To the right of the big sheet covering the altar is a little chapel and in the chapel is the deposition group mostly in darkness.

Wooden deposition group carved 1220-30

We get out our phone flashlights and find a switch and a button. We decide to turn the switch on and hope that it is not an alarm. It is not.

Lighted up deposition group

Wow, wow, wow! So old and in such good shape! And we do not have to see it with a big crowd of tourists. Our day is definitely looking up.

View from Tivoli

Back in the car we decide to skip Hadrian’s villa because it is just too wet. We continue on toward Pompeii stopping at an Autogrill for some lunch. We are sure it will be bad. But it’s not! Our lunch is actually quite delicious! Everyone is a winner today.

Sarah and I have artichoke risotto and a salad for lunch

John has flavorful lentils and artichokes for his lunch

Once getting off the toll road we travel down impossibly narrow and potholed streets to our B &B, Certe Notti near Pompeii Center. It is pretty humble but convenient.

John settles into our digs, the Certe Notti, in Pompeii

Out in the back there are lemons and oranges

After some much needed rest we head off for our dinner reservations at Vincanto. This is Yuri Buono’s wine bar and small plates place celebrating the wines and foods of the region and the “slow food” movement in Italy. We give ourselves over to Yuri and his staff to choose what is best. We have eaten here twice before in years’ past and know we will not be disappointed!

Aglianico Don Paolo

Sarah is enjoying it

Salami and cheese board with honey and marmalade

To the left in the picture below is the title’s lard sandwich. It might sound awful but it is so good!

Bruschettone of cheese, mushroom, and lard on ancient grain bread plus tomatoes and cheese

Porchetta with preserved peppers (“paparecelle”)

John is leaning on his left side and it is not even Passover yet!

A layered pistachio and cream mousse in celebration of Sarah’s upcoming birthday

Yuri also plays the guitar and sings songs of his home. The men’s supper club who have been dining in the front room join in the singing. It is a great end to a wonderful evening. (Plus the bill for our dinner including the bottle of wine and three after dinner drinks is less than 100 Euros!)

Yuri serenades us

Last day in Rome. 3/11/18

Uh, oh, there are no happy faces at breakfast. I am used to sleeping in little pieces or not at all for hours but my compatriots are not. Sarah has been up since 1:15 AM and John has awakened several times during the night. I have had about six hours of sleep with a big gap in the middle but that is the way I usually sleep so no biggie.

I have a plan for at least part of the day and that is to go to the Museo Nationale di Palazzo Venezia. We are hoping the rain holds off at least until nap time.

It is quite a distance away so we take a cab from the nearby train station. The building itself is quite large and follows the Italian plan of walls on four sides with garden in the middle. We are told to go up a long flight of stairs to buy the tickets. I ask if there is an elevator. Yes, but I have to go around the block and into a different entrance.

Turns out we cannot find the elevator and are in fact told that you cannot use the elevator unless you have a ticket which you would have had to walk up the stairs for. Sigh.

The Museum has a large variety of works. Here are a couple I liked.

Bas-relief of St. Jerome with his lion either right before or after he pulled the thorn out of the lion’s paw. The lion looks like he wants to jump up into St. Jerome’s lap

Someone made a rather macabre rattle for Jesus

The garden in the middle where I am placed while John and Sarah try to find one another

So the museum is not a huge success. We need to find some other things to do in this area. We decide to look in the church Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. After all a church built over a Roman temple should have some interesting artifacts and maybe a tour of the old temple! While  John runs in to see if the morning services are over, I take a picture of Sarah by the elephant and obelisk out front.

Sarah by the elephant and obelisk in front of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

The obelisk was found during excavations nearby and the sculptor G. Bernini fashioned the elephant. It was erected in 1667.

John returns from his scouting of the church. No luck! The Mass is still going on. We decide to take a look at the Pantheon instead.

It is party time in the piazza in front of the Pantheon. There are musical acts, food sellers, guys hawking selfie sticks, soldiers with machine guns, and another obelisk. The Romans are just mad for obelisks. This one, the Macuteo obelisk, was created during the period of Ramses II and is set on a plinth in the middle of a fountain.

Crowd in the Piazza in front of the Parthenon with obelisk fountain

Here is a better few of the piazza that I grabbed off of Wikipedia

We head into the Pantheon. The present building was completed by the emperor Hadrian and probably dedicated about 126 AD. It is an immense space. The structure of the coffered dome allows for a space which is uninterrupted by supporting columns. It is the prototype for a lot of Western architecture.

Interior of the Pantheon

Looking up at the oculus

By now it is past noon and we figure Mass should be over. We head back to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Unfortunately there is no sign of Minerva. The current Gothic Church was started in the 1100’s and completed in 1370. There has been some redecoration. The most important work of art in the church is Michelangelo’s statue Cristo della Minerva (1521).

