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.

The longest day. 3/7-8/18

  • Today we travel to Rome and while all roads may lead to Rome not all airplanes do. This is true especially today when the Italians have called for a transportation strike which will last until 6pm. So our flight to Rome from London has been cancelled and we are put on a much later flight. We also lose our business class seats. Sigh.

    John and Sarah waiting for the flight to London

John whiling away the hours on the long flight to Heathrow

There is nothing to be done about it so we just try to put on our best faces and soldier on. As I am writing this we are in our 4th layover hour and have two more to go.

Long story short, the later flight is delayed. We arrive in Rome after 8 pm, then we have to go through the giant passport control line, get our luggage, take a very exciting taxi ride which is extreme at up to 90 mph with inventive use of traffic lanes  (plus my seat belt does not work!), and end up at our hotel at 10 pm. Ah the glamour of travel.

Small section of the Disneyland-like line at passport control

But we are here in Rome! So all the hassle has faded into the background (almost).The Hotel UNA Roma has given us an upgrade to a suite and we have plans for tomorrow! Next order of business, sleep!




January and February, 2018

Things were pretty quiet in January and February. I was having a lot of trouble with my knee and an adverse reaction to a medication. Bright spots were Sam’s 9th Birthday, a trip to St. George, and a visit from my dear friend, Sophie. Here are some pictures –

I Sam, who is very into art these days, had us all draw while receiving instruction on a video. It was a fun activity at his birthday party.

Sam blowing out his candles

Sam’s super Auntie Leigh cake

Enjoying the rain in St. George

Watch out for bobcats!

Pilat Eve and Christmas, 2017

Our celebrations started off with Pilat (or Christmas Eve). We exchanged presents with the junior Pilats, had a great grazing dinner of hors d’oeuvres, and finished off with some excellent carol singing.

Part of the Pilat Eve spread (my excellent rum cake)

Happy faces during present opening time

Group singing!

Follow the bouncing ball!

O Christmas Tree

The festivities continued the next morning and afternoon with a traditional breakfast for Sarah, John, and me. We ate Christmas dinner at Jon and Ryan’s where Jon did a fabulous job preparing a prime rib. Merry Christmas!

Bagels and lox with Weissbier from Schneider’s

Nathan and Sam practice vanquishing imaginary foes with their trident shaped spears from The Legend of Zelda

Jon is busy at the stove

What a Christmas spread!

Hanukkah. 12/19/2017

This evening we celebrate the last night of Hanukkah with cookies, candles, and latkes.  John buys six giant potatoes which we decide to use three of and makes 17 latkes! He has his frying station at on the back patio to minimize the mess and does a great job.  They are so delicious! Plus Sarah has made Norwegian drommer cookies and Monrovian spice cookies.

Sarah and I take some of the latkes to our neighbor next door. She gives them rave reviews!

Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah candles lit and Sarah’s Norwegian drommer cookies

John making latkes

Latke and cookies

Another birthday celebration. 12/17/2017

Today we travel over to Palo Alto for another celebration of my birthday. Yay!  I get so many cards! Nathan and Sam have crafted their own cards. Nathan’s has stars and planets on it and Sam’s has sea creatures.

Nathan and Sam’s cards for my birthday

Interior of Sam’s card has a dinosaur-horse-unicorn!

Since I have requested no sweets we have a bagel and lox birthday breakfast. There is even a candle for the bagel! Thank you to Ryan, Jon, Nathan, and Sam for a very happy birthday,

My guys and me


The Birthdays. 12/8-9/2017

Wow, the first time George and I celebrated our birthdays together I was 29 and here it is 40 years later. We are not so spry now but we always manage to have a good time. This year’s Birthdays celebration takes us to Little River, CA. We are staying at the Little River Inn and will also dine there.

On the way up we stop at Healdsburg for lunch at the Healdsburg Bar and Grill. It has food that everyone should like. They are especially known for their burgers. Karen and George opt for a cheese burger while John and I try the veggie burger. I am still trying to stay on my vegan before six diet. The veggie burger comes with a load of feta cheese so I dutifully scrape it off.

Veggie burger at Healdsburg Bar and Grill

The drive out to Little River is beautiful and we pass through redwood forests with their deep shade and ferns abounding. Along the way we stop at Goldeneye Winery for a little tasting. For $15 we get a seated tasting with some nibbles and seven different wines. This is so much better than Napa where you have to pay $50 just to walk through the door!

John, Karen, and George at Goldeneye Winery

We reach our hotel and our rooms are pretty far apart. George needs a disability room and our room is on the second floor of a building on the other side of the complex. The room itself is pretty spartan for the price but has a nice porch and view. We are greeted by a seagull sitting on the railing who does not seem to be afraid of people.

