Following the rest of Italy to the Adriatic Coast

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

IMG_4496-001Our son, Andrew, and his wife, Alicia, are gracious and generous hosts – and have been to a steady stream of visitors over the past few months. Consequently, we proposed a relaxing weekend away, at a destination of their choosing. So we motored to the Emilia-Romagna Region, and the Adriatic coast.

Gatteo a Mare

We found a hotel in the seaside resort community of Gatteo a Mare, then explored the town before enjoying dinner in the open air on one of the main piazzas.

“Italia 2014 – The Adventure Continues” featured a variety of dining experiences, but this venue – “Ippocampo” – was unquestionably one of the best.

Much of eating out in Italy is the atmosphere. It was August, the time of the year when all of Italy takes off from work and heads to the coast, and Gatteo a Mare was stuffed full with Italians on vacation. Most of the streets in the town center were closed to motorized vehicles, and we sat at our table on the patio watching hundreds of families out for a stroll, couples walking hand in hand, life passing by in a rich parade.

Gatteo a Mare

Gatteo a Mare

Across the piazza a band busied itself setting up for the concert that eventually got under way as we were finishing dessert; a gentle breeze came in off the Adriatic, and we settled in for a long meal. In Italy (unless you’re heading to the opera later), dinner is the evening’s entertainment.

We let our waiter recommend his favorite antipasto platter, then we chose local, somewhat mysterious, seafood dishes, paired with a fresh, buoyant wine. Dessert – when we got there – involved cappuccino for us, espresso for the young people, and some kind of potent, juiced up sorbet.

IMG_4497Atmosphere? Yes; the place had it and to spare. Great food? Most definitely yes; you have to be willing to step out of what you’re used to if you want amazing culinary experiences when traveling. Authenticity? And then some; Andrew and Alicia had to use all of their Italian know-how to navigate the experience.

Here’s a funny story to wrap today’s post, and I’ll save the architectural delights of Ravenna for tomorrow:

We enjoyed an “exceeds expectations” experience with our waiter. Consequently, I violated the “only tip like the locals do” rule and rewarded him generously. The next night, on a whim, we decided to return to the same restaurant. Our new friend saw us coming, greeted us, and led us toward the same table from the previous night. The table had a prominent “riservato” sign (reserved) in the middle. He grabbed the sign, crumpled it, dropped it in the trash, and seated us with great ceremony.

We all felt comfortable, welcomed, and relaxed in the seaside town of Gatteo a Mare. Off the beaten track for American tourists, overflowing with European vacationers, and not a historic marker to be seen; but delightful, authentically Italian, and a great start to our final weekend.

 

How watching opera in Italy (Carmen) is helping to open my heart and mind

“Forget all that—
it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
The wild animals in the fields will thank me,
the jackals and owls, too,
for giving them water in the desert.
Yes, I will make rivers in the dry wasteland
so my chosen people can be refreshed.” – Isaiah 43

In Verona, at the arena

In Verona, at the arena

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Up front, here’s my disclaimer for today: Typically, I’m not an opera kind of a guy. That said, fortunately I don’t tend to let that kind of prejudicial peremptory judgment close down the possibilities of learning and growth.

I’ll be honest, I’ve had to grow into this level of open-spirited living; and I’m not just talking about opera any more. I spent too many years with a narrow spirit and a mostly closed mind; and, interestingly, most of my growth in this area has come in response to faith. It turns out that I follow a God who is much more of a “Yes-saying,” “Encouraging,” and “Permission-giving” God than the, “It’s all about what I’m against, who I hate, and who I’m sending to hell” version advertised by so many religious fundamentalists.

IMG_4457A Night at the Opera:

But I digress. Today’s post features a few more photos from around Vicenza and an unforgettable night at the Roman amphitheater in Verona, where we experienced a spectacular full-cast, full-orchestra presentation of Georges Bizet’s epic Carmen.