Interior of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Michelangelo’s Cristo della Minerva

We get a taxi back to the hotel. Funny thing about our taxi rides, the price in one direction always is way more expensive then the price back. We cannot figure out if this has to do with the pattern of one way streets or if some drivers are merely ripping us off. In any case taking a taxi has improved our ability to stay upright longer.

We eat lunch at Binario 37. It is mostly bad but the wait person is charming and we are too tired to care. Sarah wins the lunch selection contest.

Mary lunch – lasagna (glop on a plate)

John lunch – salami pizza (pre-made crackery crust)

Sarah lunch – tagliatelle Bolognese (the winner in a pretty poor competition)

And that’s all I have for today. Third day jet lag has won. We meet at 4PM in a zombie-like state. We walk around the block in the rain. We go back to our rooms. We meet again at 7:30 PM and decide to just eat Happy Hour snacks. Currently John and I have been up since 3AM. Jet lag is still winning.

We are off to Pompei tomorrow in a rental car. We have a planned stop in Tivoli to see the cathedral and Hadrian’s Villa. Hopefully it will not be raining.


Planned spontaneity. 3/10/18

We have sometimes been criticized for being overplanned when we travel. Really this is all on me. I am the kind of person that likes to know what is happening next and be early for it! But even though I have had the hotels locked down for ages, have tickets for special events, and generally have an idea of what I want to do, there is still plenty of time to do extra things. I call it planned spontaneity.

Today we want to visit the Basilica of  St. Clement, the Monastery of the Four Crowned Martyrs, and Basilica Of Sts. John and Paul. I get a note in the morning that Sarah has researched the Basilica Sts. John and Paul and it appears that the entire interior has been redone. Oh, Churches, I bet you regret getting rid of all the wonderful old decorations that would have made your church irresistible!

We start the day at the Basilica di San Clemente (St. Clement) and we will have to play it by ear afterwards. The Basilica, built in the 12th century, is pretty unimposing from the outside but pretty fabulous on the inside. There is a wonderfully intricate mosaic behind the altar.

Church interior San Clemente

I have only two pictures because you are not allowed to take pictures in here. I guess it cuts down on their postcard revenue. I get caught by the guard taking this one and sternly admonished. I pretend that I don’t understand all the warning signs and react humbly apologetic. He does not throw me out. My other picture is more detailed. Sarah and John huddled around me so I didn’t get caught on this next one. Stupid rule!

Close up of the San Clemente mosaic

The mosaic is wonderfully detailed. The tree of life is sprouting up from an acanthus plant. Legend has it that the cross is made from the tree of life. All the tendrils (the circular bits) ends in a flower or some other benign aspect of life. In between the tendrils there are birds and saints. Along the bottom edge above the sheep there are charming scenes of farming and husbandry. Plus there are some very robust sheep here. I know all about Christ being the shepherd of his flock but I have never seen so many big sheep!

This church is also referred to as the lasagna church because there are two additional older layers under this one. John and Sarah buy the ticket to go exploring. I must remain above because of my wonky knee and the stairs and uneven pavement. I amuse myself while they are gone by playing with my phone and taking the aforementioned illegal picture.

Next we head to the Monastery of the Four Crowned (anonymous) Martyrs. Built in the 400’s it was destroyed, rebuilt and burned down twice and rebuilt into its final form in the 12th century. Alas, a lot of the interior has been redecorated.

Redecorated altar area

But wait! There are some old fragments of frescoes on the side walls.

On the right is St. Bartholmew. He was flayed with the wicked knife he is holding. His skin, at least from the neck down, is flung over his shoulder.

There are a cloistered group of nuns who live here in silence. We are supposed to be silent too. Going through a side door we are confronted with a sign in Italian. We think it means we are supposed to go knock on some door and a silent nun will give us entry to a chapel. Fortunately some tourists walk out at that moment and we slip in. It is like walking into the 13th century!

Frescoes in the Chapel of St. Sylvester

The narrative panels depict the Emperor Constantine refusing to bathe in the blood of children to cure his leprosy. He dreams in the center panel that Sts. Peter and Paul are advising him to contact Pope St. Sylvester who is in exile so in the third panel his envoys ride out to find the Pope.

Continuation of saga

In the first panel on the next wall, the envoys climb a mountain to find the Pope. Next the Pope returns to Rome and shows an icon of Sts. Peter and Paul to the Emperor.


The Pope baptizes the Emperor and then the Emperor grants temporal Sovereignty to the Pope.


The Pope and the now cured Emperor have a big happy parade to celebrate.