View from our room with seagull

Sunset over the Pacific

We meet for dinner to celebrate my birthday. The food is pretty mediocre but we have a great time nonetheless.

John and I at the restaurant

After breakfast at the hotel the next morning we are off to celebrate George’s birthday. We decide to go to a few wineries for tastings and find lunch somewhere.

A beautiful clear day in the 60’s awaits us

One of the wineries we stop at is Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

They have some veryf friendly ducks!

While John and George peruse the menu of wines WE CAN TASTE FOR FREE I spin the wheel and hit the jackpot – 45% off a case of wine! We decide to split a case. My birthday celebration is going along great!


After visiting three places we find a place for lunch. Stone and Embers is a great choice with a wood fired pizza oven. The oven is so hot that it cooks the pizza really fast and the crust comes out wonderfully cooked with a little char. We sit at the counter and George has fun schmoozing with the owner/chef.

Our pizza puffing up in the oven

Yum! Supposedly the sausage is from a turducken

Since the food in the restaurant is only meh we decide to have dinner in the bar. We have a lot of fun. George has found someone who is also celebrating his birthday and we get a rousing chorus of happy birthday with our dessert course.

Me with John and George

The next day we ride down the coast towards home stopping in Point Arena for breakfast. I love our Birthday celebrations and this has been a great one.

Birthday Eve – 12/7/2017

Since I am going to be away for my birthday, Sarah has made me my birthday confection a day early. I have my choice between pretzel rolls and Dugan coffee cake (Swedish Tea Ring.) Such a hard choice!! Ultimately I go with the coffee cake because it is so delicious and brings back memories of being a kid again.

Dugan Bakery style coffee cake

Inside there are swirls of almond paste, almonds, raisins, and cinnamon

I just cannot help myself and eat three pieces, two with butter! We are off on our birthdays adventure tomorrow so I tell her she can have the rest for her and her friends. A real sacrifice!!!

Thanksgiving, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!! We are having the feast at our house and expecting 10 people. In addition to us and Sarah, there is Jon, Ryan, Nathan, Sam, and Leigh, plus Rose and John Henderson.  John and I have been cooking for days and things go along pretty smoothly. We have one disaster dish, butternut squash with bacon and sage. The squash tastes terrible and we throw it out. Our only other hitch comes when John puts the turkey in the oven not realizing that I had turned the oven off. Turns out that we only need to slip the schedule 30 minutes.

Jonathan brings a broccoli dish and sauteed kale. Ryan brings cranberry sauce. Leigh contributes homemade Chex Mix for before-sies. Rose makes four pies – strawberry rhubarb, pumpkin, mincemeat, and chocolate chess. Sarah also makes dessert, our family favorite, Indian pudding. I think we have enough desserts.

Nathan has made a Lego diorama of aliens at the first Thanksgiving and Sam brings along placecards. Everybody is taking part this year.

Here are some pictures –


Indoor decorations

Outdoor decorations

Nathan’s LEGO depiction of the first alien Thanksgiving

John’s innovation for keeping stemless glasses identified – peelable vinyl stickers (like Color-Forms)

Sam and Leigh pick out stickers for their glasses while “Gramps Henderson” looks on

John and Jonathan

Jon and mom

Sam’s place card for Beeba, a bee saying baaaa

Zayde gets a hissing snake

John and Sarah waiting for their turn at the buffet

Nathan and Sam picking out their favorites

Leigh and Rose in line

Jonathan with his plate

I only took a spoonful of each, except the onions, and my plate is so full!

Nathan, Ryan, and Sam enjoying dinner

Uh-oh Sam is getting tired. Time for dessert!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Quick trip to St. George – November 5-17, 2017

Since the weather looks pretty fabulous in St. George and we will not be able to sneak in a trip in December, John and I decide on the spur of the moment to make our way to St. George.

I think the biggest difference in this trip is that I am trying Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before Six, a new way of thinking about how you eat and the impact you can have on the environment. So most of this post will be about new dishes I am trying out. In addition to shopping and eating John and I manage to get in some tennis every other day until my back just says, Enough!

First, finding decent vegan food on the road is not an easy task. Using YELP! We stop at Hummus Express in Bakersfield. The food is pretty oily but tasty.

Looking out at the golden hills and aqueduct along I-5. We are eager for rain.

Stopping at Hummus Express in Bakersfield, I order hummus with pita and tabbouleh

Mostly my days in St. George are vegan for breakfast and lunch and whatever for dinner but occasionally I manage to construct an entire vegan day. Some dishes I made –

Lunch – Spaghetti with vegetgables

Lunch – Root vegetable soup with tofu cubes dusted with flaxseed

Dinner – chickpea stew with ditalini and greens

Time for an white egret break!

