It's hard to find time to sit down and write about what we have been doing these past four weeks.
On our first night in Rome, we wake from a jet lagged time confusion to the sound of seagulls (or are they geese?) at around 3:00 a.m. local time. When we finally drag ourselves up, we look around at our apartment in the neighborhood of Trastevere, furnished in what we would consider funky "grandmother" antiques, and awkwardly deal with an espresso maker. Luckily, our host left us coffee, milk, and pastry to get us through the first morning. Outside our window, we look across to the other three and four story buildings, dating back to the 1800s from the look of them. Kids are heading off for school and adults to work. When we eventually get out the door, we head across the bridge and find ourselves immediately at Piazza Argentina, where Julius Caesar was supposedly murdered. This was about a 10 minute walk and, from there, each additional 5 minutes of strolling seemed to hold another sight worth seeing or at least worth consulting Rick Steves about.
In Asia, Africa and South America, we made time to "blog" in between our sightseeing because almost everything was so surprisingly novel or exotic that we felt compelled to write about it. But now we are in a familiar feeling European country not all that dissimilar from our own; a land whose history and culture has influenced so much of our own thinking and aesthetic. We are reluctant to take any time off from our exploring to write. If it isn't visiting the Sistine Chapel, it's trying out the anchovy and garlic pizza on the thin crisp crust from I Marmi, a popular and delicious neighborhood pizzeria just a few steps from our AirBnB apartment. Or it's listening to some locals beneath a row of cypress trees dressed in Renaissance costumes performing period pieces on accordion and lute with newly excavated Roman ruins as a backdrop. Or looking at an odd bit of kitschy artwork in a souvenir store: a very realistic and well executed painting of a lion in Victorian dress. While it is odd and disarming, it also has a familiar feel like almost everything else on this trip. At the end of each day, our senses are overloaded with the sights, tastes, smells, and sounds of Italy.
After 6 days revisiting Rome (Bill in the late '90s, Ellen not since the 1970s!), we set off for new, unexplored territory for us, beginning with a week-long drive through Sicily, starting with a short flight from Rome into Palermo. A motorist's nightmare, Palermo is a gritty working city. By day, our B&B is in a busy blue collar neighborhood by the railroad terminal. By night, it seems to be the red light district as we watch obese transvestite streetwalkers meandering up and down the block. For us, the best attractions in this unglamorous city are the open-air markets where, after sampling fresh strawberries with whipped cream and walking through stalls selling everything from live octopus to squash blossoms, we sit down at one of many small nameless snack bars to a great plate of lasagne and a beer.
Leaving Palermo, we head out to pure tourist destinations: beginning high up in the clouds to the mountain fortress town of Erice and ending a week later with the jet setter town of Taormina with views of Mt Etna -- like so many volcanos and Italians here, it hasn't stopped smoking! -- with several overnight stops in between in Agrigento (Greek ruins), Ragusa/Modica (quaint but elegant Baroque style towns built into deep gorges), and a quick stop in Siracusa to visit the old historic part of town which is confined to a picturesque small island surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea.
Back on mainland Italy with Sorrento as our home base, a week on the Amalfi coast provides more thrills for the driver with hairpin turns on bowling alley-sized roads and plenty of Paolo Testosterones behind you trying to pass at 90 mph. Ravello, again up in the clouds, provides a relatively serene escape from the crowds, while Portifino, though full of tourists, is a photo op of a village with pastel painted houses hugging the cliffs and it's where we go one night for dinner overlooking the sea in a dining room lit by hundreds of candles.
In Umbria, the magical town of Orvieto, again perched on a hill, is a far less touristed town which gives us an (ignored) opportunity to slow down our pace. Wandering around at night gives us a chance to enjoy the stillness of the town after the day trippers have left and the warm winds blow up from the hills below us beneath a full moon. We zero in on our favorite restaurant for gnocchi and pastas filled with truffles, wild boar or duck ragu, followed by pork cheeks and toast drizzled with balsamic vinegar. There is going to be hell to pay for when we get back.
Now we are in Tuscany, just down the hill from Montepulciano, home of the Vino Noble. Our agriturismo lodging is surrounded by olive trees and vineyards with a view of the hilltop town from our picnic table in the garden outside of our room. Today consisted of meandering through the rolling hills of Tuscany and stopping at the natural hot springs of Bagni San Filippo to soak in a pool of hot mineral water in the middle of the woods. The camera is now loaded with enough screen savers to last a lifetime.