This is not as innocuous as it seems. The work was painted due to the confrontation of Pope Innocent IV and the excommunicated Holy Roman emperor, Frederick II. The church wanted to show with these cartoon-like frescoes that the Church has sovereignty over the Empire.  After all, they did not have Twitter to show their bravado.

We have completed the scheduled portion of our programming and now it is time for some planned spontaneity! John sees some statues in the distance on a building. Maybe it is something we might want to see. We head off in that direction and come to a large square.  It is the Piazza S. Giovanni in Lateran. We know that the the church has to be here somewhere. We walk around. Where could a giant church hide.

In the meantime we enjoy looking at the tallest obelisk in Rome. It is from the temple of Amun of Karnak. It was built in 15BC and transported to Rome in 357. It is covered in hieroglyphics.

Lateranense Obelisk in Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano

Parts of the Roman walls are here as well. Here is a section left standing between two houses.

Old Roman wall

Finally we find the church. It is not merely a church and not merely a Basilica, it is an arch-basilica headed by an arch-priest, which seems kind of villain-y. San Giovanni in Lateran is an enormous church and is the Cathedral of Rome and since the Pope is the bishop of Rome, this is his church.

San Giovanni in Lateran

The arch-basilica was consecrated in 324 and pre-dates St. Peter’s. All the Popes lived here until the French Pope, Clement V, who  transferred the seat of the papacy to Avignon. After a couple of fires and refurbishes, this is what the interior looks like now.

Interior of San Giovanni in Lateran (picture from Wikipedia)

There are twelve enormous statues of the Apostles. Each Apostle has with him an identifying icon i.e. St. Peter has keys. There is an apsidal mosaic created in 1291 depicting the miraculous appearance of Christ in the basilica apse at the time of its re-consecration  by Pope Sylvester.

Apsidal mosaic in San Giovanni in Lateran

So this has been some pretty sweet spontaneity. In addition to our two planned churches we have also gotten to see part of the wall of Rome, the obelisk, and the arch-basilica of St. John Lateran. I think we deserve some lunch! We grab a taxi back to the hotel to wash up and then find a place for lunch.

Today we dine at Elettra around the block from the hotel. It is an okay lunch but not as good as yesterday’s. John wins best lunch choice.

Mary’s lunch – Spaghetti with clams (gritty)

Sarah’s lunch – polenta with boar stew (not enough sauce and dry polenta)

John’s lunch – grilled squid (perfetto!)

Now as everything shuts down that we want to see, we shut down to for an hour’s nap. All of us basically sleep for the entire time without moving. We’ve been up a significant portion of the night and are really tired. Thanks, jet lag!

Remember yesterday we saw the weird painting of St. Pudenziana collecting martyr’s blood with her sister St. Praexedes? Turns out that St. Pudenziana’s sister also has a church in Rome and it is not too far from our hotel. It really doesn’t look like much from the outside but it has some great mosaic work inside. There is a little chapel dedicated to St. Zeno with mosaics from the late 13th century.

Entry to the Zenon chapel, a funerary chapel for Pope Pascal’s mother, Theodora

The two martyred sisters flank the madonna and child

The madonna in blue and the two sisters along with Theodora who was not dead yet and so gets a square halo

We are done sightseeing for the day. We choose a restaurant for pizza. John and I share a pizza Margarita and Sarah has a Calabrese and Roma pizza to herself. They are good but not quite as good as Jersey shore pizza. I will need to keep searching for the perfect pizza!

John and I share a pizza Margarita

Sarah has a pizza called Calabrese and Roma

Once again we pledge to stay awake until 10 PM. Tomorrow is the dreaded third day of jet lag so we will see how everyone has fared in the morning.

Walkabout in Rome. 3/9/18

After a fairly reasonable amount of sleep last night due to exhaustion we meet at breakfast to plan today’s activities. We have decided to visit four churches before lunch and then figure out the rest of the day while having lunch.

First stop is St. Pudenziana a few blocks from the hotel. St. Pudenziana is no longer a recognized saint by the church. She and her sister, Praexedes, were dethroned in 1969 at Vatican II. But her church is the oldest continuing Christian community in Rome and also the patron church of the Phillippines. The morning is brisk but sunny and we enjoy the walk to the church which is many feet below the surface of the street.

Sarah in front of St. Pudenziana’s

Stepping in from the brightness of the street, the first thing we see is a rather bizarre painting of St. Pundenziana and her sister, St. Praexedes collecting blood from martyrs. This was apparently done to facilitate miracles and to be used as relics in churches.

Saints Pudenziana and Saint Praexedes collecting the blood of martyrs

Behind the altar is a large mosaic, striking for its natural looking figures. I am so used to mosaics with Byzantine faces. Since this is the earliest Christian Church in Rome, the figures are pre-Byzantine and Jesus and the apostles are wearing togas and have individual faces and expressions. (This applies to the figures on the left side and Jesus, the figures on the right have been altered.) There is also the first appetarance of the iconography of the Gospels.