Verona itself is a beautiful, historic destination. We walked through an ancient city gate, ate dinner at open air tables on the piazza across from the Teatro Filarmonico, then strolled across to the amazing Arena di Verona.

The amphitheater was built in 60 AD and is almost 100% intact today. Originally, the space held 30,000 people; in its operatic configuration it seats 15,000. The night we showed up there was an enthusiastic audience of around 12,000, an orchestra of maybe 75 (there were three full-sized harps!), plus a cast of some two hundred amazing voices, a children’s chorus, around 50 stage hands, and – best count – six large horses.

Rebekah with Andrew and Alicia

Rebekah with Andrew and Alicia

LAVISH: We gathered around 8:00 after an early dinner, and the maestro cued the overture at 8:30. Carmen comprises four acts, with a 20-minute interval between each one. They took their final bow around 12:35 AM.

The evening was absolutely perfect. Clear skies, in the 70’s, and a light breeze just about every time we needed it.

The word “lavish” doesn’t even begin to describe what we experienced. Clear, powerful, towering solo voices; precise, full, rich orchestral accompaniment; splendid costuming, and over-the-top set; and the chorus, when they opened up their voices, literally filled the ancient arena with joyous sound!

So, yes, I was blown away by my first real operatic experience.

IMG_4473OPEN YOUR HEART: If you want Italy, the cultural, passionate, full-voiced Italy you’ve read about so many times, then take a moment to check out the performance schedule for the Arena di Verona. Hook yourself up with some opera in the open air….

And, if you harbor any kind of musical prejudice against anything that doesn’t involve three guitars and a set of drums, take a moment to ask the Creator to open your heart and to broaden your mind. But, be warned, God probably won’t stop at Carmen….

More pics….

Bucket List Moments in Venezia (Venice)

 And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life. – 1 John 5:11-12

DSC_1015-001Venice. Or, as the Italians say, Venezia.

Venice is one of my “Bucket List” destinations, one I’ve thought about visiting for a long time, ever since I read stories about the explorer Marco Polo (1254-1324) and his trade route to the East.

Venice is not the capital of commerce it once was, but the city still retains its storybook allure and its almost fantastical, fairytale personality. I felt excitement bubble up inside me as we rolled into the train station; and, when we walked out into the sunshine, my first view of the Grande Canal did not disappoint.

at the Ponte di Rialto

at the Ponte di Rialto

Again, having Andrew and Alicia as tour guides and interpreters proved a Godsend. We made our way through the maze of narrow streets, crossing canal after canal, until we found the particular “off the beaten trail,” “non-touristy” restaurant the young people were looking for.

“Look Dad!” Andrew said a few minutes after we were seated. “A table full of Gondoliers just came in. You know it’s good local food when the Gondoliers eat here.”

DSC_0921Well, I couldn’t argue with that. The menu was in Italian – no subtitles – and there were none of those tell-tale food pictures you see at the tourist traps. I also couldn’t argue with the remarkable plate of muscles on pasta I was served, or the wine, or the cappuccino.

Good stuff all around. I can’t stress enough how important local food is to the complete travel experience. Ask a small-business owner; follow a trucker to the cafe; tail the gondolier to the restaurant.

Ask a small-business owner; follow a trucker to the cafe; tail the gondolier to the restaurant.

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Rebekah enjoying the Donatello at the Frari Basilica,

HISTORY: Satisfied, we crossed the Ponte di Rialto and made our way to the Frari Basilica, a remarkable church featuring – among other treasures – a statue of John the Baptist by Donatello, and a Madonna by Bellini. The inside was beyond ornate, but – somehow – it kind of worked, producing a remarkable effect that was worshipful.

The irony, to me, is that a church so ornate, so rich, so gaudy, was built and maintained by a Franciscan order. Having just left Assisi, where Frances entered the life of a friar in protest of his father’s riches in cloth and commerce, it was interesting to see how the commercial wealth and excess of Venice shaped the public face of faith just a few years later.