Cauliflower soup for lunch

The unattractive parsley soup that I tried to make more palatable with the addition of carrots

The days pass by quickly and we need to get home for Thanksgiving so face the challenge of finding better food on the road. Eureka! We find an excellent Mediterrean restaurant, Mr. Kabob, in Barstow. It is kind of a hole in the wall but has some excellent dishes.

At Mr. Kabob’s in Barstow I have excellent eggplant with peppers and onions, roasted tomato, and green rice.

Halloween. October 31, 2017

The weekend before Halloween we spend some time with Nathan and Sam and have dinner at Jon and Ryan’s. The kids are excited about trick or treating soon and we add to their excitement with a bag of candy and a little money gift in their card. Here is what they are wearing on Halloween.

Sam in green is an Entbrat from My Singing Monsters and Nathan is a P.E.K.K.A. from Clash of Clans

Of course I have no idea what these characters are although I have heard of Clash of Clans. The fabulous costumes were made by Ryan and Leigh.

At home on Halloween we will have no costumed children at our door since we are too far out of the area of maximum candy procurement in the minimum amount of time. Sarah, though, is dressing up and spending the evening with some friends at a high traffic house.

Sarah as Trixie from the TV show Call the Midwife

While all the Halloween festivities are happening we are having Karen and George over to dinner. We have been cooking for a couple of days while we try to perfect our dinner dishes. Wedge salad, beef Burgundy, mashed potatoes, and glazed carrots and onions are on the menu. Karen is helpfully bringing dessert.

Festive Halloween table setting

So many tomatoes!!! October 21, 2017

While we have been away in St. George Sarah and her tomato plants have been busy. There are so many tomatoes!!! Even though the tomatoes are getting a bit long in the tooth they are still busily making tomatoes. Sarah is making sauce and we are eating them like crazy before they start to spoil.

Plates full of tomatoes from Sarah’s garden

October in Utah and Jon’s visit – October 7-20, 2017

In October we embark upon a lengthy stay in St. George. We were in Utah in September, now this month, and we hope to go again in November. As the holidays approach it becomes more difficult to get away for more than a few days so December is definitely out. We are enjoying our time in Utah and as the weather improves it will be even better. Highlighting this stay is a visit from Jon for a long weekend. His work obligations have given him less time than usual to come and relax and play tennis and golf.

Before he arrives we have a little quiet time with just John and me. It is hard not to spend some time every day looking out the window.

Looking out over the pond at sunset

A great white heron on the rock outside the window

We meet Jon at the St. George Airport on October 12th. Before you know it he is ensconced in one of his favorite spots.

Jonathan reading a book on the couch

But he needs to cram a lot into 4 days so the next morning we are all out on the tennis court. We manage to squeeze in three sessions while he is here.

Jon on the tennis court

He tries to do all his favorite things –  go shopping, eat at our favorite restaurants, play golf and still have time for reading and arranging music. He manages to do them all!

Jon and John at Mongolian BBQ

But all too quickly his time here is over and after many hugs we drop him off at the airport.

Mom and Jon before going out to dinner

We spend another four days in St. George and after an overnight in Bakersfield we arrive back in Pleasanton on October 20.

October 1, 2017 – Neighborhood turkeys

We have a rafter of turkeys in our neighborhood. Rafter is the official term for a flock of turkeys. Every morning they come down from the ridge, cross Foothill Road, walk while grazing through our neighborhood, and end up at the arroyo. Around 3 PM they make the return trip. They started out with two adults and fourteen babies but now the babies are almost as big as the adults. They have lost only two members during the last couple of months. I think it was probably due to a predator when they were little. I have not seen any turkey carcasses in Foothill Road and the people in our neighborhood are pretty careful about not hitting them. Cars do not seem to frighten them at all as you practically have to nudge them out of the way. Dogs, however, can make them squawk and fly which is quite exciting.

Our rafter of turkeys, fourteen strong

The chicks are now as big as the adults

September 24, 2017 – Rosh Hashanah Seder

What do I mean a Rosh Hashanah Seder? Isn’t a Seder just for Passover? That’s what I thought too until I ran across an article about these Seders which are part of the Persian (and others) celebration.

It is mostly a celebration highlighting various foods which have pun-ish meanings in Hebrew and Aramaic. So the idea is to say a bunch of blessings over a variety of food while at the same time using the food names in puns. Sounds like it is right up our alley.

The traditional foods on the Seder plate are carrots, black-eyed peas, beets, dates, apples, squash, pomegranate seeds, leeks, and a ram’s head. Since Raley’s is not carrying ram’s head we substituted heads of garlic. It is easy to make puns about beets, dates, squash, and leek!

Seder plate full of pun-ish foods

A challah I made. We all tried blowing the shofar (ram’s horn) after dinner to much hilarity.

John lighting candles

Our dinner of Autumn Soup and black-eyed peas with squash and pomegranate seeds