Mosaic in Chiesa Santa Pudenziana

Rome was built on seven hills and our next stop, The Church of Saint Peter in chains, is atop one of them. Sarah points out that if we just go up this incredibly huge staircase we will have a shorter route to the church. Reluctantly I agree to go along with this plan. The many, many steps are uneven and perilous. The only reason I am walking around on this trip at all is thanks to a shot of cortisone in my knee right before we left. By the time I get to the top I am pretty shaky and drenched in sweat.

After a few minutes of recovery time, we go up the steps(!) to the church. I take a seat under the guise of wanting to get oriented. Finally I get up and hobble up towards the altar. One of the two main draws for this church are the chains miraculously welded together that St. Peter wore when he was imprisoned and subsequently released by an angel.

Sarah with St. Peter’s chains

The other big draw is Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. He was supposed to carve an entire  sarcophagus for Pope Julius II but only did Moses. We have seen this statue several times and it is always impressive. The hands are beautiful.

Micelangelo’s Moses

Just as Michelangelo’s David in Florence is an opportunity for name-branding, Moses gets a lot of play here.

The Moses Bar

Since we are in the Coliseum area we decide to take some photo ops before we head to the Church of Cosmos and Damien.

Looking out towards the forum with Sarah below checking her phone for directions

Mary and John by the Coliseum

They are putting a new subway line which must be very difficult. First they have to not knock down any of the ruins and they also have to categorize anything old they find

Inthe meantime we are walking down narrow sidewalks jammed with people. Don’t they know it is the beginning of March and they should stay home? It was below freezing and snowing here last week and now it is beautiful and inthe 60’s! We are accosted by people wanting to sells us tours, selfie sticks and food. It is great to duck into a quiet church and get out of the crowds.

Approaching the church of Cosmos and Damian

This Church is partly made from ancient Roman structures. You can view the Temple of Romulus from inside the church. There is a large mosaic of Christ’s Second Coming. There are a lot of big sheep.

Mosaic of Second Coming


By now we are dragging but we have one more church on our schedule before lunch, the Basilica of Maria Maggiore. We manage to have a hard time finding the door that is open and spend some time tromping around this immense church. Finally inside Santa Maria Maggiore, the church is resplendent with mosaics and a beautiful ceiling. The current basilica was erected by Pope Sixtus III (432-440) after the Treaty of Ephesus which settled the question of whether Mary was the mother of God.

The mosaic behind the altar shows Jesus and Mary sitting together in heaven. All along the nave are panels in mosaic with various scenes from the Bible. The ceiling is especially beautiful.

Mary enthroned

Sarah photographing Pope Pius IX in a chamber in front of the altar

Time for lunch! We start to head back in the direction of the hotel stopping now and then to see some interesting Roman piece of history. Rome is such a mishmash of centuries with ancient Roman ruins next to Renaissance buildings and 20th century structures.

Roman vista

We decide to stop at Ristorante Leonetti because I am ready to fall down. We have a delightful lunch of Roman specialties. We are the only Americans in the place!

Cacio e pepe for Mary

Bucatini with cured meat for Sarah and John

Next up, what all of us have been craving – siesta! So far today we have done a lot of walking and stair climbing and we are all tired. We decide we can spare an hour to recharge while most of the churches are closed anyway. They reopen around 3pm. All of us go to sleep but when I wake up I have a terrible pain in my lower right leg and my big toe is sticking straight up. I didn’t know that it could even bend like that. So I am freaked. I have apparently gotten so dehydrated that I am cramping up. John manages to massage my leg enough to relax the cramp and get my toe down. Jeez, what next!?

We meet downstairs and walk to a fairly nearby museum, The National Gallery at the Palazzo Barbarini. They have a couple of floors of art we might be interested in and an elevator. Here are some things we enjoyed –

Triumphant Christ – upright with eyes open and is usually seen before the 13th century

Suffering Christ, a later development in crucifixion art

Giotto-esque lamentation over the dead Christ by Giovanni Branzio mid-14 th century

King Henry VIII by Hans Holbein

We flag down a taxi to get back to the hotel because it is really uphill and I am whining. We decide to meet again at 7 pm at the bar. During this time my leg cramps up again. The toe thing is really weird.

Great thing about a lot of Italian bars is that they have a whole bunch of free food if you buy a glass of wine, a beer, or a cocktail. We are not too hungry and so make dinner out of  the offerings.

Bar snacks

Sarah tells us that we must stay awake until 10 PM but unfortunately we all crash by 9 and end up awake half the night. Jet lag is such fun.