Basilica d

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

Next we walked to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, built as a thank you by survivors of the Black Death.

From Santa Maria we crossed the Grande Canal by gondola and entered St. Mark’s Square – the Piazza San Marco.

Talk about a concentration of “Kodak Moments” in one place: The square, the clock tower (Torre dell’Orologio – 1499), the cathedral, the Doge’s Palace, the Grande Canal, the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore. All right there!

DSC_1046The exterior of San Marco is under repair; but the ornate architecture is pristine. the height of Italian-Bysantine construction. It was worth waiting to get inside for a slow walk around.

We then wandered back to the Ponte di Rialto, found appropriate local refreshment, and cut across some circuitous route to the train station.

PHOTOGRAPHS: Everywhere we turned I found myself tempted to stop, frame a shot in my Nikon, and add another image to the growing collection. But I let a lot of them pass for a couple of reasons:

First, I’m trying to take photographs that tell the story I’m experiencing, rather than just because the image is beautiful. Second, I’m making an effort not to let photography interrupt the story Rebekah and I are living together.

Every vista in Venice tells one more element of the fascinating story that is this city; from the rich palaces, to the obscure backwaters, to the modern-day cruise ships towering over the skyline.

DSC_1062These photographs are just where my lens, and my interest, happened to be pointing; but – if you want to really listen to the spirit of Venezia – then you are going to have to spend a day or two there yourselves.

Happy travels – DEREK

 

Vicenza, Jeremiah, architecture, and great marriages

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. – Jeremiah 29:11-14

In Vicenza

In Vicenza

Today – Monday August 18 – is the 35th anniversary of the day Rebekah and I were married. Yay, us!

Taking off for Italy has been our official celebration vacation. And, just like the ongoing adventure that is our life together, we planned for our tour to be out of the ordinary. There’s nothing run-of-the-mill about our relationship, and “Italy 2014″ has pushed the envelope too.

VICENZA: Today I want to highlight Vicenza, the city where our son works. We wanted to soak in the environment – so what better way than to simply walk around and enjoy the atmosphere? Andrew had to be in the office, so Alicia showed us around.

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Cathedral crowded among the narrow streets

Architecturally, Vicenza is a gem. So today’s post will be short on history and long on photographs.

Vicenza is an ancient city, dating to pre-Roman times. It is home to one World Heritage site, plus a huge concentration of important villas and palaces built by Andrea Palladio (1508-1580).

Overall, Vicenza is historic, interesting, attractive, and walkable. Like most Italian communities, you park on the edge and then navigate the town center on foot.

great lunch venue

great lunch venue

GOOD FOOD: First, Alicia found us a great place to eat an excellent (and relaxed, that’s the key to enjoying meals in Italy) lunch; then Rebekah and I hit a couple of the more notable historical landmarks while Alicia sat in the park to read.

FAMILY: The history is interesting, and the architecture is sublime; but for us the signal beauty of our day in Vicenza was being able to enjoy a relaxed experience with our daughter-in-law.

You’ll see a couple of candid photographs of Alicia with Rebekah; and what I hope I’m able to communicate is how much joy it gives us to get to know the wonderful people our children have been smart enough to marry.

Rebekah and Alicia

Rebekah and Alicia

So today, as Rebekah and I celebrate 35-years of our Great Adventure together, we feel deeply grateful, and abundantly blessed.

We’re thankful for one-another, thankful that Andrew and Alicia found each other in Italy, and thankful that Naomi and Craig found each other, somewhere on the ocean between Seattle and Alaska.

I like the way the prophet Jeremiah talks about such great comings-together: “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at Venice. In the meanwhile, enjoy the rest of these photographs of another new favorite Italian city: Vicenza - DEREK 

 

 

 

New Adventures in Northern Italy

view from Andrew and Alicia's home

view from Andrew and Alicia’s home

Hard as it was to say goodbye to Assisi, Rebekah and I boarded the bus excited to be on our way to Northern Italy and a new set of adventures – this time with “Casa di Pashby-Maul” as our base of operations.

