Wednesday, February 29, 2012

More Italy: Oh, no! it's Saint Antonino!

There's a reason that people do tours. No stress, no worry, no hours spent on the internet researching the best hotel or transportation. On the downside, you may feel a little too isolated from the country you're visiting, herded en masse from one site to the next and locked in that tourist bubble.

Of course, a good travel planner is essential and I can't help but wonder what my son Eric really thought when confronted with some of his travel planner's(me) missteps. I was so immersed in internet maps,Trip Advisor reviews and travel book recommendations, that I somehow missed a few basics:  like printing out driving directions 

We had a car for the end of our trip, planning to drive our tiny Fiat 500 from Rome to Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. 

There's a reason that travel books say don't drive in Rome. We picked up the car at the Stazione Termini (train station) and our nonchalant rental agent drew a simple arc on the map, explaining we would just go around the station and then onto the Autostrade and then to the A1 Roma-Napoli. Trouble was that once we got around the station there were no green Autostrade signs in evidence and when we came to the three way fork in the road, we chose the wrong fork. Plunging ahead down the narrow streets of Rome, dead-ending in some cul de sacs where cars were parked at every odd angle and finally emerging back to a main drag, we meandered around for a half hour before a highway entrance appeared.

Funny thing was the road led to the ring road around Rome and although I tried to divine meaning from the casual ball point marking on the map, it was hard to tell where exactly we were on the ring. Were we above or below the cutoff for the A1? We exited the highway and stopped at a gas station where a nice guy tried to explain our options. We had to get back on the road in the opposite direction, then circle around at the gate. I was assuming "gate" meant exit, but as we started down the highway, we wondered if there really was a gate or tollgate?  So many decisions, so little time with drivers whizzing by. Not a lot of horn honking in Italy, they just pass you right or left, whether it involved going into lanes of oncoming traffic or not.

Once on the A1 we had an unexpectedly nice ride. Mountains and snow appeared right away--the road paralleled the Apennine Mountains.  

There's a reason that travel books say don't drive in Naples. Again, sans directions, we took what looked like the main exit for Naples (how many exits could there possibly be for a city of just under a million people?). We passed shanty towns with houses cobbled together from metal containers and wood and cardboard that reminded Eric of African cities. I knew our hotel was right on the water, but just let's say it took some doing to get there--crowded, dirty streets, graffiti everywhere, and masses of people out. Lanes in the road were free form, guys washing your windshield or hawking tissues or trinkets were common and my only response to Eric's patient question,"Which way now?" was to say follow the signs for the port.

There's a reason most people arrive in Pompeii by train. The next day we didn't have too much trouble driving to Pompeii although we entered by the wrong gate and came in the back end. Our Rick Steves audio guide was based on entering through Porta Marina--closest to the train station---where everyone comes in. We managed to straighten that out with some extra walking with a bonus of an official audioguide rental at the main visitor gate.

There's a reason most people take the bus to Sorrento and the Amalfi Drive. Immediately leaving Pompeii we found the SS145 , or as my helpful gas station attendant called it, gesticulating with wild arms: "Super Street, Super Street, yes?" The road almost immediately starts to climb the mountain and runs through tunnels emerging above the Gulf of Naples with Vesuvius in the background and the various towns we passed through clinging to the mountainsides. Amazing! There was a long line of traffic, so the 12 mile ride stretched out to an hour or more. There seemed to be basically one road in, so I didn't think we were lost, but why weren't we there yet?  I stopped at a gelato shop and luckily a customer spoke good English and drew a map for us to follow once we got into Sorrento, a mere 2 miles away.  Seems like the main street on which our hotel was located was one way in the opposite direction, so we'd have to loop around. I shook hands with the man as he solemnly pronounced, somewhat dramatically, "Good luck, my friend, we will never see you again."  hmm...of course not, because what was the chance of us running into him again, but still, why the ominous intonation?

Once we found the Piazza Tasso in Sorrento we understood the meaning better. A polizia explained that the square and surrounding streets were closed for the festival of Sorrento's patron saint--Saint Antonino.  Ah, now we were stuck. But, no, he helpfully radioed ahead to the next cop and sent us creeping down the street past cotton candy machines, games of chance, displays of fake Prado bags and surging crowds of families, baby carriages and young people. I dared not look at Eric, but felt like I was "the Queen of England". Should I discreetly wave to the crowds? It was like driving down Mulberry Street during the Feast of San Gennaro in NYC. Impossible! Our last police officer directed us to the Ulysse Garage, which was, according to the sign, for guests of the Ulysse Restaurant and Hotel only, but they said we could park there. As Eric followed the attendant's arm waving directions, I said, "Should I get out and ask how much it will be?" He looked at me like I was crazy and said "We'll pay any amount!"  

So, yes, it would have been easier to be travelling in that big bus, but look at all the adventure we would have missed and all the Italenglish we spoke. Right, Eric? All I know is that from now on, February 14 will always be observed as St. Antonino Day and not that other guy's holiday.

Friday, February 17, 2012

a Roma....ah, Roma!

Back from a wonderful vacation in Italy with son Eric, despite the cold weather, occasional snow and multiple closings. We learned some new words like

snow emergency
la neve

and official Italian bureaucratspeak:

No guarantees at the Colisseo

 But the sun came out,
you, too, can fight a gladiator!
people defied the police tape
tourists at the Spanish Steps

 and happiness prevailed!

 We saw amazing sights:
the oculus of the Parthenon
Mt. Vesuvius across Gulf of Naples

St Peter's - look, Gary-no scaffolding.

view from the cupola of St Peter's looking down to the square
Temple of Saturn - Roman Forum

Eric was a great travel companion!

Striking a David pose in Florence
Stepping stones in Pompeii (Note the chariot ruts)

enjoying the food

Loving his EK plates on our Fiat
Neither the Pope nor the patron saint of Sorrento could re-open the Colisseum.....
il Papa or an automaton at the window?
St Antonino Festival on Feb 14 in Sorrento
Trevi Fountain -- we both tossed a coin!

......but are we destined to return?

Monday, February 6, 2012

K is for Kona

Another historic first for the K family, as we adjust to our newest family addition -- Beth and Dave's French bulldog puppy. We've never been the all-American family with the dog, but the times are a-changing. Is it possible? Read what you can from these pictures:
Kona in a choke hold

Kona on the move

Kona's not smiling

getting ready to go outside

stalking the great outdoors

Count Konula

Is that Kona's dad?