Traveling by rail – once again – proved a fast, efficient, convenient, and comfortable alternative to driving (especially when there’s no extra baggage). Andrew and Alicia met us at the Vicenza station and we arrived at their four-story town-home in time for a home-cooked meal.

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Casa di Pashby-Maul

BIG, BIG, WORLD: I’ve never understood why some parents put pressure on their grown children to live close to home, or try to guilt their offspring into keeping mom and dad as their perpetual center of gravity. Rebekah and I raised our children to learn all they possibly could, to know God, and to exit their teenaged years well-equipped to make their way in the world.

“You can live absolutely anywhere in this great big world that you want to,” we often said, “so long as it’s a great place for us to visit!” Well, with Naomi in Connecticut (shortly moving to Virginia), and Andrew in Italy for the past several years, they have taken us at our word and then some!

Andrew and Alicia live in the village of Pianezze (I think that’s what it’s called), in the district of Arcugnano, just south of Vicenza, in the Veneto region (I may well have messed up the distinctions between villages and towns and districts and regions…).

biking to work from home

biking to work from home

COMMUNITY: The townhouse is on a road where the views of the valley are beautiful, and where the sense of community among neighbors is genuine and heartwarming. Andrew has always chosen to live among the local people, and they love him for it. Add to that Alicia’s delightful personality and natural language skills, and it’s easy to see why they fit in so well.

Andrew works as a civilian with the United States Army, handling logistics. He gets to travel, and he’s lived in Italy (with the exception of 12-months in Bahrain) for the past six years.

Both Andrew and Alicia (who also worked in Bahrain, then four years in Kiev ) have embraced the European lifestyle: so Andrew does things like ride his bicycle 12K to work, they enjoy eating dinner late in the evening, they make espresso at breakfast, they fill up their big glass jug of sfuso at the local store every couple of weeks, they speak Italian at places of business, and they see themselves as citizens of the world.

Andrew and Alicia neighborsRebekah and I both say that the evening we shared dinner with 15 or so of their neighbors was one of the highlights of our adventure. We sat at the long picnic table for more than two hours, with more than 90% of the conversation completely unintelligible. But we read one thing loud and clear; we read genuine community, we read delight on the faces of people who obviously love our children, and we understood that Andrew and Alicia are happy.

And for that grace – irrespective of living over 4,500  miles away in Italy, or living 600 miles away in Connecticut, or living just a few miles down the street – Rebekah and I are thankful, grateful, and contented parents.

- DEREK 

Falling in love with Assisi (with a little help from Rebekah, and Francis)

IMG_4324I have to say that Assisi has become my favorite Italian town. The place is idyllic. Set into the side of the mountain; commanding spectacular views; anchored by the work of St. Francis on one end and the “Poor Clares” on the other; immaculately clean; overflowing with history, stories, piazzas, and cappuccino bars; full with interesting and authentic art and craftsmanship; warm and hospitable.

So we chugged in on the regional train, having survived a breathless twelve-minute transfer in Rome that involved making our way to the hub of the station, purchasing a new ticket, finding the obscure “Platform 1-ES” (think Harry Potter and Platform Nine-and-three-quarters), getting the ticket validated, and boarding with 30-seconds to spare.

Trains arrive at the “new” town of Assisi, down in the valley, so we found a local bus, made our way to the old city gate, and hiked to our hotel, just a short walk from the basilica.

DSC_0593Our food experience in Assisi was significantly more satisfying than Naples. That first night we found a small, intimate restaurant down one of the meandering side-streets, and enjoyed a long meal in the open air. Then, walking back to the hotel, late in the evening, winding our way though the maze of streets – each one going either steeply up, or down – Rebekah and I felt completely safe.

FAITH & FRANCIS: Day Two comprised walking, churches, walking, more churches, walking, great stories from history, walking, more churches, and taking in the magnificent vistas.

The story of St. Francis is compelling in many ways, most especially in the way he rejected the tendency of those in power – including the church – to take more for themselves at the expense of the poor. It’s a testimony both to the new Bishop of Rome and the historical saint who made Assisi famous that Pope Francis took the name of the humble 13th-Century Friar.

DSC_0707Travel writer Rick Steves showed keen insight when he commented on the allure of Francis’ message of simplicity and love:

“On my last research visit,” Steves wrote, “I asked a local friend who runs a recommended hotel if my readers were missing anything. He said, ‘Faith’.”

MUSIC: Another signal experience was attending an evening outdoor concert, part of the summer “Assisi-Festival.” After dinner on the Piazza Comune, Rebekah and I walked up to the church of St Rufino, where both Frances and Care were baptized, and we enjoyed the vocal athletics of four great voices, along with a superb orchestra.

IMG_4336The concert played late into the night, the courtyard packed with an enthusiastic audience. Later – and well before the program was concluded – we walked slowly, hand in hand, back through the fair summer’s evening toward our hotel. And we could still hear the music in the night air. “Summertime,” the glamorous operatic soprano sang in her Italian-twinged rendition of the Gershwin classic, “and the living is easy….”

CHURCH: Sunday morning Rebekah and I made our way to the Anglican Church that meets in Assisi. We were a little early, and walked in on the last few minutes of a Catholic mass, celebrated by a local community that meets in the same sanctuary. The place was packed full with Italian teens, and we gratefully witnessed them take communion together, and we were touched when then they turned to include us in the “passing of the peace.”

IMG_4350Then, taking the bread and the wine with our Anglican friends, Rebekah and I found ourselves profoundly conscious of the fact that our church family in Wake Forest would also be sharing the Lord’s Supper that morning.

So we felt the unity of the Spirit – not only with the Catholic teens and our Anglican hosts, but also with the good people of Wake Forest Presbyterian Church, more than four thousand miles away.

Then, as we returned to our seats, we sang “Lord make me an instrument of your peace;” it’s a prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi, and singing it in that place, in the context, in that spirit, moved me deeply:

DSC_0599Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Peace – and I mean that in so many ways - DEREK

- more photos of Assisi:

 

Shake, Rattle, and Roll: hiking the Vesuvius time-bomb

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! – Genesis 1:31

DSC_0499Many of you know that I have this thing about mountains. Not that I’m a real climber, with ropes and irons and such – it’s just that there’s something about the hike, the ascent, the view, the perspective. Mount Washington in New Hampshire; Mount Mitchell in North Carolina; Ben Nevis in Scotland; Mount Sinai in Egypt; Vesuvius in the south of Italy.

Having stood in the middle of Pompeii, looking up at the volcano that literally buried the region, I was thrilled to engage the opportunity to take in the view from the other direction.

I was not disappointed. Our bus climbed through a series of tight Switchback turns, leaving us a fairly moderate thirty-five-minute climb to the summit. The day was a little hazy, and the views were far from crystal clear, but the ascent was worth every step.

DSC_0522ACTIVE: Vesuvius is classified as an active volcano. That means, essentially, that there’s stuff happening underneath; there’s magma moving around underground; the mountain is biding its time, and the fuse is lit.

So I was intrigued by our guide’s logic in declaring Vesuvius “One hundred percent safe.” I’m not sure how accurate the guide’s spiel was, but here’s what she told us: “Since the violent explosion and pyroclastic flow that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in AD 79, Vesuvius has erupted on average every 50 years. However, the last event occurred in the 1940’s, so we have nothing to worry about.”

If that’s not “fuzzy math,” then I don’t know what is!

According to one travel guide: “Vesuvius is an active volcano and may erupt any time in the near future. Over the last few centuries, Vesuvius has erupted at intervals ranging from 18 months to 7½ years, making the current lull the longest in 500 years. Its lack of eruption may merely indicate a build-up of pressure, which may result in a more explosive next eruption, posing a lethal hazard to over 500,000 residents living in the same place that got destroyed in 79AD.”

DSC_0558STUNNING BEAUTY: What I did experience, walking to the summit and looking into the caldera, was the kind of micro-climate that makes the slopes and surrounds of Vesuvius a unique environment. For a place harboring such heat, and violence, and uncertainty, the topography is startlingly beautiful.

Several years ago, Rebekah and I stood on the deck at the Johnson Ridge Observatory on Mount St. Helens, and we looked into the gaping chasm that used to be the side of the volcano before it exploded in 1980. There, from the middle of the new cone that was growing by the day, the mountain let off a plume of steam. Mt. St. Helens went “poof,” and we could feel the amazing power of creation all the way down to our toes.

The unfathomable power that is still creating – and recreating – this planet is, in its own way, as stunningly beautiful as the scenery it carves out from the landscape.

That’s the feeling that came over me as I stood on the other end of the view at Vesuvius, looking out over Pompeii and wondering at the awesome reach of the creative energy that is – at this very moment – still making the world.

DSC_0545GRATEFUL: I, too, am a product of the imagination and light that stands outside of time and space, and yet constantly reaches in with purpose, and with power, and with love.

I can’t climb a mountain without regenerating a still deeper quality of assurance and promise.

Peace and blessings – DEREK

more photos from the Vesuvius hike:

 

 

Pompeii: mortality and eternity frozen in time

God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.
 So we will not fear when earthquakes come
    and the mountains crumble into the sea.
 Let the oceans roar and foam.
    Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! – Psalm 46:1-3

Rebekah and our guide in Pompeii

Rebekah and Andrea – our guide in Pompeii

Today’s post presents the same challenge as the day we actually visited both Pompeii and Vesuvius: How do I possibly do justice to both the city and the mountain in one post? Well, I may not. We’ll see how it goes.

Riding the bus and using a guide was one smart move; another was spending the previous morning among Pompeii’s treasures at the museum in Naples. Additionally, Rebekah and I invested in extensive research and we read several guide books ahead of time.

You have to understand, we’re that kind of family. Our children still talk about the summer we watched the entire Ken Burns “Civil War” documentary series before a three-week bicycle-riding vacation around the battlefields. That’s just how we roll.

Entering Pompeii with our guide

Entering Pompeii with our guide

POMPEII: Vesuvius dominates the landscape the entire drive down from Napoli. Then, unexpectedly – just a few turns after pulling off the autostrada – suddenly you are there.

For Rebekah and me, walking through the turnstiles and into the archeological site was like stepping through a fissure in time. We were tourists, yes, listening intently to the stories told by our guide, but we were also visitors, guests of the inhabitants of a bustling city in the days leading up to August 24, AD 79. We could sense the pulse of life that animated Pompeii; and – looking up over the forum to Vesuvius beyond – we could also sense the sudden loss that froze everything, including life itself, in that catastrophic moment and created the perfect time-capsule we can experience today.

We could sense the pulse of life that animated Pompeii; and – looking up over the forum to Vesuvius beyond – we could also sense the sudden loss that froze everything, including life itself, in that catastrophic moment and created the perfect time-capsule we can experience today.

 

DSC_0346So it was with the kind of reverential respect you give a gravesite that we walked through to the place where gladiators would say, “We who are going to die today salute you.” And I wondered if anyone else was that prepared for their fate when they first glanced up and saw the mountain begin to heave and bellow smoke. I wonder if any of us own that sense of eternity, or if we simply meander through our lives unconnected from the duality of mortality and spirituality that inhabits us all?

I wonder if any of us own that sense of eternity, or if we simply meander through our lives unconnected from the duality of mortality and spirituality that inhabits us all?

DSC_0447LIFE: Most compelling in Pompeii is the fact of daily, mundane, life. The drinking fountain; the pizza oven; the storefronts; the gardens; the fast-food windows; the wagon-wheel ruts; the deep stepping-stones (see Rebekah with the guide, above). Stepping stones because – despite so many conveniences, including a ready supply of water – the effluence always ended up flowing down the streets.

Life in Pompeii, our guide told us at the baths, stopped every single day for a long siesta. “Everyone,” he said, “hung out at the spa on a daily basis.”

I asked if that “everyone” included the servants and the slaves who were working hard to keep the city running? So the answer was corrected, and it turns out that the “trickle down economy” of the ancient Roman world was much like today’s, and what really trickled down required the use of those stepping-stones in the street.

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Is this how Vesuvius looked from the forum, the day time stood still?

HAPPILY EXHAUSTED: By the time we completed our tour we’d only seen a small slice of one of the world’s most amazing active archeological sites.

But the story was unfolding; and isn’t that one of the great blessings of travel? To learn the stories that have shaped, the stories that are shaping, this beautiful world? Tomorrow I’ll take you up Vesuvius, to the mouth of the mountain that buried Pompeii; we’ll look into the caldera, marvel at the views, and we will wonder some more. – DEREK

More sample pictures:

 

 

Naples is Italy in the raw – sometimes a little too raw

These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem.

“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”

What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.

History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. – Ecclesiastes 1:1-9 

From the hotel at breakfast

From the hotel at breakfast

“[The city of] Naples,” according to travel writer Rick Steves, “a living medieval city, is its own best sight.”

What Steves means, and what Rebekah and I discovered in our day-long exploration – on foot – is that Naples wears its heart on its sleeve… and its history; its garbage; its graffiti; its rich southern Italian patina; its struggle; its poverty; its unadorned, gritty, persona; its social problems; its crime; its flavor.

DSC_0228The place is a mess. It’s a mess you can not only see but also smell, taste, touch, and hear. I’ve never witnessed garbage so nonchalant, traffic so aggressive and noisy, historic buildings so neglected, or angst so close to the surface.

We didn’t feel unsafe in Naples so much as unsure. To be honest, in many ways it reminded me of Cairo; if not Third World maybe Two-and-a-half. I’m glad we went, and I’ll share a few highlights in this post, but I don’t think it’s one of those places where we’ll be going back.

I’ll post some representative photographs at the bottom of this page.

GRAFFITI: Walking to the museum was an eye-opener in so many ways. We started from our hotel on Piazza Garibaldi, across from the Central Train Station, and ran a two kilometer gauntlet of graffiti, loose trash, unkept buildings, sour countenances, rotting garbage; a deeply settled sense of resignation and neglect.

The sad thing about the graffiti is that not only were the churches targeted too, there was obviously no attempt to remove it once it was there.

DSC_0047MUSEUM OF ARCHEOLOGY: This was our first stop, and the first significant building not covered in spray paint.

This place is a treasure, and worth a good, long look. Most of the significant finds from Pompeii and Herculaneum are here, and the mosaics alone make the collection beyond priceless.

WALKING TOUR: After the museum we simply walked around the densely populated narrow streets of the old city. Lunch on a busy piazza; cappuccino at the espresso bar; the sights and sounds and smells of Naples.

One amazing highlight was Giuseppe Sanmartino’s “Veiled Christ,” a phenomenally sensitive marble sculpture of Jesus, after death. The work, housed in the Sansevero Chapel, rivals any in terms of capturing, and communicating, the raw emotion of the passion.

UNDERGROUND NAPLES: Later, we took an interesting tour of the old underground aquaduct system, carved from the volcanic rock 2,500 years ago, that supplied Naples with fresh drinking water uninterrupted for 2,300 years.

Abandoned after a cholera epidemic in the 19th Century, the labyrinthian system was rediscovered, and mapped, during World War Two, when the caves were used as air-raid shelters. Underground Naples comprises 170 kilometers of tunnels and more than 2,000 caverns. Our guide was knowledgable, funny, and thorough. Certainly a recommended excursion.

Napoli pizza

Napoli pizza

FOOD: We’re not sure how many miles we covered on foot, but by the time we made it back to the hotel, showered, and changed, it was already the “European Hour” for dinner, meaning after 8:00 in the evening.

Other than our first official “Napoli” pizza (the city is credited with inventing the dish), the food in Naples was a mixture of over-priced and disappointing. Great table wine, always, but without the local knowledge of our son (waiting for us in Northern Italy), or anything more than rudimentary restaurant Italian, we ended up as food victims in touristy venues.

That said, we were always served excellent wine and amazing cappuccino.

NAPLES: We’re glad we came to Naples, and we enjoyed our walking tour immensely; but we went back to our hotel more than ready for Pompeii and Vesuvius the next day. Join me if you will – I promise you won’t be disappointed - DEREK

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (Italy, selfies, and our Great Italian Adventure)

Heading out from RDU

Heading out from RDU

After 16-days, I get to jump-start a cold blog. It shouldn’t be too hard considering I’m bursting with stories about our adventures in Italy.

Today I’ll set the scene. Plus I have a few cell-phone pics to get the ball rolling before I begin to share the AMAZING photos sitting on my Nikon D3100 (the high-resolution pictures should start with tomorrow’s post).

SELFIES! I know, my daughter has already told me I sound like a teenage girl when I use the word “selfie,” but Rebekah and I tried for a daily self-portrait – in context – to run as a consistent place-marker throughout the adventure. The idea turned out to be a lot of fun.

So here’s our Italy-Adventure itinerary, with a few place-markers along the way:

Charles de Gaule in Paris

Charles de Gaule in Paris

PLANES: The first of our six flights (Delta, Air-France, and HOP), took us from Raleigh-Durham to Philadelphia. We snagged a Philly Chesse-steak, overnighted our way to Paris, then took the long hop to Naples where we found a city bus to take us downtown to our hotel on the traffic nightmare known as the Piazza Garibaldi.

Over the next couple of days we hoofed our way around the medieval maze that is the old city, took another bus to Pompeii, and climbed up to look into the caldera of Vesuvius.

Train station in Rome

Train station in Firenze (Florence)

TRAINS: Our Trenitalia ride to Rome notched a cool 300-km-per-hour, then the regional took us to Assisi and we boarded a rattly local bus for the ride into the old city. Trains in Europe are wonderful, and once you figure out the intricacies of ticket machines, validations, transfers, and train-station cappuccino it’s a great experience.

What helped was our commitment to limit ourselves to carry-on baggage. A large backpack for me and a smaller one for Rebekah. No checked luggage, period.

Assisi is a super-cool city, and you’ll hear more detail – along with some vivid photographs – in an upcoming post.

Assisi

Assisi

After two-days of great exploring we took another series of train rides from Assisi, to Florence, to Padova, to Vicenza, where we were met on the platform by Andrew and Alicia.

AUTOMOBILES: We’d been looking forward to seeing Drewski and Alishka in their own home and we weren’t disappointed. Sure, we took a few train rides over the second week, but mostly we were tour-guided in the VW-Golf-GTi by our local connection.

Seriously, friends, if you’re going to head into Venice it’s a good thing to bring along a son and daughter who can find their way around, speak Italian, and know all about the good local food.

Verona

Verona

Our stories from week two will include Vicenza, Venice, the most amazing opera experience imaginable, wine-tasting at the vineyard, motoring to the Adriatic coast, Revenna, and the incomparable San Marino.

PHOTOGRAPHS: And, yes, in addition to the series of place-marker selfies, I’ll be including some of the best travel photography I’ve accomplished to date.

So tune in for the next two weeks for a mixture of travel and inspiration. And share with your friends. You won’t be disappointed.

Venice

Venice

Peace, Promise, Blessings… and ADVENTURE! - DEREK

(Below: the “almost complete” self-portrait collection)